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Author Topic: HMS Medusa (1801 - 1816)  (Read 2516 times)

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Offline Bilgerat

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Re: HMS Medusa (1801 - 1816)
« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2017, 21:37:38 »
This is in two parts to get over the 30,000 character limit. This is Part One. It introduces the ship and covers Nelson's Raids on Boulogne in 1801.

HMS Medusa was a Fifth Rate, 18pdr-armed 32 gun frigate of the Amphion Class, built under contract for the Royal Navy at the shipyard of Thomas Pitcher and Son in Northfleet.

These days, Northfleet is a commuter town in North Kent, on the south bank of the River Thames, home to a large paper mill and a metal refinery and one whose other former primary employers, the cement industry and the cable works have both now gone. Back in the late 18th and early 19th centuries however, it was a busy commercial port and thriving shipbuilding centre, building ships for the Honourable East India Company, the West Indies trade and the Royal Navy.

The Amphion Class was a group of five frigates, designed by Sir William Rule, of which two were built in Kent shipyards. The other Kent-built ship was HMS Aeolus, built at the shipyard of Mrs Frances Barnard at Deptford.

The contract to build HMS Medusa was signed at the offices of the Navy Board in London on Tuesday, 28th January 1800. The ship's first keel section was laid at Northfleet during April of 1800. By this time, what is known as the French Revolutionary War, which had begun over seven years before, was in full swing. Although the first major campaign of the war, Lord Hood's Toulon Campaign, had ended in disaster, the war at sea had gone spectacularly well for the British. In June of 1794, the British Channel Fleet under Admiral Lord Howe, which despite the fact that it had failed to find and destroy a massive convoy from the USA bringing much-needed famine relief to France, had inflicted a crushing defeat on the French Atlantic Fleet in the Battle of the Glorious First of June. A year later, the French had been defeated again by Vice-Admiral Lord Bridport in the Battle of Ile Groix.  In 1797, the Dutch fleet had been comprehensively defeated within sight of their own coast by Admiral Sir Adam Duncan in the bloody Battle of Camperdown and a year later, a division of the British Mediterranean Fleet under Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson had annihilated a French fleet in the Battle of the Nile, leaving an entire French army stranded in the Egyptian desert. Prior to that,  the then Commodore Nelson had been instrumental in Vice-Admiral Sir John Jervis' stunning victory over the Spanish Cadiz fleet in the Second Battle of Cape St Vincent.

After these defeats, the enemy rarely ventured out to sea in numbers and the naval war become one of patrols and blockades and what actions did occur were usually small-scale battles or actions between individual ships, in which a rampant Royal Navy usually ended up victorious. Although the Royal Dockyards and the commercial shipbuilders were producing a steady stream of new ships of the line, there was not yet a massive programme of building such ships on the scale of that seen during the previous American War of Independence (1775 - 1784) and the Seven Years War (1756 - 1763). What was happening was instead a programme of building large numbers of frigates and sloops-of-war, of which there were never enough and the Amphion Class was a part of this programme.

HMS Medusa was launched into the River Thames, her hull complete, on 14th April 1801 and after her launch, the ship was taken to the Royal Dockyard at Woolwich, a few miles upstream closer to London, to be fitted with her guns, masts, miles of rigging and to take on her crew and the many tons of stores needed to keep a man 'o' war at sea for months on end. During fitting out, the ship commissioned into the Downs Squadron, to operate in the area where the North Sea meets the English Channel, under Captain John Gore.

Captain Gore had first been posted or promoted to Captain in November 1794 when he had been appointed to command the 98 gun Second Rate ship of the line HMS Windsor Castle. That appointment had been made when HMS Windsor Castle's crew had mutinied and had refused to serve under her previous commander, Captain William Shield. Captain Gore had been appointed to the ship by Vice-Admiral Sir William Hotham, the new Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean at the time as part of the peaceful settlement of the mutiny. After HMS Windsor Castle, he had been appointed to command the recently captured French 74 gun ship of the line Censeur when that ship had been taken during the Battle of Genoa on 14th March 1795. Badly damaged, the now HMS Censeur had been stripped of her guns to lighten the vessel and had been sent back to the UK for repairs and was recaptured by the French on the way. After about a year as a prisoner of war, he had been appointed to command the 18pdr-armed 36 gun frigate HMS Trent after his repatriation and had then commanded another frigate, the fir-built 12pdr-armed 32 gun ship HMS Triton, before his appointment to HMS Medusa.

