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Terpsichore vs Sémillante

15th March 1808
Part of : The Napoleonic Wars (1803 - 1815)
Previous action : Childers vs Lougen 14.3.1808
Next action : Battle of Zealand Point 22.3.1808


United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

Ship NameCommanderNotes
Terpsichore (32) 1785-1830
British 32 Gun
5th Rate Frigate
William Augustus MontaguBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1804-1822
20 killed, 22 wounded

Empire Français

Ship NameCommanderNotes
La Semillante (32) 1791-1808
French 32 Gun
5th Rate Frigate
  22 killed and wounded

Notes on Action


On March 15th the Semillante had just captured, and sent off to Mauritius, a prize, when she sighted the Terpsichore, 28, Captain William Augustus Montagu, and stood to meet her, taking her for a merchantman. The Terpsichore, it should be said, had been carefully disguised with the express object of enticing the French frigate Canonniere, then commerce destroying in the East Indies, to battle. At about 7 P.M. the two ships closed and opened fire, and a fierce engagement began. The Semillante, when almost on board the Terpsichore, threw into the British ship a hand-grenade which, unhappily, fell through one of the hatches on to the main-deck, fired some powder charges, and put out of action the crews of no fewer than four guns on the engaged side. The ship at once took fire, and, had the French boarded, they might have carried her with ease in the confusion which resulted. Instead of doing this, Captain Motard sheered off, aiming his guns at the Terpsichore's rigging; and, when the fire on board her had been extinguished and she bravely pursued, he was able to evade all attempts to close. The Terpsichore had her masts badly wounded, most of her running rigging and stays shot away, and her sails cut to pieces. By mid-night she was far astern. Undaunted by the force of her opponent, however, she continued the pursuit all the 16th, 17th, and 18th,. while her crew did their best to repair the damage.

On the 19th, the Semillante was only just in view. On the morning of the 20th the Terpsichore at last gained upon the Frenchman, and came up so fast that the Semillante had to cut away several of her boats, throw overboard some of her guns, start her water and jettison stores and lumber. Thus lightened, and having with her stern chasers inflicted fresh damage, she drew out of sight in the night of the 20th-21st.

Her determined attack did, however, produce the required effect. The Semillante was so much damaged in her hull by the Terpsichore's broadsides that, on her return to Mauritius, she was judged incapable of further cruising, and was in consequence loaded with Motard's plunder and with colonial produce to the value of 300,000, with which she reached France in February, 1809. She was at once replaced by the 40-gun frigate Manche.

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