The French ship Curieux, designed by François Pestel and built in St.Malo (1799-80), was a well-built, fast, heavily-manned corvette under the command of Capitaine de Frégate Joseph-Marie-Emmanuel Cordier, who was blockaded on Fort-Royal, Martinique by a British fleet under the command of Commodore Samuel Hood who was flying his pennant in the 74-gun H.M.S. Centaur.
This work illustrates the attack by a cutting out expedition, in the early hours of 4th February 1804, when at about 12.45pm., 'just as the moon was peeping from behind cloud' (as seen above), four boats led by Lieutenant Robert Carthew Reynolds crept silently over the still water. The cutting out party comprised of two other officers, Lieutenant Edmund Byron Bettesworth and Midshipman John Tracy, 60 British seamen and 40 marines in four boats. Curieux was lying under the guns of Fort Edouard. Although Cordier was on guard, with his guns primed and boarding nets hoisted, and had some 100 ready-armed men on board, he was surprised by the vigour of the assault and he was driven in fierce hand-to-hand combat to the bows where he had a curious escape. Having been knocked down, his unconscious body was thrown overboard but he fell on the fluke of the anchor and dropped into a boat which was alongside. The only man in the boat immediately cut her adrift and pulled for the shore; and Cordier, on recovering consciousness was chagrined to find himself without a ship. Forty Frenchmen were killed or wounded, and all three British officers and six seamen were wounded. The next morning Curieux was sent into Fort-Royal under a flag of truce to land the French wounded, and was commissioned into the Royal Navy under her original name. Reynolds was given command but died of his wounds a few months later and was succeeded in command by Bettesworth.
As H.M.S. Curieux, she enjoyed a short but successful career. She also played her part in the campaign of Trafalgar when Admiral Nelson, who had chased the Franco-Spanish fleet to the West Indies, sent her to England with his dispatches. On 19th June 1805 in mid-Atlantic Curieux sighted and overtook Admiral Villeneuve's fleet on its way back to Europe and when Bettesworth landed in Plymouth on 7th July he was able to alert the Admiralty. As a result, Rear-Admiral Sir Robert Calder, with 15 ships-of-the-line, was sent to intercept Villeneuve and at the subsequent Battle of Cape Finisterre prevented Villeneuve from reaching France. The Battle of Trafalgar ensued on 21st October 1805.
Curieux was eventually lost on 22nd September 1809 when she struck a rock off Petit-Terre in the Saintes.