French ship Orient (1791)

Last updated
Luny Thomas Battle Of The Nile August 1st 1798 At 10pm.jpg
Battle of the Nile, August 1st 1798 at 10 pm, by Thomas Luny. Orient is depicted aflame at the centre left.
History
Flag of French-Navy-Revolution.svg Civil and Naval Ensign of France.svg France
NameDauphin-Royal
Builder Toulon Arsenal
Laid downMay 1790
Launched20 July 1791
CommissionedAugust 1793
Out of serviceAugust 1798
Renamed
  • Sans-Culotte September 1792
  • Orient May 1795
FateDestroyed by explosion at the Battle of the Nile, August 1798
General characteristics
Class and type Océan-class ship of the line
Displacement5,095 tonnes
Length65.18 m (213 ft 10 in) (196.6 French feet)
Beam16.24 m (53 ft 3 in) (50 French feet)
Draught8.12 m (26 ft 8 in) (25 French feet)
Propulsionsail
Sail plan3,265 m2 (35,140 sq ft)
Complement1,079
Armament

Orient was an Océan-class 118-gun ship of the line of the French Navy, famous for her role as flagship of the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in August 1798, and for her spectacular destruction that day when her magazine exploded. The event was commemorated by numerous poems and paintings.

Contents

Career

The ship was laid down in Toulon, and launched on 20 July 1791 under the name Dauphin Royal. In September 1792, after the advent of the French First Republic, and not yet commissioned, she was renamed Sans-Culotte, in honour of the Sans-culottes.

On 14 March 1795, she took part in the Battle of Genoa as flagship of Rear Admiral Martin. She covered the rear of the French line, exchanging fire with HMS Bedford and HMS Egmont, but lost contact with her fleet during the night and was thus prevented from taking further part in the action. In May 1795, Sans-Culotte was again renamed as a consequence of the Thermidorian Reaction. She was renamed Orient by Napoleon Bonaparte on the morning of his departure from the port of Toulon for his expedition on Egypt. The new name was kept secret until the last moment to shadow the purpose of the large expeditionary force assembled at Toulon, which very few people had known was destined to invade Egypt.

In 1798 Orient was appointed flagship of the squadron tasked with the invasion of Egypt, under Admiral Brueys, with Captain Casabianca as his flag officer. [2] Orient also ferried the chiefs of the Armée d'Égypte, notably General Bonaparte. The fleet avoided the British blockade and captured Malta before landing troops in Egypt. After the French looted the Knightly order fortress of Valetta of all its treasure and gold plate & bullion, a lot of it was loaded on the Orient (its estimated value was 9.3 million Francs, which Bonaparte hoped to put to good use in funding his expedition, but most of it was lost with the Orient later on). Afterwards, the squadron anchored in a bay east of Alexandria, in a purportedly strong defensive position. The British squadron under the command of Nelson discovered the fleet on 1 August, and Nelson attacked at 5.40pm the same [3] day, starting the Battle of the Nile. Nelson had his units sail between the shore and the French ships at anchor, picking them one by one in a cross-fire. The British ship Bellerophon set anchor too late and found itself directly abeam the portside of the Orient. The two-deck ship, with a broadside of thirty gun, was no match for the Orient, and was completely dismasted and savaged in its cannon duel with the Orient. The Bellerophon cut her anchor free and drifted away from the fighting. Later on two British frigates which had arrived late from their scouting mission (the Alexander and Swiftsure) arrived and attacked the burning Orient from her bow and stern. [4] After burning for an hour, the Orient exploded spectacularly at 22:30. [5]

The number of casualties is disputed: the British reported 70 survivors, reflecting the numbers they rescued aboard their ships, and inferring considerable losses over the 1,130-man complement; however, the crew was far from complete at the time of the battle (many had been on shore leave, and many others dispatched to Alexandria to purchase supplies) and a number of survivors might have been picked up by French ships. Contre-amiral Decrès reported as many as 760 survivors. [6]

The explosion is also often presented as a turning point of the battle; as a matter of fact, the battle was won by the British when their reinforcements arrived at nightfall, and the interruption of the fighting was brief after the explosion. [6]

