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Author Topic: HMS Atlas (1782 - 1821)  (Read 4059 times)

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Offline mikeb

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Re: HMS Atlas (1782 - 1821)
« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2016, 13:33:57 »
Yet again Bilgerat, an excellent (x2) read. Thankyou.

Offline Dave Smith

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Re: HMS Atlas (1782 - 1821)
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2016, 13:32:20 »
Sorry it was a bit off topic but was relevant to the paintings. Thanks very much, most interesting.

Offline Bilgerat

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Re: HMS Atlas (1782 - 1821)
« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2016, 13:10:41 »
A good question and one I was rather hoping wouldn't be asked because the answer is quite complex and takes the thread off topic. It's been asked now and thoroughly deserves an answer, so here goes:

If you look at paintings of British warships of the period, you'll find that they fly ensigns of all the colours seen today, red, white and blue. Back then, the meanings of these ensigns was different to what they are today. Traditionally, the fleet was divided into three squadrons, red, white and blue. There was a.pecking order to the squadrons with white being the most senior and red being the junior. Flag officers were appointed into the squadrons in that at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson was a Vice-Admiral of the White and ships in his fleet flew the white ensign. At the time of Howe's Relief of Gibraltar, Lord Howe was an Admiral of the Blue, so his ships flew a blue ensign. Because of the relative seniority of the squadrons, an admiral of the white outranked an admiral of the blue, who outranked an admiral of the red.

The squadron structure had fallen out of practical use by the mid-18th century and existed only on paper. It was done away with altogether towards the middle of the 19th century and the Royal Navy adopted the white ensign across the whole fleet.

I've avoided the use of white blue and red flag ranks in my essays because I felt that it would complicate things unnecessarily.

I think the current system of British ensigns was adopted in the mid-19th century, with a red ensign signifying a private vessel on private business, a blue ensign signifying a vessel on government business and a white ensign signifying a vessel of the Royal Navy.
"I did not say that the French will not come, I said they will not come by sea" - Lord St Vincent

Offline Dave Smith

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Re: HMS Atlas (1782 - 1821)
« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2016, 11:35:19 »
Bilgerat. I notice that sometimes they fly the Red Duster & sometimes the Red Ensign; no doubt you can tell me why please?

Offline StuarttheGrant

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Re: HMS Atlas (1782 - 1821)
« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2016, 22:14:23 »
Bilgerat you are such a good Historian , with the gift of bringing facts to life.
I am always delighted to find one of your essays, you never fail to thrill and delight the intellect.
 Thanks for all the outstanding articles.

Offline Bilgerat

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Re: HMS Atlas (1782 - 1821)
« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2016, 18:28:45 »
In order to get around the 30,000 character limit on post sizes, this is in two parts. This is Part One and introduces the ship and deals with Howe's Relief of Gibraltar and the Battle of Cape Spartel

HMS Atlas was a 98 gun, Second-Rate ship of the line of the Duke Class and was built at the Royal Dockyard, Chatham.

The Duke Class was a group of four Second Rate ships of the line and HMS Atlas was the only one of the class built in a Kent shipyard. She was also the last of of the class to be ordered. HMS Atlas was one of four Second Rate ships of the line ordered during the American War of Independence and was the only one of the four to be built to Sir John Williams' design for HMS Duke. The other three Second-Rate ships (HMS Impregnable, HMS Prince and HMS Windsor Castle) had been built to Sir Thomas Slade's design for HMS London (itself launched from Chatham in 1766). The other Duke Class ships (HMS Duke, HMS Glory and HMS St. George) had been ordered in the period between the end of the Seven Years War (1756 - 1763) and the beginning of the American War of Independence. Of the other three ships of the Duke Class, HMS Duke and HMS Glory had been built at the Plymouth Royal Dockyard with HMS St. George being built at Portsmouth.

See here for the stories of HMS Impregnable:

HMS Prince:

HMS Windsor Castle:

and HMS London:

The Second Rate ship of the line (carrying more than 80, 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 eight First Rate ships in commission and that included two ex-Spanish vessels, 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 in that 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 make the enemy much less keen on fighting. 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 Tuesday 5th August 1777, the Comptroller of the Navy Board wrote to the Resident Commissioner at the Chatham Royal Dockyard asking him to cause to be set up in the King's Dock Yard, a Ship of the Line of the Second Rate, to be fitted with 98 guns as per the attached dafts and specifications. Mr Charles Proby passed the package to Mr Israel Pownall, the Master Shipwright. A ship of this size required a huge amount of timber to be gathered and seasoned whilst in the meantime, the drawings were expanded into full size on the Mould Loft floor and moulds made from fir. The moulds would be used by the shipwrights and the sawyers to mark out and cut and steam the timbers into shape. The first keel section, made from elm, was laid on the No.1 slipway at Chatham on Wednesday 1st October 1777. Over the course of the next three years, the ship slowly took shape. After the frame was completed, it was left, covered by tarpaulins, to season and to settle into place before the hull planking and decks were installed, the fixtures and fittings attached and the hull was painted. On Wednesday 13th February 1782, the mighty ship was launched with all due ceremony into the River Medway.

While the ship had been taking shape on the No.1 slipway at Chatham, what had started as a colonial brushfire had escalated into an all-out world war between the superpowers of the day. The war in mainland America had gone very badly wrong for the British when in September 1781, the bulk of the British army in North America had been forced to surrender at Yorktown, leaving the British position untenable. Immediately after her launch, the ship was secured to a mooring buoy and was fitted with over 20 miles of rigging, sails, masts, guns and the many tons of stores she needed. While all this was going on, the ship was commissioned under Captain George Vandeput

On completion, HMS Atlas was a ship of 1,950 tons. She was 177ft 7in long on her upper gundeck, 145ft 8in long at the keel and 50ft 2in wide across the beam. She drew 13ft 10in of water at the bow and 18ft 8in at the rudder. Her hold between the orlop and her bottom was 21ft 2in deep. The ship was armed with 28 32pdr long guns on the lower gundeck, 30 18pdr long guns on the middle gundeck, 30 12pdr long guns on the upper gundeck with 2 9pdr long guns on the forecastle and 8 6pdr long guns on the quarterdeck. Her poop deck was fitted with 6 12pdr carronades, with four more being fitted to her forecastle. The ship was to be manned by a crew of 750 officers, men, boys and Royal Marines.

Plans of the Duke Class as originally built

Orlop Plan:

Lower Gundeck Plan:

Middle Gundeck Plan:

Upper Gundeck Plan:

Quarterdeck and Forecastle Plan:

Poop Deck Plan:

Inboard Profile and Plan:

Sheer Plan, Lines and details of the stern:

This painting by Derek Gardner shows HMS Glory. Also a Duke class ship, HMS Atlas as built was identical. The two-decked ship to her right is HMS Valiant.

See here for the story of HMS Valiant:

On 30th March 1782, HMS Atlas was declared complete. By the time this occurred, the ship had cost £50,350.7s.4d. On completion, Captain Vandeput's first task was to take the new ship to Portsmouth, where she was to join the Channel Fleet.

The year of 1782 was a time of profound political change in the UK. Like many senior naval officers of his day, Vice Admiral Richard Howe was an MP as well as serving in the Royal Navy. The political landscape at the time of the American War of Independence has been sketched out in this article:

Following the indecisive result of the First battle of Ushant in 1778, Admiral Sir Augustus Keppel, Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Fleet, had resigned from the Royal Navy in disgust at his treatment by the Tory government of Lord North and their supporters after a fierce political row and a number of senior naval officers had either followed him, or had simply not been given new appointments. Vice-Admiral Howe was amongst them. All this changed after the fall of Lord North's government in March 1782 and it's replacement with a weak Whig-led coalition under Charles Watson-Wentworth, the Second Marquess Rockingham. The change of government also led to a change of faces at the top of the Royal Navy. The First Lord of the Admiralty, the ardent Tory Lord Sandwich was replaced by Keppel and one of his first acts was to appoint Vice-Admiral Howe as Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Fleet. After the end of the war ashore in America, things continued as before at sea. Britain was standing alone against the combined might of France, Spain and Holland and trade. British possessions in the Caribbean and India had to be protected, as well as her trade routes into the Baltic and the Mediterranean, not to mention the need to protect the UK itself. Howe was promoted to full Admiral shortly after taking up his new appointment on 8th April 1782 and on 20th, was elevated to the peerage, being made a Viscount. Among the many problems facing the new Commander-in-Chief was the relief of Gibraltar. The Spanish had entered the war in 1779, but were more interested in regaining Gibraltar than in anything else and had laid seige to the Rock almost the instant the war against the British had started. Thus far, Gibraltar had held out in what is now known as the Great Seige but by September 1782, was in dire need of relief. Gibraltar had already been relieved twice before during the war, firstly by Vice-Admiral Sir George Rodney in the spring of 1780 and again by Vice-Admiral Sir George Darby in April 1781. Beginning on 13th September 1782, the garrison in Gibraltar had succeeded in repulsing a massive assault by a Franco-Spanish force, with heavy loss of life to the Spanish.

In the UK, a fleet of transports had been assembled at Spithead, which was to be escorted to Gibraltar by the bulk of Lord Howe's Channel Fleet, comprised at the time of no less than 35 ships of the line. Howe was to force the convoy through the Franco-Spanish blockade, come what may. On 11th September, the fleet departed Spithead, arriving off Gibraltar on 11th October. At this point, the British had an amazing stroke of luck. A storm had scattered the enemy fleet on the 10th October and Howe was able to get the convoy into Gibraltar without opposition. The same storm also swept Howe's fleet eastwards, into the Mediterranean and Howe knew that he would have to get through the massive enemy fleet, of 49 ships of the line, fighting his way through them if necessary, to get the bulk of the Royal Navy's battlefleet home.

HMS Atlas had been assigned to the First Division of the Vanguard, led by Vice-Admiral Samuel Barrington, flying his command flag in the 100 gun First rate ship of the line HMS Britannia, while Howe himself was commanding the fleet from the 100 gun First Rate ship HMS Victory. On 19th October, the enemy was sighted to the east of Gibraltar, so Howe ordered the fleet to weigh anchor and head west. Howe did not want to engage the superior Franco-Spanish force, which had the advantage of having more larger ships in that no less than seven of their ships mounted 100 or more guns. This included the gigantic Spanish ship Santissima Trinidad, mounting 140 guns on 4 gundecks; the largest and most powerful ship in the world at the time. Howe, on the other hand, only had two ships mounting 100 guns, HMS Victory and HMS Britannia. The British ships had the advantage of having their bottoms coppered and this gave them a huge advantage in speed.

Howe wanted to give the Spanish the impression he wanted to fight, so that they would shorten sail and prepare for battle and to this end, he ordered his fleet to reduce sail and to tighten the line of battle. Early in the morning 20th October, the Spanish Admiral, Louis de Cordova signalled a general chase, intending to fall on the British line of battle and annihilate them with weight of numbers and superior firepower. At about 13:00, the British further reduced sail, allowing the Spanish to close within about two miles and at 17:45, the Spanish vanguard opened fire, to which the British replied in kind. Howe then ordered his fleet to make all sail and use their advantage of superior speed and get away from the Spanish. By dawn the following day, the fleets were about 12 miles apart, with the British pulling away. The Spanish gave up their attempts at bringing Howe's fleet to action and resumed their blockade of Gibraltar. Gibraltar was saved and was able to hold out for the rest of the war. The Great Seige of Gibraltar, from 1779 to 1783 remains the longest seige ever endured by British forces.

Howe's Relief of Gibraltar by Richard Paton:

In what is now known as the Battle of Cape Spartel, HMS Atlas had come under fire from the enemy, resulting in two dead and three wounded.

With nothing left to fight over, the new government in the UK wanted the war ended as soon as possible, so in April 1782, had opened talks with the other combatant nations. France, already pretty much bankrupt when the war had started in 1778, was only too happy to negotiate and it was clear to the Spanish that their primary aim of retaking Gibraltar was not going to happen any time soon, so they were also happy to begin peace talks. The Royal Navy's ability to relieve any seige which might be laid against the Rock strengthened Britain's hand in the negotiations and they refused to consider anything offered by the Spanish in exchange for it. The negotiations resulted in the Treaty of Paris, signed in September of 1783, to be effective from the following March, but by then, the war was all but over anyway. Following their usual practice, the Royal Navy began the process of paying off and laying up their largest warships and this included HMS Atlas. She was paid off into the Portsmouth Ordinary in March 1783 and over the course of the following month, all her running rigging, sails, yards, guns and stores were removed and the ship was secured to a buoy in Portsmouth Harbour under the care of a skeleton crew and became the responsibility of the Master Attendant at the Portsmouth Royal Dockyard.

Whilst in the Portsmouth 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.

With the ship laid up, the country entered a period of peace and stability, but the same cannot be said of Britain's neighbours. The victories won and the territories gained had enabled the country to shrug off the loss of the American colonies and indeed, trade with the newly independent United States of America thrived. On the continent, revolution was in the air and the first country to fall under it's spell was Holland. In 1787, a near revolution occurred in Holland which led to a brief civil war. The British, alarmed at the state of affairs in Holland, began to mobilise for war and in October 1787, HMS Atlas was commissioned into the Channel Fleet and work began to prepare the ship for sea service. Later in the month, as far as the British government was concerned, the crisis had passed and the ship was paid off back into the Portsmouth Ordinary.

Although the civil war in Holland had ended with the republicans being defeated, it was a portent of things to come. In July 1789, after years of hardship following a war from which France had gained nothing and a famine which saw people starving to death on the streets of Paris, the King of France, King Louis XVI was removed from the position of absolute power the French kings had enjoyed for centuries in the French Revolution. Chaos in France followed. Initially, the British supported the Revolution, hoping that it would bring an end to the willingness of the French to go to war on the whim of the King. France would instead be governed by a constitutional monarchy like our own, where the power of the king was limited by an elected assembly, the National Convention.

In 1790, there were two crises which brought Britain to the brink of war. Firstly, the Spanish Armaments Crisis, which had seen Britain and Spain drift towards war in a territorial dispute over a settlement on Vancouver Island which had been established by British traders in defiance of a Spanish territorial claim over the entire western coastline of both American continents. Although the Spanish Armaments Crisis was resolved peacefully after the French declined to get involved, later in 1790, a new crisis erupted. The Russian Armaments Crisis occurred when an ongoing war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire threatened to spill over into Europe, but the British declined to come to their Prussian ally's assistance and this too, ended peacefully for the British.

Meanwhile, in France, things continued to go from bad to worse. The Revolution had sparked a power struggle between the King who wanted a return to the previous Absolute Monarchy style of government and the National Convention, which was increasingly coming under the control of the republican Jacobin movement. Tensions continued to grow, with rioting between groups of rival supporters breaking out in many French cities and the country began the slide towards civil war. The British, alarmed at the state of affairs in the rival superpower on their doorstep, began to quietly intervene and started to supply arms and money to Royalist groups, particularly on the French Biscay coast. Things came to a head in December 1792, when the King attempted to flee Paris and join up with Royalist forces and was caught and imprisoned. The King and Queen Marie Antoinette were tried and convicted for treason and were executed in the Place de la Revolution on 21st January 1793. In protest, the British expelled the French Ambassador and in response, France declared war on 1st February, starting what is now know as the French Revolutionary War.

With the outbreak of war, Lord Howe resumed command of the Channel Fleet, but despite this, HMS Atlas remained in the Portsmouth Ordinary until March of 1795, when she recommissioned into the Channel Fleet under Captain Edmund Dod. As part of the work of preparing the ship for service, her quarterdeck 6pdr guns and forecastle 9pdr guns were replaced by bigger and more powerful 12pdr guns.

HMS Atlas remained at Spithead throughout the rest of 1795, by which time Admiral Sir Alexander Hood, the Viscount Bridport, had succeeded Lord Howe in command of the Channel Fleet.

On 17th December 1796, a French squadron of nine ships of the line under Rear-Admiral Bouvet managed to get out of Brest and avoiding the blockading squadron commanded by Vice-Admiral Sir John Colpoys, broke out into the Atlantic Ocean. On 20th December, Captain Sir Edward Pellew in the 24pdr armed 44 gun razee frigate HMS Indefatigable arrived at Falmouth carrying news of the French escape. On receiving the news, the Admiralty ordered Lord Bridport to put to sea with the Channel Fleet and hunt them down. On Christmas Day 1796, the Channel Fleet began to put to sea. In adverse winds, the departure was delayed by a number of accidents. HMS Prince (98) collided with HMS Sans Pareil (80), damaging both ships, HMS Prince to the extent that she required time in a dry dock to repair the damage. In addition, HMS Atlas ran aground and HMS Formidable (98) collided with the brand new first rate ship HMS Ville de Paris (110), damaging both ships. It was to be the 3rd January 1797 before Lord Bridport was able to get to sea with a fleet of 14 ships of the line, six frigates, a fireship and an armed cutter. Lord Bridport and his fleet spent the next couple of weeks searching in vain for the French and having not found them, returned to Spithead on the 3rd February. The fleet again left Spithead on the 3rd March, for a cruise off the French naval base at Brest. After seeing that the French were not intending to put to sea any time soon, Lord Bridport returned to Spithead leaving a squadron under Rear-Admiral Sir Roger Curtis with nine ships of the line to continue the blockade.

See here for the story of HMS Formidable:

HMS Ville de Paris:
"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 Atlas (1782 - 1821)
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2016, 18:23:25 »
Part Two - The Great Mutiny at Spithead, conversion to a 74 gun ship, the Battle of San Domingo, the Defence of Cadiz and fate

By this time, disaffection with their lot had spread amongst the sailors of the Channel Fleet and during routine movements of men between ships, plans had been laid to do something about it. A petition was raised and was sent to Lord Howe, whom the men greatly trusted and respected. Howe, in turn, asked Rear-Admiral Lord Seymour to investigate whether or not the men were really that unhappy and Seymour reported back that this was not the case. Howe came to regard the petition as being the work of troublemakers and decided to ignore it, but sent a copy of it to Lord Spencer, First Lord of the Admiralty anyway. The men, on receiving no response from Lord Howe decided to put their plan into action and the men of HMS Royal George were to begin what became known as the Great Mutiny at Spithead. On 15th April 1797, Lord Bridport gave the order for the Channel Fleet to put to sea. Instead of weighing the anchors, the men of HMS Royal George (100) ran into the rigging and gave three cheers. This was the signal for the mutiny to begin and as one, the men of every ship of the Channel Fleet in the anchorage off St Helens, Isle of Wight, refused to weigh anchor as ordered. The captains and officers of the Channel Fleet were astonished at this unified act of disobedience and regardless of what was threatened, the men stood firm. On 16th April, the ships companies of the fleet each elected two delegates and agreed that meetings should take place in the Admirals quarters on HMS Queen Charlotte. The following day, all the men of the fleet were sworn to support the cause and ropes were hung from the yards of the ships as a signal that the men meant business. Officers regarded as being overly oppressive were ordered ashore. On the same day, two petitions were drawn up, one for the Admiralty and one for Parliament. The petitions contained the men's demands, which were:

1) that the 'pursers pound' (14 ounces instead of 16) be abolished and that their provisions be increased to the full 16 ounce pound.
2) that their wages be increased (up to this point, the sailors of the Royal Navy had not had a pay rise for over a century)
3) that vegetables instead of flour be served with beef
4) that the sick be better attended to and that their necessities not be embezzled
5) that the men, on returning from sea, be given a short period of shore leave to visit their families.
6) that certain named officers be withdrawn from sea service on account of their cruelty and/or incompetence.
7) that an Act of Indemnity be passed by the Parliament
8) that they would not weigh anchor unless either the French were directly threatening the UK or until their demands were met.

The Great Mutiny is so-called because the sailors refused to obey orders to put to sea. The ringleaders of the Mutiny were clearly intelligent men with an eye on the public perception of their acts. They decided that only the Channel Fleet's ships of the line would be affected. Frigates and smaller vessels were still needed to escort convoys past the dangers presented by French naval units and privateers, so their crews continued with their duties as normal. In addition, the mutineers announced that although they were refusing to put to sea, they would return to duty if the French appeared off the coast. All other aspects of naval discipline were maintained. 'Mutiny' is defined as a deliberate refusal to obey orders and in that sense, the Great Mutiny meets the narrowest definition of the word. In it's effects however, the Great Mutiny was actually more akin to a strike over pay and conditions. The mutineers were what would today be called 'media savvy' in that they did not give the Government anything which could be used to turn public opinion against them.

Once it became clear that, whatever was threatened, the men of the Channel Fleet meant business and would not back down, the Government entered into negotiations to end the strike. Lord Howe came out of retirement and acted as the intermediary between the delegates, the Admiralty and the Government. He was hugely respected by all sides and had been going backward and forward between Portsmouth and London as the negotiations progressed. On 14th May Lord Howe returned from London bringing with him the requested Act of Parliament and having been granted the authority to settle the dispute. In addition, he brought with him a Royal Proclamation of a pardon for all involved in the Mutiny. The Act of Parliament basically granted all the men's requests. At 10:00 on 16th May, the Great Mutiny at Spithead finally ended when the ships of the Channel Fleet at Spithead put to sea.

See here for the story of HMS Royal George:

HMS Queen Charlotte:

HMS Atlas was to spend the rest of this phase of her career with the Channel Fleet, departing for patrols of the French coast. On 11th December 1798 during one of her stays at Spithead, the ships largest boat, the Launch, was on it's way back from the shore with the ship's Surgeon and seventeen men aboard. Caught in conflicting currents, the boat capsized, near to where the 12pdr armed 32 gun frigate HMS Niger was moored and all the men went into the freezing water. The frigate's captain, Captain Matthew Scott was on deck at the time and saw the accident. He jumped into the water and personally saved three of the men and others were rescued by other boats which were in the vicinity. The surgeon however, was not one of those saved. When he was pulled from the water, he was dead.

See here for the story of HMS Niger:

The year of 1800 got off to a bad start for the ship and her crew. On the 1st January, she arrived in Plymouth Harbour from Cawsand Bay and departed again on the 7th. While making her way out of Plymouth Sound to head up the Homoaze, she missed her stays. That is that in the process of going about, changing tack by passing the bow through the eye of the wind, she didn't have the momentumn to complete the manoeuvre and went out of control. Drifting helpessly with her sails flapping in utter confusion, the ship ran aground on the south-eastern ridge of St Nicholas's Island and became stuck fast. This was no soft sandbar or mudbank, it is a granite ridge and the ship was in real danger of having her bottom ripped out by the sharp rock. In 1758, in exactly the same spot, the 74 gun ship HMS Conqueror had been lost under the same circumstances. Her crew immediately began to try to lighten the ship by cutting the masts down. Fortunately, the 18pdr armed ex-French 38 gun frigate HMS Loire was coming into Plymouth and saw HMS Atlas' difficulty. The ship anchored as close to HMS Atlas as her captain dared, laying out three anchors. A stoud line was secured to HMS Atlas and using her capstans, brute force and the boats of the fleet which had by now come to assist, HMS Atlas was dragged off the rocks and anchored in Plymouth sound at about 15:00. On the 9th January, the ship went into the Royal Dockyard and was completely unloaded, with everything being taken off. On 17th, she was drydocked for repairs to her lower hull, which took until the 10th of February.

The Dockyard took the opportunity to refit the ship and she departed Plymouth for Cawsand Bay on the 3rd of May. On the 14th, she sailed to rejoin the Channel Fleet, but suffered another mishap four days later. Whilst at sea, the ship was caught in a severe storm off Brest. While the ships were laying to under storm stay-sails, a sudden and unexpected change in the wind knocked a number of the ships onto their sides. Although they all righted themselves before they foundered, some were damaged and HMS Atlas was one of these. She suffered damage to her main topmast, which required repairs. Following these dramas, HMS Atlas returned to the Channel Fleet and the never-ending monotony of blockade duty.

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 Atlas was one of a number of ships anchored off Beerhaven, Bantry Bay in southern Ireland, when orders were received from Vice-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 in addition to HMS Atlas were HMS Temeraire (98), HMS Princess Royal (98), HMS Windsor Castle (98), HMS Barfleur (98), HMS Formidable (98), HMS Namur (90), HMS Malta (80), HMS Centaur (74), HMS Resolution (74), HMS Vengeance (74) and HMS Majestic (74).

See here for the stories of HMS Temeraire:

HMS Barfleur:

HMS Centaur:

and 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.

See here for the story of HMS Achille:

On 25th March 1802, after peace negotiations which had been going on since the previous November, the Treaty of Amiens was signed, ending the French Revolutionary War. On 5th April 1802, HMS Atlas departed Spithead, bound for Chatham, to begin the next phase of her career.

