A Philatelic History of the Royal Navy Pt 3 – 1778-1796

American Revolutionary War Cont’d

Battle of St Lucia – 1778

HMS Ariadne
HMS Ariadne
Launched in 1776, sold in 1814
A 20-gun sixth-rate post ship.
HMS Prince of Wales
HMS Prince of Wales
Launched in 1765, broken up in 1783
A 74-gun third-rate ship of the line.

The Battle of St. Lucia was a naval battle fought off the island of St. Lucia during the American War of Independence on 15th December, 1778, between the fleets of the French, under Admiral D’Estaing, and British, under Admiral Barrington sailing in HMS Prince of Wales accompanied by HMS Ariadne, HMS Pegasus and 13 warships. The Capture of St. Lucia was the result of a campaign by British land and naval forces to seize the island, which had been restored to France at the end of the Seven Years’ war. During the Battle of St. Lucia, the British fleet defeated a French fleet sent to reinforce the island. After two unsuccessful assaults on British ships, D’Estaing withdrew. Later, on the same day, he landed 7,000 troops for an assault on British lines. A few days later these French troops were soundly defeated by the British during the Battle of Morne de la Vierge. Although British forces were heavily outnumbered, they were experienced troops, veterans of fighting in America, and in comparison, the French troops were relatively inexperienced. With another British fleet commanded by John Byron arriving shortly, French troops re-embarked on their ships and returned to Martinique. The island then surrendered to the British.

HMS Pegasus
HMS Pegasus
Launched in 1777, wrecked off Moran Bay, Jamaica, in 1781.

The Battle of St. Lucia was a repeat of Britain’s successful tactics used during the Seven Years War which was to attack the enemy in their overseas possessions. St Lucia became a crucial base in the Lesser Antilles for the British fleet for the remainder of the war. It was instrumental in the British success in the battle of the Saintes where the French suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Admiral Rodney.

Capture of USS Alfred – 1778

USS Alfred
USS Alfred

The American vessel USS Alfred was originally built at Philadelphia in 1774 as a merchantman named Black Prince. Black Prince was purchased by the Naval Commission in 1775 and renamed USS Alfred. Alfred participated in two naval actions, the Battle of Nassau and the Battle of Block Island. Alfred was returning from France via the coast of Africa with captured prize vessels when she met up with HMS Ariadne and HMS Ceres near Barbados. After a chase and a half-hour battle Alfred surrendered. She was taken to Barbados and sold. However, the Royal Navy subsequently purchased her and renamed her HMS Alfred. She was later on sold in 1782.

HMS Ariadne
HMS Ariadne
HMS Ceres
HMS Ceres
Launched in 1777, captured by the French in 1778. Recaptured by the British in 1782, only to be retaken by the French in 1783.

HMS Nymph(e) – 1778-1883

A Swan-class 14-gun sloop, launched in 1778, lost in 1783.

HMS Nymph
HMS Nymph

Her first commission was with the East India fleet protecting British interests from American and French privateers and working as an escort to East India merchant convoys from Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras.

She returned to Britain in 1782 and was refitted after which she set sail for the West Indies. While anchored in Tortola, the British Virgin islands, a careless Purser’s steward caused a fire to break out. She was abandoned by the crew, burnt to the water line and sank in Road Town’s harbour.

Battle of Ushant – 1778

HMS Victory
HMS Victory
Launched in 1765, still in active service.
A 104-gun first-rate ship of the line.
The world’s oldest naval ship still in commission.

The First Battle of Ushant was the first major naval engagement in the American Revolutionary War. It was fought off Ushant, an Island at the mouth of the English Channel, with the British fleet under Admiral Augustus Kappel in HMS Victory, and the rear division under Sir Hugh Palliser in HMS Formidable. The result of the battle was indecisive and led to political conflicts in both countries. There was disorganization in the conduct of the British fleet and in the end, Kappel allowed the French fleet to sail off under the cover of darkness. Victory was badly damaged during the encounter.

Once back in England, Admiral Kappel resigned and was court marshalled. On the French side, a victory was widely celebrated until it later turned out that the battle was at best indecisive and Duke de Chartres, a prince of royal blood who was present at the battle, resigned from the navy in disgrace.

This was Victory’s first battle, a vessel that later became the most famous of all 18th century fighting ships and is still in active duty today. Her most famous and last battle was Trafalgar where Admiral Nelson was killed on her deck.

