French frigate Sémillante (1792)

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For other ships of the same name, see French ship Sémillante.
Career (France) French Navy Ensign French Navy Ensign
Name: Sémillante
Builder: Lorient
Laid down: December 1790
Launched: 25 November 1791
In service: May 1792
Fate: Sold in 1808, renamed Charles
Captured and broken up
General characteristics
Class and type: Sémillante-class frigate
Tons burthen: 600 (bm)
Length: 45.5 m (149 ft)
Beam: 11.5 m (38 ft)
Draught: 5.5 m (18 ft)
Sail plan: Full-rigged ship
Armament: 26 × 12-pounder long guns + 6 × 6-pounder guns

The Sémillante (French: "Shiny" or "Sparkling") was a 32-gun frigate of the French Navy, lead ship of her class. She was involved in a number of multi-vessel actions against the Royal Navy, particularly in the Indian Ocean. She captured a number of East Indiamen before she became so damaged that the French disarmed her and turned her into a merchant vessel. The British captured her and broke her up in 1809.

French Revolutionary Wars[edit]

Between 1 July and 21 November 1792 Sémillante was under the command of Commandant chevalier de Bruix, lieutenant de vaisseau. She escorted a convoy and carried troops from Lorient to Saint-Domingue. She returned to Lorient from Port-au-Prince with some government officials.[1] de Bruix, was promoted to the rank of capitaine de vaisseau and remained captain until 14 May 1793, with Sémillante escorting convoys between Bordeaux and Brest.

Lieutenant de vaisseaux Gaillard replaced de Bruix. On 21 May 1793, Sémillante captured the Liverpool privateer Active.[2] She was under the command of Captain Stephen Bower, and was sailing under a letter of marque dated 2 May 1793.[3] The letter of marque described her as a sloop of 100 tons burthen (bm), armed with twelve 4-pounder guns and four swivel guns, and having a crew of 40 men.[3] The British later recaptured Active and sent her into Guernsey.[2][Note 1] The next day Sémillante captured the Guernsey privateer Betsey, of 10 guns and 55 men.[Note 2]

On 27 May 1794 Sémillante encountered the British frigate Venus. In the ensuing combat, which lasted some two hours, Sémillante lost 20 men killed and 40 wounded, Gaillard being among the dead. When Venus lost her main top mast, Sémillante was able to extricate herself and escape to Brest, where she arrived on 2 June.[2]

Enseigne de vaisseaux non entretenu Garreau replaced Gaillard. Later, Capitaine de vaisseau Lemancq took command.[4] In June–July 1794 Lemancq sailed to the United States, returning with a convoy and passengers from the Chesapeake to Brest.[5]

In May–June 1795, Sémillante was under the command oflieutenant de vaisseau Bertrand (aîné). He sailed her to New York, returning to Lorient.[6] He later received promotion to capitaine de vaisseau, and sailed Sémillante on a cruise in the Atlantic in May 1796, before returning to Lorient.[7] The next year he carried passengers from Port Francais in Sainte-Domingue to Guadeloupe and then to Lorient.[8]

In 1798, Sémillante took part in the Expédition d'Irlande, and notably the Battle of Tory Island. At the time she was under the command of capitaine de frégate Lacoutre.[9]

On 9 April 1799, Sémillante, under the command of capitaine de frégate Montalan,[10] along with Vengeance and Cornélie, encountered and fought HMS St Fiorenzo and HMS Amelia off Belle Île.[11] The engagement was indecisive, with the French ships escaping up the Loire. The British suffered three men killed and 35 wounded.[12]

In November–December 1800 Montalan was still captain of Sémillante when she carried Citizen Pichon, France's commissionaire general for commercial relations, to the United States.[13] In January 1801 Sémillante sailed back to Lorient.[14]

Napoleonic Wars[edit]

Between 15 May 1803 and 17 December, capitaine de frégate (later capitaine de vaisseau) Léonard Motard sailed Sémillante to the East Indies. There she destroyed English factories on Sumatra and near the roads of Batavia.[15]

In 1804, Sémillante was based at Île de France to engage in commerce raiding. She captured the Honourable East India Company’s ships Fame and James Drumond.

