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Author Topic: HMS Queen Charlotte (1790 - 1800)  (Read 7866 times)

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Re: HMS Queen Charlotte (1790 - 1800)
« Reply #2 on: May 22, 2013, 23:20:52 »
What an ending! thanks once again for a very interesting read.  :)

Offline Bilgerat

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HMS Queen Charlotte (1790 - 1800)
« Reply #1 on: May 22, 2013, 22:01:43 »
HMS Queen Charlotte was the second of two Royal George class, 100 gun, first rate ships of the line, both of which were built at the Royal Dockyard, Chatham.

In the navies of the 18th and early 19th centuries, the first rate ship of the line held a status equivalent to one of todays nuclear powered aircraft carriers. The largest and most powerful ships in the world, their huge building and running costs precluded their ownership to the superpowers of the day, France, Spain and Britain. Such were the difficulties in finding enough men to crew them, first rate ships and their slightly smaller second rate cousins were the first ships to be laid up whenever a war ended. In battle however, these giant ships were worth their weight in gold.

HMS Queen Charlotte holds a significant place in both the history of ship-building at Chatham and in the development of the British first rate ship of the line. With respect to the history of shipbuilding at Chatham, she was significant because she was the last 100 gun first rate ship to be built there. The next first rate ship built at Chatham, HMS Ville de Paris, although built to the same design as HMS Queen Charlotte, was built to carry 110 guns and future first rate ships carried even more. With respect to the overall evolution of the British first rate ship, HMS Queen Charlotte was significant because she was the first one built to carry the 32pdr long gun as main armament on her lower gundeck, rather than the 42pdr guns carried by earlier first rate ships, including HMS Queen Charlotte's sister-ship, HMS Royal George. The reason for the change was that since the end of the American War of Independence, the Royal Navy had adopted much more agressive tactics. They had moved away from the practice of forming lines of battle, then sailing parallel to the enemy's line and pounding them from a distance until one side or the other sheered off and withdrew. Since the Battle of the Saintes in 1782, British tactics had involved breaking through the enemy's line of battle, then breaking the action down into a melee of single ship actions, fought at point blank range. For this type of tactic to be successful, the rate of fire was more important than the weight of shot fired. A well trained, physically fit British gun crew could reload and fire their 32pdr gun (weighing in excess of three tons) three times in two minutes, almost twice as fast as the larger gun could be loaded and fired. They could keep this rate up for about half an hour before fatigue caused the rate of fire to slow. Second and larger third rate ships of the line already carried the 32pdr gun on their lower gundecks. First rate ships were the only ones large enough to carry the 42pdr gun, but it made sense for all British ships of the line with 70 or more guns to carry the slightly smaller gun.

Built to a design by Edward Hunt, the two Royal George class ships were, at the time they were built, the largest ships ever to have been constructed for the Royal Navy.

On Thursday 12th December 1782, as the American War of Independence was drawing to a close, the Royal Dockyard at Chatham received an order to build an as yet un-named first rate ship. Nine months prior to this, they had received an order to build a first rate ship, HMS Royal George. The Dockyard up to this point had never attempted to build two first rate ships concurrently. Because of the vast amount of materiel and labour required for one such ship alone, ships of this size took disproportionately longer to build than, say a 74 gun third rate ship. To build two together was quite a challenge. The management of the Royal Dockyard took it in their stride and didn't really make a fuss about it, they just got on with it.

On Tuesday 21st January 1783, instructions were received from the Admiralty that the new first rate ship was to be named in honour of the beloved wife of His Majesty King George III. The ship was to be named after Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, shortened to HMS Queen Charlotte. Her keel was laid at Chatham on 1st December 1785 and she was launched into the River Medway, her hull complete, on Thursday 15th April 1790. HMS Queen Charlotte commissioned at Chatham during fitting out under Captain Sir Roger Curtis the following month.

On completion, HMS Queen Charlotte was a ship of 2,286 tons. She was 190 feet long on her upper gundeck and 52' 5" wide across the beam. She was armed with 30 32pdr long guns on her lower gundeck, 28 24pdr long guns on her middle gundeck, 30 18pdr long guns on her upper gundeck, 10 12pdr long guns on her quarterdeck with 2 more on her forecastle. She was manned by a crew of 850 officers, men, boys and marines.

