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Author Topic: HMS Centaur (1797 - 1819)  (Read 4581 times)

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Offline conan

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Re: HMS Centaur (1797 - 1819)
« Reply #5 on: November 20, 2016, 21:49:15 »
A load of history, especially the Caribbean stuff, that I knew nothing about, thank you Bilgerat.
To remain ignorant of what happened before you were born is to remain a child......Cicero

Offline mikeb

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Re: HMS Centaur (1797 - 1819)
« Reply #4 on: November 20, 2016, 12:14:54 »
Curses on you Bilgerat! My Sunday morning has disappeared in reading your HMS Centaur! Excellent, a book must follow all these ships histories, surely. Many thanks.

Offline Bilgerat

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Re: HMS Centaur (1797 - 1819)
« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2016, 19:40:40 »
In order to get around the 30,000 character limit on posts, this is in three parts. This is Part One and covers the design, build and launch and service in the Mediterranean

HMS Centaur was a Large Type, 74 gun Third Rate ship of the line of the Mars Class, built at the Royal Dockyard at Woolwich, then in the County of Kent. The ship was to have an action-packed career.

The Mars Class was a pair of large 74 gun ships, both built in Kent shipyards. The 74 gun, Third Rate ship of the line was by far the most numerous kind of ship of the line in the world. At the time the ship was built, the Royal Navy had been larger than the rest of the worlds navies combined and had more 74 gun ships than all the other kinds of ship of the line put together. It was the smallest vessel able to carry a full battery of 32-pounder long guns and offered the best compromise between speed and agility on one hand and sheer strength and firepower on the other. The Large Type were not so-called because of their actual size, although some were almost the same size as a First Rate ship, but because they carried a battery of 24pdr long guns on their upper gundecks rather than the 18pdrs carried by the slightly smaller and less powerful Common and the later Middling types.

Designed by Sir John Henslow, then Co-Surveyor of the Navy, the design of the Mars Class was based on the earlier and highly successful Elizabeth Class of 74 gun Third Rate ships of the line. Designed by Sir Thomas Slade, the Elizabeth Class themselves were based on one of his earlier designs, the Bellona Class. HMS Bellona in turn was the first of the Common Type of 74 gun ship of the line and had been built at the Chatham Royal Dockyard almost thirty years before.

See here for the story of HMS Mars:

See here for the story of HMS Bellona:

HMS Centaur, along with her sister-ship HMS Mars, was to gain a well-deserved reputation as being one of the fastest and most agile of all the Royal Navy's ships of the line. They had a performance in all weather conditions which would put many of the supposedly faster and more manoeuvrable frigates to shame, yet were still able to go toe-to-toe against the biggest and most powerful enemy ships.

On 17th January 1788, the Comptroller of the Navy wrote to the Master Shipwright at the Woolwich Royal Dockyard with a set of plans and specifications, instructing him to cause to be set up, a 74 gun Third Rate ship of the line. The reason this happened was because the Woolwich Royal Dockyard, along with the one at Deptford was administered directly from the offices of the Navy Board in London. Dockyards further away, such as Chatham, had a Resident Commissioner appointed into them and the Resident Commissioners at Portsmouth, Plymouth, Chatham and Sheerness were members of the Navy Board. On receiving the package, Mr John Tovery set to his task. The main problem he faced was that of a lack of skilled men. The end of the American War of Independence had seen large-scale lay-offs in all of the Royal Dockyards, except Chatham, which was in the throes of being rebuilt and refurbished after a century of neglect. Even in wartime, all the Royal Dockyards suffered chronic shortages of tradesmen, especially shipwrights, because on completing their seven-year apprenticeships, many found that they could earn more money working in private shipyards. It was for this reason that the first keel section of what was to become HMS Centaur wasn't laid at Woolwich until November of 1790, nearly three years after she was ordered by the Navy Board.

July 1789 had seen the French people rise up and overthrow the Absolute Monarchy which had ruled France for centuries in the French Revolution. The following year saw Britain brought to the brink of war twice, but the Spanish Armaments and the Russian Armaments Crises were both resolved peacefully. While the ship was on the stocks, slowly taking shape, the old enemy across the Channel was in a state of near anarchy and on the brink of all-out civil war with fighting actually breaking out in some regions, particularly the Vendee region on the French Biscay coast. France had gone to war against all her neighbours and the Republican Jacobins under Maximilien Robespierre were gaining political power. Britain, alarmed at the state of the rival superpower on their doorstep and the direction in which the Revolution was headed, began to support Monarchist forces fighting in the Vendee Region. The crunch came in December 1792 when the King and Queen of France were tried for treason and executed in January 1793. The British expelled the French Ambassador in protest and France declared war on 1st February.

The construction project gained a sense of urgency with the outbreak of war, but despite this, it was to take until 14th March 1797 to complete the ship and she was launched with all due ceremony into the River Thames. After her launch, she was secured to a mooring buoy in the Thames and fitted with her guns, masts and rigging. Shortly after her launch, Captain John Markham was appointed to command the new ship.

Captain John Markham was part of the generation of naval officers who cut their teeth during the American War of Independence. Born in 1761, he was the second son of the Archbishop of York and first joined the Royal Navy at the age of 14 in 1775. His obvious talent and ability was in no small way helped by his fathers influence and also that of his patron, Captain George Elphinstone, later to become Admiral Lord Keith and he rose rapidly through the officer ranks of the Royal Navy. He got his first command in March 1782 when he was appointed Master and Commander in the Bomb Vessel HMS Volcano and shortly afterward to the 6pdr-armed 16 gun ship-sloop HMS Zebra. His career suffered a setback when, while commanding HMS Zebra, he fired on a French cartel vessel and he was dismissed from the Royal Navy after a Court Martial in May 1782. He was reinstated the following November after the personal intervention of the Commander-in-Chief in the Caribbean, Vice-Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney. He had reviewed the evidence and formed an opinion that the young Commander had made an honest mistake. Rodney, who never made a decision without half an eye on his own reputation and prospects, was probably influenced by the knowledge that the disgrace of the son of such an influential man as the Archbishop of York would do his own career no good at all. Rodney's decision to reinstate Commander Markham was later confirmed by the King and Markham was subsequently promoted to Captain on 3rd January 1783. Following his promotion, he commanded the 9pdr armed 20-gun post-ship HMS Sphinx until 1786 after which he was laid off on half-pay. Recalled to service following the outbreak of war in 1793 to command the 12pdr-armed 32 gun frigate HMS Blonde, he had contracted Yellow Fever in 1795 while commanding the 74 gun third rate ship of the line HMS Hannibal in the West Indies and had been forced by ill-health to return to the UK. HMS Centaur was his first appointment after recovering his health sufficiently be able to return to duty.

Captain John Markham oversaw the fitting out, the appointment of her commissioned and warrant officers and the recruitment of her crew. Finally, on 11th June 1797, HMS Centaur was declared complete and commissioned into the Channel Fleet, at the time under the overall command of Admiral Sir Alexander Hood, the Viscount Bridport.

On completion, HMS Centaur was a ship of 1,842 tons. At 176ft long on the upper gundeck and 144ft 3in long at the keel, the ship was very nearly the same size as a Second Rate ship of the line. She was 49ft wide across her beam, her hold was 20ft deep, she drew 13ft of water at the bow and 17ft 9in at the rudder. The ship was armed with 28 32pdr long guns on the lower gundeck, 30 24pdr long guns on the upper gundeck, 4 9pdr long guns on the forecastle and 12 more such guns on her quarterdeck. In addition to these long guns, she carried a pair of 32pdr carronades each on the quarterdeck and the forecastle, plus six 24pdr carronades on the poop deck. She also carried a dozen half-pounder swivel guns attached to her forecastle and quarterdeck handrails and in her fighting tops. Despite being officially established as being a 74 gun ship, she actually carried 84 guns. The ship was manned by a crew of 640 officers, men, boys and Royal Marines. The total cost of her construction and fitting out at Woolwich came to £59,538.

Mars Class plans:

Orlop Plan:

Lower Gundeck Plan:

Upper Gundeck Plan:

Quarterdeck and Forecastle Plans:

Inboard Profile and Plan:

Sheer Plan and Lines:

Port Quarter view of a model of HMS Mars. HMS Centaur was identical:

Starboard Bow view of the same model:

Broadside View:

After commissioning into the Channel Fleet, HMS Centaur spent her time patrolling the Western Approaches and enforcing the ongoing blockade of the French Atlantic and Channel ports. After their catastrophic losses at the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794 and the Battle of Ile Groix the following year, the French Atlantic Fleet only put to sea very rarely and aside from the monotonous repetition of drills and more drills, the officers and crew of HMS Centaur had very little to actually do. What all this drilling and practice did do was to mould HMS Centaur and her crew into an efficient and deadly fighting machine, skills which were shortly to be put to good use.

In the summer of 1798, Captain Markham received orders to take his ship to the Mediterranean, where the enemy were certainly much more active. Since the beginning of the war and the failure of Admiral Sir Samuel, the Lord Hood's Toulon Campaign in 1793 and with Britain's former Spanish allies now fighting with the French, the Royal Navy had lost it's once complete domination of that sea. On arrival, HMS Centaur joined a squadron commanded by Commodore John Thomas Duckworth, flying his command broad pennant in the 74 gun ship HMS Leviathan. In addition to HMS Leviathan and HMS Centaur, Duckworth also had under his command the 44 gun two-decker HMS Argo, the 9pdr-armed 28 gun Sixth-Rate frigate HMS Aurora, the 9pdr-armed 20 gun Sixth Rate Post-Ship HMS Cormorant and the 6-pdr armed 16-gun ship-sloop HMS Peterel. In addition to these vessels, Duckworth also commanded the hospital ship HMS Dolphin, the armed transport ships HMS Ulysses, HMS Coromandel and HMS Calcutta, the hired armed cutter Constitution and several merchant ships carrying troops under General the Honourable Charles Stuart. This force had been sent by the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, Admiral Sir John Jervis, the Earl St Vincent, to capture the strategically important, Spanish-held island of Minorca with it's magnificent natural harbour at Port Mahon.

See here for the story of HMS Leviathan:

See here for the story of HMS Peterel:

See here for the story of HMS Dolphin:

Commodore Duckworth brought his force to within five miles of the port of Fournella, but because of adverse winds, the transport ships proceeded to Addaya Creek, accompanied on Duckworth's orders by HMS Argo, HMS Aurora and HMS Cormorant. The two ships of the line patrolled off Fournella in order to create a diversion. In the meantime, as the frigates and transport ships rounded a point on Addaya Creek, a shore battery comprising eight 12pdr guns fired a warning shot at them. When HMS Argo and the other warships presented their broadsides to the battery, the Spanish gunners spiked their guns, blew up the magazine and fled. This allowed the transport ships to land their troops and by 11am on 7th November had managed to get a battalion of soldiers ashore without opposition. The troops quickly took possession of a nearby hill and with supporting fire from the warships in the creek, drove off two divisions of Spanish troops who were intent on retaking the battery. By 6pm, all the soldiers plus 8 6pdr field guns, two howitzers and eight days worth of supplies had been successfully landed.

That same evening, HMS Leviathan, HMS Centaur and HMS Argo approached Fournella, while HMS Aurora, HMS Cormorant and seven transport ships proceeded to the island's capital, Port Mahon to create a further diversion. On arriving off Fournella, Commodore Duckworth discovered that the Spaniards had abandoned the forts covering the harbour. He ordered HMS Leviathan and HMS Centaur to patrol off Addaya Creek and Fournella in order to prevent the Spanish from re supplying their troops there while he transferred to HMS Argo and directed landings at Fournella from that ship. By 9th November, the British had reached Port Mahon and a force of 300 men under Colonel Paget had forced Fort Charles, overlooking the harbour there to surrender. By the 11th November, Duckworth had returned to HMS Leviathan and while laying at anchor off Fournella received news that an enemy force, possibly of four ships of the line had been sighted between Minorca and Majorca. He immediately ordered that HMS Leviathan, HMS Centaur, HMS Argo and the armed transport ships Calcutta, Coromandel and Ulysses put to sea and intercept the enemy force. At daybreak on 15th November, 5 ships were sighted and the British force immediately gave chase. The enemy force turned out to be the Spanish frigates Flora (40), Proserpine (40), Santa Cazilda (34), Pomona (34) and the former HMS Peterel, which had been taken the previous day. In the action which followed, HMS Argo recaptured the Peterel, but the other Spanish ships managed to escape. Duckworth and his ships returned to Port Mahon on 16th November. On arrival he learned that on 15th November, the remaining Spanish troops had surrendered. Not a single British life had been lost.

1798 turned to 1799 and in his determination not to allow the Spanish frigates which had escaped him at Minorca go, Duckworth had ordered Captain Markham to patrol with his ship and HMS Cormorant off the north-eastern coast of Spain in case they came that way. After spending two weeks struggling against a strong gale, the two ships reached Sallo Bay on 9th February and sighted 21 Swedish and Danish merchantmen sheltering there. After speaking with some of the ship's masters, Captain Markham learned that no men o'war had been sighted since the 2nd. Pressing on, the two British warships looked into Fangel Bay and off the Spanish port of Tarragona, HMS Cormorant attacked and captured a tartan and drove another ashore before the pair headed back out to sea towards Majorca. Early the next morning, HMS Cormorant captured a settee laden with oil and HMS Centaur chased down a trio of Spanish privateers, two xebecs and a settee. At 14:00, HMS Centaur took one of the xebecs, La Vierga de Rosario, armed with 14 12pdr guns with a crew of 90 men. A change in the wind allowed the other two vessels to escape. That night, HMS Centaur met with HMS Aurora, which was headed for Tarragona after receiving intelligence that two Spanish frigates were headed there after picking up Swiss troops from Palma de Majorca. On the 15th February, the two British ships met up with the flagship and HMS Argo, also both headed for the port. The next day, the four British ships found the enemy frigates were not at Tarragona, so moved a little down the coast and attacked the port of Cambrelles (modern-day Cambrils). On sighting the British warships, the Spanish abandoned the shore battery and the British attacked the port in boats. Five settees were burned and another five were brought out, laden with wine and wheat. One of the settees was found to be the Velon Maria, a privateer armed with three 12pdrs and a pair of 3pdrs with a crew of 14.

On 30th May 1799, the squadron joined with the main body of the Mediterranean Fleet off Minorca. Lord St. Vincent had received intelligence that the French Toulon Fleet had evaded the blockade and broken out into the Mediterranean. Not knowing where they were headed, Lord St. Vincent dispatched Duckworth with a new squadron, comprised of his flagship HMS Leviathan, HMS Northumberland (74), HMS Majestic (74) and HMS Foudroyant (80) to reinforce Rear-Admiral Lord Nelson's force off Palermo, Sicily, in case the enemy were headed in that direction. HMS Centaur was retained with the fleet on this occasion and the fleet was further reinforced later on the 30th by the arrival of the giant First Rate ship of the line HMS Queen Charlotte (100) and the Third Rate ships of the line HMS Captain (74), HMS Defiance (74), HMS Bellona (74) and HMS Repulse (64).

See here for the stories of HMS Majestic:,

HMS Queen Charlotte:,

HMS Bellona:,

and HMS Northumberland:

Thus reinforced, Lord St. Vincent's fleet now comprised 21 ships of the line and having received intelligence that the Spanish fleet had left Cartagena, he decided that he would patrol the stretch of coastline between San Sebastian and Toulon in case the Spanish fleet were intending to meet with the French fleet. By 1st June, Lord St.Vincent concluded that if the Spanish were following the coast towards Toulon, the British would have caught them by that time, so at about noon, decided to take a more direct route and head out to sea, towards the north-east. By this time, Admiral Sir John Jervis, the Lord St. Vincent was ill and on 2nd June, decided he was to ill to continue with command of the Mediterranean Fleet and to return to the British base at Minorca to recover his health. In a move which was heavily criticised at the time, he decided to go to Minorca in his flagship, the 110 gun First Rate ship of the line HMS Ville de Paris, depriving the fleet of its largest and most powerful warship. Operational command of the Mediterranean Fleet thus devolved to Vice-Admiral Sir George Elphinstone, the Lord Keith, Captain Markham's patron. Lord Keith was flying his command flag in the 98 gun Second Rate ship of the line HMS Barfleur.

