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Author Topic: HMS Royal George (1788 - 1822)  (Read 8757 times)

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Offline Bilgerat

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Re: HMS Royal George (1788 - 1822)
« Reply #3 on: October 01, 2017, 10:54:39 »
Updated with some more pics....
"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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Re: HMS Royal George (1788 - 1822)
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2013, 09:23:36 »
Once again a fascinating story, thank you.  :)

Offline Bilgerat

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HMS Royal George (1788 - 1822)
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2013, 02:42:44 »
HMS Royal George was a 100 gun First Rate ship of the line, built at the Royal Dockyard, Chatham, Designed by Edward Hunt, the ship was originally intended to be the the lead vessel of a class of four First Rate ships, three of which were to be built at Chatham. In the end, all the ships ended up being different, some more than others. The second vessel, HMS Queen Charlotte was armed differently, the third one, HMS Ville de Paris was fitted with an extra ten guns and HMS Hibernia, built at the Royal Dockyard at Plymouth, was extended in length, allowing her to carry 120 guns.

The First Rate ship of the line was the equivalent in the navies of the 18th and early 19th centuries of one of todays nuclear powered aircraft carriers. They were so expensive to build, operate and maintain that their ownership was precluded to the navies of the superpowers of the day, France, Spain and Britain. Whenever a war ended, they were amongst the first vessels to be decommissioned, but during wartime, in the set-piece naval battles of the time, they were worth their weight in gold because of the 'shock and awe' value of their huge, towering size and massive firepower.

HMS Royal George was ordered from the Royal Dockyard, Chatham on 23rd March 1782. At the time, the American War of Independence was at it's height, although the war on the American mainland had already been lost with the surrender of General Lord Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown the previous year. The French and Spanish were openly involved in the war and Britain was struggling to maintain control of the Caribbean and to defend it's possessions in India. Because of the huge amount of timber required for her construction and the need to season and cut it, her keel wasn't laid until June 1784. The ship was formally named on 11th September 1784, in honour of the previous ship of the name, The previous HMS Royal George had foundered at her mooring in Portsmouth Harbour in 1782 in the worst accident ever to have occurred within the confines of a British port. Over 900 men, women and children had drowned.The new ship's construction was supervised by John Nelson, Master Shipwright at Chatham and the ship was launched from the Number 1 Slipway into the Medway on 16th September 1788. In line with ship construction techniques of the day, the hull was complete when she was launched and only required guns, masts and rigging to be installed and stores loaded to make her ready for sea. The ship was declared complete in April 1790. By the time she was complete, her construction and fitting out had cost the (then) huge sum of £51,799. 5s. 7d.

This famous painting by Nicholas Pocock shows HMS Royal George on the right fitting out in the River Medway off what is now Sun Pier, with HMS Queen Charlotte under construction in the centre background:

On completion, HMS Royal George was a ship of 2,286 tons. She was 190 ft long on her upper gundeck and 52' 5" wide across her beam. She was armed with 30 42pdr long guns on her lower gundeck, 28 24pdr long guns on her middle gundeck, 30 12pdr long guns on her upper gundeck, 10 12pdr long guns on her quarterdeck and 2 12pdr long guns on her forecastle. She was manned by a crew of 850 men, boys, officers and marines. When the ship was completed, she was the largest ship ever to have been built for the Royal Navy.

Royal George Class plans

Orlop Plan:

Lower Gundeck Plan:

Middle Gundeck Plan:

Upper Gundeck Plan:

Quarterdeck and Forecastle Plans:

Inboard Profile and Plan:

Sheer Plan and Lines:

Model of HMS Queen Charlotte. HMS Royal George was identical, other than decorations and armament, port bow view:

Port broadside view:

Starboard quarter view:

The ship commissioned in May 1790 for the Spanish Armament Crisis under Captain Thomas Pringle but paid off in July when a peaceful settlement to that crisis was negotiated. The ship then remained in the Medway until the outbreak of war with France in February 1793. She commissioned again, under Captain William Domett on the outbreak of the war and in the same month became flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Hood, younger brother of the more famous Lord Samuel Hood. She sailed to join the Channel Fleet, then under the overall command of Admiral Richard, the Lord Howe, at Spithead.

