Marine painting is a difficult genre, most people that attempt a career in it fail which makes those that do succeed extremely gifted. Add to that choosing to depict the Napoleonic era and all the historical reference and knowledge required and you’ve set your bar pretty high.
Terry has an encyclopaedic knowledge of these engagements and spends months in research, preparatory sketches and ensuring that what he depicts is correct on every level.
John Chancellor (1925-1984) was considered the finest marine of his era, Terry has most certainly risen to take his place. He is an extraordinarily gifted painter and a man of huge intellect who turns a painting in to a snap shot of history.
In September 1743 shipbuilders Wyatt & Co of Bursledon, Southampton commenced operations at the shipyard situated at Buckler’s Hard on the banks of the River Beaulieu, in the New Forest, Hampshire and offered for lease by John Duke of Montague.
The first ship constructed was the Suprise, a 24 gun frigate ordered by the Admiralty and launched in 1745. This was followed by the Scorpion (18) in 1746 and the Woolwich (50) in 1749. All the construction was overseen on behalf of the Admiralty by the 30 year old master shipbuilder Henry Adams. He was a gifted shipdesigner and builder who unlike many of his contemporaries could work directly from ship design plans having acquired a proficiency in basic mathematics and geometry. He had a built up a reputation as being honest and meticulous in the manner in which he conducted his buisness. He also had the ability to assess whether a ship was ‘balanced’ which could avoid costly alterations later in construction.
In 1788 Wyatt & Co faced financial difficulties and the lease was taken over by Adams. He continued to design and build ships both at Deptford and at Buckler’s Hard for the next sixty two years. By the time of his death in 1805 the yard at Buckler’s Hard had been transformed. 27 naval vessels had been launched from its slipways among which was the Agamemnon, Euryalus and Swiftsure all of which went on to have distinguished careers with the Royal Navy each being present at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. On his retirement Henry Adams would observe the construction of ships through his telescope at Buckler’s Hard from the window of the round room built on the end of the Master Builder’s house overlooking the slipways. Each shipwright had a number and if Adams saw any work being carried out which did not meet with his approval he would hoist a numbered flag identifying the unfortunate shipwright who would be summoned by bell to climb a rope ladder hanging outside Adams window to be told the error of his ways!
HMS Brilliant carried 200 officers and men. Her armament consisted of the following:
Upper deck:- 2 x 9 pounders
Quarter deck:- 4 x 6 pounders 4 x 18 pounder carronades
Foc’stle:- 2 x 18 pounders 12 swivel guns
HMS Agamemnon 64 gun ship of the line was ordered on the 8th April 1777 laid down in May 1777 and launched on the 10th April 1781. She was designed by Thomas Slade to the lines of the Ardent class and cost £38, 303 15s. 4d. Her armament consisted of the following:-
Gun Deck:- 26 x 24 pounders
Upper Deck:- 26 x 18 pounders
Qtr Deck:- 10 x 9 pounders
Fo’csle :- 2 x 9 pounders.
HMS Agamemnon carried a compliment of 500 officers and men. To the men she was affectionately known as the ‘eggs and bacon’ in deference to the fashion at that time of naming batches of ships after Greek gods. She was believed to have been Lord Nelson’s favourite ship. He commanded her as a Captain from Jan 1793 for 3years and 3 months.She had a distinguished naval career including the following battle honours:-
Battle of Ushant 1781
Battle of the Saintes 1782
Battle of Genoa 1795
Battle of Hydras Islands 1795
Battle of Cape Finisterre 1805
Battle of Trafalgar 1805
Battle of San Domingo 1806
Battle of Copenhagen 1807
Despite Nelson’s fondness for the ship, she was frequently in need of repair and refitting due to her active war career and would likely have been hulked or broken up in 1802 were it not for the recommencement of the French war. Having fought at Trafalgar as part of the weather column and forced the surrender of the Spanish four decker Santisima Trinidada her later career was spent on the South American station where in June 1809 whilst seeking shelter from a gale with the rest of her Squadron she grounded on an unchartered shoal in the Bay of Maldonado, Uruquay. She was subsequently lost but the majority of her stores and her entire compliment were saved. Her poor condition undoubtedly played a major factor in the lost of this iconic ship.