See here for the story of HMS Barfleur:

See here for the story of HMS Ville de Paris:

HMS Centaur, as the fleet's fastest ship of the line, had been deployed ahead of the fleet and arrived off Toulon on 3rd June, in company with HMS Montagu (74).

See here for the story of HMS Montagu:

On standing into the Toulon Road, the pair of British seventy-fours sighted a small convoy comprised of a French brig-corvette and several settees which were in the process of putting to sea, upon which they immediately opened fire. Four of the French vessels were taken and later burned while the rest, including the corvette escaped. While the two British ships of the line were dealing with their prizes, they came under ineffective fire from French shore batteries. The prizes did prove useful in that they gained intelligence that on leaving Toulon, the French fleet had steered to the east. HMS Centaur, HMS Montagu and the rest of the fleet turned to follow and the chase was on. In the afternoon of the 5th May, the fleet met with the hired armed brig Telegraph, whose commander, Lieutenant James Alexander Worth passed on news that he had sighted the entire French Toulon fleet at anchor in Vado Bay, near modern-day Genoa. The fleet made all sail towards the bay and on 6th, passed the small French-held islands of Sainte Marguerete and La Garoupe off Antibes, on the Cote D'Azure between Cannes and Nice. On passing the islands, the fleet again came under ineffective fire from French shore batteries. On 8th May, about 90 miles off Cape Delle Melle, Lord Keith received no less than three dispatch vessels from Lord St. Vincent at Minorca, carrying orders from the Commander-in-Chief. His orders were, firstly, to detach a further two ships of the line to reinforce Nelson at Palermo, then to be ready to intercept the French should they attempt to rendezvous with the Spanish fleet from Cartagena. Lord Keith sent HMS Powerful and HMS Bellerophon to Sicily, then instead of having the fleet make all sail for the Bay of Rosas as ordered, he headed for the south end of Minorca, presumably to make a rendezvous with HMS Ville de Paris. On 13th May, Lord Keith moved his command flag to HMS Queen Charlotte and on the 15th, the fleet met with HMS Ville de Paris off Cape Mola. Lord St. Vincent had been left behind on Minorca and was preparing to return to the UK. Now with nineteen ships of the line including a pair of giant First Rate ships, Lord Keith took the fleet around the eastern side of Minorca and headed north again.

On 19th June, HMS Centaur was part of the leading division of the fleet, which also comprised HMS Bellona and HMS Captain in addition to the 18pdr armed 36 gun frigate HMS Emerald and the ex-Spanish 12pdr armed 32 gun frigate HMS Santa Teresa. After a 28-hour chase, this force successfully caught, overwhelmed and captured a force of French vessels out of Jaffa bound for Toulon. The French vessels were the 18pdr armed 36 gun frigate Junon, taken into the Royal Navy as HMS Princess Charlotte, the 12pdr armed 32 gun frigate Alceste, taken into the Royal Navy under her French name and the 12pdr armed 32 gun frigate Courageuse, again, taken into the Royal Navy under her French name. In addition to the frigates, there were the 14 gun brig-corvettes Alerte and Salamine, taken into the Royal Navy as HMS Alerte and HMS Minorca respectively. The French force had been under the command of Rear-Admiral Jean Baptiste Emmanuel Perree and after taking this force, Lord Keith took the fleet to Toulon, where they cruised off the port, expecting the French to return at any time. A few days later, when it became clear that the French fleet was not going to return any time soon, Lord Leith took the fleet back to Minorca.

In October 1799, HMS Centaur returned to the UK and went into the Royal Dockyard at Plymouth for a short refit and following the completion of that, joined the Channel Fleet. The refit saw HMS Centaur's quarterdeck and forecastle 9pdr guns replaced with much larger 18pdrs.

On 15th June 1800, HMS Centaur was forced to return to Plymouth after having lost her bowsprit during a collision with HMS Marlborough (74). On 19th October, she went into Plymouth again, this time to repair the foremast and bowsprit which had been sprung in a storm while blockading the French Atlantic ports. More repairs followed the following month when she again put into Plymouth, this time to repair a sprung main mast. By now, Lord St. Vincent had fully recovered his health and had succeeded Lord Bridport as Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Fleet.

The comings and goings between Plymouth and the French coast continued until 14th March 1801, when HMS Centaur returned again to Cawsand Bay with her sister-ship HMS Mars in tow. The two ships had had a very heavy collision on the night of the 10th March which had resulted in both ships being seriously damaged. HMS Centaur had lost her main mast, while HMS Mars lost her figurehead, bowsprit, foremast and main topmast. In addition, two of HMS Centaur's crew had been killed and four injured when the main mast fell. HMS Centaur's crew had been forced to rig a jury main mast in order to be able to get their ship home. On 20th March, they fitted a new main mast to the ship. A collision and damage of this magnitude required action and on 28th April a Court Martial was convened aboard the flagship at Plymouth, the old 80-gun three-decker HMS Cambridge. On trial were Captain Robert Lloyd of HMS Mars and Lieutenants Burnet and Davis of HMS Centaur. All three men were charged with failing to keep a proper lookout. Captain Lloyd and Lieutenant Burnet were honourably acquitted and Lieutenant Davis was found guilty. He was sentenced to lose six months seniority and to be dismissed from HMS Centaur.

While the ship had been at Plymouth in March of 1801, Captain Markham had been asked by Lord St.Vincent to sit on the Board of the Admiralty and left the ship to take up his new appointment. At the same time, he had been elected to sit in the House of Commons as MP for Portsmouth. Captain John Markham was promoted to Rear-Admiral in 1804, Vice-Admiral in 1809 and Admiral in 1819. He served on the Board of the Admiralty until 1808 and as MP for Portsmouth until 1818 and again from 1820 to 1826. 1826 saw John Markham retire from all public duties as a result of his deteriorating Yellow Fever and he was advised by his doctors to move to warmer climes. He died in Naples in 1827. HMS Centaur had been his last active service appointment.

Captain Markham was replaced in command of HMS Centaur by Captain Harry Neale, who in turn was replaced by Captain Bendall Robert Littlehales.
"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 Centaur (1797 - 1819)
« Reply #2 on: November 19, 2016, 19:30:26 »
Part Two - Peace, the Mutiny on HMS Temeraire, Off to the West Indies, the taking of Surinam and the capture of the Cesar

In November 1801, peace negotiations started between the British and the French and expectations among the British people as a whole began to rise that the war would soon end. At the time, HMS Centaur was one of a number of ships anchored off Beerhaven, Bantry Bay in southern Ireland, when orders were received from Admiral Sir Andrew Mitchell that the sails should be unbent (that is - unsecured from the yards and taken down) and the ships should spend the winter there awaiting further orders. The ships at Bantry Bay at the time were HMS Temeraire (98), HMS Princess Royal (98), HMS Windsor Castle (98), HMS Barfleur (98), HMS Formidable (98), HMS Atlas (98), HMS Namur (90), HMS Malta (80), HMS Centaur, HMS Resolution (74), HMS Vengeance (74) and HMS Majestic (74).

See here for the stories of:

HMS Temeraire -

HMS Windsor Castle -

HMS Barfleur -

HMS Formidable -

HMS Majestic -

Hopes of imminent peace and being able to return home to their families and civilian lives for the men were soon dashed by news that most of the ships of the fleet at Bantry Bay were to go to the Caribbean. Such was the scale of the effect this had on the ships crews that a mutiny occurred aboard HMS Temeraire and threatened to spread to the rest of the ships, with the men threatening to take control of the ships, as they had aboard HMS Temeraire, and return home in them. The mutiny aboard HMS Temeraire had been put down and the ringleaders arrested, but such had been the uproar at home when the press picked up the story that all the ships were instead ordered to return to Portsmouth.

