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Author Topic: HMS Dolphin (1781 - 1817)  (Read 3965 times)

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Offline Bilgerat

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HMS Dolphin (1781 - 1817)
« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2015, 22:16:02 »
HMS Dolphin was a 5th rate, 44 gun two-decked ship of the Roebuck Class built at the Royal Dockyard, Chatham.

Often wrongly referred to as Frigates, the 44-gun two-decked ship was neither a frigate or a ship of the line. In 1750, the Admiralty issued the official definition of a frigate, which was a ship of 28 guns or more, which carried her main battery on a single gundeck with her quarterdeck and forecastle also able to carry light guns. The 44 gun ship was lightly built like the frigate, but like the ships of the line, carried her guns on more than one complete gundeck and as such, they were the smallest two-deckers in the Royal Navy. Unlike a ship of the line, a 44 gun ship was not fitted with a poop deck.

Built to a design by Thomas Slade (now famous for having designed HMS Victory) the Roebuck class was a group of twenty 44 gun ships built for the American War of Independence. They were intended to be able to operate in the shallow waters off many parts of North America. The lead ship of the class, HMS Roebuck, had also been built at the Chatham Royal Dockyard and HMS Dolphin and HMS Roebuck were the only members of the class to be built in Kent shipyards. Once the American War of Independence was over, the Roebuck class and ships like them had no role. Not being ships of the line and outsailed and outgunned by bigger, faster and more powerful French and Spanish frigates, most of the remaining 44 gun ships were either assigned to harbour duties or were used as troopships, storeships or as hospital ships. One member of the Roebuck Class, HMS Gladiator, found a role as Flagship of the port admiral at Portsmouth and as such, hosted the Courts Martial held there between 1792 and 1815. The first five ships in the class had two rows of sternlights or windows to give them the appearance of being a 'proper' two decker, but in reality, there was actually only one deck behind both rows. HMS Dolphin was the first member of the class to have a frigate-style stern with a single row of sternlights. Despite being obsolete, there were five Roebuck Class 44 gun ships in active front-line service when the French Revolutionary War broke out in 1793.

HMS Dolphin was ordered from the Royal Dockyard at Chatham on 8th January 1777. By that time, what had started as protests over taxation in Britains American colonies had escalated into a full-scale armed rebellion which the British were struggling to contain. France and Spain were secretly supplying the rebels with arms and money. In the spring of 1776, the rebels had forced the British out of their stronghold in Boston, forcing them to withdraw their forces back to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Emboldened by this success, the rebels issued the Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776. The British then scored a major success when they landed an army in New York and defeated General George Washington and his Continental Army at the Battle of Brooklyn in August 1776. The British then called for peace talks which were held on Staten Island in New York Harbour. The talks failed because the British demanded that the rebels retract the Declaration of Independence, which they refused, so the war continued. After the failure of the talks, the British captured New York City, which they were to continue to hold until their position became untenable towards the end of the war.

Meanwhile, at Chatham, HMS Dolphin's first keel section was laid down on Thursday 1st May 1777. The ship was launched into the River Medway on Saturday 10th March 1781. After her launch, the ship was fitted with her guns, sails, masts and rigging at Chatham and she commissioned under Captain William Blair on Friday 11th May 1781. On completion, HMS Dolphin was a ship of 880 tons. She was 139ft 11in long on her upper gundeck and 115ft 6in long at her keel. She was 37ft 10in wide across her beams and her hold, the space between her orlop, the lowest deck and her bottom was 16ft 4in deep. She was armed with 20 18pdr long guns on her lower gundeck, 22 9pdr long guns on her upper gundeck and 2 6pdr long guns on her forecastle. She also carried around a dozen half-pounder swivel-guns attached to her upper deck handrails and in her fighting tops. By the time she was completed, HMS Dolphin had cost 21,525.10s.5d. Her construction had been overseen by Mr Nicholas Phillips, Master Shipwright in the Kings Dockyard at Chatham. She was manned by a crew of 280 officers, men, boys and Royal Marines.

Roebuck Class Plans as built

Orlop Plan:

Lower Gundeck Plan:

Upper Gundeck Plan:

Quarterdeck and Forecastle Plans:

Inboard Profile and Plan:

Sheer Plan and Lines for HMS Dolphin and later ships showing a frigate-style, single row of sternlights:

A painting by Thomas Buttersworth of HMS Dolphin's sister-ship HMS Argo in Gibraltar in 1799. HMS Argo was one of the few Roebuck Class ships to remain in active, front-line service into the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Notice her two gundecks and frigate-style, single row of sternlights. In this painting, she is flying the command flag of an Admiral. This may have been artistic license on the part of the painter, there are no records of HMS Argo being an Admirals flagship at that time. The two-decker with the British-style stern in the background is Russian, more than likely a 74 gun ship.

By the time HMS Dolphin entered service in May 1781, France and Spain had formally entered the war on the side of the American rebels and Britain had declared war on her former ally, the Dutch Republic. This had been the result of increasing tensions caused by the Dutch refusal to stop trading with France and especially over the issue of Dutch ships carrying French supplies to the American rebels. The advent of war with the Dutch meant that the British were forced to divert already scarce resources in order to protect the vital timber trade out of the Baltic. To that end, HMS Dolphin joined a squadron under the command of Vice-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, escorting a convoy from the Baltic States to the UK, through Dutch-controlled waters. In the morning of 5th August 1781, the British force sighted a Dutch convoy escorted by seven ships of the line. Both forces formed lines of battle, closed the range and pounded each other with cannon-fire from close range for about three hours until the Dutch merchant ships left and returned to Texel. At that point, Parker ordered his ships to reform their line of battle and conducted an orderly withdrawal, as did the Dutch. Casualties were high on both sides. The Dutch ship Holland (68) was so badly damaged that she later sank and HMS Princess Amelia's commander, Captain Macartney was killed in action. Across the whole British squadron, 104 men were killed and 339 men were wounded. The Dutch suffered a similar level of casualties. On a strategic level, the Battle of Dogger Bank (1781) was a British victory as the Dutch fleet didn't put to sea again for the rest of the war.

