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Post ship was a designation used in the Royal Navy during the second half of the 18th century and the Napoleonic Wars to describe a sixth-rate ship (see rating system of the Royal Navy) that was smaller than a frigate (in practice, carrying fewer than 28 guns), but by virtue of being a rated ship (with at least 20 guns), had to have as its captain a post captain rather than a lieutenant or commander. Thus ships with 20 to 26 guns were post ships, though this situation changed after 1817. (See “1817 changes” in rating system of the Royal Navy.)
Sea officers often referred to the post ships as frigates though technically the Admiralty scrupulously never described them as such. The vessels were frigate-built, with traditional quarterdecks and forecastles (the defining characteristic of post ships, distinguishing them from 20-gun ship-sloops), but, unlike true frigates, they lacked an orlop platform amidships. They had a high centre of gravity, which made them slow and unweatherly, but they were seaworthy. In peacetime the Royal Navy frequently used them as substitutes for frigates, especially in distant foreign stations. In wartime their slowness meant they were used mostly as convoy escorts.
Unlike other uses of the term "ship" during this era, "post ship" in itself implies nothing as regards the rig of the vessel; however, all sixth rates were in practice ship-rigged, i.e. were square-rigged on three masts.
For an example of a post ship, see HMS Camilla. She was one of ten Sphinx-class post ships built during the 1770s.
The United States Navy termed ships of this type "third-class frigates."
In the rating system of the Royal Navy, a third rate was a ship of the line which from the 1720s mounted between 64 and 80 guns, typically built with two gun decks. Years of experience proved that the third rate ships embodied the best compromise between sailing ability, firepower, and cost. So, while first-rates and second-rates were both larger and more powerful, third-rate ships were the optimal configuration.
In the rating system of the British Royal Navy used to categorise sailing warships, a first rate was the designation for the largest ships of the line. Originating in the Jacobean era with the designation of Ships Royal capable of carrying at least 400 men, the size and establishment of first-rates evolved over the following 250 years to eventually denote ships of the line carrying at least 80 guns across three gundecks. By the end of the eighteenth century, a first-rate carried no fewer than 100 guns and more than 850 crew, and had a measurement (burthen) tonnage of some 2,000 tons.
In 1603 all English warships with a complement of fewer than 160 men were known as 'small ships'. In 1625/26 to establish pay rates for officers, a six-tier naval ship rating system was introduced. These small ships were divided into three tiers: fourth-, fifth- and sixth-rates. Up to the end of the 17th century, the number of guns and the complement size were adjusted until the rating system was actually clarified. A 'fourth-rate' was nominally a ship of over thirty guns with a complement of 140 men.
In the 18th century and most of the 19th, a sloop-of-war in the Royal Navy was a warship with a single gun deck that carried up to eighteen guns. The rating system covered all vessels with 20 guns and above; thus, the term sloop-of-war encompassed all the unrated combat vessels, including the very small gun-brigs and cutters. In technical terms, even the more specialised bomb vessels and fireships were classed as sloops-of-war, and in practice these were employed in the sloop role when not carrying out their specialised functions.
In the rating system of the Royal Navy used to categorise sailing warships, a second-rate was a ship of the line which by the start of the 18th century mounted 90 to 98 guns on three gun decks; earlier 17th-century second rates had fewer guns and were originally two-deckers or had only partially armed third gun decks. A "second rate" was the second largest class of warships in a hierarchical system of six "ratings" based on size and firepower.
In the rating system of the Royal Navy used to categorise sailing warships, a fifth rate was the second-smallest class of warships in a hierarchical system of six "ratings" based on size and firepower.
In the rating system of the Royal Navy used to categorise sailing warships, a sixth-rate was the designation for small warships mounting between 20 and 28 carriage-mounted guns on a single deck, sometimes with smaller guns on the upper works and sometimes without. It thus encompassed ships with up to 30 guns in all. In the first half of the 18th century the main battery guns were 6-pounders, but by mid-century these were supplanted by 9-pounders. 28-gun sixth rates were classed as frigates, those smaller as 'post ships', indicating that they were still commanded by a full ('post') captain, as opposed to sloops of 18 guns and less under commanders.
The rating system of the Royal Navy and its predecessors was used by the Royal Navy between the beginning of the 17th century and the middle of the 19th century to categorise sailing warships, initially classing them according to their assigned complement of men, and later according to the number of their carriage-mounted guns. The rating system of the Royal Navy formally came to an end in the late 19th century by declaration of the Admiralty. The main cause behind this declaration focused on new types of gun, the introduction of steam propulsion and the use of iron and steel armour which made rating ships by the number of guns obsolete.
HMS Cornwall was a 74-gun third-rate Vengeur-class ship of the line built for the Royal Navy in the 1810s. She spent most of her service in reserve and was converted into a reformatory and a school ship in her later years. The ship was broken up in 1875.
HMS Magnanime was a 64-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched on 14 October 1780 at Deptford Dockyard. She belonged to the Intrepid-class designed by Sir John Williams and later was razeed into a 44 gun frigate.
Henry Adams (1713–1805) was a British Master Shipbuilder. He lived and worked at Bucklers Hard between 1744 and 1805. His home is now The Master Shipbuilders House Hotel in Buckler's Hard. He was responsible for building many famous warships during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The Sphinx-class sailing sixth rates were a series of ten post ships built to a 1773 design by John Williams. Although smaller than true frigates, post ships were often referred to incorrectly as frigates by sea officers, but not by the Admiralty or Navy Board.
British Warships in the Age of Sail is a series of four books by maritime historian Rif Winfield comprising a historical reference work providing details of all recorded ships that served or were intended to serve in the (British) Royal Navy from 1603 to 1863. Similar volumes dealing with other navies during the Age of Sail have followed from the same publisher.
Censeur was a 74-gun Pégase-class ship of the line of the French Navy, launched in 1782. She served during the last months of the American War of Independence, and survived to see action in the French Revolutionary Wars. She was briefly captured by the British, but was retaken after a few months and taken back into French service as Révolution. She served until 1799, when she was transferred to the Spanish Navy, but was found to be rotten and was broken up.
The Swan class were built as a 14-gun class of ship sloops for the Royal Navy, although an extra two guns were added soon after completion.
HMS Magicienne was the lead ship of her class of two 16-gun, steam-powered second-class paddle frigates built for the Royal Navy in the 1850s. Commissioned in 1853 she played a small role in the Crimean War of 1854–1855 and was sold for scrap in 1866.
HMS Avenger was a 16-gun ship-sloop of the British Royal Navy. Previously she was the French privateer Marseillaise and then naval corvette Vengeur, which the British Army captured during the battle for Martinique in 1794. The Admiralty sold her in 1802.
HMS Arethusa was a 46-gun Leda-class fifth-rate frigate built for the Royal Navy during the 1810s. The ship was never commissioned and was converted into a lazarette in 1836. She was renamed HMS Bacchus in 1844 and was further converted into a coal hulk in 1851–52. The ship was sold for scrap in 1883.