USS Hornet captures HMS Penguin, 23 March 1815

Though the United States had ratified the 24 December 1814 Treaty of Ghent on 18 February 1815, thus formally bringing the War of 1812 to an end, this information took a long time to reach ships at sea. Thus, in the late morning of 23 March 1815, when the U.S. Sloop of War Hornet (Master Commandant James Biddle) sighted the British brig-sloop Penguin (of similar size and force) off Tristan d'Acunha island in the south Atlantic, neither vessel was aware that their two nations were now at peace.

The two sloops approached each other on roughly parallel courses, Penguin to windward, and opened fire at about 1:40PM. They exchanged broadsides (Hornet firing to starboard, Penguin to port) for some fifteen minutes when the British commanding officer was mortally wounded while attempting to run down his adversary. Penguin's bowsprit then caught in Hornet's rigging and, as the two separated, broke away, taking with it her foremast. Disabled and very much the worse off from American gunfire, the British warship surrendered shortly after 2PM. She was too badly damaged to save, and her crew was sent to Rio de Janeiro in the U.S. Schooner Tom Bowline, which arrived on the scene in company with U.S. Sloop of War Peacock soon after the battle.

Hornet and Peacock remained in the vicinity for about three more weeks, then sailed for the East Indies, still unaware that the war was over. While en route on 27 April they sighted HMS Cornwallis, a 74-gun ship of the line, and mistook her for an indiaman. A long chase ensued when they discovered their error. By skillful seamanship, assisted by the battleship's poor gunnery, the two Americans escaped. Hornet, however, had thrown overboard her spare spars, boats, nearly all of her guns and ammunition and much other equipment and supplies. She thus was obliged to return to the U.S., arriving at New York on 9 June 1815.

This page features all the views we have related to the action between USS Hornet and HMS Penguin.

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Photo #: NH 55463

USS Hornet captures HMS Penguin, 23 March 1815

Colored lithograph by S. Walters , after a sketch by William Skiddy, depicting the two sloops close aboard during the engagement, which took place in the South Atlantic off Tristan d'Acunha.
Note that the erroneous date of 23 January 1815 appears on the print.
The text below the image is reproduced in Photo # NH 55463 (extended caption).

Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, Maryland. Beverly R. Robinson Collection.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 120KB; 740 x 585 pixels

Photo #: NH 1857

USS Hornet in action with HMS Penguin, 23 March 1815

Halftone reproduction of an artwork by Carlton T. Chapman, depicting the capture of HMS Penguin by USS Hornet off Tristan da Cunha, in the South Atlantic.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 128KB; 740 x 570 pixels

Photo #: NH 74523

Action between USS Hornet and HMS Penguin, 23 March 1815

Sketch by Fred S. Cozzens, 1892, copied from his 1897 book "Our Navy -- Its Growth and Achievements".
It depicts Hornet, at left, firing on the British brig sloop Penguin during the early part of the engagement.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 75KB; 740 x 365 pixels


For higher resolution images see: Obtaining Photographic Reproductions

To the best of our knowledge, the pictures referenced here are all in the Public Domain, and can therefore be freely downloaded and used for any purpose.

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