A depiction of historic significance, an American piratical schooner is under attack by the small gunboats of the British brig DIANA off the coast of China. The senior Buttersworth painted this scene during the time of the event, which took place on August 8, 1807, off of Macao Roads, which is in view to the right.
Factual elements of the scene lend historic importance and a certain charm. A gunboat rescues British officer Lieutenant Kempthorne, who was badly wounded in the first attempt to board the American privateer, from the chilly pacific ocean. The crew on board the schooner makes ready its sails, knowing they need to make way before the warship closes or the small boats successfully board, which in this instance they did, despite the small arms fire and reported bloody defense of the Americans. TOPAZ appears to fade from the known records after this engagement.
Scenes of American privateers or pirates are extremely rare. This engaging work harkens one back to the turmoil of the 18th century’s end, with France at war with Great Britain and American merchant shipping interests preyed upon by both nations. The patriotic Americans that took to sea in their country’s defense were privateers, licensed or not. In the eyes of the Europeans, they were opportunistic marauders with not but profit in their hearts. Buttersworth does tribute here to the character of both sides, in this fine quality marine narrative of a skirmish half a world away.
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