The Naval history of Great Britain:
from the declaration of war by France in 1793 to the accession of George IV
On the 20th January, six days after the USS President and store-brig Macedonian had escaped from New York, the Peacock, Hornet and store-brig Tom-bowline succeeded also getting to sea. On the 23rd the Hornet parted company from her two consorts, and proceeded straight to the island of Tristan d'Acunha, the first rendezvous for the squadron.
On the 20th of March Captain Biddle was informed of the peace by a neutral; and on the 23rd at about eleven o'clock in the forenoon, when just about to anchor off the north-end of the above island, the Hornet fell in with the British 18-gun brig-sloop Penguin, (sixteen 32-pound carronades and two sixes,) Captain James Dickenson.
[here James makes various explanations as to the poor performance of the Penguin in the action...I have edited these out as he has mentioned the same factors on previous occasions - poor crew, bolts drawing etc.]
The Penguin, when she first descried the Hornet, bearing from her north-west-by-west, was steering to the eastward, with the wind fresh from the south-south-west. With all the promptitude that was to be expected from the gallant first Lieutenant of the Cerberus in the action of Lissa, Captain Dickenson bore-up in chase. At three quarters past one in the afternoon, Tristan d'Acunha bearing south-west, distant three or four miles, the Penguin hoisted her colours, (a St. George's ensign,) and fired a gun to induce the stranger to show hers. The Hornet immediately luffed-up on the starboard tack, hoisted American colours, and discharged her broadside; and the Penguin, on rounding-to upon the same tack, fired hers in return. Thus the action commenced, within about pistol-shot distance. The Hornet's star and bar shot soon reduced the Penguin's rigging to a state of disorder; and a tolerably well-directed discharge of round and grape, meeting no adequate return, made a sensible impression upon the Penguin's hull.
At a quarter past two, as the latter drifted nearer, the Hornet bore-away, though with the resemblance of retiring from the contest, but in reality to take a more favourable position for doing execution with her gunnery. Captain Dickenson, on this bore-up with the intention to board. before however, this gallant officer could put his plan into execution, he received a mortal wound. Lieutenant James McDonald, who now succeeded to the command, aware of the brig's disabled state, saw that the only chance of success was to attempt his captain's measure. The Penguin, accordingly, at twenty-five minutes past two, ran her bowsprit between the Hornet's main and mizen rigging on the starboard side. The heavy swell lifting the ship ahead, the brig's bowsprit, after carrying away the former's mizen-shroud, stern-davit, and spanker-boom, broke in two, and the fore-mast went at the same moment, falling in-board directly upon the foremast and waist guns on the larboard or engaging side. These guns becoming, in consequence, completely disabled, and the after guns being equally so, from the drawing of the breeching-bolts,
Previous to which, the carronades, in their recoil, had frequently turned half round, and much labour and loss of time had ensued before they could be replaced. The drawing of the breeching bolts was stated in Lieutenant McDonald's letter to the Admiralty; and no doubt, similar complaints had been made in the case of the Avon, Reindeer, Epervier, and Peacock. This must have been one reason, and a very cogent one, too, for the non-appearance of the official accounts of those actions in the London Gazette.
an attempt was made to bring a fresh broadside to bear; but the penguin was in too unmanageable a state to be got round. In this dilemma no alternative remained; and at thirty-five minutes past two Lieutenant McDonald hailed to say, that the Penguin surrendered. After a lapse of twenty-five minutes, an officer from the Hornet came on board to take possession.
Out of a crew, as already stated, of 105 men and seventeen boys, the Penguin lost her commander, boatswain, and four seamen and marines killed, four others mortally wounded, and her second lieutenant, (very severely,) two midshipmen, (each of whom lost a leg,) purser's clerk, and twenty four seamen and marines wounded severely and slightly, chiefly the latter.
The Hornet received a few shots in the hull; one of which was so low down as to keep her men constantly at the pumps. Out of a crew of 163 men and two boys, the Hornet lost, by acknowledgement of her officers, only two seamen killed and eleven wounded; but, according to the observation of the British officers, her loss was much greater.