Royal Naval Biography/Bond, John Holmes


Lost a leg while serving as master’s-mate of the Penguin brig-sloop. Captain James Dickinson, in action with the United States’ ship Hornet, Captain James Biddle, near the island of Tristan-d’Acunha, Mar. 23d, 1815. Previous to giving the details of this action, we shall point out a few of the circumstances under which the combatants met.

The Hornet mounted eighteen 32-pounder carronades and two long 18-pounders, and had on board 163 men (officers included) and 2 boys. She had musketoons in all her tops, each piece throwing fifty buck-shot at a discharge, and upon each quarter a brass swivel, three or four pounder, fitted on a chock. Her crew were provided with leather caps, fitted with narrow plates of iron, crossing at the top, and bending upward from the lower edge of the crown, to prevent a cutlass from striking the shoulder after having glanced on the head.

The Penguin, after having been run up by contract, in the usual slight and hurried manner, was commissioned for the first time in Nov. 1813, and ordered to be fitted out for the Cape of Good Hope station. Her armament consisted of sixteen 32-pounder carronades and two long sixes. In respect to captain and officers generally, she might compete with any brig of her class; but as to men, when she did get them all on board, which was not until June 1814, they were, with the exception of not being disaffected, a worse crew than even the Epervier’s[1]. Except a portion of her petty officers, they were either very old or very young; the former discharged ineffectives, the latter recently impressed: among the whole number, twelve only had ever been in battle. On falling in with the Wasp, she mustered only 105 officers and men (including 12 supernumerary marines) and 17 boys.

The action between the Penguin and Hornet commenced at 1-45 p.m. within about pistol-shot distance. The American’s star and bar shot soon reduced the British brig’s rigging to a state of disorder; while tolerably well-directed broadsides of round and grape made a sensible impression upon her hull, meeting no adequate return, as her carronades, owing to their insecure mode of mounting, turned half round almost every time they were discharged. At 2-15 p.m., as the Penguin drifted nearer, the Hornet bore away, with the semblance of retiring from the contest, but in reality to take a more favorable position for doing execution with her gunnery. Captain Dickinson, on this, bore up with the intention to board: before, however, he could put his plan into execution, he received a mortal wound.

Lieutenant James M‘Donald, who now succeeded to the command, aware of the brig’s disabled state, saw that the only chance of success was to follow up his captain’s intention. Accordingly, at 2-25 p.m., the Penguin ran her bowsprit between the Hornet’s main and mizen rigging, on the starboard side. The heavy swell lifting the ship a-head, the brig’s bowsprit, after carrying away the Hornet’s mizen shrouds, stern davits, and spanker-boom, broke in two, and the foremast went at the same moment, falling in-board, directly upon the foremost and waist guns, on the engaged side. These guns becoming in consequence completely disabled, and the after carronades being equally so, from the drawing of the breeching-bolts, an attempt was made to bring a fresh broadside to bear ; but the Penguin was in too unmanageable a state to be got round. In this dilemma no alternative remained; and at 2-35 p.m.. Lieutenant M‘Donald hailed to say that the Penguin surrendered. After a lapse of twenty-five minutes, an officer from the Hornet came on board to take possession.

The Penguin had her commander, boatswain, and four men killed; her second lieutenant (John Elwin), master’s-mate, one midshipman (John Noyes, who lost a leg), and twenty-nine men wounded, four of whom mortally. The Hornet received a few shot in the hull, one of which was so low down as to keep her men constantly at the pumps. She had, by the acknowledgment of her officers, only two men killed and eleven wounded; but several of her crew told some of their former shipmates, whom they discovered among the Penguins, that the Hornet had ten men killed by the first and second broadsides. Lieutenant Elwin, whose wounds were very severe, counted sixteen of the Hornet’s crew lying in their cots.

Mr. Bond’s promotion to the rank of lieutenant took place on the 20th Feb. 1815, nearly six weeks previous to the above action. He was granted a pension of 91l. 5s. per annum, for the loss of his leg, July 1st, 1816; appointed to the Bulwark 76, flag-ship of the late Sir Benjamin H. Carew, in the River Medway, June 29th, 1821 ; and advanced to his present rank Sept. 5th, 1828.