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Views of naval engagements and maps of battles

Robert Dodd (1748-1815)

Île d'Aix, 1809

To Admiral LORD GAMBIER, Commander in Chief, the Honb.le REAR ADMIRAL STOPFORD, SIR HARRY NEALE B.T first Captain of the Fleet, the several Captains, the Officers, & Seamen / under their Command, this PLATE, representing... 1809 or later

Aquatint with etching and engraving; printed on paper; laid down on paper, the paper backing brought round the edges of the recto | 41.7 x 64.9 cm (image) | RCIN 735145

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A view of Lord Gambier's attack, using fire ships, on the French fleet of the Île d'Aix on 11 April 1809. Napoleonic Wars (1803-15).

Admiral James Gambier (1756-1833), to whom this print is dedicated, had been made commander-in-chief of the Channel fleet in 1808. His fire ships are shown in this view attacking a French squadron which was en route for the West Indies. Gambier had earlier written to the Admiralty suggesting an attack using fire ships ('a horrible mode of warfare' he termed it); his message crossed with one from the Admiralty instructing him to do so, saying that twelve transport ships were being fitted out as fire ships, to be sent out accompanied by the rocket inventor William Congreve R.A. (1772-1828) and a supply of rockets and men trained to use them. The Admiralty further instructed Gambier to 'make an attack on the French fleet at their anchorage off Isle d'Aix, if practicable'.

The principal attack, which ultimately had the effect of indisposing the French fleet for several months, leaving the West Indies without support, was carried out by Thomas Cochrane (1775-1860), 10th Earl of Dundonald, who played a prominent and significant part in the defeat and neutralising of the French fleet. His name is not mentioned, however, in Dodd's dedication of this view. This may be because, following the completion of the action, Cochrane accused Gambier of not having followed up the attack of the fire ships swiftly enough with the ships of the line.

In the ensuing court martial, held between 26 July and 4 August, Gambier was honourably acquitted and Cochrane was viewed with dislike for what was perceived to be his unattractive behaviour towards the admiral. Following the court martial, Parliament gave a vote of thanks to Gambier, and a second vote of thanks to 'Rear-admiral the Honourable Robert Stopford, Captain Sir Harry Neale, captain of the fleet, and to the several officers and captains of the fleet under the command of Lord Gambier'. This form of words is very similar to Dodd's dedication of this print. As a post-scriptum, however, Napoleon is supposed to have said that had Gambier supported Cochrane with more alacrity he could have wiped out the French fleet instead of merely crippling it for a few months.

This print appears to be one of a pair with RCIN 735146.

  • Robert Dodd (1748-1815) (artist and publisher) [bottom left, below edge of view:] Painted by R. Dodd; [bottom left, below title:] Published by R. Dodd, N. 41 Charing Cross, near the Admiralty.

    Sir Robert Stopford (1768-1847) (dedicatee)

    Admiral James Gambier (1756-1833) (dedicatee)

    Sir Harry Burrard Neale (1765-1840) (dedicatee)

  • Watermark: None visible

    Condition: no fold lines. Verso: slight surface dirt

  • 38.5 x 64.9 cm (neatline)

    41.7 x 64.9 cm (image)

    44.5 x 69.9 cm (platemark)

    46.6 x 71.4 cm (sheet)

  • Printed title:

    To Admiral LORD GAMBIER, Commander in Chief, the Honb.le REAR ADMIRAL STOPFORD, SIR HARRY NEALE B.T first Captain of the Fleet, the several Captains, the Officers, & Seamen / under their Command, this PLATE, representing the Attack on the ENEMY'S FLEET by Fire Ships on the Night of the 11,,th of April 1809, is most respectfully Inscribed, / By their Obedient Servant, Rob.t Dodd. [bottom, below view]


    (Recto) [bottom left, black pencil, in Evelyn Heaton-Smith's hand]: XV.145; [bottom right, black pencil:] 5. (Verso) [bottom left, black pencil:] 200.b.(i).

    George III catalogue entry:

    Naval Engagement Lord Gambier's Attack on the Enemy's Fleet by Fire Ships on the night of the of April 1809: by R. Dodd.

  • From the collection of military and naval maps and prints formed by George III (1738-1820)

  • Subject(s)

    Île d'Aix, Poitou-Charentes, France (46°01'14"N 01°10'19"W)

  • Bibliographic reference(s)

    R.C. Blake, 'Gambier, James, Baron Gambier (1756–1833)', Dictionary of National Biography, 2004; online edition 2008.

    A. Lambert, 'Cochrane, Thomas, tenth earl of Dundonald (1775–1860)', Dictionary of National Biography, 2004; online edition 2012.

    R.T. Stearn, 'Congreve, Sir William, second baronet (1772–1828)', Dictionary of National Biography, 2004; online edition 2007.

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