News: “Over the graves of the Druids and under the wreck of Rome,
Rudely but surely they bedded the plinth of the days to come.
Behind the feet of the Legions and before the Norseman’s ire
Rudely but greatly begat they the framing of State and Shire
Rudely but deeply they laboured, and their labour stand till now.
If we trace on ancient headlands the twist of their eight-ox plough.”

-Rudyard Kipling
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Author Topic: HMS Niger (1759 - 1814)  (Read 7866 times)

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Offline Dave Smith

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Re: HMS Niger (1759 - 1814)
« Reply #7 on: August 15, 2017, 11:25:38 »
That scale makes my comments even more pertinent; window panes about 1/4" wide!

Offline Bilgerat

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Re: HMS Niger (1759 - 1814)
« Reply #6 on: August 14, 2017, 15:49:28 »
Bilgerat. Again, most interesting and the model of HMS Winchelsea is superb. What sort of scale would that be, for the detail in bow & stern- windows , carvings, etc.- is as good as it gets?

Dave Smith, this is the same model shown in this thread:
http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=16569.msg139818#msg139818

HMS Winchelsea was also a Niger Class frigate, so would have been pretty much identical to HMS Niger, apart from the figurehead and decorations. The thread above gives details of the model, held in the collection of the National Maritime Museum. The scale is 1/48, or an inch to four feet.
"I did not say that the French will not come, I said they will not come by sea" - Lord St Vincent

Offline Dave Smith

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Re: HMS Niger (1759 - 1814)
« Reply #5 on: August 14, 2017, 10:31:42 »
Bilgerat. Again, most interesting and the model of HMS Winchelsea is superb. What sort of scale would that be, for the detail in bow & stern- windows , carvings, etc.- is as good as it gets?

Offline smiffy

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Re: HMS Niger (1759 - 1814)
« Reply #4 on: August 13, 2017, 14:21:32 »
From what I can see it all seems to be displaying nicely...

Offline Bilgerat

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Re: HMS Niger (1759 - 1814)
« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2017, 12:25:44 »
Bumping this one up because it has new photos included as well as pointing the image code to the new host....
"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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Re: HMS Niger (1759 - 1814)
« Reply #2 on: November 23, 2014, 19:47:18 »
Part 1 - Introduction to the ship, service in the Seven Years War, Peace, The American War of Independence, the Blockade of Boston, Action of 7th March 1779, Action of 7th June 1779, Peace and the Ordinary, The French Revolutionary War's early Skirmishes

HMS Niger was a 12pdr armed 32 gun 5th rate frigate, built at the Royal Dockyard, Sheerness. She was the lead ship of a class of ten sailing frigates designed by Britain's top naval architect of the time, Thomas Slade. Slade is more famous now for having designed HMS Victory. Of the ten Niger Class frigates, seven were built in Kent shipyards and HMS Niger was the first of three ships of the class to be built at the Sheerness Royal Dockyard.

The 12pdr armed 32 gun frigate was, along with the smaller, 9pdr armed 28 gun 6th rate frigate, the main type of frigate in service with the Royal Navy until the early 1790s, when they began to be superseded by much larger frigates mounting 18pdr guns. Despite their advancing age and obsolescence in the face of new larger and more powerful frigates, some of the older frigates went on to have very long active service careers and this included HMS Niger.

HMS Niger was ordered from the Sheerness Royal Dockyard by the Navy Board on Monday 19th September 1757. At the time, the Seven Years War had been officially ongoing for about a year, although it had actually started in 1754 in North America as a territorial dispute between British and French colonists. From a colonial brushfire, the war had escalated by 1756 into what is now regarded as being the first real World War in the proper sense of the phrase.

Once the 1/48 scale draft had been expanded into full size drawings in chalk on a mould loft floor and those drawings had been used to build moulds used to mark and cut out the full-sized timbers, HMS Niger's first keel section was laid on the slipway at Sheerness on Tuesday 7th February 1758. The construction project was overseen by Mr Joseph Harris, Master Shipwright in the Kings Dockyard at Sheerness. Harris had first been appointed Master Shipwright at Sheerness on 19th December 1755. After completing HMS Niger, Harris was to supervise the construction of another Niger Class frigate, HMS Montreal, before promotion took him to the position of Master Shipwright at Deptford Royal Dockyard in 1761. He ended his career in the position of Master Shipwright at Chatham Royal Dockyard, where his first project was another Niger Class frigate, HMS Aurora.

The ship was launched into the Swale on Tuesday 25th September 1759. After launch, she was fitted with her guns, masts and rigging at Sheerness before being commissioned under Captain  John Bentinck in October 1759. Captain Bentinck had first held a command in May of 1758 when he had been appointed to command the small ketch HMS Fly of 8 guns. Promoted to Captain in October 1758, his command prior to HMS Niger had been the 44 gun two-decker HMS Dover. On completion, HMS Niger was a ship of 679 tons. She was 125ft long at the gun deck and 103ft 4in long at the keel. She was 35ft 2in wide across her beams and her hold (the space between the Orlop, the lowest deck and the bottom of the ship) was 12ft deep. The ship drew 8ft 5in of water at the bow and 13ft 9in at the rudder when fully laden. She was armed with 26 12pdr long guns on her gun deck, 4 6pdr long guns on her quarterdeck and 2 6pdr long guns on her forecastle. She was also fitted with 12 half-pounder swivel guns attached to the handrails around her upper decks and in her fighting tops. She was manned by a crew of 220 officers, men, Royal Marines and boys. By the time she was complete, HMS Niger had cost £11,254.4s.8d.

Niger Class plans

Orlop, Berth or Lower Deck and Upper or Gundeck plans.



Quarterdeck and Forecastle plans.



Inboard Profile and Plan.



Sheer Plan and Lines.



A model of HMS Winchelsea. HMS Niger would have been identical.