On 14th January 1802, the following men stood trial aboard HMS Gladiator (44) at Portsmouth for their part in the Temeraire Mutiny:
Mr John Allen, Mr George Dixon, Mr Edward Taylor, Mr James Riley, Mr George Comayne and Mr Thomas Simmonds. All bar Mr Comayne were found guilty and were sentenced to death, while Mr Comayne was found to be partly guilty and was sentenced to receive 200 lashes. Allen, Dixon and Taylor were hanged from the fore-yard of HMS Achille (74), while Riley and Simmonds were hanged aboard HMS Centaur. The executions complete, the ship left Spithead on 7th February 1802 to rejoin the Channel Fleet.

See here for the story of HMS Achille:

On 25th March 1802, while the ship was at sea with the fleet, the Treaty of Amiens was signed, ending the French Revolutionary War. On 22nd April, HMS Centaur was paid off at Plymouth and her crew (or at least those who wanted to) were free to return to their homes and civilian lives. The ship was recommissioned at Plymouth the same day, with the same captain and officers, who were to set about trying to recruit a new crew. With the war over, this would be very difficult as they didn't have the press gangs to rely on to find men. The process of recruiting volunteers was all about advertising, as it is now. Handbills would have been printed and posted at inns and taverns where former sailors looking to escape their civilian lives for whatever reason gathered. Parties of seamen and marines led by an officer would tramp around the surrounding villages also visiting inns, taverns, fairs and markets looking for volunteers. The Merchant Navy was also a good source of volunteers to take the Kings Shilling. Service in the Royal Navy in peacetime was preferable to the merchant service. In the merchant service, there were no safety standards as there are today. Greedy ship-owners often sent men to sea in overloaded, leaky ships and seamen were generally only taken on for a single voyage and often found themselves out of work when a ship entered port. In the Royal Navy they found that if they could put up with the harsh, rigid discipline, they would receive regular pay, better conditions and free healthcare.

On 16th May, HMS Centaur became flagship of Rear Admiral James Dacres and the following day, the ships Marines arrived. These came aboard as an existing unit comprising a Captain and two Lieutenants of the Royal Marines, with two sergeants and 60 men. Volunteers to join the ships crew were proving hard to find. It's amusing to find that Captain Littlehales put this down to the fact that the men who had been paid off the previous month had not yet spent all their money.

On 24th May, Rear-Admiral Dacres was appointed Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty's Ships at Plymouth. Among the duties carried out aboard the flagship of the port admiral was that of hosting Naval Courts Martial and in September and October of 1802, HMS Centaur hosted three. The 13th September saw the trial of Lieutenant Buchannon of HMS Peterel. He had been charged with disobeying orders and neglect of duty in that at various times, he left the deck during his watch while the ship was at sea. Found guilty, the officer was dismissed from the Royal Navy. The 27th September saw the trial of three mutineers from the small 14-gun brig-sloop HMS Albanaise. In November 1800, the vessels crew had mutinied, seized the vessel from Lieutenant Francis Newcombe, commanding, and had taken the her into a Spanish port and sold her and her stores to the enemy. After hearing the prosecution's statements and the men's defences, the Court Martial Board decided that Mr Patrick Kennedy had been the ringleader and the two other men had merely taken a small part in the mutiny. One of the men was acquitted and the other was sentenced to receive 300 lashes, divided amongst the ships moored at Plymouth at the time. Mr Kennedy was remanded for trial at a later date. Kennedy's trial was heard on 5th October and he was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. The execution was carried out aboard HMS Centaur on 16th October. Kennedy had almost got away with his crime. At the end of the war, he had made his way from Spain to London, where he was implicated in a robbery and was imprisoned in Bridewell Prison where he was identified and returned to stand trial at Plymouth. The considerable amount of prize money he was owed was given to Mr Ford, the Keeper of the Bridewell Prison and to Mr Swete, the Sheriffs Officer for the County of Devon.

By this time, HMS Centaur was still well short of her complement and Captain Littlehales ordered that a permanent Rendezvous be opened at the Crown and Anchor Inn, in the Plymouth Barbican, with bills to be posted all over Plymouth and Torpoint advertising the Rendezvous. By now, the Admiralty was becoming impatient - HMS Centaur was ordered to sail to the Caribbean as soon as possible and Rear-Admiral Dacres moved his command flag to HMS Courageux (74) in Cawsand Bay on 10th November. The following day, HMS Centaur was also moved into the Bay. The crews so far recruited into HMS Courageux and also HMS Belle Isle (74) were transferred into HMS Centaur and the ship took on provisions for four months. On 15th November 1802, the crew of HMS Centaur were paid three months wages in advance and on 18th November 1802, the ship finally left for the West Indies. On arrival, the ship became flagship to Commodore Samuel Hood, the much younger cousin of the more famous Samuel Hood, Admiral Lord Hood.

Despite the proclamations of everlasting peace made by the politicians, the Peace of Amiens was always uneasy with Britain, France and Spain continuing to bicker about the concessions they had unwillingly made for the sake of ending the war. In the end, the British had enough  of French threats and declared war on 18th May 1803, starting what is more commonly known as the Napoleonic War.

The news would have taken some weeks to reach the Caribbean, but when it did, Commodore Hood immediately embarked on a strategy of reducing French possessions in the area. At 11:00 on 21st June 1803, HMS Centaur in company with HMS Courageux and other smaller vessels carrying a detachment of troops under Lieutenant-General Grinfield arrived at Choc Bay, St Lucia. Under the supervision of Captain Benjamin Hallowell of HMS Courageux, the troops were successfully landed and by 17:30, they had captured the town of Castries. The French Brigadier-General Nogues, commanding the fortress at Morne-Fortunee was summoned to surrender but on his refusal, the fortress was stormed at 04:00 on the 22nd and within half an hour, the fortress had fallen to the British who suffered 20 dead and 110 wounded.

On 25th, HMS Centaur left St Lucia bound for Tobago with some of the transport ships, arriving on the 31st. The troops were landed under heavy covering fire and that evening, the French garrison in Fort Scarborough surrendered. The island of Tobago became a British possession again and remained so until it became independent in the mid-20th century. The taking of Tobago was achieved without a single British life being lost. By the end of September 1803, the Dutch colonies at Berbice, Essequibo and Demerera had fallen to Hood's force. In the meantime, during August, Captain Littlehale left the ship, replaced by Captain Murray Maxwell, previously Master and Commander in the 6pdr-armed 18 gun ship-sloop HMS Cyane. HMS Centaur was Captain Maxwell's first appointment after being posted.

By the end of the year, HMS Centaur was patrolling off Fort Royal Bay, Martinique, blockading the port. During this time, Commodore Hood noted that the small rocky island of Diamond Rock, which sits in the bay, is surrounded by deep water and enemy vessels were able to evade his flagship by sailing around it. He thought that if he could take possession of the Rock, he could fortify it, use it as a depot and using heavy guns, could prevent the French from using Fort Royal Bay. The island only has one small beach and is otherwise surrounded by vertical cliffs several hundred feet high. Over the course of January 1804, that is exactly what Hood and his men did. Landing on the island, scaling the cliffs and rigging tackles which were secured to HMS Centaur's main mast, they moved three of her upper gundeck 24-pounder guns, together with two of her quarterdeck 18-pounders to positions on the rock which commanded the whole bay. A suitable quantity of gunpowder and shot were landed, along with four months worth of supplies and water. The rock was commissioned by Commodore Hood as HM Sloop of War HMS Diamond Rock with Mr James Wilkes Maurice of HMS Centaur appointed to be the Master and Commander with a crew of 120 men and boys detached from HMS Centaur.

HMS Centaur's men manhandle three tons of 24pdr gun from the ship up the cliffs to the top of Diamond Rock:

The arming and manning of the now HMS Diamond Rock complete, HMS Centaur and her remaining crew resumed their blockade of Fort Royal Bay, during which time it was noticed that under the guns of Fort Edouard, overlooking the harbour at Fort Royal, there lay at anchor a very fine-looking French brig-corvette, identified as being Le Curieux of 16 guns and about 100 men. The British decided that this vessel would make very a good addition to the Royal Navy and that she would be taken from the French. The French for their part, had already anticipated an attack and had taken precautions accordingly. The vessels six-pounder guns had been loaded with grapeshot and her eight swivel guns had been loaded with musket balls. Pikes, tomahawks, pistols and sabres had been stored in every nook and cranny on her upper deck, boarding nets had been rigged and each of her 28-man watches had been briefed to keep a sharp lookout for approaching boats. HMS Centaur's raiding party comprised four boats with 60 men and a dozen Royal Marines under the command of Lieutenant Robert Carthew Reynolds, assisted by Lieutenant George Bettesworth amd Mr Midshipman John Tracy.  In order to ensure they kept the element of surprise, the British dispatched their raiding party from a point about 20 miles away from the French vessel. Moving under oars, the British reached Le Curieux at about 15 minutes before one in the morning of the 4th February 1804 and were only discovered when the moon made an appearance from behind the clouds as they were on the final approach, at about a pistol-shot's range. On being sighted, the British immediately came under musket-fire, fire from one of the swivel guns and a wall-piece ashore. All hell broke loose, as Lieutenant Reynolds and Able Seaman Richard Templeton climbed a rope ladder over the stern of Le Curieux and cut the lines securing the boarding nets. This enabled the rest of the party to board the brig and engage the French in vicious hand-to-hand fighting. Using hand-spikes, cutlasses and musket butts, the French officers and crew were quickly overwhelmed by the raiding party, who wasted no time in cutting the anchor cable, unfurling the sails and getting the vessel under way. Despite coming under fire from shore batteries on the way out, Le Curieux was moored alongside HMS Centaur before sunrise. In the Taking of the Curieux, the British suffered no fatalities and nine men wounded, which included all three officers. The French losses on the other hand were nine dead with 30 wounded. The Curieux's commander, Capitaine-de-Fregate Joseph-Marie-Emmanuel Cordier was knocked over during the fight, thrown overboard and landed on one of the flukes of one of his vessel's anchors. From there, he fell into a boat loaded with water casks and the one French seaman in that boat immediately cut her adrift and pulled for the shore. In an act of chivalry, Commodore Hood sent the now HMS Curieux back into Fort Royal harbour with the French wounded under a flag of truce, an act which the French commander-in-chief at Martinique, Vice-Admiral Villaret Joyeuse, acknowledged equally chivalrously by sending her back to the British. Commodore Hood thought it only right to appoint the officer who had led the raiding party to command the prize, so he appointed Mr Reynolds as her Master and Commander. Sadly, Mr Reynolds was too badly wounded to take command and indeed, died from his wounds the following September.

The attack on Le Curieux by Mark Myers:

Commodore Hood, Captain Maxwell and the crew of HMS Centaur were not finished in the Caribbean yet. Their next assignment came in April 1804, which was to take the Dutch colony of Surinam, on the north-east coast of South America. HMS Centaur was to be the flagship of a force comprised of the 18pdr-armed 36 gun frigate HMS Emerald, the en-flute (that is a warship with some of her guns removed to make room for cargo or troops) 44 gun two-deckers HMS Pandour and HMS Serapis, the en-flute 9pdr-armed 28 gun frigate HMS Alligator, the 32pdr carronade-armed 18 gun ex-Dutch ship-sloop HMS Hippommenes, the 18pdr carronade-armed 16 gun brig-sloop HMS Drake, the 12pdr carronade-armed 16 gun ex-French brig-sloop HMS Guachapin and the 10-gun ex-French armed schooner HMS Unique. This force was to accompany a fleet of transport ships carrying 2000 troops under the command of Major-General Sir Charles Green. This force left Barbados on the 25th April and arrived off the coast of Surinam twenty-two days later. On the 24th, Commodore Hood had asked Commander Conway Shipley of HMS Hippomenes to oversee the landing of 700 soldiers under Brigadier-General Frederick Maitland at Warapee Creek. Commander Shipley was to be assisted by Commander Kenneth MacKenzie in HMS Guachapin. Their mission was to collect boats from the sugar plantations to land men at the rear of Fort New Amsterdam. Commander MacKenzie found that he could not get his small sloop close enough because of adverse winds and baffling currents, so withdrew to a position about 150 miles away and with 50 men, made his way to the creek in his vessel's boats. Once Commander MacKenzie and his men had arrived, the landings took place without further incident. The following night, Commodore Hood sent HMS Emerald under Captain James O'Brien, HMS Pandour and HMS Drake to land another force of troops under Brigadier-General Hughes to take Braams Point, which would enable the British to control the mouth of the Surinam River and thence, the approaches to the colony itself. HMS Emerald was pushed over the bar at the mouth of the river b the tide, followed by the other two vessels and came under fire from a shore battery of seven 18 pounders. After anchoring, all three vessels returned fire, which quickly silenced the battery. After landing, the soldiers captured the fort and the 43 officers and men who garrisoned it. HMS Centaur was too big to enter the mouth of the river, in fact, HMS Emerald had pushed over the bar with her keel sliding through three feet of soft mud. Because of this, Commodore Hood moved his command broad pennant to HMS Emerald and with General Maitland and the two men sent terms of surrender to the Dutch. On receiving a Dutch refusal, it became clear to the General and the Commodore, that further fighting was necessary.

To that end, the British had already landed teams of engineers who had explored the roads through the forest to the forts protecting the colony. An ad-hoc naval brigade was established to assist the troops and men landed to attack Fort Frederici. The force was led by Brigadier-General Hughes again, assisted by Captain Maxwell, Commander Ferris of HMS Drake and Captain Richardson of HMS Alligator. The attack was made on the 30th April after a march through the swampy forest and the fort was stormed, though not before the Dutch defenders blew the magazine, causing injury to many of the British. Immediately afterward, the British ran the causeway linking Fort Frederici with the nearby redoubt at Leyden, something they achieved in the face of cannon fire. All the while this was going on, the British were prepaering to lay seige to the massive fortress at Fort New Amsterdam, which mounted 80 guns. The Dutch commandant, Lieutenant-Colonel Batenburg, on seeing the scale of the British preparations, sent a flag of truce on 5th May and agreed to the British terms of surrender later that day. Casualties on both sides were remarkably light. The British suffered Mr James Edward Smith, First Lieutenant in HMS Centaur, Mr Midshipman William Shuldham, a Boatswain and two seamen killed with Lieutanants William King and Robert Henderson of HMS Centaur, Lieutenant George Brand of HMS Unique plus five seamen wounded. The British Army's casualties were three privates killed with 13 officers and men wounded. The Dutch suffered three dead when they blew the magazine at Braams Point and the British took 2001 prisoners and took 282 pieces of brass and iron ordnance. Thus did Surinam fall into British hands. It was to remain in British hands until the end of the war in 1814, when it was returned to the Dutch. The former Dutch colonies at Berbice, Demerera and Essequibo remained in British hands and were merged together after the war to form what is now British Guyana.

As reward for his actions in the capture of Surinam, Commodore Hood was knighted on 29th September 1804.

After the capture of Surinam, HMS Centaur and her squadron resumed their role of causing chaos to enemy shipping in the Carribean as evidenced by the following list of captures made by HMS Centaur alone:

July 1804 -    Recaptured the English ship Elizabeth, laden with slaves
               The French privateer schooner, also called Elizabeth, of six guns
December 1804 - Recaptured the English ship Admiral Peckenham laden with provisions
      The Spanish brig Francis Paula, in ballast
      A Spanish ship, name not recorded, laden with silks and merchandise
      The Spanish brig Jesu Maria, laden with wine
Altogether, in the perios between June and December 1804, the squadron captured some 47 vessels of various nationalities. Commodore Hood, as the senior officer of the squadron, was entitled to receive an eighth of the value of each ship, with the rest going to the commander and crew of the capturing vessel. With this level of success, all the men in the squadron, at least those who survived until they were paid off, would be relatively wealthy men.

In the summer of 1805, Captain Maxwell left the ship and was replaced by Captain Henry Whitby, formerly of the 18pdr armed, ex-French 36 gun frigate HMS Desiree.

