Fanny (1812 privateer)

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Red Ensign
Name: Fanny
Owner: James Brotherston & John Begg
Captured: 19 April 1814,by privateer General Armstrong
Notes: Recaptured 18 May 1814, by Sceptre
General characteristics
Tons burthen: 387 tons
Sail plan: 3 mast
Complement: 45
Armament: 16 × 9-pounder guns + 2 swivel guns

Fanny was an armed merchantman that sailed between Liverpool and South America. Her master was James Laughton, the father of Sir John Knox Laughton.[1][2] On 5 December 1812, Laughton was granted a Letter of Marque for the ship.[3] On 19 April 1814, the American privateer schooner General Armstrong captured her, though shortly thereafter Sceptre recaptured her. The insurance and marine salvage issues involved gave rise to three notable court cases.

Voyage to South America[edit]

Fanny sailed from Falmouth 26 August 1813 to Rio de Janeiro in convoy with about 30 others and a Royal Navy escort.[4] For the return voyage, Laughton sought permission from the station admiral to return home without convoy. Laughton hired thirty additional men and took on board some additional arms. The station admiral thought Fanny was competent to defend herself and permitted the solo voyage.[5] On 8 March 1814 Fanny left Maranham for Liverpool.

Battle with General Armstrong[edit]

At about midday on 18 April 1814, Fanny was near the Irish coast when the American privateer schooner General Armstrong, captain Guy R. Champlin, from New York City sighted her. Due to squally weather, General Armstrong did not immediately engage, but shadowed Fanny until early the following day, when General Armstrong closed to pistol shot range and opened fire. The faster and better armed American schooner inflicted significant damage on Fanny, her French long 42-pounder guns being the most devastating.[6]

The musket fire from the schooner was so severe that it was impossible to maintain station on the quarter deck. Fanny returned fire and caused some damage to the American. However after about an hour of close combat, never out of pistol shot, Laughton struck her colours. One of the severely injured was one of Fanny's co-owners, John Begg, who later recovered from his injuries and continued his trade with South America.

Captain Champlin wrote in his log book:

April 19th. [1814] Lat. 51.58, captured the British ship Fanny, from Pernambuco bound to Liverpool with a valuable cargo of cotton, coffee and tallow, burthen 337 tons, 16 guns 9 and 12 pounders, and 45 men, manned and ordered her in. Engaged the Fanny forty minutes before she struck her colours; she had six men severely wounded and one killed; her hull rigging and sails were considerably cut up; the Armstrong received no damage.[7]

Captain Laughton wrote to his employer:

She had scarcely a shroud left standing, nor one brace, the sails completely reduced, several gun carriages disabled, not a breeching left whole, one shot between wind and water, several others through different parts of her hull, the maintopsail and topgallant yards shot through, not a running rope but what was cut to pieces, a complete wreck on the quarter deck, the second mate, my brother, killed by my side, and six others wounded, five severely, one slightly.[6]

Fanny's crew transferred to the General Armstrong and she put a prize crew on Fanny.[6] Later that day the American schooner encountered the Principe, Captain da Silva, a Portuguese vessel en route from Maranham to Liverpool. Champlin transferred 130 prisoners, including Laughton and his crew, to Principe. They arrived in Hoylake, England, on 23 April, when the Principe ran on shore.[8]

Subsequent events[edit]

The captain sent a letter to James Brotherston describing the loss of Fanny. On 25 April, James Brotherston filed a claim for total loss with his insurers abandoning all interest in the ship to the insurers.[9] Fanny was insured for £7,000 and the freight was insured on 22 April [sic] for £4,000 [10]

Fanny was recaptured by Sceptre on 12 May[11] and returned, arriving off Skelling Rock on the west coast of Ireland with the Sceptre on 8 June.[12] Fanny was attacked by a Russian man-of-war in The Downs on 18 June, losing a mast and suffering other damage,[13] and arrived in Gravesend on 24 June.[14] Fanny finally arrived in Liverpool on 26 September and the cargo of cotton, coffee and tallow[7] was delivered to the consignee.

Salvage amounts:[15]

First class share £605 7s 2d
Second class shares £84 0s 2d
Third class shares £50 8s 0¼d
Fourth class shares £10 16s 4½d
Fifth class shares £7 4s 3d
Sixth class shares £3 12s 1½d
Seventh class shares £2 8s 1d
Eighth class shares £1 4s 0½d

Following the discharge of cargo, the ship was sold and the underwriters recovered about £2310.[10]

Court cases[edit]

These subsequent events gave rise to three civil claims:

Davidson v. Case[edit]

Fanny and the freight (charges) were insured separately. An abandonment to the underwriter on the ship transfers the freight subsequently earned incident to the ship. Therefore where ship and freight were insured by separate sets of underwriters and the ship being a general ship, was captured and ship and freight were abandoned to the respective underwriters, who paid each a total loss; and the ship being recaptured; performed her voyage and earned freight; which was received from the consignee for the use of those who were legally entitled thereto. It was held that the underwriter on ship was entitled to recover the freight charges.[10][16]

Brotherston and Another v. Barber[edit]

Brotherston and Another had insured Fanny's cargo against loss. Barber was the insurer. Brotherston claimed that he was due the full sum insured as a total loss. At the time of the claim this was the case and he had abandoned all rights to the vessel. The court found that the plaintiffs were only due a partial loss.[9]

The Fanny [1 Dods 443][edit]

The Portuguese owners of the cargo contested Sceptre's claim for marine salvage. They contended that their property was neutral in this conflict and would not have been declared as a prize in an American prize court. The crown contended that lading the goods on an armed merchant vessel of one of the conflicting states surrendered this neutrality to that state. The courts found in favour of Sceptre, agreeing that the cargo owner had forfeited neutrality by lading his goods on an armed merchant vessel from one of the warring states.

This case is often cited in text books of international law.[17][18]


  1. ^ John Knox's older brother was christened James Brotherston Laughton
  2. ^ John Knox's Who's Who entry describes his father as 'master mariner and in times of war captain of a privateer'
  3. ^ 1812 letters of Marque (National Archives)
  4. ^ Lloyds List 31 Aug 1813
  5. ^ Reports of prize cases determined in the High court of admiralty, before the Lords commissioners of appeals in prize causes, and before the Judicial committee of the Privy council, from 1745-1859
  6. ^ a b c Williams, Gomer (1897) History of the Liverpool privateers and letters of marque with an account of the Liverpool slave trade.
  7. ^ a b John A. McManemin, Captains of the Privateers of the War of 1812 (New Jersey: Ho-Ho-Kus publishing company, 1994)
  8. ^ Lloyd's List 26 June 1814
  9. ^ a b Cases argued and determined in the Court of King's Bench, Vol V, George Maule & William Selwyn, London 1823, p418 [1]
  10. ^ a b c Davidson v Case, Reports of Cases Argued and determined in the Court of Common Pleas, Vol V, John Bayly Moore, London 1823 [2]
  11. ^ "No. 16973". The London Gazette. 7 January 1815. p. 29. 
  12. ^ Lloyds List 17 June 1814
  13. ^ Lloyds List 24 June 1814
  14. ^ Lloyds List 28 June 1814
  15. ^ "No. 16976". The London Gazette. 17 January 1815. p. 90. 
  16. ^ Cases argued and determined in the Court of King's Bench, Vol V, George Maule & William Selwyn, London, 1823, p79 [3]
  17. ^ Principles of the law of nations, with practical notes and supplementary essays on the law of blockade, and on contraband of war
  18. ^ The Law of Naval Warfare, J. A. HALL, LL.B., B.A., London, Chapman and Hall 1914