By this time, new, bigger Second-Rate ships were entering service and as one of the newest of the older generation of such ships, HMS Atlas, together with her sister-ship HMS Glory had been chosen to be cut down. The reason was that the Royal Navy simply didn't need so many ships of this size with the newer ships coming into service. What they did need instead was Third Rate ships, of which, despite their numbers in the fleet, there were never enough. By this stage, the 64 gun third rate ship was seen as obsolete and too small and weak to realistically stand in a line of battle against bigger and more heavily armed French and Spanish 74 and 80 gun ships. The Navy Board was engaged in a series of disputes with private shipbuilders of the pricing of new ships and although a large number of them were being built in untried shipyards and with the ever increasing average age of a ship of the line on the fleet, supply just couldn't keep up with demand. Cutting down surplus Second Rate ships seemed to be a good way of alleviating the pressure on the shipbuilding program and HMS Atlas was one of a number of Second Rate ships chosen to be cut down.

HMS Atlas arrived at Chatham and in November 1802, the work began. The ship was to undergo some major surgery. Her poop deck and forecastle were removed altogether, with the quarterdeck being cut back to form a new poop deck and a section of the upper gundeck removed to create a new quarterdeck and forecastle. One consequence of this is that the captains quarters became more spacious as the old quarters were removed along with the poop deck and the former admirals quarters on what had been the upper gundeck, which had thus far never been used for their intended purpose, became the new quarters for the ships commanding officer.

The work to convert HMS Atlas into a Middling Type, 74 gun, Third rate ship of the line was finally completed in May of 1804 and the ship recommissioned at Chatham under Captain William Johnstone. When recommissioned, HMS Atlas was now armed with 28 32pdr long guns on the lower gundeck, 30 18pdr long guns on the upper gundeck with 4 12pdr long guns on her forecastle and 12 more on the quarterdeck. She was also fitted with six 18pdr carronades on the new poop deck.

By the time the ship recomissioned, the Peace of Amiens had ended and what is now known as the Napoleonic War had begun. The ship was commissioned into the North Sea Fleet and spent the next three months employed on the blockade of the Dutch naval base at Texel.

By January 1806, HMS Atlas was in the Caribbean under Captain Samuel Pym and was assigned to the Barbados Station under the command of Rear-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, who flew his command flag in the 74 gun ship HMS Northumberland. On 21st January 1806, HMS Atlas was ordered to join a squadron under Vice-Admiral Sir John Duckworth which had arrived in the Caribbean after having abandoned their blockade of Cadiz, pursued and lost a French squadron which had broken out of Rochefort. Duckworth and his ships had arrived in order to resupply and head back across the Atlantic in order to resume their blockade of Cadiz. What Sir John Duckworth didn't know was that another French squadron, under Vice-Admiral Corentin Leissegues had broken out of Brest and was also headed for the Caribbean intending to conduct commerce-raiding operations. Fate intervened when the 32 pdr carronade-armed 16 gun ship-sloop HMS Kingfisher brought news that a squadron of French ships of the line had been sighted at San Domingo and that the French force consisted of the 120 gun ship of the line Imperial, plus four two-deckers, two frigates and a corvette. Duckworth immediately ordered his ships to sea and split his squadron into three divisions. The first division, led by Duckworth in his flagship, the Northfleet-built HMS Superb (74) also comprised HMS Northumberland, HMS Spencer (74) and HMS Agamemnon (64). The second division, led by Rear-Admiral Thomas Louis in HMS Canopus (80) also comprised HMS Atlas and the ex-French HMS Donegal (74). The third division, led by Captain Richard Dalling Dunn in the 18pdr armed 40 gun frigate HMS Acasta also comprised the 12pdr armed 32 gun frigate HMS Magicienne, HMS Kingfisher and the 16 gun ex-French brig-sloop HMS Epervier. This division was to take no part in the forthcoming battle, except to pick up men in the water and to tow badly damaged ships out of the battle. This was because of the unwritten rule that ships of the line do not fire on smaller warships like frigates and sloops unless first fired upon.

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

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

Because of their closeness to the shore, Duckworth ordered his ships to withdraw. The French frigates and the corvette had escaped, but apart from them, the French squadron had been utterly defeated. Imperial and Diomede were hard aground and had been abandoned by their surviving crews. Alexandre had been dismasted and was damaged beyond repair. Brave and Jupiter had surrendered. The French had suffered over 1,500 dead or wounded, the British had suffered 74 dead and 264 wounded across the whole squadron. The rout of the French squadron was complete.

HMS Atlas' casualties came to seven seamen and one Royal Marine killed with Mr William Mowbray, Master, Mr James Spargo, Boatswain and nine seamen wounded.

