The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) saw many heroic British frigates achieve lasting fame from their exploits, but few were as glamorous as the “gallant little Speedy”. Although an extremely handy little craft, the diminutive Speedy was measured at a mere 208 tons and mounted only fourteen four-pounder cannon on her 59 foot gundeck. Built in Mr. King’s yard at Dover, she was launched in June 1782 – just as the American War of Independence was drawing to a close – and thus found little gainful employment until the War with Revolutionary France was declared in February 1793. Fully occupied from the outset, she was briefly captured by the French in June 1794 [but retaken the following March] and was thereafter continuously at sea performing a variety of roles suited to her size and excellent turn of speed.
Despite being undated, this work would appear to date from the late spring of 1800, following the appointment of Captain Lord Thomas Cochrane to Speedy’s command on 28th March. Cochrane, an ambitious and well-connected young officer, was to make his reputation in Speedy by his audacious capture of the large 32-gun xebec-frigate El Gamo on 6th May. However, Cochrane’s prolonged patrol through the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian Seas of the Mediterranean, from March 1800 until Speedy’s capture in July 1801, was filled with both action and valuable prizes. On 11th May 1800, he took the 6-gun privateer L’Intrépide off Sardinia; on 25th June, the 10-gun privateer Ascencion off Bastia (Corsica) and, on 19th July, the privateer La Constitution off the island of Caprea. Even though the enemy 16-gun brig (“....2 guns more than the Speedy....”) depicted here clearly managed to outrun Speedy, the latter’s successes far outnumbered this solitary disappointment. Finally captured by the French ‘74’ Le Desaix off Barcelona on 3rd July 1801, the estimable Speedy found herself not only refitted in an enemy yard, but then presented by Napoleon to Pope Pius VII who promptly renamed her San Pietro.