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Author Topic: HMS Rattlesnake (1790 - 1814)  (Read 1297 times)

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Offline Bilgerat

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Re: HMS Rattlesnake (1790 - 1814)
« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2018, 10:32:02 »
Corrected a small mistake, updated with the gundeck etc plan.
"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 Rattlesnake (1790 - 1814)
« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2018, 21:06:56 »
HMS Rattlesnake was an unrated, quarterdeck-built, 6pdr-armed, 16-gun, ship-rigged sloop of war of the Hound Class and was built at the Royal Dockyard, Chatham.

Designed by Sir John Henslow, the Hound Class was a group of five ship-rigged sloops of war, all of which were to be built in the Royal Dockyards, with three ships built in Kent. Of the two other Kent-built ships of the class, HMS Hound was built at the Deptford Royal Dockyard and HMS Martin was built at Woolwich. Of the remaining two ships, HMS Serpent was built at the Plymouth Royal Dockyard, while HMS Fury was built at Portsmouth.

At the time they were ordered, the quarterdeck-built, three-masted ship-sloop was beginning to be superceded by the flush-decked, two-masted, brig-rigged vessel, which were quicker and cheaper to build and required a smaller crew. Quarterdeck-built ship-slopps looked like miniature frigates and like all sloops of war, were used in the roles of patrolling, scouting for the fleet along with the larger and more powerful frigates and running errands.

This article about HMS Rattlesnake is the last of a quartet of articles about the four ships which under construction in the Chatham Royal Dockyard at the time that Nicholas Pocock created his famous painting of the Dockyard in 1789.

HMS Rattlesnake was ordered from the Chatham Royal Dockyard on the same day as the rest of the class, the 17th of January 1788. Her first keel section was laid on the Number 2 slipway at Chatham on the 1st of July 1789 and her construction was overseen by Mr Nicholas Phillips, Master Shipwright in the Royal Dockyard. Exactly two weeks after the ship's first keel section was laid, after a week of rioting, the Bastille was stormed in Paris, starting the French Revolution. Work continued rapidly at Chatham and on the 7th of January 1791, the new ship was launched with all due ceremony into the River Medway and was fitted with guns, masts and rigging at Chatham.

In the wider world, the Spanish Armaments Crisis of 1790 had seen the Royal Dockyard at Chatham working flat out to prepare ships for sea as part of the mobilisation of the fleet in preparation for the seemingly inevitable war against Spain. Although this was settled peacefully after the new Revolutionary Government in France declined to come to their Spanish ally's aid should war break out, the Russian Armaments Crisis had started when British ally Prussia became involved in an ongoing war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. This crisis spilled over into 1791 and also ended peacefully when the british Government after due consideration, declined to get involved due to concerns about what was going on in the rival superpower across the English Channel.

In the meantime, during February of 1791, HMS Rattlesnake commissioned into the Channel Fleet with Mr Joseph Sydney Yorke appointed as Master and Commander. The ship was his first command appointment. Once he appointed, Commander Yorke went about recruiting his crew, although the Commissioned and Senior Warrant Officers were appointed for him by the Admiralty and Navy Board respectively.

On completion, HMS Rattlesnake was a ship of 326 tons. She was 100ft long on her gundeck, 83ft 1in long along her keel and 27ft 2in wide across her beams. She drew 8ft 1in of water at the bows and 11ft 5in at the rudder. She was armed with 16 x 6pdr long guns on her gundeck, with 2 x 12pdr carronades on her forecastle with six more on her quarterdeck. In addition to her main guns, the ship was fitted with 14 half-pound swivel guns attached to her forecastle and quarterdeck handrails and in her fighting tops. HMS Rattlesnake was manned by a crew of 125 officers, seamen and boys.

