Waterbodies & Maritime => Vessels => Topic started by: Bilgerat on February 17, 2013, 11:27:39

Title: HMS Rifleman (1809 - 1856)
Post by: Bilgerat on February 17, 2013, 11:27:39
HMS Rifleman was an 18 gun Cruizer Class brig-sloop built under contract by John King at his shipyard in Upnor on the River Medway. This shipyard stood approximately on the site of Patmans Wharf, adjacent to the Pier pub in Lower Upnor.

Designed by William Rule, the Cruizer class was the most numerous class of warship built by the Royal Navy during the period of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with 106 vessels being built in eight batches between 1797 and 1815. They were also the second-most numerous class of sailing warship built by any navy at any time after the slightly smaller Cherokee Class brig-sloops, also built for the Royal Navy. The Cruizer class brig-sloops featured a narrower than normal (for the time) hull, which, combined with their fine, almost clipper-like bows, gave them a good turn of speed. They were very seaworthy vessels for their time and despite their small size, were true ocean-going warships. Their brig-rig (with two, rather than three masts) and carronade armament meant that they only required small crews, which was a god-send for the Royal Navy which at the time was desperately short of men despite the efforts of the Impressment Service. Their armament of carronades gave them a ferocious short-range broadside, which suited the Royal Navy's preferred tactic of engaging the enemy at close range. In fact, the weight of broadside they could fire was slightly heavier than that of the nominal armament of an 18 pdr armed 36 gun frigate. All that firepower was delivered on a hull half the size of the frigate and manned only a third of the crew. The downside to this was that their brig rig only having two masts, made them more vulnerable to being crippled by damage to masts, spars and rigging. In addition, the short range of their carronades made them vulnerable to being picked off at range by the long guns fitted to enemy frigates. The Cruizer Class Brig-Sloops were flush-decked, that is they carried their guns on the main deck, out in the open, rather than on an enclosed gun-deck. Their main deck was a continuous deck between the bow and the stern and the whole crew, including the officers and warrant-officers lived on the lower deck, below the main deck.

The term 'Brig-Sloop' was an abbreviation of 'Brig-rigged Sloop-of-War'. The term 'sloop-of-war' itself was used to classify an ocean-going warship which carried less than the 20 guns required for the vessel to be rated under the Royal Navy's rating system. The first batch of Cruizer class vessels was to have comprised of four vessels of which only one was to have been built in a Kent shipyard, by Thomas Pitcher at his Northfleet shipyard. The order for that vessel was cancelled before construction began. Of the intended four vessels, two were ship-rigged, with three masts and the other two, including the one to have been built in Northfleet, were to be brig-rigged with two masts. This was so that the Royal Navy could assess the performance of the two types. In the end, the two ship-rigged vessels became known as the Snake class, which apart from their different arrangement of masts, rigging and sails, were identical to their cousins of the Cruizer class.

Sloops-of-war like HMS Rifleman tended to be commanded by an officer in the position of 'Master and Commander', abbreviated to 'Commander'. It combined the positions of Commanding Officer and Sailing Master. 'Commander' wasn't a formal rank as it is today and an officer in such a position held a substantive rank of Lieutenant. That stated, the Master and Commander would receive a substantially higher salary than a Lieutenant and would also receive the lions share of any prize and head money earned by his vessel and crew. If he was successful, he would be 'Posted', or promoted to Captain and would either remain in command of the sloop or would be appointed to a rated vessel. If a war ended and the vessel was paid off, unless he was lucky and well-connected enough to receive another command appointment, the commander would revert to his substantive rank of Lieutenant and receive half-pay accordingly. Sloops-of-war therefore were generally commanded by ambitious, well-connected young men anxious to prove themselves.

HMS Rifleman was one of 14 vessels of the sixth batch, ordered by the Mulgrave Board, so-called because Henry Phipps, the First Earl of Mulgrave was First Lord of the Admiralty at the time. She was the second of a pair ordered from King, the other was HMS Hecate. Of the 14 vessels of the sixth batch of Cruizer Class Brig-sloops, eight were built in Kent shipyards. HMS Castilian and HMS Arachne were built by Thomas Hills at Sandwich, HMS Thracian and HMS Crane were built by Thomas and Josiah Brindley at Frindsbury with HMS Echo and HMS Sophie being built by John Pelham, also at Frindsbury.