See here for the story of HMS Windsor Castle:
http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=18212.msg158611#msg158611

Amphion Class Plans

Orlop Plan:



Berth Deck or Lower Deck Plan:



Upper or Gundeck Plan:



Quarterdeck and Forecastle Plan:



Inboard Profile and Plan:



Framing Plan:



Sheer Plan and Lines:



HMS Medusa by Derek Gardner:



At the time that HMS Medusa entered service in the Royal Navy, the country was in the grip of another invasion scare. Despite the Royal Navy's successes thus far in the war, news had reached London that the French were preparing an invasion fleet of flat-bottomed boats, gun-brigs and barges in the area around Boulogne. The Government knew that the threat of invasion was not really credible at this stage, because to get the vast army needed to conquer Britain across the English Channel, the French needed hundreds of such craft, for which there wasn't the room in Boulogne and the surrounding area. In addition to this, there was the small matter of wresting control of the Channel from the British for long enough to actually get the fleet across the sea without suffering an unacceptable number of losses. Indeed, the French had been making diplomatic advances to the British since 1799, but the Government of William Pitt the Younger and his Foreign Secretary Lord Grenville had adopted a hard-line stance against Bonaparte and had rejected his peace overtures out of hand. In February 1801 however, the Pitt administration fell and was replaced by a more accommodating government led by Henry Addington and the new Government had indicated that it would be more receptive to French peace proposals.  The whole point of the invasion threat from the French point of view was to try to intimidate the new Government into accepting less advantageous peace terms.

Nevertheless, something had to be done to reassure an anxious public. Throughout 1801, Vice-Admiral the Honourable Sir William Cornwallis had organised defences, bands of Sea Fencibles (the Napoleonic equivalent of a kind of maritime Home Guard under Naval control, using fishing boats, coastal merchant ships and the like where needed) and local militias had been raised and armed, parades had been held in coastal towns and the great and the good of society were anxious to display their patriotism by either raising bands of Sea Fencibles or local militias at their own expense or by joining them. At the time, the threatened area was covered by three seperate Naval Commands: The North Sea Fleet, the Nore and the Downs, all of which had their own commanders. The First Lord of the Admiralty, Admiral Sir John Jervis, the Earl St. Vincent, wanted an anti-invasion force which would cover all three areas, under a single commander with his own ships, separate from those commands in order to avoid demarkation disputes and with the authority to take overall command of Sea Fencible units from Beachy Head to Orfordness and use them as he saw fit. Lord St. Vincent had a man in mind, someone who had already amply demonstrated his ability to think 'out of the box' and to pull victory from the jaws of defeat, someone who was already an 'A' list celebrity in his own right. His name was Vice-Admiral of the Blue, Sir Horatio, the Viscount Nelson.

Nelson himself was none too keen on taking up the appointment. After his very recent success at the First Battle of Copenhagen, he had wanted to settle down to a life of domestic bliss in his newly acquired mansion at Merton Place with his mistress, Emma Hamilton, who had recently given birth to a daughter. He was in constant pain because of his badly damaged right eye in which he was now completely blind and being at sea in the colder waters around the UK seemed to give him a cough he couldn't seem to shake. When at sea, he was also chronically seasick. His friend and mentor Lord St. Vincent had pursuaded him to take the appointment, which Nelson knew to be politically motivated, by offering him the post of Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean when the current incumbent, Vice-Admiral Lord Keith relinquished the role.

Lord Nelson had arrived at Sheerness on 27th April 1801 to take up his new appointment after travelling by coach from the Admiralty in London. He was expecting to raise his command flag in the 18pdr-armed 38 gun frigate HMS Amazon, but that ship was unavailable so he based himself aboard the ex-French, 12pdr-armed 32 gun frigate HMS Unité instead. Shortly afterward, Nelson made his way by coach to Deal, where he established himself in the ex-Dutch 68 gun ship of the line HMS Leyden, at anchor in the Downs, stopping at Faversham to inspect the Sea Fencibles there on the way.