Royal George Class Plans:

Orlop Plan:

Lower Gundeck Plan:

Middle Gundeck Plan

Upper Gundeck Plan:

Quarterdeck and forecastle plan:

Inboard Profile and Plan:

Sheer Plan and Lines:

Details of figurehead:

Admiralty model of HMS Queen Charlotte, port bow view:

Starboard Quarter view

She was assigned to the Channel Fleet, then under the command of Admiral Lord Howe, who chose her as his flagship. The ship was commissioned for the Spanish Armament Crisis, which was resolved peacefully later that year and the ship paid off again in October that year. While she was in commission, the ship took part in a Review of the Fleet at Spithead. The painting below by William Anderson captures this event and represents Lord Howe being rowed out to his new flagship in his barge.

In January 1793, the Revolutionary Goverment in France executed King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antionette and the following month, declared war on Britain. In February 1793, in response to the French declaration of war, HMS Queen Charlotte commissioned again, under Captain Sir Roger Curtis, with Captain Hugh Christian as Second Captain. She commissioned into the Channel Fleet, once more as the flagship of Admiral the Lord Howe. The reason that the ship had two captains is that the more senior captain assisted the Fleet Admiral with running the fleet and the junior captain ran the ship. Not all fleet admirals organised their flagship in this way, but Howe did.

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 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.

In April 1794, Captain Sir Andrew Douglas took over as Second Captain.

HMS Queen Charlotte 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 controlled by Lord Howe from HMS Queen Charlotte 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. The ship herself was not actively engaged in these skirmishes. 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.

Starting disposition of the fleets at the Battle of the Glorious First of June 1794.

After getting his line of battle on a course roughly parallel to that of the French, Howe ordered that the signal to engage and cut through the enemy's line be hoisted at about 13:15. At 13:30, on seeing that only a few of his ships had obeyed his signal, Howe decided that his flagship should set the example and break the enemy's line of battle. The ship changed tack and headed towards the French line. Steering east-south-east, HMS Queen Charlotte first passed astern and to windward of HMS Caesar (80), then astern and to leeward of HMS Orion (74), which had not yet changed tack. The French, seeing the massive British warship running down on them opened fire. Shrugging off the enemy's fire, HMS Queen Charlotte arrived at the gap between the sixth and seventh ships from the rear of the enemy line. Passing the sixth enemy ship from the rear, the Eole (74), HMS Queen Charlotte fired a full broadside, her massive firepower disabling the French ship. She then fired another broadside through the Eole's stern as the broke the enemy line astern of her. HMS Queen Charlotte had been followed in her approach to the enemy line by HMS Bellerophon (74) and HMS Leviathan (74). HMS Bellerophon followed HMS Queen Charlotte through the gap in the French line, but HMS Leviathan had her steering wheel shot away in the last few yards of the approach and ended up coming alongside the windward side of the previously disabled French ships Tyrannicide and Indomptable.

HMS Queen Charlotte breaks the enemy line, followed by HMS Bellerophon.

As soon as possible after breaking through the French line of battle, HMS Queen Charlotte set to pursue the French ship Terrible. The Terrible had sailed towards the centre of their own fleet and had almost reached that point before HMS Queen Charlotte got into a firing position.

By 4pm, the French were attempting to reinforce the rear of their fleet, then heavily engaged by the British, who were getting the better of them. Signalling for as many of his ships as possible to follow, Howe ordered that his flagship wear ship (alter course, moving the stern through the eye of the wind) and move to support HMS Queen (90). As she passed back down the enemy's line of battle, HMS Queen Charlotte fired a broadside into each of the three ships she passed at point blank range, bringing down a topmast on each of them.

The French began to manoeuvre away and by 5pm, all firing ceased as each of the fleets reformed their lines of battle and each ship began to make the most urgent repairs to battle damage. HMS Queen Charlotte did not suffer any serious hull damage, but had a damaged mizzen yard and rigging. Her lower deck had suffered some flooding owing to the high seas coming in through the lower gundeck gunports. It took most of the night following the battle to pump out all the water she had taken aboard. Despite being in the thick of the fighting for almost four hours, HMS Queen Charlotte only suffered one fatality, her sixth lieutenant, Mr Roger Rawlinson.

HMS Queen Charlotte (left of centre) at the Battle of the Glorious First of June.

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. 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, the Channel Fleet arrived back at Spithead.

A year later, command of the Channel Fleet had passed to Admiral the Viscount Bridport. He had previously been Howe's second-in-command, Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Hood. During the Battle  of the Glorious First of June, he had successfully commanded the rear of the British fleet from his flagship, HMS Queen Charlotte's sister-ship, HMS Royal George. He had been made a peer and promoted to Admiral as reward for his part in the Battle of the Glorious First of June.  Lord Bridport continued to fly his command flag in HMS Royal George, so HMS Queen Charlotte had ceased to be the flagship of the Channel Fleet. On 12th June 1795, 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 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. The rest of the Channel Fleet followed as fast as they could. The British fleet also consisted of no less than 7 98 gun 2nd rate ships. Surprisingly given her enormous size, 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. Thus ended the Battle of Ile Groix. Viscount Bridport remained off the Brittany coast until the expedition became a complete disaster and he left the area in HMS Royal George with most of the fleet on 20th September leaving Rear-Admiral Harvey in command of a small squadron, keeping an eye on the French at Brest and Lorient.

