Despite Montague Dawson's numerous depictions of the justly-famous frigate action between H.M.S. Shannon and the U.S.S. Chesapeake during the so-called 'War of 1812', he appears to have executed very few works showing the various other engagements of the conflict, possibly because hardly any of them resulted in British victories; the encounter between the U.S.S. Argus and H.M.S. Pelican offered here was, however, an exception.
While the Anglo-American War of 1812 (-1814) is usually remembered for its several celebrated frigate actions, there was much other activity elsewhere in the Atlantic and even, on occasions, in British Home waters much to the chagrin of the Royal Navy. One of these less well-known encounters took place in the summer of 1813 in the Irish Sea, the treacherous stretch of water which separates the British mainland from Ireland.
During that summer, the U.S. 18-gun brig Argus, Captain William Allen, had been cruising the Irish Sea and had destroyed a number of defenceless British merchantmen. H.M.S. Pelican, an 18-gun brig-rigged sloop, was despatched from the Irish port of Queenstown to find her and soon sighted her close to a burning vessel she had just plundered. Despite the heavy weather, Pelican chased the Argus and brought her to action; within fifteen minutes, Pelican's guns had shredded most of Argus's sails and when the British sloop passed under the American's stern raking her with a merciless fire, Argus's steering gear was destroyed and she became unmanageable. Pelican's men then boarded her and Argus, having sustained heavy casualties including the death of her captain, was faced with no alternative but to surrender.
The Argus was built at Boston by Edmund Hartt and although laid down as the Merrimac, was renamed upon launching in August 1803. Measured at 299 tons, her first commander was the young Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, Jnr. After service in the Mediterranean during the Barbary Wars of 1803-06 (for which details, see lot.. in this catalogue), she returned to U.S. waters and took an extremely active part in the opening phase of the 'War of 1812.' Sent to France carrying the U.S. Minister in June 1813, she then cruised British waters taking no less than twenty merchant prizes before being taken herself.
Stephen Decatur, Jnr. (1779-1820) was born in Maryland and made an enduring reputation for himself thanks to his daring exploits during the Barbary Wars. Promoted Captain as a result, he was given command of the frigate United States and, off Madeira on 25th October 1813, captured the British frigate Macedonian in one of the most epic fights of the Anglo-American War.
H.M.S. Pelican was built at Topsham, Devon, in 1812, eventually became a customs watchvessel in 1847 and was finally sold out of the service in 1865.