Battle of Kuhlan

USS Powhatan off Japan in the 1850's.
DateAugust 4, 1855
off Kuhlan, China, Ty-ho Bay
Result Decisive Anglo/United States victory
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Chinese Pirates
Commanders and leaders
23px William J. McCluney
United Kingdom William Fellowes
1 frigate
1 sloop-of-war,
1 steamer
~18 war junks
Casualties and losses
5 killed,
6 wounded,
1 frigate damaged
4 killed,
unknown wounded,
1 sloop-of-war damaged
500 killed or wounded,
~1,000 captured,
18 war junks sunk

  • Four captured merchant ships were liberated by the British and Americans during the battle.

The Battle of Kuhlan or the Battle of Ty-ho Bay was a significant naval battle involving the [[United Kingdom|British)) Royal Navy, the United States Navy and Chinese pirates. The 1855 surface action off Kuhlan, China in Ty-ho Bay was to rescue captured merchant vessels, held by a fleet of armed junks. British and American naval forces defeated the pirates.


Unlike the Atlantic Ocean where piracy was over by 1830, piracy in Asia and elsewhere in the Pacific continued to thrive as it had for centuries. Chinese and Japanese pirates constantly fought each other along China's coastal regions. Hundreds of pirate hideouts existed all over the Chinese coasts by 1855. This prompted western naval forces to fight them when they attacked shipping. Sometime in September 1855, the pirates of Kuhlan siezed four merchant vessels in that area. The Royal Navy sloop-of-war HMS Rattler and the paddle steamer Eaglet learned of the capture and decided to rescue the merchantmen.

USS Powhatan, a screw frigate of the East India Squadron, tagged along. USS Powhatan was the largest vessel engaged, she had a complement of289 officers and men. She mounted one 11-inch (280mm) Dahlgren gun, ten 9-inch (230mm) Dahlgren guns and five more 12-pounders. She was commanded by Commodore William J. McCluney. Rattler was commanded by Commodore William Fellowes and was manned by 180 officers and crew. The screw sloop-of-war was defended with a much smaller armament of ten carronades and two pivot guns. The number of crew and armament of Eaglet is unknown but she was origionally a civil vessel chartered for British naval service between 1855 and 1857.


Arriving in Ty-ho Bay on August 4, 1855, The three British and American vessels spotted a fleet of Chinese junks, at least eighteen ships. All of the junks carried small cannons and or held about 1,500 pirates altogether, armed with muskets, swords and other weapons. The Anglo/American squadron approached and observed the four vessels with the Chinese on deck. American and British forces first engaged at a distance, hoping to destroy some of the junks before having to close in. USS Powhatan engaged first as her guns had the farthest range. HMS Rattler moved in closer to bear their fire on the pirates. Eaglet did not engage in the battle and was likely used as a hosptal ship. Several of the junks were sunk by gunfire at this point.

HMS Rattler (left) and HMS Alecto (right) in 1845.

Some of the junks began to flee but most of them launched an attack on the navy sailors. As the range closed the action became a close quarters engagement. The navy sailors began boarding the Chinese ships, under heavy fire from the pirate cannon and their small arms. After taking several more ships and burining them, The Americans and Britons focused on the merchant ships were were quickly retaken.. Hostilities ended after eighteen junks were destroyed in battle along with an estimated 500 pirates killed or wounded and about 1,000 captured. The Americans and British lost nine men killed in total. Four men of the Rattler were killed and three American sailors and two marines were killed. Six United States Navy sailors were wounded and Powhatan sustained fair damage to her sails and rigging.


The battle is largely forgotten but monument was erected at Kuhlan in memory of the battle, it was later moved to Hong Kong.



John Pepper, Seaman, USS Powhatan, KIA James A. Halsey, Landsman, USS Powhatan, KIA Isaac Coe, Landsman, USS Powhatan, KIA S. Mullard, Marine, USS Powhatan, KIA B. F. Addamson, Marine, USS Powhatan, KIA 6 wounded

George Mitchell, A.B., HMS Rattler, KIA James Silvers, Carpenter's crew, HMS Rattler, KIA John Massey, Gunner R.M.A., HMS Rattler, KIA M. Oliff, Private, R.A., HMS Rattler, KIA