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Author Topic: HMS Prince George (1772 - 1829)  (Read 3801 times)

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Offline conan

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Re: HMS Prince George (1772 - 1829)
« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2016, 23:58:33 »
Thank you such much for this Bilgerat,that's a whole swathe of English history I knew nothing about.It just shows that corruption is nothing new :)
To remain ignorant of what happened before you were born is to remain a child......Cicero

Offline Bilgerat

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Re: HMS Prince George (1772 - 1829)
« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2016, 21:26:41 »
Part One - design, construction and launch. First Battle of Ushant and it's aftermath.

HMS Prince George was a Second-Rate ship of the line of the Barfleur Class, built at the Royal Dockyard, Chatham.

The Barfleur Class was a group of four Second-Rate ships, of which three were built at Chatham. HMS Prince George was the second of the three. The others were the lead ship of the class, HMS Barfleur and HMS Formidable. The odd one out was HMS Princess Royal, built at the Portsmouth Royal Dockyard. The Barfleur Class was designed by Sir Thomas Slade, Co-Surveyor of the Navy, who is now more famous for having designed HMS Victory. The Barfleur Class had been designed to carry 90 guns in common with second rate ships of the time; the vessel's quarterdecks were not intended to carry any guns in order to save topweight.

The Second Rate ship of the line (carrying 90 or more, but less than 100 guns) was regarded as a slightly cheaper alternative to the great First Rate ships. First rate ships of the line in the Royal Navy were very few and far between, whereas Second Rate ships were much more numerous. Even at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar, when the Royal Navy was larger than the rest of the worlds navies put together, there were only six First Rate ships in commission, not including the ex-Spanish ships HMS San Josef (112) and HMS Salvador del Mundo (112). At the same time, there were sixteen Second Rate ships in commission. That stated, the First Rate ships, despite only carrying a few more guns, threw a much heavier broadside and were thus significantly more powerful than the similarly sized Second Rate ships.

As a more general point, vessels like the Second Rate ship of the line were unique to the Royal Navy. Only the British built ships of the line with three gundecks carrying less than 100 guns. Their French and Spanish rivals preferred instead to build 80 gun ships with two gundecks which threw a broadside of similar weight and power. Despite the obvious advantages of the 80 gun two-decker in terms of building and running costs and superior speed and agility, the British preferred the 90 and later 98 gun three-decker because they felt that it's towering appearance, sheer physical presence and outward similarity to the First Rate ships would much reduce the enemy's willingness to stand and fight. Although a small number of 80 gun two deckers were serving in the Royal Navy at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar, all but two of them had been captured from the enemy. In other words, despite their advantages, the British only ever built two 80 gun two-deckers.

On Wednesday 11th June 1766, the Navy Board instructed the Resident Commissioner at the Chatham Royal Dockyard to cause to be set up, a ship of the line of the Second Rate, fitted with 90 guns, according to a set of drafts and specifications they had originally sent in October of 1761. These had already been used as the basis of the construction of HMS Barfleur, already being built on the No.2 slipway and due to be launched in approximately two years time. At the time, the Royal Navy was undergoing a process of renewal, where ships which had been old and worn out, or simply obsolete when the Seven Years War had ended in 1763 were being replaced. The Seven Years War had been ongoing when the lead ship of the class, HMS Barfleur had been ordered. This war, the first proper world war in the true sense of the phrase, had seen a dramatic expansion in the size of the Royal Navy and in order to meet the requirements, a large number of older ships had been pressed into service, which had already been overdue for replacement.

Once the shipwrights had expanded the 1/48 scale drawings to full size in chalk on the Mould Loft floor and the moulds had been made, the sawyers used the moulds to mark out and cut the massive timbers to be used in the new construction project. The first keel section was laid on Monday 18th May 1767. At the time that the letter instructing the Resident Commissioner at Chatham to build the ship was sent by the Navy Board, The Admiralty ordered that the new vessel was to be named after the eldest son of King George III and Queen Charlotte, the then four-year-old Prince George Augustus Frederick and was to be called HMS Prince George.

A ship of this size required a huge amount of timber to be gathered, seasoned and then cut or steamed into shape before assembly and for this reason, the hull of HMS Prince George wasn't complete until Monday 31st August 1772. On that date, HMS Prince George was launched with all due ceremony into the River Medway. This huge ship rumbled down the slipway in the presence of the Resident Commissioner, senior members of the Admiralty and the Navy board, assembled local dignitaries, the men who had built her and their families.

After her launch, the great ship was secured to a mooring buoy in the river, with her gunports and hatches sealed shut and was put into the Chatham Ordinary, under the care of the Master Attendant at Chatham. The late 1760s and early 1770s were a time of what would today be called austerity in Great Britain. The Seven Years War had been fought on a scale never before seen and had left the Government labouring under a massive amount of debt, so ships like HMS Prince George, with their huge manpower requirements and running costs were consigned to the reserve and the work of keeping the peace, securing the vital trade routes and protecting British trade interests around the world was in the hands of smaller ships.

Whilst in the Chatham Ordinary, the ship was manned by a skeleton crew comprising of senior Warrant Officers, the Boatswain, the Gunner, the Carpenter and the Cook. The first three men were entitled to have two servants each, with the Cook being entitled to one. The ship also had a Purser appointed, but he was allowed to live ashore within a reasonable distance of the Dockyard, but was not entitled to have any servants. Any servants he did have had to be paid from his own pocket. In addition to these men, the ship also had a crew of 32 seamen, all rated at Able Seaman. All these men were allowed to have their families live aboard with them. Any work beyond the capabilities of these men was carried out by gangs of labourers sent from the Dockyard by the Master Attendant. The Master Attendant was himself a senior Warrant Officer, drawn from those at the top of the list of Sailing Masters in order of seniority.

In December 1776, it was decided that HMS Prince George be fitted to serve as Guardship at Chatham. As part of that work, the ship was fitted with her guns, masts and rigging and when that process was completed on 23rd January 1777, the total cost of building the ship had been £50,043.4s.3d with a further £3,580.19s.7d being spent on fitting her out as a Guardship. Although fully fitted and armed, HMS Prince George in her role as Guardship at Chatham only carried about half her normal crew complement, the men being employed on providing security for the ships of the Chatham Ordinary moored in the River Medway and St. Mary's Creek in addition to policing the men ashore.

All the while the ship was under construction at Chatham and later on, in the Chatham Ordinary, trouble had been brewing in Britain's American colonies. In order to service the massive debts run up during the Seven Years War, the Government had decided to levy taxes on the colonies and a political row had grown over the way in which this had been done. Protests over the taxes and the heavy-handed methods of enforcing them had escalated into an armed rebellion. The war in America had gone badly so far for the British and they had been forced to evacuate their stronghold in Boston and regular troops of the British Army had been defeated in major battles at Saratoga by the part-time soldiers of the Colonial Militias, most notably by the Massachusetts Militia. As the rebellion had escalated, the old enemy across the English Channel had begun to supply the rebels with arms, money and practical support. It was a war the British neither wanted nor could afford, so diplomatic efforts were being made to settle the crisis peacefully, but by early 1778 it was too late, the die had been cast. The British had begun to mobilise the fleet for a full-scale war, so in February 1778, HMS Prince George was commissioned into the Channel Fleet under Captain Jonathan Faulknor and was assigned as the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief Channel Fleet, Admiral the Honourable Sir Augustus Keppel. At the same time, HMS Prince George was re-rated from being a 90 gun ship to one of 98 guns, with four gunports being added to each side of her quarterdeck.

