Reference:
The Naval history of Great Britain:
from the declaration of war by France in 1793 to the accession of George IV
William James
London 1824.

While, in the early part of December, the United States' frigate Constitution, Commodore Bainbridge, and the ship-sloop Hornet, (eighteen 32-pound carronades and two long twelves,) Captain Lawrence, were waiting at St. Salvador to be joined by the Essex, an occurrence happened, which the characteristic cunning of the Americans turned greatly to their advantage.
In the middle of November the British 20-gun post-ship (late 18-gun ship-sloop) Bonne-Citoyenne, (eighteen 32-pound carronades and two nines,) Captain Pitt Barnaby Greene, having, while coming from Rio-de-la-Plata, with half a million sterling on board, damaged herself greatly by running on shore, entered the port of St. Salvador, to land her cargo and be hove down. When the ship was keel-out, the two American ships arrived in port; and Captain Lawrence actually sent a challenge to Captain Greene, to sail out, as soon as he was ready, and fight him; Commodore Bainbridge "pledging his honour" not to interfere. The bait, however, did not take. The specie remained safe; and the American officers were obliged to content themselves with all the benefit they could reap from making a boast of the circumstance: that they did; and, to this day, the refusal of the Bonne-Citoyenne to meet the Hornet stands recorded in the American naval archives, as a proof of the former's dread, although the "superior in force", of engaging the latter.

After the Constitution sailed for Boston on the 6 January, the Hornet continued blockading the Bonne-Citoyenne and her dollars, until the arrival on the 24th of the British 74-gun ship Montagu, Captain Manley Hall Dixon, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Manley Dixon. The American sloop, on being chased ran for the harbour; but, night coming on, the Hornet wore, and, by standing to the south-ward, dextrously evaded her pursuer. The Hornet soon afterwards hauled her wind to the westward, and on the 14th of February, when cruising off Pernambuco, captured an English brig, with about 23,000 dollars in specie on board. Having removed the money and destroyed the prize, Captain Lawrence cruised off Surinam until the 22nd; then stood for Demerara, and on the 24th chased a brig, but was obliged to haul off on account of the shoals at the entrance of the Demerara river. Previously to giving up the chase, the Hornet discovered a brig-of-war, with English colours flying, at anchor without the bar. This was the 18-gun Brig-sloop Espiégle, (sixteen 32-pound carronades and two sixes, ) Captain John Taylor, refitting her rigging.

At half past three o'clock in the afternoon, while beating round Caroband bank to get at the Espiégle, the Hornet discovered a sail on her weather quarter bearing down on her.
This was the 18-gun brig-sloop Peacock, (sixteen 24-pound carronades and two sixes,) Captain William Peake; who had only sailed from the Espiégle's anchorage the same morning at ten o'clock.
At twenty minutes past four the latter hoisted her colours; and at ten minutes past five the Hornet, having kept close to the wind to weather the Peacock, tacked for that purpose and hoisted her colours. At twenty-five minutes past five, in passing each other on opposite tacks, within half-pistol shot, the ship and brig exchanged broadside.

After this the Peacock wore to renew the action on the other tack; when the Hornet, quickly bearing up, received the Peacock's starboard broadside; then, at about thirty-five minutes past five, ran the latter close on board the starboard quarter. In this position the Hornet poured in so heavy and well directed a fire, that, at fifty minutes past five, the Peacock, having six feet [of] water in the hold and being cut to pieces in hull and masts, hoisted from her fore-rigging an ensign, union down, as a signal of distress.


Shortly afterwards her main mast went by the board. Both the Hornet and her prize were immediately anchored; and every attempt was made to save the latter, by throwing her guns overboard, by pumping and bailing her, and stopping such shot holes as could be got at; but all would not do, and in a very few minutes after she had anchored, the Peacock went down, in five and a half fathoms of water, with thirteen men of her crew (four of whom afterwards got to the fore-top and escaped) and three men belonging to the Hornet. An American lieutenant and midshipman, and the remainder of the Hornet's men on board the brig, with difficulty saved themselves by jumping, as she went down, into a boat that was lying on her booms. Four of the Peacock's seamen had just before taken to her stern-boat; in which, notwithstanding it was much damaged by shot, they arrived safely at Demerara.

Of her 110 men and twelve boys, the Peacock lost her young and gallant commander (about the middle of the action) and four seamen killed, her master, one midshipmen, the carpenter, captain's clerk, and twenty-nine seamen and marines wounded; three of the latter mortally, but the greater part slightly.
The principal damages of the Hornet are represented to have been one shot through the fore-mast, and her bowsprit slightly wounded by another: her loss, out of a crew of 163 men (eight absent in a prize) and two boys, the Americans state at one seaman killed, two slightly wounded; also one mortally, and another severely burnt by the explosion of a cartridge.

Comparative force of combatants

HMS PeacockUSS Hornet
Broadside-guns...No.910
Lbs.192297
Crew110162
Size...tons386450

This is what the Americans call an equal match; or, rather, as a brass swivel or two stuck upon the capstan, or somewhere about the quarter-deck, of the Peacock, by way of ornament, these and the boat-carronade were reckoned in, and the Hornet was declared to have gained a victory over a superior British force. If the Americans, in their encounter of British frigates, were so lucky as to meet them with crippled masts, deteriorated powder, unskilful gunners, or worthless crews, they were not less fortunate in the brigs they fell in with.
There was the Wasp, with her main yard gone and topmasts sprung; and here is the Peacock, with 24 instead of 32 pound carronades, the establishment of her class, and with a crew that, owing to the nature of their employment ever since the brig had been commissioned, in August 1807, must have forgotten that they belonged to a brig of war.

The firing of the Hornet was admirable, and proved that her men, to the credit of Captain Lawrence and his officers, had been well taught what use to make of their guns: at the same time, it must be admitted, that the Peacock, Frolic, and all the brigs of their class were mere shells; especially when compared with such a ship as the Hornet, whose scantling was nearly as stout as that of a British 32-gun frigate.
It was fortunate, perhaps, for the character of the British navy, that the disordered state of her rigging prevented the Espiégle from sailing out to engage the ship, which, at noon on the day of the action, she plainly saw, and continued to see for nearly an hour, until the Hornet tacked and stood to the south-east; as Captain Taylor, at the court-martial subsequently held upon him, was found guilty of having "neglected to exercise the ship's company at the great guns." It seemed hard, however, to punish the Espiégle's commander for apiece of neglect, that prevailed over two thirds of the British navy; and to which the Admiralty, by their sparing allowance of powder and shot for practice at the guns, were in some degree instrumental.



The Peacock had long been the admiration of her numerous visitors, for the tasteful arrangement of her deck, and had obtained, in consequence, the name of the yacht. The breechings of the carronades were lined with white canvass, the shot-lockers shifted from their usual places, and nothing could exceed in brilliancy the polish upon the traversing-bars and elevating screws. If carronades, in general, as mounted in the British service, are liable to turn in-board or upset, what must have been the state of the Peacock's carronades after the first broadside? A single discharge from the Peacock's carronades, in exercise, would have betrayed the very defective state of their fastenings; and our feelings might have found some relief in the skill, as well as the gallantry, evinced in her defence.
James's Naval Occurrences, page 202


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