Sale: Sotheby's, London, November 18, 1992, lot 12, illustrated
This painting commemorates one of the most unusual actions in British naval history. On January 31, 1804 the East India Company’s fleet of merchant vessels left Canton commanded by Commodore Nathaniel Dance, nephew of the artist, Nathaniel Dance. On February 11, the fleet, consisting of only sixteen Indiamen and eleven smaller ships, met a French squadron commanded by Admiral Linois off Pulo Aor in the straits of Malacca. The French admiral concluded that three of Dance’s ships were men-of-war and Dance’s bold attitude in ranging his fleet into the line of battle reinforced his belief. The next morning, Dance made the signal to engage the enemy and the attack was led by the Royal George under Captain Timmins, followed by the Ganges and the Earl Camden, Dance’s ship. Linois believed that the attack came from ships of the line, and after a few badly aimed broadsides, decided to flee. Dance signaled his fleet to chase the French, and for two hours, the merchantman pursued the powerful French squadron. The only loss on the English side was one man killed and one man wounded, and no ships were damaged. On February 28, Dance’s fleet met two English warships which escorted them to St. Helena. On his return home, Dance was knighted and voted a pension from the grateful East India Company.
Buttersworth’s painting shows five French ships to the right firing at the Indiamen, which are returning fire.
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