HMS Formidable
HMS Formidable
Launched in 1777, broken up in 1913.
A Barfleur-class 98-gun second-rate ship of the line.
Map of France & Ushant

Battle of Grenada – 1779

HMS Prince of Wales
HMS Prince of Wales
HMS Ariadne
HMS Ariadne

Both the French and British had built up their naval fleets in the Caribbean during the American Revolutionary War with the French based on Martinique and the British based on St Lucia. John Byron departed St Lucia to provide escort services to British merchant ships thus leaving Admiral Compte d’Estaing free to begin a series of operations against British possessions. With a fleet of 25 ships of the line, he seized St Vincent on 18 June and then followed this with an attack on Grenada which he captured on 4 July. When Admiral Byron heard that the French had captured Grenada, he immediately changed course to meet the threat with a fleet of 21 ships, including HMS Prince of Wales, under Vice Admiral Barrington, and HMS Ariadne. The attack was disorganized and with French superiority the British fleet was badly mauled. This British loss was described as “the most disastrous… that the British had encountered since Beachy Head in 1690.” However, d’Estaing failed to capitalize on his superior strength and launch further attacks on British islands.

Map of Battle of Martinique

Battle of Martinique – 1779

Also called the Combat de la Martinique.

A British fleet under Admiral Hyde Parker was anchored at St Lucia, while a French fleet under Toussaint-Guillaume Picquet de la Motte was undergoing a refit at nearby St Martinique. Parker was awaiting the arrival of Admiral Rodney, who was to lead the 1780 campaign. The British went out to meet an unknown fleet which turned out to be a supply convoy. Before Motte was able to muster some of his ships to meet the British, Parker managed to capture nine of the convoy ships, forcing four of them ashore. The loss to the French was significant, and Parker was sufficiently impressed by La Motte’s conduct during the battle to send him a congratulatory letter.

Battle of Martinique – 1780

Also called the Combat de la Dominique.

The battle took place between the French and British fleets following up on the Battle of Martinique the previous year.

Admiral Sir George Rodney
Admiral Sir George Rodney
(HMS Formidable took part in this battle)
HMS Ceres
HMS Ceres

The French had captured HMS Ceres in 1778, keeping her name, and she fought in the French fleet in this battle. In 1782 she was recaptured by Rodney’s fleet off the east coast of the Dominican Republic and renamed HMS Raven.

The French fleet under Compte de Guichen in Martinique was opposed by Admiral Sir George Rodney based in St. Lucia. When the ships sailed out to meet each other, due to a possible misunderstanding by the captain of the lead British ship, signals from Rodney were not followed which resulted in a drawn battle rather than a defeat of the French. Although the French had been thwarted from seizing Jamaica, the French had skillfully avoided a defeat at the hands of the English and avoided any harm to French islands in the Antilles. Both fleets avoided any further action with the approach of the hurricane season.

HMS Pegasus
HMS Pegasus and Prince William

HMS Pegasus was captained by Prince William, who was to become the future King William IV.

The Capture of USS Providence – 1780

USS Providence
USS Providence

After USS Providence was launched in 1776, she spent a year bottled up in Providence, Rhode Island. She eventually ran the blockade and escaped to France. She was later captured by the British in the defense of Charleston when the city fell and she served with the Royal Navy as HMS Providence.

Battle of Cap St Vincent – 1780

This was a battle that took place off the southern coast of Portugal between Spanish and British fleets, after Spain had joined France in the war in 1779. A key goal of Spain was to recover Gibraltar and Minorca from the British. In this battle, a British fleet under Admiral Sir George Rodney defeated a Spanish squadron under Don Juan de Langara. The battle is sometime referred to as the ‘Moonlight Battle’ because it was unusual for naval battles in the age of sail to take place at night.

Rodney was escorting a fleet of supply ships sent to relieve the Spanish siege of Gibraltar when he encountered Langara’s squadron south of Cape St Vincent. When Langara saw the size of the British fleet he attempted to flee to Cadiz, however the faster copper sheathed British warships chased his fleet down and the ensuing battle lasted from the afternoon late into the night.

HMS Royal George & Sir Edward Hawke
HMS Royal George
Launched in 1756, sank in 1782. A 100-gun first-rate ship of the line.
She is flying the Red Ensign. It was not until 1860 that Royal Navy ships flew only the White Ensign.

