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Author Topic: HMS Montreal (1761 - 1793)  (Read 960 times)

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Offline Bilgerat

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HMS Montreal (1761 - 1793)
« Reply #1 on: July 04, 2018, 21:14:10 »
HMS Montreal was a 12pdr-armed, 32-gun, Fifth-Rate frigate of the Niger Class, built at the Sheerness Royal Dockyard.

The Niger Class was a group of eleven sailing frigates designed by Sir Thomas Slade, Co-Surveyor of the Navy, now more famous of course for having designed HMS Victory. Of the eleven ships of the Niger Class, six were built in Kent shipyards and HMS Montreal was the second of a trio of such ships built consecutively at Sheerness, which included the lead ship.

Of the other Kent-built ships of the Niger Class, in addition to HMS Niger and HMS Montreal, HMS Winchelsea was also built at Sheerness, while HMS Pearl and HMS Aurora were built at the Chatham Royal Dockyard and HMS Aeolus was built under Navy Board contract by Thomas West at his Deptford shipyard.

See here for the stories of HMS Niger:

HMS Pearl:

and HMS Aeolus:

As a general point, at the time the ship was built, the 12pdr-armed, 32-gun frigate was one of two main types of frigate in service with the Royal Navy, the other being the 9pdr-armed 28-gun sixth-rate ship. From the early 1780's however, both types began to fall into obsolescence in the face of larger and more heavily-armed French frigates. The Royal Navy had also begun to build 18pdr-armed frigates at about the same time, but production of these ships was slow to get started so that when the French Revolutionary War broke out in 1793, many of the older 12- and 9pdr-armed frigates were recommissioned. These ships gave good service despite their advancing age and obsolescence until they were replaced from the late 1790's by larger 18pdr-armed frigates mounting 32, 36, 38 or 40 guns.

HMS Montreal was ordered from the Sheerness Royal Dockyard on the 6th JUne 1759 and her first keel section was laid at Sheerness on the 26th April 1760. The reason for the delay was that at the time, there were no bridges to the then isolated and relatively remote Isle of Sheppey and all the timber and other materials to be used in the ship's construction had to be taken there either via a ferry from the mainland or directly to the Royal Dockyard by sea. At the time the ship was ordered, the Seven Years War was in full swing and the Royal Navy was undergoing a process of massive expansion. This was because the Seven years War, which had started in 1754 as a territorial dispute between French and British colonists in North America, had rapidly escalated during 1756 into what is now regarded as being the first real World War in the true sense of the phrase.

Construction, once started had proceeded rapidly, supervised by Mr Joseph Harris, the Master Shipwright in the Sheerness Royal Dockyard. On 15th September 1761, the new frigate was launched with all due ceremony into the Swale. After her launch, the ship was fitted with guns, masts and rigging at Sheerness and also received her commander, Captain William Howe.

On completion, HMS Montreal was a ship of 681 tons, she was 125ft long on her gundeck, 103ft 4in long along the keel and 35ft 2in wide across the beams. She was armed with 26 x 12pdr long guns on her gundeck with 2 x 6pdr long guns on her forecastle and four more on her quarterdeck. In addition to her main guns, she had a dozen half-pounder swivel guns attached to her forercastle and quarterdeck handrails and in her fighting tops. The ship was manned by a crew of 220 officers, seamen, boys and Marines. The cost of building and fitting out the ship came to £11,503.17s.11d.

Niger Class Plans

From top to bottom, Gundeck or Main Deck, Berth or Lower Deck and Orlop plans:

Quarterdeck and Forecastle Plans:

Inboard Profile and Plan:

Sheer Plan and Lines:

A model of HMS Winchelsea. This model is remarkably well documented. In the collection of the National Maritime Museum, it was made by Mr Thomas Boroughs at the Woolwich Royal Dockyard in 1764 to a commission by Lord Sandwich, the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time. It is of the highest quality, because Lord Sandwich intended to display it to King George III and the Prince of Wales in order to spark their interest in the Royal Navy. Also a Niger Class frigate, HMS Montreal would have been identical, apart from her figurehead and decorations.

Port-side view showing the frames:

Starboard side view, showing the details of the hull and deck fittings:

Bow view:

Stern View:

On the 30th December 1761, fitting out, storing and manning the ship complete, HMS Montreal sailed for the Mediterranean, where she was to be engaged in the typical duties of a frigate, those of patrolling and scouting for the fleet. During her commission in the Mediterranean, HMS Montreal saw no action. The French Toulon Fleet had been roundly defeated in the Battle of Lagos in 1759 and did not put to sea again in numbers for the rest of the war. In fact, the defeat at Lagos together with the catastrophic defeat of the French Atlantic Fleet in the Battle of Quiberon Bay later in the same year had allowed the British to dominate the war at sea to such a degree that the French Government was unable to effectively defend their overseas possessions. These had been systematically taken by the British in a strategy intended to deprive the French and their Spanish allies of trade and therefore money. France had been forced to default on her debts to be able to continue the war, which led to financiers refusing to loan them any more money. This forced them to the negotiating table, which resulted in the 1763 Treaty of Paris, signed on the 10th of February, which ended the Seven Years War.

