The battle of Trafalgar was arguably the most decisive victory in the long history of war at sea. Undaunted by the fact that he had only twenty-seven ships-of-the-line compared to the thirty-three in the combined Franco-Spanish fleet, Lord Nelson finally brought the enemy to action on 21st October 1805 in a ferocious battle lasting less than three hours. The enemy fleet was shattered by the loss or capture of eighteen of its capital ships and its casualties numbered over 6,000 men killed or wounded, although the glorious victory was overshadowed by the death of Nelson himself, struck down by a sniper's bullet. As night fell on the fateful day and the battered fleets drew apart, a violent storm blew up just as both sides attempted to make temporary repairs for their homeward journeys. The British made for Gibraltar with their captured prizes, whilst the remnants of the Franco-Spanish fleet made for Cadiz and limped into port with practically every one of their number severely damaged. Several of the eleven survivors had been wholly dismasted and the inhabitants of Cadiz, especially those men employed in the great dockyard, declared that such a motley collection of jury rigs was unprecedented in their experience. Although a few of the ships were eventually repaired, none ever returned to sea thanks to the ruthless effectiveness of the Royal Navy's post-Trafalgar blockade.
The armed cutter Entreprenante was built in France and operated as a privateer until 1799 when she was captured and assimilated into the British Royal Navy under her original name. Measured at 123 tons, she was 67 feet in length with a 22 foot beam and mounted 10-4pounder guns. Her first recorded action under British colors was off the Egyptian coast in 1801 where she assisted in the expulsion of the French Army of Occupation from that country. By 1805, she was under the command of Lieutenant Robert Young and had been re-armed with 10-12pounders [in December 1803] to enhance her status as a ship-of-war even though she was far too small to engage an enemy ship-of-the-line. Accompanying Nelson's fleet during the run-up to Trafalgar, her speed and maneuverability ensured she was kept busy carrying orders and dispatches between the ships and stations, and although she was not actually in action during the battle itself, she nevertheless picked up the survivors of the French '74' Achille when she blew up. After the battle, as evidenced by this painting, she was then ordered to shadow the remnants of the enemy fleet in order to ensure that it made port and therefore proved no further threat.
Entreprenante's next major encounter with the enemy took place in December 1810 when, whilst cruising off the Spanish Costa del Sol, she was attacked by four well-armed French privateer galleys. Surviving a furious fight lasting three hours in an otherwise flat calm, she saw off her attackers and left them all badly damaged. Severely damaged herself, she made it home to England only to be broken up in 1812.
Another version of Buttersworth's depiction of the defeated Franco-Spanish fleet running into Cadiz after Trafalgar, in which the backdrop is almost identical to the work in this catalogue, was offered in Christie's [London] Maritime Sale, 6th November 1997 (lot 577).