HMS Royal George took part in the battle and was the largest warship in the world at the time of her launching. She later sank in Spithead after being heeled over for repairs to her hull. She was heeled over past her centre of gravity and with the gun ports open she rapidly filled with water, rolled over and sank. Some of her bronze cannons were later retrieved from the wreck and were melted down to form the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London.

HMS Pegasus & Prince William Henry
HMS Pegasus and Prince William Henry (The future King William IV)

Rodney captured four Spanish ships including Langara’s flagship and one Spanish ship blew up with a loss of all crew. After the battle, Rodney successfully resupplied Gibraltar and Minorca before continuing on to the West Indies station. Rodney was lauded for his victory, the first major victory of the war by the Royal Navy over its European opponents. HMS Pegasus participated in the battle under Captain John Bazely. The ship was later placed under the command of Prince William Henry, the future King William IV.

Capture of HMS Trepasy – 1781

HMS Trepasy & USS Alliance
HMS Trepasy and USS Alliance
USS Alliance
A 36-gun frigate originally named Hancock. Launched in 1778 and sold into merchant service in 1785. She was thought to be the finest naval vessel built to date in America.

The HMS Trepasy was originally launched by the Americans as Wildcat. She was captured by the British in 1779 and renamed Trepasy. In the Atlantic, a few days off Boston, Trepasy, accompanied by HMS Atlanta, gave chase to a strange sail they had spotted but they soon realized that their quarry was a much larger vessel the USS Alliance. In the ensuing action both Trepasy and Atlanta struck their colours and were captured. Prisoners were transferred to Trepasy which then sailed for Halifax for a prisoner exchange. Atlanta was re-captured later that year by the British.

Capture of the Continental Frigate Confederacy 1781

Frigate Confederacy
The Frigate Confederacy

After the Confederacy was launched in 1778, she cruised the Atlantic coast capturing British prizes. In 1781, homeward bound escorting merchant ships from the Caribbean, she encountered HMS Roebuck and HMS Orpheus off the Delaware Cape. After a brief encounter she was forced to strike her colours and was captured and put into service as HMS Confederate.

Battle of Porto Praya 1781

This battle took place between a British squadron and a French squadron at Porto Praya (now Paia) in the Cape Verde Islands. Both squadrons were on their way to the Cape of Good Hope, the British to take it from the Dutch, the French to help defend the Cape and French possessions in the Indian Ocean. The French attacked the British ships at anchor. The resulting battle was inconclusive as the encounter was unexpected and neither fleet was prepared to do battle. The French sustained more damage than the British, although no ships were lost.

HMS Jason & Captain McBride
HMS Jason and Captain McBride.
Launched in 1763, broken up in 1785.
A 32-gun Richmond-class fifth-rate frigate.
In 1776, Jason and two other ships secured the Falkland islands as British Territory.

However, the French did gain a strategic victory as they arrived at the Cape first and were able to reinforce the Dutch garrison before continuing on to the Ile de France, now Mauritius, to defend French possessions. HMS Jason took part in the battle.

Battle of Chesapeake Bay – 1781

HMS Barfleur
HMS Barfleur
Launched in 1768, broken up in 1819. A 90-gun second-class ship of the line. She was flagship of Admiral Hood during the American War of Independence

This was a crucial battle in the American Revolutionary War that took place near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on 5 September 1781; it was the naval action during the Battle of Yorktown. The British fleet was led by Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Graves and a French fleet led by The Compte de Grasse. The battle was strategically important in that it prevented the Royal Navy from reinforcing or evacuating the forces of General Cornwallis at Yorktown. The French were able to achieve control of the sea lanes against the British and provide the Franco-American army with siege artillery and French reinforcements. These proved decisive and effectively secured the independence of the thirteen colonies.

HMS Terrible & Ville de Paris
HMS Terrible and Ville de Paris.
Terrible was launched in 1762, burned in 1781.
She was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line.
Battle of Chesapeake Bay
The Battle of Chesapeake Bay by V. Zueg

Admiral Rodney had been tracking de Grasse around the West Indies and detached Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood to search for de Grasse’s destination in North America. In the meantime, Rodney, who was ill, departed for Europe with the rest of the fleet. Hood, in HMS Barfleur, arrived off the entrance to Chesapeake Bay before de Grasse and found no French ships there so continued to New York.