In the early summer of 1801, Nelson had received correspondence from Lord St. Vincent which suggested that the public would be much reassured if the invasion fleet gathering at Boulogne was destroyed and that Nelson should plan and lead the attack. Nelson agreed and on 30th July 1801, moved his command flag to HMS Medusa, at the time anchored in the Downs off Deal and began to make preparations for the proposed assault.

HMS Medusa wearing the command flag of a Vice-Admiral of the Blue - Nelson's flag. Painting by Derek Gardner:



The French had received news of Nelson's arrival in the Downs, guessed that an attack was imminent and had made preparations accordingly. The French had moored a line of 24 vessels, gun-brigs, flat-boats and a schooner across the approaches to Boulogne and had prepared batteries ashore to repel the anticipated attack. In the evening of 3rd August 1801, Nelson in HMS Medusa arrived off the port in company with a force of 28 gunboats and five bomb-vessels and the following morning began a bombardment of the French defensive line. Nelson knew that the bombardment was likely to be ineffective, so after firing for about 800 rounds over 16 hours, the British retired back to the Downs. Nelson reported that a gun-brig and three flat-boats were sunk and several others driven ashore by the bombardment, while the French admitted only to losing two gunboats. This encounter pursuaded Nelson that the apparent French plans for an invasion were a bluff, but despite this, he decided to attack again but was aware that the French would have reinforced their defenses following the first attack. The French, under Admiral Latouche-Trevelle had indeed reinforced their defensive line, with three battalions of soldiers and had rigged boarding nets on all of their vessels.

For the second attack, Nelson decided to sent four divisions of armed boats in a night attack, once his force had anchored off Boulogne, out of range of the shore batteries. The divisions were to be commanded respectively by Captains Phillip Somerville, Edward Parker, Isaac Cotgrave and Robert Jones. A fifth division, to be commanded by Captain John Conn, was to be fitted with mortars to give fire support where needed. Their mission was to capture or destroy the French line of vessels guarding the entrance to the harbour at Boulogne. At 23:30 on 15th August 1801, the force departed from HMS Medusa to begin the attack and ran into trouble fairly quickly. The darkness of the night and the strong currents forced the divisions to seperate. Captain Somerville's division was unable to stay together and were swept by the swift current well to the eastward of Boulogne. Captain Somerville ordered that the boats of his division make their own way to their targets as best they could and just before dawn on the 16th, some of the leading boats managed to come up on a gun-brig laying close to the pier-head. This was captured after a short and sharp action but on finding the vessel secured with a chain, they were unable to tow her away. Forced by a hail of musketry and grape-shot from both the shore and from nearby vessels to abandon their prize, they were obliged to quit the scene with the coming of daylight. Their losses were heavy with Masters Mate Mr Alexander Rutherford, 14 seamen and three Marines killed with Lieutenants Thomas Oliver, Francis Dickenson, Jeremiah Skelton and William Bassett, Captain of Marines George Young, Masters Mate Mr Francis Burney, Mr Midshipman Samuel Spratley, 29 seamen and 19 Marines wounded.

Captain Parker's division met with a little more success and made it to the target area at about 00:30. The first subdivision of boats, led by Captain Parker himself came up to a large brig called Etna moored off the mole head, but was driven off by musket-fire from about 200 French soldiers stationed aboard the vessel. The second subdivision led by Lieutenant Williams captured a lugger, but on attempting to board another large brig, the Volcan, was also driven off and forced to leave the target area by the coming of daylight. They also suffered heavy casualties with Mr Midshipman William Gore, Mr Midshipman William Bristow, 15 seamen and four Marines killed, Captain Parker himself was mortally wounded, with Lieutenants Charles Pelly and Frederick Langford, Sailing Master Mr William Kirby, Midshipman the Honourable Anthony Maitland, Commander Richard Wilkinson of the Revenue Cutter Greyhound, 30 seamen and six Marines also wounded.

Captain Cotgrave's division ran into similar opposition and were also forced to retire from the scene with heavy casualties of Mr Midshipman Berry and four seamen killed and a Gunner, 23 seamen and five Marines wounded. Captain Jones' division didn't make it to the scene at all, being swept away by the currents and forced to make their way back to HMS Medusa without having been able to engage the enemy.