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

On 8th February, Vice-Admiral Duckworth ordered that men from the frigates HMS Acasta (40) and HMS Magicienne (32) board the Imperial and the Diomede, take off any survivors and destroy the enemy ships. This was achieved without opposition.

The Battle of San Domingo by Thomas Lyde Hornbrook

This painting shows HMS Acasta and HMS Magicienne (foreground) recovering their boats after setting fire to the Diomede and Imperial (hard aground in the background).

See here for the stories of HMS Superb:

and HMS Northumberland:

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

By the summer of 1808, HMS Atlas was off Cadiz, as flagship of Rear-Admiral John Child Purvis, under Captain James Sanders. At this time, although they were still allies, the French were exerting an increasing level of control over the government of Spain. After the defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar, tensions rose between the allies and Spain began to ally herself towards the British. This changed when British ally Prussia was defeated by the French in 1807 and Spain changed allegiances again, back to the French. This switching of allegiances caused Napoleon to mistrust his Spanish allies and undermined the authority of King Charles IV of Spain. In 1807, there was an attempted coup when the King of Spain's eldest son and heir to the throne, Crown Prince Ferdinand attempted to seize power for himself. All this upheaval and instability forced the French to send 100,000 troops to Spain and the country came under a French occupation. On 19th March, following an uprising at the Winter Palace at Aranjuez, King Charles IV abdicated and was succeeded by his son, who became King Ferdinand VII.  The situation in Spain continued to spiral out of control and the following month, after having received an appeal from Charles for help in regaining his throne, Napoleon summoned both Fredinand and Charles to Bayonne in France, where he forced them both to abdicate, declared the Bourbon Dynasty deposed and declared his brother Joseph to be King Joseph I of Spain. This in turn led to a mutiny in the Spanish army and an uprising in Madrid, starting on 2nd May and which was brutally put down by the French. The situation in Spain continued to deteriorate and fighting broke out between French and Spanish forces in Spain, a chain of events which marked the beginning of the Peninsular War.

In the meantime, Rear-Admiral Purvis was in contact with the Spanish authorites in Cadiz and was anticipating a Spanish declaration of war. His prime concern was that a squadron of French ships of the line was at the time in Cadiz and he offered British support to force these ships to surrender. Vice-Admiral Rosily, the French commander, moved his ships out of range of the Spanish shore batteries and offered to leave, if the British would allow it. This was not going to happen and over the course of the next few days, the Spanish moved guns and gunboats to within range of the French ships and on the 14th after enduring a sustained bombardment, the French squadron surrendered to the Spanish. Soon after this, a group of Spanish diplomats went to London to treat with the British. On the 4th July 1808, the British government ordered that all hostilities against Spain were to end and that henceforth, the Spanish should be given every asssistance in their fight against their former allies.

HMS Atlas remained off Cadiz and starting in February 1810, the city came under a sustained French seige and the ship and her crew became involved in the defence of the city. The French occupied Fort Catalina, overlooking the Bay of Cadiz and it became vital for the British to either take the fort or destroy it. HMS Atlas contributed men to two divisions of gunboats which along with a division of Spanish gunboats plus the bomb vessels HMS Aetna, HMS Devastation and HMS Thunder, bombarded the fort. The French were also attempting to disrupt the flow of shipping in and out of Cadiz with a division of their own gunboats, based at Porto de Santa Maria on the other side of the Bay. Captain Sanders surveyed a canal which would allow the British to approach the fort from the sea and it was eventually destroyed. During her time engaged in the defence of Cadiz, HMS Atlas suffered casualties of 50 men killed or wounded manning the gunboats before the ship was declared to be defective and returned to the UK in December 1810.

On her arrival at Portsmouth, HMS Atlas was paid off into the Portsmouth Ordinary. She remained there until she was converted into a prison hulk during December of 1813, in order to accomodate the large numbers of French prisoners of war being taken in Spain. This saw the removal of all her stores, masts, rigging and guns, with a roof being built over the upper decks.

The Napoleonic War was ended by the Treaty of Fontainebleu, signed on 11th April 1814. With the war over, the ship was no longer needed as a prison hulk, so between October 1814 and January 1815, she was converted again into a powder hulk, moored in Portsmouth Harbour. She continued in this role until May of 1821, when she was taken into the Royal Dockyard and was 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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