HMS Curieux

The cutting-out of the Curieux on the night of 4th February 1804

The 290 ton French corvette Curieux was launched on September 20th, 1800. At 97ft over all she had a compliment of 94 men and 16 guns.

She might have been an unremarkable vessel were it not for two major events: her capture by the crew of HMS Centaur in 1804 and her later involvement in the Trafalgar campaign when she carried the news of Villeneuve’s Franco-Spanish fleet back to the Channel Fleet. She was obviously a good sailor and popular with her commanders.

In the French Navy she appears to have been used as a regular courier to and from the West Indies, being mentioned as returning from Senegal1 and arriving in Brest2. Later in the same year, she brought news of the end of Toussaint’s rebellion in Haiti:

PARIS, June 12.

The brig Le Curieux has arrived from St. Domingo, after a passage of 32 days, with an Aid-de-Camp of General Le Clere. He brings very good news. Christophe had deserted Toussaint, and ranged himself upon the side of the French army. Four days after Toussaint and Dessalines surrendered to the victors. Magazine, stores, artillery, all are in our power. – (Moniteur).

The Definitive Peace was published officially at Madrid upon the 4th of May.

London Courier, Tuesday, June 15th, 1802

She was mentioned again in 1803 when the frigate Urania, and the corvettes La Diligente and Le Curieux, set sail from France, believed to be headed for the Americas.3

Then came the night of February 4th 1804 and we see Hood’s Boys in the second of their daring exploits:

From the LONDON GAZETTE, May 1.
Admiralty-Office, May 1, 1804.

The following are copies of letters which have been received at this Office from Commodore Hood, Commander in Chief of His Majesty’s Ships and Vessels at the Leeward Islands: –

Centaur, Diamond Rock, off Martinique, Feb. 6, 1804.

SIR –
I have the satisfaction to acquaint you, for the information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, of the capture of the Curieux French corvette, early in the morning of the 4th instant, of 16 long French six-pounders, and had on board upwards of 100 men, when attacked by four boats of the Centaur, containing 60 seamen and 12 marines, under the command of Lieut. Robert Carthew Reynolds; she was lying close under Fort Edward, at the entrance of the Careenage, Fort Royal harbour, Martinique; he boarded on the quarters in a most gallant manner, and was well aided by Lieut. Bettesworth and Mr. Tracey, my Secretary, with the other officers and men; the enemy made a warm resistance at the first outset, but the spirited and superior valour of this brave officer and his supporters drove them forward, where a second stand was made, which was carried with equal gallantry; her Captain, Cordier, leaped overboard, after receiving two sabre wounds, and saved himself, with some of the men, in a boat that lay under her bows, and got on shore; only one French Officer escaped, being either killed or wounded, and he was below; fortunately, this brilliant service was performed with only the enclosed list of wounded in the boats. I am sorry to add, Lieutenant Reynolds is one of the number, severely, with five wounds; also Lieutenant Bettesworth and Mr. Tracey, though not badly. I have the honour to be , &c.

SAM. HOOD.

Sir Evan Nepean, Bart.                                                                          

LIST OF WOUNDED:
In the Centaur’s boats: three Officers and six Seamen, one of which is since dead.
In the Curieux: forty killed and wounded.

London Courier & Evening Gazette, Wednesday, May 2nd, 1804.

The press picked up on the story:

A Letter, via Liverpool, from an Officer in the squadron off Martinique, dated the 16th of Feb. informs us, that our people have been actively, and successfully employed in annoying the enemy. Le Curieux, of 16 guns, and 100 men, has been cut out from under Fort Edward, by four of our boats, and seventy men, after a desperate conflict, in which we had Lieutenants Reynolds and Butterworth, Mr. Tracy, the Commodore’s Secretary, and seven or eight men wounded, one of the latter mortally. Lieutenant Reynolds, who was more severely wounded than the other officers, is recovering, and has been made Commander into the prize. The Frenchmen fought with great gallantry, and every officer except one, who was below, was killed or wounded. Lieutenant Hunter has been killed, and Lieut. Cole, of the Blenheim, deprived of a leg in a sortie. We have also to lament the loss of Lieutenant Domett, who was blown up in a tender, when he and sixteen men perished.

