Escape of HMS Belvidera, 23 June 1812

Oil painting . Nine days after the outbreak of the American War of 1812, the British ship 'Belvider'a, commanded by Captain Richard Byron, was off New London, Connecticut. She was waiting for the French privateer 'Marengo' to come out, when at daybreak she saw the sails of five vessels to the south-west. They were the American frigates 'Presiden't, the 'Congress', the 'United States' and the sloops 'Hornet' and 'Argos', effectively the entire American navy in commission at the time. The Americans gave chase and the 'Presiden't closed on the 'Belvidera'. Commodore Rodgers of the 'President', himself fired the first shots. When a bow gun on her gun-deck was fired for the second time it blew up wrecking the fo’c’sle deck and killing and wounding sixteen people, including the commodore, who broke a leg.

Captain Byron moved his guns so he could fire through the stern windows and aft from the quarter-deck. Although the 'President' could easily have moved to close action she chose instead to fire her broadside repeatedly at the 'Belivdera’'s retreating stern to little effect. Captain Byron meantime lightened his ship by cutting away his anchors, ships’ boats and dumping 14 tons of fresh water. Gradually the 'Belvidera' drew away from the 'President', which had lost much ground by repeatedly bearing up.

On the left of the picture the 'Belvidera' runs on a very broad reach. She has shot holes in her sails and can be seen firing her stern guns. Astern of her the 'President' can be seen repeatedly firing her starboard broadside. To the right of her, and in pursuit, are the 'Congress', 'United States', 'Hornet' and 'Argus'. There is a French lithograph of this action by Auger.

Object Details

ID: BHC0598
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Huggins, William John
Events: War of 1812, 1812-1815
Vessels: Belvidera (1809); President 1800
Date made: After 1812
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Macpherson Collection
Measurements: Painting: 560 mm x 760 mm x 11 mm

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