Action of 6 May, 1801

Painting from 1845 of the battle between HMS Speedy and El Gamo. Original by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield, in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Location Barcelona, Spain

The 14-gun brig HMS Speedy was cruising off Barcelona on 6 May, 1801, when she spotted a Spanish frigate shortly after dawn. Spain and England being at war, Speedy's captain, Thomas Cochrane, decided to go exchange formalities. The Spaniard turned out to be the 32-gun frigate El Gamo, with three times the displacement of Speedy. She also had six times Speedy's crew. Undaunted, Cochrane hoisted an American flag to allow him to get close, then after running up the Union Jack and avoiding El Gamo's first two broadsides, brought Speedy alongside under the Spaniard's guns. Unable to hit Speedy's hull, El Gamo tried to board, but Cochrane handled his ship well, and danced in and out of point blank range, until he finally ordered a boarding action. After a fierce fight, the British tore down the Spanish flag, convincing the crew that the officers had surrendered. The Spanish lost more killed and wounded than Speedy had crew aboard, fourteen and forty-one, respectively. Speedy lost three killed and nine wounded. El Gamo was taken back to Minorca, and subsequently sold to Algiers as a merchantman.