HMS Canonniere

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Canonniere, 1803
Type: French frigate ; Armament 40
Launched : Taken 2 Jul 1803 ; Complement: 330
2 Jul 1803 British frigate Minerve captured and renamed Canonniere (Vol iii - page 189-191) see below.
On the 2d of July, 1803, the British 38-gun frigate Minerve, Captain Jahleel Brenton, grounded and was captured at the entrance of the harbour of Cherbourg. The circumstances under which this happened have been so fully detailed by Captain Brenton's brother, that we cannot do better than transcribe our contemporary's account.

" In the evening the Minerve, running close in with Cherbourg in a thick fog, mistook Fort de la Liberté for Pélée; and a number of vessels being seen to the eastward, the pilot assured the captain he might run amongst them without hesitation. The helm was accordingly put up for the purpose, when just as the ship was about to open her fire, she grounded, and the fog at the same time dispersing, discovered her to be in a very perilous situation. She was on the western Cone Head, about six furlongs from Fort de la Liberté, of 70 guns and 15 mortars ; and one mile from the Isle Pélée, of 100 guns, and 25 mortars, from both of which a fire almost immediately opened. This happened about nine o'clock in the evening. Captain Brenton, aware that strong and decided measures were necessary, and that the launch of a frigate was not calculated to carry out a bower anchor, immediately despatched his boats armed, to cut out a vessel from under the batteries, of sufficient capacity for the purpose; whilst the launch, with her carronade, should be employed in diverting the fire of two gun-brigs, lying in such a position ahead of the Minerve, as to annoy her greatly by a raking fire. The yawl, being the first boat in the water, was sent under the orders of the Honourable Lieutenant William Walpole, and the other boats were directed to follow as soon as ready ; but the gallant officer, to whom the enterprise was in trusted, found his own boat sufficient. He proceeded under a heavy fire of round, grape, and musketry, and from her position close to the batteries, cut out a lugger of 50 tons, laden with stone for the works, and towed her off to the ship. Before the bower anchor could be placed in this vessel, it was necessary to clear her of her cargo, and that this might be done, without adding to the shoal on which the ship lay, she was veered astern by the ebb tide to the length of a hawser. Unfortunately, the moon shone with great brightness. The enemy's fire became very galling: the more so, as no return could be made but from the two forecastle guns, those of the main deck having been all run close forward, for the purpose of lightening the ship abaft, where she hung. At 11 P. M. the lugger, being cleared, was brought under the larboard cathead, to receive the small bower anchor, and during this operation, was so frequently struck by the gun-brigs, as to keep a carpenter constantly employed in stopping the shot-holes. By midnight all was ready ; a kedge anchor had been previously laid out for the purpose of warping the lugger, but the moment the hawser became taut, it was shot away. Every thing now depended upon the boats, which were sent to take the lugger in tow, and succeeded, under a severe fire, in gaining their object, and the anchor was let go in a proper position. At three o'clock in the morning, the wind had entirely subsided, and the captain, almost hopeless of being able to save the ship, contemplated the probable necessity of being obliged to abandon her. With this view he caused the wounded men to be brought up and put into the lugger, destroyed his private signals, and prepared fires in the store-rooms, to be lighted at the last extremity. A fine breeze, however, springing up from the land, as the tide rose, revived the hope of saving the ship, and the wounded men were returned to the cockpit. The lugger's masts were soon after shot away by the guns of the batteries, over the gangway of the Minerve, At four, the capstan was manned, and many of the crew were killed and wounded as they hove at the bars. At five, the ship floated, under the most heartfelt cheers of the crew. It was considered as a certainty, that in the course of two or three minutes they would be out of gun-shot of the batteries, and consequently out of danger; but this pleasing prospect soon vanished. The wind again declined into a perfect calm, and the last drain of the flood tide carried the now helpless ship into the harbour, and laid her upon a broken cone. In this situation she remained until the top of high water, when she surrendered, after sustaining the fire of the enemy for ten hours, and having eleven men killed and sixteen wounded.

" Such was the state of her masts that, had there been a moderate breeze, they must have gone by the board. She was lightened in the course of the day by the French, and got off. The capture of so fine a frigate at the commencement of the war, occasioned great triumph, and was announced in the theatre at Brussels, by Buonaparte in person; who, addressing the audience, stated the circumstance in the following terms: " La guerre vient de commencer sous les plus heureuse auspices, une superbe frégate de l'ennemi vient de se rendre a deux de nos chaloupes canonnieres.' The ship was called the ' Canonniere,' in order to support this despicable falsehood.

" Captain Brenton was detained a prisoner in France for two years and a half; many of his officers and men died in captivity. The greater part, suffering a barbarous imprisonment of eleven years, were not released till the tyrant was defeated on the plains of Leipsic, in 1814. A British sailor, who had both his legs shot off while the Minerve lay under the fire of the batteries, was carried to the cockpit. Waiting for his turn to be dressed, he heard the cheers of the crew on deck, and eagerly demanded what they meant. Being told the ship was off the shoal, and would soon be clear of the forts; " Then d--n the legs! " exclaimed the poor fellow, and taking his knife from his pocket, he cut the remaining muscles which attached them to him, and joined in the cheers with the rest of his comrades. When the ship was taken, he was placed in the boat to be conveyed to the hospital ; but determined not to outlive the loss of liberty, he slacked his tourniquets, and bled to death." *
To this account we have only to add, that, among the gun-vessels which attacked the Minerve in her defenceless situation, were the two brigs Chiffon and Terrible, each armed with eight or ten heavy long guns. They, in fact, were the " chaloupes canonnieres " alluded to in the French accounts. In capturing the Minerve, the French got back one of their own frigates ; and they represent her, truly, we believe, to have mounted, including fourteen 32-pounder carronades and six nines on the quarterdeck and forecastle, 48 guns.
On the 21st of April, 1806, at daybreak, latitude 30° 45' south, and longitude 30° 5' east, as the British 74-gun ship Tremendous ; Captain John Osborn, and 50-gun ship Hindostan, Captain Alexander Fraser, with a light wind at east-north-east, were escorting a homeward-bound fleet of Indiamen, numbering 11 sail, the French 40-gun frigate Canonniere (late British frigate Minerve *), Captain César-Joseph Bourayne, was discovered to leeward steering south-south-west. Ordering the Hindostan by signal to lead the fleet, the Tremendous made sail in chase of the frigate ; who, having hauled her wind on the starboard tack, bore from the former at noon west by south, and the convoy south-east. Favoured by the lightness of the breeze, the Canonniere outdeparted the 74, and would have weathered her, had not M. Bourayne, by the appearance of land ahead and to windward, been obliged to bear up. This, with an increase of the breeze at about 2 P.M., enabled the Tremendous to gain so upon the frigate, that at 3 h. 30 m. P.M. the latter, hoisting her colours, opened a fire from her stern-chasers, and received a return fire from the bow-guns of the 74.