In 1993 the wreck of the Agamemnon was located and several artefacts including cannon were recovered.
The painting depicts Buckler’s Hard as I imagine it would have looked in July 1779. HMS Brilliant is being prepared for launching, the launching cradles have been brought up from Portsmouth Dockyard and can be seen in place at the stern and bow. The Agamemnon is in frame alongside. Men can be seen alongside operating the capstans to haul heavy timbers up onto the vessel by the primitive cranes. Detail of the frames and general construction method can be seen. Some planking has been fitted. I have tried to give some impression of the immense size of these vessels by including men working on the scaffolding alongside the hull. Various timbers including compass timber sourced from the New Forest is seen stacked on the quays and between the rows of workers cottages. The Master Shipwrights house occupied by Henry Adams can be seen on the far right of the painting with the round room from which Adams observed the slipways. On the quayside two naval officers have arrived from Portsmouth in the long boat moored alongside the quay. They are Captain John Ford and his first lieutenant and have probably come to look over their new command. Henry Adams can be seen on the quay beneath the bow of the frigate in discussion with one of his shipwrights. Alongside the hedge a man is painting the three temporary masts used to hoist flags during the launching ceremony. In the river beyond the yard can be seen a Cowes ketch tacking back down river to the Solent having discharged her cargo at the yard.
The cottages, Master Shipwright’s house and remains of the slipways are maintained as a part of the Buckler’s Hard museum and a visit is highly recommended.
The Battle of Cape Ortegal was the final action of the Trafalgar Campaign and was fought between a squadron of the British navy and a remnant of the combined fleet that had been defeated earlier at the Battle of Trafalgar. It took place off Cape Ortegal in north-west Spain.
Four French ships of the line stationed in the van of the line of the combined fleet escaped the Battle of Trafalgar. They were under the command of Rear-Admiral Pierre Dumanoir le Pelley and consisted of his flag ship Formidable – 80 guns, and three 74 gun ships, Mont Blanc, Scipion and Duguay-Trouin. Pelley’s initial intention was to carry out Villeneuve’s original orders and make for Toulon but the day after the battle he changed his mind, intelligence suggesting that a substantial British squadron under Rear-Admiral Thomas Louis was patrolling the straits. With this in mind, together with deteriorating weather conditions off the Spanish coast he decided to sail westwards to clear Cape St Vincent prior to heading north-west and then eastwards across the Bay of Biscay his intended destination being the port of Rochefort. His squadron represented a still considerable force having suffered only slight damage at Trafalgar although Formidable had suffered damage to her hull and was making water which would ultimately effect her sailing qualities and would be a factor which would compromise the efficiency of the squadron in the coming action. Dumanoir doubled Cape St Vincent on 29th October and made for Ile-d’Aix entering the Bay of Biscay on 2nd November.
There were a number of British ships and squadrons already in the bay. Zacharie Allemand, commander of the Rochefort squadron had sailed from the port in July 1805 and was currently cruising in the Atlantic raiding British commerce. One of the British ships sent out on patrol was the 36 gun HMS Phoenix – Captain Thomas Baker. He had orders to patrol west of the Scilly Isles but in late October he received intelligence that Allemand’s squadron had been sighted in the Bay of Biscay. Baker immediately left his station and sailed south reaching the latitude of Cape Finisterre on 2 November just as Dumanoir was entering the bay. Baker sighted four ships steering north-north-west at 11.00 hrs and gave chase. The ships which Baker presumed to be part of the Rochefort squadron but were actually Dumanoir’s ships bore up at noon and began to chase Phoenix which hauled to the south hoping to lure the French into the path of the squadron under Captain Strachan that he knew to be in the area.