On 29th July 1805, HMS Centaur was on her way from Jamaica to Barbados. The reason for this was because the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet, Vice-Admiral Sir Horatio, the Lord Nelson had arrived with a fleet in search of the French Toulon Fleet, which had evaded the blockade and headed towards the west Indies. The ship had been ordered to join Nelson's fleet. The weather however, had different ideas on on that date, the ship was struck by a hurricane. The 100mph plus winds dismasted HMS Centaur, all her boats were washed overboard by the huge waves, her rudder was smashed and the hull badly damaged. Such was the scale of her damage in the storm that only the superhuman efforts of her crew, including her Royal Marines at the pumps kept her afloat. They laboured at the pumps non-stop for 16 hours and on the second day of the storm, managed to run a sail under the ship in an effort to stop the many leaks which were threatening to cause the ship to founder. During the storm, while dismasted and out of control, HMS Centaur was almost run down by the 98 gun second-rate ship of the line HMS St. George. Once the storm had passed, HMS Eagle (74) took the ship in tow and towed her all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia. There, the ship was put onto her side and running repairs were made. While the ship was on her side on the beach at Halifax, it was found that some 14 feet of the false keel, which sat under the main keel and helped to reinforce her frames, had been ripped away.

HMS Centaur remained in Halifax until December 1805 and thus missed the Battle of Trafalgar, which she would have participated in had she not been almost sunk by the hurricane. Before she departed though, Captain Whitby swapped ships with Captain John Talbot of HMS Leander (50) as he had recently married the daughter of the Commissioner at Halifax Dockyard and wished to remain there.

See here for the story of HMS Leander:

Captain Talbot took the battered HMS Centaur to Plymouth, where in February of 1806, the ship entered the Royal Dockyard to begin a Middling Repair. This saw the damage the ship received during the hurricane, as well as the wear and tear caused by operating for almost four years in tropical waters, made good. The work required to put the ship right must have been substantial as when it was completed four months later, it had cost £41,413.

The ship recommissioned into the Channel Fleet in June 1806, under Captain William H Webley, once more as flagship of Commodore Hood. Hood had been placed in command of a squadron of the Channel Fleet tasked with maintaining a blockade of the French naval base at Rochefort. In addition to HMS Centaur, Commodore Hood also had under his command the Second-Rate ship of the line HMS Prince of Wales of 98 guns, HMS Conqueror, HMS Revenge and HMS Monarch, all of 74 guns and the 64 gun Third Rate ship of the line HMS Polyphemus. In addition to the ships of the line, Hood also had the ex-Danish, 18pdr-armed 36 gun frigate HMS Iris.

See here for the story of HMS Polyphemus:

See here for the story of HMS Monarch:

Bottled up inside Rochefort was a French squadron of five ships of the line and several frigates.

On the 14th July 1806, Commodore Hood received intelligence that a French convoy of some 50 vessels was waiting in the mouth of the Gironde River for an opportunity to put to sea bound for the French naval base at Brest. The convoy was to be escorted by a pair of brig-corvettes, the Cesar of 16 guns and the ex-HMS Teazer of 14 guns. Hood decided that it would be a good idea to try to cut them out and accordingly, sent a boat full of men from each of his ships of the line to rendezvous with HMS Iris, who would take them all to the target area where they would meet with the 24pdr-armed 44-gun razee frigate HMS Indefatigable. HMS Indefatigable was patrolling off the mouth of the river in order to prevent the French convoy from putting to sea. HMS Centaur's boat was commanded by Lieutenant Edward Reynolds Sibly and he was to be in overall command of the operation. HMS Indefatigable was to contribute three boats and HMS Iris a further three, making a total raiding party of 12 boats. In the evening of the 15th July, the boats left HMS Indefatigable and made their way towards the enemy. In the dead of night, Lieutenant Sibly and his men attacked the Cesar and boarded her. The French, anticipating the attack, were ready, but after a few minutes of ferocious hand-to-hand combat at close quarters, surrendered. On seeing the fighting aboard the Cesar, the Teazer and the other vessels of the convoy, cut their anchor cables and made their way further up the river, making cutting-out impossible. Nevertheless, Lieutenant Sibly and his raiding party had captured a very fine French brig-corvette of 16 guns and despite coming under fire from the Teazer and shore batteries on both sides of the river, made their escape. All the boats except one from HMS Indefatigable and one from HMS Iris were lost, either cut adrift after being swamped or shot through. One of the boats, that from HMS Revenge, was struck by a shot from a heavy gun from a shore battery and sank. Owing to the proximity of the shore, the whole boats crew ended up being taken prisoner by the French. The casualties amongst HMS Centaur's element of the raiding party came to the following, taken from the report in the London Gazette:

Lieutenant Sibly, wounded by pike and sabre in the side, arm and face
Samuel Wooldridge, Quartermaster, wounded badly in the thigh by a pike
Thomas Gray, Quarter-Gunner, wounded badly in the side by a pike
Michael Hales, Able Seaman, wounded in the hand and arm by a musket ball and in the shoulder by a pike
John James, Able Seaman, wounded slightly on the chin by a musket ball
Bernard Connor, Able Seaman, wounded in the lip by a sabre and in the thigh by a pike
William Tully, Able Seaman, killed by a musket ball
William McCormack, Private of Marines, wounded badly in the arm by a musket ball and in the thigh by a pike.

The Cesar was a fine little brig, 88ft long and 23ft wide, coppered, and in Commodore Hood's opinion, fit for His Majesty's service. She was taken into the Royal Navy under her French name, but was wrecked during a storm in the Gironde Estuary the following year.

Following the capture of the Cesar, Commodore Sir Samuel Hood and his squadron continued their blockade of Rochefort, but in the coming months, there was a rotation in the squadrons ships. HMS Prince of Wales was replaced by another 98 gun Second Rate ship, HMS Windsor Castle and HMS Conqueror and HMS Polyphemus had been replaced by HMS Centaur's sister-ship HMS Mars and HMS Achille. Frigates were, as always, at a premium, so HMS Iris had been replaced by the 24pdr carronade-armed 16 gun, ex-French brig-sloop HMS Atalante.
"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 Centaur (1797 - 1819)
« Reply #1 on: November 19, 2016, 19:17:42 »
Part Three - Action off Rochefort, Second Battle of Copenhagen, the destruction of the Sewolod and the end of the war

At about 01:00 on 25th September 1806, the squadron was about 20 miles from the Chasseron lighthouse and were heading toward it when HMS Monarch made the signal for enemy in sight. At this time, HMS Mars was in a position off HMS Monarch's starboard bow. Expecting the strangers to be ships of the line, Commodore Hood ordered that the squadron form a line of battle, but on receiving news that the enemy ships were in fact frigates, this signal was substituted for one ordering a general chase. The enemy ships were in fact a squadron which had escaped the previous evening from Rochefort bound for the Caribbean and consisted of the 40 gun frigates Gloire, Indefatigable, Armide, Minerve and Themis, together with the brig-corvettes Lynx and Sylphe.

As soon as they realised they had been seen, the French force made all sail and headed away. The British force altered course after them. This manoeuvre cause HMS Revenge to fall behind. At about 04:00, HMS Monarch had got to within range of the rearmost of the French frigates, the Armide and began firing with her bow-chasers. This fire was returned by the Armide's stern-chasers. At 06:00, the Indefatigable altered course to the north and was pursued by HMS Mars. The Themis and the brigs headed south and escaped. The Gloire, Armide and Minerve then took positions for mutual support and at about 10:00, all three were engaged by HMS Monarch. In the heavy weather, HMS Monarch was unable to open her lower gundeck gunports and was being outgunned by the three large enemy frigates, to the point where by 10:20, she had been badly damaged and was becoming unmanageable. At 11:00, HMS Centaur had caught up and was able to relieve the pressure on HMS Monarch by engaging the Gloire and the Armide, leaving HMS Monarch to batter the Minerve into surrender. At 11:45, the Armide surrendered to HMS Centaur, while shortly afterwards, the Minerve struck her colours to HMS Monarch. By this time, HMS Mars had caught up with the Indefatigable and had forced that ship to surrender. Facing a force of powerful enemy ships of the line, the Gloire set all sail and fled westward, pursued by HMS Centaur. HMS Mars joined the chase at 14:30 and the two fast and very powerful seventy-fours quickly caught the fleeing enemy frigate, which surrendered at 15:00.