On 14th June 1793, the ship sailed from the anchorage off St Helens, Isle of Wight with the rest of the Channel Fleet, in order to search for the French Fleet, thought to be at sea intending to disrupt transatlantic convoys. By the 18th, the fleet was west of the Isles of Scilly conducting manoeuvres. On 31st July, the French were spotted, but the British were unable to close and the French escaped. On 10th August, Howe gave up the search and took his fleet into Torbay. Two weeks later, the fleet left Torbay to escort home-bound convoys from Newfoundland and the Caribbean. This pattern continued into the autumn of that year. On 18th November 1793, the fleet spotted a strange squadron. This turned out to be a French squadron of 6 ships of the line, two frigates, a brig and a schooner. The French, possibly looking to disrupt British convoys, appear to have mistaken Lord Howe's fleet for a convoy and had closed to intercept. The French squadron, unaware that the 'convoy' was actually the Royal Navy's Channel Fleet, bore down until their hulls were clearly visible from the decks of the British ships. On realising their mistake, they turned and fled. Lord Howe, flying his command flag in HMS Royal George's sister-ship HMS Queen Charlotte, ordered the leading ships in his fleet, HMS Russell (74), HMS Bellerophon (74), HMS Audacious (74), HMS Defence (74) and HMS Ganges (74) to set all possible sail, give chase and engage the French. In the heavy weather, HMS Defence lost her main and fore topmasts and HMS Russell sprang her fore topmast. Howe ordered the rest of the ships to abandon the chase and instead ordered his frigates to keep the enemy in sight. The French returned to their bases, while the British continued cruising the English Channel, Western Approaches and Bay of Biscay before returning to the anchorage at Spithead by mid-December

By the spring of 1794, France was in trouble. The harvest the previous year had failed and the country was facing widespread famine. The fact that France was at war with all her neighbours precluded overland shipments, so the Revolutionary Government had looked to their colonies and to the United States for assistance. By March, they had arranged for a huge shipment of grain from the Americans. In order to minimise the risk of interception of this vital cargo by the British, it was arranged between France and the USA that it should be shipped across the Atlantic in one go. A massive convoy of 117 merchant ships assembled in Hampton Roads in Chesapeake Bay. This contained enough food to feed the whole of France for a year. From the French point of view, failure was not an option. The convoy was expected to take up to two months to cross the Atlantic and departed American waters on 2nd April 1794.

The British were aware of the convoy and it's importance to France and had made preparations for it's interception and destruction. It was hoped that if Lord Howe and his Channel Fleet could succeed in destroying the convoy, this would bring the war to an early end.

HMS Royal George remained at Spithead with the Channel Fleet until 2nd May 1794, when in company with the rest of the fleet, she departed to begin the search for the French convoy. A series of skirmishes in which HMS Royal George was not involved occurred in the latter half of May 1794, the most significant of which occurred on 29th in which several ships of both fleets were damaged. On 1st June 1794, what was to become the Battle of the Glorious First of June began when Lord Howe began to execute his battle plan. This was to bring his entire fleet alongside that of the French, then turn towards them with each British ship passing between two of the French and raking them through bows and sterns on each side before coming alongside and engaging them at point blank range, ship to ship. If the plan had worked properly, the French Atlantic Fleet would have been annihilated. Unfortunately, many of Howe's captains either misunderstood or disobeyed his signals and either failed to break through the French line before engaging or merely fired into the resulting melee at long range.

Disposition of the fleets at the Glorious First of June.

HMS Royal George as Flagship of the Rear Division, executed the plan as ordered. She passed between two French ships of the line, the Republicain (106) and Sans Pareil (80). Now, the enormous firepower possessed by HMS Royal George became apparent. As she passed the stern of the Republicain, the most vulnerable part of the ship, she poured a full broadside in along the open and unprotected gundecks, causing terrible carnage and damage. The huge French ship, bigger than HMS Royal George, was totally dismasted. The Sans Pareil, on HMS Royal George's other side, was an 80 gun two-decker. Her bows were better protected than the stern of the Republicain, but was still no match for the British ship's massive broadside and she too was totally dismasted and reduced to a floating shambles with half her crew killed.  HMS Royal George then turned and came alongside. Despite the slaughter below decks, the Republicain fought on. Three French 74 gun ships, the Entreprenant, Neptune and Pelletier, attempted to come to her assistance, but were engaged and beaten off by HMS Royal George. HMS Royal George had been followed through the French line by another massive British ship, the Second-Rate ship of the line HMS Glory of 98 guns. HMS Glory also raked both the Republicain and the Sans Pareil before joining HMS Royal George in the fight. Neither British three-decker got close enough to the Republicain to board her and the remaining French sailors were able to rig a jury mast and move away, firing into both HMS Royal George and HMS Glory as she did so. HMS Royal George lost her foremast, her main and mizzen topmasts and had had her steering shot away, so was unable to follow the Republicain as she moved out of the battle. HMS Glory had also suffered severe damage to her rigging, so she too was unable to follow. In the Battle of the Glorious First of June, HMS Royal George suffered 5 dead including Midshipman John Hughes. Her wounded included her 2nd Lieutenant Mr Thomas Ireland, her Sailing Master Mr John Bamborough, two Midshipmen, Messrs Boyce and Pearce together with 45 seamen and marines. Of the two French ships, the Republicain escaped the battle. The Sans Pareil drifted out of control until she was under the guns of HMS Majestic (74), to whom she offered little resistance and surrendered.