Legacy

The explosion of Orient struck the public of the time, both because of its historical signification and of its spectacular aesthetics. Its romantic load was compounded by the presence aboard of Captain Casabianca's young son, who died in the wreck, this particular detail inspired Felicia Hemans's poem Casabianca :

The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle's wreck
Shone round him o'er the dead

Shortly after the battle, Nelson was presented with a coffin carved from a piece of the main mast of Orient, which had been taken back to England for this purpose, he was put inside this coffin after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Archaeology

Between 1998 and 1999, the French archaeologist Franck Goddio led an expedition that carried out an underwater archaeological study of Orient's wreck site. Recovered artifacts included such items as coins, small arms, printing type from a printing press and personal possessions of crew members carried on board the vessel. The distribution of wreckage and artifacts on the sea floor lead Goddio to suggest that Orient was not destroyed by a single explosion, but by two almost simultaneous explosions. [7]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of the Nile</span> 1798 naval battle during the French Invasion of Egypt

The Battle of the Nile was a major naval battle fought between the British Royal Navy and the Navy of the French Republic at Aboukir Bay on the Mediterranean coast off the Nile Delta of Egypt from the 1st to the 3rd of August 1798. The battle was the climax of a naval campaign that had raged across the Mediterranean during the previous three months, as a large French convoy sailed from Toulon to Alexandria carrying an expeditionary force under General Napoleon Bonaparte. The British fleet was led in the battle by Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson; they decisively defeated the French under Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers.

HMS <i>Bellerophon</i> (1786) 74-gun Royal Navy ship of the line

HMS Bellerophon, known to sailors as the "Billy Ruffian", was a ship of the line of the Royal Navy. A third-rate of 74 guns, she was launched in 1786. Bellerophon served during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, mostly on blockades or convoy escort duties. She fought in three fleet actions: the Glorious First of June (1794), the Battle of the Nile (1798) and the Battle of Trafalgar (1805). While the ship was on blockade duty in 1815, Napoleon boarded Bellerophon so he could surrender to the ship's captain, ending 22 years of almost continuous war between Britain and France.

1798 was a relatively quiet period in the French Revolutionary Wars. The major continental powers in the First coalition had made peace with France, leaving France dominant in Europe with only a slow naval war with Great Britain to worry about. The leaders of the Directory in Paris feared Napoleon Bonaparte's popularity after his victories in Italy, so they were relieved when he proposed to depart France and mount an expedition to Egypt to gain further glory.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Claude-Henri Belgrand de Vaubois</span>

Claude-Henri Belgrand de Vaubois was a French general during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. He is best known for the surrender of Malta to the British in 1800. On 20 August 1808 he was created Comte de Belgrand de Vaubois. Later, his name was inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Luc-Julien-Joseph Casabianca French Navy officer

Luc-Julien-Joseph Casabianca was an officer of the French Navy in the 18th century. He was killed at the Battle of the Nile.

Abu Qir Bay A bay on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt

The Abū Qīr Bay is a spacious bay on the Mediterranean Sea near Alexandria in Egypt, lying between the Rosetta mouth of the Nile and the town of Abu Qir. The ancient cities of Canopus, Heracleion and Menouthis lie submerged beneath the waters of the bay. In 1798 it was the site of the Battle of the Nile, a naval battle fought between the British Royal Navy and the navy of the French First Republic. The bay contains a natural gas field, discovered in the 1970s.

Pierre Dumanoir le Pelley

Vice-Admiral Count Pierre Étienne René Marie Dumanoir Le Pelley was a French Navy officer, best known for commanding the vanguard of the French fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar. His conduct during this battle was the subject of controversy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">French campaign in Egypt and Syria</span> 1798–1801 campaign during the War of the Second Coalition

The French campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798–1801) was Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign in the Ottoman territories of Egypt and Syria, proclaimed to defend French trade interests, to establish scientific enterprise in the region and ultimately to join the forces of Indian ruler Tipu Sultan and drive away the British from the Indian subcontinent. It was the primary purpose of the Mediterranean campaign of 1798, a series of naval engagements that included the capture of Malta and the Greek island Crete, later arriving in the Port of Alexandria. The campaign ended in defeat for Napoleon, leading to the withdrawal of French troops from the region.

