At about 2.00am. on the morning of 8th June 1796, the British frigates Santa Margarita, 36-guns, and Unicorn, 32-guns, sighted two French frigates and a small corvette whilst patrolling the western approaches to the English Channel. Captain [later Admiral Sir] Thomas Williams in the Unicorn, and also in overall command, gave the order to make chase and even though the corvette Lighre managed to make her escape in the darkness, the British frigates doggedly pursued the two enemy vessels westwards for almost twelve hours before bringing them to action at 1.00pm. The ensuing running fight proved arduous to both sides and the fire from the French frigates caused much damage to English masts and rigging, although fortunately not enough to slow the pursuers down.
At 4.00pm., the Santa Margarita closed with the 36-gun Tamise and, after a ferocious twenty-minute broadside duel, forced her to surrender. The other French vessel, the Tribune, seized the moment to bear away with H.M.S. Unicorn in hot pursuit and, after a long chase, Unicorn finally closed with Tribune at 10.30pm. A fierce action lasting thirty-five minutes resulted in another French surrender and both enemy frigates were absorbed into the Royal Navy under their own names (Tamise = Thames).
In addition to the work offered in this catalogue, Admiral Williams also commissioned another painting of this action from Nicholas Pocock which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1797.
Admiral Sir Thomas Williams, G.C.B. (1762?-1841) joined the Royal Navy in 1768, was promoted Lieutenant in 1779 and fought throughout the American War of Independence, being made Captain in 1790. Rendered distinguished service in cooperation with the army in the Low Countries in 1794-5, he was knighted after his gallant capture of the two French frigates in the above action in 1796. Promoted Rear-Admiral in 1809, he was made full Admiral in 1830 and received the G.C.B. from William IV in 1831.