Chase of the Droits de l'Homme

14th January 1797
Part of : The French Revolutionary Wars (1793 - 1802)
Previous action : Blanche vs Ceres 19.12.1796
Next action : 2nd Battle of Cape St Vincent 14.2.1797


Great Britain

Ship NameCommanderNotes
Indefatigable (38) Sir Edward Pellew (1757-1833)19 wounded
Amazon (36) Robert Carthew Reynolds (1745-1811)3 killed, 15 wounded, 6 drowned

République Française

Ship NameCommanderNotes
Les Droits de l'Homme (74) Jean-Baptiste Raymond de Lacrosse (1760-1829)103 killed, c150 wounded, many drowned

Notes on Action

Some of the ships which had failed to make Bantry proceeded eventually to the mouth of the Shannon; but they attempted nothing there; and, after a short stay, headed again for France. One of them was the Droits de I'Homme, 74, on board of which was General Humbert. After quitting the Shannon, off which she captured a rich letter of marque, and looking a second time into Bantry Bay, she left the coast of Ireland on January 9th, and made for Brest. On the 13th the weather was thick, and, although Captain La Crosse believed himself to be near his destination, he stood to the southward under easy sail with the wind on his starboard beam. Early in the afternoon he imagined himself to be chased by two vessels, and, in his endeavours to escape from them, he ran up against two more, which were sighted at 3.30 P.M., and which turned out to be the Indefatigable, 44, Captain Sir Edward Pellew, and the Amazon, 36, Captain Robert Carthew Reynolds. These frigates were still engaged in watching Brest, and were then in latitude 47 30' N., Ushant bearing N.E. 50 leagues. When they first saw the French 74, she bore N.W. from them. At 4.15 P.M. the Droits de I'Homme was so unfortunate as to carry away in a squall her main topsail braces and, soon afterwards, her fore and main topmasts; but long before 5.30 P.M., when the Indefatigable, then seven miles ahead of her consort, got within hail, the

Frenchman had cleared away the wreck. A hot action then began, the natural superiority of the two-decker being to some extent neutralised by ber crippled condition, and by her inability to keep open her lower ports when she was rolling in a heavy sea with but little sail to steady her. At about 6.45 P.M. the Amazon came up, and poured a broadside into the Frenchman's quarter; but Captain La Crosse handled his ship so as to avoid being raked, and so as to bring both of his opponents on one side of him, and at 7.30 P.M. he was temporarily relieved by both the British ships shooting ahead, the Amazon, on account of the quantity of sail which she carried, and the Indefatigable, to repair damages aloft. The Droits de I'Homme utilised the respite as best she could, and continued running to the east-south-east. At 8.30 the action was renewed, the frigates stationing themselves one on each bow of the 74, and yawing to rake her, and she, from time to time, also yawing to rake them, though without much effect. At 10.30 P.M., she was obliged to cut away her mizen; whereupon the frigates took up positions on her quarters. With a brief intermission, the fight continued until about 4.20 A.M. on January 14th, when land was suddenly sighted close ahead. The Indefatigable promptly hauled off, and made sail to the southward. The Amazon wore to the northward; but, being unable, owing to her crippled state, to work off, she ran aground in about half an hour and became a wreck. Except six men, all her people saved themselves, though they were, of course, made prisoners.

In this action the Indefatigable had all her masts wounded; and, at its conclusion, she had four feet of water in her hold; but she had only Lieutenant John Thompson and 18 men wounded, and nobody killed. The Amazon suffered almost as severely aloft and in hull, and had 3 men killed and 15 badly wounded.

As for the gallant Droits de I'Homme, which, in the engagement, had lost no fewer than 103 killed and about 150 wounded, she also altered course, hoping to avoid the danger, but immediately afterwards lost her foremast and bowsprit. In vain did she try to bring up. In a few minutes she struck on a sandbank in the Bay of Audierne. As she pounded there her mainmast went by the board. During the whole of the following day and night, and also on the 15th and 16th of January, she lay, her people being washed out of her by the heavy sea, or being drowned in their endeavours to make the shore. Few managed to reach it. On the 17th, when the weather had cleared, the Arrogante, brig, and Aiguille, cutter, reached the spot; and on that day and the following the survivors were taken off from the wreck. The disaster is supposed to have cost the loss of upwards of 1000 lives. This was the most terrible episode of an adventure which, from beginning to end, was singularly unfortunate.

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