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Levant's sister ships, HMS Carysfort. Carysfort cropped.jpg
Levant's sister ships, HMS Carysfort.

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.



Sixth-rate ships typically had a crew of about 150–240 men, and measured between 450 and 550 tons. A 28-gun ship would have about 19 officers; commissioned officers would include the captain, and two lieutenants; warrant officers would include the master, ship's surgeon, and purser. The other quarterdeck officers were the chaplain and a Royal Marines lieutenant. The ship also carried the standing warrant officers, the gunner, the bosun and the carpenter, and two master's mates, four midshipmen, an assistant surgeon, and a captain's clerk. [1] The rest of the men were the crew, or the 'lower deck'. They slept in hammocks and ate their simple meals at tables, sitting on wooden benches. A sixth rate carried about 23 marines, while in a strong crew the bulk of the rest were experienced seamen rated 'able' or 'ordinary'. In a weaker crew there would be a large proportion of 'landsmen', adults who were unused to the sea.

The larger sixth rates were those of 28 guns (including four smaller guns mounted on the quarterdeck) and were classed as frigates. The smaller sixth rates with between 20 and 24 guns, still all ship-rigged and sometimes flush-decked vessels, were generally designated as post ships. These vessels could perhaps be considered comparable to the light cruisers and destroyers of more recent times, respectively.

Regardless of armament, sixth-rates were known as "post ships" because, being rated, they were still large enough to have a post-captain in command instead of a lieutenant or commander. [2]

During the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815), the now elderly sixth-rate frigates were found to be too small for their expected duties, which were more easily performed by fifth-rate frigates. Most were phased out without replacement, although a few lasted in auxiliary roles until after 1815.

In fiction

The Aubrey–Maturin series of novels by Patrick O'Brian features the sixth-rate ship HMS Surprise as the frigate captained by Jack Aubrey. It is based on the actual historical frigate of the same name, formerly the French Unité , which was captured and renamed by the Royal Navy in 1796. The Surprise was portrayed in the 2003 film Master and Commander which was adapted from the novels.

In the novel Mason and Dixon by Thomas Pynchon the title characters set sail for Sumatra in 1761 to view the Venus transit in the sixth-rate ship HMS Seahorse.

The novel The Watering Place of Good Peace by Geoffrey Jenkins includes a fictional sixth rate ship called HMS Plymouth Sound, which is described as being one of the fastest sailing ships in the Royal Navy.

In Hornblower and the Atropos by C.S. Forester, the titular character - Horatio Hornblower - commands a sixth-rate ship of 22 guns.

See also


  1. Lavery, Brian (1989). Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization . Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press. p.  328. ISBN   0-87021-258-3.
  2. McLaughlan 2014, pp. 10–11

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Fifth-rate Historical category for Royal Navy vessels, based on number of guns

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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.

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HMS <i>Tremendous</i>

HMS Tremendous was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, built to the lines of HMS Ganges by William Barnard's yard at Deptford Green, and launched on 30 October 1784.

HMS <i>Gloucester</i> (1812) Vengeur-class ship of the line

HMS Gloucester was a 74-gun, third rate Vengeur-class ship of the line built for the Royal Navy in the 1810s. She played a minor role in the Napoleonic Wars and was cut down into a 50-gun fourth rate frigate in 1831–32. The ship was converted into a receiving ship and broken up in 1884.

HMS Falmouth was a 50-gun fourth-rate ship of the line built for the Royal Navy in the first decade of the 18th century. The ship participated in several battles during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–15) and the War of Jenkins' Ear (1739–48).

HMS <i>Milan</i> (1805)

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Post ship

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 ship of the sixth rate that was smaller than a frigate, but by virtue of being a rated ship, 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.

HMS <i>Venus</i> (1758)

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HMS <i>Ariadne</i> (1816)

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HMS <i>Thetis</i> (1817) 46-gun Leda-class fifth-rate frigate built for the Royal Navy during the 1810s

HMS Thetis was a 46-gun Leda-class fifth-rate frigate built for the Royal Navy during the 1810s. She was first commissioned in 1823 and was assigned to the South America Station three years later. The ship was wrecked in 1830 off Cape Frio, Brazil, with the loss of 22 crewmen; most of her cargo of bullion was successfully salvaged.

HMS <i>Arethusa</i> (1817)

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.

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