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ALCESTE (38) The French LA MINERVE, one of four frigates taken by Sir Sam. HOOD's squadron off Rochefort on 25 September 1806.
Wrecked in 1817.

  • 1808 Capt. Murray MAXWELL.
    On 4 April 1808 he was off Cadiz with MERCURY (28) and the GRASSHOPPER brig under his orders when a fleet of Spanish vessels was seen inshore under the protection of about 20 gunboats and a train of artillery keeping pace along the coast. He attacked as they arrived off Rota and, after destroying two of the flotilla and silencing the batteries, many of the merchantmen were driven ashore.
    Lieut. Allan STEWART, first of ALCESTE, with the boats of the two frigates brought off seven tartans loaded with ship timber. He was assisted by Lieuts. Pipon and Hawkey of the royal marines; Messrs. ARSCOTT and DAY, master's mates; and Messrs. PARKER, ADAIR, CROKER, M'CAUL and M'LEAN, midshipmen. Lieut. Watkin PELL commanded MERCURY's boats.
  • ALCESTE was subsequently employed off the coast of Italy where she destroyed several armed vessels and martello towers.
  • ALCESTE chased several enemy vessels into the Bay of Agay, about 3 miles east of St. Raphael, near Frejus, and on the night of 22 May two strong parties were landed to carry the batteries which protected the entrance.
    One party under Mr Henry BELL, the master, carried their battery, spiked the guns and threw the shot into the sea, but the other, under Lieut. Andrew WILSON, had to withdraw when their guide deserted.
    To entice the enemy to come out Capt. MAXWELL sent the barge and the yawl under Mr BELL accompanied by Mr DAY, master's mate, and Mr ADAIR, midshipman, to hide in a cave near the harbour's mouth during the night of the 25th., while the ship stood some distance off.
    The French came out the following morning and found two boats armed with a 12-pounder carronade and a 4-pound field piece waiting for them. The British force captured four feluccas, drove two on the rocks and the rest back into harbour.
  • On 21 June the boats of ALCESTE under Lieut. WILSON and TOPAZE under Lieut. Charles HAMMOND captured two vessels in the Bay of Martino, Corsica, after seamen and marines carried a 3-gun battery at the entrance.
  • In the summer of 1810 the first lieutenant, Allan STEWART, and Lieut. William JERVOISE were sent under flag of truce with a message from Capt. MAXWELL to the French officer commanding at the mouth of the Tiber.
    He detained them in a dungeon for several weeks and assured them that they would be dealt with as spies then forced them to march to a prisoner-of-war camp at Verdun.
    Lieut. JERVOISE managed to escape but was betrayed whilst in the act of embarking on the Dutch coast.
    He was moved to the fortress of Bitche in Lorraine which was built on the summit of an immense rock.
    When the Allies entered France at the beginning of 1814 all captives were ordered to be removed further from the frontier and he managed to escape in the confusion, returning home from Holland in COLOSSUS.
    He was made a post captain 1828.
    Lieut. STEWART was promoted to commander in June 1814.
  • BELLE POULE and ALCESTE chased a large French brig into the small harbour of Parenza on 4 May 1811. Capts. BRISBANE and MAXWELL considered that she was probably taking stores to the French frigates which had escaped from an action off Lissa and were now in Ragusa. The two ships stood in within a cable's length of the rocks at the entrance and opened fire on the brig and a battery forcing her to haul ashore out of range.
    At about 11 o'clock at night 200 seamen and marines with Lieut. HICKMAN; Mr MOORE, master; Lieut. LLOYD; and Messrs ADAIR, CROKER and REDING, all of ALCESTE and the officers and petty officers of BELLE POULE under Lieut. M'CURDY, landed on an island in the harbour. A battery of four guns was set up which pounded the brig to pieces.
    ALCESTE lost two marines killed on shore and two seamen wounded on board.
