The 'Quebec' and 'Surveillante' in Action, 6 October 1779

The British and French frigate action represented in this painting was desperately fought. The frigates were accompanied by cutters, the 'Quebec', 32 guns, by the 'Rambler', 10 guns, and the 'Surveillante', 36 guns, by the 'Expedition', 10 guns. Both frigates sighted each other at dawn off Ushant and the 'Quebec', being up-wind of the 'Surveillante', ran down on her, while the Frenchman sailed close to the wind to await her. Close and furious action ensued for over three hours, after which both the damage to the masts and the heavy swell combined to bring down the masts of both vessels. Whereas in the 'Surveillante', the masts fell over the side, in the 'Quebec', they fell forward, over the decks and guns. It became difficult for the ship to fight, and the firing of her guns on the quarter-deck started a fire in the sails and tackle lying there, which quickly took hold. As the fire raged through the 'Quebec', efforts were made by both the British and French to rescue the crew. The 'Rambler', which had been in action with the 'Expedition' and had been disabled aloft, sent a boat. The 'Expedition' rejoined its frigate. One of the difficulties in rescuing the crew was the heavy swell. The 'Rambler's' boat saved a master's mate, two midshipmen and fourteen sailors, while the 'Surveillante' saved the First Lieutenant, Second Lieutenant of marines, the surgeon and 36 of the crew. 13 more were saved by a passing Russian ship, but the other 127 were lost. The 'Quebec' is portrayed in the right of centre, dismasted and with her quarter deck blazing. On the left the 'Surveillante' is also dismasted. One of her boats is getting away and a naked sailor climbs up a rope ladder hanging over the 'Surveillante's' stern. In the left foreground lies the wreckage of spars and sails with sailors clinging to them, while on the right the 'Rambler's' boat picks up survivors. The 'Expedition' is in the right background stern on, and the 'Rambler' is very distant, under 'Quebec's' stern. Captain Farmer of the 'Quebec' was last seen in the bow, sitting on one of the anchors. He was killed when she blew up.

The artist was one of the principal recorders of the naval side of the War of American Independence and of the French Revolutionary Wars. He also produced and published engravings of his paintings.

Object Details

ID: BHC0426
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Dodd, Robert
Vessels: Quebec (1760); Surveillante (1778)
Date made: 1781
People: Royal Navy; French Navy
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Measurements: Painting: 610 mm x 889 mm; Frame: 800 mm x 1058 mm x 100 mm, Weight: 17kg

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