Playing with Torpedoes — a Near Miss

July 27, 1813
Playing with Torpedoes–a Near Miss
From the Centinel of Freedom, August 10, 1813,
reprinting an article from Norfolk of July 27, 1813

“Mr. E. Mix of the Navy, a gentleman of ingenuity and enterprize, has been for several weeks past preparing Torpedoes to attempt the explosion of some of the enemy’s shipping in Lynnhaven bay–The British 74 gun ship Plantagenet, that has for a month past been laying abreast of Cape Henry light house, and has rarely had the company of another light house, and has rarely had the company of another vessel, appeared to Mr. Mix as the most favorable object for trying the experiment on.

Accordingly on the night of the 18th July, accompanied by Capt. Bowman of Salem, and Midshipman Mr. Gowan of the U. S. Navy, who had volunteered their assistance during the whole of the enterprize, he left his place of rendezvous and proceeded down to the Plantagenet, 74, in a large open boat, which he calls the ‘Chesapeak’s Revenge,’ and from previous observations found no difficulty in ascertaining the position of the ship.  When he had got to within 40 fathom of her, he dropped the torpedo over, in the very instant of doing which he was hailed by one of the enemy’s guard boats.  The machine was speedily taken into the boat again, and he mad his way off in safety.”

Mr. Mix tried again on the 19th, 20th, 21st, 22d and 23rd without success.

“On  the night of the 24th, however, Mr. M. succeeded in finding her [the Plantagenet] out, and having taken his position within 100 yards distance in a direction with her larboard bow, he dropped the fatal machine into the water just as the centinel was crying all’s well.   It was swept along with the tide, and would have completely effected its errand but for a cause not proper to be named here, but which may be easily guarded against in future experiments, it exploded a few seconds too soon.  The scene was awfully sublime.  It was like the concussion of an earthquake attended with a sound louder and more terrific than the heaviest peal of thunder.  A pyramid of water 50 feet in circumference was thrown up to the height of 30 or 40 feet, its appearance was a vivid red tinged at the sides with a beautiful purple.  On ascending to its greatest height, it burst at the top with a tremendous explosion and fell in torrents on the deck of the ship which rolled into the yawning chasm below and had nearly upset; Impervious darkness again prevailed.  The light occasioned by the explosion, tho’ fleeting, enabled Mr. M. and his companions to discover that the forechannel of the ship was blown off, and a boat which lay along side with several men in her was blown up in the dreadful convulsoni of the waters.  Terrible indeed must have been the panic of the ship’s crew from the noise and confusion which appeared to our adventurers to prevail on board; and they are certain that nearly the whole ship’s crew hastily betook themselves to the boats.

Though he did not succeed on this occasion in destroying one of the enemy’s ships, Mr. Mix is rather encouraged than disheartened.  He is resolved to make another attempt as soon as time an circumstances will admit, and he appears confident from the experience which practice has given him, that he will be able to make future trials with a certainty of success.

Since the Torpedo Explosion on Saturday night, the Plantagenet has been guarded by a 74 and two frigates, which, with two or three tenders, comprize all the shipping at present in Lynnhaven.”
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About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden