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Four sailing ships in the aftermath of battle, with two afloat in fairly good repair flying British flags, and two grounded on shore, dismasted and on fire

Sir J.T. Duckworth's Action off San Domingo, Feb. 7 8th 1806, Thomas Whitcombe.

The Battle of San Domingo was the last fleet engagement of the Napoleonic Wars, contested off the Southern coast of the Spanish colonial Captaincy General of Santo Domingo, then under French occupation, on 6 February 1806. A British squadron of seven ships of the line under Vice-Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth surprised and destroyed a French squadron of five ships of the line led by Contre-Admiral Corentin Urbain Leissègues as the French sailed westwards along the San Domingo coast.[1] Using his superior numbers and speed, Duckworth struck at the head of the French line with his leading ships while the slower eastern division of his squadron intercepted and captured the French stragglers. The only French ships to escape were two frigates and a corvette – three ships of the line were captured and two destroyed, including Leissègues' flagship, the 120-gun Impérial.[2] French casualties were estimated as more than 1,500 men killed and wounded and the British suffered nearly 350 casualties in the engagement, which lasted for just over two hours.[3]

Leissègues' squadron had escaped from Brest on 13 December 1805, taking advantage of a lapse in the British blockade. Sailing with another squadron under Contre-Admiral Jean-Baptiste Willaumez, Leissègues separated from Willaumez after two days and passed north of the Azores, where his ships were damaged and scattered by winter storms. Sailing for Santo Domingo to reconstitute his squadron and make urgent repairs, Leissègues arrived on 20 January 1806.[4] Duckworth had been tasked with watching the remnants of the French and Spanish fleets in Cádiz following the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805, but in November had gone hunting to the south in search of a French raiding squadron and on his route back to his station had encountered a frigate that reported the escape of Leissègues and Willaumez.[5] Sailing in pursuit, Duckworth encountered Willaumez on 25 December but refused battle and instead sailed for the West Indies to replenish his supplies before making the journey back to European waters. News reached him of the French arrival while anchored at Basseterre on 1 February and he immediately sailed to investigate, joined by part of the West Indies squadron under Rear-Admiral Alexander Cochrane.[6]

British squadron

Duckworth's squadron was principally formed from his original Cádiz squadron, except for HMS Powerful which had been sent to the Indian Ocean in December 1805, and with the addition of two ships from the West Indies squadron under Cochrane, HMS Northumberland and HMS Atlas.[7] Frigates and smaller craft joined the fleet as it sailed north through the Leeward Islands, but none were engaged during the battle itself except to act as tows for the more seriously damaged ships of the line. As he approached the French line, Duckworth separated his force into two divisions: a western force to windward under Duckworth himself and a slower eastern force led by Duckworth's second in command Rear-Admiral Thomas Louis. During the engagement the divisions became separated and as a result Duckworth's division fought the strongest French forces at the head of the line. Louis was initially engaged with the French rear, but later assisted his commander against the huge Impérial during the final stages of the battle.[8] British casualties were recorded in detail in Duckworth's despatches, based on the returns of each ship, although they were not evenly distributed: HMS Agamemnon arrived late in the battle and suffered minimal losses, while Northumberland was heavily engaged with the French flagship and suffered correspondingly severe casualties.[9]

Vice-Admiral Duckworth's squadron
Duckworth's division
Ship Rate Guns Commander Casualties Notes
Killed Wounded Total
HMS Superb Third rate 74 Vice-Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth
Captain Richard Goodwin Keats
Lightly damaged
HMS Northumberland Third rate 74 Rear-Admiral Alexander Cochrane
Captain John Morrison
Mainmast collapsed and hull, rigging and remaining masts badly damaged
HMS Spencer Third rate 74 Captain Robert Stopford
Severe damage to hull, but masts and rigging largely intact
HMS Agamemnon Third rate 64 Captain Sir Edward Berry
Louis' division
HMS Canopus Third rate 80 Rear-Admiral Thomas Louis
Captain Francis Austen
Lightly damaged
HMS Donegal Third rate 74 Captain Pulteney Malcolm
Foreyard shot away, otherwise lightly damaged
HMS Atlas Third rate 74 Captain Samuel Pym
Bowspirit lost in collision with Canopus and tiller damaged by shot. Otherwise lightly damaged
Minor warships
HMS Acasta Fifth rate 40 Captain Richard Dalling Dunn
Not engaged in the battle
HMS Magicienne Fifth rate 32 Captain Adam Mackenzie
Not engaged in the battle
HMS Kingfisher Brig 16 Commander Nathaniel Day Cochrane
Not engaged, sent to Britain with despatches after the battle
HMS Epervier Brig 14 Lieutenant James Higginson
Not engaged in the battle
Total casualties: 74 killed, 264 wounded, 338 total
Source: James, pp. 196–197, "No. 15902". 24 March 1806. 

