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Author Topic: HMS Acasta (1797 - 1820)  (Read 12603 times)

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Offline Bilgerat

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Re: HMS Acasta (1797 - 1820)
« Reply #4 on: May 10, 2018, 07:34:21 »
Please see my reply to your PM.
"I did not say that the French will not come, I said they will not come by sea" - Lord St Vincent

Offline alex_greekx

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Re: HMS Acasta (1797 - 1820)
« Reply #3 on: May 10, 2018, 00:09:44 »
Dear Sir,
You mention (quoting actually) in your post about a Greek polacra captured by Acosta (and Ceres)  in 1798, as it was sailing between San Juan and the coast of Mexico. It was eventually brought to Jamaica. I'm working on a project and I have identified a few of the captured crewmen of the Greek ship. Would it be possible to tell me the source of your quote? Is it from the ship's log?
Thank you

Offline Bilgerat

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Re: HMS Acasta (1797 - 1820)
« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2013, 19:48:52 »
To get around the 30,000 character limit on posts in the Forum,  this is in 2 parts. This is part 1

HMS Acasta was a 5th rate, 18 pounder-armed 40 gun frigate built under contract for the Royal Navy by Richard Wells at his shipyard on the River Thames at Deptford. She was the largest and most powerful frigate yet built for the Royal Navy and was to have a spectacularly successful career.

Designed by Sir William Rule, Co-Surveyor of the Navy, HMS Acasta was a one-off, the only ship built to that design. Rule's intention had been to design a class of large frigate which could replace the then-obsolete 44 gun ships in service with the Royal Navy. The 44 gun ship, which was the smallest ship to carry her guns on two complete gundecks, was a cross between a ship of the line and a frigate and by 1780, they were too small and weak to take on a ship of the line and were outsailed and outgunned by faster, more powerfully armed and more agile French and Spanish frigates. In the end, the Royal Navy instead built large numbers of slightly smaller 18 pounder armed 36 and 38 gun frigates.

The contract to build HMS Acasta was signed on 30th April 1795, her keel was laid down at Wells' shipyard at Deptford during September 1795 and she was launched into the great River Thames, her hull complete, on Tuesday 14th March 1797. On completion, HMS Acasta was a ship of 1,187 tons. She was 154ft long on her gundeck and was 40ft 6in wide across her beam. She was armed with 30 18 pounder long guns on her gundeck, 8 9pdr long guns and 4 32pdr carronades on her quarterdeck, 2 9pdr long guns and 4 32pdr carronades on her forecastle. This means that although offically rated as a 40 gun ship, she actually carried 48 guns. She was manned by a crew of 320 officers, men, boys and marines.

Plans of HMS Acasta

Orlop Plan:

Lower or Berth Deck plan:

Upper or Gundeck Plan:

Quarterdeck and Forecastle Plan:

Framing Plan:

Inboard Profile and Plan:

Lines and Sheer Plan:

HMS Acasta commissioned under Captain Richard Lane. He was an experienced captain who had held four previous commands. His appointment prior to commissioning HMS Acasta had been as commander of the 36 gun, 12pdr armed frigate HMS Nymphe.

On 24th June 1797, HMS Acasta completed fitting out. By this time, the Royal Navy had gained the advantage over the fleets of France and Spain. The French had been comprehensively defeated by Lord Howe at the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794. The Earl of St Vincent, John Jervis had defeated the Spanish at the Second Battle of Cape St. Vincent on St Valentines Day 1797 and later in the year, during October 1797, the Dutch were to be defeated by Admiral Sir Adam Duncan at the Battle of Camperdown.

In February 1798, HMS Acasta received orders to sail to Jamaica and join the squadron there. On arrival at Jamaica, after paying his respects to the Commander-in-Chief, Vice-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, Captain Lane and his crew in HMS Acasta were assigned to the typical duties of a frigate on the Jamaica Station, those of patrolling and protecting British shipping against interference from enemy naval ships and privateers in addition to preventing the movement of enemy merchant shipping. This turned out to be something the ship and her commander and crew were very good at. Between the spring of 1798 and the summer of 1801, success followed success.

Between May and July 1798, HMS Acasta was operating in the waters near St. Juan, Puerto Rico in company with the 12 pounder armed 32 gun frigate HMS Ceres. On 13th July 1798, Captain Lane wrote to Sir Hyde Parker with a progress report, sent into Jamaica aboard a captured Greek prize with a prize crew under one of HMS Acasta's officers, Lieutenant Denman. The letter read thus:

Acasta, at sea
Zacheo S.W distant seven leagues
(about 20 miles}
13th July 1798


I have the pleasure to inform you that since my letter of 9th May, the Acasta and the Ceres have taken, burnt and destroyed the following vessels, viz.

By the Acasta.
May 1, The St. Mary of four guns and twenty-eight men, pierced for four guns.
May 12, St. Antonio; pierced for fourteen guns.
May 20, La Vengeance, six guns, seventy-one men; pierced for ten guns
June 30, La Trump, two guns, ten men; pierced for ten guns
July 2, St Josef de Victorio, eight guns, fifty men; pierced for sixteen guns. Burnt
July 13, St. Michael Acandoa, six guns, twenty-eight men; pierced for six guns.