Hound Class Plans

Orlop and Lower or Berth deck Plans:

Upper or Gundeck, Inboard Profile and Plan, Quarterdeck and Forecastle Plans:

Framing Plan:

Sheer Plan and Lines:

A painting by Derek Gardner of HMS Rattlesnake's sister-ship HMS Serpent:

This is the famous painting of the Chatham Royal Dockyard c. 1789 by Nicholas Pocock, mentioned earlier. HMS Rattlesnake is the vessel in frames on the No.2 Slipway:

The other vessels at various stages of construction are:

HMS Royal George (100) on the far-right moored in the river, fitting out
HMS Queen Charlotte (100) centre-right in the background in the No.1 dry-dock, being prepared for floating-out.
HMS Leviathan (74) background-left in what appears to be No.4 dry-dock, final stages of construction.

Five years after this painting was made, all three of the above-mentioned ships would fight together in the Battle of the Glorious First of June.

In February of 1793, the French Revolutionary War broke out and thirteen months into the war, HMS Rattlesnake received a new commander, Mr Edward Ramage. In November, the ship sailed for the West Indies, to join a fleet under Vice-Admiral Sir John Jervis, flying his command flag in the 98-gun Second Rate ship of the line HMS Boyne. In addition to HMS Boyne and HMS Rattlesnake, the fleet also comprised HMS Vengeance and HMS Irresistible (both of 74 guns), HMS Veteran and HMS Asia (both of 64 guns) with the frigates HMS Beaulieu (18pdr, 40), the ex-Spanish HMS Santa Margarita (12pdr, 36), the ex-French HMS Blonde, HMS Solebay, HMS Quebec, HMS Ceres and HMS Winchelsea (all 12pdr, 32) and HMS Rose (9pdr, 28) and the sloops of war HMS Nautilus and HMS Zebra (both 6pdr, 16) and the bomb-vessel HMS Vesuvius with the en-flute-armed, former 44-gun two decker store-ships HMS Dromedary and HMS Woolwich. In addition to the ships, Vice-Admiral Jervis also had some 7,000 troops under Lieutenant-General Sir Charles, the First Earl Grey under his command. The Vice-Admiral had been tasked with redusing French possessions in the West Indies.

On 2nd February 1794, Jervis and his fleet left Barbados and sailed to French-held Martinique, with the intention of taking that island from the French. As a result of the ongoing chaos within the French government, Martinique was thinly defended. General the Compte de Rochambeau (the same man largely responsible for the Franco-American victory on the mainland during the American War of Independence) commanded a force of about 600 men, of whom only about 200 were regular troops, the rest were local militia. In addition to this, there were only two French warships at Martinique, the frigate Bienvenue (32) at Port Royal and an unknown corvette of 18 guns at St Pierre. Had the island been properly garrisoned, it would have been nigh on impregnable as there was no shortage of forts and batteries for the British force to overcome.

In order to divide the enemy forces, the British troops were landed at three points on the island, each a considerable distance from the other. Because of the shortage of defenders, the British campaign proceeded rapidly and by 16th March, the whole island was under British control, except for Fort St. Louis, Fort Bourbon and Fort Royal. Up to that point, the British had suffered losses of 71 killed, 193 wounded and 3 missing in action. The seamen of the fleet were not idle and provided valuable assistance to the army. A division of 200 seamen led by Lieutenant Thomas Ropers and Lieutenant William Cordon Rutherford stormed an enemy strongpoint at Monte Mathurine armed only with pistols and pikes.

A further division of 300 seamen and marines landed at the Cul de sac Cohee with a 24pdr long gun and two mortars taken out of HMS Vesuvius. This division was led by Captain Eliab Harvey of HMS Santa Margarita, Captain William Hancock Kelly of HMS Solebay, Captain the Lord Garlies of HMS Quebec. The captains were assisted by Lieutenants Isaac Wooley, Joshua Bowley Watson, Thomas Harrison, James Carthew, Alexander Wilmot Schomberg and John W Taylor-Dixon, together with Lieutenant Walter Tremenhere of the Royal Marines. They had been tasked with moving the heavy guns five miles from the landing point to the summit of Mount Sourriere. This was a truly Herculean task and they accomplished it in three days. On the way, the men had to cut a road a mile long through a thick forest, build a bridge over a river capable of supporting the three-ton 24 pounder gun and then levelling the banks of another river, removing several huge boulders standing in their way.

