Robert Surcouf


Robert Surcouf : biography

12 December 1773 – 8 July 1827

Kent by the Confiance. Painting by Ambroise Louis Garneray.]] On 7 October 1800, off Sand Heads, near Calcutta, Confiance met the 26-gun East Indiaman Kent, of 824 tons burthen,Norman p.353Biden p.212{{#tag:ref|A number of French accounts gild the lily of Surcouf’s stunning victory by exaggerating by 60% Kents size and guns. Rouvier states 38 guns and 1200 tons; Cunat specifies that Kent carried twenty-six 18-pounder on her battery and 12 9-pounder on her castles; Hennequin gives an approximate 40 guns, but confirms the figure of 1200 tons.|group="N"}} under Captain Robert Rivington. Kent had rescued the crew of another ship, the Queen,Laughton, destroyed by fire, and therefore had an exceptionally large complement of 437 men, including her passengers; 300 of them were soldiers and sailors; Surcouf managed to board his larger opponent and, after over an hour and a halfLaughton, p.438 of battle across the decks of the ship,Laughton, p.440 seize control of the Kent.Laughton, p.441

The British had fourteen killed, including the captain, and 44 wounded, while the French suffered five killed and ten wounded.Hennequin, p.384 The privateers were then granted one hour of free pillaging on Kent before Surcouf restored order;Laughton, p.441Hennequin (p.385) states that the effects of the prisoners were returned to them when he had them transferred on Confiance. however, the female passangers were strictly protected and sentries were placed in front of their apartments.Laughton, p.442 Amongst the prisoners were General Frederick St. John and his wife, Arabella Craven., The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986

The first officer of Confiance, Drieux, was sent on Kent with a 60-man prize crew, while her passagers were released on a merchantman that Surcouf stopped a few days later.Rouvier, p.527 Confiance and Kent arrived at the Rade des Pavillons in Port-Louis in November.Cunat, p.398 The capture of Kent became a sensation, and the British Admiralty promise a reward for the capture of Surcouf.

After her return to Ile de France, Confiance was armed as a merchantman en aventurier with a 89-man crew and loaded with colonial goods for her return to France. On the journey, Surcouf still managed to capture a number of ships, notably the Portuguese Ebre, with eighteen 12-pounder carronades and a 60-man crew; he released her against a ransom of 10,000 piastres and after exchanging her greatmast with that of Confiance.

Upon her return, Confiance ran into the British blockade and was chased by a frigate; Surcouf managed to evade her by throwing overboard all but one of her guns, his boats, anchors, chains and even components of his masts. He eventually arrived at La RochelleCunat, p.399Hennequin, p.385 on 13 April 1801.

In France, Navy Minister Truguet attempted to enrol Surcouf in the Navy as an auxiliary officer, which he declined. Hennequin states that Bonaparte himself offered him the rank of Captain and the command of two frigates, which Surcouf declined for fear of losing his freedom of action, and awarded him a Sabre of honour. Surcouf was awarded the Legion of Honour at the founding of the Order, on 19 May 1802.

On 28 May, in Saint-Malo, he married Marie Blaize, who had been his fiancée for two years; over the course of their marriage, they had five children together. Around 1805, Surcouf started to arm privateers in Saint-Malo in partnership with his father-in-law,Granier, p.221 notably Caroline which captured four ships in the Indian Ocean under Nicolas Surcouf;Gallois, vol.2, p.302 Marsouin; and Confiance, which took two prizes under Joseph Potier.Gallois, vol.2, p.302–303

Cruise of Revenant

After a five-year retirement, in early 1807, Surcouf ordered the 18-gun Revenant, a privateer which he had built on his own specifications. On 2 March, he departed Saint-Malo with a 192-man crew to cruise off Bengal. On 9 March 1807, while en route, off Madeira, Revenant captured the British slave ship Aun,Granier, p.225 of sixteen 12-pounders, recently departed from Liverpool,Hennequin, p.386 which Surcouf let go for a ransom, after throwing her guns overboard, wetting her gunpowder and destroying some of her sails. Revenant reached Isle de France on 10 June 1807, along with several prizes taken during her journey.Fonds Marine, p. 362