Defence of the Southampton

25th July 1757
Fought at : Saint Alban's Head - Dorset - Isle of Purbeck
Part of : Seven Years' War (1756/05/17 - 1763/02/10)
Previous action : Action of 30 May 1757 30.5.1757
Next action : Louisbourg Expedition 8.1757 - 10.1757

As the British 32 gun frigate Southampton, Captain James Gilchrist, was off St. Alban's Head on her way to Plymouth, conveying money to the dock-yard at that port, she was fallen in with by five large French privateers. One of them, shooting ahead, engaged the Southampton for half an hour, and the others also coming up, they made several attempts at boarding; but on each occasion were repulsed with much slaughter.

Two of the privateers having the advantage of sailing, then took up their positions, one on the frigate's bow and an other on her quarter, and for nearly an hour continued a well-directed fire; but by the great skill of the British captain and crew, the whole were at length obliged to sheer off, leaving the Southampton in no condition for pursuit.

The Southampton, in her unequal contest, was greatly crippled, having had all her masts, sails, and rigging very much cut, besides receiving a great many shot in her hull, and several between wind and water, so that she was compelled to put into Weymouth. The Southampton suffered a loss of 24 men killed, or mortally wounded, and a great many slightly wounded.


Great Britain

British Ship
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Southampton (32) James Gilchrist (d.1777)24 Killed, several wounded

Royaume de France

French ships, François Thurot (1727-1760)
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Le Maréchal de Belleisle (46) François Thurot (1727-1760)14 killed, 26 wounded
Le Chauvelin (36)  

Notes on Action

Thurot was appointed to the command of a regularly constituted squadron, and sailed from St. Malo on July 16th, 1757, with two 36-gun frigates, the Marechal de Belleisle and Chauvelin, both with a main-deck armament of 12-prs., and with two sloops. On July 25th he fell in, off Portland, with the Southampton, 32, Captain James Gilchrist, then on her way to Plymouth with stores and money, and, after a brisk action, was beaten off.

As the action is one which Thurot's French biographer considers especially glorious, it is well to point out that the French frigates were each of them more than a nominal match for the Southampton. The point is that Thurot, with two frigates against one, each larger, heavier, and with a more numerous crew, did not capture the one; and, with the best will in the world, it is difficult to see the great glory which, from this non-capture, rebounds to the French Navy. It looks indeed as if M. Thurot had conceived his special work to be plundering comparatively helpless merchant-ships, rather than fighting sturdily defended men-of-war; and that, when he found the Southampton no easy capture, he stomached his loss amounting, on board the Belleisle alone, to fourteen killed, twenty-six wounded and hauled to the wind.


TRN3The Royal Navy : a history from the earliest times to the present Vol IIIWilliam Laid ClowesDigital Book

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