HMS Swiftsure (1787)

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Capture swifsure.jpg
Indivisible and Dix-Août capture Swiftsure
Naval Ensign of Great Britain (1707-1800).svg Great Britain
Name: HMS Swiftsure
Ordered: 19 June 1782
Builder: John & William Wells, Deptford
Laid down: May 1784
Launched: 4 April 1787
Honours and
Captured: 24 June 1801, by French Navy
Civil and Naval Ensign of France.svg France
Acquired: 24 June 1801
Honours and
Participated in Battle of Trafalgar
Captured: 21 October 1805, by Royal Navy
Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg UK
Name: HMS Irresistible
Acquired: 21 October 1805
Fate: Broken up, January 1816
General characteristics [2]
Class and type: Elizabeth class ship of the line
Tons burthen: 1612 (bm)
Length: 168 ft 6 in (51.36 m) (gundeck)
Beam: 46 ft (14 m)
Depth of hold: 19 ft 9 in (6.02 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
  • Gundeck: 28 ×  32-pounder guns
  • Upper gundeck: 28 × 18-pounder guns
  • QD: 14 ×  9-pounder guns
  • Fc: 4 ×  9-pounder guns

HMS Swiftsure was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the British Royal Navy. She spent most of her career serving with the British, except for a brief period when she was captured by the French during the Napoleonic Wars in the Action of 24 June 1801. She fought in several of the most famous engagements of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, fighting for the British at the Battle of the Nile, and the French at the Battle of Trafalgar. [3]

Ship of the line type of naval warship constructed from the 17th through to the mid-19th century

A ship of the line was a type of naval warship constructed from the 17th through to the mid-19th century to take part in the naval tactic known as the line of battle, in which two columns of opposing warships would manoeuvre to bring the greatest weight of broadside firepower to bear. Since these engagements were almost invariably won by the heaviest ships carrying the most powerful guns, the natural progression was to build sailing vessels that were the largest and most powerful of their time.

Royal Navy Maritime warfare branch of the United Kingdoms military

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.

Napoleonic Wars Series of early 19th century European wars

The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), the Fifth (1809), the Sixth (1813), and the Seventh (1815).


Construction and commissioning

Swiftsure was ordered from the yards of John & William Wells, Deptford on 19 June 1782, as an Elizabeth class ship of the line. She was laid down in May 1784 and launched on 4 April 1787. [2] She was initially commissioned on 22 May 1787 at Deptford, and recommissioned at Woolwich on 21 August 1787. [3] She had cost £31,241.3.5 to build, with a further £10,643 spent on fitting her out. She was coppered at Woolwich for a further £1,635. [3]

Deptford district of south-east London, England

Deptford, an area on the south bank of the River Thames in south-east London, is named after a ford of the River Ravensbourne. From the mid 16th century to the late 19th it was home to Deptford Dockyard, the first of the Royal Dockyards. This was a major shipbuilding dock and attracted Peter the Great to come and study shipbuilding. Deptford and the docks are associated with the knighting of Sir Francis Drake by Queen Elizabeth I aboard the Golden Hind, the legend of Sir Walter Raleigh laying down his cape for Elizabeth, Captain James Cook's third voyage aboard Resolution, and the mysterious murder of Christopher Marlowe in a house along Deptford Strand.

Woolwich district in South East London, England

Woolwich is a district of south-east London, England, within the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Originally a town in Kent, it has been part of the London metropolitan area since the 19th century. In 1965, most of the former Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich became part of Greenwich Borough, of which it remains the administrative centre.

British career

She was commissioned for service under her first captain, Sir James Wallace in June 1790. [3] She sailed to Plymouth where in August she underwent another refit, for £6,456, to prepare her for service in the English Channel. After her initial period of service she was paid off in September 1791, and underwent a more significant refit for the sum of £11,413, followed by further work being carried out the next year. [3] She returned to service and was recommissioned under Captain Charles Boyles in July 1793. Swiftsure served as the flagship of Rear-Admiral Sir Robert Kingsmill, and operated on the Irish Station during 1794. [3]

Plymouth City and Unitary authority in England

Plymouth is a port city situated on the south coast of Devon, England, approximately 37 miles (60 km) south-west of Exeter and 190 miles (310 km) west-south-west of London. Enclosing the city are the mouths of the river Plym and river Tamar, which are naturally incorporated into Plymouth Sound to form a boundary with Cornwall.

English Channel Arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France

The English Channel, also called simply the Channel, is the body of water that separates Southern England from northern France and links the southern part of the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. It is the busiest shipping area in the world.

