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AMERICAN AND BRITISH ACCOUNTS OF THE CAPTURE AND
DESTRUCTION OF THE JAVA.
Letter from Commodore Bainbridge to the Secretary of the Navy. United States Frigate Constitution, St. Salvadore, 3d Jan. 1813.
Sir, I have the honour to inform you, that on the 29th ult. at 2, P. M., in south latitude 13° 6', and west longitude 38°, about ten leagues distance from the coast of Brazils, I fell in with and captured his Britannic majesty's frigate Java, of 49 guns and upwards of 400 men, commanded by captain Lambert, a very distinguished officer. The action lasted one hour 55 minutes, in which time the enemy was completely dismasted, not having a spar of any kind standing. The loss on board the Constitution was nine killed and 25 wounded. The enemy had 60 killed and 101 wounded certainly (among the latter captain Lambert inortally); but by the enclosed letter written on board this ship (by one of the officers of the Java), and accidentally found, it is evident that the enemy's wounded must have been much greater than as above stated, and who must have died of their wounds previously to their being removed. The letter states 60 killed and 170 wounded.
For further details of the action, I beg leave to refer you to the enclosed extracts from my journal. The Java had, in addition to her own crew, upwards of 100 supernumerary officers and seamen to join the British ships of war in the East Indies; also lieutenant-general Hislop, appointed to the command of Bombay, major Walker and captain Wood of his staff, and captain Marshall, master and commander in the British navy, going to the East Indies to take command of a sloop of war there.
Should I attempt to do justice by representation to the brave and good conduct of all my officers and crew, during the action, I should fail in the attempt; therefore, suffice it to say, that the whole of their conduct was such as to merit my highest encomiums. I beg leave to recommend the officers particularly to the notice of government, as also the unfortunate seamen who were wounded, and the families of those brave men who fell in the action.
The great distance from our own coast, and the perfect wreck we made the enemy's frigate, forbad every idea of attempting to take her to the United States, I had, therefore, no alternative but burning her, which I did on the 31st ult., after receiving all the prisoners and their baggage, which was very tedious work, only having one boat left (out of eight), and not one left on board the Java.
On blowing up the frigate Java, I proceeded to this place, where I have landed all the prisoners on their parole, to return to England and there remain until regularly exchanged, and not to serve in their professional capacities in any place or in any manner whatever against the United States of America, until their exchange shall be effected. I have the honour to be, sir, with the greatest respect, (Signed)
List of Military and Naval Officers paroled. Military officers.-One lieutenant-general, one major, one captain. Naval officers.-One post-captain, one master and commander, five lieutenants, three lieutenants of marines, one surgeon, two assisting surgeons, one purser, fifteen midshipmen, one gunner, one boatswain, one master, one carpenter, two captain's clerks, and 323 petty officers, seamen, marines, and boys, exclusive of nine Portuguese seamen, liberated and given up to the governor of St. Salvadore, and three passengers, private characters, whom the commodore did not consider prisoners of war and permitted them to land without restraint. Total paroled, 361.
Extract from the Journal referred to in the above Letter.
Tuesday, Dec. 29, 1812. At nine, A. M., discovered two strange sails on the weather bow. At ten, discovered the strange sails to be ships ; one of them stood in for the land, and the other stood off shore, in a direction towards us. At 10 45, A. M., we tacked ship to the northward and westward, and stood for the sail standing towards us; at 11, A. M., tacked to the southward and eastward, hauled up the main-sail, and took in the royals. At 30 minutes after 11, made the private signal for the day, which was not answered, and then set the main-sail and royals to draw the strange sail off from the neutral coast, and separate her from the sail in company.
Wednesday, 30th Dec. (nautical time). In latitude 13° 6' S. longitude 38', W. ten leagues from the coast of Brazil, commences with clear weather and moderate breezes from E. N. E. hoisted our ensign and pendant. At 15 minutes past meridian, the ship hoisted her colours-an English ensign, having a signal flying at main.
At 1.26, P. M., being sufficiently from the land, and finding the ship to be an English frigate, took in the main-sail and royals, tacked ship, and stood for the enemy. At 1 50, P. M., the enemy bore down with the intention of raking us, which we avoided by wearing. At 2, P. M., the enemy being within half a mile of us, and to windward, and having hauled down his colours except the union, the jack at the mizen-mast head, induced me to give orders to the officer of the 3d division to fire a gun ahead of the enemy, to make him show his colours, which being done, brought on a fire from us of the whole broadside, on which the enemy hoisted his colours, and immediately returned our fire. A general action, with round and grape, then commenced; the enemy keeping at a much greater distance than I wished; but could not bring him to a closer action, without exposing ourselves to several rakes. Considerable manoeuvres were made by both vessels to rake and avoid being raked. The following minutes were taken during the action:
“At 210, P. M., commenced the action within good grape and canister distance, the enemy to windward, but much farther than I wished.
“At 2 30, our wheel was shot entirely away.
“At 2 40, determined to close with the enemy, notwithstanding his raking. Set the fore and main-sail, and luffed up close to him.