When finally fitted for sea, HMS Prince George was a ship of 1,955 tons. She was 177ft 6in long on her upper gundeck, 143ft 10in long at the keel and 50ft 5in wide across the beam. Her hold was 21ft deep and she drew 13ft 11in of water at the bow and 14ft 11in at the rudder. HMS Prince George was armed with 28 32pdr long guns on her lower gun deck, 30 18pdr long guns on her middle gun deck and 30 12pdr long guns on her upper gun deck. She had 8 6pdr long guns on the quarterdeck and 2 9pdr long guns on her forecastle. She also carried a dozen half-pounder swivel guns on her forecastle and quarterdeck handrails and in her fighting tops. The ship was manned by a crew of 750 officers, men, boys and Royal Marines.

Barfleur Class Plans

Orlop Plan:



Lower Gundeck Plan:



Middle and Upper Gundeck, Forecastle and Quarterdeck Plans. While these plans do not show the layout of the Wardroom on the middle gundeck, where the ship's seven Lieutenants, the Sailing Master, the Surgeon, Purser and Royal Marine officers lived, it does show the layout of the Admiral's quarters on the upper gundeck and the Captain's quarters on the Quarterdeck. It also doesn't show the layout of the cabins on the upper gundeck beneath the forecastle where the Boatswain, the Gunner and the Carpenter lived and where the Surgeon had his sickbay:



Inboard Profile and Plan:



Sheer Plan and Lines:



A painting of the shipwrights model of HMS Barfleur by Joseph Marshall. This is the starboard quarter view and shows the ship as originally designed, without any quarterdeck gunports. HMS Prince George was identical:



The starboard bow view of the same model:



A model of HMS Prince George's sister-ship HMS Formidable, on display at the Fort Napoleon Des Saintes Museum at Guadeloupe. HMS Prince George was identical:



Captain Faulknor was an experienced commander who had first held a command during the early part of the Seven Years War, when he had served as Lieutenant-in-Command in the Bomb Vessel HMS Furnace, when he had taken part in the Capture of Goree, an island off the coast of modern-day Senegal, during December 1758.

I think that now is the time digress a little and to introduce the reader to the politics of the day insofar as they affected the Royal Navy at the time, which were to provide the backdrop to subsequent events. Throughout the period of the 18th and 19th centuries, British politics was dominated by two political parties. On one side were the Whigs, the ancestors of todays Liberal Democrat party. On the other was the Tories, the direct ancestors to the Conservative Party of today. The Whigs were all about constitutional reform, moving power from the King and the nobility in the form of the House of Lords to Parliament in the shape of the House of Commons, which in turn was subject to the will of the people. 'The People' at this time in British history meant the property owning classes in that people only had the right to vote if they owned property. The working classes and people who did not own their own homes had no political voice. The Tories were about preserving the status quo, leaving the King to interfere in and influence politics and the Government if he thought it was in the national interest. Then, as today, serving Officers were forbidden to be MPs, sit in the House of Lords or to be active in political life without the permission of Parliament under the Self-denying Ordinance. This was a piece of legisation passed by Parliament as part of the creation of the Newly Modelled Army during the English Civil Wars. There have been some famous incidences of serving Army officers also serving in politics. Oliver Cromwell had been installed as Commander-in-Chief of the Newly Modelled Army following the resignation from that position by Lord Fairfax (who had resigned in protest at the trial and execution of King Charles I) while also sitting in the House of Commons an MP. Field Marshall Lord Kitchener was allowed to sit in the House of Lords and served as Minister of War during the Great War until his death in 1916. The restriction on serving Naval officers had passed out of use by the middle of the 18th century and many, as well as serving in the Royal Navy, also sat in both Houses of Parliament. At the time, senior Naval appointments were given out as political favours as well as being based on merit and seniority. At the time of the beginning of the American War of Independence the Tory Party formed the Government and Lord Sandwich, an avowed Tory, was First Lord of the Admiralty. There were also a great number of supporters of both parties serving in senior positions in the Royal Navy and all used their political allegiances to undermine their political rivals where they could. In addition to this, the opposition Whig Party was bitterly opposed to the war in America in the first place. They generally agreed with the American protests of 'No taxation without representation' and in support of that political position, Admiral Sir Augustus Keppel, as an MP for the Whig party, had refused to take any appointment which would pit him against the American rebels. When Keppel had been pursuaded by King George III himself to take up the appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Fleet, Lord Sandwich saw to it that Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser, also an MP and an equally fervent Tory as well as being a former member of the Board of Admiralty, was appointed as one of his divisional commanders, in charge of the Channel Fleet's Rear Division. Little wonder then, that Keppel felt isolated and vulnerable and that his appointment as Commander-in-Chief had the makings of a political stitch-up. Indeed, Keppel had only agreed to take the job as Commander-in-Chief Channel Fleet on receiving assurances from the King himself that he would be protected from the vicious political infighting over the war. The King saw Keppel as the most gifted, experienced, distinguished and senior Admiral the Royal Navy had. This and the fact that war against the old enemy across the Channel was brewing, whatever their positions, the political opponents now running the Royal Navy and the Channel Fleet were prepared to put their rivalries to one side, for now at least.

The ship left Chatham for Portsmouth, where Keppel joined her on 24th March. Prior to his arrival at Portsmouth, Keppel had been assured by Lord Sandwich that 20 ships of the line would be ready. To his horror, on arriving, he found there were only six. The situation was compounded by the fact that Keppel had been ordered to detach eleven ships of the line from the Channel Fleet under Rear-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker in order that they could join a fleet to be commanded by Vice-Admiral the Honourable John Byron, which he in turn was to take to the Caribbean to reinforce the British naval presence there. Such was the shortage of men that Keppel was forced to order that jails in the Portsmouth area be raided to find men to man the fleet. On 9th May, Parker's force left Portsmouth and shortly after that, more time was wasted by a Royal Review of the fleet. All the while all this precious time was being wasted, Keppel was acutely aware that the enemy was building up the strength of the Brest Fleet. At the end of May 1778, the 100 gun first rate ship of the line HMS Victory completed fitting for sea after having been in the Chatham Ordinary since being floated out thirteen years before and Admiral Keppel transferred his command flag to her, taking Captain Faulknor with him. HMS Prince George came under the command of Captain Sir John Lindsay and was assigned to the Centre Division commanded by Rear-Admiral John Campbell, also based aboard HMS Victory.

On 12th June 1778, Admiral Keppel and his Channel Fleet was finally able to put to sea with twenty ships of the line and three frigates. Once the fleet was at sea, it didn't take long for individual ships to see action and the captures they made enabled Keppel to gain vital intelligence about the enemy's strength. He was outraged to find that, once again, he had been misinformed by his political enemies at the top of the Admiralty. He had been informed that the French Atlantic Fleet had no more than seventeen ships of the line available, where in fact the true figure was over thirty. Keppel decided after much soul-searching and conferring with his divisional commanders, Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Harland commanding the Vanguard Division, Campbell commanding the Centre Division and Palliser commanding the Rear, that they should return to Portsmouth for reinforcements. On arrival at Portsmouth on 25th June, a furious political row broke out, with Keppel coming under a vicious and sustained attack from the Government, who accused him of trying to undermine the Government by not trying hard enough and comparisons were made in Parliament with the fate of Admiral John Byng, who had been tried and executed for not doing his utmost against the French during the Battle of Minorca back in 1756. On 9th July, the Channel Fleet put to sea again after having collected the ten more ships of the line which had become available while they had been at sea. The Channel Fleet now comprised:

