Amelia vs Arethuse

7th February 1813
Part of : The Napoleonic Wars (1803 - 1815)
Previous action : Attacks on Lagusta and Curzola 18.1.1813 - 3.2.1813
Next action : Taking of the Alcinous 14.2.1813


United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

Ship NameCommanderNotes
Amelia (38) Frederick Paul Irby (1779-1844)51 killed, 90 wounded

Empire Français

Ship NameCommanderNotes
L'Aréthuse (44) Pierre Henry François Étienne Bouvet de Maisonneuve (1775-1860)31 killed, 74 wounded

Notes on Action


It is convenient here to trace the adventures of two French frigates, which sailed from Nantes on a cruise on November 25th, 1812. These were the Arethuse, 40, Commodore Pierre Francois Henri Etienne Bouvet, and Rubis, 40, Captain Louis Francois Ollivier. Having picked up a Portuguese prize, the Serra, they made, in January, 1213, for the coast of Africa; and, on the 27th of that month, when off the Los Islands, the Rubis, being the leading ship, discovered and chased the Daring, 12, Lieutenant William B Pascoe. The latter, taking the Frenchman for a British frigate, sent his Master in a boat to board her. The Master, on discovering his error, tried to get away, but was captured. The Daring, thus made aware of her peril, crowded sail for the Los Islands, upon one of which she ran herself ashore, and was burnt by her crew. That evening the frigates anchored in the road, and learnt that a British frigate was at anchor in the river of Sierra Leone. The French refitted in a leisurely manner, and did not weigh until February 4th. That day the Ardthuse struck on a coral bank, and lost her rudder; and on the 5th, being still among the islands, the Rubis also struck, and, as she was unable to free herself, began to transfer her crew to the Serra. The Arethuse, in the interval, repaired and reshipped her rudder. Such was the situation at dawn on February 6th.

In the meantime, Lieutenant Pascoe, and some of his people, had managed to reach Freetown, where lay the Amelia, 38, Captain the Hon. Frederick Paul Irby, and had reported that he had left "three French frigates" off the Los Islands. The Amelia at once began to prepare for action. That evening she was joined by the merchant schooner Hawk, with some more of the Daring's men; and, on January 30th, the Amelia's launch carronade having been put on board the Hawk, Pascoe went away in that vessel to reconnoitre. He returned on February 2nd with the names of the enemy's frigates and their prize, and with news of Bouvet's intention to put to sea immediately in order to prey upon commerce. On the day following, a cartel, sent by Bouvet, with a few prisoners for exchange, arrived, and confirmed the intelligence; and, without further delay, the Amelia weighed, and proceeded in search of the French, although her crew was sickly, and she was obviously no match for the force which her Captain believed to be awaiting him. Very early on the 6th she spoke the colonial schooner Princess Charlotte, and, an hour or two later, she sighted the French vessels in the N.E., one being about 12 miles from the islands, and the other aground, transferring her people to the Serra. Irby there-upon sent the Princess Charlotte to Sierra Leone to direct any British man-of-war that might call there to join him instantly; and he himself bore away to reconnoitre. At 3.20 P.M. the Arethuse was observed to weigh; but, unaware that the Rubis was aground, Irby did not invite an encounter, and kept on and off all night, and until the evening of the 7th, when, having drawn the Arethuse to some distance from her consorts, he wore, and steered to cross his opponent's stern. It was then 7.20 P.M., with a smooth sea, moderate wind, and brilliant moon. Bouvet tacked to avoid being raked; but, a little later, the Frenchman was brought to close action. Owing to injuries aloft, the Amelia unintentionally fell on board the Arethuse, which opened a heavy musketry fire, and threw hand grenades, with a view to preparing the way for an attempt to board. This aim was, however, frustrated by the fire of the Amelia's Marines; and the Arethuse, throwing all aback, dropped clear. The unmanageable state of the Amelia, nevertheless, presently brought the two frigates again into contact, broadside to broadside; and, from about 9.15 P.M., the two crews fired, and slashed at one another through the ports, until the concussion of the guns drove the ships apart. They continued the engagement so long as they were within gunshot; but all firing ceased at about 11.20 P.M. Irby says that the Arethuse bore up, the Amelia being ungovernable. Bouvet says that the Amelia crowded sail, and abandoned the field to him. It seems likely enough that the frigates merely drifted out of range of one another. No matter what may have occurred to separate them, the action was certainly well fought, as the following facts will prove.

The Amelia appears to have had on board, including the people of the Daring, 319 men and boys. Of these she lost no fewer than 51 killed or mortally wounded, including Lieutenants John James Bate, John Pope, George Wells, and William E Pascoe (of the Daring), Lieutenant (R.M.) Robert G Grainger, Midshipman Charles Kennicott, and Purser John Bogue. She had, moreover, 90 wounded, including Captain Irby, Lieutenant William Reeve, Master Anthony de Mayne, Lieutenant (R.M.) John Simpson, Purser John Collman, Boatswain John Parkinson, Master's Mate Edward Robinson, and Midshipmen George Albert Rix, Thomas D Buckle, George Thomas Gooch, and Arthur Beever. All her masts and yards were badly wounded, and her hull was shattered. As for the Arethuse, she apparently had on board about 340 men, of whom 31 were killed and 74 wounded. She also was terribly cut about aloft, and otherwise well mauled.

At daylight on the 8th the frigates were about five miles apart. When a breeze sprang up, the Arethuse stood back to the Los Islands, and the Amelia made sail for Madeira and England. The Arethuse was joined on the 10th by the Serra, with the crew of the Rubis; and, with the prize in tow, she steered for France. On the way, however, Bouvet took the people out of the Serra
and destroyed her. On April 19th, having made in all about 15 prizes, he reached St. Malo. The Amelia had anchored at Spithead on March 22nd.

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