By the Ceres.
May 12, Sally, Seven men
May 18, Goulette, Eleven men
May 30, L'Avanture, Fourteen men
June 1, La Mutine, Eighteen guns, one hundred and fifty men; pierced for eighteen guns.
June 20, two small schooners, scuttled
June 20, two small sloops, scuttled
The Ceres chased on 1st June La Mutine French Privateer Brig, of eighteen guns and one hundred and fifty men to windward of St. Juan; but, from the state of the weather and shoal-water, was unable for some days, to take possession of her. The crew, in the interim, had warped her close inshore for the purpose of defending her from the beach. Captain Otway however sent his boats the first moment the weather permitted (covering them with the Ceres) under the command of Lieutenant Wooldridge. The enemy having set fire to her, quitted, and formed in great numbers on the beach, keeping up a very heavy fire on the boats; while taking possession of her and striking the Colours, some of the Ceres shot, having taken place below her water-line, she filled, which making it impossible to bring her off. The fire was permitted to take effect. The San Josef de Victorioso of eight guns (but pierced for sixteen) and fifty men, from Europe, was chased on shore by the Acasta six leagues to windward of St. Juan; the boats of which ship having been sent to take possession and finding it impossible to bring her off, set fire to and completely destroyed her. The Ceres chased to windward on the morning of 6th May, a sail to the eastward into the Mona Passage. Intelligence was received, upon which was placed great dependence, that the French privateers were doing incredible mischief off the N.E. end of Porto Rico, and of two Spanish frigates being daily expected at St. Juan. We immediately proceeded thither, and made all the above captures off that port, but both ships being extremely short of provisions and water, the Ceres not having more than two days of all species on board; I thought it most advisable under the existing circumstances, to recruit at St.Thomas's; to which island we made the best of our way and returned in four days from the time we left our former station to do it again. I am sorry to add that the day previous to our arrival at St. Thomas's, one of the enemy's frigates (the Venus) got into St. Juan, the other we are anxiously looking for, and you may rely on our remaining out until the last moment in hopes of falling in with her; having this instant having captured a Polacre Ship from St.Juan bound for Vera Cruz, under Greek colours, affords me the opportunity of sending this letter, which ought to have gone with the last prize, but by some accident, was left behind
Lieutenant Denman will be able to give you every information respecting both ships you may wish for. The Ceres is now in chace, and has made the signal for an enemy, which we take to be a privateer brig.

I have the honour to be &c &c

By early 1799, HMS Acasta was operating in company with the 18pdr armed 36 gun frigate HMS Trent. On 10th February 1799, Vice-Admiral Hyde Parker reported to the Admiralty that in the period to date, HMS Acasta had taken privateers as follows:

French privateer brig Active of eight guns and thirty six men
Spanish armed schooner Cincinnatus of two guns and thirty three men
Unknown-named French privateer schooner of six guns and sixty men - burnt.

In addition to these, HMS Acasta captured three and burned three enemy merchant vessels.

Operating in company with HMS Trent, HMS Acasta took the Spanish privateer Penada of 14 guns and 40 men. While in company with HMS Trent, HMS Acasta also took four merchant ships and burned another seven.

On 28th February 1799, Captain Lane died suddenly. He was 37 years old. His place in command of HMS Acasta was taken by Captain Edward Fellowes. Under his command, HMS Acasta continued as before.

On June 1st 1799, Vice-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker wrote to Mr Evan Nepean, First Secretary to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty in which he reported on the actions of the Royal Naval vessels under his command. This is an extract from his letter in which he reported on the successes of HMS Acasta:

By the Acasta in company with the Aquilon (12pdr armed 32 gun frigate) and the Squirrel (32pdr carronade armed 24 gun frigate) A Danish schooner from Jacquemet to St. Thomas with a cargo of coffee and dollars - Taken.

By the Acasta
(acting alone)
A Spanish Polacre of two guns and one hundred and thirty tons from St. Juan, Porto Rico, bound to La Vera Cruz with a cargo of brandy, wine and dry goods; Taken by the boats.
The French schooner L'Aimable Eustacie of one gun, sixteen men and twenty tons - a cargo of two hundred and sixty eight bags of coffee bound from Cape Francois bound to St. Thomas - taken;
The Spanish ship La Juno of eight guns (pierced for sixteen) twenty-two men and one hundred and thirty tons laden with cocoa and indigo from La Guira bound to Cadiz: taken.
Two French row-boats, schooner rigged: destroyed.
Two Spanish droggers, sloop rigged: destroyed.

In addition to these enemy vessels, HMS Acasta's logs also reveal more successes. In the period from June 1799 to the end of the war in March 1802, HMS Acasta:

broke up a Spanish sloop with a cargo of plantains, took the Spanish sloop Nostra Senora del Carmen, also with a cargo of plantains. She took the French schooner Capricieuse with a cargo of coffee, a further Spanish sloop with a cargo of sugar. HMS Acasta's men took her boats into a bay about 30 miles from St. Juan and cut out a Danish ship bound for St. Thomas with a cargo of fustick (a plant which yields a yellow dye). The 70 ton Spanish schooner Polly was taken and burned. The Spanish sloop Magicienne was taken with a cargo of plantains, corn and stock was taken but cast adrift and the schooner Lucas, sailing under Danish colours to St. Thomas with a cargo of coffee was taken.

In his report to the Admiralty dated 20th February 1800, Vice-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker wrote of the actions of the vessels under his command.

Spanish schooner (name unknown) of four swivels and twenty tons, cut out of Cape Codera at anchor laden with indigo and cotton: taken by the Acasta
Spanish schooner (name unknown) of six guns and thirty five tons, cut out of New Barcelona, at anchor, laden with indigo, cotton and hides: taken by ditto
American schooner Endeavour of five guns, six men and one hundred tons, laden with Coffee, Rum and Sugar, retaken ten leagues northward of St. Juan from the French privateer Le Petit Victoire and sent to America by ditto:
French schooner privateer Le Victoire, of ten guns, sixty men and ninety tons, sunk under the Batteries of Aquada by ditto:

French schooner of fifteen tons, sunk at anchor near Porto Gravious by the Acasta
French schooner La Patriotte, of five men and fifteen tons from Baynette bound for Jacquemel with Fifteen Thousand five hundred pounds of coffee, sunk by ditto:
Spanish schooner (unknown) of fifteen tons, taken off Saona, laden with Plantains and Timber by ditto:
Spanish schooner St Jos de las Animas of twenty five tons, in Mayaguave Bay, laden with Rum and Corn, sunk by ditto:
Spanish Launch of eight tons, in Cape Codera, at anchor, laden with dry goods, sunk by ditto:
Spanish Launch (unknown) of nine men and five tons, from La Guaza bound to Camana, given to the prisoners by ditto:
Spanish schooner Santo Domingo of eighteen tons from Saint Domingo bound to La Guira, laden with rum and fourteen thousand dollars, given to the prisoners by ditto:
Danish brig Sally of one hundred and twenty tons from Saint Bartholomew bound to Aquada, laden with sugar, salt and rum: taken by the Acasta:
American schooner Betsey, of ninety tons from Desnara bound to St. Juan laden with molasses, being run onshore by the French: burnt by ditto:
French ship Huntress of one hundred and eighty tons laden with plank, cut out from Aquada by ditto:
French schooner La Patriotte of sixteen men and forty tons from Cape Francois, bound to St Thomas's, laden with tobacco, taken by ditto:

Also in 1800, operating in company with the 18pdr armed 32 gun frigate HMS Amphion, HMS Acasta took a Spanish brig laden with sugar, logwood and cotton. In company with HMS Queen (98), HMS Brunswick (74) and HMS Aquilon, she took the Spanish schooner San Pablos del Mundo with a cargo of jerk beef. In company with HMS Queen, HMS Acasta took the Spanish cargo ship General Massaredo out of Havana bound for Campeche and her cargo of dry goods.

In October 1801, HMS Acasta left the Caribbean bound for the UK with a convoy. Whilst in Portsmouth, one of HMS Acasta's marines was tried by Court Martial aboard HMS Gladiator (44). He had been charged with mutinous conduct in that he refused an order from a Royal Marine corporal and threw a bottle at him. If the incident had happened at sea, or away from prying eyes on other ships in the harbour, the marine would more than likely have been flogged and the incident forgotten. Unfortunately, Captain Fellowes was bound to report the incident to the Port Admiral at Portsmouth, who would have ordered the Court Martial. The unfortunate marine was found guilty and was duly hanged from the fore-yard of HMS Acasta. The Royal Navy reserved the most brutal punishments for mutineers at the time and hanging from the fore yard was one of the worst. Instead of the swift death caused by a  broken neck as a result of 'the drop' of a civilian hanging, a naval hanging involved a noose being put around the neck of the victim and the victim being slowly hauled the thirty or so feet up to the end of the fore yard, dying choking and kicking, from asphyxiation caused by a crushed larynx. To make it worse, the men who would have had to haul the marine to his death would have been his shipmates, many of whom would have been his friends. The corpse would have been left hanging there all day, as a signal to anyone else contemplating mutiny.

In February 1802, HMS Acasta sailed to Jamaica as part of a convoy escort and in May of that year, she received a new commander, Captain James Athol Wood. His previous command had been the 28 gun, Enterprise Class frigate HMS Garland. His term in command of that ship had ended on 26th July 1798 when she was wrecked off Madagascar. On his return to the UK, he had faced a Court Martial for the loss of his ship, but was acquitted on 15th December 1798, after it was found that HMS Garland had struck an uncharted rock and that neither he nor his officers or crew were responsible for HMS Garland's loss. Despite this, he had been without an appointment since that time, so HMS Acasta was his first sea-going appointment in three and a half years.

Captain James Athol Wood:

Captain Fellowes found himself 'on the beach' on half pay. The war had been ended by the Treaty of Amiens, signed in March 1802. The Royal Navy was drawing down the fleet, so appointments were hard to come by and Captain Fellowes was out of work until July 1805, when he took command of the 18 pounder armed, 36 gun frigate HMS Apollo. In July 1802, HMS Acasta entered Portsmouth Royal Dockyard for a refit.

Under the Treaty of Amiens, the British had agreed to hand the Islands of Malta back to the Knights of St. John. In reality, the British had no intention of fulfilling this obligation. Another stumbling block was the British refusal to withdraw it's forces from Egypt. Although they had agreed to do this, concerns grew that if they did so, it would only be a matter of time before France moved in and occupied the country. In February 1803, Lord Whitworth, Britains Ambassador to France had an interview with Napoleon Bonaparte. In that interview, Bonaparte threatened war if Britain continued to refuse to leave Malta and stated that France could easily retake Egypt if they wanted to. Whitworth left the interview with the feeling that he had been given an ultimatum. Tensions continued to increase throughout the spring of 1803. The British Prime Minister, Lord Addington refused to fully demobilise the Royal Navy and the Army. Napoleon's demands grew more extreme. He demanded that the British Government censor the press, to prevent them making anti-French statements, in addition to expelling French expatriates from British soil. The relaxation of the British blockade of France allowed the French to send a naval expedition to Haiti to put down a slave rebellion there and to re-occupy French Louisiana, a territory in Continental North America which covered the entire central part of what is now the United States. Other invasions of territory in Europe by the French led the British to believe that Bonaparte was continuing to threaten them. The British offered to evacuate Malta if France gave up her expansionist policy. On 10th May 1803, Lord Whitworth was ordered by the British Government to leave Paris if France did not accede to their demands within 36 hours. On 13th May, Lord Whitworth left Paris and Britain declared war on France on the 18th. What is now called the Napoleonic War began. On 17th May, the British seized all French merchant ships in British ports or in British territorial waters. In retaliation, Napoleon ordered all British males in France aged between 18 and 60 to be arrested and held hostage.

In the meantime, HMS Acasta had completed her refit and recommissioned into the North Sea Fleet, under Captain Wood. When war was declared, she was at Guernsey. In April 1803, Captain James Oswald took temporary command of the ship and shortly after the outbreak of war, she transported Admiral the Honourable William Cornwallis from Lymington to Torbay in order for Cornwallis to assume command of the Channel Fleet. Cornwallis decided that he wanted the powerful frigate in his fleet, so HMS Acasta was reassigned. HMS Acasta was ordered to patrol off Ushant in order to keep an eye on the French fleet at Brest. While under Captain Oswald's temporary command, HMS Acasta captured the Batavian (French occupied Holland) ship Berbice in company with the brig-sloop HMS Port Mahon (18) and the 16 gun brig-sloop HMS Gannet on 24th May. Four days later, she took the French brig Margaretta, out of Sete bound for Antwerp. On 30th May, she took the Batavian ship Zorgwyk and the following day, the Swedish brig Gustava and the Batavian brig Planters Lust. On 1st June, HMS Acasta captured the French ship Concorde and the Batavian ships Jonge Barends and Vrou Jantze. The following day, she took the French ships Mere de Famille and La Double Alliance and the Batavian ship Sara Maria.