Flagship vessel used by the commanding officer of a group of naval ships

A flagship is a vessel used by the commanding officer of a group of naval ships, characteristically a flag officer entitled by custom to fly a distinguishing flag. Used more loosely, it is the lead ship in a fleet of vessels, typically the first, largest, fastest, most heavily armed, or best known.

At the Action of 7 May 1794 Swiftsure captured the 36-gun French frigate Atalante, after a chase of 39 hours. Atalante was armed with 38 guns and had a crew of 274 men under the command of M. Charles Linois. In the action, Atalante had 10 killed and 32 wounded; British casualties were one man killed by a random shot. [4] Swiftsure then returned to Plymouth to carry out repairs. The Royal Navy took Atalante into service as HMS Espion.

The Action of 7 May 1794 was a minor naval action fought between a British ship of the line and a French frigate early in the French Revolutionary Wars. The French Navy sought to disrupt British trade by intercepting and capturing merchant ships with roving frigates, a strategy countered by protecting British convoys with heavier warships, particularly in European waters. On 5 May 1794, the British escorts of a convoy from Cork sighted two French ships approaching and gave chase. The ships, a frigate and a corvette, outmatched by their opponents, separated and the convoy escorts did likewise, each following one of the raiders on a separate course.

Frigate Type of warship

A frigate is a type of warship, having various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.

Charles-Alexandre Léon Durand Linois French admiral

Charles-Alexandre Léon Durand, Comte de Linois was a French admiral during the time of Napoleon Bonaparte. He won a victory over the British at the Battle of Algeciras in 1801 and led an unsuccessful campaign against British trade in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea in 1803.

Swiftsure left Britain for Jamaica on 14 May 1795. [3] In December 1795 Swiftsure passed under the command of Captain Robert Parker, under whom she returned to Britain. She was refitted at Portsmouth the following year, before commissioning in October 1796 under Captain Arthur Phillips. [3] He was succeeded in September 1797 by Captain John Irwin, but the following month Captain Benjamin Hallowell took command. [3]

Jamaica Country in the Caribbean

Jamaica is an island country situated in the Caribbean Sea. Spanning 10,990 square kilometres (4,240 sq mi) in area, it is the third-largest island of the Greater Antilles and the fourth-largest island country in the Caribbean. Jamaica lies about 145 kilometres (90 mi) south of Cuba, and 191 kilometres (119 mi) west of Hispaniola.

Portsmouth City & unitary authority area in England

Portsmouth is a port city in Hampshire, England, with a total population of 205,400 residents. The city of Portsmouth is nicknamed Pompey and is mainly built on Portsea Island, a flat, low-lying island measuring 24 square kilometres in area, just off the south-east coast of Hampshire. Uniquely, Portsmouth is the only island city in the United Kingdom, and is the only city whose population density exceeds that of London.

Benjamin Hallowell Carew Royal Navy admiral

Admiral Sir Benjamin Hallowell Carew was a senior officer in the Royal Navy. He was one of the select group of officers, referred to by Lord Nelson as his "Band of Brothers", who served with him at the Battle of the Nile.

Battle of the Nile

Orient explodes at the Nile. HMS Swiftsure is in the centre of the picture, sails billowing in the blast, and riding the wave caused by the force of the explosion. The Battle of the Nile.jpg
Orient explodes at the Nile. HMS Swiftsure is in the centre of the picture, sails billowing in the blast, and riding the wave caused by the force of the explosion.

Hallowell was still in command of Swiftsure in 1798, when he was ordered to join Horatio Nelson's squadron, watching the French fleet at Toulon. After the French escaped and captured Malta in June, and invaded Egypt in July, Nelson and his fleet pursued them, eventually locating them anchored in Aboukir Bay on 1 August. [5] Swiftsure was not initially with the fleet, having been ordered by Nelson to reconnoitre Alexandria, before the French had been discovered. He arrived on the scene after dark and moved into the bay to attack. [5] The darkness and the smoke made it difficult to tell which ship was British and which was French, so Hallowell decided to hold fire until he had anchored and prepared his ship. As he moved closer, a darkened ship was spotted standing out of the action. Hallowell determined her to be French, but decided to hold to his original plan and passed her by. The ship was in fact HMS Bellerophon, which had gone up against the much larger 110-gun French first rate Orient earlier in the battle, until being dismasted and forced to drift out of the action. [5]

Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson Royal Navy Admiral

Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, was a British flag officer in the Royal Navy. He was noted for his inspirational leadership, grasp of strategy, and unconventional tactics, which together resulted in a number of decisive British naval victories, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He was wounded several times in combat, losing the sight in one eye in Corsica at the age of 36, as well as most of one arm in the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife when 40 years of age. He was shot and killed at the age of 47 during his final victory at the Battle of Trafalgar near the Spanish port city of Cádiz in 1805.

