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Battle of Nam Quan

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Battle of Nam Quan

Battle of Nam Quan
Part of Piracy in Asia

A picture of a Chinese junk (left) and a lorcha (right).
Date May 10, 1855
Location off Nam Quan, China, South China Sea
Result Anglo/Chinese victory
United Kingdom
Qing dynasty
Chinese Pirates
1 sloop-of-war
~500 pirates
1 lorcha
7 war-junks
Casualties and losses
3 killed
1 sloop-of-war damaged
~500 killed or wounded
3 war-junks sunk
1 lorcha captured
4 war-junks captured

  • Several captured merchant ships were present at the battle, all but one were retaken by the British.

The Battle of Nam Quan was fought in 1853 as part of a British anti-piracy operation in China. A Royal Navy sloop-of-war encountered eight pirate ships near Nam Quan and defeated them in a decisive action with help from armed Chinese civilians on land.[1]


For years the United Kingdom, the Qing dynasty, the United States and the Portuguese of Macao operated against the pirates of southwestern China. It took decades to finally clear the South China Sea of pirate junks. The largest problem was that the western and Chinese navies did not have the naval strength to combat the pirates. However, operations continued despite the weakness and several significant battles were fought. Usually the sailors of the navies were heavily outnumbered and outgunned by the pirates but this did not prevent them from hunting and engaging the brigands wherever found.[2]


HMS Rattler of twelve guns was one of the Royal Navy vessels assigned to counter piracy in the early 1850s, she participated in several actions with pirates. On May 10, 1853, the Rattler found pirates off Nam Quan which is near the present day border with Vietnam. Just days before, a convoy of merchant ships was captured by the pirates who were holding the vessels off Nam Quan and demanding that a ransom be paid for their release. When the Rattler approached she opened fire at long range on the pirate flagship. This vessel returned fire but it was quickly sunk and under water. Rattler then engaged a second junk and sunk her too with gunfire before moving on to capture a third which was burned and then sunk.[3]

HMS Rattler (right) and HMS Alecto in 1845.

Disheartened the remaining pirate ships broke off the action and were beached by their crews. At least half of the 1,000 pirates escaped to shore but most of them were attacked by Chinese militia and killed. One group, after their ship was grounded, took over a merchant junk, killed its crew and began to flee. The British sent their cutter after it but when it closed in on the junk, the pirates opened fire and repulsed the attack. Three Britons were killed, one officer and two enlisted men. Out of over 1,000 pirates, 500 were estimated to have been killed or wounded, no prisoners were taken by the British. All four of the beached junks and the one lorcha were refloated and captured by the British. Eighty-four cannons were also taken along with the remaining merchant ships, the last captured junk escaped.[4]

See also


  1. ^ Wombwell, pg. 111
  2. ^ Wombwell, pg. 111
  3. ^ Wombwell, pg. 111
  4. ^ Wombwell, pg. 111


  • Wombwell, A. James (2010). The Long War Against Piracy: Historical Trends. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Combat Studies Institute Press.  

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