La Vénus – Hamelin

If “Captain Hamon” / “Captain Harmon” in BN3 (i.e. Bernardin Nageon de l’Estang document #3) was in fact “Captain Hamélin”, then the writer of BN3 could very well have served on Rear-Admiral Jacques-Félix-Emmanuel Hamélin‘s 40-gun French frigate La Vénus.

Close to the end of 1808, she arrived in the Indian Ocean in the company of “the frigate Manche and the sloop Créole.”

On 17th-18th September 1810, La Vénus was involved in an action where the 40-gun HMS Ceylon was captured by her and the Victor, though lost “her fore-mast and her topgallant masts in the process”. However, the next day she and the Ceylon were in turn captured by HMS Boadicea, supported by HMS Otter and the brig HMS Staunch.

National Archives

I looked at the prize papers for La Vénus at the National Archives (HCA 32/1752). Unfortunately, these contain no list of prisoners and no log book for the ship: almost all of the papers relate to legal wrangling between the crew of HMS Boadicea (represented by William Wilberforce Bird Esquire of Cape Town) and the prize court.

Records of the Cape Colony

The British information gathering and naval strategy in the Indian Ocean was controlled via the Cape Colony. Extracts follow taken from the Records of the Cape Colony from this time (mainly letters) are available online here.

[p.502] Letter from Vice Admiral Bertie to the Honourable W. W. Pole.

Raisonable, Simon’s Bay, 31st May 1809.

The only information I have received from the Mauritius subsequent to the Ships of the Squadron resuming the Blockade has been by the Racehorse (which Vessel was obliged to return into port, her Foremast and Main Yard having been very badly sprung in the hurricane she experienced with the Nereide), the substance of which is herewith transmitted, and previously by a small prize sent in by the Racehorse, the prisoners from which report the Hurricane not to have reached them ; that the harvest of Indian corn had been productive, and that one Ship had arrived from Batavia laden with rice. They are however very exact relative to the arrival of the Venus from France, a frigate quite new, of the first class, commanded by M. Ameline, who formerly commanded the Naturaliste.

Letter from Vice Admiral Bertie to John Wilson Croker, Esqre.
Charwell, Table Bay, 22nd January 1810.

[…] It appears by the Log Books of prizes in my possession that the Runners homeward bound strike soundings on the Lagullas Bank, pass within sight of St. Helena, and close to Ascension, to correct their Longitude for making the coast of France by night. […]

[pp.360-363] Letter from E. T. Farquhar, Esqre., to Rear Admiral Drury.

St. Paul’s, 21st August 1810.

Sir, I have the honor to enclose to your Excellency a Copy of a letter from Captn. Pym lately comg. H. M. Ship Sirius, dated 24th August 1810, addressed to Commodore Rowley at Bourbon, and in that Officer’s absence to be opened by me.

That document will afford your Excellency the Details of the unfortunate news we have this morning received.

On the 14th Inst, the Isle de la Passe, commanding the passage into Port S.E., was taken by assault by the boats of H. M. Ships Sirius and Iphigenia and Garrisoned by 130 Soldiers from hence. On the 20th the Enemy’s Ships Bellona, Minerva, and Victor, returning from a Cruize with the Ceylon Captured Indiaman, ran thro’ the passage into Port S.E., having received while passing the narrows several shots from the Batteries of the Isle de la Passe and broadsides from the Nereide Frigate which was anchored close to that Battery.

Captn. Pym immediately prepared to attack the above force in Port S.E. with the blockading Squadron, consisting of the Sirius, Iphigenia, Magicienne, and Nereide.

At this time the Enemy had La Venus, La Manche, L’Astrea, and L’ Entreprenante ready for sea at Port Louis, which circumstance Captn. Pym disregarded, being convinced that the British Squadron under his command would destroy the whole combined force of the Enemy if no extraordinary and unsurmountable misfortune should occur. He accordingly transmitted a Dispatch to Commodore Rowley at Bourbon, informing him of the position of the Enemy and his intention to attack the Frigates in Port S.E.