Despite the overwelming firepower of the British squadron, the French did not just give in without a fight and in the Action off Rochefort, HMS Centaur was quite badly damaged in her rigging. The French were more interested in getting away, so aimed their shot high so as to try to prevent the British from pursuing them. HMS Centaur had five of her foremast shrouds, eight of her main mast shrouds and the main spring-stay shot away. Her bowsprit, foremast, fore-yard, main mast and main yard were each shot through in several places and her running rigging and sails were in shreds. Her casualties came to one seaman and two Royal Marines killed with Commodore Hood and three seamen wounded. Commodore Hood had been standing at the quarterdeck railing shouting encouragement to the upper gundeck gunners when he was struck in the wrist by a musket ball, which travelled up his arm shattering his elbow before lodging in his shoulder. Such was the severity of his wound that the ships Surgeon had to amputate the arm.

The squadron had succeeded in capturing four very large and powerful French frigates. The Minerve was taken into the Royal Navy and renamed to HMS Alceste, the Indefatigable was renamed to HMS Immortalite while the Gloire and Armide retained their French names. On examining the ships, it was found that they were each carrying about 400 troops in addition to their normal ships companies plus a huge amount of arms, ammunition and stores. This accounts for why they were unable to outrun a force of British ships of the line.

Following the Action off Rochefort, HMS Centaur returned to Portsmouth for repairs and on the 29th December 1806, arrived at Torbay to resume her duties.

In the summer of 1807, HMS Centaur was part of the fleet sent to the Baltic under Admiral Sir James Gambier. Despite their defeat at the hands of Nelson at the First Battle of Copenhagen in 1800, the Danes still had a powerful navy. Denmark and Norway were, at the time, a unified kingdom and their navy was more than capable of closing the Kattegat and blocking access to the Baltic Sea. In Britain, the demand for timber for the construction and repair of both warships and merchant ships had outstripped supply by an order of magnitude, so the British were dependant on timber being imported from the Baltic region. After December 1806 when Britains ally Prussia had been defeated by the French, Denmark was looking increasingly vulnerable to attack and invasion by the French. The British government had no wish to go to war with Denmark, so they tried to persuade the Danes to enter into a secret alliance with both Britain and Sweden. Denmark was determined to preserve it's neutrality, so refused the offer. On 14th July 1807, the King gave his permission to send a naval force of 22 ships of the line to the Kattegat to keep a close watch on the Danish fleet and be ready to act swiftly if necessary. On 18th July, the British sent a representative to Denmark to try to persuade the Danes to hand over their fleet. On the same day, the Admiralty ordered that a force of 50 transport ships and warships including HMS Centaur to be gathered and to sail to the Kattegat. The force was to be commanded by Admiral Sir James Gambier.

Admiral Sir James Gambier was an evangelical christian who actively disapproved of the hard-drinking, hard-living lifestyle of many of the sailors of the Royal Navy. As a result, his nickname amongst the fleet was 'Dismal Jimmy'.

On the night of the 21st/22nd July, intelligence reached the British that Napoleon had tried to persuade Tsar Alexander I of Russia to enter into an alliance with Denmark against the British. In response, the British made an offer to the Danes. In return for a Treaty of Alliance, the British would offer the Danes the protection of the 21 ships in the Kattegat and a subsidy towards the upkeep of a standing army. The British promised to return the Danish ships once the war was over. On 31st July 1807, Napoleon ordered his Foreign Minister, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord to tell the Danish to prepare for war against Britain or face invasion. Despite all this, Denmark still refused to give up their neutrality. On 15th August, the British gave up trying to persuade the Danes to hand over their fleet. The die was cast. On 12th August, the Danish frigate Fredriksvaern sailed from the Danish naval base at Elsinor bound for Norway. Admiral Gambier sent HMS Defence (74) and HMS Comus (22) after her and on the 15th, HMS Comus engaged and captured the Danish ship. On 16th August, the British army landed at Vedbaek near Copenhagen and began an artillery bombardment of the city. The British force was commanded by General Sir Arthur wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington). The Danish army was sent to attack the British force. On 29th August, Wellesley defeated the Danes at the Battle of Koge.

The British then issued a Proclamation demanding the handover of the Danish fleet, which was refused. By 2nd September, Copenhagen was encircled by Wellesley's force.

On 22nd and 31st August the Danes attempted to drive off the force of gun brigs and bomb vessels assembling off Copenhagen, but both attacks were repelled. On 1st September, the Danish Commander-in-Chief, Major-General Peiman was summoned to see Admiral Gambier and General the Lord Cathcart to surrender the Danish fleet. In return, the two British Commanders-in-Chief promised to return both the Danish ships and any other captured Danish property after the war. This was met with a firm 'No'.

On 2nd September at 7:30pm, the British opened fire on Copenhagen with everything they had.

The Bombardment of Copenhagen:

The bombardment continued from 2nd September to the 5th and destroyed some 30% of the city, killing some 2000 civilians. On 5th September, the Danes had had enough and offered to surrender. The surrender document was signed by all parties on 7th September. In the surrender agreement, Denmark agreed to hand to the British their entire navy, consisting of 18 ships of the line, 11 frigates, 2 ship-sloops, 7 brig-sloops, 2 gun-brigs, an armed schooner and 26 gunboats. The British army occupied Copenhagen and destroyed three 74 gun ships of the line then under construction. For their part British agreed to occupy Copenhagen for no more than six weeks. On 21st October 1807, the last British troops left Copenhagen and the fleet returned to the UK. Despite this, Britain and Denmark remained at war until 1814.

The Bombardment of Copenhagen, also known as the Second Battle of Copenhagen was controversial at the time. The British, after all, had attacked a neutral country without provocation, causing many civilian casualties. The British government's view was that the attack was a necessary evil and was carried out in order to defend British interests in preventing the Danes, for whatever reason, from interfering with British trade in the Baltic Sea.

In 1807, the French concluded the Treaty of Tilset with the former British ally Russia. Tsar Alexander I of Russia did not announce the treaty until October 31st and the news did not reach London until 3rd December. on 18th December, the British made a counter-declaration which ordered reprisals against all Russian ships and goods. Because of the time of year, there was little of any real use which could be done.

In the meantime, on 2nd October 1807, Commodore Sir Samuel Hood was promoted to Rear-Admiral.

In November 1807, the French invaded British ally Portugal, thus starting the campaign known today as the Peninsular War. This presented the British with a problem in that the Portugese island of Madeiera was a major stopping point for British ships, both warships and merchant ships, on their way down the western coastline of Africa. If the occupied the island, it would cause major disruption to British trade routes to southern Africa and beyond to India and the East Indies. The British decided to occupy the island and Rear-Admiral Hood was given the job of escorting a convoy of troopships carrying a force Major-General William Beresford intended to occupy the island in the name of the King of Portugal, who had been forced to flee with his court and the entire Portugese Navy to Brazil. Hood's force comprised his flagship, plus HMS York (74), HMS Captain (74), HMS Intrepid (64), the ex-French 18pdr armed 38 gun frigate HMS Africaine, the ex-French 18pdr armed 38 gun frigate HMS Alceste, the Frindsbury-built 18pdr-armed 38 gun frigate HMS Shannon and the ex-French 12pdr armed 32 gun frigate HMS Success. The force anchored in Funchal Bay about a cable's length (1,200 ft) from the beach and landed the troops without opposition. The troops quickly took possession, again without opposition, of the forts overlooking the bay and on Boxing Day 1807, the Portugese governor, Pedro Fagundes Bacellar d'Antas e Meneres agreed to the terms of surrender.

Earlier in 1807, the French concluded the Treaty of Tilset with the former British ally Russia. Tsar Alexander I of Russia did not announce the treaty until October 31st and the news did not reach London until 3rd December. On 18th December, the British made a counter-declaration which ordered reprisals against all Russian ships and goods. Because of the time of year, there was little of any real use which could be done, because all of the Russian ports on the Baltic Sea were blocked by ice.

