Action of 1744-05-08

8th May 1744
Part of : War of the Austrian Succession (1740/12/16 - 1748/10/18)
Previous action : Battle of Toulon 10.2.1743/44 - 11.2.1743/44
Next action : Action of 1744/05/09 9.5.1744


Great Britain

Ship NameCommanderNotes
Northumberland (64) Thomas Watson (d.1744) Captured

Royaume de France

Ship NameCommanderNotes
Le Mars (64) Antoine-Alexis Périer (Comte de Salvert) (1691-1757)
Le Content (60) Chevalier Hubert de Brienne (Comte de Conflans) (1690-1777)
La Vénus (26)  



Previous comments on this page

Posted by Albert Parker on Monday 14th of September 2020 05:52

More recent examination of Conflans' report on the capture reveals that there was a third ship present that did in fact fire at _Northumberland_. She was not _Vénus_ but _Heureux_, a French merchantman that had been captured by a British privateer and then recaptured by _Mars_ and _Content_. Since the privateer had removed the officers of _Heureux_ to make the remaining crew dependent on the prize master for navigation, but _Heureux_ was going to the West Indies anyway, Conflans put a petty officer on board to command and navigate and kept her with him. During the last stage of the action, the petty officer, eager to contribute to the combat, got _Heureux_ in position to fire 2 broadsides at _Northumberland_. So the author of the _True and Authentick Narrative_ was not imagining another ship or mistaking a passing neutral merchantman for a French warship--there reall was a third ship present--but 3–5 3- or 4-pounders could hardly have contributed to the action.

Posted by Albert Parker on Tuesday 23rd of February 2016 02:10

On the date of Northumberland’s capture, Vénus was hundreds of miles/kilometers away in the English Channel.
On the date of Northumberland’s capture, Comte d’Aché, given by many English accounts as the captain of Vénus, was in command of Auguste, 52.
When Northumberland came out of fog bank after separating from Rear-Admiral Charles Hardy’s fleet, her officers sighted three unknown ships that they took to be two French ships of the line and a frigate. At the same time, the officers of Mars and Content saw two ships in Northumberland’s direction. A first-hand account of the action by an educated member of Northumberland’s crew, A True and Authentick Narrative of the Action Between the Northumberland and Three French Men of War, describes the action between Northumberland on the one hand and Mars and Content on the other, but does not mention any involvement by a third French ship. After the capture, the author of this widely cited pamphlet describes the repairs to Northumberland and Content and the voyage back to Brest but does not mention a third ship. A similar account, probably by the same author, was published in the popular monthly, The Gentleman’s Magazine.
The name of “Vénus” for the supposed third French ship first appears in print in the 1750’s, and was continued in later British naval histories up through 1920. David Hepper, British Warship Losses, who read unpublished court-martial proceedings, does not claim a third French ship was involved. D’Aché as captain of Vénus first appeared later in the 18th century. A collection of French documents includes reports from the captains of Mars and Content, Hardy’s order of battle (captured on Northumberland), details of the damage to the French ships, and nothing from the captain of Vénus. A contemporary official list of the assignments of French warships in April 1744 has Vénus escorting coastal convoys between Le Havre and Brest, while d’Aché was cruising off the coast of Ireland in Auguste.
The “third French ship” is a mistake by the officers of Northumberland—probably a passing merchantman that got out of the area as quickly as possible. Whether the second British ship sighted by the French was the same merchantman or a second one is impossible to determine. It makes haughty Englishmen feel better to think that one of their ships of the line was captured by three instead of two enemy ships, but IT IS NOT SO!
Vénus was probably added to late 18th-century British accounts by writers who believed the “three ships” baloney but didn’t know what the third ship was because there was none. Vénus had been part of the French fleet that had sailed up and down the English Channel earlier in 1744, and Comte d’Aché had been her commander at that time. Both were good guesses, IF THERE HAD BEEN A THIRD SHIP; but there was not.

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