The late Patrick O’Brian best know for the creation of the characters of Captain Jack Aubrey and Surgeon Stephen Maturin whose lives and careers are traced through a series of novels covering the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.
In the author's note in The far side of the world we are informed that the celebrated engagement which ended in the capture of the Cacafuego was based on the capture of the Spanish frigate El Gamo by the sloop Speedy commanded by Lord Thomas Cochrane, 1775-1860.
The action itself being described in Master and Commander
In his memoirs Cochrane pays tribute to his surgeon Dr James Guthrie:
" The doctor, Mr. Guthrie, who, I am happy to say, is still living to peruse this record of his gallantry, volunteered to take the helm; leaving him therefore for the time both commander and crew of the Speedy, the order was given to board, and in a few seconds every man was on the enemy's deck- a feat rendered the more easy as the doctor placed the Speedy close along with admirable skill."
Cochrane, T. 1860 The autobiography of a seaman London. Volume 1. Page 112.
Dr. Guthrie retired to the small Fifeshire port of Newburgh [Lat 56'20" North Long 3' 15" West] on the banks of the river Tay.
The house he built, Guthrie Lodge, probably with prize money, still stands.
Here then is Lord Cochrane's dispatch.
Lord Cochrane does not write directly to the Admiralty, but to his commanding officer, Captain Manley Dixon, of the Genereux at Port Mahon, Minorca [Lat 40 North Long 4 East].
The dispatch which was forwarded to the Lord Keith, with Captain Dixon's covering letter. Finally there is
[Captain's letters "D" Manley Dixon]
To the Right Honourable Lord Keith K:B:
Genereux Port Mahon
28th May 1801
I have the pleasure to enclose for you information a letter from Captain Lord Cochrane detailing the particulars of one of the most gallant exploits recorded in the Navy, and
have the honour to be
most obedient humble servant
Manley Dixon Esq.
Captain of His Majesty's Ship Genereux
His Majesty's Sloop Speedy
Barcelona 6th May 1801
Cartillo Terro, North 4 miles.
I have the pleasure to inform you that the Sloop I have the honour to Command. after a mutual chase and warm action has captured a Spanish xebeck frigate of thirty two guns, 22 long twelve pounders, 8 nines and two heavy cannonades, named the Gamo, Commanded by Don Francisco de Torris, manned by 319 naval officers, seaman, supernumeraries and marines. I have the honour to be
Although roughly handled in coming up, as we were not at the best distance to engage, the first and second broadsides were each answered by three cheers, to which succeeded a profound silence until within a few fathoms, then the topmast rigging hook'd the Gamo's lower yards.
An hour and ten minutes we continued side by side, the Speedy throwing at each discharge a quadruple load of shot, which bursting through tore all before it.
The efficacy of their measure I had much occasion to remark, at last suffering from the flash of the enemy's guns which from their height they could not sufficiently depress; annoyed by a heavy but ill directed fire of musketry, by a shower of handspikes, capstan bars and crows (new species of projectiles) and urged by the great disparity of force to adopt some measure that might prove decisive - I resolved to board, and with Lieutenant Parker, the Honourable Mr. Cochrane, the boatswain and crew boarded, when by the impetuosity of the attack and the speedy fate of the most daring to oppose, we taught the others better to appreciate His Britannic Majesty's Arms, and forced them instantly to strike their colours, such was the happy result.
I have to lament in boarding the loss of one man only, the severe wounds received by Lieutenant Parker both from musketry and by the sword, one wound received by the boatswain and one seaman.
I must be permitted to say there could not be greater regularity or more cool determined conduct shown by men than by the crew of the Speedy.
Lieutenant Parker whom I beg leave to recommend to their Lordships notice, as well as the Honourable Mr. Cochrane (when he shall have served his time in His Majesty's Navy) deserve all the approbation that can be bestowed. The exertion and good conduct of the boatswain, carpenter and petty officers. I acknowledge with pleasure as well as the assiduous, skilful, and philanthropic attention of Mr. Guthrie the surgeon, to the wounded.
Your most obedient humble servant
List of killed, wounded etc.
Speedy's, force at the commencement of the action officers, men and boys 54,
Killed 3, Wounded 8, Guns 14-Dismounted none
Suffered much in spars, rigging, sails and boats.
Gamo's force at the commencement of the action, officers, seaman, boys and supernumeraries 274, Marines 45, Total 319 The financial reward for this gallant action came in the form of Head money payable to the crew of the Speedy
Killed, Don Francisco de Torris the boatswain and 13 men. Wounded 41
Guns 32 Dismounted 2
Boats, spars, masts, rigging, sails and hull much cut and injured.
Maritime History * Maritime Fife *