HMS Victory (Fleet Flagship and flagship of the Centre Division, 100 guns), HMS Prince George, HMS Queen (Flagship of the Vanguard Division, 98 guns), HMS Formidable (Flagship of the Rear Division, 98 guns), HMS Ocean, HMS Sandwich, HMS Duke (all of 90 guns), HMS Foudroyant (80), HMS Monarch, HMS Hector, HMS Centaur, HMS Shrewsbury, HMS Cumberland, HMS Berwick, the ex-French HMS Courageux, HMS Thunderer, HMS Valiant, HMS Terrible, HMS Vengeance, HMS Elizabeth, HMS Robust, HMS Ramillies and HMS Egmont (all of 74 guns), HMS Exeter, HMS Stirling Castle, HMS Vigilant, HMS America, HMS Bienfaisant, HMS Worcester and HMS Defiance (all of 64 guns). In addition to the ships of the line, there were the frigates HMS Arethusa (12pdr 32), HMS Proserpine, HMS Milford, HMS Fox and HMS Andromeda (all 9pdr frigates with 28 guns), the post-ship HMS Lively of 20 guns, the bomb vessels HMS Pluto and HMS Vulcan and the armed cutter HMS Alert of 12 guns.

Just days before the Channel Fleet put to sea again, war had been declared by the British against the French, so when Keppel ordered the fleet to sea on 9th July, it was on a war footing and the Admiral was looking to force an early confrontation with the enemy, which he hoped would be decisive.

In the afternoon of 23rd July 1778, HMS Prince George was at sea with the fleet as part of Admiral Keppel's strategy to try to force an early confrontation with the French Atlantic Fleet, under the command of Vice-Admiral Le Compte Louis Guillomet D'Orvilliers when the French fleet was sighted. Now, it was the turn of the French to get a nasty surprise. The Compte D'Orvilliers had been led to believe that Keppel's fleet would only have 20 ships of the line instead of the 30 he now saw ranged against him. D'Orvillier's mission was to conduct commerce raiding operations in the Atlantic Ocean and Western Approches and to try, if possible, to avoid a confrontation with Keppel's fleet. On receiving the news that the enemy was in sight, Keppel ordered a general chase, which continued until about 19:00, when the French suddenly altered course towards the British. Keppel, who preferred to avoid a night action, ordered that the Channel Fleet alter course to bring them on a parallel heading to that of the French. Overnight, D'Orvilliers manoeuvred his fleet to gain the weather gage, that is, to put himself upwind of the British, giving himself a tactical advantage. Keppel was not too bothered about this as although it enabled the French to use the prevailing wind to their advantage, it also put his fleet between the enemy and their home port at Brest. Two French ships, the Duc de Bourgogne (80) and the Alexandre (64) became detached from the enemy fleet, set course back to Brest and evaded the ships sent by Keppel to chase them down. Things continued in this way for the next three days, with the French constantly frustrating Keppel's attempts to bring them to action.

In the early morning of 27th July, the wind changed and allowed Keppel's fleet including HMS Prince George to close the range. At 05:30, the Captain of the Fleet and commander of the Centre Division, Rear-Admiral John Campbell took it upon himself to directly signal seven of the nine ships in Palliser's Rear Division to make more sail towards the French. Palliser was furious. Not only was he Campbell's superior officer, but he felt Campbell had subverted his command. He felt that, firstly the order should have come from Keppel himself and secondly, that it should have been passed through him, rather than directly to ships under his command. This was an unfortunate portent of things to come. At 09:30, the French changed tack and headed towards the British, who were sailing in line abreast, that is, with the ships sailing alongside each other rather than following each other in a line. Keppel, fed up with the French avoiding action, had decided to force the issue now that the weather was in his favour.

At 10:15, Keppel ordered another change of course, this time, bringing his fleet into line ahead so they could close the range and sail along the enemy's line in the opposite direction. The Rear Division had still not recovered from the confusion which followed Campbell's signal. At 11:20, the French opened fire. The next two hours saw fierce fighting in which ships of both sides were badly damaged. Confusion reigned in the Rear Division. HMS Elizabeth had been forced to take evasive action to avoid a collision with the stern of the flagship, HMS Formidable, which had come to a stop in order to continue her action against the rear-most two French ships of the line and HMS Ocean had difficulty aiming her shot between HMS Formidable and HMS Egmont, so close together were the two British ships. In the meantime, at 13:30, the Vanguard Division had completed it's first pass of the French line and had come about in order to begin another pass. At the same time, the Centre Division was getting clear of the French line, but HMS Victory had been so badly damaged in her masts and rigging that the manoevre to come about took almost an hour. At the same time, the French commander had ordered a change of course in order to allow his ships to engage a small group of about five British ships of the line which had been disabled. Keppel realised what was going on at 14:30 and ordered his ships to form a diagonal line, blocking the French ships from engaging. The French Admiral realised what was going on and backed off.

At 16:00, the British Centre and Vanguard Divisions had regained their formation and were sailing parallel to the French, whose Vanguard Division was abreast of the British centre. Keppel saw his chance, if he could alter course, he could cut off the French vanguard, surround the French fleet and destroy it wholesale. For this to be successful, Keppel needed Pallisers Rear Division to join the line in their proper position. He signalled Palliser to take up his station, but by 17:00, he had not received any reply, so sent HMS Fox to investigate and find out what was going on. By 19:00, the Rear Division had still not taken up it's proper position, so Keppel resorted to signalling individual ships, giving them the order to regain their stations. By the time they finally did this, it was too dark to recommence the battle, so instead, Keppel ordered that the fleet keep station on three sets of stern lights on the horizon, assuming them to be enemy ships.

Dawn the next day saw the realisation that the three ships they had followed through the night had been decoys. The rest of D'Orvilliers' French Atlantic Fleet had slipped past the British in the night and had escaped back to Brest. Keppel ordered that HMS Prince George, HMS Duke, HMS Elizabeth and HMS Bienfaisant chase them down, but neither HMS Prince George or HMS Elizabeth were in any condition to give chase due to battle damage while the three French vessels were relatively undamaged and easily escaped from the pursuing British ships.

With the First Battle of Ushant proving to be indecisive, Keppel took the fleet back to Plymouth where they quickly made repairs and were back off Ushant by the 23rd August. The Channel Fleet was unable to bring the French to action and arrived back at Spithead on 26th October.

The tracks of the fleets at the First Battle of Ushant:



The First Battle of Ushant, 27th July 1778 by Theodore Gudin:



While they had been at sea, all hell had broken loose in the UK. On 15th October, an article had been printed in the Whig-supporting General Advertiser and Morning Intelligencer, written anonymously, accusing Palliser of cowardice and politically inspired sabotage. Palliser found out about the article when the fleet returned to Spithead and demanded a meeting with Keppel to thrash things out. The two met in London in early November and Palliser demanded that Keppel sign a letter praising his behaviour during the Battle. Palliser's reason for not joining the rest of the fleet was that he assumed Keppel intended to resume the action the next day and not straight away. Keppel, still furious that a golden opportunity to bring about the decisive action he wanted had been missed, refused to sign the document. Palliser went on to publish his own version of events in the Tory-supporting press, which suggested that the result of the battle was because of Keppel's incompetence. Keppel was astonished and publicly declared that he would never serve with Palliser again. Very soon, the Whig press were publishing stories suggesting that the indecisive outcome of the First Battle of Ushant was fortunate because Palliser and Lord Sandwich had actually conspired to deliberately lose the battle in order to discredit Keppel personally and the Whig party in general. Keppel in the meantime, did his best to keep out of the row. He followed the official Admiralty line, which was that other than his absolute refusal to serve with Palliser again, he was content with the conduct and outcome of the battle. Later in November, there was a series of furious debates over the matter in Parliament, which both Palliser and Keppel had to attend in line with their duties as MPs. Again, Keppel stuck to the Admiralty line, until Palliser stated in the House that because Keppel had not been more fullsome in his praise, he felt that his honour, character and reputation had been brought into question and that in any case, he had not failed to follow Keppel's orders on the day. That was enough for Keppel, he had had enough of pretending. He stood in the House of Commons and admitted that in truth, he was far from happy with Palliser's conduct during the battle and that its indecisive result was because Palliser had failed to follow his orders to rejoin the fleet despite the fact that the signal ordering him to do so had been flying from the head of HMS Victory's main mast for a full five hours. Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser was ruined. His reputation in tatters, he desperately sought a way to redeem himself