Baker kept ahead of the pursuing French and at 1500hrs sighted four sails heading south. Dumanoir’s forces also saw them and stood to the east. Baker having ascertained the strength and disposition of the French force continued south towards the four sail. By 2300 hrs Baker finally reached the ships and passing under the stern of Caesar recieved confirmation that the ships were indeed Strachan’s squadron. Baker informed Strachan that he had sighted a part of the Rochefort squadron to leeward and Strachan immediately determined to seek and engagement. His squadron however was widely scattered so ordered Baker to round up the remaining ships and hasten them to his support. He then set sail to intercept the French squadron.
Strachan’s squadron consisted of his own ship, Caesar – 80 guns, and the 74 gun ships Hero – Captain Alan Gardner, Couregeux – Captain Richard Lee, Namur – Captain Lawrence Halsted, and the frigates Santa Margarita – 38 guns – Captain Wilson Rathbone, Aeolus -32 guns – Captain Lord William Fitzroy, Phoenix – 36 guns – Captain Thomas Baker and Revolutionnaire – 38 guns – Captain Henry Hotham.
The Caesar, Hero, Courageux and Aeolus continued the chase to the north west until losing the French in hazy weather at 0130 hrs. Strachan decided to shorten sail to allow the remainder of his ships to catch up. At 0730hrs on the 3rd, Cape Ortegal was sighted, 36 miles to the southeast. The French squadron was again sighted at 0900 hrs The chase continued throughout the day and into the night by which time the faster Santa Margarita and Phoenix were well ahead of the main British force.
The preliminary stages of the battle began at 0545hrs on the 4th November when the Santa Margarita closed on the stern of the rear-most French ship, Scipion and opened fire being joined by the Phoenix at 0930 hrs. At this stage the French were sailing roughly in line abreast with the British frigates staying on the Scipion’s quarter to avoid her broadsides. The Caesar, Hero, Courageux and Aeolus were about six miles astern while Namur and Revolutionnaire were further away. At 1145hrs with action unavoidable, Dumanoir formed his ships in line ahead on the starboard tack as Strachan formed his ships likewise approaching from windward on the French ships starboard side. By noon all four British frigates were in action harassing Scipion on her larboard side whilst the British ships of the line were attacking the French squadron from starboard. Dumanoir had ordered his ships to tack in succession at 1130 hrs to bring his leading ship, Duguay-Trouin into the action to support his centre. The Duguay-Trouin made no move to obey the signal until 1215 hrs when the French line began to turn towards the British ships of the line and to pass down alongside them. The two lines passed alongside each other with Dumanoir finding that Strachan had doubled his line with frigates on one side and ships of the line on the other. His ships suffered heavy damage as the two lines passed on opposite tacks with Dumanoir aiming to isolate Namur before she could join the British line.
The damage to Damanoir’s ships rendered them slow and unmanoeuvrable. Strachan was able to order his squadron to tack to enable them to maintain theie position alongside the French. By 1510 hrs the French ships were worn down with Scipion and Formidable striking their colours. Seeing this, Mont Blanc and Duguay-Trouin attempted to escape but were overhauled by Hero and Caesar and reduced to unmanagable hulks lowering their colours at 1535 hrs.
Strachan’s triumph completed the rout of the French that Nelson had begun at Trafalgar. With the four ships taken at Cape Ortegal only five ships of the combined fleet of 18 ships of the line remained and they were trapped in Cadiz.
All four prizes taken at Cape Ortegal were brought safely into Plymouth. They were subsequently commissioned into the British navy. Formidable became HMS Brave, The Duguay-Trouin renamed HMS Implacable. The other two retained their original names but never went to sea.