Bow view:



Stern view:



Port side view showing the frames:



Starboard side view, showing the layout of the hull and upper decks:



On commissioning, HMS Niger was commissioned into the Channel Fleet and was set to work patrolling and protecting merchant shipping from the ever-present danger posed by French privateers. By this stage in the war, the British had gained the upper hand at sea. The power of the French Atlantic fleet had been smashed by Vice-Admiral Edward Hawke's stunning victory at the Battle of Quiberon Bay earlier in the year.

On 25th May 1760, HMS Niger captured the French privateer Le Jason of 8 guns. More successes followed and her final capture was the French privateer Le Victoire of ten guns on 25th October 1762. The following month, Captain Bentinck was replaced in command by Captain Thomas Cornwall, an experienced commander whose previous appointment had been in command of the 9pdr armed 28 gun sixth rate frigate HMS Emerald.

The Seven Years War was ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 10th February 1763. By the time the war ended, the British had taken vast amounts of territory from France and Spain including the eastern half of Louisiana (the area between the Mississippi River and the Appalachian mountains), the Spanish colony of Florida, all of Canada and many islands in the Caribbean. France had been virtually bankrupted by the war, as had Britain.

In March 1763, HMS Niger paid off, but recommissioned later in the same month under Captain Sir Thomas Adams, the 6th Baronet Adams. Sir Thomas Adams was born into a wealthy and important London family and his great-grandfather had served as Lord Mayor. In addition to being wealthy and well-connected, Adams was also a successful commander who had commanded a similar ship to HMS Niger, HMS Boston, during the war. After recommissioning, HMS Niger was assigned to patrol off the western coast of Scotland, around the Isle of Arran. Captain Adams and his ship continued with this task until 22nd April 1766, when they departed the UK bound for Newfoundland where they were tasked with building a fort at Chateau Bay, strengthening relations with natives in the area and surveying the coast. Aboard the ship was Lieutenant Constantine Phipps, 2nd Baron Mulgrave and his friend, the naturalist and botanist Joseph Banks. The mission proved to be a great success. Banks in particular collected many species of plants and animals which were previously unknown to science. During the mission, Captain Adams introduced Banks to an acquaintance of his, James Cook and it was as a result of that introduction that Banks was later to join Cook on his first voyage of exploration in the Pacific Ocean aboard HMS Endeavor between 1769 and 1771.

In 1767 Captain Adams was replaced in command by Captain Andrew Wilkinson. Adams returned to the UK and recommissioned his previous command HMS Boston and took that ship to the Virginia Station. Tragically, Captain Sir Thomas Adams died while off the American coast in HMS Boston in 1771. Although he had married in 1764, Sir Thomas Adams had no children, his wife and younger brother William had both died before him, so the Baronetcy became extinct on his death. Captain Wilkinson had been without a command since the end of the Seven Years War, where his last command had been the old 60 gun 4th rate ship of the line HMS Jersey. In 1769, HMS Niger returned to the UK and was paid off.

In 1770, HMS Niger recommissioned under Captain Francis Banks and was sent to the Mediterranean, where she was engaged in protecting British trade against attacks by Barbary Corsairs and showing the flag. This mission went on until July 1772, when the ship was ordered to return to the UK, in order to undergo a major refit at the Deptford Royal Dockyard. The ship must have been in a pretty poor condition having spent the last two years in the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea. It mustn't be forgotten that these were the days before the Royal Navy began to sheath it's ships bottoms in copper as a matter of course. In addition, the Royal Navy was subject to the same peacetime restrictions on spending as it is now. For these reasons, the work on HMS Niger at Deptford took a full three years to complete. The work at the Deptford Royal Dockyard was completed in August 1775 and by the time the ship recommissioned, the work had cost £12,549.7s.7d - more than it had cost to build her in the first place.

When HMS Niger recommissioned under Captain George Talbot in August 1775, the world was a very different place. The Seven Years War had left the British Government with a mountain of debt, which needed to be paid. The colonies in North America had experienced an economic boom in the years following the end of the Seven Years War. Up to the early 1770s, taxes had been raised locally in the colonies, which had become pretty much self-governing. The government in the UK had made little effort to tax the colonists, but after the war, the UK government had begun to impose taxes on the colonists which had led to protests and riots on the streets of the major cities. Although the British had largely abandoned attempts to impose taxes by 1775, the principle of 'No taxation without representation' had taken hold. The unrest had escalated into an armed rebellion by the time HMS Niger recommissioned and the American War of Independence was on the brink of starting. On 24th September 1775, HMS Niger left Deptford to join in the growing conflict in the American colonies.

By the time she arrived, the situation had gone from bad to worse. Regular British troops had been driven off and forced to retreat to Boston at the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the city of Boston itself was under siege. What was all the more surprising about this was that the Colonial forces deployed in the field were part-time militiamen, whereas the British troops were trained, full-time soldiers. The various units of the Colonial militias had rapidly organised themselves into an army, which had proved to be more than a match for the British forces ranged against them. At this stage in the conflict, the colonists did not have a Navy as such, more a collection of armed merchant ships which were used to harrass British shipping and running the blockade of rebel-held ports put in place by the Royal Navy. Frigates like HMS Niger were set to work in imposing this blockade and taking blockade-runners. On 2nd December 1775, HMS Niger captured the American merchant brig Peter. Unfortunately, the Peter was recaptured off Plymouth, Massachusetts by the rebel privateer Yankee. The same month, HMS Niger captured the sloop Sally, which was retaken by the American privateer schooner Warren on Christmas Day. Also in December, HMS Niger took the American brig William.

On March 17th 1776, the British finally evacuated Boston and withdrew to New York. The Royal Navy shifted it's main base of operations from Boston to Sandy Hook. In April 1776, HMS Niger captured the American sloop Hope. Also, in early 1776, the French and Spanish began to secretly supply the rebels with arms and money. In July 1776, HMS Niger captured the American sloop Fanny. In 1777, HMS Niger was redeployed to the Caribbean and began to operate out of Jamaica.

