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Author Topic: HMS Union (1756 - 1816)  (Read 297 times)

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Offline Dave Smith

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Re: HMS Union (1756 - 1816)
« Reply #3 on: August 27, 2018, 16:53:44 »
Phew! Thanks again Bilgerat for another bit of history of how our Royal Navy " ruled the Seas"- completely new to me. It seems unimaginable that the Master Shipwright should be handed a specification ( Establishment) & told, " there you are, get on with it"- just like that! In later years that the design was produced centrally by the Navy Board seems much more realistic. £52,000 for HMS Union seems quite expensive compared with those costs- albeit for a much smaller ship- you told us about previously. The nitrous vapour fumigation results seem quite remarkable, we were lucky to have such men as Dr.Carmichael Smyth- has anyone heard of Him? I certainly hadn't.

Offline conan

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Re: HMS Union (1756 - 1816)
« Reply #2 on: August 26, 2018, 21:53:19 »
Thanks for that Bilgerat,every time I read one of your excellent,and detailed,posts I learn a bit more of English (and world) history that I didn't know about before.
To remain ignorant of what happened before you were born is to remain a child......Cicero

Offline Bilgerat

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HMS Union (1756 - 1816)
« Reply #1 on: August 24, 2018, 22:17:04 »
HMS Union was a Second Rate ship of the line of 90 guns, built at the Chatham Royal Dockyard. The ship was one of a pair ordered to be designed and built at Chatham to the 1745 Establishment for a 90-gun ship, the other was the famous HMS Namur, the remains of which were found under the floor of the Wheelwrights Shop at the Chatham Historic Dockyard in 1995, but which took until 2012 to identify.

An Establishment was a set of detailed specifications for a warship, within which the Master Shipwright at a building yard was expected to design and build a ship. The 1745 Establishment was intended to fully replace the 1719 Establishment, which itself had been amended in 1733 and 1741. The ships produced under these Establishments had never been entirely satisfactory, despite the Amendments and the 1745 Establishment was intended to rectify these shortcomings. Unfortunately, the 1745 Establishment was also not entirely successful and amendments were made fairly soon after it was issued. The problem was that the Navy Board had seen to it that Amendments to the Establishments could only be issued with permission from the Privy Council and this led to political disputes between the Admiralty, which controlled the deployments of the fleet and the appointment of Naval Officers and the Navy Board, which controlled the design and construction of new ships and the Dockyards which built them.

The 1745 Establishment for a 90-gun ship proved to be unsatisfactory, so an Amendment to the draft was issued in 1750 and it was within these specifications that both HMS Namur and HMS Union were designed and built.

In 1751, Admiral George, the Lord Anson became First Lord of the Admiralty. As a very successful, senior naval commander, he not only had first-hand experience of working with and fighting the Establishment ships, he also had the ears of not only senior politicians, but also the King. He eventually saw to it that Sir Joseph Allin, the last of the Surveyors of the old school in the Navy Board, was replaced with more forward-looking men, Thomas Slade and William Bately. He initiated reforms of the Navy Board which resulted in the Admiralty gaining control of the Navy Board and designs for new ships being produced centrally by the Navy Board, finally ending the era of the Establishments. HMS Namur and HMS Union were the last second-rate ships of the line built at Chatham to an Establishment and the next second-rate ship off the 'Production Line' at Chatham, HMS Sandwich, was the first of a class of three identical ships, two of which were to be ordered from Chatham, designed centrally by the Surveyor of the Navy; in their case, Thomas Slade.

HMS Union and HMS Namur were both ordered from the Chatham Royal Dockyard on the 12th July 1750, along with HMS Neptune, ordered to be designed and built at Portsmouth Royal Dockyard. Construction of HMS Union was the first to start at Chatham and her first keel section was laid on the 5th June. At the time the ship was ordered, Great Britain was enjoying a period of peace, although the issues fought over in the War of Austrian Succession, which ended in 1749, had never really been resolved and the Government knew that it was only a matter of time before war broke out again.

While the construction projects for both HMS Namur and HMS Union were underway at Chatham, tensions were rising between French and British colonists in North America. The British colonists were expanding westwards and were increasingly coming into conflict with French colonists, expanding northward from their colonies in modern-day Louisiana. The French were building a series of forts to be used to secure what they saw as their territory, driving British colonists out. Things came to a head on the 28th May 1754, when a force of the Virginia Militia ambushed a force of French troops in what is now known as the Battle of Jumonville Glen. Fighting soon spread across the Colonial boundaries in North America and would eventually lead to the British declaring war against France on the 17th May 1756, starting what is now known as the Seven Years War.

