Comet – Captain Fortescue

According to Age Of Nelson:

TRINCOMALEE and COMET were sent from Bombay to join Commodore BLANKET’s squadron in the Persian Gulf and, in October, they were dispatched from Muscat to intercept two French frigates which had captured the PEARL belonging to Mr Manesty, the company’s Resident at Bussorah.

The Trincomalee was an 18-gun sloop commanded by Lieutenant John Rowe. Lieutenant [?] J. Fortescue was in charge of the Honourable Company’s cruizer Comet sailing with the Trincomalee in the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb.

What follows is Fortescue’s official report of what happened next, as per pp.64-65 of the Asiatic Annual Review.

Loss of the Trincomalee

Having reasons to think that the proceedings of the Hon. Company’s cruizer Comet, under my command, on the occasion of the encounters between His Majesty’s sloop Trincomallee and the French privateer Iphigene, on the 10th and 12th October last, have not been fully explained in the different details which have been submitted to the public, you will oblige me by inserting the following recital of the circumstances compiled from my log-book.

On the yth October I fell in with the Trincomallee, off Cape Mucksa, near the entrance of the gulph, and was informed by Captain Rowe, that he had come from Muscat, and was in quest of a French privateer which was cruizing between the Quoins and the Island of Kishme. I accordingly put myself under the orders of that officer, and pursued my course in company with the Trincomallee.

On the 10th, at night, we discovered two strange ships, one on each bow, which we soon observed were standing towards us. We were then near the Quoins, and about eleven the Trincomallee hoisted her colours and fired a shot at the headmost stranger, which she immediately returned. The Trincomallee, after discharging several broadsides into her, tacked, and I by Captain Rowe’s directions tacked also.– Captain Rowe soon after informed me, that it was his intention to keep the wind until day-light enabled him to form some judgment of the strength of the enemy, both ships having then joined.

At day-break, being still on a wind, we saw the two ships to leeward, also keeping their wind, one of which I knew to be the Pearl, and the other a ship of force, mounting as I judged twenty-four or twenty-six guns ; boats were at this time frequently passing between the two ships, as both Captain Rowe and I supposed reinforcing the Pearl with men, to enable her to render more effectual assistance to the other. The superiority of the enemy was evidently great, and the Trincomallee being very thinly manned with Europeans, both her and the Comet, after a trial of the enemy’s force, stood through the Lareck Channel, the Trincomallee leading, and the enemy standing the same way. The four ships thus nearly preserved their relative distance, firing occasionally as opportunity offered, until the afternoon of the l2th, when the enemy having gained considerably by the assistance of their sweeps and boats, Captain Rowe came to the resolution of making an exertion in concert with the Comet to clear the gulph of those ships, before they could have any accession to their force, by the capture of any of the Company’s cruizers, which they might fall in with, in the event of our parting with them. Having received a supply of shot from Captain Rowe; I took my station astern of the Trincomallee, and about four p.m. the Iphigene being the head-most of the enemy; the action with her commenced ; about five, the Pearl came up to the support of her consort. The action was then maintained with spirit on both sides, till thirty minutes after six, when the firing ceased, as if by mutual consents I took this opportunity to send my boatswain on board the Trincomallee, for medical assistance, being severely hurt at the helm by a gun over-heated by repeated firing being thrown out of its carriage.

About half past eight; the firing recommenced. At ten, our main halliards being cut, the sail came down upon deck, which deprived us for a time of the use of our four after guns – in the mean time the man at the helm being prevented from seeing our consort, the Comet fell on board her by which accident we lost our jib boom. We were thus entangled three or four minutes, and much annoyed by a raking fire from the enemy, who were then close ahead. A short time after our clearing the Trincomallee and re-engaging the Pearl, I observed the Iphigene close on board the Trincomallee, firing smartly from her tops, and it afterwards appeared that she boarded the Trincomallee at that time.

About 11 p.m. both ships blew up : I immediately ceased firing, and hoisted out the boat to save as many of the people as I could ; and succeeded in picking up four sepoys belonging to the Trincomallee, and a lascar belonging to the Comet who had fallen overboard while we were entangled with the Trincomallee. I remained by the wrecks all the rest of the night and part of next morning, but had not the good fortune to save any more of the crews.

The Pearl made off in the night ; but, since my arrival in Bombay, I find she had, after the firing between her and the Comet ceased, also picked up several of the sufferers.

Having dispatches on board for Bussorah, and viewing our crippled state in masts and rigging, besides the loss of our jib-boom, I entertained no idea of attempting a fruitless chase after the Pearl.

The boatswain was wounded, as before mentioned, and perished on board the Trincomallee. One sepoy and a lascar were also wounded, the former of whom died before morning ; several others were slightly wounded.

Of the damage which the Comet sustained, the principal were, a dangerous wound with a bar shot in the fore-mast ; main-boom, main-yard and fore-top mast slightly wounded ; all the star-board fore-shrouds, runner and pendant cut ; star-board foremost main shroud and main runner cut ; the running rigging also suffered considerably, and the sails, those which were bent as well as those in the nettings.

Bombay, 18th February 1800.

I had on board five Europeans including myself and an officer, fourteen sepoys; fifteen lascars ; the Comet was armed with eight 12 pound carronades, and two 3 pounders.