On February 6th 1778, the American rebels signed a Treaty of Alliance with France, where they committed themselves to seeking nothing less than full independence from Britain, in return for France openly joining the war on the American side. This led to the British declaring war on France and allowing French forces already fighting in America to fight under their own colours. By this time, Captain Talbot had been replaced in command of the ship by Captain Robert Lambert. Lambert was an experienced commander who had first held a command during the Seven Years War when he had commanded the ten-gun brig-sloop HMS Jamaica. His appointment prior to HMS Niger had been the 68 gun third rate ship of the line HMS Dorsetshire. In March, HMS Niger captured the sloop Dove, the sloop Washington, the schooner Sukey and the schooner Angelina.

On 7th March 1779, HMS Niger was operating in company with the 64 gun third rate ship of the line HMS Ruby, when she had her first encounter with a warship of the French navy in the American War of Independence. HMS Niger sighted and gave chase to what turned out to be the ex-HMS Minerva, captured the previous year, taken into French service and renamed La Minerve. The two frigates were evenly matched, both being 12pdr armed 32 gun ships. On this occasion however, the French ship had the upper hand. The Minerve fired chain and bar-shot into HMS Niger's rigging and disabled her before making her escape before the British frigate's larger and more powerful partner could intervene.

By 1780, Captain Lambert had been replaced in command of HMS Niger by Captain John Brown. His previous appointment had been in command of the 68 gun third rate ship of the line HMS Leviathan. Captain Brown had swapped ships with Captain Lambert. On 20th March 1780, HMS Niger was still in company with HMS Ruby and the pair had been joined by the 9pdr armed 28 gun frigate HMS Pomona. In the small hours of the morning of 22nd March, heavy gunfire was heard and the three British ships headed towards its source. The source was quickly identified as being a force of three British ships which had been in action against a superior enemy force. The three British ships were HMS Lion (64), HMS Bristol (50) and HMS Janus (44). The French force ranged against them comprised the 74 gun ships L'Annibal and  Le Diademe, the 64 gun ship Reflechi and the 50 gun ship L'Amphion. On sighting the three British newcomers, the French force made more sail and headed off. The captain of HMS Janus, Captain Bonovier Glover had died of natural causes during the action. His place in command of that ship was temporarily taken by the First Lieutenant of HMS Bristol, Lieutenant Horatio Nelson. HMS Janus had been the most severely damaged of the British ships in the First Action off Monti Christi, having had her mizzen-topmast and fore-topgallant masts shot away.

Exactly three months later, HMS Niger was part of a force commanded by Captain William Cornwallis in HMS Lion. In addition to HMS Lion and HMS Niger, the force also comprised HMS Hector (74), HMS Sultan (74), HMS Ruby, HMS Salisbury (50) and HMS Bristol. On 20th June 1780, this force encountered a French force escorting two large supply ships carrying troops and stores bound for the Compte de Rochambeau's army assisting the Americans under George Washington campaigning down the eastern seaboard of continental America. On this occasion, the French force showed no interest in bringing the British to action and instead merely fended off the British attack and went on their way.

HMS Niger saw no further action in the American War of Independence and returned to the UK in January 1783. Once more, the ship was in need of major repairs, having not been near a dockyard since the war started eight years earlier. In February 1783, HMS Niger entered the Royal Dockyard at Deptford and underwent a Great Repair. This work lasted until April 1784 and on completion, the ship entered the Ordinary at Deptford. The work cost a total of £13,717.14s.9d.

The ship remained in the River Thames, secured to a mooring bouy with her guns, yards, sails and rigging all removed, her gunports and hatches sealed shut and manned by a skeleton crew. This comprised of Warrant Officers; the Boatswain, the Carpenter, the Gunner, the Purser and the Cook plus ten Able Seamen for the next six years. In the meantime, the world moved on. The severe economic slump suffered in France led to the Revolution in July 1789, where the absolute power enjoyed by the King of France for centuries was ended. A constitutional monarchy was set up in its place where the power of the king was limited by an elected assembly, the National Convention.

In May 1789, a routine survey found that HMS Niger's hull was in need of further repairs. The ship was towed to the Royal Dockyard at Woolwich and underwent a Middling Repair, which went on until April the following year and cost a further £7,762. When the work was complete, Britain was on the brink of war with the Spanish in what is now known as the Spanish Armaments Crisis. The Royal Navy was being mobilised in a hurry and it was decided to commission HMS Niger. In May 1790, HMS Niger began fitting for sea and was dry-docked so that her hull could be sheathed in copper. As part of this work the ships armament was increased with the addition of carronades for the first time. In addition to the 4 6pdr long guns on her quarterdeck, the ship was fitted with 4 24pdr carronades and a further two were added to the 2 6pdr long guns on her forecastle. In July 1790, HMS Niger recommissioned at Woolwich under Captain Thomas Farnham. In January 1791, the ship received a new commander, Captain George Cranfield Berkeley. Captain Berkeley had first held a command in 1778 and his appointment prior to HMS Niger was the 74 gun third rate ship of the line HMS Magnificent. HMS Niger sailed to the West Indies in order that fortifications around British possessions in the Caribbean couild be inspected. On completion of that work, the ship returned to the UK and paid off again in August 1791. She recommissioned again almost immediately, this time under Captain Richard Goodwin Keats. Keats was another experienced commander and veteran of the American War of Independence. His first command appointment had been in the 14 gun ship-sloop HMS Bonetta and his appointment prior to HMS Niger was another old frigate, the 12pdr armed 32 gun frigate HMS Southampton.

