Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife

24th July 1797
Fought at : Santa Cruz de Tenerife - Tenerife
Part of : The French Revolutionary Wars (1793 - 1802)
Previous action : Destruction of the Calliope 16.7.1797
Next action : Action of 1797-08-11 11.8.1797


Great Britain

English Squadron, Horatio Nelson (1758-1805)
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Theseus (74) Ralph Willett Miller (d.1799)Fleet Flagship
Zealous (74) Samuel Hood (1762-1814)
Culloden (74) Thomas Troubridge (1758-1807)
Seahorse (38) George Oakes (d.1797), Thomas Francis Fremantle (1765-1819)
Emerald (36) Thomas Moutray Waller
Terpsichore (32) Richard Bowen (1761-1797) CO Killed
Fox (12) John Gibson (d.1797) Sunk
Leander (52) Thomas Boulden Thompson (1766-1828)


Spanish Defenders, Antonio Gutiérrez de Otero y Santayana (1729-1799)
Ship NameCommanderNotes

Notes on Action


Lord St. Vincent determined to make an effort for the capture of a rich galleon which, it was rumoured, had arrived at Santa Cruz, Tenerife, from Manilla. The Commander-in-Chief , who perhaps for once underrated the difficulties of an enterprise, entrusted the expedition to the orders of Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson

Nelson parted company on July 15th, and on the 20th arrived off Tenerife, and on that night the Seahorse, Emerald, Terpsichore, and Fox, with some of the boats of the squadron, endeavoured to land men to seize a fort on the north-east side of the bay, but failed, owing to adverse winds and currents. On the 22nd, the squadron drew closer in, and, at night, succeeded in landing some men; but, as the heights were found to be strongly held, the people were re-embarked. On the evening of the 24th, Nelson anchored his squadron to the north-east of the town, and made a feint as if to disembark a force in that direction; but at 11 P.M. he put 700 seamen and Marines into his boats, 180 more into the Fox, and yet another 75 into a captured provision boat, and, himself assuming the command, pushed off in rough weather and thick darkness for the mole head. At 1.30 A.M. on the 25th, the Fox and the boats containing Nelson, Fremantle, Thompson, and, Bowen, as well as a few other craft, got undiscovered within half gunshot of their destination; when suddenly an alarm was sounded and a heavy fire was opened on them. The Fox was sunk, and with her went down 97 men, including Lieutenant Gibson. Nelson was struck on the right elbow, just as he was drawing his sword and jumping ashore from his barge, and he had to be conveyed back to his ship. Another shot sank Bowen's boat, drowning seven or eight people. Yet, in spite of these disasters, that part of the British force landed and carried the mole head, driving off in confusion the three or four hundred men who had held it, and capturing and spiking six 24-pounders mounted upon it. But a heavy fire of musketry and grape was immediately afterwards directed upon the mole from the citadel and houses near it, and the British were mowed down by scores, the brave Bowen and his first lieutenant, George Thorpe, being among the killed.

During this time the boats under Captain Troubridge, Captain Waller, and others, unable, owing to the darkness and the surf, to make the mole, had landed under a battery to the southward of the citadel; and Captains Hood and Miller subsequently landed further to the south-west. Several boats, however, had to put back. Troubridge and Waller, having collected a few men, advanced to the great square of the town, where they expected to meet the Rear-Admiral and the remaining Captains. They sent a summons to the citadel, but, receiving no answer, they joined Captains Hood and Miller, and resolved to make an attempt upon the citadel, although they had lost all their scaling ladders. No sooner did they begin to move than they discovered that the place was crowded with troops, and that every street was commanded by field-pieces. To add to their difficulties, most of their ammunition was wet, and nearly all their boats were stove in. Unable, thus, either to advance or to retire, Troubridge, with magnificent effrontery, sent Hood with a flag of truce to the governor, to say that, if the Spaniards advanced, the British would burn the town. At the same time, he offered to capitulate on the following terms: the British to be allowed to embark with their arms in their own boats, or, if these were destroyed, in others to be furnished to them; and the ships before the town to molest it no further, and not to attack any of the Canary Islands.

The Spanish governor: seems to have been taken captive by the very audacity of these proposals, coming as they did from people who were already practically at his mercy. Not only did he provide the British with boats, and allow them to depart, but he also supplied them with wine and biscuit, ordered that the wounded should be received into his own hospital, and sent a message to Nelson to the effect that the squadron was at liberty, during its stay, to send on shore and purchase whatsoever refreshments it might need.

This lamentable but not inglorious affair, was very costly to the squadron. In addition to Captain Bowen, and Lieutenants George Thorpe and John Gibson (Fox), Lieutenants John Weatherhead (Theseus) and William Earnshaw (Leander), Lieutenants of Marines, Raby Robinson (Leander) and William Basham (Emerald), and twenty-three seamen and fourteen Marines were killed. Rear-Admiral Nelson, Captain T. F. Fremantle, and T. B. Thompson, Lieutenant John Douglas (2) (Seahorse), Midshipman Robert Watts, and eighty-five seamen and fifteen Marines were wounded. In addition, ninety-seven seamen and Marines were drowned, and five were reported missing.

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