H.M.S. Serapis vs the Bon Homme Richard


Robert Dodd. ” the Gallant Defense of Captn. Pearson in his Majesty’s Ship SERAPIS, and the COUNTESS OF SCARBOROUGH Arm’d Ship Captn. Piercy, against Paul Jones’s Squadron, whereby a valuable Fleet from the Baltic were prevented from falling into the hands of the Enemy ” London: John Harris, 1 Decr. 1781. Engraving by J. Peltro. 12 x 17 1/2. Early hand color. Trimmed to plate marks, mounted on old board. Stable. Very good appearance.

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One of a number of British prints showing the battle between John Paul Jones’ Bon Homme Richard and H.M.S. Serapis. In 1779, John Paul Jones was given command of a French ship, the obsolete East Indiaman, Duras, 40 guns. He rechristened her the Bon Homme Richard in honor of Franklin’s highly popular Maxims of Poor Richard. Jones sailed for the English coast to await the Baltic fleet, where at dusk, off Flamborough Head on the Yorkshire coast, Jones sighted 41 merchant vessels, escorted by the Serapis, 44 guns. Jones proceeded to attack, in hopes of capturing the fleet. Lashed together most of the time, the ships pounded each other with fury. The captain of the Serapis called again and again for Jones’ surrender, which elicited Jones’ famous reply, “I have not yet begun to fight.” It was only when the main mast on the Serapis threatened to fall that her captain decided to surrender.

The title of this British print does not name Jones’ ship and calls attention to the fact that Jones led a squadron against the single British war ship. Subsequent historians have agreed that while Jones won the engagement, the strategic victory went to Captain Pearson because he prevented the Baltic fleet from being captured. The British Navy was able to use the supplies from the Baltic fleet to provision itself for the continuance of the war against Spain, France and Holland, as well as the American colonies. This scene, based on Dodd’s famous painting, shows the moment when the Alliance, captained by a jealous and half-mad Frenchman, poured a broadside into both ships when the Bon Homme Richard and Serapis were bound together. A classic image of an important sea battle.