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The cutting out of HMS Hermione, 24 October 1799

BHC0519
Oil paintings

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Object ID BHC0519
Description A scene involving the ex British frigate ‘Hermione’ which, two years earlier, was the scene of a terrible mutiny. This took place on the night of 22 Sept 1799 off Puerto Rico, when part of the crew rose and murdered their captain, Hugh Pigot - a rare example of a naval officer who was psychopathically brutal rather than just a disciplinarian. They then murdered two lieutenants, the purser, surgeon, captain’s clerk, a midshipman, a lieutenant of marines and the boatswain: a few warrant officers were spared including the master who was needed to navigate the ship and a master's mate or midshipman, the Irish Catholic, David Brian O'Casey, whom Pigot had also attempted to humiliate and then disrated and flogged when he resisted. (Casey was later commissioned and ended his days as one of the Lieutenants of Greenwich Hospital.) After this they surrendered the ship to the Spaniards at La Guayra, Venezuela. She was then commissioned into Spanish service and became the most sought after prize for the British in the West Indies. By October she was at Puerto Cabello in Venezuela when British Captain Edward Hamilton in the ‘Surprise’ found her. She was not an easy target because she was anchored under a battery of 200 guns. Hamilton did not achieve surprise either, because as he led his boats for the attack he was spotted by two Spanish gun-vessels. They gave the alarm so the crew of the ‘Hermione’ were ready for the British boats as they got along side her. Nevertheless she was boarded and after a desperate fight her cable was cut, her sails loosed, and in spite of the fire from the batteries she was carried out. Astonishingly this almost reckless initiative resulted in not one Briton killed, though twelve including the captain were wounded. Captain Hamilton was knighted for this fearless exploit and demonstration of intense patriotism. The ‘Hermione’ is shown on the left of the picture and under her bows are the four British boats. On deck and silhouetted against the smoke and flash of battle a number of figures are shown fighting. Sailors are loosing her fore topsail and jib. Two figures can be seen falling from her stern and there are others already in the water. The hulk of the ‘Hermione’ is silhouetted against the fire of the shore batteries of Puerto Cabello and the hills beyond are visible against the moonlit sky. In the right background is the ‘Surprise’. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1800 with the title ‘The capture of the ‘Hermione’ Spanish frigate of 44 guns, 392 men by Captain E. Hamilton of His Majesty’s ship ‘Surprise’ of 24 guns’.
Date made Early 19th century

Artist/Maker Pocock, Nicholas
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 455 mm x 610 mm; Frame: 650 mm x 770 mm
Parts
  • The cutting out of HMS Hermione, 24 October 1799 (BHC0519)
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