Royal Naval Biography/Pyne, Henry


Obtained his first commission on the 22d Jan., 1806, and was promoted to the rank of commander, July 19th, 1814, whilst serving under Captain the Hon. T. B. Capel, in La Hogue, 74. The exploit which led to his advancement is thus spoken of, by our trans-atlantic brethren, in the Connecticut Gazette, April 13, 1814:–

“It is with grief and mortification we perform the task of announcing to our readers, that on Friday morning last, four of the enemy’s barges and two launches, commanded by Captain Richard Coote, of the brig Borer, with 200 men, proceeded up Connecticut river to Pettipague point, and destroyed upwards of twenty sail of vessels, without sustaining the loss of a single man. We have ascertained, on the unfortunate spot, the following facts:–

“The boats first landed at Fort Saybrook, where they found neither men nor cannon; from thence they proceeded to Pettipague point, landed by four o’clock in the morning, and were paraded in the principal street before the least alarm was given. The inhabitants were, it may well be supposed, in great consternation: but Captain Coote informed them, that he was in sufficient force to effect the object of the expedition, which was to burn the vessels, and that if his party were not fired upon, no harm should fall upon the persons of the inhabitants, or the property unconnected with the vessels: and a mutual understanding of that purport was agreed to.

“The enemy immediately after commenced the act of burning the vessels, and such as exposed the buildings on the wharfs they hauled into the stream; a party of fourteen men were sent in the mean time a quarter of a mile above the point, who put fire to several vessels which were on the stocks. At 10 o’clock, they left the shore entirely, and took possession of a brig and schooner which were built for privateers. These they attempted to beat down the river; but the brig getting on shore they burnt her, and the schooner was so light as to be unmanageable; they continued in her and the boats alongside until dusk, when Lieutenant Bray, with a field-piece from Killingworth, commenced firing on them; after the second shot they left the schooner, and took shelter under a small island opposite the point, and at half past eight, it being very dark, made their escape from the river.

“Their conduct towards the inhabitants was unexceptionable, excepting that some cloths and plate were taken by a person supposed to be an American, who, it was conjectured, acted as a pilot and guide, and had frequently been there with fish for sale; this wretch, without orders, destroyed a large new cable, by cutting it with an axe.

“Notwithstanding the enemy were on shore at 4 o’clock in the morning, it was half-past 12 p.m. before the express arrived here with the information, although a report of the fact was brought by the stage at 11. Every exertion was immediately made to send a force sufficient for the object; a body of marines from the squadron, a company of infantry from Fort Trumbull, and a part of Captain French’s militia company of artillery, with a field-piece, and a considerable number of volunteers, were soon in motion: a part of the marines and volunteers in carriages, and Captain French, with his detachment and field-piece, arrived at the river at 4 o’clock; at which time a respectable body of militia, infantry, and artillery, occupied the banks on both sides, in the momentary expectation that the enemy would attempt to descend. It was, however, soon perceived that it was not their intention to attempt going out before dark, and that the only chance of taking or destroying them was by a joint attack by land and water; timely measures for this purpose were prevented by the want of water craft, a misfortune which could not be remedied in the very short period required. A strong fresh, an ebb tide, and thick mist, enabled the enemy to escape down the river, unheard and unseen, except by a very few, who commenced a fire, which was followed at random by many, who discerned no object to direct their aim. The troops from the garrison, and marines on foot, did not arrive until the British had escaped. Thus ended an expedition, achieved with the smallest loss to the enemy, and the greatest in magnitude of damage, that has occurred on the seaboard since the commencement of the war.”

On this occasion, six ships, five brigs, seven schooners, nine sloops, a number of pleasure boats, a great quantity of naval stores, and several butts of rum, were destroyed. The escape of the British would have been next to a miracle, had not the Americans, by way of making sure to destroy them, injudiciously facilitated their retreat. At the narrow part of the river, where there are two juttings, they lighted immense fires, vis à, vis: these beacons pointed out the fair way, and, added to a very dark night, enabled our countrymen to make good their retreat in safety; whereas, had the Yankees lighted only one fire, and stationed a force opposite to it, the destruction of their assailants must have been inevitable.

On the. 14th April, 1814, the commander-in-chief on the Halifax station addressed a letter to Captain Capel, of which the following is a copy:–

“Sir,– I desire that you will convey to Captain Coote, and the officers, seamen, and marines, employed under his immediate command on the expedition in the Connecticut river, that I view their conduct with admiration; and that I shall feel much satisfaction in laying their merits before the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty.

“The orderly and exemplary conduct of the men while on shore, particularly with respect to their sobriety, has been a principal cause of saving many valuable lives, and the return of the expedition with comparatively so small a loss[1]; their conduct while on shore has drawn forth praise from the enemy they assailed, who speak of their behaviour with gratitude, acknowledging that the destruction of the shipping was their only object, and that no sort of injury was done to their persons, or to their properties.

(Signed)Alex. Cochrane.”

Commander Pyne married, in 1812, Miss Louisa Lawrence, of College Square, Bristol.

  1. Two killed, two wounded.