Toulon Prefecture and commune in Provence-Alpes-Côte dAzur, France

Toulon is a city in southern France and a large military harbour on the Mediterranean coast, with a major French naval base. Located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, Toulon is the capital of the Var department.

Malta island republic in Europe

Malta, GC, officially known as the Republic of Malta, is a Southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 80 km (50 mi) south of Italy, 284 km (176 mi) east of Tunisia, and 333 km (207 mi) north of Libya. With a population of about 475,000 over an area of 316 km2 (122 sq mi), Malta is the world's tenth smallest and fifth most densely populated country. Its capital is Valletta, which is the smallest national capital in the European Union by area at 0.8 km.2 The official languages are Maltese and English, with Maltese officially recognised as the national language and the only Semitic language in the European Union.

Hallowell took Swiftsure in, eventually anchoring across the stern of Franklin and the bow of Orient, and proceeded to open fire on them. [5] After an hour of exchanging shots, a fire was observed in the cabin of Orient. Hallowell ordered his men to concentrate their fire on this area, while HMS Alexander came along the opposite side and did the same. [5] The French began to abandon ship as the fire spread, and a number were brought aboard the British ships, Swiftsure taking on Orient′s first lieutenant and ten men. [5] Seeing that the fire was now out of control, Swiftsure and the other British ships moved away from the area, but when Orient exploded at 10pm, Swiftsure was still near enough to be struck by debris. [5]

After the destruction of the Orient, Swiftsure, in company with HMS Defence, continued to exchange fire with the Franklin, until she surrendered. [5] Swiftsure then moved on to engage the Tonnant, eventually helping to drive her ashore. Swiftsure had seven killed and 22 wounded during the battle. [5] Hallowell received a Gold Medal for his role in the battle, and Swiftsure′s first lieutenant, Thomas Cowan, was promoted to commander. [5] After the battle Hallowell and Swiftsure took over Aboukir island on 8 August, destroying several enemy guns, and carrying the rest away. Two days later, on 10 August, Swiftsure came across and captured the 16-gun corvette Fortune. [5]

Egyptian and Italian coasts

Swiftsure initially remained off Egypt as part of Samuel Hood's squadron, before departing on 14 February 1799 to join Nelson, then at Palermo. She then joined Thomas Troubridge's squadron and sailed for Naples on 31 March. [5] They arrived on 2 April, and Hallowell landed at Procida to restore monarchist rule. The squadron then cruised off the Italian coast, and supported land based operations, helping to reduce several fortresses. On 7 August Swiftsure was dispatched to Civitavecchia to carry Hallowell to negotiate the surrender of the French garrison. [5] Before the negotiations were complete the Swiftsure was ordered to Gibraltar, and from there to Lisbon, arriving there on 30 November. She cruised off the area with the British squadron, capturing two merchant vessels on 6 December. [5]

Whilst at sea in February 1800, Swiftsure was caught in a gale and badly damaged, having to return to Gibraltar for repairs. [5] On returning to service with the squadron, an enemy fleet was seen on 7 April, having sailed from Cadiz bound for Lima. Two frigates and a number of merchantmen were subsequently captured. Swiftsure followed up this success on 12 April by capturing a Spanish schooner. She then became Sir Richard Bickerton's flagship during the blockade of Cadiz, before being assigned to the fleet under Lord Keith. [5] Keith's fleet covered the landings at Aboukir on 8 March 1801, where Swiftsure′s naval brigade helped to repulse French counter-attacks. Because several of her men were wounded and others sick, Keith removed 80 of Swiftsure's best men and then sent her to Malta as a convoy escort. [5]

On 8 January 1801 Penelope captured the French bombard St. Roche, which was carrying wine, liqueurs, ironware, Delfth cloth, and various other merchandise, from Marseilles to Alexandria. Swiftsure, Tigre, Minotaur, Northumberland, Florentina, and the schooner Malta, were in sight and shared in the proceeds of the capture. [6]

Swiftsure's service in the Royal Navy's Egyptian campaign (8 March to 2 September 1801), qualified her officers and crew for the clasp "Egypt" to the Naval General Service Medal that the Admiralty authorized in 1850 to all surviving claimants. [Note 1]


On 10 June 1801 Hallowell encountered Pigmy and from her learned that a French squadron under Admiral Ganteaume had put to sea. [8] Hallowell decided to return to reinforce Sir John Warren's squadron, but on 24 June Swiftsure encountered Ganteaume. The faster French squadron, consisting of four ships of the line and a frigate, overtook the already damaged and slow, as well as undermanned, Swiftsure. Indivisible and Dix-Août succeeded in shooting away Swiftsure's yards and masts, crippling her and so forcing Hallowell to surrender. [8] Swiftsure had two men killed, two men mortally wounded, and another six wounded; the French lost 33 killed and wounded. [8]