The Staunch Gun Brig brought the news at the same time (the 23rd Inst.) to Commodore Rowley that the Enemy’s Frigates were preparing to come out of Port Louis. The Commodore immediately sailed with a Transport and 300 Troops to support the other Frigates and the British Force at the Isle de la Passe.

On the 24th the melancholy affair detailed in Captn. Pym’s letter took place, which deprived His Majesty of 3 fine Frigates, 2 having been burnt by their Commanders while on the Rocks, and the other, the Nereide, taken possession of by the Enemy, after She had drifted a total Wreck on Shore, every person, Captain, Officers, and Men who had come into the engagement having been either killed or wounded, a circumstance perhaps unexampled in the Annals of History.

The Zeal, Exertion, and Gallantry which appear to have been displayed by Captn. Pym throughout this affair did justice to his well established Character, and could only be equalled by the insurmountable reverses of fortune which checked and overcast the Brilliant career of Victory which he saw before him, and which he calculated upon with all that ardent presentiment which the distinguished achievements of His Majesty’s Navy so fully justify.

The Conduct of Captns Lambert and Curtis and of every Officer and Man seems to have been marked by the same zeal, and their exertions overcome only by misfortunes which could not be controlled.

It is with the deepest regret I have to state that Captn. Willoughby commanding the Nereide lost his left eye (in addition to the numberless wounds he has received in former engagements) while defending His Majesty’s Ship till the shot of the Enemy could do execution amongst the wounded only in the Cockpit, every other Soul having been cleared from the Decks by 60 pieces of Cannon from the Batteries on the Shore, the Enemy’s Frigates, and the Ceylon Indiaman. In this Situation he refused to quit his Ship when a boat was sent for him by Captn. Pym ; no praise can do justice to such undaunted courage and perseverance, which if he survives his wounds must entitle him to the gratitude and admiration of his Country. The Master of the Nereide most gallantly fought the Ship, after Captain Willoughby was so severely wounded, until he fell amongst the heaps of Slain upon the Deck ; but to the last moment, notwithstanding the anguish of his wounds, Captn. Willoughby kept encouraging the Crew, determined never to strike His Majesty’s Colours while a man could be found alive to fire a Shot.

But the above narrative does not embrace the whole extent of the Evil to be apprehended from the present state of things. It is true that the Enemy’s Vessels in Port S.E., namely the Bellona, Minerva, and Victor, are on Shore and considered by Captn. Pym incapable of being equipped for Sea, but the Venus, La Manche, Astrea, and L’Entreprenante are now set at liberty, for altho’ La Manche is reported to be in a very bad state, the Commander of the Staunch positively declares that he saw her coming out of Port Louis with the other Vessels. The only remaining Naval Force on this Station is divided, the Commodore being on his passage to the Isle of France and the Iphigenia at Isle de Passe, both exposed to be separately overpowered by the Enemy, in which possible tho’ not probable event, he will be left Master of these Seas.

The possibility of his intercepting the reinforcement expected from the Cape without Convoy and from India, as well as the Ships dispatched to Madagascar for Bullocks, while there is not a single Man of War left at the Cape, presents itself as a link in the chain of events which the late blow may lead to, if Naval succours do not speedily arrive from India.

I by no means augur such results. I am unwilling to dwell upon the gloomy side of the picture ; I am certain that everything that can be atchieved by gallantry and judgement will be accomplished by Commodore Rowley in His Majesty’s Ship Boadicca, who will be ably seconded by Captn. Lambert of the Iphigenia, and if these two Vessels can form a Junction, I am persuaded that the Enemy, notwithstanding his superiority, even then will shrink from the Combat and retire into Port Louis. It may be still more satisfactory after having stated, as I have considered it my duty to do, the possibility of future reverses, to observe that it is more than probable that the Junction of the Commodore and the Iphigenia has been effected and that in addition to this Force, which was in itself sufficient to turn the Scale in our favour at Sea, before 48 hours are expired we shall have the Otter Sloop of War (which will be ready for Sea to-morrow) and one or two other Vessels converted into Men of War, manned by the Crews of the Sirius and Magicienne. But it is among the first dictates of prudence to advertize those who have the means of averting or retrieving such disasters as are above alluded to, that they are not only possible, but that if we were placed in the Enemy’s situation, they would be almost beyond doubt. I therefore feel it to be one of my first duties to submit the foregoing circumstance to your Excellency’s most serious consideration, well convinced from your Excellency’s devoted attachment to the cause of our Country that at whatever point her Forces may be required to oppose the Enemy, you will eagerly embrace the opportunity of flying to the Theatre of War and affording your powerful support to His Majesty’s Arms in this Quarter. I shall send a letter detailing the present circumstances on board the Egremont Schooner, which I propose dispatching to your Excellency, to be perused by any of His Majesty’s Naval Commanders who may be met with on the passage, accompanied by an earnest solicitation that they will proceed to these Islands with all possible dispatch.