The Battle of Chesapeake Bay
La Peruse
La Perouse and the Battle of Chesapeake Bay

When the British realized Chesapeake was the target of French fleets, Graves sailed out of New York to meet with Hood’s force and sailed south to Chesapeake where they met with de Grasse. The ensuing battle resulted in a defeat for the British and a flurry of panic amongst the loyalist population in New York. The French success left them firmly in control of Chesapeake Bay completing the encirclement of Cornwallis, who later was forced to surrender in October of 1781. Even though there was a damaging exchange of fire, the engagement was a trivial one as far a naval battle goes. De Grasse drew off leaving Graves with several severely mauled ships. When Graves returned to Chesapeake Bay later in the year, with a fresh fleet, it was to no avail as General Cornwallis had just capitulated.

De Grasse could have continued on the New York as the next object of his attack but he lost interest in further American enterprises and returned to the Caribbean for richer prizes such as Jamaica with its large trade in sugar. This minor engagement, the result of which was that Cornwallis’s army could not be evacuated, showed in startling fashion that Britain’s traditional command of the seas could no longer be taken for granted.

Battle of St. Kitts – 1782

HMS Barfleur
During the Battle of St. Kitts, Barfleur was commanded by Captain (later Viscount) Hood and was the fleet flagship.

Also called the Battle of Frigate Bay. This was a naval battle that took place during the American War of Independence between a British fleet under Sir Samuel Hood and a larger French fleet under Comte de Grasse. The French attacked St. Kitts and Nevis with 7,000 troops and 50 warships including the Ville de Paris. Damage to both sides was extensive, though the French suffered higher casualties. Hood was unable to stop the French and could only stand by and observe the land action. St. Kitts and Nevis duly surrendered.

Map of Nevis, 1774
A French map of Nevis, 1774

Siege of Gibraltar – 1782

There have been fourteen recorded sieges of Gibraltar, a peninsular that occupies a strategic location at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. Four of these sieges were between Spain and Britain, and the Great Siege being the longest which started in 1779, ending in 1783. This was an unsuccessful attempt by Spain and France to capture Gibraltar from the British during the American War of Independence. At three years and seven months it was the longest siege endured by British armed forces. A combined French and Spanish fleet blockaded Gibraltar from the sea whilst a large land force constructed forts and batteries on land.

Gibraltar had been ceded to Britain in 1713 with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht. The French had negotiated the treaty ceding Gibraltar to the British but the Spanish felt betrayed by the French and so Spain was determined to regain territory she had lost. This was the start of Spain’s blockades of Gibraltar ending with the Great Siege.

First Relief – 1780

Charles Brisbane
Charles Brisbane
HMS Formidable
HMS Formidable and Sir George Rodney

In the spring of 1780, Admiral Rodney reached Gibraltar with badly needed supplies after defeating a Spanish fleet at the battle of Cap St Vincent and then capturing a Spanish convoy. Charles Brisbane was present at this first relief of Gibraltar.

Second Relief – 1781

A second naval relief in 1781 was carried out when 29 ships reached Gibraltar escorting 100 stores ships from England. The French and Spanish found it was impossible to starve the garrison out so they resolved to assemble a large army and fleet to carry out an assault on Gibraltar. On the night before the assault was planned the British garrison made a surprise sortie and routed the whole body of the besieging infantry, blowing up and spiking their cannons, setting fire to their batteries and killing and taking prisoner a large number of troops.

Final Relief – 1782

In 1782, the Admiralty considered plans for a major relief of Gibraltar, opting to send a larger but slower fleet. This fleet left Spithead under Richard Howe, arriving off Cap St. Vincent. The following evening a gale blew up scattering the Spanish and French fleets. This allowed Howe to sail unopposed to Gibraltar and deliver badly needed supplies, food, and ammunition. The siege continued for some months longer but in the spring of 1783 a peace agreement brought the hostilities to an end.

Battle of the Saintes – 1782

The French had been assembling a fleet in the West Indies under Admiral Compte de Grasse with which they hoped to capture the main island of the West Indies, Jamaica, which had a rich sugar economy. Admiral George Rodney was sent out to deal with this threat and sailed from Plymouth in January 1782. Compte de Grasse proceeded to attack and capture various British islands including St. Kitts, Nevis, and Monserrat. The next prize would be Antigua and Barbados. However, the weather was unsuitable for both fleets with heavy winds varying to mists and light winds.

