Since the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, Royal Navy blockade squadrons controlled the Mediterranean and Napoleon seized on the opportunity afforded by the withdrawal of the Russian navy from the Ionian Islands in the wake of the Treaty of Tilsit of 1807 to build up a presence in the Adriatic which was bordered by French satellite territories including the Kingdoms of Italy and Naples and the Illyrian Provinces. He was soon challenged by the British who, in a series of actions culminating in the Battle of Lissa, in 1811, secured their supremacy in this arena too. By the time of Napoleon’s surrender in 1814, only Corfu remained in French hands.
Our action took place some fifteen months earlier on 6 January 1813. I was fortunate to discover the original report of it, published in The Gazette on 12 June 1813 as follows:
“Copy of a letter from the Honourable Captain Cadogan of His Majesty’s Ship Havannah, addressed to Captain Rowley of the Eagle, and transmitted by Rear-Admiral Fremantle to John Wilson Croker, Esq.
His Majesty’s Ship Havannah, Adriatic
January 10, 1813
In reporting the capture of the enemy’s gun boat No. 8 of one long twenty-four-pounder and thirty-five men, commanded by Monsieur Joseph Florens, Enseigne de Vasseau, I must beg leave to call your attention to the great skill and gallantry with which this service was executed by the First Lieutenant, William Hamley, the officers and men under his orders, who, with only a division of this ship’s boats, at two o’clock in the afternoon of the sixth instant, attacked and carried the above vessel, far superior to them in force, prepared in every respect and supported by musketry from the shore, where she was made fast: our boats not having the expectation of meeting an armed vessel, till (upon opening the creek where she lay) they were fired upon and desired by the troops on the shore to surrender: I have to lament the loss of a very fine young man, Mr. Edward Percival, Master’s Mate, killed, and two seamen wounded. Three merchant vessels were also taken.
I have the honour to be, &c,
(signed) Geo. Cadogan
C Rowley, Esq., Captain of His Majesty’s Ship Eagle.
Reading this laconic account, one wonders what caused the captain to send out a division of his ship's boats on this January afternoon. Was it a training excercise or did he take the opportunity of a fine winter's day to explore a strange coastline. The Havannah had sailed for the Mediterranean on Christmas Day 1812 and was detached to the north Italian Coast at the beginning of 1813, so would only just have taken up her position there. Whatever the reason, they underestimated the presence of the enemy.
It speaks for itself.
Sacred to the Memory of
Mr Edward Percival, Late Master’s Mate in the Royal Navy
Who fell Gallantly fighting his Country's Cause
In an attack upon an Enemy of far Superior Force, in a
Boat belonging to his Majesties Frigate Havannah
Captain Honble George Cadogan
on the 6th January 1813
on the Coast of Istria in the Adriatic
Aged 21 Years.
His amiable Heart and Noble Disposition secured him
the Esteem and Friendship of all who knew him.
Whilst his Public Conduct ever Intitled him to the approbation
of those Officers with whom he served.
In testimony whereof
The Captain and Officers of the Havannah
have Caused this Monument to be Erected to his Memory
as a Sincere Tribute to Departed Worth
as well as of their admiration of the Heroic Manner
in which He fell.
Intered on Brioni.