Lieutenant Carthew Reynolds, who so gallantly distinguished himself in the late affair in the West Indies, … is the son of Captain Reynolds, not of the Dreadnought. This brave young officer was for a moment over-powered in a struggle with a French officer of superior strength, and fell; when the Frenchman was on the point of stabbing him through the body. At this critical moment, his friend Lieutenant Bettesworth shot the Frenchman through the head with a pistol. This appears to have been a most gallant and daring action. ‘Young Reynolds,’ says our informant, (the gentleman, we understand, is about twenty years of age) ‘and a Scotsman, were the two first that boarded the enemy. They ascended by a ladder suspended over the corvette’s stern, and cleared the quarter-deck, while the other boats boarded over the bows. When Lieutenant Reynolds laid hold on the ladder, he offered ten guineas to the first man that followed him, declaring he would lead the way. “I’ll be damn’d if you do then,” said the brave Scot,4 who sat in the boat’s bow, and instantly sprung before him. The vessel was carried in a few minutes; and Lieut. Reynolds, who is recovered from his wounds, has been made Master and Commander on board the prize.’

Royal Cornwall Gazette, Saturday, April 28th, 1804

These reports were followed by several others from Commodore Hood relating to other actions. Over twelve months later, a contemporary French account of the action was published in the English papers, which differed in several points of detail and gives an interesting perspective:

In the Gazette accounts of the action detailed in the following letters, Capt. BETTERSWORTH was spoken of in the most honourable terms. The boats of Centaur, employed on this occasion, contained only 60 seamen and twelve marines, opposed to upwards of one hundred Frenchmen.

REPORT MADE BY THE ENDIGN DE VAISSEAU, OF THE CORVETTE LE CURIEUX, TO THE CAPTAIN-GENERAL OF MARTINIQUE. (COPY.)

L’ENSEIGN DE VAISSEAU CHEMINANT, TO ADMIRAL VILLARET JOYEUSE, CAPTAIN-GENERAL OF MARTINIQUE.

On board Le Curieux, captured by the English, the 14th, Pluviose, year 13.

MY GENERAL.

The only Officer remaining of those who commanded the crew of the Curieux, I owe to you a faithful detail of the cruel tragedy which has delivered us to the Enemy. Without retrospect to the pain caused by my wounds, I hasten to give you the sorrowful Report, praying you will believe that it is dictated with the utmost truth.

The 15th instant, before one o’clock in the morning, I was on deck, with a Midshipman and 20 men, according to orders given by Capt. CORDIER; the weather was of the darkest, especially in the northern direction; sentries were placed abaft, at the ladder, and forward; our boarding nettings were up; we had hardly perceived the English boats before they boarded by the stern and the main shrouds; we had only time to discharge two guns with grape shot, one swivel, and a wall-piece, when the Enemy were on board, and forced us to have recourse to the sabre, pike, and musketry; assailed by numbers, and having let go a second anchor, we defended ourselves with courage, in making a most obstinate resistance, which you will perceive by the number of killed and wounded.

Obliged to retreat to the forecastle, and very much weakened by the crowd of wounded, the issue of the battle did not remain long uncertain; but the Corvette was not carried till after all the Officers and Midshipmen had been put hors de combat, with part of the Non-commissioned Officers.

Nevertheless, during the battle, all the crew were on deck, headed by their Officers.

We have thirty wounded, and all with more than one scar. Of the Staff, one Midshipman alone remains unhurt.

The valorous Capt. CORDIER is no more; I saw him thrown into the sea; his Second had had the happiness of revenging his death. The Englishman who tore him from us was precipitated in his turn.

JOLY, that brave Officer, is covered with five wounds, the least of which is a ball.,

CLEMENT is ground, independent of a cut of a sabre in the head, he was thrown in the ‘tween decks, and his loins broke.

BOUGONNIERE, Midshipman of the first class, died twelve hours after the action, in agonies difficult to describe; he has eleven apparent wounds.

DRINOT, Midshipman of the second class, has the thumb separated from the right hand, with three large wounds; he behaved like a hero, and supports with the same courage the pain he endures.

SIRIAQUE, another Midshipman, has two sabre wounds on the head and arm.

The most mutilated of our Non-commissioned Officers are the Carpenter and the Gunner. The Sail-maker was thrown overboard; and twenty sailors are on the biers, having each several wounds.

Shall I speak to you of myself? Alas, my General, I have paid my debt – remaining alone of all the Officers, I sustained the bravery the honour of the corps; but the efforts that I made ill answered my wished; and the despair of having suffered the Corvette to be carried, adds to the sufferings caused by these wounds. If my name is tarnished, my conscience remains.

I shall not boast of having dispatched the Chief of the Expedition5; for this I was closely watched on deck for three hours by four men. The only thing notorious will be the capture of the Corvette, and possibly the shame of the Officers who belonged to her.

