14th Congress.]

No. 131.

[1st Session.



Sir: Navy Department, December 21, 1815.

In compliance with your request, in behalf of the honorable Committee upon Naval Affairs, I have the honor to transmit to you, herewith, copies of letters from Captain James Biddle, of the United States' ship Hornet, dated


March 25th, and April 8th, 1815, addressed to Commodore Stephen Decatur, as commander of the squadron destined to cruise in the Indian seas; which contain all the information in the possession of this Department relative to the capture of the British sloop of war Penguin.

I have the honor to be, with the highest respect, sir, your most obedient servant,


Hon. James Pleasants, Jun.,

Chairman Naval Committee of the House of Representatives.

United States' Sloop Hornet, off Tristan d'Acunha, March 25, 1815.


I have the honor to inform you that, on the morning of the 23d instant, at half past ten, when about to anchor off the north end of the island of Tristan d'Acunha, a sail was seen to the southward and eastward, steering to the westward, the wind fresh from S. S. W. In a few minutes, she had passed on to the westward, so that we could, not see her for the land. I immediately made sail to the eastward, and shortly after, getting sight again, perceived her to be up before the wind; I hove to for her to come down to us. When she had approached near, I filled the main top-sail, and continued to yaw the ship, while she continued to, come down, veering, occasionally, to prevent her passing under our stern. At forty minutes past one, P. M., being nearly within musket shot distance, she hauled her wind on the starboard tack, hoisted English colors, and fired a gun. We immediately luffed to, hoisted our ensign, and gave the enemy a broadside. The action being thus commenced, a quick and well directed fire was kept up from this ship, the enemy gradually drifting nearer to us, when, at fifty nine-minutes past one, he bore up, apparently to run us on board. As soon as I perceived he would certainly fall on board, I called the boarders, so as to be ready to repel any attempt to board us. At the instant, every officer and man repaired to the quarter deck, where the two vessels were coming in contact, and eagerly pressed me to permit them to board the enemy; but this I would not permit, as it was evident, from the commencement of the action, that our fire was greatly superior both in quickness and in effect. The enemy's bowsprit came in between our main and mizzen rigging, on our starboard side, affording him an opportunity to board us, if such was his design; but no attempt was made. There was a considerable swell on, and as the sea lifted us ahead, the enemy's bowsprit carried away our mizzen shrouds, stern davits, and spanker boom, and he hung upon our larboard quarter. At this moment, an officer, who was afterwards recognized to be Mr. M'Donald, the first lieutenant, and the then commanding officer, called out that they had surrendered. I directed the marines and musketry men to cease firing, and, while on the taffrail, asking if they had surrendered, I received a wound in the neck. The enemy just then got clear of us, and his foremast and bowsprit being both gone, and perceiving us veering to give him a fresh broadside, he again called out that he had surrendered. It was with difficulty I could restrain my crew from firing into him again, as he had certainly fired into us after he had surrendered. From the firing of the first gun to the last time the enemy cried out he had surrendered, was exactly, twenty-two minutes by the watch. She proved to be His Britannic Majesty's brig Penguin, mounting sixteen thirty-two pound carronades, two long twelves, twelve pound carronade on the top-gallant forecastle, with swivels on the capstern, and in the tops. She had a spare port forward, so as to fight both her long guns of a side. She sailed from England in September last. She was shorter upon deck than this ship by two feet, but she had a greater length of keel, greater breadth of beam, thicker sides, and higher bulwarks, than this ship, and was, in all respects, a remarkably fine vessel of her class. The enemy acknowledge a complement of one hundred and thirty-two, twelve of them supernumerary marines from the Medway seventy-four, received on board in consequence of their being ordered to cruise for the American privateer Young Wasp. They acknowledge, also, a loss of fourteen killed, and twenty-eight wounded; but Mr. Mayo, who was in charge of the prize, assures me that the number of killed was certainly greater. Among the killed are Captain Dickinson, who fell at the close of the action, and the boatswain; among the wounded are the second lieutenant, purser, and two midshipmen. Each of the midshipmen lost a leg. We received on board, in all, one hundred and eighteen prisoners, four of whom have since died of their wounds. Having removed the prisoners, and taken on board such provisions and stores as would be useful to us, I scuttled the Penguin this morning before daylight, and she went down. As she was completely riddled by our shot, her foremast and bowsprit both gone, and her mainmast so crippled as to be incapable of being secured, it seemed unadvisable, at this distance from home, to attempt sending her to the United States.

This ship did not receive a single round shot in her hull, nor any material wound in her spars; the rigging and sails were very much cut; but, having bent a new suit of sails, and knotted and secured our rigging, we are now completely ready, in all respects, for any service. We were eight men short of complement, and had nine upon the sick list the morning of the action.

Enclosed is a list of killed and wounded. I lament to state that Lieutenant Conner is wounded dangerously; I feel great solicitude on his account, as he is an officer of much promise, and his loss would be a serious loss to the service.

It is a most pleasing part of my duty to acquaint you that the conduct of Lieutenants Conner and Newton, Mr. Mayo, acting lieutenant Lieutenant Brownlow, of the marines, Sailing-master Romney, and the other officers, seamen, and marines, I have the honor to command, was, in the highest degree, creditable to them, and calls for my warmest recommendation. I cannot, indeed, do justice to their merits. The satisfaction which was diffused throughout the ship, when it was ascertained that the stranger was an enemy's sloop of war, and the alacrity with which every one repaired to quarters, fully assured me that their conduct in action would be marked with coolness and intrepidity.

I have the honor to be your obedient servant,


Commodore Decatur.