The capture of the 'Amazone' by HM ship 'Santa Margarita', 29 July 1782

The two ships shown were frigates of 36 guns, the 'Santa Margarita' - a Spanish-built prize - with 255 men under Captain Elliot Salter and the 'Amazone', under the Viscomte de Montguioté, with 301 men, though the British ship fired a heavier broadside. The action took place off Cape Henry, Virginia, during the War of American Independence, when Salter came in sight of eight large warships out of 13 on the coast under the French Admiral de Vaudreuil and was initially chased by the 'Amazone', which he could not engage for fear of the enemy squadron coming up in her support. However, in the mid-afternoon the bigger ships were no longer in sight and, at the request of his crew, he tacked to fight the French frigate, closing to within pistol shot and opening fire about 5 p.m.. At that range they fought for an hour and a quarter before the' Amazone' surrendered with her captain dead, 70 killed, 70-80 more wounded, four feet of water in the hold and her masts and rigging badly damaged: the main and mizzen masts fell just as she struck. By comparison the British had five dead, 17 wounded and more manageable rigging damage. Salter put a lieutenant and 68 men - a third of his company- aboard his prize and took her in tow but the following morning found de Vaudreuil's full fleet back in sight. With regret he had to retrieve his men, abandon the 'Amazone' -still full of wounded- for the French to recover and make good an escape. This in itself was remarkable since he was chased by the French fleet for 48 hours and finally eluded them by his pilot's skill in running the ship amid the shoals at the mouth of the Delaware, where the enemy could not follow. Later in the year the young Nelson (then captain of the 'Albemarle') cited in a letter 'the dressing which Captain Salter gave the French frigate Amazon, for daring to leave the line-of-battle ships' in relation to the reluctance of another of de Vaudreuil's to follow that example and engage him off Boston. Salter appears to have been a good officer, commissioned lieutenant in 1765 and rising to captain in 1776. The 'Santa Margarita' was his last command and he died at Bath in early February 1790. He had at least one naval son, George, a lieutenant killed in 1803, and his daughter Maria married another naval officer, William Pierrepont, who made a fortune in prize-money in the late1790s before dying as a young rear-admiral. The Museum has an exceptionally fine pair of pastel portraits of her and him by John Russell RA (see PAJ2899 and PAJ2906).

This painting if the first of a pair - which Salter may well have commissioned- to commemorate the action, though Dodd also engraved them: the other is BHC0450. Both bear early frame inscriptions repeating those in Graves's RA exhibitors' list, naming the artist as Ralph Dodd. This is, in fact, the name under which all paintings by Robert Dodd are listed in Graves but apparently in general confusion with his brother Ralph (c. 1756-1817). According to Archibald's 'Sea Painters', the latter is the ' R. Dodd, Architect' who exhibited engineering drawings at the Academy, 1799-1817, but also did paint marines - this and its pair having been received as by him. However, since both were exhibited at the Academy in 1784, shortly after Robert engraved them as his own work, they are now reattributed to him. The same donor who presented them to the Museum in 1947 also gave a pair of the prints at the same time: the print of this one is PAH7826.

Object Details

ID: BHC0449
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Dodd, Robert
Events: American War of Independence, 1775-1783
Vessels: Amazone (1778); Santa Margarita (captured 1779)
Date made: circa 1783; After 1782
People: Royal Navy; French Navy
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Presented by Eric Miller through The Art Fund
Measurements: Painting: 775 mm x 1220 mm; Frame: 908 x 1341 x 70 mm; Overall: 20 kg

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