Sémillante and the frigate Atalante were sailing in a squadron under the command of Contre-Admiral Charles-Alexandre Durand Linois with the 74-gun fourth rate ship of the line Marengo.[16]

Sémillante was in Linois' squadron at the Battle of Pulo Aura on 15 February 1804. Linois attacked the Honourable East India Company's China Fleet, a large convoy of well-armed merchant ships carrying cargo worth £8 million. Although the entire British fleet consisted of merchantmen, escorted by the East India Company's tiny gun-brig Ganges, Linois failed to press the attack. Instead, he withdrew with the convoy at his mercy, invoking the anger of Napoleon when the news reached France.

On 15 September 1804, under Motard, together with Marengo and Atalanta, Sémillante participated in the Battle of Vizagapatam. During the battle the three French ships engaged the sole British warship, the 50-gun HMS Centurion. Sémillante also captured the East Indiaman Princess Charlotte. The French squadron caused a second East Indiaman, the Barnaby, to panic and run aground.[17] Despite his overwhelming superiority in firepower, Linois once again withdrew his squadron, leaving Centurion to survive.

On 3 December, along with Berceau, Sémillante destroyed and captured seven British merchantmen off Paolo Bay.

On 8 June 1806, she captured the East Indiamen Acteon, Warren Hastings and Active. On 11 November, she encountered HMS Sceptre and HMS Cornwallis; an engagement developed on 13 November that resulted in the British ships withdrawing.

Between 15 March and 18 March 1808, she fought a running battle with HMS Terpsichore, and escaped to Île de France. Terpsichore suffered 21 men killed and 20 wounded. Sémillante was so seriously damaged that the French removed her armament and decommissioned her on 10 July.


In September Robert Surcouf purchased Sémillante, after his own ship, the Revenant, had been requisitioned for the defence of the island. He renamed Sémillante Charles and sailed her to Saint Malo, laden with the spoils of his campaign. He reached there on 5 February 1809. He then did not go to sea again, though he did arm and fit out privateers.

In December 1809, HMS Phoenix captured Charles. Too old and damaged to be brought into British service, she was broken up.[18][19]


  1. ^ This may have been the Actif, which the Royal Navy took into service as HMS Actif.
  2. ^ This may have been the Betsey, of 160 tons (bm), twelve 4-pounder guns and six swivel guns, under the command of Peter DePutron, and sailing under a letter of marque dated 17 April 1793.[3] In any case, the French took her into service in July as Betzy, and she proceeded to serve as a convoy escort between Brest and Lorient. Amazon captured her off Ushant in on 12 June 1796. The Royal Navy did not take her into service.


  1. ^ Fonds marine, p. 35.
  2. ^ a b c Williams (1897), p.314.
  3. ^ a b c Letter of Marque [1] - accessed 15 May 2011.
  4. ^ Fonds marine, p.44.
  5. ^ Fonds marine, p.82.
  6. ^ Fonds marine, p.141.
  7. ^ Fonds marine, p.168.
  8. ^ Fonds marine, p.192.
  9. ^ Fonds marine, p.203.
  10. ^ Fonds marine, p. 221.
  11. ^ The Naval History of Great Britain, 1793 - 1820, Volumes II and IV, by William James, R. Bentley, London, 1837.
  12. ^ The London Gazette: no. 15126. p. 371. 20 April 1799.
  13. ^ Fonds Marine, p.244.
  14. ^ Fonds Marine, p. 272.
  15. ^ Fonds Marine, p. 290.
  16. ^ Woodman, p. 172
  17. ^ (French) Histoire de Deux Marins Bretons
  18. ^ (German) Die Geschichte der französischen Fregatte SEMILLANTE (36) von 1791 bis 1809
  19. ^ fregate la Semillante.


  • Fonds Marine. Campagnes (opérations ; divisions et stations navales ; missions diverses). Inventaire de la sous-série Marine BB4. Tome premier : BB4 1 à 482 (1790-1826) [2]
  • Woodman, Richard (2001). The Sea Warriors. Constable Publishers. ISBN 1-84119-183-3.