Royal Naval Biography/Wales, Richard Walter
RICHARD WALTER WALES, Esq.
[Post-Captain of 1817.]
Was made lieutenant, July 13, 1790, and promoted to the command of the Ferret brig, in June, 1808. On the 26th Oct. following, he captured la Becune, French privateer schooner, of 3 guns and 38 men. On the 23rd Feb. 1814, being then in the Epervier of 18 guns, he took the Alfred, American brig privateer, mounting 14 long 6-pounders, and 2 carronades, with a complement of 110 men. His subsequent unfortunate rencontre with the United States’ sloop Peacock, of 22 guns, is thus described by Mr. James.
“On his way to Halifax with the Alfred, Captain Wales discovered that a part of his crew had conspired with the prisoners, to rise upon the British officers, and carry one vessel, if not both, into a port of the United States. As the readiest mode to frustrate the plan, he persevered against a gale of wind, and, on the 25th, arrived at Halifax. He immediately represented to the commanding officer of the port, the insufficiency of the Epervier’s crew for any service; and, in particular, expressed his doubts about their loyalty, from the plot in which they had recently been engaged. However, the affair was treated lightly; and on the 3rd March, the Epervier, without a man of her crew being changed, sailed, in Company with the Shelburne schooner, for the ‘protection’ of a small convoy bound to Bermuda and the West Indies.
“Having reached her outward destination in safety, the Epervier, on the 14th April, sailed from Port Royal, Jamaica, on her return to Halifax; and, as if the reputation of her officers, and of the flag she bore, was not enough for such a crew as her’s to be entrusted with, she afterwards took on board at Havannah, 118,000 dollars in specie. On the 25th April, she sailed from thence, in company with an hermaphrodite brig, bound to Bermuda. On the 29th, at about 7-30 a.m., a ship under Russian colours joined the Epervier; and, shortly afterwards, another was discovered, apparently in chase of them. At 9 a.m. Captain Wales hauled to the wind on the larboard tack, so as to keep between his charge and the strange ship, which we may at once introduce as the U.S. sloop Peacock, of 20 carronades, 32-pounders, and 2 long 18’s, Captain Lewis Warrington.
“No answer being returned to the brig’s signals, the English ensign and pendant flying on board the Peacock did not remove the suspicions of her being an enemy; and accordingly the Epervier made a signal to that effect to her convoy. At 9-40 a.m., the Peacock hauled down the British colours, and hoisted an American flag at almost every mast and stay. At 10 a.m., when within half gun-shot, she edged away, as if to bring her broadside to bear in a raking position. This the brig evaded by putting her helm up, until close on the Peacock’s bow, when she rounded to and fired her starboard guns. With this their first discharge, the three aftermost carronades became unshipped by the fighting-bolts giving way. The guns, however, were soon replaced; and having, when she got abaft the beam of her opponent, tacked and shortened sail, the Epervier received the broadside of the Peacock, as the latter kept away with the wind on the larboard beam. Although the first fire of the American ship produced no material effect, a continued discharge of star and bar shot cut away the rigging and sails of the brig, and completely dismantled her. Just as the Epervier, by a well-directed fire, had brought down her opponent’s fore-yard, several of the carronades on the larboard side behaved as those opposite had done, and continued to upset, as often as they were replaced and discharged.
“In the midst of this confusion, the main-boom, having been shot away, fell upon the wheel, and the Epervier, having had her head-sails all cut to pieces, became thrown into a position to be raked; but, fortunately for the brig, the Peacock had too much headway to do so with more than two or three shot. Having by this time shot away the brig’s main-top-mast, and rendered her completely unmanageable, the Peacock directed the whole of her fire at her opponent’s hull, and presently reduced the Epervier’s three waist guns to the disabled state of the others. At 11 a.m., as if the defects in the fighting-bolts were not a sufficient disaster, the breeching-bolts began to draw. There being no immediate remedy here, an effort was made to get the brig round, in order to present a fresh broadside to the enemy; but it was found impracticable, without falling on board the Peacock.
“As a last resource, and one which British seamen arc generally prompt to execute. Captain Wales called his crew to follow him in boarding; but these gentlemen declined a measure so fraught with danger. The Epervier having now one gun only wherewith to return the fire of eleven; being already with four feet and a half water in her hold, and her crew failing fast beneath the heavy and unremitting fire of the Peacock, no alternative remained but to strike the colours, to save the lives of the few remaining good men in the vessel. This was done at 11-5 a.m., after the firing had lasted an hour; during three quarters of which the combatants lay close together, and during more than half of which, owing to the defects in the brig’s armament, the successful party had it all to himself.
“Besides the damages already detailed, the Epervier had her fore rigging and stays shot away, her bowsprit badly wounded, and her foremast cut nearly in two, which nothing but the smoothness of the water saved from falling. Her hull, as may be imagined, was pierced with shot-holes, both above and below water. Her loss, out of a crew of 101 men and 16 boys, amounted to eight killed and mortally wounded, and fifteen severely and slightly wounded, including among the former her very gallant first lieutenant, John Hackett, who, about the middle of the action, had his left arm shattered, and received a severe splinter wound in the hip, but who yet would hardly suffer himself to be carried below. Captain Warrington states, we believe with truth, that the Peacock’s principal injury was the wound in her fore-yard. Not a shot, by his account, struck the ship’s hull, and her loss, out of a crew of 185 picked seamen, without a boy among them, amounted to only two wounded, neither of them dangerously.
“At the time she engaged the Peacock, the Epervier had but three men in a watch, exclusive of petty officers, able to take helm or lead; and two of her crew were each 70 years of age! She had some blacks, several other foreigners, lots of disaffected, and few even of ordinary stature: in short, the crew of the Epervier was a disgrace to the deck of a British man-of-war. We must be allowed to say, that, had her carronades been previously fired in exercise, for any length of time together, the defect in the clinching of her breeching bolts, a defect common to the vessels of this and the smaller classes, nearly all of them being contract-built, would have been discovered, and perhaps remedied. Even one or two discharges would have shown the insufficiency of the fighting-bolts. We doubt, however, if any teaching at the guns would have amended the Epervier’s crew; the men wanted, what nature alone could give them, the hearts of Britons.”
Captain Wales was promoted to post rank, while commanding the Childers brig, at the Leeward Islands, Jan. 1, 1817.
- The Epervier mounted 16 carronades of the same calibre as the Peacock’s, and 2 eighteen-pounder carronades, which latter she had taken on board in lieu of her long sixes and boat gun.