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Author Topic: HMS Princess Amelia (1757 - 1818)  (Read 7764 times)

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Re: HMS Princess Amelia (1757 - 1818)
« Reply #2 on: October 22, 2012, 09:09:02 »
Very interesting thank you

Offline Bilgerat

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HMS Princess Amelia (1757 - 1818)
« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2012, 23:03:55 »
HMS Princess Amelia was an 80 gun 3rd rate ship of the line built to the 1745 Establishment by the Royal Dockyard at Woolwich.

An 'Establishment' was a set of standardised specifications, which detailed everything about a new ship, within which a Master Shipwright would be expected to design a ship. This meant that although ships were built to the same specifications, there were always slight differences between ships, meaning that experienced sailors could tell individual ships by sight. The 1745 Establishment called for two types of Third rate ship of the line, one of 70 guns, the other of 80. The specification for the 80 gun ship called for a ship which carried her guns on three gundecks. The design was not a success and in the end, only two were ever built, HMS Cambridge was one and HMS Princess Amelia was the other. As such, the 80 gun ship was the smallest of the Royal Navy's ships of the line to carry her guns on three gundecks. Experience soon found them to be too short and too high. They were slow, cumbersome and were no match for the 74 gun two-decked ships which the French had been building since the 1730's. The other type of Third rate ship specied by the 1745 Establishment, the 70-gun two-decker wasn't a success either, she carried her lower deck guns too close to the water line and they were unable to open their lower gundeck gunports in anything other than a flat calm for fear of sinking the ship. Although an Amendment to the 1745 Establishment 70-gunner was issued in 1752, the coming of more enlightened men such as Sir Thomas Slade brought an end to the Establishments and the Surveyors of the Navy Board began to produce the designs centrally, rather than leaving it to the Master Shipwrights and saw the Admiralty adopt the Class system the French had been using for years, where ships were built in different shipyards to identical designs. The end of the Establishments also saw the end of attempts by the Navy Board to dictate to the Royal Navy what ships they should use. Instead, the Surveyors read the reports written by commanders and designed the ships that the Royal Navy needed.

Named after the daughter of King George II, HMS Princess Amelia was ordered from the Royal Dockyard at Woolwich on 28th March 1751. Her keel was laid on 15th August and she was launched into the Thames on Monday, 7th March 1757. On completion, the ship weighed 1,579 tons and was 165ft long on her upper gundeck. She was 47' 3" wide across the beam and up to the day of her completion, she had cost 45,062, 12s, 7d. The ship was armed with 26 32pdr guns on her lower gundeck, 26 18pdr guns on the middle gundeck and 24 9pdr guns on the upper gundeck. She also mounted 4 6pdr guns on the forecastle.

Sheer plan and lines of HMS Princess Amelia.

The launch of HMS Cambridge. Also an 80 gun 3rd rate of the 1745 Establishment, HMS Princess Amelia would have been almost identical.

The ship was officially completed at Woolwich on Monday 16th May 1757, by which time the Seven Years War with France had been ongoing for just over a year. The final stages of her fitting out and commissioning were overseen by Captain Samuel Graves and when the ship was ready for sea, he handed command of the new ship to Captain Sir Stephen Colby. Amongst those who joined the ship was 14-year old Ordinary Seaman Cuthbert Baines. He had already served in the Royal Navy for three years when he joined the ship. He would eventually become a Midshipman, go on to be First Lieutenant of HMS Namur (the 'ship under the floor' at Chatham Historic Dockyard), command HMS Falcon (14) and command the Falmouth Impress Service during the American War of Independence.

On completion, the ship also became flagship of Rear Admiral Thomas Broderick.

The Seven Years War was the first 'World War' in the proper sense of the world and the Royal Navy was to find itself in action against the French and their allies in waters from the East Coast of America to India. In September 1757, HMS Princess Amelia took part in the Rochefort Raid. This was the first in a series of 'descents' or amphibious operations against France. This occurred at a time when the Prime Minister of the day, William Pitt the Elder, was advocating a series of 'descents' or amphibious raids on French home territory. The land forces element of the raid was to be commanded by Sir John Mordaunt and his mission was to seize the port, destroy it and then leave. After seizing the Ile d'Aix, it soon became clear that the strength of the defences at Rochefort had been grossly underestimated and the rest of the raid was called off.

On Friday 6th January 1758, HMS Princess Amelia received a new commander, Captain John Bray and a new flag officer, the Jersey-born Commodore Phillip Durrell. On 23rd February, the ship sailed to join the action in North America. Durrell was promoted Rear-Admiral on 8th July 1758 and he became 2IC of the fleet sent to take Quebec from the French, supporting a land operation under the overall command of General Wolfe. His mission was to carry out a reconnaisance of the St Lawrence River to find a suitable place to land the troops. This was necessary as their target is 1,000 miles inland and an overland march from the coast through enemy occupied Canada was impossible.