By 4th July, Captain Wood had resumed his command of HMS Acasta and on that day, the ship recaptured the British merchant ship Caerwent. On 30th September, HMS Acasta sighted the French privateer Aventure. After a 45 hour chase into mid-Atlantic, HMS Acasta captured the enemy vessel. The Aventure was sent into Plymouth with a prize crew. Upon their safe arrival, the port admiral at Plymouth, Admiral Sir John Colpoys wrote to Sir Evan Nepean, First Secretary of the Admiralty as follows:


I acquaint you for the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that l'Aventure, French privateer of twenty guns and one hundred and fifty men, captured by the Acasta, is just arrived. The Prize Master reports that the Acasta has also retaken the ship Royal Edward, of London and the Saint Mary's Planter, of Liverpool, both from Jamaica, whose late commanders have both arrived in l'Aventure.

In the winter of 1804, HMS Acasta was ordered to escort a convoy to Jamaica and on arrival, was assigned to the Jamaica Station under Vice-Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth. He had been in the Caribbean since 1800, when he first arrived aboard his flagship HMS Leviathan (74). When HMS Leviathan was ordered back to the UK towards the end of 1803, he had stayed behind. In May 1805, Vice-Admiral Duckworth was recalled to the UK. He decided to return aboard HMS Acasta. He also decided that Captain Wood was to transfer to HMS Hercule (74) and that his protege Captain Richard Dalling Dunn was to take command of HMS Acasta. The problem was that HMS Hercule was at sea and had been reassigned to another station and would therefore not be available to receive Captain Wood. Duckworth knew this at the time and despite Captain Wood's protests that he would be left on the beach without a ship, thousands of miles from home, the Vice-Admiral refused to rescind the order, insisting that Captain Dunn take command of HMS Acasta. Captain Wood had no choice but to face the humiliation of returning to the UK as a passenger in his own ship. Vice-Admiral Duckworth duly boarded HMS Acasta with a considerable amount of personal possessions and the ship returned to the UK in April of 1805. The incident had led to bad blood between Captain Wood and Vice-Admiral Duckworth. Captain Wood had political influence through his brother Mark, who was a Member of Parliament. Between them, Captain Wood and his brother convinced the Admiralty to order Vice-Admiral Duckworth to face a Court Martial, on charges of breaching the 18th Article of War in that Duckworth 'took on board goods other than for the use of the ship, except gold etc' and that inter alia in forcing Captain Wood out of his appointment in command of HMS Acasta for his own purposes and not for any tactical reason, had committed an act of tyranny and oppression.

On 25th April 1805, Vice-Admiral Duckworth appeared before the Court Martial aboard HMS Gladiator (44) at Portsmouth. After hearing legal arguments and evidence from both sides, the Court Martial was adjourned for the Board to consider it's verdict. It took until 7th June for the Court Martial Board to announce it's decision, which was that Vice-Admiral Duckworth, while he had acted improperly, had not breached the Articles of War and the case against him was dismissed. After the case was concluded, Captain Wood was re-appointed to take command of HMS Acasta, but declined the appointment for personal reasons. He was to wait until December of 1805 before he was appointed to command HMS Uranie, an 18 pdr armed 38 gun frigate. In the meantime, Captain Dunn was to remain in command of HMS Acasta. In response to the Court Martial's verdict and public pressure, the Admiralty issued a new regulation that flag-officers on foreign stations no longer had the power to reassign commanders between ships without a proper justification.

Once the business of the Court Martial was over, Vice-Admiral Duckworth was ordered to raise his command flag in HMS Royal George (100), then refitting at Plymouth and join the fleet under Vice-Admiral the Lord Nelson, then blockading the Franco-Spanish fleet in Cadiz. Captain Dunn had been ordered to join Duckworth's squadron and both men were forced to wait until the completion of the work on the giant, Chatham-built first rate ship. While they were kicking their heels waiting for the work to be completed, the Battle of Trafalgar was fought and Nelson was killed. Once it became clear that the work on HMS Royal George was not going to be completed anytime soon, Duckworth was instead ordered to raise his command flag in the Northfleet-built HMS Superb (74), which Nelson had sent into Portsmouth for repairs and which had also missed the Battle of Trafalgar. By November 1805, unlike HMS Royal George, HMS Superb was ready for sea. On 15th November 1805, HMS Superb, flying Duckworth's command flag and HMS Acasta arrived off Cadiz and Duckworth took command of the blockading squadron. In addition to HMS Superb and HMS Acasta, Duckworth's squadron also consisted of HMS Canopus (80), HMS Donegal (74), HMS Spencer (74), HMS Agamemnon (64) and the 12 pdr armed 32 gun frigate HMS Magicienne.

On 30th November 1805, HMS Agamemnon reported to Duckworth that she had received intelligence from the 18 gun brig-sloop HMS Lark that a squadron of French ships was at sea near Madeira. HMS Lark had reported that the French force consisted of a giant 120 gun ship of the line, plus four 74 guns ships, the ex-HMS Calcutta (50), three frigates, a corvette and a brig. HMS Lark had escaped an attack on her convoy by the French force under Rear-Admiral Zacharie Allemand. On receiving the news, Duckworth, known for his caution, decided to take a calculated risk. He knew that the enemy force in Cadiz was composed of survivors from the Battle of Trafalgar. He knew that the facilities for the repair of battle-damaged ships in Cadiz were poor compared to those available to the Royal Navy. He would have known, for example, that there were more dry-docks in the Chatham Royal Dockyard alone than were available to the whole French Atlantic Fleet. He considered that the enemy force in Cadiz posed no threat and that it would be safe to abandon the blockade of Cadiz and pursue Allemand's force. Duckworth took his squadron and set off in pursuit of Allemand's force. The French succeeded in evading them and Allemand's squadron was to spend the next year or so conducting commerce-raiding in the Atlantic Ocean in what turned out to be the French Navy's only successful campaign in the entire war.
"I did not say that the French will not come, I said they will not come by sea" - Lord St Vincent

