Pierre Jean Van Stabel

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Pierre Jean Van Stabel
Vanstabel-antoine maurin.png
Portrait of Vanstabel, by Antoine Maurin
Born8 November 1744
Dunkirk, France
Died30 March 1797(1797-03-30) (aged 52)
Allegiance Kingdom of France
Service/branch French Navy
Years of service1778 — 1797
American Revolutionary War
French Revolutionary Wars
AwardsSilver sword offered by Louis XVI
Declared to have Bien mérité de la Patrie by the National Convention

Pierre Jean Van Stabel[note 1] (8 November 1744 in Dunkirk[1] – 30 March 1797 in Dunkirk[1]) was a French naval officer and rear-admiral, famous for his role in the Bataille du 13 prairial an 2.


Van Stabel was born to a family of sailors[1] and started a career in the merchant navy at the age of fourteen,[1][2] steadily rosing to the rank of sea captain.[2] In 1778, with the intervention of France in the American Revolutionary War, Van Stabel enlisted in the French Royal Navy as an auxiliary officer.[1][2]

Service on Rohan Soubise[edit]

Van Stabel's privateer Dunkerquoise in 1779.

Van Stabel took command of the privateer Dunkerquoise[3] In 1781, he was in command of the 22-gun corvette Rohan Soubise,[1] formerly the privateer Comtesse d'Artois purchased into service on 27 April 1781.[4]

Commanding Rohan Soubise, Van Stabel captured the British privateer Admiral-Rodney after a one-hour battle, in which he was twice wounded by musket bullets to the throat, relinquishing command of his ship just long enough to have the bullets removed from him body.[2] Too damaged in the battle to be taken as a prize, the privateer was then scuttled by fire.[2] King Louis XVI had a silver sword presented to him in recognition.[5]

Van Stabel later commanded another privateer, the Robecq.[3]

Service as captain the Channel[edit]

In 1782, Van Stabel was promoted to frigate lieutenant, and tasked with escort duty in the English Channel,[1] on various small warships.[5]

In 1787, Van Stabel was tasked with ferrying four large barges from Boulogne to Brest.[5]

In 1788, he conducted a hydrographic survey of the coasts of the English Channel;[1] he was given command of the lugger Fanfaron.[5][6]

Promoted to ensign in 1792, he took command of the frigate Proserpine, on which he left a one-year campaign in the Caribbean[1] and Saint-Domingue.[5]

In February 1793, with the outbreak of the War of the First Coalition,[5] Van Stabel was promoted to captain, and appointed to command the frigate Thétis.[1] He departed Brestin in April[5] and led a four-month campaign in the English Channel, capturing around forty British merchantmen.[1][5]

Service as rear-admiral the Channel[edit]

In November of the same year,[5] Van Stabel was promoted to rear-admiral, and took command of a division comprising six ships of the line,[1] with his flag on the 74-gun Tigre;[5] the other ships were the 74-gun Jean Bart, Tourville, Impétueux, Aquilon and Révolution, with a screenning force comprising the frigates Insurgente and Sémillante, and the brigs Ballon and Espiègle.[7]

On 16 November,[7] the division departed Brest to intercept a British convoy in the Channel.[1] Instead of the convoy and its expected four-ship escort[note 2] under Sir John Jervis,[7] Van Stabel's division met a 28-ship squadron under Admiral Howe.[1] Van Stabel ordered a retreat, but Sémillante's inferior nautical qualities made her lag behind the division, and she was soon overhauled by a British frigate;[7] Van Stabel sailed Tigre independently to rescue her,[7] and in the course of a chase that lasted several days,[8] managed to pry seventeen merchantmen for the convoy[9] without granting Howe a head-on engagement before returning to Brest.[1] Only Espiègle was captured by two frigates on the 29th.[9]

Atlantic campaign of May 1794[edit]

Later than year, Van Stabel was tasked with escorting a food convoy gathered by Captain Émeriau, of the frigate Embuscade,[10] from the Chesapeake to France.[1] The convoy departed in April, counting 170 ships.[10] The pursuit of the convoy of the Royal Navy was the focus of the Atlantic campaign of May 1794 which culminated with the Bataille du 13 prairial an 2 ("Glorious First of June"). The convoy arrived at the scene of the battle on 3 June and found the debris left by the battle; Van Stabel considered whether to keep his route for fear that the British fleet might ambush him, but decided that the quantity of wreckage was a sign that both fleets had had to return to harbour.[11] He continued on, and eventually reached Brest unharmed on 13 June, without losing any ship,[1] and having augmented his convoy with forty prizes.[11] The National Convention voted a decree that Van Stabel had Bien mérité de la Patrie.[11]

During the Croisière du Grand Hiver, Van Stabel commanded the light squadron of Villaret-Joyeuse's fleet, he lost none of this ships.[1][11]

Later service[edit]

In 1796, the French Directory decided to reopen the shipping lines on the Scheldt, and tasked Van Stabel to lead two brigs and four gunboats to escort eight merchantmen to Antwerp[1] (six French and two Swedish).[11] Van Stabel managed to sail by several Dutch forts without engaging them.[1]

Van Stabel then returned to Vlissingen to conduct patrols in the North Sea[1] at the head of a division comprising four frigates and a number of corvettes.[12] However, his declining health forced him to return to Dunkirk, where he died soon after[1] of a chest disease.[12]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ Sometimes written "Vanstabel"
  2. ^ Troude (p.291) states that the French expected five ships of the line


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Levot, p.528
  2. ^ a b c d e Hennequin, p.271
  3. ^ a b Préparation Militaire Marine de Dunkerque Amiral Pierre Vanstabel, by Jean Bouger. Sous-mama.org
  4. ^ Roche, p.385
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hennequin, p.272
  6. ^ Roche, p.192
  7. ^ a b c d e Troude, p.291
  8. ^ Hennequin, p.273
  9. ^ a b Troude, p.292
  10. ^ a b Hennequin, p.274
  11. ^ a b c d e Hennequin, p.275
  12. ^ a b Hennequin, p.276


  • Bordonove, Georges (1974). Les marins de l’an II. Paris: Robert Laffont.
  • Gardiner, Robert (2001) [1996]. "The Glorious First of June". Fleet Battle and Blockade. Caxton Editions. ISBN 1-84067-363-X.
  • Hennequin, Joseph François Gabriel (1835). Biographie maritime ou notices historiques sur la vie et les campagnes des marins célèbres français et étrangers (in French). 2. Paris: Regnault éditeur.
  • Levot, Prosper (1866). Les gloires maritimes de la France: notices biographiques sur les plus célèbres marins (in French). Bertrand.
  • Roche, Jean-Michel (2005). Dictionnaire des bâtiments de la flotte de guerre française de Colbert à nos jours. 1. Group Retozel-Maury Millau. ISBN 978-2-9525917-0-6. OCLC 165892922.
  • Six, Georges (1934). Dictionnaire biographique des généraux et amiraux de la Révolution et de l’Empire. Paris: Georges Saffroy éditeur.

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