The Duguay-Trouin as HMS Implacable saw action in the Baltic in 1808 and 1809. She served off the Syrian coast in 1839 and took part in the blockade of Alexandria. In 1842 she was withdrawn from active service becoming a training ship for boys at Devonport as the Lion. Her final years were spent also as a training vessel alongside the Foudroyant (formerly the Trincomalee, now restored at Hartlepool} in Portsmouth Harbour. Regrettably at 1345 hrs on the 2nd December l949 due to her advanced state of deterioration she was taken out into the English Channel and ceremonially scuttled with the French tricolour and British naval ensign flying at her transom. Ironically parts of her were washed up on the French coast at Dunkirk – symbolically she had returned home. She was one of only two surviving vessels which fought at Trafalgar, the other being HMS Victory and the only surviving 74 gun ship of the line.
The painting depicts the situation at 1535 hrs. The Duguay-Trouin on seeing the Courageux bearing up from astern to offer supporting fire has decided that it would be pointless to continue and has struck her colours. The Hero on her larboard side has fired her final salvo. She has lost her fore top yard. The damage sustained by the Duguay-Trouin is extensive having lost her mizzen and main masts. Her fore mast will go over the side later. To the left can be seen the Caesar lowering a boat to ferry a prize crew over to the damaged Mont Blanc . In the centre distance the Formidable is lying dismasted with the Namur moving to secure her.
23rd March 2020
During the Napoleonic Wars the British economy depended on its ability to trade with the British Empire, particularly the valuable colonies in British India. The intercontinental trade was conducted by the governors of India, the Honourable East India Company using their fleet of large well-armed merchant vessels known as East Indiamen. These ships were of between 500 and 1200 nominal tons burthen and could carry up to 36 guns for defence against pirates, privateers and small warships. They were not however capable under normal circumstances of fighting off an enemy frigate or ship of the line. Their guns were usually of inferior design and their crew smaller and less well trained than those on a naval ship. The East Indiamen sought to ensure the safety of their cargo and passengers not defeat enemy warships in battle. Despite these disadvantages the size of East Indiamen meant that from a distance they appeared quite similar to a small ship of the line, a deception usually augmented by paintwork and dummy cannon.
The East Indiamen would gather at ports in India and the Far East and from there set out for Britain in large convoys often carrying millions of pounds worth of trade goods. The journey would usually take six months ‘Country’ ships, smaller merchant vessels chartered for local trade sometimes independently from the HEIC would often join the convoys. To protect their ships from the depredations of pirates the HEIC also operated its own private navy of small armed vessels. They were not however a match for professional warships.
Understanding the importance of the Indian Ocean trade and seeking to threaten it Napoleon ordered a squadron to sail for India in March 1803. This force was under the command of Comtre-Admiral Charles-Alexandre Durand Linois and consisted of the 74 gun Marengo, Belle Poule 40 guns, Semillante 36 guns, Berceau 20 guns, Aventurier 16 guns and the Brig William 18 guns. Linois operated from the island base of Lle de France with orders to attack British shipping once war had begun. The Napoleonic War commenced on the 16th May and on the 28th December Linois’s squadron departed Batavia with six months provisions. He intended to extend his patrol to the approaches of the Strait of Malacca in the South China Sea.
On the 31st January 1804 the China Fleet an annual British merchant convoy sailed from Canton in the Pearl River for Britain via India. Its commander, Commodore Nathaniel Dance was an officer with over 45 years service at sea in the East Indiamen. His ship was the Earl Camden. The Royal Navy was unable to provide escort as news of the outbreak of war had reached Canton before reinforcements had arrived from the squadron in India. Spies based in Canton had passed the composition and date of departure of the China Fleet to Linois in Batavia, but the Dutch informants at Canton had also passed on false reports that Royal Navy warships were accompanying the convoy, reports that may have been deliberately placed by British authorities. The convoy was an immensely valuable prize, its cargo of tea, silk and procelain valued at over £8 million ( £700 million in todays estimates) Also on board were 80 Chinese plants ordered by Sir Joseph Banks for the royal gardens and carried in a specially designed plant room. In view of the circumstances Commodore Dance ordered selected vessels in the convoy to paint their sides to resemble naval vessels.