Franck Goddio is a French underwater archaeologist who, in 2000, discovered the city of Thonis-Heracleion 7 km off the Egyptian shore in Aboukir Bay. He led the excavation of the submerged site of Eastern Canopus and of Antirhodos in the ancient harbour of Alexandria. He has also excavated ships in the waters of the Philippines, significantly the Spanish galleon San Diego.

Battle of Genoa (1795) Naval battle fought on 14 March 1795 off the coast of Genoa

The Battle of Genoa was a naval battle fought between French and allied Anglo-Neapolitan forces on 14 March 1795 in the Gulf of Genoa, a large bay in the Ligurian Sea off the coast of the Republic of Genoa, during the French Revolutionary Wars. The French fleet was led by Contre-amiral Pierre Martin and comprised 14 ships of the line while the British Royal Navy and Neapolitan fleet, under Vice-Admiral William Hotham mustered 13 ships of the line. The battle ended with a minor British-Neapolitan victory and the capture of two French ships.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Honoré Joseph Antoine Ganteaume</span> French admiral

Count Honoré Joseph Antoine Ganteaume was a French Navy officer and Vice-admiral.

HMS <i>Canopus</i> (1798) British third rate ship of the line

HMS Canopus was an 84-gun third rate ship of the line of the British Royal Navy. She had previously served with the French Navy as the Tonnant-classFranklin, but was captured after less than a year in service by the British fleet under Rear Admiral Horatio Nelson at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. Having served the French for less than six months from her completion in March 1798 to her capture in August 1798, she eventually served the British for 89 years.

Mediterranean campaign of 1798 Failed French military campaign

The Mediterranean campaign of 1798 was a series of major naval operations surrounding a French expeditionary force sent to Egypt under Napoleon Bonaparte during the French Revolutionary Wars. The French Republic sought to capture Egypt as the first stage in an effort to threaten British India and support Tipu Sultan, and thus force Great Britain to make peace. Departing Toulon in May 1798 with over 40,000 troops and hundreds of ships, Bonaparte's fleet sailed southeastwards across the Mediterranean Sea. They were followed by a small British squadron under Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, later reinforced to 13 ships of the line, whose pursuit was hampered by a lack of scouting frigates and reliable information. Bonaparte's first target was the island of Malta, which was under the government of the Knights of St. John and theoretically granted its owner control of the Central Mediterranean. Bonaparte's forces landed on the island and rapidly overwhelmed the defenders, securing the port city of Valletta before continuing to Egypt. When Nelson learned of the French capture of the island, he guessed the French target to be Egypt and sailed for Alexandria, but passed the French during the night of 22 June without discovering them and arrived off Egypt first.

Order of battle at the Battle of the Nile Chronological description of naval battle in 1798

The Battle of the Nile was a significant naval action fought during 1–3 August 1798. The battle took place in Aboukir Bay, near the mouth of the River Nile on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt and pitted a British fleet of the Royal Navy against a fleet of the French Navy. The battle was the climax of a three-month campaign in the Mediterranean during which a huge French convoy under General Napoleon Bonaparte had sailed from Toulon to Alexandria via Malta. Despite close pursuit by a British fleet of thirteen ships of the line, one fourth rate and a sloop under Sir Horatio Nelson, the French were able to reach Alexandria unscathed and successfully land an army, which Bonaparte led inland. The fleet that had escorted the convoy, consisting of thirteen ships of the line, four frigates and a number of smaller vessels under Vice-amiral François-Paul Brueys D'Aigalliers, anchored in Aboukir Bay as Alexandria harbour was too narrow, forming a line of battle that was protected by shoals to the north and west.