Things came to a head on the 9th December, when Palliser formally accused Keppel of Neglect of Duty and Failure to do his Utmost in the Battle against the French. A reluctant Lord Sandwich ordered Keppel to face a Court Martial, knowing that if convicted, Keppel would face the death penalty like Admiral John Byng before him.
"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 Prince George (1772 - 1829)
« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2016, 21:16:30 »
Part Two - More fallout from the First Battle of Ushant, First and Second Reliefs of Gibraltar, the Attack on the Caracas Convoy, First Battle of Cape St Vincent, Battle of Frigate Bay, Battle of the Saintes, the end of the war. Peace, outbreak of the French Revolutionary War

The Court Martial began aboard the 100 gun first rate ship of the line HMS Britannia in Portsmouth Harbour on 7th January 1779 and was a farce from beginning to end. Palliser, with powerful political friends on his side, led the prosecution himself and maintained that Keppel was to be held accountable for"not marshalling his fleet, going to fight in an un-officer like manner, making scandalous haste in quitting, making sail away from the enemy, giving them an opportunity to rally, and presenting the appearance of flight disgraceful to the British flag". The trial became a public sensation and caused uproar, not just amongst the general public, but more worryingly during a time of war, amongst the most senior admirals in the Royal Navy. Things went from bad to worse when it became clear that evidence had been tampered with in that log book pages which supported Keppel's version of events were mysteriously missing, or had been conveniently corrected and re-written later. Keppel put up a fierce defence, which basically exposed the fact that the whole trial was nothing more than a politically motivated witch hunt and the Admiral was unanimously and honourably acquitted on 11th February. The Court Martial Board declared that the charges had from the beginning been malicious and unfounded. The only criticism they directed at Admiral Keppel was that he should have directed signals to individual ships under Pallisers command earlier than he did if he wanted to force a second engagement against the French that day. Keppel was carried through the streets of Portsmouth and held a party at his home with over sixty captains invited. The people turned against the Government and their supporters. Palliser's London home was ransacked by a mob who burned his furniture on a bonfire in St. James' Square. His sister's home in York was also demolished by a mob. Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser's positions, both in the Royal Navy and as an MP became untenable and he was forced to resign from both. On 12th February, the House of Commons voted their thanks to Keppel, followed on the 16th by the House of Lords. On the 18th, Admiral Keppel was given the Freedom of the City of London.

With Keppel's acquittal and the subsequent uproar, Whig politicians smelled blood and their leader, Charles Fox forced a vote in Parliament to censure the Admiralty for their treatment of the hero of the Battle of Ushant. During the debate, Fox alleged that the Tory Lord Sandwich had deliberately failed to inform Keppel of the true strength of the French Brest Fleet, or at least had been incompetent in failing to ascertain their true numbers. The Tory Government led by Lord North scraped together enough support to vote down Fox's Motion by a narrow margin. In the meantime, Admiral Keppel, in poor health and tired of being used as a political pawn, wrote to the King asking to be released from command of the Channel Fleet. The reason he gave was that he was no longer prepared to serve under men he did not trust. The King was less than impressed and passed the letter to the Admiralty and after heated correspondence, Keppel resigned from his command on the 18th of March. Palliser had in the meantime requested a Court Martial of his own in order to try to clear his name. The Court Martial, held aboard HMS Sandwich at Portsmouth turned into a Board of Inquiry as no charges were ever laid. Lord Sandwich, embarrassed enough already, tried to fill the Court Martial Board with sympathetic Tory supporters, but was not entirely successful. Although Palliser was cleared of any wrongdoing and the Court Martial Board had been seen by a suspicious public as being biased, his acquittal was not a unanimous verdict and this alone pursuaded the Admiralty not to restore Palliser to his command. He was instead offered the highly paid post of Governor of the Naval Hospital at Greenwich.

When Keppel resigned, a number of senior naval officers followed him, including Captain Sir John Lindsay of HMS Prince George. He was replaced by Captain Phillip Patton and the ship became flagship to Rear-Admiral Sir Robert Digby, who had replaced Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Harland, who had followed Keppel into retirement, as commander of the Vanguard Division of the Channel Fleet. In addition to changes at the top of the chain of command aboard HMS Prince George, there were changes further down the order too. On 16th June 1779, a new face appeared in the ship's Midshipman's Berth. He was a thirteen year-old boy whose father had used his influence to gain his son a place in the Royal Navy. The boy's father was King George III himself and the boy was his third son, the Prince William Henry, the younger brother of the ship's namesake. His father had given Captain Patton specific instructions that the young prince was to be given no favours or deference towards his position and royal status, he was to be treated the same as any other boy aboard the ship. He joined the ship as Midshipman-in-Ordinary, on the ship's books as a Captain's servant with a nominal rank of Able Seaman, but wearing the uniform and performing the role of a Midshipman, living in the Midshipmen's quarters on the Orlop until he had served two years at sea, at which point, he would be appointed a Midshipman proper.

HMS Prince George remained with the Channel Fleet until late 1779, when the ship became flagship of Rear-Admiral Sir John Lockhart-Ross, Baronet. The ship was one of a large number assigned to a fleet under the command of Vice-Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney. He had been ordered to gather a fleet, go to the West Indies and take up the position of Commander-in-Chief. He was tasked with repeating the success of the naval operations of the Seven Year War - that was to disrupt the French strategy for the war by forcing them on the defensive in their overseas possessions. On the way there, he had orders to force a convoy through the Franco-Spanish blockade of Gibraltar and relieve the so-called Great Seige, which had been going on since Spain joined the French in the war earlier in the year. Sir John Lockhart-Ross was to be one of Rodney's divisional commanders.

On Christmas Day 1779, HMS Prince George left Portsmouth headed for the Leeward Islands with Rodney's fleet. Rodney's fleet was impressive enough. Rodney had based himself in the second rate ship HMS Sandwich (90) and in addition to HMS Prince George and HMS Sandwich, the fleet also had the enormous first rate ship HMS Royal George with 100 guns. There were also no less than fifteen 74 gun ships, two 64 gun ships, five frigates and two post-ships. The fleet left in company with the West Indies convoy and on 4th January 1780, the convoy parted company with the fleet, escorted by HMS Hector (74), the 44 gun two-decker HMS Phoenix and the 9pdr armed 28 gun frigates HMS Andromeda and HMS Greyhound.

The following day, the fleets lookouts spotted over 20 sail, heading in the direction of Cadiz. Quickly identifying them to be Spanish, Rodney ordered the fleet to close the range. The strangers were identified as 15 merchant vessels and seven warships belonging to the Spanish Royal Caracas Company. The whole convoy bar one vessel was captured in what is now known as the Attack on the Caracas Convoy. Rodney quickly ordered that any vessels carrying cargoes useful to Gibraltar should stay with the fleet and the rest of the ships were sent with prize crews to the UK accompanied by HMS America (64) and the 12pdr armed 32 gun frigate HMS Pearl.