The mission got off to a poor start when they failed to prevent an enemy supply convoy from entering the St Lawrence River, which Durrell wrongly thought was icebound. Rear-Admiral Durrell decided to sail his flagship up the river to carry out his reconnaisance personally. They fooled French river pilots into boarding HMS Princess Amelia by sailing into the St Lawrence River flying French flags. The ruse worked and HMS Princess Amelia successfully reached Quebec and sighted suitable landing places before heading back downstream and returning with the rest of the squadron and the landing forces. After the landings, General Wolfe successfully led the attack and stormed the fortress at Quebec Heights, although was himself killed in action as he led the assault from the front. For his role in the stunning victory at Quebec, Durrell was promoted to Vice-Admiral, but his relationship with General Wolfe was not good. In a letter to the Prime Minister, William Pitt, written before his death, Wolfe was highly critical of Durrell, writing "the thorough aversion conceived by the marine of this country against navigating the river St Lawrence I will add from my own knowledge that the second naval officer in command there (Philip Durell) is vastly unequal to the weight of the business; and it is of the first importance to the country that it doth not fall into such hands". The Admiralty however, supported their man on the grounds that the St Lawrence River was usually icebound at that time of year and Durrell could not have expected the river to be navigable any earlier and Wolfe's criticism didn't do any damage to Durrell's career.

HMS Princess Amelia remained in the waters off North America for the rest of the war. In 1760, both Captain Bray and Rear-Admiral Durrell left the ship. Bray was replaced by Captain John Montagu, who remained in command until July 1762. During that time, HMS Princess Amelia operated as a private ship, with no flag-officer aboard. In July 1762, the ship received her most famous commander when Captain Montagu was replaced by Captain Richard, the Lord Howe. Howe, who had yet to achieve his great fame, went on to be one of our greatest naval heroes, winning many major naval battles in later wars and bringing the Great Mutiny at Spithead to a peaceful end in 1797.

On 10th February 1763, the Seven Years War was ended by the Treaty of Paris and HMS Princess Amelia returned to the UK, paying off at Portsmouth later that month. Between June 1764 and May 1765, the ship underwent repairs at Portsmouth before going into the Ordinary. There the ship was to remain with her guns, yards, sails and running rigging removed and her hatches and gunports sealed shut and under the care of a skeleton crew until January 1771, when she was recommissioned, taken into the Dockyard and refitted for sea. Ready for sea by the end of April 1771, the ship received her new commander, Captain Samuel Marshall and a new flag-officer, Rear Admiral George Rodney. Rodney was another officer who was to gain great fame in the next war, the American War of Independance, when amongst other things, he prevented the British from being driven from the Caribbean by defeating the French at the Battle of the Saintes in April 1782.

The ship sailed for Jamaica on Monday 3rd June 1771 and remained in the Caribbean until September 1773 when she returned to Portsmouth as a private ship under a new commander, Captain Andrew Barkley and paid off into the Ordinary again.

By 1775, unrest in the American Colonies over what the colonists saw as unfair taxation and the heavy-handed methods of enforcing them had erupted into a full-scale war. The Royal Navy once again mobilised it's fleets for war and as part of that mobilisation, HMS Princess Amelia was recommissioned. The recommissioning took place in December 1776 and the ship was taken into the Dockyard at Portsmouth and fitted for sea. The refit was completed by the end of January 1777 and the ship received her new commander, Captain Digby Dent.

HMS Princess Amelia commissioned into the Channel Fleet, Captain Dent remained in command until 1779, when he was replaced in command by Captain George Walters. Between July and August 1779, the ship underwent a refit in Portsmouth. Captain Walters was replaced by Captain John Macartney in 1780.

During the American War of Independance, tensions had been increasing with Britain's main European naval ally, the Dutch Republic. Things came to a head in the Fielding-Bylandt Affair (see here: and by December 1780, the two former allies were at war.

On 1st August 1780, HMS Princess Amelia was operating as a private ship as part of a squadron of 7 ships of the line under the command of Vice-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. The squadron was escorting a convoy of merchant ships from the Baltic. On that day, a convoy of Dutch merchant ships left Texel escorted by a force of 7 ships of the line commanded by Admiral Johan Zoutman. The two forces sighted each other in the morning of 5th August 1781 and formed lines of battle. The two forces pounded each other with cannon-fire from close range for about three hours until the Dutch merchant ships left and returned to Texel. At that point, Parker ordered his ships to reform their line of battle and conducted an orderly withdrawal, as did the Dutch. Casualties were high on both sides. The Dutch ship Holland (68) was so badly damaged that she later sank and HMS Princess Amelia's commander, Captain Macartney was killed in action. Across the whole British squadron, 104 men were killed and 339 men were wounded. The Dutch suffered a similar level of casualties. On a strategic level, the Battle of Dogger Bank (1781) was a British victory as the Dutch fleet didn't put to sea again for the rest of the war.