Offline Bilgerat

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HMS Acasta (1797 - 1820)
« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2013, 19:43:20 »
Part 2

After failing to find Allemand's force, Duckworth's force sighted another French squadron on Christmas Day 1805. This force, led by Rear-Admiral Jean-Baptiste Willaumez was headed for waters off South Africa intending to undertake commerce-raiding and was also being pursued by a British squadron under Sir Richard Strachan. After his ships became scattered, Duckworth decided to head to the Leeward Islands to take on water for his ships. What Sir John Duckworth didn't know was that another French squadron, under Vice-Admiral Corentin Leissegues had broken out of Brest and was also headed for the Caribbean intending to conduct more commerce-raiding operations. Duckworth's force arrived at St. Kitts in January 1806 and was joined on 21st by the ships of the line HMS Northumberland (74), HMS Atlas (74) the 16 gun ship-sloop HMS Kingfisher (see here for her story and the 16 gun brig-sloop HMS Epervier.

Duckworth's intention was to resupply his ships then head back to Cadiz and resume the blockade. Fate intervened when HMS Kingfisher brought news that a squadron of French ships of the line had been sighted at San Domingo and that the French force consisted of the 120 gun ship of the line Imperial, plus four two-deckers, two frigates and a corvette. Duckworth immediately ordered his ships to sea and split his squadron into three divisions. The first division, led by Duckworth in HMS Superb also comprised HMS Northumberland, HMS Spencer and HMS Agamemnon. The second division, led by Rear-Admiral Thomas Louis in HMS Canopus also comprised HMS Atlas and HMS Donegal. The third division, led by Captain Dunn in HMS Acasta also comprised HMS Magicienne, HMS Kingfisher and HMS Epervier. This division was to take no part in the forthcoming battle, except to pick up men in the water and to tow badly damaged ships out of the battle. This was because of the unwritten rule that ships of the line do not fire on smaller warships like frigates and sloops unless first fired upon. This was despite the fact that HMS Acasta was pretty much the same size as a small third rate ship of the line.

On receiving the news of the approaching British squadron, Leissegues ordered his ships to sea and formed a line of battle. The French line was led by the Alexandre (74), followed by Imperial (120), Diomede (74), Jupiter (74) and Brave (74).

Duckworth was confident of victory; he outnumbered the French force 7 to 5. He was not concerned that the French flagship was an enormous three-decker of 120 guns, which in terms of the number of guns she carried, was worth almost two of the British ships of the line. At 06:00 on 6th February 1806, Duckworth led his ships into the attack. HMS Acasta and her crew were spectators as Duckworth's division tore into the head of the French line. HMS Superb opened fire on Alexandre at 10:10. HMS Northumberland engaged the far larger and more powerful Imperial, supported by HMS Spencer which also engaged Diomede at the same time. At 10:25, the by now damaged Alexandre swung out of the line and attempted to pass between HMS Northumberland and HMS Spencer. HMS Spencer spotted the move and crossed the Alexandre's bow, raking her through it as she passed before coming up on Alexandre's opposite side and firing at point blank range into the French ship. Imperial was then able to engage HMS Superb and HMS Northumberland. Her far superior firepower was threatening to destroy both the smaller British ships, so in an almost insane act of courage, Captain Cochrane of HMS Northumberland placed his ship between the Imperial and HMS Superb. Such was the close range that several shots from the Imperial's lower gundeck 36pdr guns passed through HMS Northumberland and hit HMS Superb anyway. All this left HMS Spencer and Alexandre locked in single combat until support was available from Rear-Admiral Louis' division, which caught up with Duckworth's division at 10:35. All three ships in Louis's division passed astern of the Alexandre and raked her, leaving her a dismasted ruin. After raking the Alexandre, HMS Canopus headed to engage the Imperial and support the flagship and HMS Northumberland. HMS Donegal headed off to engage Brave while HMS Atlas headed to engage Jupiter. HMS Spencer pulled away from the Alexandre at 11:00, which by then had caught fire, in order to follow HMS Canopus and engage the massive French flagship. By 11:10, the Alexandre's remaining crew had managed to put out the fire, but their ship was too badly damaged and too many of them were dead or wounded to be able to continue the fight, so she surrendered. HMS Donegal came up to the Brave, fired a broadside into her, then raked her through the stern before firing into the opposite side, forcing the Brave also to surrender. HMS Donegal then moved on to engage the Jupiter and ordered Captain Dunn in HMS Acasta to come up and take possession of the Brave. HMS Atlas was by now locked in combat with the Jupiter, but when HMS Donegal arrived to give support, HMS Atlas moved away to join in the fight against the Imperial. HMS Donegal then rammed the Jupiter's bow, locking both ships together, and fired into her from point blank range. Taking heavy casualties, the Jupiter also surrendered. On arriving alongside the Imperial, HMS Atlas fired two broadsides into her then crossed her stern, raking her through it before taking a broadside from the Diomede. After colliding with HMS Canopus and losing her bowsprit, HMS Atlas then engaged the Diomede at point blank range. By 11:30, Imperial had been severely damaged and had lost her main and mizzen masts. In order to escape capture, her captain ordered that the Imperial be driven ashore. By 11:40, the Imperial was hard aground, her bottom stoved in by the coral reef she had driven up on to. Diomede by this time was under attack by HMS Atlas and HMS Spencer and her captain decided to follow his admiral's example and run his ship ashore.

Because of their closeness to the shore, Duckworth ordered his ships to withdraw. The French frigates and the corvette had escaped, but apart from them, the French squadron had been utterly defeated. Imperial and Diomede were hard aground and had been abandoned by their surviving crews. Alexandre had been dismasted and was damaged beyond repair. Brave and Jupiter had surrendered. The French had suffered over 1,500 dead or wounded, the British had suffered 74 dead and 264 wounded across the whole squadron. The rout of the French squadron was complete. HMS Acasta had suffered no casualties, having not taken part in the fighting.