Both sides regarded the battle as a victory, the British because they had engaged and defeated a superior enemy force and the French because the convoy got through. Psychologically though, the result of the battle was a huge boost to the British and a massive blow to the French. Despite all their revolutionary zeal, the French had been comprehensively defeated, the morale of the French navy never recovered and they didn't win a single set-piece naval battle in the entire war. The British had suffered 1,200 dead or wounded but had lost no ships. The French on the other hand suffered 4,000 dead or wounded with another 3,000 captured and had lost six ships of the line captured and one sunk. For his actions in commanding the rearguard of the British Fleet, HMS Royal George's flag officer, Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Hood was made a Viscount and became Viscount Bridport and the ship's 1st Lieutenant, in common with all 1st Lieutenants involved in the battle, was promoted to Commander and given a ship of his own. Total prize money for the captured ships came to £201,096 (or about £18M in todays money) and was divided equally amongst the ships which participated in the battle.

On 13th June 1794, HMS Royal George and the rest of the fleet arrived back at Spithead.

A year later, command of the Channel Fleet had passed to Viscount Bridport, by now promoted to Admiral, who continued to fly his command flag in HMS Royal George. On 12th June 1795, Lord Bridport, in HMS Royal George, led the Channel Fleet out of Spithead to escort a convoy of troopships intended to land a French Royalist army at Quiberon Bay in order to launch a counter-revolution in France. What Bridport didn't know was that a British squadron of 5 ships of the line under Vice-Admiral William Cornwallis had encountered a French squadron of three ships of the line and had forced them to seek shelter under the guns of the highly fortified French island of Belle Isle back in May. Cornwallis had withdrawn to escort his prizes back to UK waters before returning with the intention of destroying the French squadron. In the meantime, the French Atlantic Fleet had learned of the situation of their collegues and had sailed in full force to rescue them. When Cornwallis returned, he had encountered the full force of the French fleet and had been forced to beat a hasty retreat. After abandoning the pursuit of Cornwallis' squadron, the French had sought shelter from deteriorating weather in the anchorage at Belle Isle. In the meantime, Bridport sent the troopships ahead under the command of Commodore Borlase Warren while he stood his fleet offshore, anticipating the arrival of the French attempting to prevent the landings. One of Warren's frigates, HMS Arethusa (40) spotted the French as they were departing Belle Isle on their way back to Brest. On 20th June, Warren's force again met up with the Fleet and informed Viscount Bridport in HMS Royal George of their discovery. Bridport immediately manoeuvred the fleet to stand between Warren's landing force and the French Fleet. At 03:30 on 22nd June, lookouts on HMS Nymphe (28) spotted the French. On spotting the British, the French turned back towards the land. On seeing that the French did not intend to fight, Viscount Bridport ordered his fastest ships to give chase, so at 06:30, HMS Sans Pareil (80, previously captured at the Glorious First of June), HMS Orion (74), HMS Valiant (74), HMS Colossus (74), HMS Irresistible (74) and HMS Russell (74) broke formation to start the chase. HMS Royal George and the rest of the Channel Fleet followed as fast as they could. The British fleet also consisted of HMS Royal George's sister-ship HMS Queen Charlotte as well as no less than 7 98 gun 2nd rate ships. Surprisingly, the giant HMS Queen Charlotte caught up with the smaller ships and engaged the enemy at 06:00 the following day off the rocky island of Groix. In the melee that followed, the French lost three ships of the line and suffered 670 casualties. The British lost no ships and suffered 31 dead and 113 wounded. The French, caught between the rocky coastline and the seemingly invincible British, regrouped and fled into Brest. Viscount Bridport, concerned for his ships' safety so close to the rocks signalled a withdrawal. Viscount Bridport remained off the Brittany coast until the expedition became a complete disaster and he left the area in HMS Royal George on 20th September leaving Rear-Admiral in command of the fleet, keeping an eye on the French at Brest and Lorient.