“At 2 50, the enemy's jib-boom got foul of our mizen rigging.
“At 3, the head of the enemy's bowsprit and jib-boom shot away by us.
“At 3 5, shot away the enemy's fore-mast by the board. “At 3 15, shot away his main-top-mast just above the cap.
At 3 40, shot away the gaft and spanker-boom. “At 3 55, shot away his mizen-mast, nearly by the board.
“At 4. 5, having silenced the fire of the enemy completely, and his colours in main rigging being down, supposed he had struck; then hauled down the courses to shoot ahead to repair our rigging, which was extremely cut; leaving the enemy a complete wreck: soon after discovered that the enemy's flag was still flying. Hove to, to repair some of our damage.
“At 20 minutes past 4, the enemy's main-mast went nearly by the board.
“At 50 minutes past 4, wore ship and stood for the enemy.
“At 25 minutes past 5, got very close to the enemy in a very effectual raking position, athwart his bows, and was at the very instant of raking him, when he most prudently struck
his flag, for, had he suffered the broadside to have raked him, his additional loss must have been extremely great—as he lay an unmanageable wreck upon the water."
After the enemy had struck, wore ship, and reefed the topsails—then hoisted out one of the only two remaining boats we had left out of eight, and sent lieutenant Parker, first of the Constitution, to take possession of the enemy, which proved to be his Britannic majesty's frigate Java, rated 38, but carried 49 guns, and manned with upwards of 400 men, commanded by captain Lambert, a very distinguished officer, who was mortally wounded. The action continued, from commencement to the end of the fire, one hour and 55 minutes. The Constitution had 9 killed, and 25 wounded. The enemy had 60 killed, and 101 certainly wounded; but by a letter written on board the Constitution by one of the officers of the Java, and accidentally found, it is evident the enemy's wounded must have been considerably greater than as above stated, and who must have died of their wounds previously to being removed. The letter states 60 killed, and 170 wounded. The Java had her own complement of men complete, and upwards of 100 supernumeraries, going to join the British ships of war in the East Indies ; also several officers, passengers, going out on promotion. The force of the enemy in number of men at the commencement of the action is no doubt considerably greater than we have been able to ascertain—which is upwards of 400 men. The officers were extremely cautious in discovering the number. By her quarter bill, she had one man more stationed to each gun than we had.
The Constitution was very much cut in her sails andrigging, and many of her spars injured.
At 7, P. M., the boat returned with lieutenant Chads, the first lieutenant of the enemy's frigate, and lieutenant-general Hislop (appointed governor of Bombay), major Walker, and captain Hood.
Captain Lambert was too dangerously wounded to be removed immediately. The cutter returned on board the prize for the prisoners, and brought captain Marshall, master and commander, of the British navy, who was passenger on board, also several other naval officers.
The Java was an important ship, fitted out in the completest manner to carry lieutenant-general Hislop and staff to Bombay.
Admiralty Office, London, April 20. Letters of which the following are Copies and Extracts, have
been transmitted to the Office by Lieutenant Chads, late 1st Lieutenant of His Majesty's Ship Java.
United States' Frigate Constitution, Sir,
of St. Salvadore, Dec. 31, 1812. It is with deep regret that I write you, that his majesty's ship Java is no more, after sustaining an action on the 29th instant, for several hours, with the American frigate Constitution, which resulted in the capture and ultimate destruction of his majesty's ship. Captain Lambert being dangerously wounded in the height of the action, the melancholy task of writing the detail devolves on me.
On the 29th instant, at 8, A. M., off St. Salvadore (coast of Brazil), the wind at N. E. we perceived a strange sail: made all sail in chase, soon made her out to be a large frigate; at noon prepared for action, the chase not answering our private signals, and tacking towards us under easy sail; when about four miles distant she made a signal, and immediately tacked and made all sail upon the wind. We soon found we had the advantage of her in sailing; and came up with her fast, when she hoisted American colours; she bore about three points on our lee-bow. At 50 minutes past 1, P. M., the enemy shortened sail, upon which we bore down upon her; at 10 minutes past 2, when about half a mile distant, she opened her fire by giving us her larboard broadside, which was not returned until we were close on her weather bow. Both ships now maneuvred to obtain advantageous positions, our opponent evidently avoiding close action, and firing high to disable our masts, in which she succeeded too well, having shot away the head of our bowsprit, with the jib-boom, and our running rigging so much cut as to prevent our reaching the weather gauge.
At five minutes past 3, finding the enemy's raking fire ex. tremely heavy, captain Lambert ordered the ship to be laid on board, in which we should have succeeded had not our fore-mast been shot away at this moment, the remains of our bowsprit passing over his taffrail; shortly after this the maintop-mast went, leaving the ship totally unmanageable, with most of our starboard guns rendered useless from the wreck lying over them.
At half past three our gallant captain received a dangerous wound in the breast, and was carried below; from this time we could not fire more than two or three guns until a quarter past 4, when our mizen-mast was shot away; then fell