HMS Endymion
HMS Endymion
Launched in 1797, broken up in 1868. A 40-gun fifth-rate ship of the line.
She was the fastest vessel during the age of sail.
HMS Russell
HMS Russell
Launched in 1764, sold out of service in 1811. A 74-gun third-rate ship of the line.
Russell under Captain James Saumarez engaging the Ville de Paris before her surrender.
HMS Formidable
HMS Formidable

HMS Endymion had lain silently watching Fort Royal, Martinique, and as soon as the French fleet was seen to be setting sail, she scurried back with this news. Both fleets headed north with the British in pursuit in light winds. With their ships sheathed in copper, the British could sail faster than the French and soon caught up to the fleet, much to the surprise of De Grasse. De Grasse made the decision to turn and head south to try to run the gauntlet. Both navies fell into the classic ‘line ahead’ battle station maneuver and approached each other. As the lines now passed each other, the ships opened fire and for an hour a devastating exchange of gunnery took place. At this point, Rodney’s pre-arranged tactics came into play. The centre of the British line turned inwards led by Rodney’s flagship HMS Formidable and broke through the straggling French line and a large gap opened up; Rodney started the rout of the French. Formidable duelled with De Grasse’s flagship Ville de Paris and was followed up by the rest of the British fleet raking the French, with the rearmost ship, HMS Russell, inflicting severe damage on the French ships. This was the first time the maneuver of ‘breaking the line’ had been used with devastating results.

HMS Canada
HMS Canada
The wrecked Hector, dismasted by HMS St Albans
HMS Duke
HMS Duke and HMS Agamemnon attacking the French Glorieux
HMS Formidable & HMS Namur
HMS Formidable and HMS Namur attacking Ville de Paris
Magnanime and Aimable
Breaking the line
Capture of the Ville de Paris
Capture of the Ville de Paris
HMS Barfleur and Triomphant
HMS Barfleur and the French Triomphant

De Grasse struck his colours from his flagship and surrendered. The British fleet then surrounded the French ships and the captured vessels were towed to Port Royal, Jamaica. This battle ensured the Royal Navy’s domination of the Caribbean seas for some time to come.

The French L’Orient burning
The American frigate Bonhomme Richard firing a broadside

French losses were large with some 5,000 soldiers and sailors lost and the flagship Ville de Paris and Admiral Compte de Grasse captured, compared to British losses of 230 killed and 800 wounded. This ruined France and Spain’s plans to invade Jamaica which remained firmly in British hands with no further threats.

HMS Ramilles caught in a storm
HMS Ramilles caught in the hurricane
A 72-gun third-rate ship of the line

Six months after the battle, HMS Ramilles, under Admiral Graves, was escorting a convoy of ships back to England from Jamaica that included the captured Ville de Paris, Glorieux, Hector and Ardent; all captured at the battle of the Saints. The convoy was caught in a violent hurricane off the coast of Newfoundland where the Ville de Paris, Glorieux and Hector were lost in the storm and Ramilles was so badly damaged she had to be abandoned and was subsequently burnt. A number of merchant ships were also lost along with some 3,500 lives.

France had been in dire financial straits at the beginning of the American War of Independence (American Revolutionary War) and was left in an even worse state at the end of the war. After a series of bad harvests at home, people were starving and they rose in rebellion to overthrow the absolute monarchy. This resulted in a power struggle which brought the country to the brink of civil war which alarmed the British who began to arm French nationalists. This led to the start of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1792.

The Capture of USS South Carolina 1782

Laid down in France as Indien, she was a frigate built for the U.S. Commissioners. She was regarded as one of the finest vessels in the Continental Navy.

In 1780 she was chartered to South Carolina and renamed USS South Carolina. She sailed to the Caribbean and then together with a fleet of 59 Spanish vessels sailed to the Bahamas to capture the British colony of New Providence, for the third time during the Revolutionary War. Following this she sailed to Philadelphia where she stayed for six-months.

USS South Carolina
USS South Carolina

In 1782, South Carolina was attempting to run the British blockade of Philadelphia when she ran into a squadron of three British ships, HMS Astrea, HMS Quebec, and HMS Diomede. After an 18-hour chase and a two-hour gun battle, she struck her colours and surrendered in the Delaware river. She was not put into service with the Royal Navy as she was too lightly framed for a warship, she was put up for sale and used as a merchantman.

HMS Astrea – 1782

Astrea was a 32-gun Fifth-Rate Active-class frigate launched in 1781, wrecked in 1808.

In 1782, Astrea and Quebec captured the American Frigate South Carolina attempting to run the British blockade of Philadelphia. She was chased for 18 hours before striking her colours.