At 0800 on 14th February with the island of Pulo Aura within sight to the south-west near the eastern entrance to the Straits of Malacca, the Indiaman Royal George raised a signal describing three sail approaching the convoy from the direction of the island. This was Linois’s squadron which had been cruising in the area for the previous month in anticipation of the convoy’s arrival. Dance ordered the brig Ganges and the Indiamen Alfred, Royal George and Hope to approach the strange vessels and investigate. They reported to Dance that the strange sail were enemy warships. By 1300 Dance had readied his guns and reformed his convoy with the large Indiamen formed up in line of battle to receive the French attack. During the afternoon Linois’s squadron fell in behind the convoy being cautious and merely observing preferring to wait until the following morning before engaging. Dance ordered the Ganges to shepherd the convoy on the leeward side of the larger Indiamen.
At dawn on the 15th both the French and British raised their colours. Dance hoped to persuade Linois that his ships included some fully armed warships and he therefore ordered the brig Ganges and the four lead ships to hoist blue ensigns while the rest of the convoy raised red ensigns. This implied that the ships flying blue ensigns were attached to the squadrons of Admiral Rainier. Dance was unknowingly assisted by the information that had reached Linois at Batavia which claimed that there were 23 merchant ships and the brig in the convoy. Dance had collected six additional ships during his journey and the identity of these were unknown to the French who assumed that at least some of the unidentified vessels must be warships particularly as several vessels had been recently painted at Canton to resemble ships of the line.
At 0900 Linois was still reluctant to attack. Dance responded by reforming the line of battle into sailing formation to increase the speed of the convoy with the intention of reaching the Straits before Linois. With the convoy a less intimidating target, Linois began to approach the British ships and by 1300 it was clear to Dance that Linois’s faster ships were in danger of isolating the rear ships of the convoy. Dance signalled his lead ships to tack and come about together which they did successfully bearing down towards the French. At 1315 Linois opened fire on the lead ship – Royal George under the command of John Fam Timmins. The Royal George and the next four ships in the line – Ganges, Dance’s Earl Camben, Warley and the Alfred returned fire as each came in range with the French vessels. Captain James Prendergrass in Hope, the next in line was so eager to join the battle that he misjudged his speed and collided with the Warley both ships falling back to disengage themselves. Shots were exchanged at long range for the next 43 minutes. The Royal George which had been the first to engage the French had received some damage to the hull and rigging and had one crew member killed. The remaining British ships reported only superficial damage. The French reported no damage or injuries.
At 1400 Linois ordered his squadron to withdraw and hauled away to the east. Determined to maintain the pretence of the presence of warships, Dance ordered general chase and pursued the French squadron for two hours after which he ordered a return to the convoy. By 2000 the convoy was anchored safely at the entrance to the Straits of Malacca. On the 28th February H.M.S. Sceptre and M.SC. Albion joined them in the Strait and escorted them to Saint Helena in the South Atlantic from where M.SC. Plangent escorted them safely to England.
Commodore Dance was knighted and received a generous financial reward from HEIC and the Bombay Insurance Company He was able to take comfortable retirement and died in 1827. Various commanders and their crew received a share of £50,000. The loss of this valuable convoy would have had profound effects across the British Empire and would have most likely caused the financial ruin of both the HEIC and Lloyds of London.
Commodore Dance conducted a masterly act of bluff requiring great courage and determination against an enemy of immeasurably greater force. It is quite astounding that a Vice Admiral commanding a powerful squadron should have withdrawn from what would have been obvious on closer examination were a number of merchant vessels masquerading as warships.
The painting depicts the situation at 1315 as the first shots are exchanged between the Royal George and the Marengo. Behind the Royal George can be seen the gun brig Ganges followed by Commodore Dance’s Earl Camden, the Warley and Alfred. The convoy can be seen to the lee of these vessels making towards the Strait.
23rd July 2019