In addition to this, the larger ship's boats had been converted to gunboats by fitting them with heavy guns taken from the ships. The seamen of the fleet also built a battery on Point Carriere overlooking the harbour at Fort Royal with more heavy guns taken from the ships. The gunboat force came under the command of Lieutenant Richard Bowen of HMS Boyne.

At noon on 17th March, Lieutenant Bowen launched an attack on the Bienvenue frigate, laying in the harbour at Fort Royal. As soon as his force was seen entering the harbour, French troops opened an incessant musket-fire from the walls of Fort Royal and the guns on the Bienvenue opened fire on them with grapeshot. Despite this, Lieutenant Bowen's force came alongside the French frigate and boarded her. There was little opposition, the majority of the French crew having fled ashore on sighting the British force's approach. Unfortunately, the Bienvenue was trapped on a lee shore and unable to set any sail and still coming under intense musket-fire from the fort, Lieutenant Bowen was forced to abandon his prize but left with 22 French prisoners taken from the frigate. On the way back to HMS Boyne, Lieutenant Bowen and his force came under musket fire which claimed the lives of three of his men and wounded five.

The success of Lieutenant Bowen's raid on the Bienvenue prompted an all-out British assault on Fort-Royal on the 20th March. HMS Asia and HMS Zebra were ordered to enter the harbour in readiness to bombard the fort and to provide covering fire for a force of up to 1,200 seamen in boats commanded by Captain Nugent of HMS Veteran and Captain Edward Riou of HMS Rose, who were tasked with attacking the fort from the seaward side. The force of seamen stormed the fort and Captain Nugent personally hauled down the enemy's colours and hoisted the Union Flag in their place, signifying that the fort had fallen. As a reward for his courage and leadership and with the consent of General Grey, Jervis gave Captain Nugent command of the fort. The taking of Fort Royal pursuaded the Compte de Rochambeau to begin surrender negotiations. These concluded on the 22nd March, with the surrender of the remaining French garrison on Martinique. The Royal Navy's casualties in the taking of Martinique came to Captain James Milne of HMS Avenger and 13 seamen killed, Captain Sandford Tatham of HMS Dromedary, Lieutenant Thomas Henry Wilson and Lieutenant Thomas Clarke, a Surgeon and 24 seamen wounded. The Bienvenue was taken into the Royal Navy and renamed HMS Undaunted. Captain Faulknor of HMS Zebra was given command of her and Lieutenant Bowen, as a reward for his actions in the earlier raid on the ship was appointed Master and Commander in Faulknor's place in HMS Zebra.

Jervis' next target was the French-held island of St Lucia. Again, this island was sparsely defended. On 31st March, the fleet left Martinique having left a garrison of troops under Lieutenant-General Prescott and a small squadron of ships under Commodore Thompson to defend Martinique should it be necessary. After arriving at St Lucia the next day, troops were again landed in three different and widely separated positions to divide the enemy defenders. The British troops were landed without opposition and in a campaign lasting three days, captured the island without loss. In the storming of the redoubt at Morne Fortunee, the enemy suffered losses of two officers and 30 men. The sole survivor of the French garrison of 33 men was taken prisoner. A small British garrison was left behind under Colonel Sir Charles Gordon and the rest of the soldiers and Jervis' fleet returned to Martinique, arriving there on 5th March 1794.

After spending two days preparing for the next assault, Jervis and his fleet including HMS Boyne left Martinique early in the morning of the 8th March bound for the French-held island of Guadeloupe. After arriving on the 10th March, a strong party of seamen, marines and soldiers landed under the shore battery at about 01:00 on the 11th. They were covered in this by the guns on HMS Winchelsea, which had anchored about 50 yards from the battery. At daylight, HMS Winchelsea opened fire on the battery and very soon, silenced it's guns. The only casualty in this operation was Lord Garlies, captain of HMS Winchelsea, who received a slight wound.