French squadron

Contre-Admiral Leissègues' squadron was unchanged from the force that left Brest on 13 December. All ships however, especially Jupiter and Diomède, had been badly damaged by storms off the Azores in late December and repairs were incomplete by the time of Duckworth's attack, most the fleet still undergoing caulking at Santo Domingo.[10] Recognising that if he was caught at anchor he would be destroyed, Leissègues sent orders from his offices in Santo Domingo for the fleet to sail, joining them later by small boat. Trapped against the land with the wind from the west, Leissègues had no option but to form a line of battle and wait to meet the British squadron.[6] Although his ships fought hard, they were unable to mutually support one another and were rapidly overwhelmed: three surrendered, while Diomède and Impérial were driven ashore and wrecked to prevent their capture. The only ships to escape were the two frigates and a corvette that and slipped between the French line and the land early in the battle and made sail to the west, eventually reaching France.[11]

French casualties are hard to calculate, as the best available source is the vague totals submitted by Duckworth in his account to the Admiralty. He estimates, apparently based on reports by the senior remaining French officers on Alexandre, Jupiter and Brave, that those three ships suffered 760 casualties in total.[12] These accounts were subsequently called into question by historian William James, who considered them too high. James also criticised the assumed totals for Impérial and Diomède, which are even less certain but reportedly totalled 500 and 250 respectively.[3] In addition to those killed and wounded, the entire surviving crews of Alexandre, Jupiter and Brave were taken prisoner, as were 150 men from Diomède and six from Impérial seized by British boarding parties on 8 February.[13]

Contre-Admiral Leissègues' squadron
Ship Rate Guns Commander Casualties Notes
Alexandre Third rate 80 Captain Pierre-Elie Garreau ~300 Captured in a dismasted and sinking state with surviving crew. Repaired, but unfit for continued service and later broken up
Impérial First rate 120 Vice-Admiral Corentin Urbain Leissegues
Captain Julien-Gabriel Bigot
~500 Driven ashore and wrecked, subsequently burnt by a British boarding party on 8 February. Six men taken prisoner
Diomède Third rate 74 Captain Jean-Baptiste Henry ~250 Driven ashore and wrecked, subsequently burnt by a British boarding party on 8 February. 150 men taken prisoner
Jupiter Third rate 74 Captain Gaspard Laignel ~200 Captured with surviving crew. Later commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Maida
Brave Third rate 74 Commodore Louis-Marie Coudé ~260 Captured with surviving crew. Foundered during journey back to Europe
Minor warships
Comète Fifth rate 40 0 Not engaged in the battle, returned to France
Félicité Fifth rate 40 0 Not engaged in the battle, returned to France
Diligente Corvette 20 Captain Raymond Cocault 0 Not engaged in the battle, returned to France
Total casualties: 1,510
Source: James, pp. 196–197, "No. 15902". 24 March 1806. 


  1. Woodman 2001, p. 217
  2. Clowes, p. 192
  3. 3.0 3.1 James, Vol. 4, p. 197
  4. Clowes, p. 189
  5. James, Vol. 4, p. 186
  6. 6.0 6.1 "No. 15902". 24 March 1806. 
  7. Clowes, p. 188
  8. James, Vol. 4, p. 192
  9. James, Vol. 4, p. 196
  10. James, Vol. 4, p. 198
  11. Adkins, p. 173
  12. "No. 15902". 24 March 1806. 
  13. Gardiner, p. 24


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