30 December

Chesapeake's men attack Captain Broke

Shannon Takes U.S. Ship

British prestige was greatly shaken soon after the outbreak of the War of 1812, when several warships of the proud Royal Navy were sunk or captured by the upstart Americans. On December 30, 1812, H.M.S. Java surrendered to the U.S. Constitution. In August the Constitution had captured H.M.S. Guerrière, whose captain was court-martialed although he had been wounded in the fight, and seventy-seven of his men killed.

Captain Broke of H.M.S. Shannon vowed to take revenge by capturing the Constitution and towing her into Halifax. Broke had one of the best-trained crews in the navy. He had a private fortune, and when the Shannon captured American merchant ships his share of the prize money was distributed among the sailors.

The Shannon sailed from Halifax on March 13, 1813, white sails billowing as it glided magnificently past George's Island. For two months Captain Broke searched for the Constitution, capturing twenty-five American ships during the chase. Constitution had been in Boston for a refit, however, and escaped the British cruisers during a fog.

Broke learned that another outstanding American ship, Chesapeake, was in Boston, and he sent a message to its captain, Lawrence: "As the Chesapeake appears now ready for sea, I request you will do me the favour to meet the Shannon with her and try the fortune of our respective flags. Choose your terms but let us meet." Lawrence was one of the best American captains, a giant of a man, who had recently defeated another British ship, the Peacock, and he accepted the challenge immediately.

Chesapeake had heavier guns than Shannon so Captain Broke decided to try to manoeuvre close and get his men on board. The battle began at five minutes to six and was all over in fifteen minutes. Broke's men remained below decks until the two ships were close. Then there was an exchange of gunfire in which Shannon's crew got the upper hand. Shannon managed to clamp boarding hooks on Chesapeake and the men scrambled over. The Americans were killed or captured in a few minutes. Shannon lost 83 men killed or wounded, while Chesapeake's casualties were 146, including Captain Lawrence, who was killed. When he was dying he uttered a phrase now famous in the U.S. Navy: "Don't give up the ship."


30 December

-1650    The Ursuline convent at Quebec was burned.

-1813    British and Canadian troops raided Black Rock and Buffalo in retaliation for an American attack on Newark, Ontario.

-1824    The Upper Canada Legislature at Toronto was destroyed by fire.

-1861    The 62nd Wiltshire Regiment landed at St. Andrews, New Brunswick because of the danger of war with the United States.

-1870    Manitoba held its first provincial election.