French frigate Preneuse (1795)

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Destruction of Preneuse, by Auguste Mayer
Career (France) French Navy Ensign
Name: Preneuse
Namesake: "taker"
Ordered: 24 April 1794
Builder: Rochefort
Laid down: April 1794
Launched: 16 February 1794
In service: July 1795
Fate: Destroyed on 11 December 1799
General characteristics
Class and type: Preneuse class frigate
Displacement: 721 tonnes
Length: 47.8 metres
Beam: 11.9 metres
Draught: 5.8 metres
Complement: 300 men
Armament: 40 x 18-pdr long guns
Armour: Timber

The Preneuse was a 44-gun frigate of the French Navy, lead ship of her class. She served as a commerce raider at Île de France.

In March 1798, under Lhermitte, she ferried ambassadors from Mysore sent by Tippu Sultan to île de France to request help against the British.[1] Near Thalassery, Preneuse encountered two 36-gun East Indiamen anchored under the protection of coastal batteries; she attacked and captured the ships after a one-hour battle. She left the diplomatic mission at Mangalore, and sailed to Batavia.

She was soon joined by the 22-gun corvette Brûle-Gueule, which ferried Admiral de Sercey. The squadron sailed to Surabaya, where a settlement was established. A small mutiny broke out when Preneuse crew refused to let go of the British flags captured at Thalassery; Lhermitte had to personally challenge the mutineers with his sabre to re-establish discipline, having five of the rebels executed by firing squad.

After a short stay at Surabaya, Preneuse and Brûle-Gueule sailed for a three-month cruise, capturing 40 British merchantmen. After returning to Subaraya, Sercey set his flag on Preneuse and the squadron sailed for île de France.

They arrived in May 1799, encountering the British blocade composed of three ships of the line, one frigate and one brig. The French ships reached Black River, where they were joined by a number of coastal ships offering assistance. Preneuse and Brûle-Gueule anchored in the bay. Seven 18-pounders were sent ashore and an improvised fort was built as to guard the entrance of the bay; it sustained a 3-week siege before the British retreated.

In August 1799, Preneuse departed for a patrol near Cape of Good Hope and Madagascar. On 4 September, she fought against five British ships. In September, she fought against a 64-gun ship of the line. Preneuse also attempted to supply arms to the Graaff Reinet Republic of Adriaan van Jaarsveld; on the 20th, she sailed into Algoa Bay under Danish colours,[2] when she was recognised by the 16-gun ship-sloop HMS Rattlesnake;[3] she exchanged artillery fire with Rattlesnake and the armed store ship Camel, before retreating.

On 9 October 1799, as she neared Good Hope, Preneuse was chased by the 54-gun HMS Jupiter. After a 22-hour chase, Jupiter gained on Preneuse, and artillery exchanges broke out. Preneuse managed to out-manoeuver Jupiter and rake her; the British then retreated to avoid being boarded, and managed to escape.[4][5]

File:Preneuse 5248.jpg
Destruction of the Preneuse

On 11 December 1799, as she returned to île de France, Preneuse was chased by the 74-gun HMS Tremendous, under Captain John Osborn. As she closed to the land, the 50-gun HMS Adamant, under Captain William Hotham, cut her escape route; attempting to sail under the protection of the coastal forts at Baie du Tombeau, Preneuse was washed ashore by erratic winds. The British closed in and battered Preneuse, which Lhermitte then deemed lost; he had the crew abandon ship, while he stayed behind with the officers, struck the colours and scuttled the frigate.[6] British boats attempted to capture Preneuse, but she came under fire from the coastal batteries and had to be abandoned.

The officers of Preneuse were taken to HMS Adamant, where they were treated with courtesy by Commodore Botham. Lhermitte was released on parole the next day.

Sources and references