The furious action between H.M.S. Mars and the French '74 Hercule off Brest on 21st April 1798 indistinctly inscribed on label on reverse oil on canvas 54.4 x 76.8cm (21 7/16 x 30 1/4in).
PROVENANCE: Collection of Lord Barrymore Collection of Smith Barry, Fota Island, County Cork, Eire with N. R. Omell, London, 19 October 1984. Private collection, UK
EXHIBITED: Castletown, County Cork N. R. Omell, Exhibition of Marine Paintings of the Eighteenth, Nineteenth and Twentieth Century, 2 October 2 November 1984, no. 36, illustrated in colour
The 74-gun third rate Mars was built at Deptford and launched on 25th October 1794. Initially assigned to the formidable Channel Fleet upon completion, she was still serving in Home Waters when, on 12th April 1798, she sailed from St. Helens, Isle of Wight, as part of Admiral Lord Bridport's squadron bound for Brest. On 21st April, whilst cruising in company with H.M.S. Ramillies and two frigates, Mars sighted two French vessels closely followed by a third enemy warship to which they all gave chase. The biggest quarry proved to be the 74-gun Hercule and, after three hours, Mars brought her to action in what was to prove a classic engagement between two perfectly matched adversaries. With Ramillies trailing behind due to a lost foretopmast and the frigate Jason too far off to participate, the two opposing 74's soon became entangled thanks to fouled anchor cables and opened fire at 10.30pm. After a merciless pounding lasting two hours, Hercule could withstand it no longer and struck her colours shortly after midnight. Damage to both vessels was extensive, with each ships' starboard side burnt cinder black, whilst losses were high on both sides, including the commander of the Mars, Captain Alexander Hood. A nephew of Lord Bridport as well as of Lord Hood, Captain Hood was mortally wounded about twenty minutes into the action and died just as Hercule surrendered. The battered Hercule was coaxed back into Plymouth, repaired at a cost of £12,500, such was the damage inflicted on her by her opponent's thunderous broadsides, and eventually commissioned into the Royal Navy under her own name.