In the Raids on Boulogne, the British had found to their cost that the French were very well prepared. The large brigs had turned out to be heavily armed vessels of about 250 tons, armed with between four and eight guns, 24 or 18pdrs and in some cases, 36 pounders. The flat-boats were lugger-rigged, only drew about three feet of water, carried a crew of about 30, plus about 150 soldiers and were armed with a 13 inch mortar, a 24pdr long gun plus swivel guns, plus the soldiers muskets.

The Action off Boulogne, 15th August 1801:



The death of Captain Parker affected Nelson badly, the two had been close friends and Nelson had formed a fatherly bond with his young protege. Nelson remained in HMS Medusa until the 22nd October 1801, when he returned to his new home at Merton Place and joined Lady Hamilton and his young daughter. He was to remain there until he received his promised appointment as Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean in May of 1803.

In the meantime, HMS Medusa continued her service in the Downs until December 1801, when she returned to Spithead and began to undertake patrols of the English Channel from there. The Royal Navy's successful blockades of the French coast had led to a slump in the privateering trade and many privateers had taken to smuggling. The Revenue Service's cutters had recently begun to encounter heavily armed former privateers and towards the end of 1801, a large lugger under British colours had driven off a pair of Revenue Cutters which had attempted to intercept the vessel mid-Channel, leading to the Revenue Service requesting assistance from the Royal Navy and HMS Medusa was assigned to this role.

On 20th March 1802, HMS Medusa sailed to join the fleet in the Mediterranean and on 14th April, the ship was laying at Malta when news was received that the Treaty of Amiens had been signed on 23rd March, ending the war.

Despite the end of the war, HMS Medusa remained in the Mediterranean and became engaged in the typical duties of a frigate in peacetime, protecting British trade interests and 'showing the flag'.
"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 Medusa (1801 - 1816)
« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2017, 21:34:06 »
Part Two - Under Nelson again, Moore's Action off Cape Santa Maria, River Plate Campaign, Service in the Channel and fate

The Peace of Amiens proved to be somewhat tense, with the French under Napoleon Bonaparte taking the opportunity to send a fleet to the Americas to put down a slave rebellion in their Louisiana colony and in the Caribbean as well as continuing the expansion of their empire. The British press had long lampooned the Emperor and this led to French demands for censorship; something the British refused to do. In addition, a dispute arose whereby the Treaty placed the British under an obligation to withdraw from Malta, which they were not prepared to do. It seemed as though both sides had made promises they had no intention of keeping and in response to French threats and one-sided arguments, the British declared war on France on 18th May 1803, starting what is now known as the Napoleonic War. With the resumption of the war, the British resumed their blockade of the main French naval base in the Mediterranean at Toulon and in July 1803, Lord Nelson arrived off Toulon in his flagship, the newly rebuilt and now 104 gun First Rate ship of the line HMS Victory and HMS Medusa and her crew found themselves once again under Nelson's flag.

On 3rd March 1804, Sir Evan Nepean, Secretary to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty received a letter from Nelson reading thus:

Dated on board His Majesty's Ship Victory
At Sea
10th January 1804

Sir,

I herewith transmit to you, for their Lordships information, an extract of a letter from Captain Hart, with a copy of a letter from Captain Gore of the Medusa giving an account of the capture of L'Esperance French privateer and the destruction of La Sorcier on the 8th ultimo and beg leave to express the very high opinion I entertain of Captain Gore's conduct in putting to sea immediately on the appearance of these vessels and his very able manoeuvres in capturing and destroying them.

I am etc.

NELSON & BRONTE


The extract of the letter from Captain Hart read thus:

From Captain George Hart of His Majesty's Ship Monmouth
Dated Gibraltar Bay 9th December 1803
To the Rt Hon Lord Viscount Nelson KB, Duke of Bronte, Vice-Admiral of the Blue and Commander in Chief etc etc.

I have great satisfaction in transmitting to you a copy of Captain Gore's letter to me of yesterdays date, of his account of having captured a French privateer off Cabrita Point, called L'Esperance, of two twelve and two six-pounders with seventy men and destroying another by driving her on shore. I beg leave to refer your lordship to the particulars of the capture etc as stated in Captain Gore's letter and beg leave to add the high opinion I entertain of Captain Gore's great readiness in putting to sea and of his able conduct throughout the occasion, which I had the pleasure to witness.


The letter from Captain John Gore:

His Majesty's Ship Medusa
off New Mole Head
Gibraltar
December 8th 1803

As from your situation you could not see the manoeuvres of His Majesty's ship Medusa this day, I have the honour to acquaint you, for the information of the Right Honourable Lord Nelson, Commander-in-Chief etc etc, that at TEN AM, I observed a cutter standing in from the westward and two French privateers (felucca rigged), standing out from under Tarrife and attack her. I immediately ordered both the Medusa's cables to be shipped and proceeded to her assistance and they hauled from her.

Favourable circumstances of wind and current aided the Medusa's sailing and at eleven o'clock, we opened our fire upon one (as she crossed on the opposite tack) with effect, the other we ran close alongside of and captured as per the annexed report then tacked and continued firing upon the other until she rowed amongst the rocks within a shot of a battery to the westward of Cabrita Point. She received so many of our shot and from both her yards being shot away and nearly all her oars broken, I have no doubt she is effectually destroyed. I understand she was called La Sorcier, of two twelve and two six-pounders and seventy men.

I am etc etc etc
John Gore.

George Hart esq
Captain of His Majesty's Ship Monmouth and senior officer in Gibraltar Bay

L'Esperance, M. Martin, Master, of two twelve and two six-pounders and seventy men. Captured. Boatswain killed

La Sorcier, of two twelve and two six-pounders. Destroyed.


Up to early 1805, the peace with Spain had held although there were suspicions that it would only be a matter of time before the British would once again be at war against the Spanish too. Indeed, the Admiralty had stationed a squadron off the Spanish port of Ferroll to keep an eye out for Spanish preparations for war. In the late summer of 1804, this squadron was commanded by Rear-Admiral the Honourable Sir Alexander Cochrane. The Rear-Admiral had received intelligence that the Spanish ships there were indeed being fitted for sea, that Fort San Felipe overlooking the entrance to the bay was being refurbished and that a large body of French troops were on their way there. On receipt of this intelligence, the Admiralty ordered a squadron of frigates to Cadiz in order to intercept and detain, by force or otherwise, a squadron of Spanish frigates known to be on their way there from Montevideo and which was known to be carrying an immense amount of specie, or gold and silver coin. HMS Medusa received orders to join this squadron, which also comprised the 24pdr-armed 44 gun razee frigate HMS Indefatigable, HMS Medusa's sister-ship HMS Amphion and the 18pdr-armed 38 gun frigate HMS Lively. The force was under the command of HMS Indefatigable's commander, Captain Graham Moore and gathered off Cape Santa Maria, the southernmost point of mainland Portugal.

At 06:00 on 5th October, nine leagues (or 27 miles) south west of Cape Santa Maria, HMS Medusa sighted four sail and signalled HMS Indefatigable to that effect and Captain Moore ordered the squadron to set off in chase. At 08:00, the strangers were identified as being the Spanish frigates Medea (40), wearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Don Joseph Bustamente, Fama, Clara and Mercedes (all of 34 guns) and on sighting the British, the Spanish frigates formed a line with Fama in the lead, followed by Medea, Mercedes and Clara. At 09:05, HMS Medusa placed herself about half a pistol shot (or about fifteen feet) upwind of of the Fama. Shortly afterward, HMS Indefatigable took up station a similar distance from the Medea, while HMS Lively came up to the Clara and HMS Amphion ran downwind of the Mercedes. With his ships in position, Captain Moore hailed the Medea to shorten sail, which she ignored, so to get the Spaniards attention, HMS Indefatigable fired a shot across the Medea's bow, at which point the Spanish complied. Captain Moore sent Lieutenant Thomas Arscott across to the Medea to inform the Spanish Rear-Admiral that his orders were to detain his squadron and that he'd much rather do so without any bloodshed. The Spanish Rear-Admiral was also informed that Captain Moore required an answer straight away. Captain Moore felt that things were taking too long, so he signalled Lieutenant Arscott's party to get a move on and on receiving no response, fired another shot across the Medea's bow. After some time, Lieutenant Arscott returned to his ship with the Spanish Rear-Admiral's refusal, so after firing another shot ahead of the Medea, HMS Indefatigable steered to cut across the Medea's bows at 09:30, at which point the Mercedes opened fire on HMS Amphion and Medea opened up on HMS Indefatigable. Captain Moore ordered the signal for close action to be hoisted and unleashed his broadside at the Spanish frigate alongside and the rest of the ships opened fire. At about 09:40, the Mercedes blew up in an explosion which broke the ship in half and the Fama, which had been engaged against HMS Medusa, struck her colours in surrender. However, as soon as HMS Medusa ceased firing, the Fama re-hoisted her Spanish colours and attempted to escape. Captain Gore ordered that his ship cross the Fama's stern and poured a heavy fire through it. Despite this, the Fama sailed on, forcing HMS Medusa into a chase. In the meantime, with the destruction of the Mercedes, HMS Amphion moved up to assist HMS Indefatigable in her fight against the powerful Spanish flagship, the Medea, which struck her colours and surrendered as soon as HMS Amphion came alongside. Shortly afterward, the Clara surrendered to HMS Lively, freeing that ship up to assist HMS Medusa in her pursuit of the Fama. At about 12:45, HMS Lively caught up with the fleeing Spanish frigate and opened fire and at 13:15, the Fama became the last of the Spanish squadron to surrender.