On 12th March, a party of seamen led by Captain Faulknor assisted the army in storming the fort atop an almost vertical slope at Fleur d'Epee. They scaled the hill under a rain of musket and grapeshot, took the parapet, fought their way to the gates of the fort and opened them, admitting another force of seamen. After this, the French garrison at Fort St. Louis, the town of Pointe-a-Pietre and a new French battery on the islet of Islot-a-Cochon all fled by boat to the town of Basseterre. In the meantime, Jervis dispatched HMS Quebec, HMS Ceres, HMS Rose and one of the sloops to attack the Isles des Saintes, adjacent to Guadeloupe. These three islands were taken by a force of seamen and marines without loss. The French garrison on Guadeloupe surrendered on the 20th March. After leaving behind a small garrison, Jervis and the fleet left Guadeloupe and returned to Martinique.

The situation in that part of the Caribbean remained quiet until the morning of the 3rd June 1794, when a force of nine French ships arrived at Guadeloupe and began landing troops at the village of Gosier. They quickly overwhelmed the small British garrison left behind on the island. On 5th June, the news reached Vice-Admiral Jervis in HMS Boyne, which was lying at the island of St. Christopher in company with HMS Veteran, HMS Winchelsea and HMS Nautilus. Also aboard HMS Boyne was Sir Charles Grey. Jervis reacted immediately, dispatching HMS Winchelsea to Antigua and HMS Nautilus to Martinique to pick up troops, while he set sail for Guadeloupe in HMS Boyne in company with HMS Veteran. In the afternoon of the 7th June, the two ships arrived off Guadeloupe and were quickly joined by HMS Vanguard (74 - she had replaced HMS Irresistible which had been sent to Jamaica) and HMS Vengeance. Sir Charles Grey landed immediately at Basseterre, while Jervis in HMS Boyne with HMS Vengeance, HMS Vanguard and HMS Veteran made their way to Gosier. Once there, covered by the guns of HMS Winchelsea and HMS Solebay, they landed troops and about 1,200 seamen under the command of Captains Lewis Robertson of HMS Veteran and Charles Sawyer of HMS Vanguard. Encountering no opposition, they took control of Gosier. Between 25th June and the end of the month, several indecisive skirmishes took place between the French and British forces. On 2nd July, the British launched an assault on Pointe-a-Pietre, which was repulsed by the French. The failure of this attack led to the abandonment of a planned assault on Fleur d'Epee. The failure led to the British withdrawal from the greater part of Guadeloupe and the two forces pretty much left each other alone until the end of September 1794, when the French were reinforced on the 27th by a strong force arriving from France. These reinforcements drove the British out of the rest of the island and on 7th October, the last British outpost at Berville surrendered.

In early 1795, France invaded and conquered the Seven Provinces of the Netherlands, mother country of the Dutch East India Company, which controlled the Cape Colony around modern-day Cape Town, South Africa at the time. In order to prevent the French from using their control over the Company's homeland to restrict British trade and shipping movements, the British decided to seize the colony. To that end, HMS Rattlesnake was redeployed with a new commander, Mr John Spranger, to join the squadron commanded by Vice-Admiral Sir George Keith Elphinstone, flying his command flag in HMS Monarch (74) tasked with taking the Cape Colony from the Dutch. In addition to HMS Monarch and HMS Rattlesnake, Vice-Admiral Elphinstone also had under his command HMS Victorious and HMS Arrogant (both of 74 guns), HMS America and HMS Stately (both of 64 guns), the frigate HMS Heroine (12pdr, 32) and the 32pdr carronade-armed ship-sloop HMS Echo of 18 guns.

The British force arrived off Simons Town in the Cape Colony in early June 1795. Vice-Admiral Elphinstone wrote to the Dutch governor and suggested that he place the colony under British protection, effectively handing the territory over. This was refused, so on 14th June, a force comprising 350 of the squadron's Royal Marines, plus 450 men of the 78th Highlanders were landed and occupied Simon's Town. Although the British controlled the main town in the colony, the Dutch militia's still controlled the surrounding area from their base at Muizenberg, from where they could harrass the British force. It was agreed by Vice-Admiral Elphinstone and General James Craig (commanding the land force) that the infantry should be reinforced by 1,000 sailors taken from the ships in the squadron. These were organised into two battalions, each of 500 men. One was under the command of Commander Temple Hardy of HMS Echo and one was under Commander Spranger. The naval force was deployed to boats from every ship in the squadron, which were also fitted with carronades taken from ships to serve as close-range artillery support. On 7th August, the two sloops in company with HMS America and HMS Stately made their way along the coast towards Muizenberg with the ships boats and commenced a highly effective bombardment of Dutch positions. The campaign lasted until 16th September, when the Dutch finally surrendered. Losses were remarkably light on both sides. In all, the British lost 34 dead, of whom only 8 were killed in action. The rest died from disease. This relatively minor battle in which the men of HMS Rattlesnake participated is actually highly significant. Although the Cape Colony was returned to the Dutch under the Treaty of Amiens which ended the war in 1802, it was to be retaken during the Napoleonic War in 1806 and formed the springboard from which the British went on to colonise Africa.

