Hornet vs Penguin

23rd March 1814
Part of : The War of 1812 (1812 - 1814)
Previous action : Battle of Lake Erie 10.9.1813
Next action : Epervier vs Peacock 29.4.1814


United States of America

Ship NameCommanderNotes
Hornet (18) James Biddle (d.1848)1 killed, 10 wounded

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

Ship NameCommanderNotes
Penguin (16) George Anson Byron (1789-1868)10 killed, 28 wounded Sunk

Notes on Action


The Hornet was then under the command of Captain James Biddle, and she had on board a crew of about one hundred and forty men. She reached the island of Tristan d'Acunha on the 23rd of March, and was about to anchor, when she made out a strange sail, which proved to be the British brig-sloop Penguin, 18, Commander James Dickinson, with a crew of one hundred and thirty-two men, she having taken on board twelve extra Marines from the Medway, 74. The Hornet carried twenty guns, all 32-pr. carronades, except two long 12's for bow-chasers. The Penguin carried nineteen guns: sixteen 32-pr. carronades, two long G's as bow-chasers, and a 12-pr. carronade. The difference in force was trifling, but, such as it was, it was in favour of the Americans.

The two ships began action at 1.40 P.M., within musket-shot of one another, running on the starboard tack, the Penguin to windward. After a quarter of an hour of close action Commander Dickinson put his helm a-weather to run his adversary aboard. Almost at the same moment he was mortally wounded, and the first lieutenant, James M'Donald, endeavoured to carry out his intentions. The Penguin's bowsprit came in between the Hornet's main and mizen rigging, but the sea was very rough, and no attempt at boarding was made. As the Hornet forged ahead, the Penguin's bowsprit carried away her mizen shrouds, stern davits, and spanker boom, and the brig then hung on the ship's starboard quarter, so that none of the big guns could be used on either side. A British officer called out something which Biddle understood to be the word of surrender. Accordingly, he directed his marines to cease firing, and jumped on to the taffrail, but was himself at once shot and wounded rather severely in the neck by two of the Marines on the Penguin's forecastle, both of whom were killed in another moment by the marines of the Hornet. As the ships drew apart the Penguin's fore-mast went overboard. Her hull was riddled, and most of the guns on her engaged side were dismounted, while thirty-eight of her men were killed or wounded. Thereupon, she struck her colours at two minutes past two, but twenty-two minutes after the first gun had been fired. In the Hornet one man was killed, and ten were wounded, chiefly by musketry fire, for not a round shot struck her hull. Next day Biddle destroyed his prize.

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