Every measure of precaution and energy will be adopted on the spot to prevent the great blow against the Isle of France being parried by the consequences of the late events in Port S.E. The general importance of the object, the losses that that Island never ceases to entail upon the English, the tranquillity and prosperity of Bourbon, and above all the national honour imperiously require at this moment, more than ever, that the Isle of France should be subjugated to the British Authority. We look with the greatest anxiety, and at the same time with the utmost confidence, to the receipt of Intelligence from Commodore Pmwley, but at this advanced season of the year every hour’s delay is of importance, and I therefore shall trust to circumstances enabling me to transmit to your Excellency subsequent dispatches the moment I hear from the Commodore.

In the meantime the most prompt and energetic means are requisite to prevent the Enemy’s reaping the harvest of his late successes and continuing to triumph in the possession of an Island which has done and continues to do more mischief to England than the whole of Old France. I have etc.

(Signed) Pt. T. Farquhar.

Letter from the Earl of Caledon to the Earl of Liverpool.

Castle of Good Hope, 25th September 1810.

[…] Assuming the Iphigenia to have fallen, the Enemy will possess a strong force, which His Majesty’s Squadron cannot in prudence oppose. With an Officer of enterprise to
direct its movements, which Captain Hamelen seems to be, there is too much cause to look for further reverses.[…]

Letter from Vice Admiral Bertie to J. W. Croker, Esqre.

Africaine, St.Paul’s,
Isle of Bourbon, 13th October 1810.

Letter from the Earl of Caledon to the Earl of Liverpool.

Castle of Good Hope, November 19, 1810.


As Mr. Farquhar has referred Your Lordship to an extract of his letter to me which regards the disposal of Prisoners of War on board the Bombay Merchant Cartel, it is my duty to acquaint Your Lordship that by a subsequent arrangement made by Lieut. Genl Abercromby and Vice Admiral Bertie it has been stipulated on the part of the British Government at Bourbon that she shall proceed to the Port of Morlaix [not far from Brest] for the purpose of landing the Prisoners of War with which she is charged. Capt. Hamelin late of La Venus and the other Officers on board have entered into the usual promise of not serving until exchanged, and have guaranteed the security of the Vessel.

I shall not interfere with this arrangement farther than by taking out some seamen and substituting those Officers who were included in the capitulation of Bourbon and who are still at the Cape. The intercourse of the French Officers with the Colonists, which it is so desirable to discountenance, dictates the propriety of this measure, of which I hope Your Lordship will approve.


To the account, which Your Lordship will receive thro’ Mr. Farquhar of the capture and recapture of His Majesty’s Frigates Africaine and Ceylon and the intended movement of the Squadron I have only to add that Vice Admiral Bertie sailed from St. Paul’s according to his intention on the 14th of October for the purpose of resuming his station off Port Louis. I have etc.

[p.466] Letter from the Earl of Caledon to the Earl of Liverpool.

Castle of Good Hope, 12th December 1810.

[…] In my last Dispatch I mentioned the arrival of an English Cartel (the Bombay Merchant), and explained the circumstance under which she was destined to a French Port. She sailed from Table Bay on the 10th Instant, and as it was stipulated at the surrender of the Isle of Bourbon that Colonel St. Susanne and his Family should be sent to France I permitted them to embark in her on signing the usual parole. […]