Meanwhile, back at the Chatham Royal Dockyard, the outbreak of war with France saw the fleet being mobilised and construction projects in hand such as HMS Union gained a sense of urgency. On the 25th September 1756, HMS Union was launched into the River Medway with all due ceremony. The day before her launch, the ship commissioned into the Channel Fleet under Captain James Galbraith. On the 21st January 1757, the ship was declared complete at Chatham at a total cost including fitting out of £52,157.7s.8d.

On completion, HMS Union was a ship of 1,781 tons. She was 171ft 2in long along her upper gundeck and 141ft 5in long along the keel. The ship was 48ft 8in wide across her beams and drew 13ft 6in of water at her bows and 18ft at the rudder. She was armed with 26 x 32pdr long guns on her lower gundeck, 26 x 18pdr long guns on her middle gundeck, 26 x 12pdr long guns on her upper gundeck, 2 x 6pdr long guns on her forecastle with ten more on her quarterdeck. In addition to her main guns, she carried about a dozen half-pounder swivel guns fitted to her quarterdeck and forecastle bulwarks and in her fighting tops. HMS Union was manned by a crew of 750 officers, seamen, boys and marines.

HMS Union - Sheer Plan and Lines:



When the ship joined the Channel Fleet, she became flagship to Vice-Admiral Thomas Smith. The opening battles of the Seven Years War had gone badly for the British. The island of Minorca with the vital naval base at Port Mahon had been lost in June 1756. It had also gone badly ashore in America after the French managed to persuade many Native American tribes to fight alongside them and in Europe, the main British ally Austria had allied herself with the French. Things weren't helped by political instability at home. This changed in June 1757 when a coalition was formed between two former political opponents, the Duke of Newcastle and William Pitt the Elder. Once a division of political responsibilities had been agreed between the two men, the Government was able to set a strategic policy which had been lacking before. In 1758, Pitt decided on a strategy to distract the French by attacking them in their overseas possessions. This approach had a number of advantages. Firstly, it would divide the French forces by making them send troops and ships to defend their colonies and trading posts and secondly it would deprive the French of trade and therefore money. A series of so-called 'Descents' or amphibious assaults were launched on the French coast, their trading posts on the west coast of Africa were attacked and taken and plans were laid to take Quebec.

In early 1759, the British became aware of French plans for an invasion of Britain. This was to involve the transport of 100,000 French troops in a huge fleet of barges and flat-bottomed boats across the English Channel. The invasion fleet was to be built in Le Havre, Brest, Morlaix, Lorient and Nantes. Initially, the plans were to involve a Jacobite uprising in Scotland under Charles Stewart, the so-called Bonnie Prince Charlie, but this part of the plan was cancelled after the Young Pretender turned up to a meeting with the French military High Command late and drunk. Nevertheless, plans for the invasion continued to evolve such that by the summer of 1759, it had been decided that the invasion would be launched from Le Havre alone and that the hundreds of invasion craft should gather there to await favourable winds, to carry them to the Portsmouth area where they were to land. The British laid their own plans to counter the invasion threat. Admiral Sir Edward Hawke, commanding the Royal Navy's Channel Fleet was to mount a close blockade of the main French naval base at Brest to prevent them from being able to escort the invasion force across the English Channel, while troops were stationed on the Isle of Wight and shore batteries thrown up near likely landing sites. In the early summer, intelligence reached London that the French intended to try to send the fleet unescorted.

In late June 1759, Rear-Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney was ordered to take a squadron of five ships of the line, five frigates, a sloop of war and six Bomb Vessels to Le Havre and destroy the invasion fleet. The subsequent Bombardment of Le Havre led to the French calling off plans to send the invasion fleet unescorted. An alternative plan was hatched to launch the invasion with the remaining invasion craft from Brest, to be escorted across the English Channel by the combined French Brest and Toulon Fleets and land at Maldon in Essex and in Scotland to support a planned Jacobite uprising, dividing the defending British. The Toulon Fleet was caught and scattered by the British Mediterranean Fleet under Admiral Sir Edward Boscawen at the Battle of Lagos in August 1759.

By the autumn of 1759, HMS Union was flagship of the Vanguard Division of the Channel Fleet, under Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Hardy and was commanded by Captain Thomas Evans. Also in the Vanguard Division was the 90-gun ship HMS Duke, HMS Warspite and HMS Hercules (both of 74 guns), HMS Swiftsure of 68 guns, HMS Intrepid of 64 guns and HMS Kingston and HMS Montagu (both of 60 guns).