At this stage, the British broadly supported the French Revolution, but in France itself, things were going from bad to worse. Although the Revolution had led to the establishment of a Constitutional Monarchy along similar lines to our own, the King and the National Convention became involved in an increasingly bitter and violent struggle for control of the country, to such an extent that many parts of France were on the brink of civil war. As the struggle continued, the National COnvention began to come under the control of the arch-republican Jacobin movement and it's leader, Maximilien Robespierre. In December 1792, the Jacobins got their way and the French Monarchy was abolished. King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were executed on the Guillotine in January 1793. The following month, France declared war on Great Britain.

As far as HMS Niger was concerned, it appeared that the old frigate was going to face her third global war and indeed, the ship commissioned into the Channel Fleet in May 1793 under Captain Robert Moorsom. Captain Keats had been appointed Flag Captain to Rear-Admiral the Prince William Henry Clarence, flying his command flag in the 98 gun second rate ship HMS London. In later life, Prince William Henry would become King William IV. HMS Niger was Captain Moorsom's first appointment as a Captain. His previous appointment had been as Master and Commander in the 16 gun ship-sloop HMS Ariel.

Once the declaration of war had been made, the French began to assemble their Atlantic Fleet in Quiberon Bay, so that by the end of August 1793, they had 21 ships of the line and 4 frigates. Of the ships of the line, one was a ship of 120 guns, two were of 110 guns each, three more were ships of 80 guns and the remaining 15 ships were of 74 guns each. The British were not idle either. Immediately upon the declaration of war, Admiral the Lord Howe had been appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Fleet and had hoisted his command flag in the new 100 gun first rate ship HMS Queen Charlotte. In addition to HMS Queen Charlotte, Howe also had at his disposal a further two 100 gun first rate ships (HMS Royal George and HMS Royal Sovereign), a 98 gun second rate ship (HMS London), nine third rate ships of 74 guns each plus a further four third rate ships with 64 guns. HMS Niger was one of nine frigates in the Channel Fleet. The time up to the 14th June 1793 was spent assembling the Channel Fleet in the anchorage off St Helens, Isle of Wight and on 14th, the fleet sailed from the anchorage and by 18th, were conducting manoeuvres off the Isles of Scilly.

On 23rd July, the fleet anchored in Torbay. On 25th, Lord Howe received intelligence from an American merchantman who claimed to have sailed through a French fleet believed to be comprised of 17 ships of the line, about 30 miles west of Belle-Isle. Lord Howe immediately ordered the fleet to sea again and later that day, the fleet fell in with the 24 gun sixth rate post-ship HMS Eurydice, whose commander, Captain Francis Cole reported that he had received similar intelligence from a British privateer and that the French had stationed themselves off Belle-Isle in order to protect a convoy from the Caribbean which was expected at any time. Lord Howe then ordered his fleet to head for Belle-Isle, which they reached on 31st. At 14:00, the island was sighted and almost immediately thereafter, so was the enemy. HMS Niger, like all the fleet's frigates, would have been sent ahead to scout for the fleet. Later that day, the ships of the line were ordered by Lord Howe to form a line of battle and to stand in towards the island. On 1st August, the French were again sighted and the British changed course to close the range, so that by noon, the enemy were so close that their hulls could be seen from the decks of the British ships. In the early afternoon, the wind died away to a dead calm. In the evening, a light breeze sprang up, which the British exploited to head directly at the enemy, but the coming of nightfall prevented the fleets from getting to grips with each other. Dawn on the 2nd August came and the French were nowhere to be seen. Over the next few days, the weather deteriorated significantly, to the point where Lord Howe and the fleet was forced to return to the shelter of Torbay.

On 23rd August, the Channel Fleet again left Torbay, this time to escort the Newfoundland-bound convoy past any danger presented by the French and to await the arrival of the convoy from the West Indies. Having achieved both objectives and having spent another ten or twelve days on manoeuvres around the Isles of Scilly, the Channel Fleet again anchored in Torbay on 4th September 1793. They left Torbay again on 27th October, this time to cruise in the Bay of Biscay, looking for a fight with the French. At 09:00 on 18th November, the 18pdr armed 38 gun frigate HMS Latona sighted a strange squadron upwind of her, which proved to be five French ships of the line, two frigates, a brig-corvette and a schooner. The French force continued to close with Lord Howe's fleet until, once more, they were clearly visible from the decks of the British ships. It would appear that the French squadron had mistaken the full force of the British Channel Fleet for a merchant convoy and had closed to intercept. On realising the full horror of their mistake, they very quickly turned tail and fled the scene. Lord Howe ordered his leading ships of the line, HMS Russel, HMS Bellerophon, HMS Defence, HMS Audacious and HMS Ganges (all of 74 guns), plus the frigates, to set all sail and chase the enemy. In gale-force winds and high seas, the British ships strained every inch of rigging in their determination to catch the enemy force and bring them to action, but very soon, the strain began to tell. HMS Russel sprang her fore-topmast and at 11:00, the fore and main-topmasts on HMS Defence collapsed and crashed down to the deck. Seeing that his ships of the line were struggling in the bad weather, Lord Howe changed his mind and instead ordered his frigates including HMS Niger to continue the chase and keep the enemy in sight and lead the fleet. At a little after noon, the wind shifted a little and allowed the leading British frigate, the 18pdr armed 38 gun ship HMS Latona, to close the range and engage the two rear-most French frigates. By 4pm, HMS Latona was in a position to be able to cut off one of the enemy frigates and take her, but the French commander, Commodore Vanstabel in the Tigre of 74 guns bore down and stopped it. The Tigre and another French 74 gun ship passed close enough to HMS Latona to be able to fire full broadsides at the British frigate. Captain Thornborough of HMS Latona was having none of this and luffed up (that is, steered his ship directly into the wind, stopping the ship dead in the water) and returned the French fire, cutting away the fore stay and main tack line of the Tigre as well as damaging her in her hull. None of the other British ships were able to get near and more ships suffered damage to their masts and rigging in the severe weather. HMS Vanguard (74) and HMS Montagu (74) both lost their main-topmasts. This convinced Lord Howe to call off the chase. After this skirmish, Lord Howe kept his fleet at sea until mid-December, when the Channel Fleet returned to Spithead.