Judge us now, my General, but pity our misfortune. It is on the bed of sorrow that I write this Report.

My being kept on deck permitted me to remark the manoeuvres of the Enemy; after having cut the cables and made sail, they dispatched a part of their boats with the wounded men, and some of their people, which I perceived to reach, at four o’clock in the morning, the third English Man of War at Cape. Salomon.

I render justice to the English: they not only afforded the last Military Honours to the Midshipman BOURGONNIERE, but they afforded the most particular assistance to the wounded, and not the value of a handkerchief was taken from the crew.

This is, General, the detail of our disaster, and believe it is with the utmost grief I state it to you. Believe the truth it contains: it will be at least a comfort to us, and in particular to,

My General, Your very humble Servant, CHEMINANT.

(A True Copy Signed) VILLARET, Captain-General.

 DEPOSITION RELATIVE TO THE CUTTING OUT OF THE BRIG LE CEURIEUX, COMMANDED BY THE CAPTAIN.

London Gazette, Sun, July 12th, 1805

One wonders whether Captain Cordier, survived.

Lieutenant Reynolds was given command of the Curieux. His Cornish friend Lieutenant Bettesworth, was given command of HM sloop St. Lucia, 16, also on the Leeward Islands station.

Although Lt Reynolds survived the action in taking the Curieux, he may never have been able to take effective command of his prize. The Muster Roll for the Curieux records him as ‘sick on board’.6 He transferred to Diamond Rock where he succumbed to his wounds in September, 1804.

Following the death of Capt. Reynolds, Lieutenant Bettesworth was moved across to command the Curieux with John George Bass [Boss], late a midshipman on board Centaur, as his First Lieutenant. Bettesworth appears to have spent some time ashore recovering from his wounds and Lt Boss and Lt Autridge took command.7

The Curieux set to work and recaptured the English brig Albion in June and the French schooner privateer Elizabeth on 15th July. In September she recaptured the English brig Princess Royal.

Her run of success was rather marred by an incident that occurred in September 1804 when Lt Autridge was in command, involving a merchant ship, the Queen Charlotte, heading for Surinam. This led to a court case which is covered elsewhere.

Lt Bettesworth is recorded as being back in command by November.8 and in January 1805 Curieux captured an American ship from St. Domingo – which had been taken prize by a French privateer.

Then, on 8th February 1805, she successfully took on something her own size: La Dame Ernouf of 16 guns and 120 men.

ADMIRALTY OFFICE, APRIL 6.

Copy of a letter from Captain Bettesworth, to Commodore Sir Samuel Hood. K.B. Commander in Chief of his Majesty’s ships and vessels at the Leeward Islands.

Curieux, at Sea, February 8, 1805.

SIR, I have to inform you, that this morning, at break of day, Barbadoes bearing west about twenty leagues, I perceived a large brig on our lee bow, who immediately bore up and made all sail away, and after a chace of twelve hours, during which time she tried every point of sailing to escape us; we arrived within point-blank shot of her, when she took in her studding sails, and brought to on the starboard tack, hoisted French colours, and commenced a very brisk and heavy fire of great guns and small arms; on our arriving within pistol shot, and ranging upon her weather quarter, we discharged our guns, and the action continued with great obstinacy on both sides for about forty minutes, when the enemy getting on our weather quarter, I conceived from their having in a great measure left their guns, and giving three cheers, that they intended to boards us; she was then steering for our leeward quarter, when we put our helm to starboard, and caught his jib-boom between our fore-shroud and fore-mast. In this situation she remained until her decks were completely cleared, when at the moment we were going to take possession, the vessels parted, and her foretop-mast went overboard; she continued a short time firing musketry, and then hauled down her colours, and proved to be La Dame Ernouf, of 16 long French sixes, and 120 men, out 20 days from Guadeloupe, and had taken one merchant ship, (since retaken by his Majesty’s sloop Nimrod); sails very fast, coppered, and remarkably well found; but although she carries the same number of guns, and of the same calibre at the Curieux, she is not near so large.

I can attribute her fighting so long and obstinately, to nothing but the Captain being part owner, he having met, since the commencement of the war, with so much success, and her being so well manned.

His Majesty’s brig had five killed, and three wounded, besides myself; of the former I have to regret the loss of a valuable officer, Mr. Maddocks, the Purser, who (on account of Mr. Boss, First Lieutenant, having been left behind, on leave, from the hurry of our sailing) volunteered his services, and was killed gallantly fighting at the head of the small arm men. I cannot help stating, as a tribute to the memory of so worthy a young man, that to the service he is the loss of a very good officer, and to everybody that knew him, a valuable friend and companion.

Lieut. Boss having been left behind, deprived me of the services of an able and gallant officer, but Lieut. Donaldson so well supplied his place, not only by exertion at the guns, but putting the orders that were given into execution, although the only officer I had on board, but Mr. Caddy, Master’s Mate, and Mr. Templeton, Boatswain, that I did not, by their great assistance, feel the want of an individual.

The enemy had 30 killed, and 41 wounded; and in justice to his gallantry, I must say, he never struck whilst there was a man on his decks – I have the honour to be, &c.

G. E. B. BETTESWORTH.

Commodore Sir Samuel Hood, K. B. &c. &c.

Englishman, Sunday, April 7th, 1805
HMS Curieux taking the Dame Ernouf
(c) National Maritime Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

As usual, the press broke the news ahead of the official announcement:

ST. VINCENT’S, FEB. 13. – There is a report from Barbadoes, that a strong brig privateer, out of Guadeloupe, named the Madame Ernouf, and mounting about 16 or 18 guns, had been taken by His Majesty’s brig of war Curieux, Capt. Bettesworth, who is wounded. The loss on both sides is stated to be about 60 men. This quarter is swarming with privateers.

Morning Post, Thursday, April 4th, 1805.

The news of the engagement reverberated around the British Isles, being picked up by one provincial paper after another. In his absence:

The Committee of the Patriotic Fund have, in addition to a very elegant sword presented to Captain BETTESWORTH, on the cutting out of the Curieux, voted him a sum of 200l. for his late gallant action on the Leeward Island station with La Dame Ernouf privateer, we understand that he has been presented with a sword, value above 150l. by the Barbadoes merchants on that occasion.

Morning Post, April 15th, 1805.

And another award followed.

The Committee for managing the Patriotic Fund at LLOYD’S, have, with their usual liberality, been pleased to settle an annuity of twenty pounds per annum on Mrs. ELIZABETH MADDOCK, of Sheerness, mother of the late Mr. EDWARD MADDOCK, Purser of his Majesty’s sloop le Curieux, who was killed in that very gallant action in the West Indies with the French privateer la Dame Ernouf, on the 8th of February last, bravely fighting at the head of the small arm men.

Caledonian Mercury, July 27th, 1805.

On February 25th, the Curieux took a Spanish launch into Tortola. Lt. Boss was on leave at the time, but Bettesworth seems to have sustained further wounds in this action, after which Boss held command for a time, while Bettesworth recovered.

At Cumana Gut, Boss cut out several schooners, and a brig from St. Eustatia. Then with the Tobago captured two merchant men lying under the batteries at Barcelona, on the coast of Caraccas.

Then, in June/July 1805, the Curieux under Bettesworth played their starring role in the Trafalgar campaign, sailing from the West Indies to Britain with the news of Villeneuve’s Combined Fleet, overtaking that fleet and thus bringing early warning to the Channel Fleet and other squadrons blockading French and Spanish ports.

PLYMOUTH, July 12. – On Sunday arrived the Curieux, of 18 guns, Captain Bettesworth, after a passage of only 18 days, with dispatches from Lord Viscount Nelson, with which Capt Bettesworth set off for London. Lord Nelson arrived at Barbadoes the 3rd of June: the French fleet at Martinique, on hearing of his arrival, landed all their sick, which were very numerous, and immediately sailed for Europe. Lord Nelson, when he dispatched La Curieux, told Capt. B. He guessed he would fall in with the enemy, and as he should sail the day after, in the same course he had directed the Curieux to take, he hoped it would not be long after before he should have the pleasure of paying his respects to them.

Salisbury and Winchester Herald, July 15th. 1805.

The Curieux was re-fitted in the Naval Dockyards and returned to service under a new captain. There is then a run of minor reports of her escorting cargo ships, receiving bounty for captured ships but she still had fight in her for in 1807:

It has now been but a week since we took occasion to give our readers the information we had obtained of the state of preparation of the Enemy’s privateers at Guadeloupe, as well as their augmented number and force: – most of these privateers we more recently learn have since put to sea, and in all probability the latitude of this Island will, as usual, be soon infested with them. Already we find the temerity of their enterprise does not shrink from the contest even with our men of war; and this boldness has been fatal to a brave and gallant Officer of our service, who has fallen in an unequal combat with one of their heaviest cruisers.

