Taking of the Piemontaise

6th March 1808 - 8th March 1808
Part of : The Napoleonic Wars (1803 - 1815)
Previous action : Action of 1808-02-19 19.2.1808
Next action : Childers vs Lougen 14.3.1808


United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

Ship NameCommanderNotes
San Fiorenzo (36) George Nicholas Hardinge (1781-1808) CO Killed 13 killed, 25 wounded

Empire Français

Ship NameCommanderNotes
Pièmontaise (46) J. Epron Captured 49 killed, 92 wounded

Notes on Action


On March 8th, the long cruise of the Piemontaise, 40, Captain J. Epron, came to an end. Whilst lying in wait on the Ceylon coast for three East Indiamen, she was sighted early on March 6th by the San Fiorenzo, 36, Captain George Nicholas Hardinge, and chased. She took to flight, but late in the same night was closed. After two or three broadsides, directed at the British ship's rigging, she made all sail and once more drew away. The San Fiorenzo could not overtake her till daylight on the 7th. At 6.25 A.M., the Piemontaise opened fire at a range of 800 yards, and the San Fiorenzo promptly replied. The two slowly closed till within 400 yards, the French all the time directing their fire mainly at the San Fiorenzo's rigging. By 8.15, serious damage had been done. The fore topsail yard was shot through; the main royal-mast, main topmast stays, spring stay, most of the running rigging, and the sails were shot to pieces. As the San Fiorenzo had made the hull of her enemy the target, similar injuries had not been inflicted upon the French ship's motive power, and she was able to draw away. The San Fiorenzo turned to the work of making good the damage done. Thus far the loss on board had been only 8 killed and 17 wounded. The French ship must have suffered far more severely, but was so strongly manned, if British accounts may be trusted, that she could scarcely have felt the loss.

All day the San Fiorenzo was busied with her repairs. With the evening the Pietmontaise disappeared to the east under a press of sail, but was picked up again towards midnight. From that moment onwards she was kept in view, about ten or twelve miles ahead. With daylight, the San Fiorenzo, completely refitted, gained slowly on her opponent, and at about 4 P.M. was within range. The Piemontaise, as escape without fighting an action was now seen to be hopeless, turned and encountered the British frigate, passing her on the opposite tack at 50 yards' distance, and exchanging several broadsides. Unhappily, the gallant Hardinge was struck by a grape shot and killed. Lieutenant William Dawson thereupon took command. The Piemontaise wore astern of the San Fiorenzo and engaged her closely, but proved no match in gunnery for the British ship. At 5.50 P.M. she struck, with masts and rigging cut to pieces, and a great part of her crew killed or wounded.

According to statements of the French officers who survived the action, the Piemontaise, when she struck, had fired away all her 18-pr. and 8-pr. shot. This is one of the rare occasions on which ammunition ran short; but it should be remembered that the vessel had been cruising since early in 1806 in the Indian Ocean, and may not have been able to replenish her store of projectiles at Reunion or Mauritius. Her gun-locks are also stated to have been out of order at the beginning of the final action, and her match to have been extremely bad. She is said in the British accounts to have had a crew of 366 Frenchmen and 200 Lascars; but 50 of the French seem to have been absent in prizes.

The San Fiorenzo's crew had been weakened by sickness and by prize crews detached. One at least of her Lieutenants was on shore, an invalid. In these circumstances her rapid refit and ultimate victory were most creditable. The Piemontaise's masts went by the board in the night following the action.

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