The Naval history of Great Britain:
from the declaration of war by France in 1793 to the accession of George IV
While, in the early part of December, the United States' frigate Constitution, Commodore Bainbridge, and the ship-sloop Hornet, (eighteen 32-pound carronades and two long twelves,) Captain Lawrence, were waiting at St. Salvador to be joined by the Essex, an occurrence happened, which the characteristic cunning of the Americans turned greatly to their advantage.
After the Constitution sailed for Boston on the 6 January, the Hornet continued blockading the Bonne-Citoyenne and her dollars, until the arrival on the 24th of the British 74-gun ship Montagu, Captain Manley Hall Dixon, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Manley Dixon. The American sloop, on being chased ran for the harbour; but, night coming on, the Hornet wore, and, by standing to the south-ward, dextrously evaded her pursuer. The Hornet soon afterwards hauled her wind to the westward, and on the 14th of February, when cruising off Pernambuco, captured an English brig, with about 23,000 dollars in specie on board. Having removed the money and destroyed the prize, Captain Lawrence cruised off Surinam until the 22nd; then stood for Demerara, and on the 24th chased a brig, but was obliged to haul off on account of the shoals at the entrance of the Demerara river. Previously to giving up the chase, the Hornet discovered a brig-of-war, with English colours flying, at anchor without the bar. This was the 18-gun Brig-sloop Espiégle, (sixteen 32-pound carronades and two sixes, ) Captain John Taylor, refitting her rigging.
At half past three o'clock in the afternoon, while beating round Caroband bank to get at the Espiégle, the Hornet discovered a sail on her weather quarter bearing down on her.
After this the Peacock wore to renew the action on the other tack; when the Hornet, quickly bearing up, received the Peacock's starboard broadside; then, at about thirty-five minutes past five, ran the latter close on board the starboard quarter. In this position the Hornet poured in so heavy and well directed a fire, that, at fifty minutes past five, the Peacock, having six feet [of] water in the hold and being cut to pieces in hull and masts, hoisted from her fore-rigging an ensign, union down, as a signal of distress.
Shortly afterwards her main mast went by the board. Both the Hornet and her prize were immediately anchored; and every attempt was made to save the latter, by throwing her guns overboard, by pumping and bailing her, and stopping such shot holes as could be got at; but all would not do, and in a very few minutes after she had anchored, the Peacock went down, in five and a half fathoms of water, with thirteen men of her crew (four of whom afterwards got to the fore-top and escaped) and three men belonging to the Hornet. An American lieutenant and midshipman, and the remainder of the Hornet's men on board the brig, with difficulty saved themselves by jumping, as she went down, into a boat that was lying on her booms. Four of the Peacock's seamen had just before taken to her stern-boat; in which, notwithstanding it was much damaged by shot, they arrived safely at Demerara.
Of her 110 men and twelve boys, the Peacock lost her young and gallant commander (about the middle of the action) and four seamen killed, her master, one midshipmen, the carpenter, captain's clerk, and twenty-nine seamen and marines wounded; three of the latter mortally, but the greater part slightly.
Comparative force of combatants
This is what the Americans call an equal match; or, rather, as a brass swivel or two stuck upon the capstan, or somewhere about the quarter-deck, of the Peacock, by way of ornament, these and the boat-carronade were reckoned in, and the Hornet was declared to have gained a victory over a superior British force. If the Americans, in their encounter of British frigates, were so lucky as to meet them with crippled masts, deteriorated powder, unskilful gunners, or worthless crews, they were not less fortunate in the brigs they fell in with.
The firing of the Hornet was admirable, and proved that her men, to the credit of Captain Lawrence and his officers, had been well taught what use to make of their guns: at the same time, it must be admitted, that the Peacock, Frolic, and all the brigs of their class were mere shells; especially when compared with such a ship as the Hornet, whose scantling was nearly as stout as that of a British 32-gun frigate.
The Peacock had long been the admiration of her numerous visitors, for the tasteful arrangement of her deck, and had obtained, in consequence, the name of the yacht. The breechings of the carronades were lined with white canvass, the shot-lockers shifted from their usual places, and nothing could exceed in brilliancy the polish upon the traversing-bars and elevating screws. If carronades, in general, as mounted in the British service, are liable to turn in-board or upset, what must have been the state of the Peacock's carronades after the first broadside? A single discharge from the Peacock's carronades, in exercise, would have betrayed the very defective state of their fastenings; and our feelings might have found some relief in the skill, as well as the gallantry, evinced in her defence.