Attacks on Boulogne

4th August 1801 - 16th August 1801
Part of : The Napoleonic Wars (1803 - 1815)
Next action : Action of 1803-06-14 14.6.1803


United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

British Squadron, Lord Horatio Nelson (1st Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough) (1758-1805)
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Medusa (74)  Fleet Flagship
Leyden (64) William Bedford
Jamaica (22) John Mackellar, Jonas Rose
Eugenie (16) Philip Somerville
1st Division, Philip Somerville
Ship NameCommanderNotes
2nd Division, Edward Thornbrough Parker (d.1801)
Ship NameCommanderNotes
3rd Division, Isaac Cotgrave
Ship NameCommanderNotes
4th Division, Richard Jones
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Division of howitzer boats, John Conn
Ship NameCommanderNotes

République Française

French Forces at Boulogne, Louis René Levassor de La Touche (Comte de Tréville) (1745-1804)
Ship NameCommanderNotes

Notes on Action


The conclusion of the Treaty of Luneville, by putting a period to the active hostility of Germany, gave Bonaparte an opportunity of turning more of his attention than ever towards Great Britain. It has been seen that France had long since made extensive preparations for an invasion. During the year 1800, however, the preparations had been suspended. Great Britain, indeed, had for some time ceased to be pressingly anxious on the subject, when, on July 12th, 1801, the First Consul ordered a concentration at Boulogne of nine divisions of gun-vessels, of a large mass of troops, and of several detachments of artillerymen. Rear-Admiral La Touche Treville, one of the best naval officers of France, was given the command of the flotilla; and he at once began to train his men in embarking and disembarking, in weighing and anchoring, in working the vessels, and in using the guns.

It was then that, among other measures designed to calm the public mind, Nelson was appointed to command the defences of the coast from Orford Ness to Beachy Head. He hoisted his flag in the Medusa, 32, Captain John Gore, at anchor in the Downs; and on August 3rd, in consequence of directions from the Admiralty, crossed to Boulogne to endeavour to destroy the flotilla which was assembled under the guns of the lately strengthened fortifications of the place. He had with him thirty craft, chiefly gun-vessels and bombs. The latter on the 4th shelled part of the French flotilla, consisting of twenty-four armed vessels, and, according to an order which was issued by Nelson on the 5th, entirely disabled ten of them. The British dispatches, however, leave it to be inferred that only three flats and a brig were permanently disabled; and the French official account, while it does not expressly state that no other material harm was done, says that two gunboats which had been damaged were at once refitted for service, and that no Frenchman was either killed or wounded. On the British side three persons were wounded. It was evident for the bombs had expended more than nine hundred shells that, if effective damage was to be done, other means must be employed. Nelson, therefore, determined to try the effect of a cutting-out expedition on a large scale.

He organised the armed boats of the squadron into four divisions, commanded respectively by Commander Philip Somerville, Commander Edward Thornbrough Parker, Commander Isaac Cotgrave, and Commander Richard Jones and, on the night of August 15th, sent them in accompanied by a division of howitzer boats under Commander John Conn. The boats, having assembled round the Medusa, put off from her at about 11.30 P.M.; but, owing to the darkness, the tide, and the currents, the divisions soon became separated, and could not, in consequence, co-operate according to the pre-arranged plans. The boats of Somerville's division, driven far to the eastward, had to quit one another and proceed independently. Just before dawn on the 16th, some of these succeeded in reaching and attacking a brig which lay close to the pier-head; but, though they carried her, they were forced to abandon her, as she was secured by a chain which they could not sever, and was swept by the fire of four craft moored quite close to her. As daylight broke, Somerville's division retreated, with a loss of 18 killed and 55 wounded.

Parker's division, the second, was less impeded by the current, and, at about 12.30, part of it ran alongside the brig Etna. But boarding nettings and a heavy fire forced the men back. Another part carried a lugger, but was repulsed by the brig Volcan; and the two sub-divisions retired with a loss of 21 killed and 42 wounded.

Cotgrave's division, the third, was also driven back after it had fought most gallantly and had lost 5 killed and 29 wounded. The fourth division, unable to get near the enemy before day broke, put back without loss.

Commander Edward Thornbrough Parker, a promising officer of only twenty-two, who had greatly endeared himself to Nelson, and who had been acting as his aide-de-camp, died of his wounds at Deal on September 27th.

The French, who had been reinforced since August 4th, claimed to have run down eight British boats and to have taken four, and to have lost only 10 killed and 30 wounded. Whether they did so much damage may be doubted; but it is certain that the affair must be counted as a British defeat, and, having regard to the total loss, 44 killed and 126 wounded, as a sanguinary one. Both Nelson, however, and St. Vincent, handsomely recognised that officers and men had behaved most gallantly.

Previous comments on this pageno comments to display
Make a comment about this page

Recent comments to other pages

Date postedByPage
Monday 23rd of November 2020 11:32CyBritish First Rate screw ship of the line 'Royal George' (1853) (120)
Monday 23rd of November 2020 10:17David HannamBritish First Rate screw ship of the line 'Royal George' (1853) (120)
Monday 23rd of November 2020 05:48Timothy OakleyFrench Fifth Rate frigate 'Danae' (1763) (32)
Friday 20th of November 2020 08:42Cy Thomas Baillie (1725-1802)
Friday 20th of November 2020 06:29Denise Taylor Thomas Baillie (1725-1802)