  • ALCESTE, ACTIVE and UNITE had taken shelter at Lissa when, on 28 December 1811, three sails were seen to the south. They warped out of Port St. George and the following day met an enemy squadron from Corfu going to Trieste. PESANNE was taken by UNITE and ALCESTE and ACTIVE chased PAULINE and POMONE. POMONE was taken, totally dismasted, but PAULINE escaped after ALCESTE had her main-top-mast shot away.
    ALCESTE lost seven killed including Charles NOURSE, midshipman, and thirteen wounded. ACTIVE took the prizes and prisoners to Malta.
    ALCESTE had only 218 officers and men on board having left 52 officers and men of the royal marines ashore for the protection of Lissa.
  • 1814 Out of commission.
  • Capt. MAXWELL, who had been shipwrecked in the DAEDALUS on a shoal near Ceylon on 2 July 1813 was re-appointed to ALCESTE in October 1815 at the special request of Lord Amherst who was about to proceed on an embassy in China.
    They sailed from Spithead on 9 February 1816 and touched at Madeira, Rio de Janeiro, the Cape of Good Hope and Batavia and entered the China Sea by the Banca Strait (now the Sunda Strait) between Sumatra and Java.
    ALCESTE anchored in the Gulf of Pe-tche-lee (Po Hai) on 28 July with her consort, the LYRA brig, Cdr. Basil HALL, which had been sent on ahead, and with the East Indiaman GENERAL HEWITT.
    Lord Amherst landed at the mouth of the Pei-ho river on 9 August to go to Peking and it was arranged that he would re-embark at Canton.
    Capt. MAXWELL decided to occupy the several months at his disposal in exploration. He made a partial survey of the Gulf of Leo-tong (Liaotung), the first visit by a western ship, and saw the Great Wall of China stretching across the mountains from the sea near Chinwangtao.
    Leaving the GENERAL HEWITT to complete the work, ALCESTE and LYRA visited the S. W. coast of Korea and discovered an archipelago formed by a myriad of islands. He also found that Korea lay from 100 to 130 miles further to the eastward than the Jesuit charts, compiled from Chinese accounts and their own imagination, had shown.
    (Cdr. HALL published an account of their explorations on his return. The first edition, 4to, containing charts and navigational notices costs two guineas. The second edition, 8vo, for the general reader contains four plates and a general chart showing the track of ALCESTE and LYRA and costs 7s 6d. The price will probably have increased since this advert in 1825!)
  • ALCESTE returned to the Bocca Tigris on 2 November and applied to go up to a safe anchorage. An inferior mandarin came on board and said that the ship would be sunk if Capt. MAXWELL tried to enter. The captain replied that he would first pass the batteries and then hang him from the yard-arm for being so impudent.
    A single shot silenced the fire from a flotilla of seventeen or eighteen war junks and a broadside that from the batteries, causing some 47 Chinese casualties, and ALCESTE went through to anchor at Whampoa until Lord Amherst arrived in January 1817.
  • When LYRA returned to the Bocca Tigris Cdr. HALL went up river to Canton where a Chinese official attempted to search his baggage as he entered Capt. MAXWELL's lodgings. The captain ordered the coxswain and the boat's crew to put the official out. They bore him along over their heads and ejected him on top of the crowd outside. The rest of the time in Canton was spent without the slightest insult, a benefit also enjoyed by the gentlemen at the British Factory.
    A further benefit of the captain's decisive conduct was the immediate arrival of all kinds of supplies to the frigate and a cargo for the GENERAL HEWITT.
  • On 1 January a grand procession of the boats of the men-of-war and the Indiamen, numbering 30 in all with about 16 men in each, left Canton and rowed about 5 miles up river to meet the Ambassador.
    He boarded the ALCESTE at Wampoa and she sailed on 21 January and after touching at Macao and Manilla, shaped a course for the Straits of Gaspar between the islands of Belitung and Bangka to enter the Java Sea.
