Robert Strickland Thomas (British, 1787-1853) H.M.S. Caesar and H.M.S. Queen Charlotte engaging the
Lot 76
Robert Strickland Thomas (British, 1787-1853) H.M.S. 'Caesar' and Lord Howe's flagship H.M.S. 'Queen Charlotte' engaging the French fleet, 29th. May 1794 45.7 x 69.8cm. (18 x 27 1/2in.)
Sold for £5,520 (US$ 9,278) inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
Robert Strickland Thomas (British, 1787-1853)
H.M.S. 'Caesar' and Lord Howe's flagship H.M.S. 'Queen Charlotte' engaging the French fleet, 29th. May 1794
signed 'R.S. Thomas' and dated 1842 (lower left)
oil on canvas
45.7 x 69.8cm. (18 x 27 1/2in.)


  • Even though the long-expected War between England and Revolutionary France was declared on 1st February 1793, it was over a year before any significant naval encounter took place at sea. As soon as hostilities began, the blockading squadrons of the Royal Navy were sent to their stations off the French ports and within months, exacerbated by a poor harvest, serious food shortages were causing civil unrest in cities throughout France, most notably Paris. The United States [of America], ever mindful of French assistance during its own struggle for independence less than twenty years before, was only too willing to supply France with grain to feed her starving population and it was against this background that the War’s first encounter at sea was fought out.

    Intelligence had reached the Admiralty that a huge convoy of 117 grain ships was gathering in Chesapeake Bay and the French fleet at Brest was preparing to put to sea in order to escort it safely in. As soon as Admiral Lord Howe received this news, he ordered his own fleet of twenty-six ships-of-the-line to sea and spent much of April and May (1794) cruising the Western Approaches in an attempt to prevent the convoy and its escort joining forces. In this respect he was unlucky and, by the time he eventually sighted the enemy on 28th May, both escort and convoy were heading for Brest together. Howe gave chase immediately and a running fight lasting three days then ensued during which the French had the advantage of heavy weather. After sporadic activity on the 28th, the two fleets spent much of the next day, the 29th, manoeuvring although there was a brief action during the morning when a number of Howe’s ships, including his flagship and the 80-gun ‘Caesar’, fired on the French as the two fleets jockeyed for position. Eventually, by dawn on 1st June, about 400 miles out in the Atlantic, Howe managed to get to windward of the French and at 7.16am. signalled his fleet to attack. His strategy was to run his ships down upon the enemy to break their line at its centre and in the ensuing action, H.M. ships ‘Queen Charlotte’, ‘Defence’, ‘Marlborough’, ‘Royal George’ and ‘Brunswick’ did exactly as Howe had intended. By 10am., the two fleets were embroiled in a general mêlée and, by noon, six French ships-of-the-line had been taken and a seventh, ‘Le Vengeur du Peuple’, had been sunk after a tremendous duel with H.M.S. ‘Brunswick’. What remained of the French fleet was in great disarray but Howe’s ships were also damaged and his crews too exhausted by the encounter to pursue the survivors. Moreover, amidst the confusion of battle, the vital grain convoy sailed on unscathed and managed to reach Brest without loss. In truth therefore, the British victory was tactical rather than decisive but, in the jubilation afterwards, this nicety was overlooked and Lord Howe emerged loaded with honours from a grateful King and country.
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