Capture of the Guillaume Tell

31st March 1800
Part of : The French Revolutionary Wars (1793 - 1802)
Previous action : Capture of the Généreux 18.2.1800
Next action : Action of 1800-04-07 5.4.1800 - 7.4.1800


Great Britain

British ships
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Foudroyant (80) Sir Edward Berry (1768-1831)8 killed, 69 wounded
Lion (64) Manley Dixon (1757-1838)8 killed, 38 wounded
Penelope (36) Henry Blackwood (1770-1832) 1 killed, 3 wounded

République Française

French ship
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Le Guillaume Tell (84)  

Notes on Action


It was on March 30th that at 11 P.M. on a dark night and with a strong southerly gale, the Guillaume Tell, Captain Saulnier, with Rear-Admiral Decres on board, weighed in pursuance of the determination of Vaubois, and put to sea. Within the hour, the Penelope sighted her, and at once despatched the Minorca, 16, Commander George Miller, to warn Captain Dixon, who lay at anchor at some little distance off the harbour's mouth. Blackwood then stood after the Frenchman, who was on the starboard tack under a press of sail, and, at 12.30 A.M. on March 31st, luffed up under the 80's stern, and delivered into it her port broadside of 18-prs.; next bearing up under the enemy's port quarter and delivering into that her starboard broadside. Decres replied only with his stern guns, realising as he did that, if he brought to to engage, his little opponent would soon receive assistance; for ships were visible on the horizon. He therefore continued on a north-east course; and Blackwood, manoeuvring the Penelope with consummate skill, and again and again raking his enemy, at length brought down the Frenchman's main and mizen topmasts and main yard. By that time day was about to break. Soon after 5 A.M. the Lion, which had slipped her cable, interposed herself between the Penelope and the Guillaume Tell, gave the latter at the closest possible range a passing broadside of treble-shotted guns, and, luffing up across her bows and carrying away the enemy's jibboom, raked her steadily until about 5.30 A.M. By that time the Lion was so damaged that she was unmanageable, and dropped astern; but neither she nor the Penelope ceased firing occasionally. At 6 A.M., the Foudroyant, which, upon the alarm being given, had been at anchor three miles north-east of Valetta lighthouse, and which had slipped and crowded sail, arrived upon the scene, and, running along the Guillaume Tell's starboard side, summoned her to strike, at the same moment pouring in a treble-shotted broadside The French 80 gallantly replied, and with good effect; and the Foudroyant, carrying too much sail, shot ahead, and could not at once regain a position yardarm to yardarm. When she did so, she quickly suffered badly, losing in a few minutes her foretopmast, maintopsail yard, jibboom, and spritsail yard, and being reduced to quit her brave foe, which, however, was still engaged on the port side by the Lion, and on the port quarter by the Penelope. At 6.30 A.M. the Guillaume Tell lost her main and mizen masts, and the Foudroyant, having freed herself from the wreck of her spars, was again in action. At 8 A.M. the Frenchman's foremast went; and at 8.20, with the Foudroyant, 80, on her starboard quarter, the Lion, 64, on her port quarter, and the Penelope, 36, close ahead of her, the Guillaume Tell, after a most splendid defence of nearly eight hours, hauled down her colours.

The two British line-of-battle ships were too damaged to take possession of her: the honour, therefore, hecame the Penelope's

In this memorable action the Foudroyant lost 8 killed and 69 wounded (out of a complement of 719); the Lion, 8 killed, and 38 wounded (out of a complement on board of only about 300); and the Penelope, 1 killed and 3 wounded; the total British loss being, therefore, 17 killed and 110 wounded. 2 The Guillaume Tell's loss does not appear to be accurately known. One French account puts it at " upwards of 200 killed and wounded "; another, at "half her people." She certainly lost heavily. Both Decres and Saulnier were badly wounded. The former was rewarded with a grant of the " Arms of Honour," which Napoleon instituted as a decoration ere he founded the Legion of Honour; and, on his exchange, he was at once made maritime prefect at Lorient.

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Posted by Brian on Saturday 23rd of January 2016 18:12

Gentleman's Magazine, 1800 - Officers killed or wounded; Foudroyant, Capt. Sir Edward Berry, knt. slightly wounded but did not leave the deck; Lieut. J.A. Blow; Philip Bridge, Boatswain; Edward West, Granville Proby, and Thomas Cole, Midshipman wounded. The Lion, Mr. Hugh Roberts, Midshipman, killed; Mr. Alexander Hood, Midshipman wounded. The Penelope, Mr. Dameral Master, killed; Mr. Slithorpe, Midshipman, wounded.

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