The Battle of San Domingo - 6th February 1806. Painting by Thomas Lyde Hornbrook.

The Battle of San Domingo was the last time that the French and British navies fought each other in a major, set-piece naval action.

On 8th February, Vice-Admiral Duckworth ordered that men from HMS Acasta and HMS Magicienne board the Imperial and the Diomede, take off any survivors and destroy the enemy ships. This was achieved without opposition.

Diomede and Imperial burn while HMS Acasta and HMS Magicienne recover their boats:

Although Duckworth's victory was widely celebrated, coming as it did only four months after the Battle of Trafalgar, his Commander-in-Chief was actually furious at him. Lord Collingwood, Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet and Duckworth's superior officer felt that Duckworth had deserted his post on the blockade of Cadiz and in fact this action alone had forced Collingwood to detach ships from the already stretched Mediterranean Fleet to cover for him off Cadiz. Collingwood felt that Duckworth should have brought the French squadron under Willaumez to action and that having failed to do that, he should have returned post-haste to his station off Cadiz rather than swanning off to the Caribbean to resupply. If Duckworth hadn't brought the French to action at San Domingo or had achieved anything less than a convincing victory, he would almost certainly have been ordered by Collingwood to face a Court Martial. Collingwood instead displayed his anger by using his influence and ensuring that Duckworth only received what was officially due, ie his share of the prize money and head money for the French vessels destroyed and captured in the battle. Rear-Admiral Louis was made a Baronet and Captain Cochrane was knighted. Many of the ships First Lieutenants were promoted, but other than his share of the prize money, Duckworth received nothing.

After the Battle of San Domingo, HMS Acasta continued to harass enemy shipping and on 8th June 1806, she captured the Spanish vessel Fortunata. Later, in August 1806, HMS Acasta escorted a convoy back to the UK and on arrival, Captain Dunn was replaced in command by Captain Phillip Beaver. Captain Dunn had been reunited with his patron, Vice-Admiral Sir John Duckworth, who was flying his command flag in the first rate ship HMS Royal George. Dunn was appointed to be Duckworth's Flag-Captain. Captain Beaver's previous appointment had been in command of the 28 gun, 6th rate frigate HMS Alligator. Beaver had gained some notoriety when, as First Lieutenant of HMS Barfleur, he had requested the Court Martial of one of the junior officers of the ship, Lieutenant Thomas Cochrane for insubordination. Cochrane was acquitted, but was warned against making flippant comments to his superior officers. Cochrane went on the be one of the most famous commanders of the period before resigning from the Royal Navy and moving to Chile, where he helped organise the Chilean Navy and help that nation win her independence from Spain. In February 1807, HMS Acasta returned to the Caribbean and joined the Leeward Islands Station under another Cochrane, Rear-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane.

On 6th August 1808, Rear-Admiral Cochrane wrote to the Admiralty as follows:

To the Honourable W W Pole
Dated on board the Belleisle
St Johns Roads
6th August 1808

I have great pleasure in inclosing for the information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, the Copy of a letter from Captain Beaver, of His Majestys Ship Acasta, acquainting me with the capture of a very fine French Corvette of Sixteen Twenty-four Pounder Carronades and Two Long Sixes. It is my Intention to take her into the Service and name her the Pert, until their Lordships pleasure is known.

I have the pleasure to be &c

This is the letter from Captain Beaver:
His Majesty's Ship Acasta
Off la Guira
17th July 1808

I beg leave to inform you, that Le Serpent, French National Brig of Eighteen guns and One Hundred and Four men, commanded by Mons. Lamanon, Enseigne de Vaisseau, was this Day captured off La Guira by His Majesty's Ship Acasta.

I am &c
P. Beaver.

In fact, the Royal Navy already had a vessel called HMS Pert, so the Admiralty decided to rename her HMS Asp instead.

By the end of 1808, the British were planning to exploit the total dominance of the worlds oceans earned by the string of major naval victories they had won since the start of post-revolution wars against the French in 1793. They had decided that they were going to take Martinique. The plan for Martinique involved an amphibious operation commanded by Rear-Admiral Cochrane, who by now had shifted his command flag to the 98 gun 2nd rate ship of the line HMS Neptune. The invasion force was comprised of 44 ships and 10,000 soldiers under the command of Lieutenant General George Beckwith. In addition to HMS Acasta, Rear-Admiral Cochrane's force also comprised HMS Pompee (80), HMS Belle Isle (74), HMS York (74), HMS Captain (74), HMS Intrepid (64). In addition to these ships of the line, there were also the frigates HMS Ulysses (44), HMS Ethalion (38), HMS Penelope (36), HMS Pique (36), HMS Cleopatra (32), HMS Circe (32) and HMS Eurydice (24). There were also the ship-sloops HMS Surinam (18), HMS Cherub (18), HMS Hazard (16), HMS Star (16), HMS Stork (16), the brig-sloops HMS Recruit (18), HMS Demerara (18), HMS Wolverine (16), HMS Amaranthe (16), HMS Fawn (16), the cutter HMS Liberty (14), the gun-brigs HMS Haughty (12) and HMS Swinger (12) and the armed schooners HMS Port d'Espangne (14), HMS Superieure (14), HMS Eclair (12), HMS Bacchus (10) and HMS Express (6).

This force departed Barbados on 28th January 1809 and arrived off Martinique two days later. The colony was defended by about 2,400 regular troops and 2,500 militia. The defences were commanded by the French Vice-Admiral Villaret Joyeuse, the same officer who commanded the French fleet defeated by Lord Howe at the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794. The various shore batteries had a total of 280 guns. In the harbour at Fort Royal lay the large frigate Amphitrite (40) which had arrived from Cherbourg. In addition to this, the Diligente from HMS Recruit's earlier action lay off St. Pierre and at Marin Bay lay the ex-HMS Carnation (18), taken on 3rd October 1808.

