Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820

Author: William Bainbridge  | Date: 1813

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Capture and Destruction of the "Java"

AT 9 A.M. discovered two strange sails on the weather bow. At 10, discovered the strange sails to be ships, one of them stood in for the land, and the other stood off shore in a direction towards us. At 10.45, we tacked ship to the northward and westward, and stood for the sail standing towards us. At 11 A.M. tacked to the southward and eastward, hauled up the mainsail and took in the royals. At 11.30, made the private signal for the day, which was not answered, and then set the mainsail and royals to draw the strange sail off from the neutral coast, and separate her from the sail in company.

Wednesday, 30th Dec., 1812—(Nautical time)—In lat. 13 deg, 6m. S and long. 38 W. 10 leagues from the coast of Brazil.—Commences with clear weather and moderate breezes from E. N. E. hoisted our ensign and pendant. At 15 minutes past meridian, the ship hoisted her colors, an English ensign, having a signal flying at her main—red, yellow, red.

At 1.26 P.M. being sufficiently from the land, and finding the ship to be an English frigate, took in the mainsail and royals, tacked ship and stood for the enemy. At 1.50 P.M. the enemy bore down with an intention of raking us, which we avoided by wearing. At 2 P.M. the enemy being within half a mile of us, and to windward, and having hauled down his colors, except an Union Jack at the mizen-masthead, induced me to give orders to the officer of the 3d division to fire one gun ahead of the enemy to make him show his colors, which being done, brought on a fire from us of the whole broadside, on which the enemy hoisted his colors and immediately returned our fire. A general action with round and grape then commenced, the enemy keeping at a much greater distance than I wished, but could not bring him to close action without exposing ourselves to several rakes. Considerable maneuvers were made by both vessels to rake and avoid being raked. The following minutes were taken during the action:

At 2.10 P.M.

Commenced the action within good grape and cannister distance, the enemy to windward (but much further than I wished).At 2.30 our wheel was shot entirely away.2.40 determined to close with the enemy, notwithstanding his raking—set the fore and mainsail, and luff’d up to him.2.50 the enemy’s jib-boom got foul of our mizenrigging.3.00 the head of the enemy’s bowsprit and jibboom shot away by us.3.05 shot away the enemy’s foremast by the board.3.15 shot away his main-top-mast just above the cap.3.40 shot away gaff and spanker-boom.3.55 shot away his mizen-mast nearly by the board.4.05 having silenced the fire of the enemy completely, and his colors in the main rigging being down, supposed he had struck, then hauled aboard the courses to shoot ahead to repair our rigging, which was extremely cut, leaving the enemy a complete wreck; soon after, discovered the enemy’s flag was still flying—hove to, to repair some of our damage.4.20 the enemy’s main-mast went nearly by the board.4.50 wore ship and stood for the enemy.5.25 got very close to the enemy in a very effectual raking position, athwart his bows, and was at the very instant of raking him, when he most prudently struck his flag, for had he suffered the broadside to have raked him, his additional loss must have been extremely great, as he laid an unmanageable wreck upon the water. After the enemy had struck, wore ship and reefed the topsails, then hoisted out one of the only two remaining boats we had left out of eight, and sent Lieutenant Parker, first of the Constitution, to take possession of the enemy, which proved to be his Britannic majesty’s frigate Java, rated 38 but carrying 49 guns, and manned with upwards of 400 men, commanded by Captain Lambert, a very distinguished officer, who was mortally wounded.

The action continued from the commencement to the end of the fire, one hour and fifty-five minutes. The Constitution had 9 killed and 25 wounded. The enemy had 60 killed and 101 certainly wounded; but by a letter written on board the Constitution by one of the officers of the Java, and accidentally found, it is evident the enemy’s wounded must have been considerably greater than as above stated, and must have died of their wounds previously to their being removed. The letter states 60 killed and 170 wounded. The Java had her own complement of men complete, and upwards of 100 supernumeraries, going to join the British ships of war in the East Indies, also several officers, passengers, going out on promotion. The force of the enemy in number of men, at the commencement of the action, was no doubt considerably greater than we have been able to ascertain, which is upwards of 400 men. The officers were extremely cautious in discovering the number. By her quarter bill she had one man more stationed to each gun than we had.

The Constitution was very much cut in her sails and rigging, and many of her spars injured. At 7 P.M. the boat returned with Lieutenant Chads, the first lieutenant of the enemy’s frigate, and Lieutenant-General Hislop (appointed Governor of Bombay), Major Walker and Captain Wood belonging to his staff.

Captain Lambert of the Java was too dangerously wounded to be removed immediately. The cutter returned on board the prize for the prisoners, and brought Captain Marshall, master and commander of the British navy, who was a passenger on board, as also several other naval officers destined for ships in the East Indies.

The Java was an important ship, fitted out in the completest manner to carry Lieutenant-General Hislop and his staff to Bombay, and several naval officers for different ships in the East Indies; and had despatches for St. Helena, Cape of Good Hope, and every British establishment in the India and China seas. She had on board copper for a 74 and two brigs building at Bombay, and I expect a great many other valuables; but every thing was blown up in her, except the officers’ baggage, when we set her on fire at 3 P.M. on the 1st of January, 1813, (nautical time).


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Chicago: William Bainbridge, "Capture and Destruction of the Java," Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820 in America, Vol.5, Pp.160-165 Original Sources, accessed December 9, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CLZBDNGP3W9YFMI.

MLA: Bainbridge, William. "Capture and Destruction of the "Java"." Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820, in America, Vol.5, Pp.160-165, Original Sources. 9 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CLZBDNGP3W9YFMI.

Harvard: Bainbridge, W, 'Capture and Destruction of the "Java"' in Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820. cited in , America, Vol.5, Pp.160-165. Original Sources, retrieved 9 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CLZBDNGP3W9YFMI.