HMS Swiftsure (1787)

Last updated

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]


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]

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]

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.

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]

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]

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 15 October 2008.
  6. "No. 15358". The London Gazette . 25 April 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.

Related Research Articles

Battle of the Nile Naval battle between Britain and France

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 was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy. Launched in 1786, she served during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, mostly on blockades or convoy escort duties. Known to sailors as the "Billy Ruffian", she fought in three fleet actions, the Glorious First of June, the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Trafalgar, and was the ship aboard which Napoleon finally surrendered, ending 22 years of nearly continuous war with France.

HMS <i>Agamemnon</i> (1781) 1781 ship

HMS Agamemnon was a 64-gun third-rate ship of the line of the British Royal Navy. She saw service in the Anglo-French War, French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and fought in many of the major naval battles of those conflicts. She is remembered as being Nelson's favourite ship, and was named after the mythical ancient Greek king Agamemnon, being the first ship of the Royal Navy to bear the name.

HMS <i>Ajax</i> (1798)

HMS Ajax was an Ajax class 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the British Royal Navy. She was built by John Randall & Co of Rotherhithe and launched on the Thames on 3 March 1798. Ajax participated in the Egyptian operation of 1801, the Battle of Cape Finisterre in 1805 and the Battle of Trafalgar, before she was lost to a disastrous fire in 1807 during the Dardanelles Operation.

HMS <i>Neptune</i> (1797) 1797 ship of the line

HMS Neptune was a 98-gun second rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy. She served on a number of stations during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and was present at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

HMS <i>Polyphemus</i> (1782) Intrepid-class ship of the line

HMS Polyphemus, a 64-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched on 27 April 1782 at Sheerness. She participated in the 1801 Battle of Copenhagen, the Battle of Trafalgar, and the Siege of Santo Domingo. In 1813 she became a powder hulk and was broken up in 1827.

HMS <i>Phoebe</i> (1795) ship

HMS Phoebe was a 36-gun fifth rate of the Royal Navy. She had a career of almost twenty years and fought in the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. Overall, her crews were awarded six clasps to the Naval General Service Medals, with two taking place in the French Revolutionary Wars, three during the Napoleonic Wars and the sixth in the War of 1812. Three of the clasps carried the name Phoebe. During her career, Phoebe sailed to the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the Indian Ocean, South East Asia, North America and South America.

HMS <i>Hannibal</i> (1786)

HMS Hannibal was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched on 15 April 1786, named after the Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca. She is best known for having taken part in the Algeciras Campaign, and for having run aground during the First Battle of Algeciras on 5 July 1801, which resulted in her capture. She then served in the French Navy until she was broken up in 1824.

French ship <i>Tigre</i> (1793)

Tigre was a 74-gun ship of the line of the French Navy. Later it was captured by the British and, as HMS Tigre, operated as part of the Royal Navy throughout the Napoleonic Wars.

HMS <i>Edgar</i> (1779) 74-gun Royal Navy ship of the line

HMS Edgar was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, that saw service in the American Revolutionary, French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Launched in 1779, she fought in the battles of Cape St Vincent and Copenhagen, two of the major naval engagements of the wars.

HMS <i>Donegal</i> (1798)

HMS Donegal was launched in 1794 as Barra, a Téméraire class 74-gun ship of the line of the French Navy. She was renamed Pégase in October 1795, and Hoche in December 1797. The British Royal Navy captured her on 12 October 1798 and recommissioned her as HMS Donegal.

HMS <i>Phoenix</i> (1783)

HMS Phoenix was a 36-gun Perseverance-class fifth-rate frigate of the Royal Navy. The shipbuilder George Parsons built her at Bursledon and launched her on 15 July 1783. She served in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and was instrumental in the events leading up to the battle of Trafalgar. Phoenix was involved in several single-ship actions, the most notable occurring on 10 August 1805 when she captured the French frigate Didon, which was more heavily armed than her. She was wrecked, without loss of life, off Smyrna in 1816.

HMS <i>Canopus</i> (1798)

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 for less than six months for the French from her completion in March 1798 to her capture in August that year, she would eventually serve for 89 years for the British.

HMS <i>Warwick</i> (1733)

HMS Warwick was a 60-gun fourth-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, built to the 1719 Establishment at Plymouth by P. Lock. The keel was laid down on 1 April 1730, and the ship was launched on 25 October 1733, and completed on 24 August 1734.

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.

HMS <i>Lowestoffe</i> (1761)

HMS Lowestoffe was a 32-gun fifth-rate frigate of the Royal Navy. Built during the latter part of the Seven Years' War, she went on to see action in the American War of Independence and the French Revolutionary War, and served often in the Caribbean. A young Horatio Nelson served aboard her shortly after passing his lieutenant's examination.

HMS <i>Centurion</i> (1774)

HMS Centurion was a 50-gun Salisbury-class fourth rate of the Royal Navy. She served during the American War of Independence, and during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

HMS <i>Malta</i> (1800) War ship

HMS Malta was an 80-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy. She had previously served with the French Navy as the Tonnant-classGuillaume Tell, but was captured in the Mediterranean in 1800 by a British squadron enforcing the blockade of Malta. Having served for less than four years for the French from her completion in July 1796 to her capture in March 1800, she would eventually serve for 40 years for the British.

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.

Action of 24 June 1801

The Action of 24 June 1801 was a minor naval engagement during the French Revolutionary Wars. A British ship of the line, HMS Swiftsure under Captain Benjamin Hallowell was passing westwards through the Southern Mediterranean near Cape Derna when it encountered a much larger French squadron under Contre-Amiral Honoré Ganteaume that was also returning westwards after a failed attempt to reinforce the besieged French garrison in Egypt. Although Hallowell immediately recognised the danger his vessel was in and turned to flee, the French ships were much faster and soon closed with his ship. At 14:00, three French vessels were within long gunshot and Hallowell decided that his only hope of escape lay in disabling the three ships before the rest of the French squadron could join the engagement. Turning towards the enemy, Hallowell found that his sluggish ship was unable to respond rapidly to French manoeuvres and within two hours Swiftsure was surrounded. Threatened with complete destruction and unable to escape, the British captain surrendered.