In 1796, the Admiralty decided to divide the Channel Fleet into three large squadrons. The first was to be led by Rear-Admiral Sir Roger Curtis in HMS Formidable (98) and was to cruise the Western Approaches. The second was to be led by Rear-Admiral Thompson in HMS London (98) and was to blockade Brest and Lorient. The third and largest squadron was to be led by Admiral the Viscount Bridport, remaining in overall command of the fleet, in HMS Royal George and was to remain in reserve at Spithead, to be sent wherever intelligence led them.

By the beginning of 1797, disaffection with their lot had spread amongst the sailors of the Channel Fleet and during routine movement of men between ships, plans had been laid to do something about it. A petition was raised and was sent to Lord Howe, whom the men greatly trusted and respected. Howe, in turn, had directed Rear Admiral Lord Seymour to investigate whether or not the men were really that unhappy and Seymour reported back that this was not the case. Howe came to regard the petition as being the work of troublemakers and decided to ignore it, but sent a copy of it to Lord Spencer, First Lord of the Admiralty anyway. The men, on receiving no response from Lord Howe decided to put their plan into action and the men of HMS Royal George were to begin what became known as the Great Mutiny at Spithead. On 15th April, Viscount Bridport gave the order for the Channel Fleet to put to sea. Instead of weighing the anchors, the men of HMS Royal George ran into the rigging and gave three cheers. This was the signal for the mutiny to begin and as one, the men of every ship in the Channel Fleet refused to weigh anchor as ordered. The captains and officers of the Channel Fleet were astonished at this unified act of disobedience and regardless of what was threatened, the men stood firm. On 16th April, the ships companies of the fleet each elected two delegates and agreed that meetings should take place in the Admirals quarters on HMS Queen Charlotte. The following day, all the men of the fleet were sworn to support the cause and ropes were hung from the yards of the ships as a signal that the men meant business. Officers regarded as being overly oppressive were ordered ashore. On the same day, two petitions were drawn up, one for the Admiralty and one for Parliament. The petitions contained the men's demands, which were:

1) that the 'pursers pound' (14 ounces instead of 16) be abolished and that their provisions be increased to the full 16 ounce pound.
2) that their wages be increased (up to this point, the sailors of the Royal Navy had not had a pay rise for over a century)
3) that vegetables instead of flour be served with beef
4) that the sick be better attended to and that their necessities not be embezzled
5) that the men, on returning from sea, be given a short period of shore leave to visit their families.
6) that certain named officers be withdrawn from sea service on account of their cruelty and/or incompetence.
7) that an Act of Indemnity be passed by the Parliament
8) that they would not weigh anchor unless either the French were directly threatening the UK or until their demands were met.

Discussions went back and forth for a month until Lord Howe returned from London on 14th May bringing with him the requested Act of Parliament and having been granted the authority to settle the dispute. In addition, Lord Howe brought with him a Royal Proclamation of a pardon for all involved in the Mutiny. The Act of Parliament basically granted all the men's requests. At 10:00 on 16th May, the Channel Fleet finally put to sea.

HMS Royal George continued in her duties as Flagship, Channel Fleet until 27th June 1799, when that morning, Lord Bridport moved his headquarters ashore at Plymouth. Vice-Admiral Charles Pole hoisted his command flag in the ship and that afternoon, she sailed in company with the bomb vessels HMS Sulphur, HMS Explosion and HMS Volcano to launch an attempt at bombarding a Spanish fleet at anchor near the Isle of Aix. The bombardment was carried out on 2nd July, but the attempt was ultimately unsuccessful.