In the meantime, the Channel Fleet continued with their close blockade of Brest, but in the first week of November 1759, Hawke's fleet was forced to run into Torbay to escape a fierce gale. The French, under the Marshal the Compte de Conflans took the opportunity to put to sea. The French force was under orders to rendezvous with and escort a fleet of troopships waiting in the Golfe de Morbihan to Scotland and mount an invasion there. On 14th November 1759, Conflans and his fleet left Brest and were spotted by the frigate HMS Actaeon that day. Actaeon was unable to meet Hawke's fleet which by now was on it's way back to it's blockade stations. The following day, the French were sighted by the British victualling ship Love and Unity, which met with Hawke's returning fleet. Love and Unity's master reported that he had sighted the French 70 miles west of Belle Ile, heading towards Quiberon Bay. Hawke ordered his fleet including HMS Union, to sail for Quiberon Bay as hard as they could into the teeth of a South-south-easterly gale.

On the night of the 19th November, Conflans ordered his fleet to reduce sail in order to arrive at Quiberon Bay the following morning, rather than in the middle of the night. Early the following morning, the French force spotted sails which turned out to be those of a small squadron of 4 50 gun ships and 4 frigates, commanded by Captain Robert Duff. These had stayed behind to watch the transport ships while Hawke and the main fleet had sought shelter in Torbay. Realising that the strange sails belonged to a small squadron rather than a full fleet, COnflans ordered his fleet to give chase. Duff split his force into two, north and south, pursued by the French vanguard and centre. The rear of the French fleet peeled off to investigate strange sails appearing to the West. These turned out to be the British Fleet with 24 ships of the line, led by Admiral Hawke, flying his command flag in the giant HMS Royal George of 100 guns. The French broke off their pursuit of Duff's squadron (which incidentally had 50 guns ships called HMS Chatham and HMS Rochester).

It was the ex-French HMS Magnanime (74) which spotted the French first, at 08:30 and on receiving signals to that effect, Hawke ordered his fleet to form a line abreast. Conflans on the other hand was forced to make a tough decision. Stand and fight where he was in the teeth of a violent gale or head into the Bay with it's shoals and rocks and try to entice Hawke to follow him. At 09:00, Hawke gave the signal for a general chase and for the seven ships closest to the French, which included HMS Union, to form a line of battle and despite the dangers, make all sail and get stuck into the French. By 14:30, the British were beginning to overtake the French and what is now known as the Battle of Quiberon Bay began in earnest.

AT 16:30, the French 80-gun ship Formidable, having been battered by the British vanguard was the first to strike her colours in surrender, to the British 74-gun ship HMS Resolution, just as Admiral HAwke, flying his command flag in the 100-gun first rate ship of the line HMS Royal George entered the Bay. In the intervening time, the French 74-gun ship Thesee foundered during her duel with HMS Torbay (74) having failed to close her lower gundeck gunports in the heavy seas, the French 70-gun ship Superbe capsized and sank after receiving a broadside at point blank range from HMS Royal George and the French 74-gun ship L'Heros surrendered to HMS Magnanime, commanded by Captain Lord Howe. The Compte de Conflans had not expected the British to actually sail into the Bay in the teeth of a severe gale, with it's labyrinth of rocks and sandbanks and decided to try to get away from the lee shore he found himself and his fleet trapped against and head out for the safety of the open sea. He ordered his flagship, the 80-gun ship Soleil Royal to head for the entrance to the bay, just as Hawke in HMS Royal George was rounding the point. HMS Royal George positioned herself to rake the French flagship, but the French 74-gun ship Intrepide stood between the two ships and was severely damaged. The Soleil Royal was unable to escape the Bay and instead ran for the cover of shore batteries at Croisic. At night fall, about 17:00, Hawke ordered the fleet to anchor. During the stormy night, eight French ships found their way out of the Bay and escaped to Rochefort. Seven more French ships threw their guns and stores overboard and escaped to the mouth of the River Villaine. The French 74-gun ship Juste was lost as she made for the Loire Estuary while HMS Resolution (74) was driven aground on the Four Shoal and was wrecked. Later in the night, the Soleil Royal was also driven on to the Four Shoal and wrecked trying to reach Croisic, as was HMS Essex, sent by Hawke in pursuit. Sunrise the next day saw L'Heros also driven aground.

The power of the French fleet had been smashed. Hawke had scored an overwhelming victory against the French, who had lost six of their 21 ships of the line wrecked or sunk with another being captured by the British. In all, some 2,500 French sailors had perished. The British on the other hand, had lost two ships of the line wrecked and had suffered 400 fatalities.