    On the fine, clear morning of 18 February she struck on a rock 3 miles from Pulo Leat, or middle island, and stuck fast. The false keel floated alongside and she began to make water fast, the pumps not being able to cope with the flow. The barge, under Lieut. HOPPNER, took Lord Amherst and his suite to the nearest island which proved to be rocky, with mangrove trees growing in the sea, and no fresh water. During the heat of the day right through to the evening the boats and a raft brought ashore a steady stream of stores and a small quantity of provisions from the wreck. The exertions of the men clearing the ground produced a great thirst and a search was started for water but with no result.
    The following day Capt. MAXWELL came ashore and decided that Lord Amherst and a party of 47 in the barge, commanded by Lieut. HOPPNER, and one of the cutters, under Mr MAYNE, the master, should sail for Batavia some 200 miles to the southward to bring help. Lieut. Cook RM and 7 marines went as guards.
    Only 7 gallons of water could be spared, enough for one pint per man for four days, but there was rain the day after their departure and happily four days later they found they were sailing in fresh water off the mouth of the Carawang River. They also found the English merchant ship PRINCESS CHARLOTTE and the Hon. E. I. Co. cruiser TERNATE in the roads.
    TERNATE took the surgeon, Mr M'LEOD, out of the boats and sailed to assist the survivors but on 3 March the tide and wind prevented her from approaching closer than 12 miles from Pulo Leat.
    Soon after sunset a boat manned by Messrs. SYKES and ABBOT came alongside and they had their first news of their companions.
    Malayan Dyaks, who had first appeared on 22 February, had forced the first lieutenant, Mr HICKMAN, and a body of seamen to abandon the wreck. Capt. MAXWELL had decided to recapture it using three boats of armed men under Lieut. HAY but the Dyaks burnt it to the waterline before escaping in their proas. The burning however made it easier for the salvage teams to recover flour, wine, one cask of beer and other stores through the now open decks.
    Capt. MAXWELL constructed a fort on a hill top and cleared the undergrowth around it. Some hundred rounds of ball ammunition were made up and distributed to the men with firearms but the majority had only spears or pikes of sharpened bamboo. He started some men digging for water and on the 20th. enough had been found at 20 feet down to issue every man with one pint. Here he felt strong enough to repulse any attack from the Dyaks whose only guns appeared to be swivels mounted on their proas.
    After 17 days there was no sign of a relief ship so Capt. MAXWELL addressed the crew on their dangerous situation. Stressing that union, steadiness and discipline were to be their salvation he announced that he had decided to attack and capture some proas to supplement his four boats and transport his crew to Java. His speech was received with three cheers and preparations started immediately.
    As the attack was about to be launched TERNATE came into sight from the hill top and was soon visible to the Dyaks who fled from the scene.
    Capt. Ellis of the Hon. E. I. Co. came ashore in the evening to be greeted by the ship's company fallen in under their officers.
    There were only two casualties. One, a marine who had contracted jaundice in China, complained only that his enfeebled state prevented him joining his comrades to face the Malays. The other, a foreigner, decided to desert on the third day and was either captured by the Dyaks or bitten by a snake because he was never seen again.
    The crew and the remaining stores were loaded on TERNATE and she sailed on the afternoon of the 7 March arriving at Batavia two days later. Here the ship CAESAR was engaged to take the embassy and the officers and crew of ALCESTE to England. She sailed on 12 April and anchored in Simon's Bay 45 days later.
    When they called at St. Helena on 27 June Capt. MAXWELL had an interview with Napoleon Buonaparte who recalled his name from from 1811 and the capture of POMONE in the Adriatic.
  • At a court martial held on board the QUEEN CHARLOTTE at Portsmouth in August 1817 Capt. MAXWELL, his officers and men were acquitted of all blame for the loss of ALCESTE.
    He was knighted on 27 May 1818 and 20 May 1819 the Hon. East India Co. presented him with the sum of 1,500 pounds for services rendered to the embassy and compensation for the losses he had sustained.
    In 1821 he commanded the flagship BULWARK and in 1822 the BRITON.

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