Commodore Dance's celebrated action against a French squadron in the Straits of Malacca on 15th. February 1804 signed 'R.Dodd' and indistinctly dated (lower left) oil on canvas 83.8 x 144.7cm. (33 x 57in.)
Provenance:- Captain John Farr Timins and thence by family descent.
The full title of this picture is 'The retreat of Rear Admiral Linois's Squadron consisting of the 'Marengo' of 84 guns, the 'Belle Poule' and 'Semillante' of 44 guns each, a corvette of 28 guns and a Batavian brig of 18 guns from a fleet of 16 of the East India Company ships after the action off Pulo Aor in the China Seas on the 15th. February 1804'.
One of Britains greatest strengths throughout the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars was her ability to finance the prolonged conflict from the proceeds of her overseas trade, most notably the wealth created by the Honourable East India Company. Its many activities continued to flourish throughout hostilities thanks, in part, to the heavy armament carried by many of the companys ships but also to its widespread use of the convoy system to safeguard its vessels on the open ocean. Instituted in peacetime as a means of protection from the pirates which infested the eastern seas, its logical extension into wartime proved one of the companys most valuable assets.
On 31st January 1804, with the war in full spate once again after the brief interval following the Peace of Amiens, the East India Companys annual fleet of sixteen ships sailed from China, homeward-bound for England, under the command of Commodore Nathaniel Dance. On 14th February, by which time the fleet was off Pulo Auro, in the Straits of Malacca, Dance sighted a squadron of French ships-of-war under Rear-Admiral Le Comte de Linois. Although Dances ships were merely armed merchantmen rather than warships proper, he deployed them in the best defensive position and hove-to for the night. At first light the next morning, the French hesitated so long in their attack that Dance eventually signalled his fleet to engage the enemy. Led by Captain Timins in Royal George and supported by the flagship Earl Camden (Commodore Dance) and Ganges (Captain Moffatt), the East Indiamen bore down on the French and after a fierce action lasting about an hour, Linois turned his ships away. Dance ordered a general chase and the French fled despite their impressive fire-power. It was a great triumph for Dance, who was not a naval officer trained for combat, and he returned home to a knighthood and various other rewards including a grant of 2,000 guineas from the East India Company.
This famous incident was depicted by several artists, including Thomas Buttersworth and William Daniell as well as Robert Dodd, all of whose work was engraved thanks to its wide appeal with the general public at the time.
Captain John Farr Timins was born at Chatham in 1767, one of four brothers all of whom became officers in the armed forces. Like two of his brothers, John Timins joined the Royal Navy and served as a Midshipman for five years, later taking part in many of the operations connected with the American War of Independence. After a year as Mate of H.M.S. Preston and a subsequent tour in the West Indies, Timins left the Navy and joined one of the East India Companys ships as 5th Mate on the Deptford. Promotion followed steadily and, in 1796, he obtained his first command, the Queen. In 1802, he was given the brand-new 1,333-ton Indiaman Royal George and played a prominent role in the engagement on 15th February 1804 when he led the attack on the French squadron. Captain Timins carried the Royal George into action in the most gallant manner wrote Dance in his despatch afterwards and the Court of Directors of the Honourable East India Company showed their appreciation by voting Timins the sum of 1,000 guineas together with a piece of plate to the value of a further 100. Royal George was later sold to Captain Timins, probably using his 1,000 guinea grant, and when she was broken up in 1818, another vessel of the same name was built for him as he was, by then, one of the Principal Managing Owners of the E.I.C.