“Captain Strachan”


"Here's a health to Captain Strachan" and his men. Three leagues from Aladdin Strachan sees the 36-gun frigate Moselle with 500 men out of Marseille. In the battle they board the Moselle, hoist the English colors and take the prize to Gibraltar.


Speculation! This seems to be about the Napoleonic Wars. Admiral Sir Richard Strachan -- pronounced Strawn -- one of Nelson's sea captains, engaged in a number of important battles.

On November 2, 1805, in _Caesar_ with eight other ships, [Strachan] captured four French warships that had escaped from Cadiz into the Bay of Biscay after the Battle of Trafalgar. The ships -- the _Duguay-Trouin,_ _Formidable,_ _Mont Blanc,_ and _Scipion_ -- were taken to Gibraltar (source: Houghton Mifflin Ships of the World site re HMS _Implacable_ [the British renamed _Duguay-Trouin_ "Implacable"]; 1911 Edition Encyclopedia site re Trafalgar; _Decision at Trafalgar_ by Dudley Pope,p. 92).

That seems likely to be the battle intended here. But there are problems with this speculation: (1) There is only one French warship in the ballad and the warships named Moselle during the Napoleonic wars were British, not French, with 24 and 18 guns) (source: PlusNet webspace site re Index of 19th Century Naval Vessels) (2) The battle seems to take place outside Marseille -- that is, in the Mediterranean -- rather than at Cap/Cabo Ortegal at the northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula.

This battle is the only reference to Strachan in _The Naval Achievements of Great Britain, From the Year 1793 to 1817_ by James Jenkins; there are no references there to Moselle. A quick scan of the London Times for the period of the Napoleonic Wars turned up no clues and no references to Crockett, Captain Strachan's second in command for the ballad.

As for the site of the battle "three leagues from Alladin" that is most likely a corruption of a real or imagined place on the Mediterranean coast of Africa.

Maybe this ballad is putting a positive spin on an attempted blockade of Rochefort by Strachan in 1808. In this case one French ship was crippled in a gale and returned to Rochefort but the other French ships made it safely to Toulon. This story ends near Marseille but Strachan's part takes place even farther north than his 1805 battle. Source: _Britannia Rules_ by C. Northcote Parkinson (Sutton, 1992) p. 135.

It would be nice to have a broadside for this one that might resolve the conflicts. Incidentally, Admiral Strachan's adversary in the Bay of Biscay after Trafalgar was Admiral Villeneuve [the loser at Trafalgar - RBW]; Roud's broadside database cites "Captain Villineuve's Whimsical and Laughable Tale" starting "Long had Gallia been forc'd by Britannia to bow" which may refer to that battle or may not -- he was on the losing side of a number of other important battles -- or may have nothing to do with this Villeneuve at all. - BS

In addition to the Strachan references cited above, he also figures in "Admiral Strachan's Victory," on p. 304 of C. H. Firth, _Publications of the Navy Records Society_ , 1907 (available on Google Books). It refers to another fight by Strachan, on November 4 of an unnamed year. - RBW


  1. Peacock, pp. 990-991, "Captain Strachan" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Roud #9814
  3. BI, Pea990


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1958 (Peacock)
Keywords: battle navy war
Found in: Canada(Newf)