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Capture of Oyepok, Appruagoc & Cayenne

8th December 1808 - 14th January 1809
Part of : The Napoleonic Wars (1803 - 1815)
Previous action : Attack on Mahaut 28.11.1808
Next action : Action at St Pierre 12.12.1808 - 13.12.1808


Allied (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland & Portugal)

Allied vessels,
James Lucas YeoBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1797-1818
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Confiance (22) 1805-1810
British 22 Gun
Unrated Sloop
James Lucas YeoBritish
Naval Sailor
Service 1797-1818
Volador (24) 1790-1823
Portugese 24 Gun
6th Rate Brig
Vingança (18) 1804-1814
Portugese 18 Gun
Unrated Brig
Infante Don Pedro (24) 1808-1822
Portugese 24 Gun
Unrated Brig
Leio 1808-1809
Portugese Unrated Cutter

Notes on Action


On December 8th, 1808, the Confiance, 20, Captain James Lucas Yeo, two Portuguese brigs, the Volador and Infante, some small craft, and about five hundred and fifty Portuguese troops under Lieut.-Colonel Manuel Marques, with the concurrence of Rear-Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith, had seized Oyapok, in French Guiana, and, on the 15th, had reduced Appruague. These successes encouraged Lucas and Marques to make a descent upon Cayenne, which is the capital of the colony, and which lies upon an island between the rivers Cayenne and Mahuy.

The troops, with a body of British and Portuguese seamen and Marines, having been embarked in small vessels, entered the mouth of the Mahuy, eastward of the island, early in the morning of January 6th, 1809. In the evening of the same day, Yeo, with about two hundred and fifty of the men in ten canoes, proceeded to attack some forts commanding the entrance to the river, having directed Commander Salgado, of the Voador, to follow after dark with the rest of the troops, and, upon being apprised of the fall of the forts, to land the men as promptly as possible. Yeo's venture was difficult and dangerous, for some of his canoes could not keep up with the others, and those which landed their people were all wrecked in the surf. Nevertheless, one detachment of the party, under Major Joaquim Manuel Pinto carried an 8-gun battery called Degras de Cannes; and another, under Yeo himself, rushed Fort Diamant, where three guns were mounted. The loss on the side of the attack was not heavy, that of the British being only six wounded. Among the officers engaged in this affair were, in addition to Yeo, Lieutenants William Howe Mulcaster and Samuel Blyth, Lieutenant John Head, R.M. (killed), Midshipmen George Forder and David Irwin, Mr. Thomas Savory, Purser, and Carpenter William Taylor. Commander Salgado, as agreed upon, landed with the remainder of the troops; but as General Victor Hugues was known to be advancing from the town of Cayenne, only twelve miles distant, with one thousand men, Yeo left Lieutenant Mulcaster, with a few men from the Confiance, to dismantle Fort Diamant, and concentrated the bulk of his command at Degras de Cannes. Upon reaching that position he discovered, higher up the Mahuy, two other forts, one, named Trio, on the right bank, commanding a creek leading up to the town of Cayenne, and the other on the left bank. The two Portuguese cutters Lion and Vinganza had already anchored between the forts, and were cannonading them with their 4-prs.; but, perceiving that such weakly armed craft could effect nothing alone, and that, in fact, their people were suffering severely, Yeo quickly decided that both batteries must be stormed. Accordingly Mr. Thomas Savory and some Portuguese were directed against the battery on the left bank, and Yeo, with Lieutenant Samuel Blyth, led the attack upon Trio. Both parties had to land under the muzzles of the French guns, and each was exposed to a heavy fire of grape and musketry; but the assailants quickly carried their point and drove out the defenders.

No sooner had the forts been taken than General Victor Hugues, from Cayenne, attacked Colonel Marques at Degras de Cannes, while a detachment of the French forces appeared before Fort Diamant, where Lieutenant Mulcaster was still engaged. Yeo instantly pushed off from Trio to assist Marques; and the allies, after a three hours' hot action, obliged Hugues to return to Cayenne. At Fort Diamant the resolute attitude of the small body of seamen decided the two hundred and fifty of the enemy not to risk an attack, but to follow their general. On the following day Yeo sent a summons to a strong French fort which defended Hugues's private house and plantation, not far from the left bank of the Mahuy, and which was held by one hundred picked men; but a boat, carrying a flag of truce, was twice fired upon at short range and had to retreat; whereupon Yeo effected a landing near the house. Again a flag of truce, intended to cover Lieutenant Mulcaster, was fired at; and presently the French, most of whom were well ambushed in a wood, opened upon the allies with musketry and a field-piece. The British and Portuguese could not bring up their own gun; but they charged with pike and bayonet, and soon made themselves master of the French field-piece, and drove the enemy in confusion from the position. The allies then advanced towards Cayenne; and on the 10th the town was summoned. An armistice was agreed to; and on January 14th the place was taken possession of, the enemy's troops, to the number of 400 regulars, 600 white militia, and 200 blacks, giving up their arms. Thus, with a loss to the British of only 1 killed and 23 wounded (2 mortally), and to the Portuguese of only 1 killed and 8 wounded, was acquired the whole territory of what is now French Guiana, from the Maroni to the Oyapok.

"It is but just," says Yeo, in his letter of January 15th to Sir W. S. Smith, "that I should take notice of the exertions of Mr. J. Arscott, 2 acting Master, who has passed for Lieutenant, whom I left in charge of the ship, and who proved himself worthy of the confidence reposed in him. The Topaze, 3 French frigate, appeared in the offing on the 13th, with a reinforcement for the garrison. Though with only twenty-five Englishmen and twenty negroes, and no other officers than two young gentlemen, Messrs. George Yeo 4 and Edward Bryant, 5 he contrived, by his skilful manoeuvres, to drive her off the coast."

The capture of Cayenne is one of the most striking examples of the accomplishment of great ends with what were apparently altogether inadequate materials; and seldom has naval officer better deserved than Captain Yeo the exceptional honours which his bravery and ability won for him, and for all who served with him.

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