Action of 27 June 1798 Minor naval engagement during the French Revolutionary Wars

The action of 27 June 1798 was a minor naval engagement between British and French frigates in the Strait of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. The engagement formed part of a wider campaign, in which a major French convoy sailed from Toulon to Alexandria at the start of the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt. The French frigate Sensible had been detached from the convoy after the capture of Malta, under orders to carry wounded soldiers and looted treasure back to France while the main body continued to Egypt. The British frigate HMS Seahorse was one of a number of vessels detached from the main British Mediterranean Fleet in the Tagus River, sent to augment the fleet under Sir Horatio Nelson that was actively hunting the French convoy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Siege of Malta (1798–1800)</span> Military blockade of Malta by local rebels and Britain, Portugal and Naples

The siege of Malta, also known as the siege of Valletta or the French blockade, was a two-year siege and blockade of the French garrison in Valletta and the Three Cities, the largest settlements and main port on the Mediterranean island of Malta, between 1798 and 1800. Malta had been captured by a French expeditionary force during the Mediterranean campaign of 1798, and garrisoned with 3,000 soldiers under the command of Claude-Henri Belgrand de Vaubois. After the British Royal Navy destroyed the French Mediterranean Fleet at the Battle of the Nile on 1 August 1798, the British were able to initiate a blockade of Malta, assisted by an uprising among the native Maltese population against French rule. After its retreat to Valletta, the French garrison faced severe food shortages, exacerbated by the effectiveness of the British blockade. Although small quantities of supplies arrived in early 1799, there was no further traffic until early 1800, by which time starvation and disease were having a disastrous effect on health, morale, and combat capability of the French troops.

Battle of the Malta Convoy Part of the French Revolutionary Wars, the Siege of Malta (1798–1800)

The Battle of the Malta Convoy was a naval engagement of the French Revolutionary Wars fought on 18 February 1800 during the Siege of Malta. The French garrison at the city of Valletta in Malta had been under siege for eighteen months, blockaded on the landward side by a combined force of British, Portuguese and irregular Maltese forces and from the sea by a Royal Navy squadron under the overall command of Lord Nelson from his base at Palermo on Sicily. In February 1800, the Neapolitan government replaced the Portuguese troops with their own forces and the soldiers were convoyed to Malta by Nelson and Lord Keith, arriving on 17 February. The French garrison was by early 1800 suffering from severe food shortages, and in a desperate effort to retain the garrison's effectiveness a convoy was arranged at Toulon, carrying food, armaments and reinforcements for Valletta under Contre-amiral Jean-Baptiste Perrée. On 17 February, the French convoy approached Malta from the southeast, hoping to pass along the shoreline and evade the British blockade squadron.

Ganteaumes expeditions of 1801 Operations in the French Revolutionary Wars

Ganteaume's expeditions of 1801 were three connected major French Navy operations of the spring of 1801 during the French Revolutionary Wars. A French naval squadron from Brest under Contre-amiral Honoré Ganteaume, seeking to reinforce the besieged French garrison in Egypt, made three separate but futile efforts to reach the Eastern Mediterranean. The French army in Egypt had been trapped there shortly after the start of the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt in 1798, when the French Mediterranean Fleet was destroyed at the Battle of the Nile. Since that defeat, the French Navy had maintained only a minimal presence in the Mediterranean Sea, while the more numerous British and their allies had succeeded in blockading and defeating several French bases almost unopposed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">François-Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers</span>

François-Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers, Comte de Brueys was a French naval officer who fought in the American War of Independence and as a commander in the French Revolutionary Wars. He led the French fleet in the Mediterranean campaign of 1798 until his death at the Battle of the Nile, at the rank of Vice-Admiral. He was also a Freemason in the La Bonne Foi lodge at Montauban.

Seven ships of the French Navy have borne the name Sans-Culotte in honour of the Sans-culottes:

References

  1. "French first rate ship of the line Dauphin Royal (1791)". threedecks.org. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  2. "Admiral Nelson's stunning victory over the French fleet in 1798". www.britishbattles.com. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  3. A Portrait of Lord Nelson, Oliver Warner
  4. Strathern, Paul (2008). Napoleon in Egypt. Bantam Dell.
  5. Millar, Stephen. "French naval order of battle at Aboukir bay (battle of the Nile): 1–2 August 1798". www.napoleon-series.org. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  6. 1 2 Mioque, Nicolas. "La perte des 118 canons L'Orient (1798) et L'Impérial (1806)". troisponts. Archived from the original on 10 May 2012. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
  7. "Napoleon Bonaparte's fleet". www.franckgoddio.org. Retrieved 29 September 2014.

Bibliography