On 25th March 1802, Britain and France signed the Treaty of Amiens, bringing the French Revolutionary War to an end. In line with the Royal Navy's policy at the time, HMS Royal George was paid off into the Ordinary at Plymouth in April 1802. The ship's yards, sails, running rigging, guns and stores were removed and her hatches and gunports were sealed shut. In the Ordinary, the ship was manned by a skeleton crew comprising of her senior warrant officers, the Boatswain, the Carpenter, Gunner, Cook and Purser plus their servants. The Purser was allowed to live ashore within a prescribed distance from the Dockyard and in addition to these men, the ship was manned by a crew of 36 men, all rated at Able Seaman. The ship became the responsibility of the Master Attendant at the Royal Dockyard. Any work beyond the capabilities of these men would be carried out by gangs of labourers sent by the Master Attendant.

The peace proved to be short-lived and in May 1803, the Napoleonic War broke out. Despite this, HMS Royal George remained in the Ordinary at Plymouth until July 1805, when she was taken into the Royal Dockyard at Plymouth for a refit and repairs. The ship recommissioned in June 1806 under the command of Captain Richard Dunn. She became flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth. At this time, the British Government was growing concerned at French attempts to drive a wedge into the alliance between Russia, then an ally of Britain, and Turkey. Vice-Admiral the Lord Collingwood, then commanding the fleet blockading Cadiz was ordered to dispatch a force to the Dardanelles to carry out a reconnaisance of the fortifications there in case the Royal Navy should need to assault them in case the alliance between Turkey and Russia should break down. The British needed access to the Black Sea in order to trade and couldn't afford to allow the Turks to close the Dardanelles. By November 1806, the British were in negotiations with the Turks, but received intelligence of Turkish intentions to seize HMS Endymion and take her crew and any diplomats as hostages and execute them should the British attempt to assault the fortifications at the Dardanelles. On receipt of this infornation, the Admiralty instructed Collingwood to dispatch a force to take a position to bombard Constantinople and Duckworth's squadron, led in HMS Royal George was ordered to proceed with all dispatch to carry out this mission. On 17th November, HMS Royal George arrived at Gibraltar and departed the next day, in company with HMS Windsor Castle (98) and HMS Repulse (74). She was later joined by HMS Ajax (74), HMS Pompee (80) and HMS Canopus (80). In addition, the force was joined by 4 Russian ships of the line and the bomb vessels HMS Lucifer and HMS Meteor. The fortifications were found to be in a pretty poor state. On 27th December, despite British diplomacy and later, threats, Turkey declared war on Russia. On 11th February 1807, Duckworth began to make his move. He sailed his force to the mouth of the Dardanelles but was prevented from entering for a week because of a lack of wind. In the meantime, tragedy struck the force when HMS Ajax caught fire and blew up. On 19th February, HMS Royal George and the rest of the force finally entered the Dardanelles and were fired upon by the shore batteries, which by this time, had been repaired and improved by French engineers. The bomb vessels returned fire. Ultimately, in this engagement, the fire from the shore proved ineffective due to a lack of Turkish soldiers to man the guns. A number of Turkish ships were anchored in the straits and these were attacked and destroyed by the British ships, who also landed marines to assault the batteries ashore. This complete, Duckworth sailed for Constantinople and the force cruised off there for a week and a half, hoping that the Turkish fleet would come out and fight. They didn't, so on 3rd March, he returned through the Dardanelles and was attacked again on the way back by the shore batteries. This time, the fire was more effective and several British ships, including HMS Royal George were damaged and in all, the British force suffered 29 dead with 235 wounded. The mission was a failure. France and Russia became allies later in 1807.

Duckworth's fleet forcing the Dardanelles:

Britain was now at war with the Ottoman Empire in what is now known as the Anglo-Turkish War. In February 1807, a British Army had seized Alexandria in an attempt to establish a base of operations against the ottomans in the Eastern Mediterranean. Duckworth, still flying his command flag in HMS Royal George was ordered to support the operation. Despite Duckworths efforts, the Alexandria Campaign ended in failure and HMS Royal George returned to England on 26th May 1807.

HMS Royal George remained with the Channel Fleet until 17th November 1811, when she departed Portsmouth to join the force giving assistance to the defenders at Cadiz, then under seige by the French. By 5th November 1813, the ship was part of the blockading force off Toulon, when she was involved in a brief skirmish with a French squadron, in which she suffered no casualties or damage.

With the end of the war in 1814, HMS Royal George paid off into the Ordinary at Plymouth on 6th July. There, this mighty ship remained until February 1822 when she was broken up.
"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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