See here for HMS Pearl's story:

http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=15085

See here for the story of HMS Royal George:

http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=15058

The largest of the escorting Company warships, the 64 gun ship Guipuzcoano was renamed in honour of Prince William Henry, HMS Prince William.

By now, the Spanish were aware of Rodney's fleet and their mission and a fleet of 11 Spanish ships of the line under Admiral Juan de Langara was sent to intercept Rodney's force. In addition, the Spanish Cadiz fleet under Admiral Luis de Cordova was also sent to intercept. Cordova, when he learned of the size and strength of the British fleet, returned to Cadiz. At 13:00 on 16th January 1780, the British and Spanish fleets spotted each other off Cape St Vincent. Rodney, whose health had never been that robust, had retired sick to his cabin aboard HMS Sandwich and when the Spanish fleet was sighted, his Flag Captain, Walter Young, urged him to give orders to engage the enemy. Rodney instead merely gave orders for his fleet to form a line abreast. The Spanish formed a line of battle, but when he saw the size of Rodney's force, Langara ordered that his fleet make all sail and head for Cadiz. Captain Young kept Rodney updated with events as they happened and at 14:00, Rodney was now convinced that the force they had sighted was not the vanguard for a larger force and ordered a general chase and for his ships to engage the Spanish as they came up on them. Because of the squally conditions, Rodney ordered that his ships allow the Spaniards to have the wind-gage, that is to sail downwind of them. This went against normal British practice which was to sail upwind of their opponents but in the weather conditions, Rodney felt that the Spaniards were unlikely to be able to open their lower gundeck gunports, giving the British the advantage in weight of fire. It also put Rodney's ships between the Spaniards and the safety of Cadiz. Rodney's ships also benefitted from the fact that the Royal Navy had recently begun to copper their ship's bottoms, which kept them clean and gave them the advantage of superior speed. The British quickly outpaced the Spanish and within a couple of hours of the chase beginning, the rear-most Spanish ship, the 74 gun Santo Domingo was engaged first by HMS Edgar (74), then by HMS Marlborough (74) and then HMS Ajax (74), before blowing up with the loss of all but one of her crew. The chase continued and at 18:00, it began to get dark. At 19:30, HMS Defence (74) engaged the Spanish flagship, the 80 gun two-decker Fenix and the two ships became engaged in a firefight which went on for over an hour before Langara's flagship surrendered. During the fight, the Fenix was engaged in passing by HMS Prince George and HMS Montagu (74). HMS Bedford (74) became engaged with the Spanish ship Princesa of 70 guns at about 04:30. The fight went on for an hour or so until the Princessa was forced to surrender. By dawn, it was all over. Of Langara's 11 ships of the line, his flagship Fenix (80), the 74 gun ships Diligente, Monarca, and San Egenio had been taken, along with the Princesa and the 64 gun ship San Julian. The San Domingo (74) had been utterly destroyed when she blew up and the San Agustin, San Lorenzo, San Jenaro and San Justo (all of 74 guns) and the frigates Santa Cecilia and Santa Rosalia (both of 34 guns), managed to escape into Cadiz.

See here for the story of HMS Montagu:

http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=18626.0

See here for the story of HMS Bedford:

http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=19043

The First Battle of Cape St Vincent was unusual in that it was mostly fought at night and is for that reason, alternatively known as the Moonlight Battle. In the battle, HMS Prince George suffered casualties of one man killed and three wounded.

The First Battle of Cape St Vincent by Francis Holman. The Santo Domingo can be seen blowing up in the background and the three-decked ship in the foreground is Rodney's flagship, the 90 gun HMS Sandwich:



The Aftermath of the Battle by Dominic Serres. In this painting, the British fleet have surrounded their Spanish prizes and are in the process of putting prize crews aboard:



After the battle, HMS Prince George along with HMS Royal George returned to the UK and on arrival, Captain Patton was replaced in command by Captain William Fox and Prince William Henry also left the ship. Captain Fox had recently been posted and HMS Prince George was his first appointment as Captain. His previous appointment had been as Master and Commander in the Bomb Vessel HMS Aetna. In April 1780, the ship was taken into the Portsmouth Royal Dockyard to be refitted and to have her lower hull sheathed in copper for the first time. The refit also saw the ship fitted with carronades, which had been introduced to service by Order of the Board of Admiralty, dated July 13th 1779. HMS Prince George in common with all Second Rate ships was fitted with four 12pdr carronades to supplement her forecastle guns and a further six such guns on her poop deck. The cost of the refit came to £7,629.7s.2d.

After her refit, the ship rejoined the Channel Fleet and became flagship to Rear-Admiral Sir Robert Digby.  In December 1780, Captain Fox was appointed to command the 9pdr armed 28 gun frigate HMS Greyhound and was replaced by Captain James Williams. Captain Williams was another recent postee and his previous appointment had been as Master and Commander in the 14 gun fireship HMS Infernal. The ship joined a fleet under Vice-Admiral George Darby tasked with forcing another convoy through the blockade of Gibraltar. On 12th April 1781, Darby's fleet of 29 ships of the line with 100 transports slipped past the blockade without firing a shot. The Spanish fleet, frutrated by their inability to stop another convoy getting through launched a ferocious bombardment in an attempt to prevent the ships from being unloaded, which failed. Instead, the Spanish barrage caused serious damage in the town, which convinced the British that the time had come to evacuate the civilian population of the colony. Darby's fleet with the transport ships again slipped past the blockade on 21st April 1781 and returned to the UK.

In the summer of 1781, Rear-Admiral Digby left the ship and as a private ship, HMS Prince George was ordered to the North America Station and arrived at Sandy Hook on 24th September 1781. Before she had left the UK for New York, Vice-Admiral Rodney had been forced to return to the UK due to ill-health and Admiral Thomas Graves had taken over command of operations around North America. When she dropped anchor, the fleet had not long returned, battered and beaten from the tactical defeat at the hands of France's finest naval commander of the day, the Compte de Grasse, at the Battle of Chesapeake Bay. The Battle of Chesapeake Bay on 5th September 1781 marked the point at which the British lost the war in mainland America. It had been fought as part of a British attempt to relieve the seige of Yorktown, which lies at the head of the Bay. Yorktown had been encircled by the Americans and their French allies and with the Royal Navy unable to resupply him from the sea, General Charles, the Lord Cornwallis, commanding the beseiged army was faced with a stark choice - starve, along with his army and the inhabitants of Yorktown or surrender. On 17th September, Cornwallis had written to the Commander-in-Chief of the army in America, General Clinton "if you cannot relieve me very soon, you must be prepared to hear the worst".

On 19th October, Admiral Graves left New York again with a fleet of 25 ships of the line which now included HMS Prince George and a fleet of transports carrying 7,000 soldiers in another attempt to relieve the seige. On arrival off Chesapeake Bay, he found to his horror that he was two days too late. Cornwallis had surrendered to George Washington and the Compte de Rochambeau on the day the fleet had left New York.

The surrender of Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown left the British position in North America untenable. With insufficient troops left to defend New York and Philadelphia, they were forced to abandon those cities and the loyalist communities in them to their fate.

After the battle and the victory at Yorktown, the Compte de Grasse returned with his fleet to Martinique as he had other plans to fulfil. Graves returned to the UK in his flagship HMS London (98) and command of the fleet was temporarily devolved to Vice-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood who was flying his command flag in HMS Barfleur (98). Hood followed the enemy to the Caribbean.

See here for the story of HMS Barfleur:

http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=18465

See here for the story of HMS London:

http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=19093.0

In January 1782, de Grasse attacked the British held islands of St Kitts and Nevis. The French had landed 6,000 soldiers and had laid seige to the fortress on Brimstone Hill on St Kitts. Hood, having learned of this, immediately sailed to St Kitts, with 22 ships of the line including HMS Prince George. At daybreak on 25th January 1782, the British sighted the French fleet, consisting of 26 ships of the line including de Grasse's flagship, the enormous Ville de Paris of 104 guns. Hood ordered his ships to steer as if to engage the French, but this was in fact, a feint. No sooner had the French fleet formed their lines of battle than Hood ordered a change of course, straight into the Bay, where his ships anchored in a defensive 'L' formation across the mouth of Frigate Bay. The Compte de Grasse, realising that Hood had outmanoeuvred him, made three attempts to force an entrance to Frigate Bay over the course of 26th January, all of which were successfully repulsed by Hood's force. The British ships were relatively undamaged, whereas the French force suffered damage and casualties with each attempt. Hood's force stayed in place for two weeks, but their success in keeping the French out of Frigate Bay was not enough to prevent the fortress on Brimstone Hill falling to the French on 12th February. Hood ordered his force to set sail from Frigate Bay on 14th. In the Battle of St Kitts, also known as the Battle of Frigate Bay, HMS Prince George again suffered casualties of one dead and three wounded.

The Battle of Frigate Bay by Dominic Serres:



In February 1782, Vice-Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney returned in HMS Formidable (98). After having recovered his health, he had had to defend himself during a Parliamentary Enquiry over controversial events which had occurred during his seizure of the former Dutch colony of St Eustacius a year earlier.

See here for the story of HMS Formidable:

http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=19026.0

Fresh from their success at St Kitts, the French returned to their base at Martinique and began to lay plans to seize Jamaica from the British. Rodney, now back in command sent his frigates to scour the Caribbean to discover de Grasse's intentions and it wasn't long before these became clear. If the British were expelled from Jamaica, they would find it very difficult to defend the rest of their possessions in the Caribbean and would probably, over time, be driven from the area altogether. On 7th April 1782, de Grasse set out from Martinique with 35 ships of the line with a convoy of 100 transport ships with the intention of meeting up with a Spanish squadron of 12 more ships of the line and 15,000 soldiers and launching the operation against Jamaica.

News of the French departure reached Rodney the following day and the entire British fleet left St Lucia in search of the French. After only a day, the French were sighted. Surprised at the sheer speed of the British fleet, the Compte de Grasse ordered the convoy to head to Guadeloupe while he covered them with his fleet. Hood decided to attack as soon as he could. Commanding the vanguard of Rodney's fleet, Hood and his force of 12 ships of the line fought an inconclusive action against the French in which both sides suffered damage. This encounter saw Captain William Bayne of HMS Alfred (74) killed in action and HMS Royal Oak (74) and HMS Montagu (74) both damaged.

The next two days saw the British follow parallel to the French, but with both sides keeping their distance as they made repairs. On 12th April, Hood's vanguard force was still making its repairs, so Rodney ordered Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Samuel Drake and his rearguard force to take the lead. The undamaged ships of Hood's Vanguard Division were used to create a new rear division. Hood was assigned to assist Rodney with command of the Centre Division while Commodore Edmund Affleck in HMS Bedford (74) was given command of the Rear Division. The two fleets were passing through the passage between the Iles des Saintes and the northern end of Dominica. By 07:40, HMS Marlborough of Drake's original rearguard was leading the fleet and was approaching the centre of the French line. It looked as though the action was going to be a typical fleet action of the time, with both fleets in lines of battle, sailing in opposite directions along each others lines. At about 8am however, as HMS Formidable was engaging the French flagship, the enormous Ville de Paris of 104 guns, the wind changed. This enabled Rodney's fleet, starting with HMS Formidable to sail through the French line of battle, raking enemy ships through their bows and sterns and inflicting terrible damage and casualties. By 13:30, HMS Barfleur had come up and had begun a gunnery duel with the French flagship. This went on until about 16:00 when the Ville de Paris, having suffered horrific casualties, struck her colours and surrendered to HMS Barfleur. The French admiral was the only unhurt officer aboard the Ville de Paris. The French flagship had had over 400 of her crew killed. In fact, the casualty figures for the Ville de Paris alone were more than those for the entire British fleet. It is estimated that French casualties in the Battle of the Saintes came to more than 3,000 killed or wounded and more than 5,000 captured. The British suffered 243 killed and 816 wounded across the fleet. The British had not lost any ships and had captured four French ships of the line and another, the Cesar of 74 guns had blown up after having caught fire. In the Battle of the Saintes, HMS Prince George recieved damage to her hull, masts and rigging and suffered casualties of nine dead and 24 wounded.

The fleets at the Battle of the Saintes:



The heart of the battle. The French flagship, the Ville de Paris (104) surrenders to HMS Barfleur (98):



The remaining French ships withdrew towards Guadeloupe. On 17th, Rodney sent Hood in the Vanguard squadron after the remaining French ships and Hood's force caught up with them in the Mona Passage, between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. Hood had been sent after he had  criticised Rodney for not having pursued the retreating French after the Battle of the Saintes and completing his rout of the enemy. The only ships of Hood's force to actually engage the enemy at the Battle of Mona Passage were the large type 74 gun ship HMS Valiant, which vastly outgunned and captured the French 64 gun ships Caton and Jason, while the common type 74 gun ship HMS Magnificent captured the French frigate Aimable of 32 guns.

See here for the story of HMS Valiant:

http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=15006.0

While the British and French fleets were tearing pieces out of each other during April 1782, peace talks had started in Paris. Now that the American colonies had been lost, French ambitions to drive the British out of the Carribean had been thwarted, and the British were successfully driving the French from their possessions in India, the naval element of the American War of Independence began to wind down. In July 1783, HMS Prince George paid off at Chatham. The war was eventually ended by the Treaty of Paris, signed in September 1783 and effective from 12th April 1784.

The American War of Independence had been a disaster for the British. For the French, it was worse. The whole reason behind France entering the war on the side of the Americans was so that they could regain colonies and lucrative trade they had lost in the Seven Years War, which itself had bankrupted the country. Although the Americans had won their independence, France had gained absolutely nothing from the war and now, at the end, France was teetering on the brink of complete finanial collapse.

In the six years since HMS Prince George had first commissioned, aside from a brief refit and coppering, the ship had not received any proper maintenance. In July 1784, HMS Prince George was taken into the Royal Dockyard at Chatham for repairs. These took a year and cost £30,625.11s.2d. In July 1785, the ship entered the Ordinary at Chatham, where she remained, manned by a skeleton crew as before, for the next two years.

In 1787, there was a near-revolution in the Netherlands. This had been brought about by the severe economic hardship brought about by the Dutch loss of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War, which itself had been fought as part of the American War of Independence. Civil war broke out in Holland and as a precaution, the British began to mobilise the fleet and as part of this, HMS Prince George was briefly recommissioned between October and December 1787 under Captain Alexander Edgar. In the end, it proved to be a false alarm, the Civil War in Holland ended with the defeat of the Republicans. HMS Prince George returned to the Ordinary, where she remained while the French Revolution of July 1789 and the Russian and Spanish Armaments Crises of 1790 passed her by. The French Revolution of July 1789 was brought about by a famine in France which left thousands starving to death all over the country with the Government of King Louis XVI unable or unwilling to do anything about it. It started a sequence of events which led to a French declaration of war against Britain in February 1793.