The contract for the construction of HMS Rifleman was signed on Saturday 5th November 1808.  Her keel was laid in January 1809 and she was launched with her hull complete on 12th August that year. The vessel was then taken upstream to the Royal Dockyard at Chatham for fitting out, when her guns, masts and rigging were installed.

Cruizer Class plans

Berth Deck and Main Deck plans


Sheer Plan and Lines


Side view of a Cruizer Class brig-sloop. The figures under the driver boom and the stern of the vessel give an idea of her size.


A fine model of HMS Teazer. HMS Rifleman was identical:


When complete, HMS Rifleman was a vessel of 382 tons. She was 100 ft long on her main deck and 30 ft wide across her beam. She was armed with 16 32pdr carronades on her broadside and 2 6pdr long guns in the bow. She was manned by a crew of 121 officers, men and boys.

Little is known of the vessels career before 1811. HMS Rifleman is shown as departing Portsmouth on 28th January 1811, bound for Oporto commanded by Mr Joseph Pearce. On 9th March 1811, she departed Falmouth bound for Lisbon as part of the escort for a 130 vessel convoy.

By October 1811, she was based out of Leith in Scotland. While she was there, the 1812 War with the United States broke out and HMS Rifleman found herself looking for American ships. In September 1812, she found one and accompanied an American brig into Leith on the 14th. On 18th January 1813, she left Leith for the last time, bound for Portsmouth arriving on 13th. After a short refit and resupply, the vessel left Portsmouth for the Caribbean. On 13th May, in company with HMS Sceptre (74), she escorted a convoy of 7 troopships carrying the 13th Foot Regiment (1st Somersetshire) and 64th Foot Regiment (2nd Staffordshire) from Martinique to Halifax, Nova Scotia.Incidentally, it was soldiers from the 64th who formed the Guard of Honour at the funeral in Halifax of Captain James Lawrence, late of the USS Chesapeake after that ship had been taken in the famous encounter with HMS Shannon. The convoy arrived without incident in Halifax on 1st June.

The rest of 1813 and into 1814 was spent in the typical duties of a small warship in the 1812 War, those of patrolling and enforcing the blockade of the American east coast and escorting convoys between the Caribbean and Canada. On 28th May 1814, she captured the American privateer schooner USS Diomede. This vessel, mounting three 12pdr long guns had previously had a successful career, preying on British shipping up and down the east coast of the USA. Commanded by J Crowninshield of Salem, Massachussetts, she had been operating out of Salem. She had departed Salem on 27th April and in the time between then and her capture, she had taken the fishing vessel Cod Hook, sent into Castine. She had also taken the Upton, a 270 ton vessel from Poole,  out of Cork bound for Newfoundland with 104 passengers aboard. That vessel had been sent into Wiscasset. She also took the Mary Moore, bound from Cork to Quebec, although that ship was later retaken by HMS Martin (18). The Diomede had also had a run-in with HMS Prometheus (18), exchanging fire before escaping. She had also taken the fishing vessel Cod Hood, out of Cork, the brigs Harmony, Providence and Recovery and the schooners Traveller and Cronk. HMS Rifleman had therefore put an end to the career of a very successful privateer.

By this time, the war in America was in stalemate. The Royal Navy's blockade of the east coast of the USA was, apart from American victories in single-ship actions, successful and was causing great difficulties for the American merchant marine and had brought commercial shipping to a virtual halt. Victory was in sight in the war in Europe. Spain had collapsed and the British were winning the Peninsular War. The French had been defeated in Russia  and the regime of Napoleon Bonaparte was on the brink of collapse. The war with the Americans had proved very costly to the British economy as a result of the loss of trade. Peace negotiations started in August 1814, but despite this, the war continued apace.

As the peace talks were just about getting under way, on 31st August 1814, HMS Rifleman, in company with her sister-ship HMS Peruvian, the 18pdr-armed 38 gun frigate HMS Tenedos and the 74 gun ship of the line HMS Bulwark joined a force comprising HMS Dragon (74), the 24pdr-armed Heavy Frigate HMS Endymion , the 18pdr armed frigate HMS Bacchante (38) and seven transport ships. Together, the force was to launch an amphibious raid on the port of Castine in order to destroy the fort and port facilities there. Castine was used by the Americans as a base for several privateers and also ships of the US Navy. At the time, large amphibious assaults were also either being carried out or were being planned on Detroit, Washington DC and New Orleans. This fleet anchored off the town on 1st September and landed troops who spent the next two days destroying the fort there and burning the town to the ground. The British were aware that the US Navy had a small frigate, the USS Adams (26) in or near the port, so HMS Rifleman, together with HMS Sylph (18) and HMS Peruvian and the ships boats from HMS Tenedos were sent on an expedition up the River Penobscot to locate and capture or destroy it on 2nd September. The Americans however, were aware of the British expedition and were determined not to allow the USS Adams to fall into British hands and to prevent this from happening, the frigate was burned before the expedition arrived. The force returned to Castine empty-handed. The British withdrew from Castine on 3rd September having been successful in destroying the port's facilities together with the fort there.