Astrea is best known for the capture in 1795 of the larger 32-gun French ship Gloire in the English Channel.

HMS Astrea
HMS Astrea

In 1795 she Participated in the Battle of the Isle de Groix where the French ship Alexander was retaken, along with the Tigre and Formidable (subsequently renamed HMS Belleisle).

She saw action during the Napoleonic Wars capturing a number of Danish and French vessels.

Astrea was escorting a mail packet ship to the West Indies in 1808 when her captain mistook Anegada, the northern most island in the British Virgin Islands, for Puerto Rico and was wrecked on the deadly Horseshoe Reef. The captain was court-martialed but exonerated when the court held that the vessel foundered due to an extraordinary weather current.

Last Naval battle of the American Revolutionary War – 1783

USS Alliance
USS Alliance

HMS Alarm was in the company of HMS Sybil and HMS Tobago when they intercepted two American vessels, USS Alliance and a transport which was carrying bullion to the Continental forces. Both sides were unaware that the war had ended some two months before. During this battle, the American vessels escaped. This was the last naval battle of the American War of Independence.

HMS Arethusa – 1781

HMS Arethusa was a 38-gun Minerva-class frigate, launched 1781, broken up 1815. She served in three wars before being broken up.

HMS Arethusa
HMS Arethusa

In 1806, Charles Brisbane was given command of the frigate Arethusa which he took to the West Indies. in 1806 he ran Arethusa aground near the north east coast of Cuba. She got off by throwing all her guns overboard; she then sailed to Jamaica for a refit. The ship was involved in a number of actions in the West Indies including at Havana where she captured a Spanish frigate and blew up 10 supporting gun boats and a battery; the explosion in the battery may have been caused by some accident to the furnaces for heating shot.

In another action in 1807, Arethusa captured Curacao from the Dutch.

In 1808 Brisbane was appointed Governor of St. Vincent, a post he held till his death in 1829.

HMS Experiment – 1784

HMS Experiment was a 44-gun fifth-rate ship of the line, launched in 1784, scrapped in 1836.

HMS Experiment
HMS Experiment

Experiment was one of the fastest and most deadly ships of the day. First engaged in rather uneventful service around the south coast of England, the Experiment soon sailed forth to the Caribbean area to protect British interests from French revolutionaries. Also responded to a Carib/British war that broke out in St Vincent. Around 5,000 Caribs were loaded on the Experiment and two other warships and transported to the island of Roatan (Rattan) off the coast of Honduras. The Experiment acted with great distinction through several fiercely contested battles for control of Dominica, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, and Grenada.

In 1801, the ship left the West Indies to join the English blockade of Napoleon’s army on the Egyptian mainland.

She returned to England in 1805 and served the remainder of her career in harbour service.

French Revolutionary Wars – 1792-1802

The French Revolutionary Wars were a series of wars resulting from the French Revolution that pitted France against Great Britain and Austria, and some other European monarchies. These wars were divided into two periods: The War of the First Coalition and the War of the Second Coalition, consisting of battles fought mostly in Europe but extending to the Middle East with France’s conquest of Egypt. During the two Coalitions, there were a number of naval encounters between the French and British fleets in the West Indies and the Mediterranean.

HMS Boreas and Nelson 1784

HMS Boreas was a modified Mermaid-class sixth-rate frigate, launched in 1767, and sold in 1802.

In 1784, Nelson was given command of HMS Boreas which was destined for a commission in the West Indies. The principle task for the ship was to halt the illicit trade between the former American Colonies and the West Indies, as laid down in the treaty of Paris. Nelson took this task very seriously and trade that was formerly overlooked by the authorities was now blocked, which angered the Americans and local traders. This resulted in Nelson being sued by merchants in Antigua for lost business earnings. A reluctant War Office eventually took Nelson’s side and he was subsequently vindicated.

Nelson & HMS Boreas
HMS Boreas at Anchor in Dockyard
Nelson & HMS Boreas
Captain Nelson and HMS Boreas
HMS Boreas
HMS Boreas

Whilst commanding the Boreas, based in Antigua, Nelson greatly expanded what has come to be known as ‘Nelson’s Dockyard’ which is one of the finest Georgian dockyards anywhere in the world.

Careening in English harbour
Careening a ship in English Harbour

Careening or heaving down is a practice of grounding a sailing vessel at high tide in order to expose one side of its hull for maintenance and repairs below the water line. Once dry docks came into use this practice was only used for small vessels and pirates who had no access to a dry dock.

