Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
HM Sloop Penguin Collection, 1814-1815

Finding aid created by
Philip Heslip, November 2009

Summary Information
Title: HM Sloop Penguin collection
Creator: Anonymous
Inclusive dates: 1814-1815
Extent: 0.25 linear feet
The HM Sloop Penguin collection contains watercolor illustrations, photographs, a crew member's letter, and a journal, all related to the British cruiser that was sunk by the American Navy, just after the end of the War of 1812.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Donated, 2003. M-4268.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

HM Sloop Penguin Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


This collection contains four types of documents: Watercolor illustrations, Photographs, a Letter, and a Journal.


The HM Sloop Penguin was a cruiser class ship built by the British in 1813. The USS Hornet captured the 20-gun cruiser on March 23, 1815, near the island Tristan da Cunha, over a month after Britain and the United States signed the Treaty of Ghent, ending the war. The Penguin and the Hornet were, however, stationed in one of the most remote areas of the Atlantic Ocean and had not yet heard the news. The Penguin , captained by James Dickerson, opened fire on the Hornet , which was lead by Master Commandant James Biddle. By the end of the battle, the Penguin was damaged beyond repair and ten of the Penguin 's crew, including Captain Dickerson, were killed, with 28 wounded. The 118 captured British sailors were sent to Rio de Janeiro in the U.S. Schooner Tom Bowline .

Collection Scope and Content Note

The HM Sloop Penguin collection consists of 4 watercolor illustrations, 2 photographs, 1 letter, and one journal.

The Watercolor illustrations series contains four scenic views, presumably of St. Helena or Tristan da Acunha, tall ships in a small harbor, two distinct land masses, and a small settlement with fortifications.

The letter, dated February 18, 1815, is from a HM Sloop Penguin crew-member, writing to his sister, Mrs. Samuel Trigge, in Chelsea, England. The letter recounts many of the Penguin 's movements as they search for an American privateer that had recently captured an English ship. The letter describes the Penguin 's upcoming trip, which they did not complete, from the Cape of Good Hope to St. Helena, then on to the Island of Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, and finally back to the Cape of Good Hope. The letter describes the author's employment prospects and the possibility of returning to England, as well as his observations of life at the Cape of Good Hope.

The photographs are reproductions of a silhouette of a military man, presumably James Dickinson, and of a fine pen and ink drawing of a ship in a storm.

The journal has a monogram on the spine reading "S B." The volume's 81 pages (148 blank pages) document the Penguin 's voyages from August 17, 1814-March 22, 1815. The author dutifully noted wind and weather conditions and often included important events on the ship and ashore. The journal's daily entries vary from a few lines to an entire page, and ends on March 22, just one day before the Penguin 's capture.

Subject Terms

    • Ascension Island (Atlantic Ocean)
    • Atlantic Ocean--Description and travel.
    • Cape of Good Hope (South Africa)--Description and travel.
    • Great Britain. Navy--History--War of 1812.
    • Islands--Pictorial works.
    • Islands of the Atlantic--Pictorial works.
    • Penguin (Sloop of war)
    • Privateering--United States--History--19th century.
    • Sailing--Atlantic Ocean.
    • Sailing ships--Pictorial works.
    • Sailors--Great Britain--Diaries.
    • Tristan da Cunha.
    • United States--History--War of 1812--Naval operations.
    • Voyages and travels.
    • Weather.
    Subjects - Visual Materials:
    • Watercolor painting--19th century.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Logbooks.
    • Photographs.
    • Silhouettes.
    • Watercolors (paintings)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   1 Folder   1
    Watercolor illustrations,  September 1813-December 31, 1814 [series]
    Box   1 Folder   2
    Letter and photographs,  February 18, 1815, and  undated [series]
    Box   1  
    Diary,  August 17, 1814-March 22, 1815 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The Clements Library holds the following related item:

    Biddle, James. Letter from the Secretary of the Navy, to the Committee on Naval Affairs ... December 21, 1815 .... [Washington, 1815].

    The Nimitz Library at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, holds an orderly book of the HM Sloop Penguin from 1810-1814.