The Action of 2 January 1783 was a minor naval battle that took place in the Caribbean during the last stages of the American War of Independence. Severe fighting between a Royal Navy frigate HMS Magicienne and a French frigate Sibylle went on for nearly two hours but in that time both frigates were reduced to a wreck.
Off Cap-François into the open sea, a French convoy was sighted by HMS Endymion. At 0630 the Endymion made a signal that the convoy was French. The French convoy had sailed from Cap François on 27 December 1782 carrying goods and money to the Chesapeake. A ship of the convoy had strayed and steered toward the British ship. At 0900 the Endymion came up with her and captured which turned out to be the Celerity, a rich prize, valued at 20,000 Francs. Meanwhile, the Magicienne came up to assist in shifting the prisoners and goods. At 0930 Endymion signalled Magicienne to chase to the northeast. Kergariou decided to steer toward the British in order to draw them away from the convoy and signalled the convoy to continue on its course.
Graves then set about clearing his ship for action. Shortly after the three leewardmost of the French vessels bore away and followed the French convoy. The French warships raised their colours and prepared to give battle.
At 1230 the Magicienne closed up with the smaller ship; the French sloop Railleur of 14 guns, and a short action took place. After having fired two broadsides into the sloop the French frigate Sibylle dropped back to assist the struggling Railleur, and Magicienne moved away. Sibylle was rated at 600 tons and mounted twenty-six 12-pounders and six 6-pounders. She had been coppered and was a fast sailing frigate. She had a crew of 271 men under the Comte de Kergariou-Locmaria.[Note 1] Magicienne sailed on and soon got on the port quarter of the Sybille. The guns were practically muzzle to muzzle as men hurled shot by the hand and frequently at each other through the port holes with half pikes and gun rammers to distract each other from firing.
At 1415 the Magicienne had nearly silenced the Sybille’s fire and the British began to hope and expect that the French would soon surrender. Then, a French shot brought down Magicienne’s mizzen and fore-topmast. The wreck fell clear of the Sybille and she fell astern. Just after Magicienne’s masts fell, a broadside from the British ship cleared Sybille’s forecastle and killed eleven men. Kargariou was struck down on the quarterdeck and his men thought he was dead for some time but was only wounded. Lieutenant de vaisseau Morel-d’Escures, the second in command continued the action.
About 1420 the Magicienne’s fore and main masts went overboard. Sybille now made off as Endymion and Emerald were seen to approach. Magicienne was unable to do any thing except fire every available gun into her stern. The action had lasted for an hour and forty-five minutes.
The Magicienne was towed by Endymion and Emerald and went to Jamaica a fortnight later. The only prize, the Celerity, never made port and was lost on a rock on 9 January off the island of Heneaga. The Sybille however being so damaged was captured on 22 January 1783 by HMS Hussar under Thomas McNamara Russell. Thomas Graves later addressed two engravings of the battle, one represented its beginning, and the other its end.
- Southey, Thomas (1827). Chronological History of the West Indies, Volume 2. Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, & Green. p. 539. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=f74NAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA539&dq=.
- The Naval Chronicle, Containing a General and Biographical History of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, with a Variety of Original Papers on Nautical Subjects, Volume 8. Joyce Gold. 1802. p. 363. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=GANdAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA363&dq=.
- Grant, James (1873). British battles on land and sea, Volume 2. Cassell,. pp. 200–01. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ykkBAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA200&dq=.
- Allen, Joseph (1852). Battles of the British Navy, Volume 1 Battles of the British Navy. Henry G. Bohn. pp. 352–53. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=PVE2AAAAMAAJ&pg=PA352&dq=.
- Levot, Gloires maritimes, p. 257
- Winfield (2008), p.202.
- Levot, Biographie bretonne, vol.2, p. 10
- Sibylle was the name vessel of a five-ship class of 32-gun frigates designed by Sané.
- Winfield, Rif (2008). British Warships in the Age of Sail 1793–1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth. ISBN 1-86176-246-1.
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