An incident from the beginning of the French Revolutionary Wars, 1793–1815. The British ship ‘Venus’, commanded by Captain Jonathan Faulkner, sighted a strange sail at 3am when 120 miles south-west of Cape Finisterre. About 7am the ship put out blue colours and the ‘Venus’ answered by signalling a private code to which the other ship made no reply. The first shots were fired about 7.30am and then a close action from 8am to about 10am. By this time the French frigate ‘Semillante’ was almost silenced, her captain and first lieutenant were killed and she had five feet of water in her hold. The ‘Venus’ was trying to close her to take possession when she bore away towards another ship that had appeared and which proved to be another French frigate. The sails, rigging and spars of the British frigate had taken the brunt of the enemy fire and were extremely cut up so that a further engagement was inadvisable. Indeed she was lucky to escape an encounter with a fresh opponent.
In the right centre foreground, both frigates are shown starboard quarter view, with the ‘Semillante’ on the right. Most of her port lids have fallen shut, her main topgallant mast seems about to fall, and her colours are being struck. The ‘Venus’ is shown still firing although she is shot through and there are gaping holes in her main topsail. A seaman on the gunwhale of the quarter-deck can be seen putting out a small fire. In the left background of the painting is another French frigate, highlighting the precarious plight of the ‘Venus’. The painting is signed ‘T Elliott Pinxt’.
Where to see this painting?
National Maritime Museum
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