On the 24th of November 1795, Commander Spranger was Posted, or promoted to Captain, and returned to the UK to take command of the 24-gun post-ship HMS Sphinx and was replaced in command of HMS Rattlesnake by Mr Edward Ramage. Shortly after that, Vice-Admiral Elphinstone detached HMS Heroine, HMS Rattlesnake, HMS Echo and the 6pdr-armed 16-gun ship-sloop HMS Swift along with five armed ships of the Honourable East India Company with a body of troops under Colonel Stuart to Ceylon, in order to take the French colony of Colombo. On the 5th of February 1796, the force arrived off the town and harbour of Negombo about 18 miles from Colombo. Finding that the enemy had abandoned the fortress there, the troops were landed and quickly took possession of it the following day. Colonel Stuart then marched his forc overland to Colombo, while the ships anchored off the Fortress there in order to land the artillery intended to lay seige. Preparations to attack the French fortress at Colombo by the 14th of February and Colonel Stuart invited the French garrison to surrender. On the 15th, the French indicated their agreement with the terms of the surrender.

By early July 1796, HMS Echo and HMS Rattlesnake were back off the Cape of Good Hope and on the 7th, in company with HMS Stately, they captured the French privateer Milanie.

The newly conquered Netherlands, now called the Batavian Republic, launched an expedition to retake the Cape Colony from the British. A force of 9 Dutch ships, including three ships of the line was sent under the command of Rear-Admiral Engelbertus Lucas. This force arrived in Saldanha Bay off the Cape Colony on 6th August 1796. The British had been expecting the Dutch force and when news of their arrival reached General Craig and Vice-Admiral Elphinstone, they immediately made their way to the Bay to confront the Dutch force. Craig arrived with 2,500 troops and 9 heavy field guns. Elphinstone's force was prevented from entering the Bay by the weather until 16th August but when conditions became favourable, Lucas found himself trapped. The British naval force was far superior to his own and he surrendered without firing a shot. All 9 of the Dutch ships were taken into Royal Navy service, as were the crews of the Dutch ships, most of whom were actually German anyway.

After the capture of the Dutch Cape Colony, HMS Rattlesnake was to remain at the Cape of Good Hope for the next few years. On the 20th of September 1799, HMS Rattlesnake was lying at anchor in Algoa Bay near the Cape in company with the en-flute-armed former 44-gun two-decker HMS Camel, serving as a stores ship for the Army. HMS Rattlesnake had her yards and topmasts down with the topgallant masts on the deck for maintenance and repairs. Commander John Lee of HMS Camel, with his First Lieutenant and 30 of his men, together with Commander Samuel Gooch of HMS Rattlesnake were ashore serving with the Army. At 16:00, the sails of a large vessel were sighted approaching the bay. The stranger continued on her course until about 17:00 when she changed tack, shortened sail and hoisted Danish colours. The stranger continued to close until about 18:00, when she was within 800 yards of HMS Rattlesnake. At this point, HMS Camel's boat, acting as guard-boat, closed wth the stranger intending to board, but when they were almost alongside, they noticed armed men on the strangers decks. They headed back to HMS Camel in a hurry with news that the stranger was a large frigate. In the meantime, a British schooner, the Surpise on working out of the bay passed close to the stranger and was hailed by them. The Surprise altered course and passed HMS Rattlesnake, passing news that the stranger was in fact, a French frigate, the Preneuse, an 18pdr-armed frigate of 40 guns. Lieutenant William Fothergill, First Lieutenant in HMS Rattlesnake in the absence of any more senior officers, found himself in overall command of both HMS Rattlenake and HMS Camel. He ordered that the signal for 'Enemy in Sight' be hoisted and ordered that both ships prepare for action. He ordered that a shot be fired under the stern of the Preneuse, which the French ship ignored and continued closing. For Lieutenant Fothergill, it was clear that the enemy intended to board his ship, so he ordered that the anchor cables be used to bring his broadside to bear on the Preneuse and at shortly before 21:00, HMS Rattlesnake opened fire on the vastly superior enemy ship, followed closely by HMS Camel. The Preneuse returned the British fire and hoisted her French colours, aiming most of her fire at HMS Camel. The fighting continued until about midnight when the wind changed, forcing HMS Camel to alter her anchor cable to bring her reduced broadside to bear on the enemy frigate again. HMS Camel's Carpenter then reported that the sip had received a shot below the magazine and had six feet of water in the hold. HMS Camel ceased firing so that her crew could man the pumps. Thinking that he had silenced HMS Camel, the Preneuse's captain then ordered his gunners to concentrate their fire on HMS Rattlesnake. This continued until about 03:30 on the 21st, when the Preneuse suddenly ceased firing and headed off under her main topsail only, indicating that she may have been badly damaged aloft. In this action, HMS Rattlesnake had her main and mizzen masts damaged along with her main topmast and bowsprit with some shot-holes below the waterline. Out of the 92 men aboard at the time of the action, her Carpenter and a seaman were killed and another mortally wounded while six more seamen suffered less serious wounds. During the action, both commanders attempted to get out to their ships but the surf was so high, their boats couldn't get off the beach. A messenger was sent overland to Simons Town with news of the French attack and of the apparently crippled state of the Preneuse and on the 8th of October, the two ships were joined by the 50-gun ship of the line HMS Jupiter.

The Battle of Algoa Bay by Johann Bennetter. La Preneuse is the French frigate in the centre, HMS Camel is to her left and HMS Rattlesnake is in the background, behind La Preneuse:

HMS Rattlesnake off the Cape Colony:

HMS Jupiter was to chase the Preneuse and engaged her on the 10th of October, but was beaten off with heavy damage by the French frigate as a result of being unable to open her lower gundeck gunports in the heavy seas. The Prenuese was eventually caught and cornered off Mauritius on the 11th of December by HMS Tremendous (74) and HMS Adamant (50) and was driven ashore by her crew and destroyed.

On the 25th of March 1802, the Treaty of Amiens was signed, ending the French Revolutionary War. As part of the agreement, the British had agreed to return the Indian city of Pondicherry to the French and HMS Rattlesnake and the rest of the ships of the Cape Station took part in joint exercises with the French squadron sent to take possession of the colony. The peace, despite the politicians promises, did not last and Britain declared war on France again on the 18th of May 1803 starting what is now known as the Napoleonic War.

At 15:15 on the 9th of July 1806, the British 74-gun, third rate ship of the line HMS Powerful was patrolling off Ceylon, modern-day Sri Lanka, when she sighted a ship running under all sail, including studding sails. Shortly afterward, another, smaller vessel was seen to be in full pursuit of the stranger. The second vessel was quickly identified as being HMS Rattlesnake under Commander John Bastard, while the first vessel was seen to be the famous French privateer La Bellone, a frigate-built vessel of 28 guns carrying 8pdr long guns and 36pdr carronades. HMS Powerful was able to intercept La Bellone as she attempted to pass between her and the shore and after a running fight lasting almost three hours, forced the French privateer to surrender. Although HMS Rattlesnake was not involved in the action, her crew was given a share of the considerable prize money by agreement between Captain Robert Plampin of HMS Powerful and Commander Bastard.

On the 24th of January 1807, HMS Rattlesnake captured the French brig-privateer Les Deux Soers of sixteen guns and 130 men.

After that, HMS Rattlesnake is next seen in the records as being in The Downs, the great fleet anchorage off Deal on the 14th of September 1814, but was one of a number of vessels laying at Plymouth being advertised for sale on the 22nd of October.
"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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