The Naval history of Great Britain:
from the declaration of war by France in 1793 to the accession of George IV
William James
London 1902.

On the 12th of August, at half past six in the morning, the British 18-gun brig-sloop Pelican, (sixteen 32-pound carronades and two sixes,) Captain John Maples, anchored in Cork from a cruise.

Before the sails were furled, Captain Maples received orders to put to sea again, in quest of an American sloop-of-war, which had been committing serious depredations in the St. George's Channel, and of which the Pelican herself had gained some information on the preceding day.

At eight o'clock the Pelican, having supplied herself with some necessary stores, got under way, and beat out of the harbour against a very strong breeze and heavy sea; proof of the earnestness of her officers and crew.

On the 13th, at half past seven in the evening, when standing to the eastward with the wind at the north-west, the Pelican observed a fire ahead, and a brig standing to the south-east. The latter was immediately chased under all sail, but was lost sight of in the night.

On the 14th, at three quarters past four, latitude 52°15' north, longitude 5°50' west, the same brig was seen in the north-east, separating from a ship which she had just set on fire, and steering towards several merchantmen in the south-east.

This active cruiser was the United States' 16 -gun brig-sloop Argus, (eighteen 24-pound carronades and two long twelve's,) Master-Commandant William Allen, then standing close-hauled on the starboard-tack with the wind a moderate breeze from the southward.

The Pelican was on the weather quarter of the Argus, bearing down under a press of sail to close her; nor did the latter make any attempt to escape, her commander, who had been first lieutenant of the United States in her action with the Macedonian, being confident, as it afterwards appeared, that he could take any British "22-gun" (as all the 18-gun brigs were called in America) sloop-of-war in ten minutes.

At half past four, being unable to get the weather-gage, the Argus shortened sail, to give the Pelican the opportunity of closing. At a few minutes before six, St. David's Head east, distant about five leagues, the latter hoisted her colours.

The Argus immediately did the same, and, having wore round, at six opened her larboard guns within grape-distance; receiving in return the starboard broadside of the Pelican. In about four minutes Captain Allen was severely wounded, and the main braces, main spring-stay, gaff, and trysail-mast of the Argus were shot away.

At fourteen minutes past six the Pelican bore-up to pass astern of the Argus; but the latter, now commanded by lieutenant William Watson, adroitly threw all aback, and frustrated the attempt, bestowing at the same time an ineffectual raking fire. In four minutes more, having shot away her opponent's preventer-brace and main after-sails, the Pelican passed astern of and raked the Argus, and then ranged up on her starboard quarter, pouring in her fire with destructive effect.

The Argus shortly after this, having had her wheel-ropes and running rigging of every description shot away, became entirely unmanageable, and again exposed her stern to the guns of the Pelican. The latter, soon afterwards, passing the broadside of the Argus, placed herself on the latter's starboard bow.

In this position the British brig, at three quarters past six, boarded the American Brig, and instantly carried her, although the master's mate of the Pelican, who led the party, received his death-wound from the Argus's fore-top just as he stepped on her gunwale. Even this did not encourage the American crew to rally; and two or three of the number, that had not run below, hauled down the colours.

On board the Pelican, one shot passed through the boatswain's and another through the carpenter's cabin. Her sides were filled with grape-shot, and her rigging and sails much injured: her fore-mast and main top-mast were slightly wounded, and so were her royals; but no spar was seriously hurt. Two of her carronades were dismounted.

Out of her 101 men (her second lieutenant among the absent) and twelve boys, the Pelican lost, besides the master's mate, William Young, slain in the moment of victory, one seaman killed, and five slightly wounded, chiefly by the American musketry and langridge; the latter to the torture of the wounded.

Captain Maples had a narrow escape: a spent canister-shot struck, with some degree of force, one of his waistcoat buttons, and then fell on the deck.

The Argus was tolerably cut up in her hull. Both her lower masts were wounded, although not badly, and her fore-shrouds on one side were nearly all destroyed; but, like the Chesapeake, the Argus had no spar shot away. several of her carronades were disabled. Out of her 122 men and three boys, (to appearance a remarkably fine ship's company,) the Argus had six seamen killed, her commander, two midshipmen, the carpenter, and three seamen mortally, her first lieutenant and five seamen severely, and eight others slightly wounded; total, six killed and eighteen wounded.

Comparative force of combatants


We will set the Americans a good example by freely admitting, that there was here a slight superiority against them; but then the Pelican, after she had captured the Argus, was in a condition to engage and make prize of another American brig just like her. The slight loss incurred on one side in this action is worth attending to, not only by the boasters in the United States, but by the croakers in Great Britain.

Despatching his prize, with half her crew, including the wounded, and a full third of his own, in charge of the Pelican's first and only lieutenant, Thomas Welsh, to Plymouth, Captain Maples himself, with the Pelican and the remaining half of the prisoners, proceeded to Cork, to report his proceedings to Admiral Thornborough. On the 17th the Argus arrived in Portsmouth; and soon afterwards Captain Maples was most deservedly posted, for the promptitude, skill, and gallantry which he had displayed.

Captain Allen, of the Argus, had his left thigh amputated by his own surgeon, and, notwithstanding every attention, died on the 18th August, at Mill-Prison hospital. On the 21st he was buried with high military honours, and attended to his grave by all the navy, marine, and army officers in the port.