At the end of 1793, Captain Moorsom was replaced in command of HMS Niger by Captain Sir Arthur Kaye Legge. Captain Legge's previous appointment had been in command of the 50 gun fourth-rate two decked ship HMS Assistance. His first command appointment had been in 1790, when he had been appointed as Master and Commander in the 16 gun ship-sloop HMS Shark. Captain Moorsom had been appointed to command another 12pdr armed 32 gun frigate, HMS Astraea.
"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 Niger (1759 - 1814)
« Reply #1 on: November 23, 2014, 19:45:28 »
Part Two - Howe's Atlantic Campaign of May 1794, the Battle of the Glorious First of June, Channel Service and the Falmouth Squadron, the Second Battle of Cape St Vincent, Pursuit of the Santissima Trinidad

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.

On 2nd May 1794, Lord Howe, flying his command flag in a Chatham-built ship, the giant first rate ship HMS Queen Charlotte (100), led the Channel Fleet out of the anchorage off St Helens, Isle of Wight in order to begin the search for the French convoy. As one of the Channel Fleet's frigates, HMS Niger's role in this would have been to scout ahead of the fleet or to follow at distance behind the fleet to ensure they themselves were not being followed. At this stage, the Channel Fleet was more powerful than it had ever been. Under Lord Howe's command were the following ships of the line:

HMS Queen Charlotte (100), HMS Royal George (100), HMS Royal Sovereign (100), HMS Barfleur (98), HMS Impregnable (98), HMS Glory (98), HMS Queen (98), HMS Gibraltar (80), HMS Caesar (80), HMS Bellerophon (74), HMS Tremendous (74), HMS Montagu (74), HMS Valiant (74), HMS Ramillies (74), HMS Audacious (74), HMS Brunswick (74), HMS Alfred (74), HMS Defence (74), HMS Leviathan (74), HMS Majestic (74), HMS Invincible (74), HMS Orion (74), HMS Russel (74), HMS Marlborough (74), HMS Culodden (74), HMS Thunderer (74). In addition to the ships of the line, there were the following frigates:

HMS Latona (18pdr 38), HMS Phaeton (18pdr 38), HMS Niger (12pdr 32), HMS Southampton (12pdr 32), HMS Venus (12pdr 32), HMS Aquilon (12pdr 32) and HMS Pegasus (9pdr 28).

As well as these ships, Lord Howe also had the following vessels under his command:

HMS Charon (formerly a two-decker of 44 guns, by now a hospital ship), HMS Comet (fireship of 8 guns), HMS Incendiary (fireship of 8 guns), HMS Kingfisher (ship-sloop of 16 guns), HMS Ranger (topsail cutter of 14 guns) and the hired armed cutter Rattler of 10 guns.

The next few weeks were spent searching for the enemy. At 04:00 on 25th May, the fleet sighted a French 74 gun ship of the line which appeared to have an American merchant brig in tow to windward and a pair of French vessels to the west. HMS Niger and HMS Audacious were ordered to give chase to the pair of French vessels which turned out to be the 20 gun ship-corvette Republicain and the 16 gun brig-corvette Inconnue. With the big 74 gun HMS Audacious looking on, HMS Niger made short work of taking the two French vessels. These were burned rather than taken as prizes.

Howe then ordered his fastest ships, HMS Bellerophon (74), HMS Leviathan, HMS Russell (74). HMS Audacious, HMS Marlborough (74) and HMS Thunderer (74) to form a 'flying squadron' under the command of Rear-Admiral Thomas Pasley in HMS Bellerophon. The Flying Squadron was ordered to run ahead of the main fleet.

At 6.30am on 28th May, the leading frigates signalled to the flagship that they had sighted sails to the south-south-east. Shortly afterwards, they signalled that they had spotted a strange fleet to windward. At 8.15, Howe ordered the flying squadron to investigate and at 9am, the enemy fleet was seen to be heading towards the main body of Howe's fleet. Howe ordered his fleet to prepare for battle and at 9.45, recalled the frigates for their safety. At 10am, the flying squadron signalled to Howe that the enemy fleet consisted of 26 ships of the line and five frigates. At 10:35, Howe ordered his ships to alter course and follow a line parallel to that of the French fleet. At 13:00, the French altered course away from the British. At 14:30, HMS Russell opened proceedings when she fired a few ranging shots at the rearmost ships in the French line, which promply returned fire. At a little after 5pm, the French force shortened sail, in order to allow their rear-most two decker to swap places with a giant three decker which had dropped down the line. The giant French three-decker was soon identified as being the Revolutionnaire of 120 guns and at 6pm, HMS Bellerophon had closed the range sufficiently to open fire on the Revolutionnire. After 75 minutes of furious fighting, the vastly superior firepower of the French ship got the better of HMS Bellerophon and Pasley was forced to signal his inability to continue to Howe aboard HMS Queen Charlotte. HMS Bellerophon's fight with the Revolutionnaire had not been one-sided. The French giant had lost her mizzen mast and during the fight, HMS Leviathan and HMS Audacious had managed to catch up. Just as the Revolutionnaire made to turn and run before the wind, she was intercepted by HMS Leviathan and at 7.20, the British ship opened fire. At 7.30, HMS Queen Charlotte ordered the rest of the Flying Squadron to assist. HMS Leviathan then had a furious exchange of fire with the giant enemy ship which continued until HMS Audacious was able to come up. At that point, HMS Leviathan moved on and engaged the next ship in the French line. The fighting continued until Howe ordered HMS Leviathan, HMS Russell, HMS Bellerophon and HMS Marlborough to break off and rejoin the main body of the fleet. HMS Audacious stationed herself off the Revolutionnaire's lee (downwind) quarter and poured in heavy fire. This did severe damage to the French ship, which was unable to return any effective fire. By 10pm, Revolutionnaire had lost all her masts. At one point, Revolutionnaire drifted across HMS Audacious' bow and the two ships almost collided. The crews of both HMS Audacious and HMS Russell, which had also closed the range were both to swear afterwards that the Revolutionnaire had struck her colours in surrender, but that HMS Audacious was too badly damaged to be able to take possession of her. HMS Audacious had been severely damaged and her crew had to work through the night to get her able to sail again and get away from the French fleet, which by now had come to the assistance of the Revolutionnaire. Despite the ferocity of the fighting, HMS Audacious had lost only three men killed in action, although a further three were to die from their injuries later. The French ship had suffered terribly in the fight, having sustained casualties of 400 men dead or wounded. HMS Leviathan had suffered no significant casualties. Between them, HMS Leviathan and HMS Bellerophon had totally disabled a far larger enemy ship and had forced the Revolutionnaire to at least attempt to surrender. The French giant managed to put up a jury rig and took no further part in the all-out, pitched battle which was to follow a few days later.

