The epic chase of the Essex by HMS Phoebe during the War of 1812 inspired Patrick O'Brian and the movie Master and Commander. Aboard Phoebe was a young Midshipman Allen Gardiner who recorded the events. These have been edited by John S Rieske into a new book Hunting the Essex: A Journal of the Voyage of HMS Phoebe 1813-1814 which is now available for pre-order in hardcover worldwide. It will be released on 30 June 2013.
In February 1813 the British frigate Phoebe set out on a secret mission that would involve sailing halfway around the world to attack American settlements in the Pacific Northwest. The United States, frustrated at the treatment of its shipping by the combatants in the Napoleonic Wars, had finally opened hostilities against the British in the previous June. From the American perspective the War of 1812 began with disasters in its invasion of Canada, but against all expectations the infant US Navy had scored significant victories at sea. The most strategically significant of these was the campaign by the frigate USS Essex, which had almost annihilated the lucrative British whaling trade in the south Pacific. Therefore, Phoebe was diverted to hunt down and destroy this highly successful commerce-raider.
After an epic search, Phoebe tracked her prey to neutral Valparaiso where the American frigate was blockaded and,in a very bloody battle, eventually captured. The American captain, David Porter, published a self-serving account of his actions which ever since has mired the battle in controversy, so this British naval eyewitness account is an important counter-balance. It is one of the lesser-known campaigns of a war which is currently celebrating its bicentenary, but its inherent drama inspired the plot of Patrick O'Brian's novel The Far Side of the World, although in its movie adaptation Master & Commander the American frigate is transformed into a French privateer.