His Majesty’s brig Curieux arrived yesterday in Carlisle Bay, announcing by the half-hoist of her colours, the death of her Captain. The Curieux, Capt. Sherriff, being cruising to windward of the Island, fell in on the 2nd inst. with an American vessel, from which he learnt that a French privateer ship was to the northward of him, and instantly shaping his course so as to fall in with her, he at 10 p.m. the next day discovered her standing close-hauled under easy sail to the northward and eastward. The Enemy is supposed about the same time to have discovered the Curieux, for he was soon observed to bear up, and set more sail; which induced the Curieux occasionally to edge off the wind, to bring then soon up with each other. At 2 p.m. the brig having tacked, brought her to close action, the Enemy apparently well prepared, having taken in her royals, &c. and clewed up her main sail, as she came into action. A very heavy cannonade was kept up on both sides for more than an hour, when the Curieux having advanced a little a head, and become unmanageable from her tiller ropes, bowlines, and braces, being shot away, the Enemy took advantage of the occasion, and running down on her, attempted to board on the starboard quarter. In bravely repulsing this effort, which the Enemy made with a great number of men, Capt. Sherriff received a mortal wound, and several of his crew were killed. Such however was the warm reception given the Enemy, that he immediately fell off; but this laying him across the Curieux’s stern, he poured a raking fire into her, which carried away the main-boom, cut the gaff, and greatly injured almost all the sails and rigging; Capt. Sherriff at the same time receiving another wound, which put a period to his further exertions and existence. Lieut. Muir, on whom the command now devolved, continued the conflict with equal spirit; and the Enemy again attempting to throw a number of men on board, was driven back with such slaughter, as discouraged any other attempt, and compelled him to give up the contest. The Curieux being much disabled, had no chance of bringing the Enemy again to action, who now bore away and effected his escape, leaving our vessel victor of the day. The loss of the Enemy must undoubtedly be considerable; that on our part, we lament, has also been great; – besides Capt. Sherriff, eight seamen were killed, and twelve wounded. – Lieut. Muir was also slightly wounded; and Mr. Templeton, Boatswain, dangerously. The Enemy’s privateer is supposed to be the late British Tar Guineaman, of Bristol, built in 1797 at Plymouth; of 247 tons burthen, and now mounting 24 twelve-pounders, and one long 24-pounder amidships, on a traverse; with a compliment of 180 men, and not more than ten or twelve days from Point-a-Petre. The Curieux is a small brig of ten 24-pound carronades and eight 6’s, with only 110 men. The disparity between the combatants, gives a fair claim to our Officers and men, to victory; while the Enemy, withdrawing vanquished from the fight, sought safety in retreat.

Barbados Mercury & Bridgetown Gazette, Saturday, December 5th, 1807

Her end came in 1809:

PORT NEWS – Carlisle Bay, Oct. 14.

The Lark sloop of war, Capt. Nicholson, on the Jamaica station, we regret to learn, foundered on the 3rd of August in a gale, and except four, the whole crew perished. The Curieux brig of war has also been totally lost in Petit-terre, but her crew all saved.

Barbados Mercury & Bridgetown Gazette, Saturday, October 14th, 1809

This was reported in the British papers:

His Majesty’s brig Curieux, of 18 guns, Capt. Moysey, was lost on Peiti-Terre, Sept. 21st; the Captain and all the crew saved. We are sorry to say that Capt. Moysey died at Mariegalante, a few days after, of the yellow  fever.

Sun [London], Wednesday, December 13th, 1809

British naval historians Rif Winfield, and William Gosset, record her as lost:

On 22 September 1809, at about 3:30 a.m., Curieux struck a rock off Petit-Terre off the Isle de Saints. The rock was 30 yards from the beach in 11 feet of water. At first light Hazard came to her assistance ad her guns and stores were removed. Hazard then winched Curieux off a quarter of a cable but she slipped back and ran directly on the reef. There she bilged. All her crew were saved but the British burnt her to prevent her recapture. A court martial found Lieut. John Felton, the officer of the watch, guilty of negligence and was dismissed the service. Moysey died the next month of yellow fever.9

  1. Morning Herald (London), of Thursday, December 31st, 1801
  2. Evening Mail, Monday January 25th, 1802
  3. British Press, Monday, March 7th, 1803
  4. Circumstances suggest that this was John Donaldson
  5. Lt Reynolds
  6. National Archives ADM 36/17054
  7. National Archives ADM 36/17054
  8. National Archives ADM 36/17055
  9. One of the Curieux’s officers was Lieutenant Provo Wallis, who went on to establish a record in the Royal Navy for length of service.