Battle for Anguilla – 1796

The first battle for Anguilla was in 1745 when a French force of 760 men landed and marched inland. They were repulsed by the British and suffered heavy losses trying to flee back to their ships, with many soldiers drowning whilst trying to board the small boats to take them to the ships offshore.

Two French ships approaching Anguilla
A fast sailboat heads to St Kitts to warn of French attack

The second battle for Anguilla took place in 1796 when the Valliante and Desieux carrying 400 French troops attacked the island pillaging and burning the main settlements. A fast sailing boat was sent to St. Kitts to warn of the French attack. HMS Lapwing, commanded by Captain R. Barton, was in St. Kitts and immediately set sail, though arriving too late to prevent the burning of the town. At the sight of the British frigate the French troops immediately embarked back on board their two ships and were then chased out of the Bay of Anguilla by Lapwing who attacked the two French ships. The Desieux surrendered and the Valliante was later chased down and driven onto the rocks on St. Martin and set on fire.

HMS Lapwing
HMS Lapwing
A 28-gun sixth-rate ship of the line
Le Decieux & Valliante
HMS Lapwing engages Le Decieux and Valliante
HMS Lapwing and Valliantte
HMS Lapwing forces Valliante aground off St Martin
Le Decieux on fire
Le Decieux on fire
Map of Anguilla and surrounding islands

HMS Pelican – 1778 and 1796

The stamp shows dates for two HMS Pelicans:

HMS Pelican 1778

She was a sixth rate 24-gun ship, Launched in 1776, wrecked off Jamaica, Aug 1781.

HMS Pelican
HMS Pelican

During a Hurricane that struck Jamaica in August 1781, many ships were destroyed on and around the island. Ninety ships were wrecked or lost in Kingston harbour, another thirty were lost at Port Royal. Pelican under Captain Collingwood was wrecked on the Morant Keys.

HMS Pelican 1796

Launched 1795, Disposed of 1806

Pelican saw service in the Caribbean on the Jamaica Station, capturing and destroying French ships at St. Lucia, Grenada and other islands.

1800 – badly damaged by a storm off Jersey.

A combination of severe weather and dangerous reefs made for risky sailing in the Caribbean. The book “Shipwrecks in the Americas” lists 168 shipwrecks on or around Jamaica from 1504  to 1824.

HMS Ganges 1796

HMS Ganges was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line, launched in 1782, broken up in 1816.

HMS Ganges
HMS Ganges

Originally built by the British East India Company then presented to the Royal Navy who renamed her Ganges.

In 1787 she became the flagship of Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Drake (related to the Elizabethan Francis Drake ). She saw active service in the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars both in Europe and the West Indies.

1811 – She was commissioned as a prison ship for prisoners of war.

1816 – Broken up in Portsmouth.

HMS Hermione – 1783-1805

A 32-gun fifth-rate frigate, launched in 1783, handed over to Spain by Mutineers in 1797, recaptured and renamed HMS Retaliation, broken up in 1805.

HMS Hermione
HMS Hermione

HMS Hermione served in the West Indies during the French Revolutionary Wars. She participated in the British attack on Port-au-Prince where the British captured the town and its defenses. In 1797, Hugh Pigot became the captain, a particularly cruel officer who handed out severe and arbitrary punishments. In an incident where an officer was humiliated by Pigot, the deaths of three ‘topmen’ ratings, and the severe punishment of the rest of the sailors, a plot was hatched to mutiny. On the evening of 21 September 1797, a number of the crew, drunk on stolen rum, rushed the Captain’s cabin, and hacked at Pigot with knives before throwing him overboard. They then went on to murder eight of Hermione’s officers and two midshipmen. All the bodies were thrown overboard some were still alive when tossed into the sea.

The mutineers fearing retribution sailed to Spanish waters and handed over the ship to Spanish authorities. The ship was renamed Santa Cecilia and was put into service with the Spanish navy. During the ensuing years many of the mutineers were captured and hanged and in 1799, Santa Cecilia was recaptured in a daring exploit by the crew of HMS Surprise. Renamed HMS Retaliation, she went on to capture American vessels and eventually became based in Jamaica.

This was the bloodiest mutiny in British naval history.

Three other ships were named Hermione, one fought in WWI and another in WWII, the last was in service between 1969-1997.

Admiral’s Uniform from 1795

Admiral's uniform, 1795

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