The Battle of Dogger Bank by Thomas Luny. HMS Princess Amelia is the ship in the centre:

All the while the conflict in America had been going on, Spain along with France had been supplying arms to the rebel American forces. In June 1779, Spain had joined France in openly intervening in the war on the American side and almost immediately had laid siege to Gibraltar. It was only by regularly forcing through supply convoys that the British had prevented Gibraltar from falling to the Franco-Spanish siege.

After the death of Captain Macartney, HMS Princess Amelia received a new commander, Captain Billy Douglas on 15th August 1781. On 10th July 1782, he was replaced by her last commander, Captain John Reynolds. At the same time, the ship became the flagship of Rear-Admiral Richard Hughes, when he took command of a squadron consisting also of HMS Berwick (74), HMS Bienfaissant (64), HMS Fortitude (64) and HMS Raisonnable (64). The squadron became part of a huge fleet of 35 ships of the line led by her former commander, now Admiral Lord Howe, flying his flag in the 100 gun first rate ship HMS Victory. Hughes was appointed as flag officer in command of the 2nd Division of the rearguard. The fleet was ordered to force a convoy of 100 merchant ships through the Franco-Spanish blockade of Gibraltar. By a stroke of luck, a storm scattered the enemy fleet into the Mediterranean and the convoy made it into Gibraltar without a shot being fired. The same storm however, also forced the British fleet into the Mediterranean and the two fleets came into contact off Cape Spartel, in modern day Morocco. Howe was under orders to avoid a major action against the enemy once the convoy was safely in Gibraltar, but the enemy stood between him and the open Atlantic. The Franco-Spanish fleet had the advantage of having more larger ships in that no less than seven of their ships mounted 100 or more guns. This included the gigantic Spanish ship Santissima Trinidad, mounting 140 guns on 4 gundecks; the largest and most powerful ship in the world at the time. Howe, on the other hand, only had two ships mounting 100 guns, HMS Victory and HMS Britannia. The British ships had the advantage of having their bottoms coppered and this gave them a huge advantage in speed. At 17:45 on 20th October 1782, the enemy opened fire and the British returned fire. The two fleets didn't really get to grips with each other, with the British, in line with their orders, able to overhaul and overtake the Franco-Spanish fleet. There were casualties however and HMS Princess Amelia suffered 4 dead with 5 wounded in the Battle of Cape Spartel.

On 3rd September 1783, the war was officially ended by the Treaty of Paris. The war had been a disaster for the British. The American colonies had been lost and it was only HMS Princess Amelia's former flag officer George Rodney's victory at the Battle of the Saintes in April 1782 which had prevented them from being driven from the Caribbean as well.

In July 1783, HMS Princess Amelia paid off for the last time at Portsmouth. The shortcomings of the 80 gun three decker had been proved in the naval actions of the Seven Years War, where the superior speed, manoeuvrability and firepower of the 74 gun two-decker had led to that type of ship being the dominant type in the Royal Navy's battle fleets. It was a measure of how desperately unprepared the Royal Navy was for the outbreak of the American War of Independance that ships like HMS Princess Amelia had been recommissioned to take part in it. Their usefulness as comfortable flagships was more than outweighed by their uselessness in the kind of aggressive, close-quarter combat which came to dominate the Royal Navy's tactics as the American War of Independence went on.

Between April and August 1788, HMS Princess Amelia was converted to a Lazaretto Hulk for use by HM Customs was handed over to them in November. Lazaretto Hulks were principally used for the airing of cargoes of cotton coming from the Levant or the eastern Mediterranean. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Government was concerned with preventing the entry of plague and other diseases into the UK. Ships leaving the Mediterranean were inspected before departure and were given a clean or foul bill of health. If they had a foul bill, they were required to perform quarantine on arrival in the UK. The main quarantine station was at Stangate Creek in the River Medway. Others were established  on the Motherbank off Ryde on the Isle of Wight with smaller ones off or near the major British ports. The ship was towed to Stangate Creek and took up her duties for the Board of Customs. She continued in this role until 24th March 1818 when she was taken into the Royal Dockyard at Sheerness and sold for breaking up to a Mr Snook for 2,610.

"I did not say that the French will not come, I said they will not come by sea" - Lord St Vincent


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