HMS Niger's role in the Action of 28th May was that of an onlooker, ready to dart in and rescue men in the water or to tow any badly damaged ships of the line out of danger. This is a role that frigates like HMS Niger could perform with relative safety, despite the proximity to the big ships of the line tearing pieces out of each other. There was an unwritten rule in naval warfare that ships of the line do not fire on frigates unless fired upon first by the frigate. This was because until the advent of larger and much more powerful frigates, a frigate, being of much lighter construction than a ship of the line would likely be destroyed if she received a broadside from a ship of the line.

The French admiral, Villaret de Joyeuse, in the meantime had learned that the convoy was close and in danger of being discovered by the British. Failure was not an option, so the French changed course and headed west, hoping to lure Howe and his fleet away from the convoy. During the night of 28th - 29th May, both fleets had resumed their formations. The British had managed to gain what was called the Weather Gage - that is, they had worked their way upwind of the enemy, their favoured position. Howe had taken the bait and followed Villaret de Joyeuse' fleet away from the convoy

At 7am on 29th My 1794, Lord Howe ordered the leading ships in his fleet, HMS Caesar (80), HMS Queen (90), HMS Russell, HMS Leviathan, HMS Valiant (74), HMS Royal George (100), HMS Invincible (74), HMS Majestic (74) and HMS Bellerophon to attack the rear of the French fleet, cut it off and destroy it. At 7.35am, the French opened fire on the British vanguard, which was now approaching them. The range was too great to have any effect and the British didn't bother to return fire until just before 8am. At about 8am the French had realised what Lord Howe was up to and the vanguard of their fleet changed course and made to support the rear of their fleet. At about 10am, the leading British ships, HMS Royal George, HMS Valiant, HMS Queen, HMS Russell and HMS Caesar opened fire on the French and exchanged broadside fire, damaging the leading ship, the Montagne. As HMS Leviathan approached the French, her steering wheel was struck and destroyed, leaving her drifting upwind of the French ships Tyrannicide and Indomptable, both of which had been disabled by fire from HMS Bellerophon and the flagship, HMS Queen Charlotte. By 4pm, the French managed to maneouvre away and the fighting gradually came to a halt as both the British and French ships moved away from each other. This skirmish had left several of Howe's ships with various degrees of damage. Again, HMS Niger would have been an onlooker to the Action of 29th May.

On 30th and 31st May, the British fleet stayed within visual range of the French but were prevented from engaging each other by a fog.

As the sun rose on the 1st June 1794, things had fallen into place very nicely for Lord Howe and his force. The fog had been driven away by a rising wind, the British fleet was sailing in a line parallel to that of the enemy and were in a perfect position to fall on the French fleet and totally annihilate them. Howe's plan was as brutal as it was simple. Each British ship would turn towards the French line and with the wind behind them, would surge between two French ships, pouring a double-shotted broadside with a round of grape-shot added for good measure, in through the French ship's unprotected sterns and bows, causing devastating damage and terrible casualties on the French vessel's open gundecks. Once that manoeuvre was complete, the British ship would turn to port (left) and engage an enemy ship in single combat at point blank range.

Unfortuntely, many of Howe's captains either misunderstood his orders or simply failed to obey them and didn't break the French line and either came alongside the French or fired into the melee at long range. At 2.30pm, Lord Howe signalled for whatever ships were able to, to re-form a line of battle and head to support HMS Queen, which had been severely damaged and dismasted. By 5pm, the French began to manoeuvre away and the battle effectively ended. 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 fleet action 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 amongst the crews of the ships which participated in the battle. Once again, HMS Niger would have been an onlooker to this, the first major fleet action of the French Revolutionary War, known today as the Battle of the Glorious First of June.

This superb painting by Tim Thompson shows the sinking of the French 74 gun ship Le Vengeur after her duel with HMS Brunswick. The hired armed cutter Rattler is standing by to pick up survivors.



On 13th June, the fleet arrived back at Spithead. The rest of 1794 and into 1795 were spent patrolling the Channel, keeping an eye on the French in their ports and keeping British merchant shipping safe from attack by French privateers and naval vessels. In October 1794, Captain Legge was replaced in command by Captain Edward James Foote. Captain Legge had been appointed to command HMS Latona. HMS Niger was Captain Foote's first appointment at that rank. His previous appointment had been as Master and Commander in the 16 gun ship-sloop HMS  Thorn.

By the summer of 1795, HMS Niger was part of a squadron of five frigates, commanded by Captain Sir Richard Strachan in the 18pdr armed 36 gun frigate HMS Melampus. Also in the squadron were the 18pdr armed 38 gun frigates HMS Diamond and the ex-French HMS Hebe, in addition to HMS Niger and another 12pdr armed 32 gun frigate, HMS Syren.