On his repatriation, Hallowell received the court-martial that was automatic for a Royal Navy captain who had lost his ship, but was honourably acquitted. [5] Meanwhile, the French Navy took Swiftsure into service under her own name. [9]

French service

In November 1802, after General de Rochambeau replaced Charles Leclerc as governor of Saint-Domingue, Rochambeau started executing blacks by drowning; he had the entire garrison of Fort Dauphin transferred to Swiftsure and thrown overboard by her crew. [10] Rochambeau then ordered all French ships to carry out similar executions. Only Willaumez, who was in command of the naval forces, refused, stating that "The officers of the French Navy are not executioners. I will not obey." [10] [11] [Note 2]

Battle of Trafalgar

The pell-mell battle. Swiftsure was one of many of the Franco-Spanish fleet to surrender, ending her brief career with the French. Turner, The Battle of Trafalgar (1806).jpg
The pell-mell battle. Swiftsure was one of many of the Franco-Spanish fleet to surrender, ending her brief career with the French.

She only spent four years with the French, before forming part of Vice-Admiral Villeneuve's fleet at Cadiz, under her captain, Charles-Eusebe l'Hôpitalier-Villemadrin. On 21 October 1805 she sailed out with the combined Franco-Spanish fleets to engage in the Battle of Trafalgar. During the battle she formed part of the rear of the line, astern of Aigle and ahead of Argonaute. [12] She was fired upon by HMS Colossus, and after an exchange of fire, lost her main topmast and had her guns silenced. She began to drift away, while Colossus opened fire on Bahama. [13] Swiftsure's crew regained control, and returned to fire on Colossus, but at that moment Edward Codrington's HMS Orion came through the smoke, slipped under Swiftsure′s stern and discharged several devastating broadsides. [14] Swiftsure had her mainmast, taffrail and wheel shot away, and most of the guns on the main gun-deck were dismounted. [14] Villemadrin attempted to fight on, but eventually struck, having suffered 68 dead and 123 wounded during the battle.

After the battle HMS Dreadnought took her in tow. [15] The subsequent storm caused the line to break, and by 23 October she was drifting towards Cadiz. [16] The frigate HMS Phoebe was however able to reattach a tow line and put several of her own carpenters aboard to stop the leaks. [17] The worsening weather again caused her to break free, but the men from Phoebe succeeded in keeping control of Swiftsure, bringing her to anchor on 26 October. [18] HMS Polyphemus took her into tow again and brought her into Gibraltar. [19]

Return to the Royal Navy

Swiftsure was repaired at Gibraltar and was recommissioned in April 1806 under Captain George Digby. [3] She sailed home, arriving at Chatham on 11 June 1806. By this time, another HMS Swiftsure had already entered service, and had been present at Trafalgar. The captured Swiftsure was renamed HMS Irresistible, and was laid up. [2] [3] She was recommissioned in March 1808 under Captain George Fowke, and was used as a prison ship at Chatham. [3] She served in this role until being broken up there in January 1816. [2] [3]

Notes, citations, and references

  1. A first-class share of the prize money awarded in April 1823 was worth £34 2s 4d; a fifth-class share, that of a seaman, was worth 3s 11½d. The amount was small as the total had to be shared between 79 vessels and the entire army contingent. [7]
  2. Les officiers de la Marine française ne sont pas des bourreaux. Je n'obéirai pas!
  1. "No. 21077". The London Gazette . 15 March 1850. pp. 791–792.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Lavery, Ships of the Line vol.1, p179.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Winfield. British Warships. Chap. 3, p. 76.
  4. "No. 13659". The London Gazette . 21 May 1794. p. 463.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 "SWIFTSURE (74)" . Retrieved 2008-10-15.
  6. "No. 15358". The London Gazette . 25 Apr 1801. p. 447.
  7. "No. 17915". The London Gazette . 3 April 1823. p. 633.
  8. 1 2 3 "No. 15437". The London Gazette . 19 December 1801. pp. 1505–1506.
  9. Capture du Swiftsure
  10. 1 2 Herpin, p.78
  11. Merrien, p.114
  12. Trafalgar. pp. 196–7.
  13. Trafalgar. p. 228.
  14. 1 2 Trafalgar. p. 230.
  15. Trafalgar. p. 275.
  16. Trafalgar. p. 299.
  17. Trafalgar. p. 317.
  18. Trafalgar. p. 328.
  19. Trafalgar. p. 345.

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