HMS Rifleman then continued with her previous work. On 24th December 1814, after no less than 4 months of negotiations, both sides in the war signed the Treaty of Ghent. The British Parliament ratified the treaty on 27th December, but the US Congress didn't do so until 17th February 1815, at which point the war ended. On 10th July 1815, HMS Rifleman returned to Portsmouth.

Unlike many Royal Navy vessels, HMS Rifleman's career didn't end with the war. In the post-war environment, small warships like her were invaluable and HMS Rifleman was then engaged in the struggle to end the transatlantic slave trade. On 18th May 1816, she departed Portsmouth for Jamaica and was to spend the next ten years patrolling and taking slave ships.

In December 1826, HMS Rifleman was reassigned to the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions had been on the increase between Russia and Turkey. The Russo-Turkish wars had been ongoing, on and off since the 1560's. They continued until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War and as such, were one of the longest-running conflicts in European history. The British and the Royal Navy were keen to ensure that any fighting between Russian and Turkish forces should be contained and not impact British trade in the region.

While HMS Rifleman was in the Mediterranean, Greek warships were taking advantage of the chaos and were plundering the region. Because the Greek government was then, as it is now, broke, they couldn't afford to feed their sailors, so the Greek ships were reduced to begging food from passing trade. Commander Fred T Mitchell, then commanding HMS Rifleman reported that in September 1827, the brig Sultan, of Yarmouth had encountered the Greek armed schooner Calypso while taking on provisions at Tenedos. He reported that the Greeks had begged Captain Rees of the Sultan for food and that he had given them two bags of bread and sent them on their way.

War broke out in June of 1828 and while the war was ongoing, HMS Rifleman was based out of Tenedos, near the Dardanelles and Malta. Following major defeats in the war, the Turks sued for peace and as a warship belonging to a major, neutral power, HMS Rifleman was chosen to escort a Turkish steamer carrying Turkish diplomats from Tarapia to the Crimea to offer Turkish peace terms to the Russians. On 14th September 1829, the Treaty of Adrianople ended the war.

In June 1831, HMS Rifleman returned to Portsmouth and paid off. Two years later, she was taken into the basin at Portsmouth and prepared for sale into merchant service. This would have involved the removal of her carronades and associated fittings. It would have been up to her new owners to arm her, should they decide to do so. On 21st January 1836, HMS Rifleman was sold into the whaling trade.

Refitted with a Barque rig (three-masted with square sails on the fore and main masts but not the mizzen mast), Rifleman made four whaling voyages to the Southern Ocean between 1837 and 1856. For her first voyage, she was owned by Green and Co under Mr Henry William Davis, Master. She left the UK on 24th October 1837 and returned on 6th April 1841 after working the waters around New Zealand. On the second voyage, she left the UK on 13th October 1841 under the same master with the same owners and after having spent the next three and a half years in the South Pacific, she returned on 4th July 1845. I've not been able to find much n the way of records for her third voyage, other than that she left in 1849 and returned in 1852. Between then and her final voyage, she was sold because by the time the vessel departed for this, she was owned by Sweetings and was commanded by Mr Grossman. Her fourth voyage started in the UK on 1st December 1852 and she returned on 1st September 1856. She spent this voyage in the waters around Timor. By 1857, Rifleman was no longer listed by Lloyds, so it may be that she was sold for breaking up or was lost.
Title: Re: HMS Rifleman (1809 - 1836)
Post by: petermilly on February 22, 2013, 11:58:50
Once again thank you Bilgerat for a very interesting read.  :)
Title: Re: HMS Rifleman (1809 - 1856)
Post by: Bilgerat on September 28, 2017, 21:09:54
Updated with more information and plans, together with some details of what happened to HMS Rifleman after she was sold into merchant service.