Despite the end of the war, HMS Montreal remained in the Mediterranean, showing the flag, protecting British trade against Barbary Corsairs and helping to maintain relations with Britain's allies in the region. On 6th January 1764, Captain Howe died and was replaced in command of HMS Montreal by Captain the Honourable Keith Stewart, the second son of Alexander Stewart, the Earl of Galloway. Since the ship's company was comprised largely of men who had been pressed into service during the Seven Years War, Captain Stewart received orders to return to the UK and pay them off, recommission the ship with a new crew and return to the Mediterranean. Accordingly, the ship paid off in June of 1764 and recommissioned the following month, returning to the Mediterranean as ordered. In 1766, Captain Stewart was replaced in command by Captain Phillips Cosby.

In the late summer of 1767, Admiral the Prince Edward Augustus, Duke of York and Albany and younger brother of King George III had been travelling by sea to Genoa when he fell ill with a fever and was taken ashore to the palace of the Prince of Monaco where he died on 17th September. HMS Montreal brought his body back to London and then returned to the Mediterranean where she remained until 1769, when she returned to Portsmouth to be paid off and undergo a refit. During that refit, the ship was surveyed and was used as the basis of a new frigate to be built for the Kingdon of Sardinia to be called San Carlo.

Recommissioning in December 1769, the ship returned to the Mediterranean where she remained until she paid off into the Chatham Ordinary in March of 1773.

HMS Montreal remained in the Chatham Ordinary, secured to a mooring buoy in the River Medway until trouble in the American Colonies escalated into an armed rebellion in 1775. In June of 1776, HMS Montreal was ordered to be taken into the No.2 dry-dock at Chatham to be prepared for sea, but a survey of the dock prior to the ship entering it found much of the dock's timber structure to be rotten. The rot was a result of more than a century of neglect which had resulted in much of the infrastructure of the Chatham Royal Dockyard becoming derelict. Although the Navy Board had ordered much of the Dockyard to be refurbished and rebuilt from 1770, peacetime budget cuts had caused the work to fall well behind. The outbreak of war in North America resulted in money becoming no object, so once the repairs to the dry-dock were completed in July of 1777, the work on preparing the ship for sea could finally begin. Once the work began, problems with the ship were found, which resulted in what should have been a fairly simple job escalating into a 'middling' repair, which took until February of 1778 to complete at a cost of £8,123.18s.7d.

HMS Montreal recommissioned again under Captain Stair Douglas and on the 24th April 1778, the ship sailed to join the growing war in North America. By this stage, France had openly joined the war on the side of the American rebels. By the late spring of 1779, HMS Montreal had returned to the Mediterranean and on the 1st May, was patrolling off Gibraltar in company with the 12pdr-armed 32-gun frigate HMS Thetis when the two frigates sighted two large ships approaching under Dutch colours. Experienced sailors of the time would know a French-built ship when they saw one and suspecting the strangers to be French, the British frigates altered course away. HMS Thetis managed to get away, but despite putting up a fight, HMS Montreal found herself cornered by two French 74-gun ships of the line, Le Bourgogne and Le Victoire. Standing no chance against the two much larger and more powerful French warships, either of which could reduce his ship to matchwood, Captain Douglas ordered that his colours be struck and the ship surrendered to the enemy.

After her capture, the now ex-HMS Montreal was taken to Toulon and was refitted for French service. Now renamed Le Montreal, the ship was commissioned into the French Toulon Fleet under Captain de Vialis de Fontbelle. In late July 1780, the ship was engaged in escorting a convoy when her lookouts sighted four vessels in chase. These turned out to be the 9pdr-armed 24-gun British post-ship HMS Porcupine, the 6pdr-armed 20-gun Xebec HMS Minorca and two further privateer Xebecs. Captain de Fontbelle ordered the convoy to steer towards a tower at Marabout Bay to the west of Algiers and seek shelter under their cover, knowing that the Dey of Algiers was officially neutral, but favoured France. Captain Charles Henry Knowles of HMS Porcupine decided to ignore Algerian neutrality and attack the French convoy on the grounds that the Dey of Algiers had allowed a French frigate to attack and seize two British merchant vessels off Algiers in the recent past. HMS Porcupine followed the convoy into the bay and quickly forced four of the vessels to surrender. At 06:45, HMS Porcupine and HMS Minorca began engaging Le Montreal and were driven off by the frigate. Le Montreal had badly damaged HMS Porcupine in the action, the British ship had four feet of water in her hold and had been hit and holed nine times below the waterline. French casualties in the Action off Algiers of 30th July 1780 were three dead with Captain de Fontbelle mortally wounded. At 11:00, the remaining vessels of the French convoy made it safely into Algiers. The Action cost the British two dead aboard HMS Minorca and five dead with two wounded aboard HMS Porcupine.