At 4 P.M., finding herself closely pressed, the Canonniere gradually hauled up on the larboard tack ; as did also the Tremendous, keeping upon her opponent's larboard quarter, and firing her guns as they could be brought to bear. By occasionally luffing up, the frigate got her whole broadside to bear, and thereby considerably damaged the rigging and sails of the 74. The latter, notwithstanding, rather fore-reached upon the Canonniere, and was meditating to cross her bows and end the contest by a raking fire, when, at about 4 h. 45 m. P.M., a well-directed broadside from the frigate shot away the jib-stay and foretopsail ties and slings of the 74, and brought her foretopsail yard down upon the cap.

In consequence of this accident the Tremendous dropped astern fast, and, having no immediate alternative, bore up and poured a raking fire into her opponent's stern and quarter, but at too great a distance to produce any effect. As soon as she had repaired her damaged rigging, the 74 again hauled up ; but the frigate had now got to windward, and was making so good a use of the advantage, that the few shot afterwards fired by the Tremendous could not reach her. At the time that the latter hauled up, the Charlton Indiaman, Captain George Wood, being ahead of the fleet, hove to and fired her broadside, but at so great a distance, that the Canonniere did not deign a reply. Captain Osborn continued the pursuit until 7 h. 30 m. P.M. when, the frigate having disappeared since sunset, the Tremendous hove to, in order to await the coming up of the Hindostan and convoy.

Except a few shots in her masts, the damages of the Tremendous did not exceed those already mentioned ; and, owing to the high fire of her opponent, she had not a man hurt. The injuries done to the Canonniere were of a more serious description. A shot had penetrated 16 inches into her mainmast, and cut the heart of it ; and her fore yard and mizenmast were also badly wounded. One of her iron 36-pounder carronades (of which the frigate had 14, with six long eights, making her guns the same in number as when recaptured from the British, 48) and two of her anchors were broken by shot ; she likewise received about 21 in the hull. Her loss, out of a crew of 330 men and boys, amounted to seven men killed and 25 wounded, including among the latter two or three officers. It is related of two " enseignes, " or midshipmen, named Prenet and Duplantos that, after being severely wounded, they went below only to get the blood staunched, and then returned to their quarters.

If any thing can add to the credit of M. Bourayne, for the able management of his ship, and his persevering and successful, defence of her against a force so superior, it is the modesty of the account which he transmitted to the minister of marine. No rodomontade ; all is plainly, yet minutely told, and, in every material point, agrees with the entry in the British ship's log. Fortunately for the cause of truth and the character of a brave officer, the imperial supervisor of official correspondence either overlooked Captain Bourayne's letter, or, having no immediate purpose to answer by altering the statements it contained, suffered the Moniteur to insert the letter in its original form. Captain Bourayne's account, however, was too insipid to be served up, in its simple state, to the French readers of the "Victoires et Conquetes." The writer has accordingly seasoned it in a way which, he knew, would render it palatable. Not only is the Tremendous made to fly from the field of battle, but the crew of the Canonniere are eager to board her. " Il ne s'agissait plus alors, pour ces braves matelots, de soustraire leur frégate au vaisseau ennemi, ni meme de la forcer a une retraite honteuse; ils aspiraient a le prendre, et les cris, a l'abordage! a l'abordage! se firent entendre a plusieurs reprises. " *

The action of the Tremendous and Canonniere affords a lesson to officers, who find themselves suddenly asdeparted by a decidedly superior force. It teaches them that, by a judicious and protracted defence, their ship may escape, even when, in a manner, close under the guns of an opponent, whose single broadside, well directed (the chief point wherein the Tremendous appears to have failed), must either sink or disable her.

The Canonniere had departed from Cherbourg on the 14th of November, 1805, as a reinforcement to Rear-admiral Linois, whom Captain Bourayne, agreeably to his orders, proceeded to join at the Isle of France. Not finding the admiral there, the frigate was seeking him off the Cape of Good Hope, when fallen in with by the Tremendous and her convoy. After repairing, as well as could be done at sea, the damage she had sustained in this encounter, the Canonnière steered for Simon's bay, and on the 30th anchored near Penguin island. Deceived by the Dutch colours at all the forts, and on board the merchant ships at anchor within him, M. Bourayne sent on shore a boat under the command of a lieutenant. No sooner had the party disembarked, than the forts, changing their colours, opened a heavy fire of shot and shells upon the frigate. The Canonnière immediately cut her cable and stood out. Several shells broke over, but none did any important injury to her ; and not a single struck her hull. The French lieutenant and his men were of course made prisoners.