Battle of Hudson's Bay, 5 Sep 1697, Sieur Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, Captain of Le Pélican

Sieur Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, Captain of Le Pélican, Battle of Hudson's Bay, 5 Sep 1697


Sea Battle, Hudson's Bay, 1697

(Hudson's Bay calendar artwork by Wilkinson)

Sea battle, d'Iberville on the Le Pélican, engaging three British warships in Hudson's Bay, 5 Sep 1697.  

The Battle of Hudson's Bay, also known as the Battle of York Factory, was a naval battle fought during the War of the Grand Alliance (known in England's North American colonies as "King William's War"). The battle took place on 5 September 1697, when a French warship commanded by Captain Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville defeated an English squadron commanded by Captain John Fletcher.

This sea battle took place near present day Churchill, Manitoba.  Capitaine de Vaisseau (Captain) Sieur Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville (Sieur d'Iberville et d'Ardillières), (1661-1706) on his ship Le Pélican, attacked and defeated three Hudson's Bay Company ships, sinking two in a pitched naval battle near York Factory and Fort Nelson in Hudson Bay.  Two days after his victory, Le Pélican and an English vessel he had captured in the fight were wrecked in a gale with the loss of several of his men.  Le Pélican had been fatally damaged in the battle, and with holes below the waterline, Le Pélican had to be abandoned; it was run aground on 8 September.  Many of his crew reached the shore but then suffered severely from cold and exposure. The next day three more of his ships arrived, and with them, the French attacked the fort so vigorously that it was forced to surrender four days later.  (Three Decks Forum)

D'Iberville's flagship, Le Pélican, was part of a larger French squadron dispatched to contest English control of Hudson's Bay. Le Pélican, launched in January 1693, was a 500-ton Fourth-rate three-deck ship-of-the-line built to carry fifty guns at Bayone, Acquitaine, France.  She was crewed by a ship's company of 150 men, but could have accomodated a crew of 280.  On her Lower Gun Deck she carried 22 French 12-pounder smoothbore muzzle-loading (SBML) guns, another 20 French 8-pounder SBMLs on her Upper Gun Deck and 8 French 4-pounder SBML guns on her Quarterdeck.  Her available firepower gave her the ability to deliver a broadside Weight of 228 French Livres (246.0576 lbs/111.606 kg).  

Other ships in d'Iberville's fleet included Le Profond, a 460-ton 32-gun frigate/storeship, +2 guns from Le Pélican, commanded by Pierre Du Gué, Sieur de Boisbriand; Le Vesp/Weesph, a 300-ton frigate) with 20 to 26 guns, commanded by Captain Chatrie, chevalier de Chastrier; Le Palmier, a 300-ton 5th rate man-of-war frigate with 20 to 26 guns, commanded by Captain Joseph Le Moyne de Serigny; and the Violent renamed L'Esquimau/Esquimaux (the Eskimo), a 150-ton 10 to 12 gun brigantine supply ship commanded by Captain Jean Outelas.  Before the battle, Le Pélican became separated from the rest of the French squadron in heavy fog, but D'Iberville elected to forge ahead.  This set the stage for this little-known but spectacular single-ship action against heavy odds

As Le Pélican sailed south into clearer weather, she approached the trading post of York Factory, and d'Iberville sent a group of soldiers went ashore to scout out the fort while he remained on board.  While the shore party was scouting the fort, D'Iberville saw the sails and masts of approaching ships.  Thinking the rest of his squadron had arrived, he set off to meet them. D'Iberville quickly realized that the ships were not French, but were, instead, an English squadron when one fired a shot across the bow of Le Pélican.

The English squadron comprised the warship HMS Hampshire, a 479-ton 38-gun fourth-rate frigate under Captain Fletcher, HBC Royal Hudson's Bay, 200-tons, mounting 32 guns, commanded by Capt. Nicholas Smithsend and HBC Dering, 260-tons, mounting 36 guns, commanded by Captain Michael Grimington.  The Fireship HMS Owner's Love, 217-tons, commanded by Captain Lloyd, also joined the expedition although it had been crushed by ice earlier in the passage of the Hudson Strait.

D'Iberville, with his shore party out of reach, elected to give battle.  The battle began as a running fight, but after two and a half hours, D'Iberville closed with the English and a brutal broadside-to-broadside engagement took place between Le Pélican and HMS Hampshire. The English seemed to be gaining the upper hand with blood running from the scuppers of Le Pélican into the water. Captain Fletcher demanded that D'Iberville surrender, but D'Iberville refused. Fletcher is reported to have raised a glass of wine to toast D'Iberville's bravery when the next broadside from Pélican detonated HMS Hampshire's powder magazine. Hampshire exploded and sank.

Hudson's Bay and Dering seem to have played only a limited supporting role in the final stage of the engagement.  HBC Royal Hudson's Bay was damaged and struck her colours to Le Pélican after HMS Hampshire blew up.  HBC Dering broke off the engagement and fled, but Le Pélican was too badly damaged to pursue.

Le Pélican was also fatally damaged in the battle.  Holed below the waterline, the ship had to be abandoned, but the arrival of the remainder of the French squadron shortly thereafter led to the surrender of York Factory on 13 Sep 1697, and the continuation of D'Iberville's remarkable career.  


(Centre d'archives de Montréal. Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, Fonds Armour Landry, P97.)

Portrait of Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, French explorer and naval commander, founder of the Colony of Louisiana, Knight of the Order of Saint Louis, and a veteran of King Williams' War and the War of the Spanish Succession.

D'Iberville and His Ship, Le Pelican, Charles W. Jefferys.

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