Much of the fleet had been mobilised for the crises of 1790, so that when war broke out in early 1793, the Royal Navy was not completely unprepared for it. The largest ships in the fleet, the great First Rate ships and Second-Rate ships like HMS Prince George were generally not brought back into service until the actual declaration of war and as part of the preparations for fitting her for sea, HMS Prince George was taken back into the Royal DOckyard and surveyed. This found the ship to be in need of further repairs and these began in February 1794 and were completed the following September. As part of this refit, the ship's upper deck armament was reorganised and the nine and six pounder long guns on her forecastle and quarterdeck respectively were replaced by bigger and more powerful 12pdr guns. The ship recommissioned under Captain James Gambier and was assigned to the Channel Fleet, then under the overall command of the highly respected and veteran Admiral Richard, the Lord Howe. Captain Gambier, known by the men as 'Dismal Jimmy' as a result of his intense evangelical Christian faith, had distinguished himself while in command of HMS Defence (74) at the Battle of the Glorious First of June earlier that year. HMS Prince George became flagship to Vice-Admiral Sir Adam Duncan, one of Howe's squadron commanders.

Captain Gambier left the ship in November 1794 and was replaced by Captain Sir John Orde. Captain Gamber had been appointed to serve on the Board of the Admiralty and was promoted to Rear-Admiral the following March. Vice-Admiral Duncan was the next to leave the ship. In February 1795, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief in the North Sea and was promoted to full Admiral a couple of months later. This left the HMS Prince George operating as a private ship and shortly after Vice-Admiral Duncan's departure, the ship was disbled and damaged by a storm while at sea in the English Channel. She required repairs costing £8,706, which were completed in March 1795. In June, Admiral Lord Howe retired and was replaced as Commander-in-Chief Channel Fleet by Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Hood, the Lord Bridport, who flew his command flag in another Chatham-built ship, the 100 gun first rate ship of the line HMS Royal George. See here for her story:

http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=15749.0
"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 Prince George (1772 - 1829)
« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2016, 21:11:31 »
Part Three - Battle of Ile Groix, Second Battle of Cape St. Vincent, Service in the Channel Fleet and fate

On 12th June 1795, Lord Bridport led the Channel Fleet including HMS Prince George out of the fleet anchorage at Spithead to escort a convoy of troopships intended to land a French Royalist army at Quiberon Bay in order to launch a counter-revolution in France. What Bridport didn't know was that a British squadron of 5 ships of the line under Vice-Admiral The Honourable Sir William Cornwallis had encountered a French squadron of three ships of the line with a convoy and after seizing the convoy, had forced the enemy warships to seek shelter under the guns of the highly fortified French island of Belle Isle back in May. Cornwallis had withdrawn to escort his prizes back to UK waters before returning with the intention of destroying the French squadron. In the meantime, the French Atlantic Fleet had learned of the situation of their colleagues and had sailed in full force to rescue them. When Cornwallis returned, he had encountered the full force of the French fleet and had been forced to beat a hasty retreat. After abandoning the pursuit of Cornwallis' squadron, the French had sought shelter from deteriorating weather in the anchorage at Belle Isle. In the meantime, Bridport sent the troopships ahead under the command of Commodore John Borlase Warren while he stood his fleet offshore, anticipating the arrival of the French attempting to prevent the landings. One of Warren's frigates, HMS Arethusa (18pdr 38) spotted the French as they were departing Belle Isle on their way back to Brest. On 20th June, Warren's force again met up with the Fleet and informed Viscount Bridport of their discovery. Bridport immediately manoeuvred the fleet to stand between Warren's landing force and the French Fleet. At 03:30 on 22nd June, lookouts on HMS Nymphe (12pdr 36) spotted the French. On spotting the British, the French turned back towards the land. On seeing that the French did not intend to fight, Viscount Bridport ordered his fastest ships to give chase, so at 06:30, the ex-French HMS Sans Pareil (80), HMS Orion (74), HMS Valiant (74), HMS Colossus (74), HMS Irresistible (74) and HMS Russell (74) broke formation to start the chase. The rest of the Channel Fleet followed as fast as they could. The chase continued all day, with the British very slowly gaining on the French. At 12:00, the two fleets were about 12 miles apart. Lord Bridport ordered his ships to adopt a formation so that they could intercept the French regardless of where they turned. At 19:00, Lord Bridport ordered his leading ships to attack the rear-most French ships and at 19:25, to attack the French as and when they overhauled them. At 22:30, the wind died away, causing both fleets to come to a stop, but by 03:00 the following morning, it had risen again from the south-west. This was enough for the British to push ahead so that by dawn, the French fleet was dead ahead. They were in a loose cluster of ships, with two or three stragglers and with one ship, the Alexandre (74), formerly HMS Alexander, trailing about three miles astern of the rest. In a suprising turn of events, Captain Sir Andrew Snape Douglas in HMS Queen Charlotte had managed to catch up with the leading ships with his massive 100 gun first rate ship.

At about 05:00, the French commander, Villaret Joyeuse, became concerned that the Alexandre would be isolated and taken by the British, so he sent the frigate Regeneree to tow her out of trouble. He hadn't reckoned on Captain Douglas' exceptionally skilled handling of his gigantic ship and at about 06:00, HMS Queen Charlotte was able to drive off the Regeneree and engage the Alexandre and with the support of Captain Sir James Saumarez in HMS Orion (74), both ships quickly reduced the Alexandre to a shattered ruin. At 06:15, HMS Queen Charlotte moved on to the next ship in the French line, the Formidable of 74 guns. The Formidable put up a fierce resistance to the British first rate ship's overwhelming firepower for about 15 minutes until a fire broke out on the Frenchman's poop deck. While the French crew were dealing with this, HMS Sans Pareil moved up and poured a broadside into the already broken French two-decker. While HMS Queen Charlotte and HMS Sans Pareil were dealing with the Formidable, HMS London (98), HMS Queen (98), HMS Colossus and HMS Russell  pushed into the centre of the French fleet and got stuck in. By this time, HMS Queen Charlotte had suffered severe damage to her rigging and had become unmanageable. At 07:14, HMS Queen Charlotte drifted past the Alexandre and let her have another broadside. The French ship had had enough and struck her colours in surrender. Even as his ship drifted out of control, Captain Douglas ordered his ship to engage the French seventy-fours Peuple and Tigre at long range. They were joined in this by HMS Sans Pareil, which forced the Tigre out of the French formation and isolated her. At this point, HMS London and HMS Queen joined in the attack. Faced with such overwhelming odds, the Tigre surrendered. By 08:00, the British fleet flagship HMS Royal George had reached the scene of the action and had been joined by HMS Queen Charlotte, whose crew had managed to make sufficient repairs to be able to bring their ship under control. HMS Royal George let the Peuple have a broadside before Lord Bridport realised that the French commander was attempting to lure him close to the island of Groix, with it's rocks and fast currents. Concerned for the safety of his ships, Lord Bridport ordered that the Alexandre, Formidable and Tigre be taken in tow by the as-yet unengaged and undamaged HMS Prince (98), HMS Barfleur (98) and HMS Prince George while the rest of the fleet should discontinue the action and withdraw. Lord Bridport ordered that the captured French ships be sent back to the UK with prize crews while he remained in the area with the fleet should the French attempt to disrupt the landings in Quiberon Bay. The Quiberon Bay operation ended in disaster and on 20th September, Lord Bridport returned to the UK in HMS Royal George leaving Rear-Admiral Henry Harvey in command of the blockading fleet.