Shortly after the battle, disaster befell the British war effort in North America when General Lord Cornwallis was forced to surrender at the Seige of Yorktown after the Royal Navy had failed to secure the entrance to Chesapeake Bay after the inconclusive Battle of Chesapeake Bay in September. This left the British position ashore in North America untenable as they were unable to defend their remaining possessions in New York and Philadelphia and were forced to evacuate.

With the American colonies now lost, the British now focussed their attention on preventing the French and their allies from gaining control of the Caribbean and to that end, HMS Dolphin sailed for Jamaica on 31st January 1782. Shortly after arriving, Captain Blair was appointed to command the 64 gun third rate ship of the line HMS Anson and was replaced in command of HMS Dolphin by Captain Robert Manners Sutton. While commanding HMS Anson at the Battle of the Saintes on 12th April 1782, Captain William Blair was killed in action.

The remainder of HMS Dolphin's war was uneventful and when the American War of Independence was ended by the September 1783 Treaty of Paris, she returned home and paid off at Chatham in January 1784. Between March and June 1784, HMS Dolphin underwent a small repair at Chatham before going into the Ordinary.

There, secured to a buoy in either the River Medway anywhere downstream from the bridge at Rochester to the fort at Gillingham, or in St Mary's Creek, HMS Dolphin was to remain with her guns, stores, yards, sails and running rigging all removed and with her gunports and hatches all sealed shut. The ship was manned by a skeleton crew comprising of senior Warrant Officers, a Boatswain, a Gunner, a Carpenter, a Cook and a Purser, with their respective servants and 12 Able Seamen. Any work beyond the capabilities of these men would be carried out by gangs of labourers sent from the Dockyard by the Master Attendant, who was now responsible for the ship. Things stayed this way for HMS Dolphin until the Spanish Armaments Crisis of 1790 forced the British to mobilise the fleet in preparation for a seemingly imminent war against Spain. Considered to be obsolete, the ship was taken into the Royal Dockyard at Chatham and in addition to being prepared for sea, she was also converted to a Hospital Ship. This entailed the building of quarters for a much expanded medical team consisting of a number of surgeons, physicians and their assistants and servants as well as facilities such as a pharmacy, wards with beds and all the facilities required to provide the best healthcare available to the wounded and sick. In the years following the end of the Seven Years War, the Royal Navy had made huge strides in the provision of healthcare so that by 1790, the standard of healthcare provided by the Navy was as good as that which was only available ashore to the very wealthiest in society. Although bacteria had yet to be discovered and surgery was primitive to say the least, the link had been made between hygiene and health. The sailors were required to bathe and launder their clothes once a week, on pain of receiving a flogging. Once a month, the ships were to be fumigated with tobacco smoke. Living spaces aboard ships were to be kept spotlessly clean, as were the sailors eating utensils. Surgeons were required to maintain and keep their instruments spotlessly clean at all times because a link had been established between clean surgical tools and a reduction in post-operative infections. In addition to this, a link had been established between the reduction and near-eradication of the dreaded scurvy and the issue of citrus fruit or citrus fruit juice as part of the men's diet.

The work to convert HMS Dolphin started in October 1790 and was completed the following February at a cost of 3,980. By March the ship was at Portsmouth and had returned to the reserve. She recommissioned in January 1793, immediately before the outbreak of the French Revolutionary War. On 22nd May 1793, HMS Dolphin sailed for the Mediterranean where she remained for the next four years. In November 1797, she was present at the capture of Minorca. In 1798, HMS Dolphin was the resident Hospital Ship at Lisbon.

By this time, the Royal Navy was spending vast amounts of money building proper hospitals ashore and by 1800, was relying less on providing healthcare in it's bases in hospital ships. In July 1798, the French had invaded Egypt, but the fleet which had carried their army there was destroyed by Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson at the Battle of the Nile between 1st and 3rd August, leaving their army stranded there. The British had decided to launch a campaign in Egypt to destroy this army, or at least force it's wholesale surrender and to that end, HMS Dolphin was taken into the Royal Dockyard at Deptford and was converted to a troopship at a cost of 9,042. The work was carried out between January and April 1800. As part of the work, part of her armament was restored, with the re-fitting of her 22 9pdr long guns on her upper gundeck.

The Egypt Campaign over, the ship returned to Deptford in January 1802 and paid off. In October 1803, she began a new phase of her career when she entered the Royal Dockyard at Deptford in January 1804 and work began to convert her into a storeship.

Plans of HMS Dolphin as converted to a storeship. Notice how the centre section of the ship, formerly the space between the quarterdeck and forecastle has been enclosed to form a single spar deck:

The work was completed later that month and the ship was to spend the rest of her career carrying cargoes of naval stores around the far-flung corners of the rapidly expanding British Empire until July 1817, when she was broken up at Portsmouth.
"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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