On 30th January 1809, 3,000 men under Major-General Fredrick Maitland were landed at Pointe St Luce under the supervision of Captain William Fahie in HMS Belle Isle. A further 600 men under Major Henderson were landed at Cape Solomon. When the French defenders spotted Major-General Maitland's force, they burned the Carnation. In addition to these landings, 6,500 men under Lieutenant-General Sir George Prevost landed at Baie Robert, on the northern coast of the island. The campaign proceeded rapidly and on 24th February, the last defenders at Fort Desaix surrendered to the victorious British.

Early in February 1809, the French dispatched a force under the command of Commodore Amable-Gilles Trude, on a mission to resupply the garrison at Martinique. His force comprised the ships of the line Courageux (74), Polonais (74) and Haultpout (74). These ships were escorting the en-flute frigates Felicite and Furieuse. The term en-flute meant a warship with some of it's armament removed to make room for cargo. Trude's force arrived in the Leeward Islands on 29th March and found that Martinique had already fallen. He anchored his small force off the Iles des Saintes off Guadeloupe, where they were spotted by patrolling British warships. Cochrane knew that he couldn't allow Trude's squadron to stay in the area. He ordered that men and heavy guns be landed on the islands to drive the French out to sea, where they could be pursued and brought to action. Operations on the islands commenced on 14th April 1809 and by 20:00 that day, fire from the guns landed by the British had the desired effect and Troude ordered his ships to weigh anchor and put to sea. This had been seen by HMS Hazard (18) and reported to the blockading squadron which comprised of the flagship, HMS Neptune plus HMS York, HMS Pompee, HMS Polyphemus (64) and HMS Recruit. By 10pm, HMS Pompee and HMS Recruit had caught up with the rear-most French ship, the 74 gun ship of the line d'Haultport.

Eventually, this very fine French ship of the line was cornered and captured. She was taken into the Royal Navy and renamed to HMS Abercromby. As part of the pursuing squadron, HMS Acasta's officers and crew were awarded a share of the prize money, despite the fact that she took no part in the action resulting in the French ship's capture. See here for details of the pursuit and capture of the d'Haultport: http://

On June 10th 1811, HMS Acasta arrived at Plymouth from Portsmouth and entered the Royal Dockyard for a long overdue refit and repair and paid off. In March 1811, Captain Alexander Robert Kerr replaced Captain Beaver in command of HMS Acasta and recommissioned the ship. Captain Beaver was appointed to command the new 18pdr armed 38 gun frigate HMS Nisus. He died from a violent inflammation of the bowel while his ship was in Table Bay off Cape Town on 10th April 1813. Captain Kerr's previous appointment had been in command of the 18pdr armed 32 gun frigate HMS Unicorn. The ship commissioned in the Channel Fleet and was engaged in the blockade of the French channel ports. On 28th August 1811, HMS Acasta, operating in company with the 12 gun gun-brig HMS Piercer captured the enemy merchant vessel Catharina Augusta. On 19th October, HMS Acasta, operating in company with the ex-French 18pdr armed 38 gun frigate HMS Armide (commanded incidentally by HMS Acasta's former commander, Captain Richard Dalling Dunn) captured the schooner Trojan which was subsequently wrecked. On 22nd October, the two ships captured the schooner Henry.

On 18th July 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain. Tensions had been building between the USA and the UK for some years and the Americans had finally had enough of what they saw as provocations by the British, in the form of British assistance to rebelling native Americans, British warships stopping American merchant vessels at sea and seizing suspected deserters and restrictions on American trade arising as a result of the ongoing war with France. The British immediately put in place a blockade of the eastern coast of the United States and HMS Acasta was sent to help enforce this. The Royal Navy at the time enjoyed a huge numerical superiority over the United States Navy, on paper at least. The United States Navy only had some 20 warships while the Royal Navy possessed well over a hundred ships of the line and over three hundred other warships of varying sizes. The Royal Navy however was unable to spare ships of the line as they were all employed in enforcing a blockade of the entire coastline of Western Europe, from Italy to Denmark. So it was that the majority of the British warships sent to American waters were sloops and frigates. In addition to a huge superiority in numbers, the Royal Navy also enjoyed a reputation for invincibility at sea. In the war so far, British ships had overcome seemingly impossible odds to defeat their French enemies for various reasons. The Royal Navy was in for a rude awakening. The US Navy possessed four very large Heavy Frigates, officially rated as 44 gun ships but actually carrying over 60 guns including carronades. The American Heavy Frigates vastly outgunned the best of the British frigates, even HMS Acasta, being armed with 24pdr long guns and 42pdr carronades as against the British frigates with their 18pdr long guns and 32pdr carronades. Individually, American warships were bigger, more powerfully armed, better manned, better trained, faster and more manoeuvrable than their British counterparts. In addition to this, whereas the Royal Navy's manning crisis was such that they were forced to take recruits from prisons and impress merchant seamen at sea, the US Navy was in the fortunate position of being able to turn away potential recruits, being able to employ only the best seasoned and experienced seamen.

The Royal Navy was aware of the threat posed by the American frigates and had built a pair of 50 gun Heavy Frigates themselves, HMS Newcastle and HMS Leander. In addition to these ships, the Royal Navy had taken three old 74 gun third rate ships of the line and had converted them into 32pdr-armed, Spar-Decked, 58 gun, 4th rate, Razee Heavy Frigates. A Razee Frigate was a ship of the line which had had it's upper decks removed, effectively converting them into large frigates.

The Royal Navy's rude awakening started soon after war was declared when the heavy frigate USS Constitution destroyed the 18pdr armed 38 gun frigate HMS Guerriere on August 19th. On October 25th, the American heavy frigate USS United States overwhelmed with sheer firepower and superior seamanship the 38 gun 18pdr armed frigate HMS Macedonian and captured the British ship. After these defeats, the Royal Navy began to deploy frigates in American waters in squadrons. The Royal Navy was forced to spare ships of the line and these were used to provide heavy fire support for the frigate squadrons.

On the outbreak of war, HMS Acasta was assigned to the Halifax Station, under Vice-Admiral Sawyer and began her duties enforcing the blockade of the American east coast. On July 24th 1812, Captain Kerr wrote to his commander-in-chief as follows:


I beg to acquaint you that His Majesty's Ship Acasta under my command, fell in with and captured this day in latitude 44, 15 North, longitude 60, 30 West, after a short chase, the American privateer brig Curlew, pierced for twenty guns but only having sixteen on board, with a complement of one hundred and seventy two men.