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 Queen Charlotte remained with the Channel Fleet until May 1799, when she was reassigned to the Mediterranean to take up duties as flagship of Vice-Admiral George Elphinstone, Lord Keith. At the same time, she also had a change of commander, with Captain Andrew Todd taking sole command of the ship.

On 21st December 1799, while laying off Gibraltar in company with HMS Emerald (36), the officers and crew of HMS Queen Charlotte bore witness to an attack by several French privateers and gun-boats on the 10 gun cutter HMS Lady Nelson, then nearby off Cabrita Point. Lord keith, on witnessing what was happening to HMS Lady Nelson, ordered that both ships launch their boats and send men to assist the cutter in defending herself. By the time the boats reached the scene however, HMS Lady Nelson had been taken and was being towed by two of the French privateers. Notwithstanding this, Lieutenant William Bainbridge in HMS Queen Charlotte's barge with 16 men, ran alongside HMS Lady Nelson and boarded the British vessel. After a short and savage hand-to-hand fight, HMS Lady Nelson was retaken, along with seven French officers and 27 men. Six or seven other French sailors had either been killed or knocked overboard in the fight. The two privateers cut the tow-ropes and despite being pursued by the British, got away into Algeciras. Lieutenant Bainbridge had been wounded in the head by a blow from a sabre and sone of his men were also wounded, though none of them seriously.

After that, HMS Queen Charlotte, together with the rest of the Mediterranean Fleet was employed in assisting Austrian forces attempting to expel the French from Piedmont and Tuscany. On 16th March 1800, Lord Keith along with his staff moved his command flag ashore at Leghorn (modern day Livorno). He ordered Captain Todd to take HMS Queen Charlotte and carry out a reconnaisance on the island of Capraia.

On 17th March, when about 4 leagues (12 miles or so) from Leghorn, HMS Queen Charlotte was seen to be on fire. The following is taken from the personal journal of Mr John Baird, Ships Carpenter in HMS Queen Charlotte:

"At about 20 minutes after six o'clock in the morning, as I was dressing myself, I heard throughout the ship a general cry of fire! ! I immediately ran up the fore-ladder to get upon deck, and found the whole half-deck, the front bulk-head of the admiral's cabin, the coat of the mainmast, and the boats' covering on the booms, all in flames; which, from every report and probability, I apprehend was occasioned by some hay, that was lying under the half-deck, having been set on fire by a match in a tub, which was usually kept there for signal guns. The mainsail at this time was set, and almost instantly caught fire, the people not being able, on account of the flames, to come to the clue-garnets.

I immediately went to the forecastle, and found Lieutenant. (the Honourable George Heneage Lawrence) Dundas and the boatswain encouraging the people to get water to extinguish the fire. I applied to Mr. Dundas, seeing no other officer in the forepart of the ship (and being unable to see any on the quarterdeck from the flames and smoke between them), to give me assistance to drown the lower decks, and secure the hatches, to prevent the fire from falling down. Lieutenant Dundas accordingly went down himself, with as many people as he could prevail upon to follow him; and the lowerdeck ports were opened, the scuppers plugged, the fore and main hatches secured, the cocks turned, water drawn in at the ports, and the pumps kept going by the people who came down, as long as they could stand at them. Owing to these exertions, I think the lower deck was kept free from fire, and the magazines preserved from danger for a long time: nor did Lieutenant Dundas or myself quit this station until several of the middledeck guns came through the deck. At about nine o'clock, finding it impossible to remain any longer below, Lieutenant Dundas and myself went out at the foremast lowerdeck port, and got upon the forecastle; on which, I apprehend, there were then about 150 of the people drawing water, and throwing it as far aft as possible upon the fire. I continued about an hour on the forecastle, till finding all efforts to extinguish the flames unavailing, I jumped from the jib-boom, and swam to an American boat approaching the ship; by which boat I was picked up and put into a tartan, then in the charge of Lieutenant Stewart, who had come off to the assistance of the ship."

At about 11am, HMS Queen Charlotte was torn to pieces by a massive explosion. Despite the efforts of her crew, the fire reached her magazine. 673 officers and men perished in the explosion.

HMS Speedy stands by the remains of HMS Queen Charlotte.

"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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