Robert Surcouf

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Robert Surcouf : biography

12 December 1773 – 8 July 1827

In early 1799, Surcouf sailed to the city of SusohGranier, p.223Hennequin, p.381 in Aceh, on Sumatra, where he found two 20-gun merchantmen anchored in the harbour, in the process of loading pepper; Clarisse dropped anchor close by and opened fire, after which Surcouf sent his brother Nicolas to head a 20-man board party on Clarisse ‘s boats and board the largest of the ships, while he boarded her with Clarisse from the opposite side; assaulted from two sides, she surrendered after a 30-minute battle.Hennequin, p.382 The other ship cut her anchor and attempted to flee, but she was overhauled by the boats of Clarisse and captured without resistance, most of her crew being ashore. Surcouf returned to Isle de France with his prizes in June.

On 16 August, Clarisse departed Isle de France for another cruise; she sailed to La Réunion carrying despatches of Malartic to the governor. She then cruised to Java to procure water,Rouvier, p.448 where she arrived on 27 September.Cunat, p.397 On 1 October, Surcouf captured a Danish merchantman, which he sent away under Lieutenant Fonroc; on 4 November, the Portuguese merchantman Nostra Signora de la Conception carrying 116 000 piastres;Granier, p.224 on 6, a British ship laden with a salt cargo; and on 11 November, the 20-gun Auspicious, with a cargo worth 1,032,580 francs.

Surcouf sailed to Mergui to purchase food and free his prisonners, and put to sail on 10 December. En route, he met the fellow French privateer Malartic, under Jean Dutertre; soon after, the privateers met a British frigate, 38-gun frigate HMS Sybille, which gave chase and which Surcouf managed outsail by throwing eight guns overboards, along with various other implements.

On 1 January 1800, Clarisse captured a large rice-laden merchantman, the British James. On 3 January, she detected two American 16-carronade ships forming a line of battle; although Clarisse lacked her eight guns sacrificed to escape Sybille and 60 of her men detached on her various prizes, Surcouf engaged.Rouvier, p.449 Clarisse raked the rear-most ship, the Louisa, and boarded her, while simultaneously firing a broadside on the other ship, Mercury, which attempted to rescue her mate. Nicolas Surcouf led a 30-man boarding party to seize Louisa, while Mercury escaped. Clarisse could not give chase, her bowsprit having been destroyed in the collision Louisa.Hennequin, p.383 Nicolas Surcouf was given command of Louisa

Clarisse continued her patrol, capturing the ships Catherine, Haderbux, Anna Maria, Nostra Signora de la Cruz, Louis, Janna, Notre Dame de Bon Succès and Albion, before sailing back to Isle de France with her prizes. She arrived in early February 1800.

Cruise of Confiance and capture of Kent

In May 1800, Surcouf took command of Confiance, a fast 18-gun brig from Bordeaux, with a 150-man complement; the competition with Dutertre for the captainship of Confiance almost degenerated into a duel, and Governor Malartic had to intervene to prevent it, stating that such a confrontation would be "an English victory".Granier, p.219 The sailor and painter Ambroise Louis Garneray, future biographer of Surcouf, enlisted at this time.

In late April 1800, Confiance cruised off Sunda Strait, where she captured the American ship; she then left the strait to avoid a US frigate which was known to cruise in these waters, and sailed to the Seychelles. There, he escaped a British ship of the line and a frigate, and sailed on to cruise the Bay of Bengal.Rouvier, p.526

On 19 September, Confiance captured the Prize, from Calcutta, which has stored eight of her ten guns in her hold to improve her stability. Prize was sent off to Mauritius on the next day with a 85-man prize crew.Asiatic Annual Register, Volume 3, p.39 Surcouf then steered for Ganjam, where he captured three smaller ships.Asiatic Annual Register, Volume 3, p.40