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Action of May 6, 1801
Part of the French Revolutionary Wars
File:Capture of the El
The Action and Capture of the Spanish Xebeque Frigate El Gamo by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield
Date 6 May 1801
Location Off Barcelona (Spain)
Result British victory
File:Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931).svg Kingdom of Spain File:Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg Great Britain
Commanders and leaders
File:Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931).svg Don Francisco de Torris File:Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg Lord Thomas Cochrane
1 frigate 1 Brig
Casualties and losses
1 frigate captured,
14 killed and 41 wounded,
261 Spanish sailors captured.[1]
3 killed and 9 wounded[2]

The Action of May 6 1801 was a minor naval engagement between the 32-gun xebec-frigate El Gamo of the Spanish Navy under the command of Don Francisco de Torris and the much smaller 14 gun Brig HMS Speedy under the command of Lord Thomas Cochrane. El Gamo was subsequently captured. The skirmish is notable for the large disparity between the size and firepower of the El Gamo and HMS Speedy the former was around four times the size, had much greater firepower and a crew six times the size of HMS Speedy, which had a reduced crew of 54 at the time of the engagement.



In March 1800 Commander Lord Thomas Cochrane took over HMS Speedy an had been operating in the Mediterranean and had fought many actions from its base in Port Mahon in Menorca. Speedy was cruising off Barcelona at dawn on 6 May when a large enemy frigate was sighted. The frigate, a xebec-rigged vessel named Gamo, carrying 319 men, was armed with 8- and 12-pounder guns, with 24-pounder carronades commanded by Don Francisco de Torris.[3] This amounted to a total broadside of 190 pounds, more than seven times that of Speedy. Furthermore, Cochrane had only 54 men on board, having men away as prize crews.[4]


Instead of evading the frigate Cochrane closed on her, and at 9.30 am Gamo fired a gun and hoisted Spanish colours. In return Cochrane hoisted American colours.[4] The Spanish hesitated, allowing Cochrane to get closer, hoist British colours, and evade the first broadside. Gamo fired another, which Cochrane again evaded, holding fire until Speedy ran alongside her and locked her yards in her rigging.[5] Gamo attempted to fire upon her smaller opponent, but her guns were mounted too high and could not be depressed sufficiently, causing their shot to pass through Speedy's sails and rigging. Cochrane then opened fire with his 4-pounders double- and treble-shotted, their shots passing up through the sides and decks, the first broadside killing the Spanish captain and boatswain.[6]

Seeing their disadvantage the Spanish second-in-command assembled a boarding party, at which Cochrane drew off, pounded their massed ranks with shot and musket fire, before drawing in close again. After having their attempts to board frustrated three times, the Spanish returned to their guns.[6] Cochrane then decided to board the Gamo, and assembled his entire crew into two parties, leaving only the ship's doctor to command and crew Speedy.[7] The British then rushed the Gamo, boarding from bow and waist, the boarders at the bow had their faces blackened to look like pirates.[6] The Spanish faltered at this, and were then set-upon by the party that had boarded from the waist. There was a hard-fought battle between the two crews, until Cochrane called down to the doctor, at the time the only person on Speedy, ordering him to send the rest of the men over. At the same time he ordered the Spanish colours to be torn down.[8] Thinking that their officers had surrendered the ship, the remaining Spanish seamen stopped fighting.


The British had lost three men killed and nine wounded, while the Spanish had lost 14 killed and 41 wounded with the rest captured; a total casualty list exceeding Speedy's entire complement.[9] The British then secured the Spanish prisoners below deck and made their way back to Port Mahon, Menorca. Finding that he had been beaten by such an inferior foe, the Spanish second-in-command asked Cochrane for a certificate assuring him that he had done all he could to defend his ship.[8] Cochrane obliged, with the equivocal wording that he had 'conducted himself like a true Spaniard'.[8]. El Gamo was subsequently sold to the ruler of Algiers as a merchantman.


  1. ^ Cordingly p.58.
  2. ^ Cordingly p.58.
  3. ^ Adkins. The War for all the Oceans. p. XXII. 
  4. ^ a b Adkins. The War for all the Oceans. p. XXIII. 
  5. ^ Henderson. Frigates, Sloops and Brigs. p. 245. 
  6. ^ a b c Henderson. Frigates, Sloops and Brigs. p. 246. 
  7. ^ Adkins. The War for all the Oceans. p. XXIV. 
  8. ^ a b c Adkins. The War for all the Oceans. p. XXV. 
  9. ^ Henderson. Frigates, Sloops and Brigs. p. 247. 


  • Adkins, Roy; Adkins, Lesley (2007). The War for all the Oceans: From Nelson at the Nile to Napoleon at Waterloo. Abacus. ISBN 978-0-349-11916-8. 
  • Cordingly, David. (2007) (US title)"Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander." Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 448pp, ISBN 1-58234-534-1. (UK title) "Cochrane The Dauntless: The Life and Adventures of Thomas Cochrane, 1775-1860" London: Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-0-7475-8088-1
  • Henderson, James (2005 [1975]). Frigates, Sloops and Brigs: An Account of the Lesser Warships of the Wars from 1793 to 1815. Barnsley: Pen and Watch. ISBN 1-84415-301-0. 

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