The Battle of Groix, 22nd/23rd June 1795:



Of the French prizes, the Alexandre was taken back into the Royal Navy under her original name of HMS Alexander, Formidable was taken into the Royal Navy and renamed HMS Belle Isle and the Tigre was taken into the Royal Navy under her French name. After the battle, Lord Bridport was criticised by some for not exploiting his advantage and utterly annihilating the French Atlantic Fleet. The Admiralty however, believed he made the right decision and stood by their man. Lord Bridport was to remain in command of the Channel Fleet until 1800.

HMS Prince George remained with the fleet covering the Quiberon Bay operation until the fleet returned to Spithead. By now, HMS Prince George was a relatively old ship and was in poor condition. With new Second-Rate ships entering service and many older ships in better condition, HMS Prince George was paid off into the Portsmouth Ordinary in March 1796. She wasn't to remain there long. The ship was recommissioned under Captain John Irwin in October 1796 and completed yet another refit the following December. Following the completion of her repairs, on 19th January 1797, the ship was detached to the Mediterranean Fleet, then under the command of Vice-Admiral Sir John Jervis, flying his command flag in HMS Victory. She joined Jervis' fleet on 6th February off Cape St. Vincent and was one of five ships of the line which had been sent from the UK as reinforcements for the Mediterranean Fleet. Once the reinforcements had arrived, Jervis' fleet comprised of The 100 gun first rate ships HMS Victory and HMS Britannia, the 98 gun second rate ships HMS Prince George, HMS Prince George's sister-ship HMS Barfleur, HMS Blenheim, the 90 gun second rate ship HMS Namur, the 74 gun third rate ships HMS Captain, HMS Goliath, HMS Excellent, HMS Orion, HMS Colossus, HMS Egmont and HMS Irresistible and the 64 gun third rate ship HMS Diadem.

In addition to the ships of the line, Jervis also had the  18pdr armed 38 gun ex-French frigate HMS Minerve, the 18pdr armed 32 gun frigate HMS Lively, the 12pdr armed 32 gun frigates HMS Southampton and HMS Niger, the 20 gun ex-French post-ship HMS Bonne Citoyenne, the 18 gun brig-sloop HMS Raven and the 12 gun hired armed cutter Fox.

Of these ships, HMS Minerve had been left behind keeping an eye on the French at Corsica and was flying the command pennant of one of Jervis' squadron commanders, Commodore Horatio Nelson. What Jervis didn't know was that the French had overrun Corsica and Nelson had had to evacuate the Court of the Viceroy of Corsica along with British officials attached to the Court. At the time HMS Prince George joined the fleet, Nelson was headed in search of them. The fleet suffered a disaster early in the morning of 12th February when HMS Colossus collided with HMS Culodden. HMS Colossus, being the bigger of the two ships escaped with relatively minor damage, but HMS Culodden was seriously damaged.  Any other captain would have asked to go to a dockyard to have the damage repaired, but Captain Thomas Troubridge was determined to remain with the fleet and he and his crew surprised everyone when they reported ready for action come daybreak.

In the morning of 13th February, HMS Minerve, flying Nelson's command Broad-pennant, was sighted and Nelson was bringing Jervis some alarming news. The young Commodore reported in person to Jervis aboard HMS Victory that on the 11th, while leaving Gibraltar having failed to find Jervis there, he had been chased by two Spanish ships of the line and a little later, while in the mouth of the Straits of Gibraltar, he had spotted the entire Spanish fleet at sea and heading towards the Atlantic Ocean on their way from Cartagena to Cadiz. On hearing the news, Jervis, unaware of the size of the Spanish fleet, ordered his fleet to alter course and intercept. 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.

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.

Jervis, his men and ships had won, with the possible exception of Nelson at Trafalgar and Hoste at Lissa, the greatest victory in the history of the Royal Navy. Commodore Nelson had been the hero of the day. Just as the Spanish were threatening to outmanoeuvre the British and escape, Nelson hauled his flagship, HMS Captain, out of the line of battle and had got stuck into the heart of the Spanish fleet, throwing them into utter confusion. In doing so, he had personally led the charge onto, not just the deck of the Spanish 80 gun two-decker San Nicholas de Bari, but when the 112 gun ship San Josef had arrived to support the San Nicholas de Bari, he had taken that ship as well. Salvador del Mundo had surrendered to HMS Victory at the point where the British flagship was about to cross her stern, closely followed by HMS Barfleur. If she hadn't struck her colours, it's likely that the Spanish ship would have been reduced to a ruin with most of her crew dead or wounded. The two British three-deckers had already caught the Principe d'Asturias in stays as she attempted to go about and had raked her through the stern.

In the Second Battle of Cape St Vincent, HMS Prince George had been flagship of the vanguard, flying the command flag of Rear-Admiral William Parker and had been third in line, behind HMS Coludden and HMS Blenheim and ahead of HMS Orion. By the time the battle was over, the ship had sustained casualties of 8 dead and 7 wounded.

HMS Victory crosses the stern of a Spanish three-decker, probably the Principe De Asturias (112) and rakes her:



Jervis and Nelson were richly rewarded for their victory. Jervis was made Baron Jervis of Meaford and Earl St Vincent while Nelson was knighted. Coincidentally, Commodore Nelson was promoted to Rear-Admiral shortly afterward, but this promotion was based on his seniority and was actually nothing to do with his role in the battle. After the battle, Jervis and his fleet maintained a tight blockade of Cadiz, preventing the Spanish fleet from taking any further part in the war and HMS Prince George was one of the ships engaged in this for the next two years.

In September 1799, HMS Prince George was paid off for more repairs. This time, she was to have her frames diagonally braced, to try to squeeze more life out of her by now old and worn-out frames. She recommissioned into the Channel fleet in May 1800 under Captain Sir James Walker, as flagship of Rear-Admiral Sir Charles Cotton. By now, the Channel Fleet was under the overall command of Vice-Admiral the Honourable Sir William Cornwallis who was flying his command flag in the 110 gun first rate ship of the line HMS Ville de Paris. See here for the story of HMS Ville de Paris:

http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=17732.0

HMS Prince George remained in the Channel Fleet and in March 1802, the French Revolutionary War was ended by the Treaty of Amiens and in May, HMS Prince George paid off into the Ordinary at Portsmouth. A year later, the Peace of Amiens broke down and Britain declared war on France, starting the Napoleonic War.

Following yet more repairs, HMS Prince George recommissioned into the Channel Fleet again in November 1803 and for the next two years was engaged in the blackade of the French Channel and Atlantic ports, when she wasn't being repaired at Portsmouth. Following the final destruction of the French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar, the need for large ships of the line like HMS Prince George was reduced and the ship paid off into the Portsmouth Ordinary for the last time. The wars against the French were finally ended in April 1814 with the signing of the Treaty of Fontainebleu. 

In April 1816, HMS Prince George started a new phase in her career. Although her days as a fighting warship were over and her hull was certainly in no condition to withstand the stresses and strains of combat and being at sea in all weathers, she was, nevertheless, a large vessel. The Admiralty decided that the ship be converted into a sheer hulk. With her main mast reinforced, all the other masts removed, her gunports sealed shut and tons of additional ballast placed in her bottom, HMS Prince George spent her remaining days lifting heavy loads like masts and guns until she was taken into the Portsmouth Royal Dockyard on 24th January 1829 and was broken up.

A Sheer Hulk in Portsmouth Harbour in 1829. Although this picture was probably made after HMS Prince George was broken up, it indicates what a sheer hulk would have looked like:

"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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