Across the British squadron, HMS Lively suffered casualties of two dead and four wounded while HMS Amphion had three wounded and two of those were caused by debris from the explosion of the Mercedes. The Spanish also suffered unusually light casualties, with the exception of the loss of most of the crew and passengers aboard the Mercedes. The remaining Spanish ships were found to be carrying cargoes amounting to just under £1M worth of gold, silver, copper and tin as well as seal skins and seal oil. News of Moore's Action off Cape Santa Maria caused a storm in Madrid and on 12th December 1804, Spain declared war on the UK.

In this view of the Action, the Mercedes can be seen blowing up in the background:



Such was the value of the cargo captured, together with the value of the captured ships themselves, that when the prize money was calculated, all involved would become relatively wealthy men. A Petty Officer's share was £83.2s.9d while that of an Able Seaman was £19.9s.11d.

Once war with Spain broke out, HMS Medusa was assigned to the blockade of Cadiz and on 23rd October 1804 in company with the ex-French 74 gun third rate ship of the line HMS Donegal under Captain Sir Richard Strachan, she captured the 18pdr-armed 38 gun Spanish frigate Santa Matilda. That ship had been outbound from Cadiz to Vera Cruz and was carrying £200,000 worth of mercury. The Santa Matilda was taken into the Royal Navy as HMS Hamadryad.

On 21st February 1805, Captain John Gore was knighted and became a Knight Bachelor of the Order of the Bath. On 18th April 1805, the ship sailed for India, carrying a very important passenger - Charles Cornwallis, the Marquess Cornwallis. Lord Cornwallis was the same officer whose surrender at Yorktown in 1781 had led to the loss of the American colonies. No blame however, had been attached to him for that disaster. Successive governments had acknowledged that at the time, he had had no choice and had made the right decision. He had retained their confidence to the degree that he had subsequently served as Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief in India. During his time there, he had overseen significant reforms of the Honourable East India Company, had led British and Company forces to victory in the Third Anglo-Mysore war between 1789 and 1792 and had implemented the 'Cornwallis Code', the system by which India was governed by the British until the Crown took control of India in 1858. He had also been the driving force behind the Union of Great Britain and Ireland during his term as Lord Lieutenant and Commander-in-Chief in Ireland in 1800 and had been the chief British signatory to the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. Lord Cornwallis also happened to be the elder brother of one of Captain Gore's patrons, Admiral the Honourable Sir William Cornwallis and had been appointed for a second term in India. He had been appointed to curb the expansionist policies of his predecessor, Lord Richard Wellesley. At a critical period in the war with the country facing the very real threat of invasion, the last thing the British wanted was another war in India, so the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger had recalled Wellesley. Lord wellesley was, in turn, the elder brother of Arthur Wellesley, who later became the Duke of Wellington. The ship, with Lord Cornwallis aboard, arrived in Madras in July 1805, but Lord Cornwallis contracted a fever and died at Ghazipur in the Kingdom of Varansasi on 5th October 1805. He was buried in a tomb outside the city overlooking the River Ganges.

After the death of Lord Cornwallis, Captain Gore received orders to return to the UK and left Madras in November 1805. HMS Medusa sailed out across the Indian and Pacific Oceans, around Cape Horn, then diagonally across the Atlantic Ocean, arriving back at Portsmouth on 26th January 1806. This voyage, of 13,800 miles, took only 83 days and was a feat of sailing and navigation not surpassed until the advent of the clipper ships in the mid-19th century.

On arrival in the UK, Captain Sir John Gore finally left HMS Medusa. He had been in command of the ship for almost five years and under his command, HMS Medusa and her crew had established a reputation as being one of the Royal Navy's top frigates. His next command was the Large Type, 74 gun Third Rate ship of the line HMS Revenge which at the time he was appointed in command was refitting at the Chatham Royal Dockyard. He was to go on to be promoted to Rear-Admiral in December 1813, served as Commander-in-Chief at the Nore between 1818 and 1821 and in the East Indies between 1831 and 1834. He died at home in Datchet near Windsor in 1836.

Captain Gore's replacement in HMS Medusa was Captain The Honourable Duncombe Pleydell-Bouverie, a well-connected young man of 26 who was the second son of the Earl of Radnor. HMS Medusa remained in Portsmouth until she sailed with a convoy for the Cape of Good Hope in May of 1806. Once the convoy was safely delivered to the Cape Colony, taken from the Dutch the previous year, Captain Pleydell-Bouverie received orders to take the ship and join a force conducting operations in the Rio del Plata (or River Plate) in South America. After the fall of the Dutch Cape Colony, Commodore Sir Home Popham had received intelligence that the inhabitants of the Spanish colony at Montevideo were unhappy with Spanish rule and would not resist a British invasion. He had taken his squadron and sailed from the Cape of Good Hope to South America, together with troops under Brigadier-General Backhouse and launched a campaign to try to take Montevideo from the Spanish. The campaign had not gone well. HMS Medusa arrived at the Rio del Plata on 5th January 1807 in company with the 64-gun Third Rate ship of the line HMS Ardent. HMS Ardent was carrying Rear-Admiral of the White Charles Stirling and Brigadier-General Sir Samuel Auchmuty, who were to take command of operations in the region. Once Rear-Admiral Stirling's force had arrived, the British squadron in the Rio del Plata comprised HMS Diadem, HMS Raisonnable, HMS Ardent, HMS Lancaster (all Third-Rate ships of the line of 64 guns), the 18pdr-armed 38 gun frigate HMS Leda and the 18pdr-armed 32 gun frigate HMS Unicorn and the 6pdr-armed 16 gun ship-sloop HMS Pheasant in addition to HMS Medusa.

See here for the story of HMS Ardent:

http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=18096.msg157431#msg157431

and HMS Leda:

http://www.kenthistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=14761.msg120516#msg120516

On 13th January, the town of Maldonado, which had been occupied by the British since the previous year, was successfully evacuated in order that the troops previously stationed there could be used to mount an attack on Montevideo. Montevideo itself was heavily defended, with the various forts surrounding the city mounting a total of about 160 guns. On the 16th January, the troops were landed about eight miles to the east of Montevideo, but the high winds and the intricate channels through the marshy mouth of the Rio del Plata made it very difficult for the warships to get close enough to the beach to offer effective fire support. The frigates were placed under the command of Captain Lucius Hardyman of HMS Unicorn did eventually pick their way inshore, but weren't needed anyway. On the 19th, the British soldiers, reinforced by about 800 seamen and Royal Marines under the command of Captain Ross Donelly of HMS Ardent and Commander John Palmer of HMS Pheasant moved forward and established an encampment about two miles from the city. The water was again too shallow for the ships to render effective assistance to the seige, which lasted until the 3rd February when the British breached the walls and stormed the citadel and city. The seige of Montevideo had gone on for far longer than anticipated, to the extent that all of the ships between them only had enough gunpowder left to sustain the seige or a further two days.

During the course of May of 1807, a further 5,000 troops arrived and a plan was laid to attack Buenos Aries. The reinforcements were commanded by Brigadier-General Crawfurd who superceded General Auchmuty in command. In addition, the arrival of the 64 gun Third Rate ship of the line HMS Polyphemus brought Rear-Admiral George Murray to the theatre and he took over control of naval operations in supprot of the army. On 15th June, General Crawfurd was himself superceded in overall command by Lieutenant-General Whitelocke and on 28th June, a landing was made about 30 miles from Buenos Aries. On the 5th July, that city was attacked, but the defenders counter-attacked, overwhelmed the British attackers with weight of numbers and forced them to surrender with the loss of 2,500 men killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The following day, the Spanish general in command, General Liniers, made an offer to the British; that he would release all the prisoners if the campaign was discontinued and the British evacuated all their forces from the area of the Rio del Plata within two months. General Whitelocke agreed to the terms and in September 1807, HMS Medusa sailed for the UK.

On her return to the UK, HMS Medusa was assigned to the Channel Fleet, engaged in the blockade of the French Biscay coast. On 4th April 1808, Captain Pleydell-Bouverie wrote to Admiral George Montague, Admiral of the White and Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth as follows:

His Majesty's Ship Medusa
Donnose NW 11 Leagues
Sir,

I have the honour to inform you that I have this morning, captured L'Actif, lugger privateer of Dieppe of fourteen guns. There were two other privateer luggers in sight at the time, one of which being very near to the leeward of us, I have every reason to expect we should have taken, but that it was necessary to inspect four merchant vessels, among which the privateers were when we first saw them. One of these, a coasting sloop, we retook; the others had not yet been boarded by the privateers.

The three privateers left Cherburgh together yesterday morning and last night took a coasting sloop besides the one abovementioned, which we have not seen. L'Actif, as it appears, by her log, has made but one capture, a collier brig during her different cruizes in the Channel, since her first fit-out in the beginning of December last.

I am etc.

D. P. Bouverie.


Later that same day, HMS Medusa recaptured the brig Hopewell, previously taken by a French privateer, probably one of the vessels sighted when she had taken L'Actif.

Between October 1808 and June 1809, HMS Medusa was temporarily commanded by Captain William Bowles with Captain Pleydall-Bouverie returning to command until June of 1810, when Captain Bowles returned temporarily until November of 1811.

HMS Medusa and her crew continued to be a menace to French shipping in the English Channel, as evidenced by the following list of vessels captured for which prize money was paid:

4th May 1809 - French sloops St. Pierre and Neptune, the Brig St. Anne, and the Chasse Maries Victoire, Pour Voyeur and Prospere, with the sloop Ocean recaptured with her cargo (in company with the 18pdr-carronade armed gun-brig HMS Conflict of 14 guns and the armed schooner HMS Arrow).

19th July 1809 - French schooner Eugenie (in company with the 18pdr-armed 38 gun frigate HMS Naiad)

31st August 1809 - The Chasse-Maries Napoleon, Notre Dame, Irvis Saturs, Esperance and Confiance.

Things continued in this vein with numerous French privateers and merchant vessels captured. On the night of the 4th June 1812, Captain Pleydell-Bouverie sent his ship's boats under the command of Lieutenant Josiah Thompson on a cutting-out raid. Their target was the French store-ship Dorado of 14 guns and 86 men, laying at anchor in the harbour at Arcachon on the French Biscay coast. Despite fast-running currents, Lieutenant Thompson and his men got alongside the enemy vessel and there followed a desperate struggle on the French ship's upper deck, which saw all but 23 of the French crew either killed or forced to jump overboard. The ship was found to be carrying a full cargo of timber and was quickly got underway by Mr Thompson and his men. Unfortunately, due to the fast-running currents, the ship ran aground on a sand-bar after about three miles and the British party was forced to set her on fire after taking off her wounded. The boats returned to HMS Medusa with the raiding party having suffered three men wounded.

In June 1813, Captain Pleydell-Bouverie was replaced in command of HMS Medusa by Captain George Bell, whose previous appointment had been in HMS Ardent. The ship remained in the English Channel until she paid off into the Plymouth Ordinary in October 1813. The ship spent the next month being fitted for the Ordinary, work which involved the removal of all her guns, stores, yards, rigging and sails. In December 1813, HMS Medusa was fitted as a Hospital Ship, firstly at Plymouth, then at Pembroke Dock, where she was broken up during November of 1816.
"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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