At 03:00 on 9th May 1795, the five frigates were lying in Gourville Bay, Jersey, when 13 French vessels were sighted running along the French shore to the south. The squadron weighed anchor and set off in pursuit immediately. By 6am, HMS Melampus had closed the range sufficiently to fire on the enemy, but they escaped around Cape Carteret and ran for the shore under the protection of two gun-vessels, the Eclair and the Crache-Feu as well as a small battery ashore on the beach. Captain Strachen decided on a boat attack and all the squadron's boats assembled at HMS Melampus before heading for the enemy under covering fire from the frigates. After a brief exchange of fire, the French abandoned their vessels and the British took possession of the entire convoy as well as the escorting gun-vessels. The vessels were found to be carrying cargoes of naval stores including cannons, gunpowder and timber. In this action, HMS Niger suffered casualties of her Second Lieutenant, Mr Charles Long and one seaman wounded.

On 27th April 1796, HMS Niger was with the fleet and was sent in pursuit of a large armed French lugger. At sunset, the enemy vessel anchored for the night among the rocks off the Penmarks. After approaching as close as the depth of water would allow, HMS Niger also anchored and began firing at the enemy vessel. This proved ineffective due to the extreme range, so Captain Foote decided on a boat attack. At 9pm, the ship's barge and both her cutters departed for the attack. The raid was commanded by the ship's First Lieutenant, Mr George Long, assisted by the Third Lieutenant, Mr Thomas Thompson, Masters Mate Mr Jeremiah Morgan and Mr Midshipman James Patton. Their party of seamen with six Royal Marines was tasked with bringing away or destroying the enemy vessel. Eventually, the boats got alongside their target and after overcoming a determined resistance by the enemy, the vessel was taken. She turned out to be the Ecureuil, armed with 18 4pdr guns and a crew of 105 men. The vessel's commander, Lieutenant-de-Vaisseau Jean-Baptiste-Augustin Rousseau and most of her surviving crew escaped ashore, with the exception of 28 men taken prisoner. The vessel was burned. The raiding party suffered casualties of Lieutenant Long, Mr Midshipman Patton, three seamen and two marines wounded.

By the end of 1796, news had reached the British Government that a major expedition by the French was in the offing. Where and when was still a very closely kept secret by the French, so to try to avoid being caught out by any sudden moves by the enemy, the Channel Fleet was divided into three large squadrons. Overall command of the Channel Fleet had by now passed to Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Hood, the First Viscount Bridport. He flew his command flag in the massive Chatham-built 100 gun first rate ship HMS Royal George. The British were guessing that the French were after one of three targets, Ireland, Portugal or Gibraltar. Of the three squadrons, one under Rear-Admiral Sir Roger Curtis flying his command flag in HMS Formidable (98) was ordered to cruise to the west, off the French Atlantic Coast. The other,  under Rear-Admiral Charles Thompson, flying his command flag in HMS London (98) was ordered  to maintain a close blockade of Brest. The third and largest squadron was to be stationed at Spithead, commanded by Lord Bridport and was to be the reserve, ready to reinforce either of the other two squadrons if required. At the end of October, HMS Niger was ordered to transport Rear-Admiral John Colpoys to take command of the Brest Squadron, replacing Rear-Admiral Thompson. Rear-Admiral Thompson then took passage back to the UK in HMS Niger.

1796 soon turned to 1797 and in the early part of the year, much to the alarm of the Admiralty, the Spanish fleet at Cartagena was seen to be getting ready for sea. HMS Niger was detached from the Channel Fleet along with five ships of the line and sent to reinforce the fleet blockading the Spaniards under Admiral Sir John Jervis, flying his command flag in the 100 gun first rate ship HMS Victory. HMS Niger joined Jervis' fleet on 6th February 1797.

In the morning of 13th February, the 18pdr armed 38 gun ex-French frigate HMS Minerve, flying the command broad pendant of a character we encountered earlier in this story while he was still a Lieutenant, now Commodore Horatio Nelson. Nelson reported in person to Jervis that soon after leaving Gibraltar on 11th, they were chased by two Spanish ships of the line and soon afterwards, while in the Straits of Gibraltar, they had sighted the entire Spanish fleet at sea. Before sunset, Jervis ordered his fleet to prepare for battle and to maintain a close order throughout the night. On occasions overnight, the British could clearly hear signal guns and at 2:30 am the Portugese Frigate Carlotta hove into view and signalled to HMS Victory that the Spanish fleet was less than fifteen miles to windward. By this time, HMS Niger had been shadowing the Spanish for a couple of days and on 14th February, she rejoined Jervis' fleet at 05:00.

At 06:30, HMS Coludden signalled that she had sighted five ships in the south-west-by-south. HMS Niger and the 18pdr armed 32 gun frigate HMS Lively were ordered to have a closer look and confirmed by signal to Jervis that they were enemy ships of the line. At 08:15, Jervis ordered the fleet to close their order and shortly afterward to prepare for battle. By 11am, the true size of the enemy fleet had been ascertained. The news was not good for Jervis. Jervis had under his command, in addition to HMS Victory, another 100 gun first rate ship, HMS Britannia, plus the 98 gun 2nd rate ships HMS Barfleur, HMS Prince George and HMS Blenheim and the 90 gun 2nd rate ship HMS Namur. In addition to these, Jervis had the 74 gun third rate ships of the line HMS Captain, HMS Goliath, HMS Excellent, HMS Orion, HMS Colossus, HMS Egmont, HMS Culodden and HMS Irresistible and the 64 gun third rate ship HMS Diadem. Ranged against his force was an enormous Spanish force, which included the worlds largest warship, the Santissima Trinidad carrying 140 guns on four gundecks, plus a further six ships each carrying 112 guns each. The Spanish fleet also comprised a pair of 80 gun ships and no less than 18 ships with 74 guns each. Jervis was not the kind of man to run from a fight and at 11am, ordered his fleet to form a line of battle, ahead and astern of HMS Victory as convenient. The Spanish fleet was in two divisions and Jervis ordered his ships to steer for the gap in between them.

