John Steven Dews (British, born 1949) The celebrated engagement during which H.M.S. Shannon captured the American frigate Chesapeake, 1st June 1813
Lot 102AR
John Steven Dews (British, born 1949) The celebrated engagement during which H.M.S. Shannon captured the American frigate Chesapeake, 1st June 1813
Sold for £61,250 (US$ 104,051) inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
John Steven Dews (British, born 1949)
The celebrated engagement during which H.M.S. Shannon captured the American frigate Chesapeake, 1st June 1813
signed 'J. Steven Dews' (lower left) and inscribed (on stretcher)
oil on canvas
77 x 112cm (30 5/16 x 44 1/8in).

Footnotes

  • The second and last conflict fought between Britain and the United States was the result of two factors – the prolonged British blockade of French-occupied Europe which interrupted U.S. trade, and the impressment (into the Royal Navy) of American sailors captured on ships trying to run that blockade. Politicians from the American 'West' were also casting covetous eyes towards the prime land of the Canadian prairies, and when a British frigate stopped and boarded the U.S.S. Chesapeake in 1807, the American public's anger boiled over. President Thomas Jefferson noted "Never since the Battle of Lexington [the opening action of the American War of Independence in 1775] have I seen this country in such a state of exasperation as at present, and even that did not produce such unanimity." During the next few years, relations deteriorated further to such an extent that, on 16th June 1812, Congress declared War on Great Britain. The die was now cast and the Royal Navy, already hugely overstretched across the globe, found itself with a new adversary at its back.

    The epic fight between H.M.S. Shannon and the U.S.S. Chesapeake during the so-called 'War of 1812' was one of the most renowned naval encounters of the nineteenth century and arguably the quickest and most decisive frigate action ever fought. Captain Philip Broke, in command of the Shannon, had come upon the Chesapeake refitting in Boston Harbour and promptly challenged her to come out and fight. At first the verbal challenge, delivered from a captured U.S. prize's longboat, went unheeded so Broke sent a second boat into the harbour, this time bearing a note for Lawrence which read:-

    "As the Chesapeake appears now ready for sea, I request you will do me the favour to meet the Shannon with her, ship to ship, to try the fortune of our respective flags. The Shannon mounts twenty-four guns upon her broadside and one light boat-gun; 18-pounders upon her main deck and 32-pounder carronades upon her quarter-deck and forecastle; and is manned with a complement of 300 men and boys, beside thirty seamen, boys and passengers, who were taken out of recaptured vessels lately. I entreat you, sir, not to imagine that I am urged by mere personal vanity to the wish of meeting the Chesapeake, or that I depend only upon your personal ambition for your acceding to this invitation. We have both noble motives. You will feel it as a compliment if I say that the result of our meeting may be the most grateful service I can render to my country; and I doubt not that you, equally confident of success, will feel convinced that it is only by repeated triumphs in even combats that your little navy can now hope to console your country for the loss of that trade it can no longer protect. Favour me with a speedy reply. We are short of provisions and water and cannot stay long here."

    It remains unclear if this written challenge was ever read by Lawrence but, whether or not, he brought Chesapeake out into the open sea at about noon on 1st June 1813, where, after a furious annihilating action lasting just fifteen minutes, he was forced to surrender. After first firing two devastating broadsides, Broke led his boarding party onto Chesapeake but was so badly wounded that he had to relinquish his command. Casualties on both sides were extraordinarily high – 48 Americans, including Captain Lawrence, were killed and 96 wounded whilst Shannon suffered only slightly less with 33 dead and 50 wounded. Despite his injuries, Captain Broke survived to be rewarded with a baronetcy and enduring fame, although he never recovered sufficiently to be able to return to active service.

    This celebrated duel has provided the inspiration for many artists over the past two centuries although few have captured its essence as well as Steven Dews has done in the work offered here.

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