The American War of Independence was ended by the 1783 Treaty of Paris, signed on the 3rd September 1783 and effective from May 12th 1784. For France, the war had been a disaster. Although they had been on the winning side, France had gained nothing from the war and her financial woes which had followed the Seven Years War were only made worse and the country was bankrupt. When France was struck by famine in the late 1780's and King Louis XVI had been too broke to do anything about it, the French people rose up in Revolution. The anarchy which had followed the Revolution was only made worse by the outbreak of civil war in parts of the country, which pitted those who supported the Revolution against those who still supported the Monarchy. When King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette attempted to flee Paris to join Monarchist forces and were caught, they were tried for treason and were executed on the guillotine on the 21st January 1793. In protest, the British who had initially supported the Revolution, expelled the French Ambassador and on 1st February, France declared war on the UK.

In the intervening years, Le Montreal had been converted into a powder hulk, moored in the harbour at Toulon. She was one of two such vessels, the other being another former frigate, L'Iris, being used to store hundreds of tons of gunpowder for the French Toulon Fleet. On the outbreak of war, the French Toulon fleet had 17 ships ready for sea, which included the enormous 120 gun ship Commerce de Marseilles, one ship of 80 guns and 15 of 74 guns. In addition to these, there was the 120 gun Dauphin Royale plus one ship of 80 guns and two of 74 guns refitting and a further two ships of 80 guns and seven of 74 guns either under repair or requiring repairs before they could put to sea. This force was under the command of Rear-Admiral the Compte de Trogoff, a staunch monarchist who was not about to take up arms for the Republican usurpers and regicides in Paris. This view was shared by most of the people living in the area and their main fear was what would happen when the republicans came to take over. It was no suprise therefore when two representatives from Toulon arrived aboard HMS Victory (100), flagship of Admiral Sir Samuel, the Lord Hood, Commander-in-Chief of the British Mediterranean Fleet, intending to make a treaty with the British force blockading their city. Their long-term aim was to start a counter-revolution and re-establish the Monarchy in France.

To this end, Royalist insurrections occurred in the French cities of Lyons, Avignon, Marseilles and Nimes. In these, French Royalist forces took control of those cities. In Toulon, the main French arsenal and naval base on the Mediterranean coast, the Royalists under Baron d'Imbert took control of the city. When news reached Toulon that revolutionary forces had retaken Marseilles and of the savage reprisals there, Baron d'Imbert appealed for help from the British and Spanish fleets blockading the port. In August 1793, Lord Hood and his Spanish counterpart, Admiral Juan de Langara committed a total of 13,000 British, Spanish, Neopolitan and Piedmontese troops to the French Royalist cause. On 18th September, an enormous armada of 37 British, 32 Spanish and 5 Neopolitan ships of the line entered the harbour at Toulon and took possession of the city. On 1st October, Baron d'Imbert proclaimed the 8-year old Prince Louis-Charles, son of the dead king, to be King Louis XVII and raised the Royalist flag over the city.

Anglo-Spanish forces land in Toulon:

This was a disaster for the Revolutionary Government. Not only had they lost the means to control the Mediterranean Sea, but a significant Counter-Revolution had started in Toulon and if allowed to spread, could well mean the end of the Revolution and the end of the Republic. They were determined to stop it at all costs and laid siege to the city, starting on 8th September.

As more Republican troops poured into the area, the British and their allies found it increasingly difficult to hold the fortifictions surrounding the city. What the British didn't know was that the French artillery was being organised by a brilliant young captain of Artillery hailing from Corsica who had friends in high places in the Revolutionary Government. His name was Napoleon Bonaparte. He came up with a plan to attack a weak point in the defenses and isolate the harbour from the city. After reducing the defenses between September and 16th December, the French Republican forces entered the city, forcing the British and their allies to evacuate or face capture. Any French warships not ready for sea were burned.

On the 19th December 1793, Admiral Hood ordered Spanish soldiers to destroy the two powder hulks moored in the harbour and later that day, both Le Montreal and L'Iris were destroyed by massive explosions after the fires set by the Spanish troops reached the hundreds of tons of gunpowder stored on their decks.

The destruction of Le Montreal and L'Iris by Thomas Whitcombe:

"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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