What followed was one of the greatest victories ever won by the Royal Navy and is the stuff of legend. The indomitable spirit of the Royal Navy at the time is summed up by the following exchange between Captain Benjamin Hallowell of HMS Victory and his Admiral on the quarterdeck:

Hallowell: There are 8 sail of the line Sir John
Jervis: Very well sir
Hallowell: There are twenty sail of the line Sir John
Jervis: Very well sir
Hallowell:There are twenty-five sail of the line Sir John
Jervis: Very well sir
Hallowell: There are twenty-seven sail of the line Sir John[
Jervis: Enough sir, no more of that, the die is cast. If there are fifty sail of the line, I will go through them
Hallowell, thumping his Admiral on the back: Thats right Sir John and by God we'll give them a damned good licking

And they did. By the end of the day, the Spanish ships Salvador Del Mundo (112), San Jose (112), San Nicholas de Bari (80) and San Isidro (74) were British prizes and 430 Spanish sailors were dead and over 850 were wounded. The British by contrast had suffered 73 dead and 227 wounded. The Santissima Trinidad had been crippled but had managed to get herself towed out of the action by one of the Spanish frigates. As per her role at the Battle of the Glorious First of June, HMS Niger had been a spectator to the Second Battle of Cape St Vincent.

HMS Victory rakes a Spanish three-decker at the Battle of Cape St Vincent:



Jervis was determined that the Spanish giant would not get away and on 16th February, ordered HMS Niger, plus the frigates HMS Minerve and HMS Emerald plus the 20 gun ex-French post-ship HMS Bonne-Citoyenne and the 18 gun brig-sloop HMS Raven to search for her. At 3pm on 20th, the Santissima Trinidad was spotted, being towed by a frigate and the British ships made more sail in pursuit. At 5.30pm, the signal was made to prepare for battle. Soon afterwards, the force was joined by the 12pdr armed 32 gun frigate HMS Terpsichore and on realising they had been seen, the Spanish frigate cast off the tow, leaving the Santissima Trinidad to her fate. The British frigates made ready to attack, but Captain Berkeley of HMS Emerald decided on prudence rather then to attack a four-decked 130 gun ship with his force of three frigates and a couple of sloops. Ordering his ships to keep the enemy in sight, the ships headed north. The Santissima Trinidad escaped to fight again at the Battle of Trafalgar, eight years later.

After making repairs, Jervis and his fleet including HMS Niger resumed their blockade of Cadiz, but by the end of the year, HMS Niger had returned to the Channel Fleet. In October 1797, Captain Foote was replaced in command by Captain Edward Griffith. Captain Foote had been ordered to take command of the 18pdr armed 38 gun frigate HMS Seahorse. Captain Griffith's previous appointment had been in command of HMS London. On Christmas Day 1797, the ship captured the French privateer Delphine of four guns off Start Point.

On 4th May 1798, HMS Niger was part of a small squadron led by Captain Thomas Wooley in the 18pdr armed 38 gun frigate HMS Arethusa. The other ship in the squadron was the obsolete 44 gun two-decker HMS Argo. On that day, the three ships were cruising off the mouth of the River Seine when a fishing boat pulled up alongside HMS Argo and was found to contain Captain Sir Sidney Smith, Lieutenant John Westley Wright and two Frenchmen, friends of Captain Smith. These enterprising men had escaped from the Temple prison in Paris and had made their way overland to Rouen, where they had stolen the fishing boat and put to sea in the hopes of finding patrolling British ships. As soon as he found out who the people off the fishing boat were, Captain Wooley ordered HMS Argo to take them straight back to the UK, where they arrived safely on 6th May.

In May 1799, HMS Niger was taken into the Royal Dockyard at Deptford, where she was to be converted into an en flute troopship. The term 'en flute' means that some of her armament was to be removed to make room for the cargo she was now intended to carry. The reason this was done was because by now, the ship was 40 years old and had been in front-line service for 34 of those years. 12pdr armed 32 gun frigates like HMS Niger were by now obsolete, having been superceded by new, bigger 18pdr armed frigates. She continued in the role of a troopship until March 1804, when she was converted back into a frigate and was re-classified as a 28 gun sixth-rate frigate. The British were aware of Napoleon's 'Grand Plan' for the invasion of England and desperately short of ships, especially frigates, even old, obsolete ships like HMS Niger were being dragged back back into service.

After recommissioning as a front line combat unit under Captain James Hillyer, HMS Niger was assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet under Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson and was employed in the blockade of Toulon. HMS Niger remained in the Mediterranean while Nelson took his fleet in pursuit of the French Admiral Villeneuve and when the Franco-Spanish fleet sought shelter in Cadiz following their return to European waters and their defeat at the Battle of Cape Finisterre, HMS Niger rejoined Nelson's fleet with a view to disrupting enemy shipping in the area on 1st October 1805. The ship did not take part in the Battle of Trafalgar which occurred three weeks later.

On 2nd May 1806, HMS Niger made her last capture of an enemy vessel, the Spanish schooner El Virgin del Carmen, en-route from Algeciras to La Guira with dispatches. At the end of 1807, the ship's age and long years of service in all weathers had taken it's toll to the degree where she was no longer fit for sea. In January 1808, HMS Niger was paid off for the last time and was laid up at Portsmouth. In May 1809, she was converted to a prison hulk and in 1813 was renamed to HMS Negro. The reason was that the Royal Navy wanted to use the name HMS Niger for a new Leda Class 18pdr armed 38 gun frigate built at Blackwall and launched on 25th May 1813.

HMS Negro was sold for breaking up on 29th September 1814. The ship was 55 years old.
"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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