The Story Of Captain Hornby And The French Privateer

The difficulties under which merchantmen carried on their trade with

foreign countries before the navy had reduced to order the highway of

the seas, is well illustrated in many a narrative of adventure with

pirates and fights with privateers, which equal in the heroism and

daring they display the proudest stories of naval conquest. The

following story taken from Young's "History of Whitby" is a case in



Mr. Richard Hornby, of Stokesley, was master of a merchant ship, the

Isabella, of Sunderland, in which he sailed from the coast of Norfolk

for the Hague, June 1st, 1744, in company with three smaller vessels

recommended to his care. Next day they made Gravesant steeple in the

Hague; but while they were steering for their port, a French privateer,

that lay concealed among the Dutch fishing-boats, suddenly came against

them, singling out the Isabella as the object of attack, while the

rest dispersed and escaped.

The conquest was very unequal, for the Isabella mounted only four

carriage guns and two swivels, and her crew consisted of only five men

and three boys, besides the captain; while the privateer, the Marquis

de Brancas, commanded by Captain Andre, had ten carriage guns and eight

swivels, with seventy-five men and three hundred small arms.

Yet Captain Hornby, after consulting his mate and gaining the consent of

his crew, whom he animated by an appropriate address, hoisted the

British colours, and with his two swivel guns returned the fire of the

enemy's chase guns. The Frenchmen, in abusive terms, commanded him to

strike, to which he returned an answer of defiance. Upon this the

privateer advanced, and poured in such showers of bullets into the

Isabella that Captain Hornby found it prudent to order his brave

fellows into close quarters. While he lay thus sheltered the enemy twice

attempted to board him on the larboard quarter; but by a dexterous turn

of the helm he frustrated both attempts, though the Frenchmen kept

firing upon him both with their guns and small arms, which fire Captain

Hornby returned with his two larboard guns. At two o'clock, when the

action had lasted an hour, the privateer, running furiously in upon the

larboard of the Isabella, entangled her bowsprit among the main

shrouds, and was lashed fast to her; upon which Captain Andre bawled, in

a menacing tone, "You English dog, strike!" but the undaunted Hornby

challenged him to come on board and strike his colours, if he dared. The

enraged Frenchman took him at his word, and threw in twenty men upon

him, who began to hack and hew into his close quarters; but a discharge

of blunderbusses made the invaders retreat as fast as their wounds would

permit them.

The privateer, being then disengaged from the Isabella, turned about,

and made another attempt on the starboard side; when Captain Hornby and

his valiant mate shot each his man as they were again lashing the ships


The Frenchmen once more commanded him to strike, and the brave Briton

returning another refusal, twenty fresh men entered, and made a fierce

attack on the close quarters with hatchets and pole-axes, with which

they had nearly cut their way through in three places, when the constant

fire kept up by Captain Hornby and his brave crew obliged them to

retreat, carrying their wounded with them, and hauling their dead after

them with boat-hooks. The Isabella continued lashed to the enemy; the

latter, with small arms, fired repeated and terrible volleys into the

close quarters, partly from his forecastle and partly from his main

deck, bringing forward fresh men to supply the place of the dead and

wounded: but the fire was returned with such spirit and effect that the

Frenchmen repeatedly gave way. At length Captain Hornby, seeing them

crowding behind their main mast for shelter, aimed a blunderbuss at

them, which being by mistake doubly loaded, containing twice twelve

balls, burst in the firing, and threw him down to the great

consternation of his little crew, who supposed him dead; yet he soon

started up again, though greatly bruised, while the enemy, among whom

the blunderbusses had made dreadful havoc, disengaged themselves from

the Isabella, to which they had been lashed an hour and a quarter, and

sheered off with precipitation, leaving their grapplings, pole-axes,

pistols, and cutlasses behind them.

The gallant Hornby fired his two starboard guns into the enemy's stern;

and the indignant Frenchman soon returning, the conflict was renewed,

and carried on yard-arm and yard-arm with great fury for two hours

together. The Isabella was shot through her hull several times, her

sails and rigging were torn to pieces, her ensign was dismounted, and

every mast and yard wounded; yet she bravely maintained the conflict,

and at last by a fortunate shot which struck the Brancas between wind

and water, obliged her to sheer off and careen. While the enemy were

retiring, Hornby and his brave little crew sallied out from their

fastness, and erecting their fallen ensign gave three cheers.

By this time both vessels had driven so near the shore that immense

crowds, on foot and in coaches, had assembled to be spectators of the


The Frenchman, having stopped his leak, returned to the combat, and

poured a dreadful volley into the stern of the Isabella, when Captain

Hornby was wounded in the temples by a musket shot, and bled profusely.

This somewhat disconcerted his companions in valour; but he called to

them briskly to take courage and stand to their arms, for his wound was

not dangerous; upon which their spirits revived, and again taking post

in their close quarters, sustained the shock of another assault, and

after receiving three tremendous broadsides, repulsed the foe by

another well-aimed shot, which sent the Brancas again to careen. The

huzzas of the Isabella's crew were renewed, and they again set up

their shattered ensign, which was shot through and through into

honourable rags.

Andre, who was not deficient in bravery, soon renewed the fight; and

having disabled the Isabella by five terrible broadsides, once more

summoned Hornby, with dreadful menaces, to strike his colours.

Captain Hornby animated his gallant comrades--"Behold," said he,

pointing to the shore, "the witnesses of your valour this day!" then

finding them determined to stand by him to the last, he hurled his final

defiance upon the enemy. The latter immediately ran upon his starboard

and lashed close alongside; but his crew murmured, and refused to renew

the dangerous task of boarding, and, cutting off the lashings, again

retreated. Captain Hornby resolved to salute the privateer with one

parting gun; and this last shot, fired into the stern of the Brancas,

reached the magazine, which blew up with a tremendous explosion, and the

vessel instantly foundered. Out of seventy-five men, thirty-six were

killed or wounded in the action, and all the rest, together with the

wounded, perished in the deep, except three who were picked up by the

Dutch fishing-boats. The horrible catastrophe excited the commiseration

of Captain Hornby and his brave men, who could render no assistance to

their unfortunate enemies, the Isabella having become unmanageable,

and her boat being shattered to pieces. The engagement lasted seven


For this singular instance of successful bravery Mr. Hornby received

from the king a large gold medal commemorating his heroism. He survived

the action seven years, and dying at sea of a lingering illness, was

buried at Liverpool, being then fifty-two years of age.