In the middle of May 1808, HMS Centaur had been ordered to the Baltic to join a fleet under the command of Vice-Admiral Sir James Saumarez, flying his command flag in HMS Victory. In addition to the British ships of the line which included HMS Centaur, Saumarez was also overall commander of operations involving the Swedish Navy with a further ten ships of the line. Saumarez had a considerable force under his command. Besides his flagship, the 104 gun First Rate ship of the line HMS Victory and HMS Centaur, there was also HMS Superb, the ex-French HMS Implacable, HMS Brunswick, HMS Mars, HMS Orion, HMS Goliath, HMS Vanguard (all of 74 guns), HMS Africa and HMS Dictator (both of 64 guns), the frigates HMS Euryalus (18pdr 36 guns), HMS Africaine, HMS Salsette (18pdr 36 guns), HMS Tribune (18pdr 36 guns) and HMS Tartar (18pdr 32 guns), plus sloops-of-war and gun brigs. The reason for this is that Sweden, a British ally, had gone to war against both Denmark and Russia. After the Second Battle of Copenhagen, the Danes didn't have a navy as such, but the Russians certainly did. The Russian Baltic Sea Fleet was far more powerful than Sweden's small navy and comprised some twenty ships of the line including three or four First Rate ships with almost all of the rest being ships of 74 guns. In addition to this there were over a dozen frigates and corvettes and some of the frigates were heavy frigates mounting 50 guns. The Swedish navy at the time comprised about a dozen ships of the line and seven or so frigates, but of those, only about half were in any condition to go to war. The reason was that the Swedes had not yet implemented similar healthcare provisions to those of the British and half the seamen in their navy were sick with scurvy with men dying from it daily.

During the previous winter, the Russians had occupied Finland, although their Baltic Sea Fleet was based in Kronshtadt, the main seaport serving the city of St. Petersburg. In early August of 1808, a Russian squadron of nine ships of the line and three heavy frigates moved from Kronshtadt to the port of Hanko Bay in Russian-occupied Finland, chasing off HMS Goliath in the process. The Russian ships in this squadron were the First Rate ships Blagodath of 120 guns and Gabriel of 118 guns in addition to the Amgatten, Boreas, Eagle, Michael, North Star, Selowod and St. Anna (all of 74 guns) with the heavy frigates Argus, Hero and Rapid, each of 50 guns.At the time, a Swedish squadron was anchored in the nearby Oro Roads. This squadron comprised the Gustav IV - Adolph of 78 guns, Uladislaffe of 76 guns, Adolph-Frederic, the Aran, the Dristigheten, Faderneslandet, Gustav III and Manligheten (all of 74 guns) Forsigtigheten and Tapperheten of 66 guns with the frigates Euridice of 46 guns, Chapman of 44 guns, Camilla and Bellona of 42 guns and Janamas of 34 guns.

On 20th August, Rear-Admiral Hood in HMS Centaur with HMS Implacable anchored in the Oro Road and joined the Swedish squadron, with Hood assuming overall command of this force. On the 21st August, the Russian fleet left Hanko Bay and headed towards the Oro Road, with the intention of taking it from the Swedes. On 23rd August, the Russian fleet arrived off the Oro Road and on the 25, Hood's force weighed anchor and sailed out to meet them. What the Russians didn't know was that up to a third of the Swedish sailors were too sick to fight and indeed at noon, most of the sick Swedish sailors had been transferred to the Adolph-Frederic, which had broken company with the fleet and sailed off to the Swedish naval base at Carlscrona. The Russian admiral, Vice-Admiral Chanikov could not help but notice that two of the ships approaching to meet his force flew British colours and he certainly did not want to get involved in a fight with the British. The Swedish ships, with inexperienced and sick crews soon fell behind the pair of British seventy-fours and 20:00, the two British ships found themselves about five miles ahead of the Swedes. Overnight, that distance increased to about ten miles and by 04:00, HMS Implacable was only four or five miles from the fleeing Russians, whose fleet was much scattered and trying to get away under all sail. At 04:30, HMS Implacable's lookouts spotted a Russian two-decker which had become separated from the rest of the fleet. At 05:30, the Russian ship, now identified as the Sewolod passed HMS Implacable's bow and HMS Implacable turned after her. At 06:30, the Sewolod and HMS Implacable again passed each other and this time, the Russian opened fire. HMS Implacable's highly trained and experienced crew immediately returned fire and by 07:20, the British ship had overtaken the Russian and closed the range to about 30 yards and opened fire. Less than half an hour later, the Selowod hauled down her colours in surrender but Rear-Admiral Hood, who had seen that the rest of the Russian fleet had turned and was coming up to help the Sewolod, recalled HMS Implacable. The Russian admiral sent a frigate to tow the Sewolod out of trouble. The Russian ship had suffered 48 men killed with another 80 wounded and her sails and rigging were much cut up in the short engagement with HMS Implacable. The British casualties came to six dead and 26 wounded. After HMS Implacable's crew made repairs to their rigging, both British ships resumed their chase of the Sewolod, which was quickly cast off by the towing frigate. This time, the Russians left the Sewolod to her fate and made into the port of Rogerswick. By 09:20, the Selowod had run aground on a shoal outside the port.

At about noon, the Selowod had got herself afloat again and had anchored just outside the port. Later in the afternoon, the Russians sent a force of boats out to the crippled Sewolod with the intention of towing her into the port, but Rear-Admiral Hood had other ideas. HMS Centaur made to cut the boats off from the Sewolod, followed by HMS Implacable. HMS Centaur had a real struggle against the contrary wind, but by 20:00, came up to the Russians just as their ship was about to enter the port. The starboard hand foremast rigging caught on the Sewolod's bowsprit, but the two ships continued to move up against each other until the Sewolod's bowsprit was lashed to HMS Centaur's mizzen mast rigging. It was Rear-Admiral Hood's intention to use this to tow the Russian ship away, but she had dropped an anchor as soon as the two ships came into contact with each other, which held her fast. At this point, HMS Centaur's starboard side guns opened fire at point blank range, causing terrible destruction aboard the Russian ship. The two crews fought it out at close quarters, each trying to take the other ship, with the Russians pouring a heavy small-arms fire onto HMS Centaur's decks. At about 20:30, HMS Implacable came up and anchored about 300 yards from the action and about ten minutes later, the brave Russian crew surrendered to Hood and his men. Soon after the surrender, the two ships ran aground and on seeing this, the Russian Admiral sent two of his ships of the line to try to recover the Sewolod and capture HMS Centaur. This was frustrated by HMS Implacable taking HMS Centaur in tow and dragging her off the shoal. The British did not attempt to salvage their prize and during the course of the following night and after taking off the wounded and prisoners, the Sewolod was burned by the British.

Sewolod burns while HMS Centaur, HMS Implacable and the Russian fleet look on:

On the 30th August, Hood's Anglo-Swedish fleet was joined by Saumarez in HMS Victory in company with HMS Mars, HMS Goliath and HMS Africa. Expecting the British to attack, Vice-Admiral Chanikov spent his time having his ships moored in defensive positions and threw up shore batteries to defend his fleet in their anchorage. An attempt to use fireships to destroy the Russians in their anchorage was frustrated by the Russians rigging a stout boom across the mouth of the harbour and in early October, mindful of the approaching winter, the British and the Swedes retired, leaving the Russians free to return to Kronstadt.

In 1810, both Captain Webley and Rear-Admiral Hood left HMS Centaur; Captain Webley to take command of the brand new 74 gun ship HMS Minden and Hood to take up an appointment as Commander-in-Chief in the East Indies. Promoted to Vice-Admiral on 1st August 1811, Sir Samuel Hood died in Madras on 24th December 1814 from malaria.

Between June 1811 and August 1812, HMS Centaur was engaged on the blockade of Toulon, returning to Plymouth on 3rd October 1812. From then, the ship was in the Channel Fleet, employed in blockading the remains of the French navy in their Atlantic ports. By April 1814, HMS Centaur was under the command of Captain John Chambers White and on the 6th, anchored in the mouth of the Gironde River in company with the 74 gun ship of the line HMS Egmont. Preparations were made to attack the French 74 gun ship Regulus, three brig-corvettes and other vessels in addition to shore batteries covering the enemy vessels. The plan was frustrated when, at midnight, the French set fire to all the vessels. The war ended a few days later when the Treaty of Fontainebleu was signed.

On 18th November 1815, HMS Centaur arrived at Plymouth and was paid off. The ship went into the Plymouth Ordinary and remained there until November 1819, when she was taken into the Royal Dockyard and broken up.
"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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