oil on canvas
Following the declaration of war with France on 1 March 1793 the command of the 36-gun frigate Nymphe was granted to Edward Pellew. He gained a full compliment of men in a remarkably short time but such was his haste that the crew were inexperienced and was made up, to a large degree, of Cornish miners. While anchored at Falmouth Pellew received Intelligence that two French Frigates were cruising in the Channel and promptly set sail.
At dawn on the 19 March Cleopatre, an enemy frigate of equal armament commanded by Captain Mullon, was sighted. Mullon was one of the few captains of the ancien régime who had remained in the Navy. A brief but vicious action ensued off Start Point, Devon; finally the Cleopatre's mizzenmast and wheel were shot away, rendering her unmanageable and at the mercy of the Nymphe's boarding party. Captain Mullon was mortally wounded in the battle and died trying to swallow, what was assumed to be, his commission. It was, in fact, the French code of signals, a document of vital tactical importance and a greater prize than the ship herself. The Cleopatre was the first enemy frigate to be captured during the war. Pellew towed his prize into Portsmouth and on the 29 June was presented, by the Earl of Chatham, to the King and was knighted.
Dawson painted this famous duel on a number of occasions from different perspectives, see L.G.G. Ramsey, Montague Dawson, p.36, no.134, illus. pl.26.
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