H. M. S. Blanche

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    Robert B

      I noticed an interesting contradiction between scholarly accounts concerning H. M. S. Blanche, a 32-gun frigate, and I followed up with research. In ‘The Early Career of Lieutenant General Donatien Rochambeau and the French Campaigns in the Caribbean, 1792-1794’ by James Lafayette Haynsworth IV (Ph.D. thesis; 2 vols.; The Florida State University, 2003), I, 299-301, it is stated that, at some exact date the author does not specify, but evidently in July or August, 1793, a ‘tiny’ French privateer (unnamed), commanded by Jean-Auguste Jung, cruising off Barbados, captured H. M. S. Blanche, described by Haynsworth as a 32-gun British frigate.

      Jung lost his own ship in the battle, but sailed the captured Blanche into Saint Pierre, Martinique. In British Warships in the Age of Sail 1793-1817 Design, Construction, Careers and Fates by Rif Winfield (Barnsley, England: Seaforth Publishing, second, revised edition, 2008), p. 200, there clearly is a Blanche, a 32-gun frigate, that served in the West Indies in 1792-5, but was never captured; and was finally wrecked on the Dutch coast in 1799.

      I started an inquiry about this issue in 2011 with Rif Winfield, who referred it to David Hepper, author of British Warship Losses in the Age of Sail, 1650-1859. While visiting The National Archives on other business, Mr. Hepper kindly looked up the captain’s log of the Blanche for the whole period in question. As Mr. Hepper noted in an e-mail to Mr. Winfield and myself in 2011, the Blanche was not captured or even in action during this period.

      These facts raise issues that are unpleasant. Far beyond mere empty boasting by Jean-Auguste Jung that he had captured a frigate with a ‘tiny’ privateer, the fact is that he sailed some ship other than his own original vessel into Saint Pierre, Martinique, and turned over to French authorities there nine French Royalists from Martinique who were taken off the supposed Blanche.

      Since they were supposedly taken from a British Navy warship when Britain and France were at war, they were tried as prisoners of war. Five were found guilty and promptly shot. French government authorities should have seen the supposed Blanche in Saint-Pierre. They should have noticed that this 32-gun frigate had nowhere near 32 guns; it was (I guess) not a warship–certainly not a British warship–and thus would have mysteriously been missing a large number of its 32 guns.

      Winfield’s book says that the real Blanche should have had a crew of 220. A merchant ship would have had only a fraction of this number. The French government authorities presumably put the crew in captivity. Didn’t they notice their suspiciously small number? Didn’t they ask the captured crew any questions? Didn’t every captured sailor state that he was from the ship X–certainly not H. M. S. Blanche? The crew would have had no reason to lie; they were in captivity anyway, and not put on trial.

      The nine French Royalists from Martinique who were tried had every reason to loudly insist that they were not captured on a British naval warship–an act of treason–but rather on some other ship–call it the X, a story which would have been backed up by every captured sailor from the crew.

      Haynsworth in his dissertation says that Jung captured on the ship documents that showed that Britain planned to invade Martinique. Didn’t the French government officials notice that there were no papers on the ship that showed it was the Blanche? This whole story seems like fantasy, and yet Haynsworth derived it from French archival documents written by French officials from Martinique. The episode certainly cost the lives of five Royalists. If we didn’t know that the Blanche was never captured, we might believe it!

      Does anyone have any further light to shed on this strange episode? Also, does anyone have similar examples of concrete detailed claims of naval captures, including the arrival of captured ships in port, that are entirely false?



        I am a student in a MA in History under the direction of Michel Biard who is a specialist of the French Revolution. I will ask him asap.
        Have you thought of having a look to the Naval and Marine Records of the French National Archives?

        Or the Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?

        I asked one of my friend who wrote his master thesis on the Deputies of the colonies during the National Convention, I am waiting for his answer and I will keep you updated.

        Best regards,


        Robert B

          Thank you very much for your interest and offers of help. Here is the archive identification and immensely long title of the document from which Haynsworth got this strange tale:
          Archives Nationales, Carton AF III/207; Bailleul et autres membres composant le ci-devant Comité de Salut Public de République-ville à la Martinique, “Compte rendu à la Convention Nationale par le Comité de Salut Public de République-ville, des événements qui ont eu lieu à la Martinique depuis l’arrivée de Rochambeau en cette île le 3 Février 1793, jusqu’à la reddition du Fort-de-la-Convention le 5 Germinal de l’an second de la république [sic] une et indivisible,” 19 Pluviose, l’an 4 (7 February 1794)
          I feel confident that Haynsworth accurately summarized this document in relating the story of the Blanche; unfortunately the story is false. My small French language skills prevent me from exploring adequately the archives to which you kindly referred me. Meanwhile, I look forward to the thoughts of your colleagues.

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