Sir John Thomas Duckworth's action in the Dardanelles, 19 February 1807

The good relations between Britain and the Ottoman Court following the Battle of the Nile were so eroded that by 1806 war was in the air. Strategically the Dardanelles was of great importance, as it commanded the approach to Constantinople from the Mediterranean. Although the passage of the strait was easily defended, in 1807 the English admiral Sir John Duckworth made his way past all the fortresses into the Sea of Marmora. When affairs in Constantinople required the presence of a naval force Duckworth was detached there with five ships. He was instructed to safeguard the British ambassador, Charles Arbuthnot. He was also to require Ottoman compliance with British demands, by anchoring close off the city. He was to open fire if he did not receive satisfaction within half an hour. Duckworth carried out his orders as far as he was able and forced the Dardanelles on 19 February 1807. He sailed through with seven ships of the line and some smaller vessels, and silenced the forts at Sestos and Abydos, destroying some Turkish ships. He ran the gauntlet of the Turkish batteries which included some medieval fixed bombards firing stone shot of up to 800lbs. Miraculously no serious damage was sustained, the casualties were six killed and 51 injured He anchored opposite Constantinople, threatening to bombard it. However without the appropriate troops a landing was pointless and he realized that the Turks were stalling him while strengthening their defences. Sir John failed to make the Turks accede to his demands although he recognised that the Dardanelles would be harder to re-pass. On 3 March he audaciously sailed back through the Dardanelles and sustaining heavier casualties than on his way in.

A scene after nightfall, showing Sir John Thomas Duckworth’s action in the Dardanelles 19 February 1807. As Duckworth sailed north-east through the Dardanelles towards Constantinople he detached Sir Sidney Smith’s division to deal with a small anchored Turkish squadron. The Turkish force consisted of a variety of 15 ships from a ship of the line to frigates, corvettes and gunboats. One brig ran for Constantinople and the rest opened fire but were quickly overwhelmed by the British. One Turkish frigate was run ashore, the rest of the major units including the largest ship eventually struck. British boats then evacuated the crews and burnt the prizes. It is this moment in the action which is being recorded in the painting. To right of centre in the foreground a Turkish two-decker is ablaze and her crew are abandoning her. On the far right the distinctive Turkish crescents on the finials of stern lanterns are discernible. In the distance on the left a whole line of Turkish ships are shown burning. The distinctive skyline of the buildings of Constantinople can be seen in the distance and to the right. See also BHC0575.

Object Details

ID: BHC0576
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Whitcombe, Thomas
Events: Napoleonic Wars, 1803-1815
Date made: Early 19th century
People: Duckworth, John Thomas; Royal Navy French Navy
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Measurements: Painting: 816 mm x 1121 mm x 16 mm

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