, , , ,

From Thomas Luny to Derek Gardner, many artists have attempted to capture the drama and danger of the Droits de L’Homme engagement, and paintings of the celebrated action still sell for significant sums today. However the engagement also inspired a number of songs and verses. This contemporary ballad “The Amazon Frigate” appears in the Navy Records Society’s rare 1907 volume Naval Songs and Ballads.

~The Amazon Frigate~

Come all you British seamen bold, that plow the raging main,
Come listen to my tragedy while I relate the same;
‘Tis what we underwent all on the raging main.
Bold Reynolds was our commander in the ship called the Amazon.

On the thirtieth of December in Falmouth as we lay
Our orders came on board our anchors for to weigh;
So “Heave Away!” our captain, cried, “we have no time to spare:
We’ll set our canvas to the breeze and through the ocean steer.”

Our anchors weighed our sails were set, our ship she seemed to fly;
It was the Indefatigable, that bore us company.
We must bid adieu to our sweethearts because we must cross the main,
Hoping in a short time after to see them all again.

We steered our course to southward as far as Cape Finistere,
Cruising the seas for several days, and nothing could find there,
Till, running down the coast of Spain, three merchant men we took,
And sent them home to England while we for more did look.

But in bearing up for England an American ship we see,
That gave us good intelligence the French was at sea.
The weather it was thick, and under an easy sail,
The wind it blew north-northeast and it blew a briskish gale.

On the 28th of January a man sung from aloft
That he spied a lofty man-of-war at a distance three leagues off.
She’s a very lofty ship the truth we will declare;
She crowded all sails she could, expecting to get clear.

But we were at the heels of her, and night coming on,
At six o’clock that very night the bloody fight begun.
With broadside to broadside we played them two to one,
Till the blood out of the scupper holes in a gore did run.

Both round grape and double-head we poured in so fast
That at eight o’clock that very night down came her mizzenmast.
We engaged them five glasses as close as we could lay,
While great guns, small arms, and cutlasses most sweetly did they play.

The Frenchmen all for quarters aloud to us did cry;
Their colors struck no more could fight for love or liberty.
But the remnant of their shattered crew they unto us tell
That out of fifteen hundred men eight hundred of them fell.

The ship was called the Droits de l’ Homme; from Brest she lately came,
With guns mounted ninety-eight on board and fifteen hundred men.
Her intention was for Ireland her troops all there to land,
But bold Pellew and his ship’s crew did stop their war-like band.

T’was early the next morning the land it did appear,
And they were so disabled from it they could not get clear;
And we were so disabled we could not veer nor tack,
But down alongside our enemy we soon became a wreck.

So now the Indefatigable is bound for England’s shore
To let our suffering country now the Amazon’s no more.
Still, we’ll drink to George our King; We’ll convince him of the same,
That British tars forever more rule lords of the main.

Like all good ballads, the song employs a little poetic licence. Although some of the details of the engagement are quite accurate, the French ship never did strike her colours or call for quarter, de Lacrosse and his crew fought to the bitter end. Also when the Indefatigable finally returned to “England’s shore”, Pellew had no knowledge of what had happened to the Amazon after he clawed his ship out of Audierne Bay. In his first letter to Lord Spencer, First Lord of the Admiralty, following the engagement Pellew expressed his concern in heartfelt terms.

I am laboring under some difficulty in communicating with your lordship from my want of certain knowledge of my invaluable friend, Captain Reynolds. We have been very long brothers in affection and my grief would never cease should any misfortune on this occasion happen to him.

Historical quibbles aside, this ballad provides a wonderful contemporary insight into how the Droits de L’Hommes engagement was perceived in the popular imagination of the day.