For HMS Acasta, success followed success as she got stuck into the task of denying the Americans the use of their own territorial water. On 20th August 1812, she took the cargo schooner Patriot. On 30th August the American cargo schooner Betsey was taken. On 17th September, the brig Federal was taken, followed a month later by the schooner Blonde. After the losses of HMS Guerriere and HMS Macedonian, British frigates began to operate in small squadrons, so by the time she came to capture the ten-gun American privateer schooner Snapper out of Philadelphia on 10th November, she was operating in company with the 18pdr armed 38 gun frigate HMS Maidstone, the 18pdr armed 32 gun frigate HMS Aeolus and the 18 gun brig-sloop HMS Childers. By the 10th December, the squadron had been joined by the Third rate ship of the line HMS Poictiers (74) and HMS Poictiers, HMS Acasta and HMS Maidstone shared in the capture of the American privateer brig Herald on that day.

HMS Acasta and the privateer brig Herald. HMS Poictiers is in the background:

On 11th December, HMS Acasta took the American schooner Farmers Fancy and on 16th, HMS Acasta and HMS Poictiers shared in the capture of the American ship Pekin. The successes continued into the new year and on 9th January 1813, HMS Acasta and HMS Poictiers captured the American privateer brig Highflyer of five guns and 72 men. On 17th January, HMS Acasta, HMS Poictiers and HMS Maidstone captured the American cargo ship Lydia. Later that month, HMS Acasta and HMS Poictiers took the schooner Rhoda. On 24th February, HMS Acasta took part in the capture of the American brigs Gustavus and Staunch. On 3rd March, she shared in the taking of the American brig Christina and on 14th, the American brig Massasiot.

By 17th June, HMS Poictiers had been replaced in the squadron by the third rate ship of the line HMS Valiant (74). On that day, HMS Acasta was in company with HMS Valiant when they joined in the pursuit by the 18 gun brig-sloop HMS Wasp of the American privateer brig Porcupine. The story of HMS Poictiers is told here:

As the squadron's senior commander, Captain Robert Dudley Oliver of HMS Valiant sent HMS Acasta and the ex-French HMS Atalante (40) to sail up Long Island Sound to annoy the enemy.. Between them, the two large British frigates destroyed some 15 enemy merchant ships, mostly by burning as they were in ballast and carried no cargoes worth seizing.

By the end of 1813, enemy shipping was getting harder to find as it was too dangerous for them to put to sea. Despite the US Navy's occasional successes in single-ship actions against the Royal Navy, the British tactic of operating together in both formal squadrons and informal groups of ships had prevented the US Navy from doing anything about it. The British total blockade of the American east coast was having the desired effect and American maritime commerce was being slowly strangled. Because of this, further successes against American merchant shipping and privateers evaded HMS Acasta until July 1814, when she captured the American schooner Prudence and the sloop Diana. In August, she captured the American schooners Stephanie and Hazard and the sloop Jane.

Further success didn't come until 28th December 1814, when in company with the British heavy frigates HMS Newcastle (50) and HMS Leander (50), she took the American privateer Prince de Neufchatel. By this time, the war in Europe was over. After negotiations which had started in August, American and British delegates had signed the Treaty of Ghent and had agreed to end the war. The British Parliament had ratified the Treaty on 24th December, but until the US Congress ratified it, the war was to continue.

In the beginning of 1815, HMS Acasta, HMS Newcastle and HMS Leander had the American heavy frigates USS Constitution, USS United States and USS Congress blockaded in Boston. HMS Leander was running low on food and water, so her commander, Captain Sir George Collier was forced to take his ship and return to Halifax, Nova Scotia to resupply. As soon as the Americans noticed that HMS Leander had left, the three American ships left Boston and put to sea. In the meantime, the Commander-in-Chief at Halifax had ordered Captain Collier to send HMS Acasta back to Halifax for a refit. HMS Leander joined in the pursuit and Captain Kerr pleaded with his superior officer to allow HMS Acasta to also pursue the American ships. Eventually, Captain Collier decided that three ships were better than two and agreed to postpone HMS Acasta's return to Halifax. Eventually, the British squadron sighted USS Constitution off the Cape Verde Islands on the 11th March 1815. While she had been at sea, USS Constitution had captured two British brig-sloops, HMS Levant and HMS Cyane and was in company with these two prizes when she was spotted. The British ships immediately gave chase, but in the heavy weather, USS Constitution got away. HMS Acasta's crew had to content themselves with recapturing HMS Levant, who's crew had driven her ashore after being fired on by HMS Leander. Captain Collier then went in pursuit of the American ship in HMS Leander, but after avoiding HMS Leander, USS Constitution returned to Boston. HMS Newcastle and HMS Acasta were left to patrol off Barbados, where they eventually learned that the war with the USA had actually ended on 18th February, when the US Congress had finally ratified the Treaty of Ghent.

USS Constitution is now preserved in a seaworthy condition at Boston; the worlds oldest seaworthy ship.

A sight which would have set alarm-bells ringing with the Royal Navy 200 years ago - USS Constitution at sea. Only this picture was taken in 2012.

In July 1815, HMS Acasta was ordered to return to the UK. She paid off into the Ordinary at Chatham on 12th September 1815. HMS Acasta remained laid up at Chatham until 1820, when she was towed to Woolwich and was broken up.

HMS Acasta played a significant role in ridding the Caribbean of enemy privateers and in shutting down enemy merchant commerce in the region. She played the same role off the east coast of the USA in the 1812 War. Despite her huge size (for a frigate of the day) and undoubted firepower, HMS Acasta never managed to engage an enemy warship of equal size and power, of which there were plenty under French colours. She was only ever a spectator in the only major naval action she was involved in. HMS Acasta may be long gone, but she is not forgotten. There is a re-enactment group based in the United States dedicated to the ship and her history. Their excellent website is found here:
"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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