Robert Surcouf

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Robert Surcouf : biography

12 December 1773 – 8 July 1827

Rising to the rank of captain, Surcouf took command of the brig Créole, a four-gun slave ship. He departed Isle de France on 3 June 1794 for a journey off Africa and Madagascar, and engaged again in slave trading, even though it had been prohibited by the National Convention and the Assembly of Île Bourbon.Granier, p.217. Upon his return, agents of the Committee of Public Safety inspected Créole for evidence of slave trading, but left empty-handed as Surcouf had already sold his slaves.

Cruise of Émilie and capture of Triton

In the spring in 1795, Surcouf took command of the 180-ton, privateer schooner Modeste, renamed Émilie, with a 32-man crew and four 6-pounder guns, armed by Malroux and Levaillant.Cunat, p.392 Governor Malartic refused to proved a lettre de marque and ordered Émilie to go to the Seychelles to purchase tortoises as food for Isle de France.

Émilie departed on 3 September 1795 with a congé de navigation authorising her to defend herself, but not to take prizes as a privateer. The next day, she made a port call at Saint-Denis before cruising to Mahé. At Sainte Anne Island, two large British ships chased him, but he was able to evade them by sailing through the reefs, at night.

Surcouf then decided to sail to the Mergui Archipelago to load a rice cargo.Cunat, p.393 On 8 December 1795, while in transit, cruising off the Ganges Delta,Rouvier, p.254 Surcouf captured his first prized, the ship Penguin, loaded with lumber, on which he detached a prize crew under Lieutenant Péru before sending her to Isle de France.

On 19 January 1796, Surcouf met the pilot ship Cartier leading two merchantmen, the Russel and Sambolasse, through Ganges delta. He attacked and captured them, finding the merchantmen to be carrying rice. After detaching prize crews, Surcouf transferred his command, along with his remaining 22 crew members and Émilies four guns, to Cartier, which (according to Ambroise Louis Garneray) he renamed Hasard. , Surcouf then sent Émilie, under Lieutenant Croizet, together with his prizes, to Isle de France.Cunat, p.394

On the night of 28 January, Surcouf captured the 12-gun Diana, loaded with 6000 bags of rice.Rouvier, p.252 The next day, Cartier met a 26-gun Indiaman, the Triton, armed with 12-pounders and a 150-man crew; having decided to attack and recognising only too late the overwhelming superiority of his opponent, Surcouf, feeling threatened and unable to flee, decided to board her with his 26 men. After haranguing his men, he approached under a British flag,Rouvier, p.253 before hoisting French colours at the very last moment and launching a violent assault.Cunat, p.395 In the ensuing 45-minute battle, Triton suffered 5 wounded and 10 killed,Hennequin, p.380 including her captain, Captain Burnycat, and the first officer, Picket; The prisoners were transferred to Diana, which Surcouf released against a 30,000 rupee ransom.Granier, p.218

Surcouf returned to Ile de France with his prizes, where he arrived on 10 March 1796. As Émilie had been armed as a merchant rather than a privateer, the Prize court seized her prizes and sold them for the benefit of the State, although their capture was declared to be legal. Surcouf returned to France to claim his prize money, and on 3 September 1797, the government finally granted him 660,000 francs, of which he only received 80,000.

Cruise of Clarisse

In early 1798, after 14 months in Paris, Surcouf took command of the Clarisse, a 14-gun privateer brig armed with four 12-pounders, ten 8-pounders, and manned by a 120-strong complement.Rouvier, p.447 He departed from Paimboeuf Nantes in February 1798,Cunat, p.396 this time with a propre lettre de marque. During the journey to Isle de France, Clarisse chased a British slave ship, which escaped after one of her shots cut off Clarisse ‘s foremast tops.Levot, p. 495 Surcouf captured a British brig South of Cape of Good Hope, which surrendered at the warning shot, on which he sent a prize crew under Captain Dujardin, and arrived La Réunion on 5 December.