The tracks of the fleets in the lead-up to the Battle of Quiberon Bay:



The Battle of Quiberon Bay by Nicholas Pocock, painted in 1812:



The loss of the Thesee (74) after her duel with HMS Torbay:



The aftermath of the battle. HMS Resolution lies on her side on the Four Shoal. Le Soleil Royal and L'Heros both lie in flames behind her:



The scale of the British victory had consequences for the rest of the war. The power of the French fleet was broken and did not recover until after the war. The French were unable to resupply their army in Canada and this in turn led to the eventual British victory there. In addition, the French Government suffered a credit crunch as financiers realised that the Royal Navy could now strike French possessions at will and refused to lend the French Government any more money. The French Government was forced to default on it's debts in order to continue the war.

After the battle, the Channel Fleet blockaded the remnants of the French Atlantic Fleet in it's bases. In the meantime, plans had been laid to seize the French island of Belle Isle, off the Brittany Coast. This island was strategically important as it offers command of the Bay of Biscay and of the approaches to the French naval base at Lorient. The administration of William Pitt the Elder considered that the island could be used as the stepping stone to more amphibious assualts on the Biscay Coast of France itself as well as to prevent the French from using the naval base. The Government had already proposed an invasion of Belle Isle the previous year, but it had been opposed by King George II on the grounds that the army would be better off concentrating its resources on the ongoing campaign in modern-day Germany. The King had died on October 27th 1760 and had been succeeded by his grandson, King George III. The young new king was keen to see the war brought to a rapid end and on 25th March 1761 had given his approval for the planned invasion to go ahead and had signed secret orders to that effect. Commodore the Honourable Sir Augustus Keppel was to command the naval force and Major-General Studholm Hodgson was to command an army of about 10,000 men. The fleet was to comprise eleven ships of the line, eight frigates, three sloops-of-war, three bomb vessels and two fireships. WHile Commodore Keppel and his force conducted a successful invasion of Belle Isle, HMS Union and the other ships of the Channel Fleet kept up the blockade, which prevented the French from interfering.

HMS Union was to remain on blockade duty for the rest of the war, which was ended by the Treaty of Paris, signed on 10th February 1763. Later that year, the ship was paid off at Portsmouth and entered the Portsmouth Ordinary. As part of being fitted for the Ordinary, the ship was stripped of all her stores, guns, sails, yards and running rigging. She was manned by a skeleton crew of senior Warrant Officers and their servants, her Boatswain, Carpenter, Gunner and Cook. The Purser was have been allowed to live ashore within a reasonable distance of the Dockyard and the ship became the responsibility of the Master Attendant at the Portsmouth Royal Dockyard. In addition to the Warrant Officers and their servants, she carried a crew of 32 seamen, all rated at Able Seaman. Any work beyond the capabilities of these men would be carried out by gangs of labourers sent by the Master Attendant.

For the British, Pitt's strategy of amphibious assaults on key strategic points on the French coast and of capturing both French and Spanish overseas possessions had effectively won the war. France, unable to trade and generate the money needed to conduct the war, had suffered a credit crunch as financiers refused to loan the French government of King Louis XVI the money needed. This had left them unable to defend their overseas colonies and had led to a vicious circle where defeat had followed defeat. The British had taken French and Spanish colonies in the Caribbean, North America, India and as far away as the Philippines, where the jewel in the crown of Spanish possessions in the far east, Manila, had been taken. Florida and Havana had also been lost. The British had forced the French to cede all the territory in North America between the Appalacian Mountains and the Missisippi River and they had also been forced to give up Quebec in Canada.

Outside this little world, 1765 saw the start of the sequence of events which was to lead to the next war. Struggling under the huge debts run up during what was the first real world war in the true sense of the phrase, the British government began to directly levy taxes on the American colonies. The colonists, although happy to pay taxes intended for the running of local Governments and duties intended for the regulation of trade, objected to the imposition of taxes from London, over which they had no say at all. Political debate grew into protests, not just over the taxes themselves, but also over the draconian and increasingly heavy-handed methods used to enforce them. Protests grew into riots and from 1775, armed rebellion. In 1776, after the American rebels had driven the British from their stronghold at Boston and the part-time soldiers of the colonial militias had won two victories over the regular troops of the British Army at Saratoga, the French began to supply them with arms and money. With the war in America going badly for the British, the French saw an opportunity to regain the possessions and prestige they had lost in the Seven Years War. King Louis XVI calculated that with the British bogged down in North America, they would be unable to prevent the French expanding the scope of the war should they become openly involved in it. This was a move the British feared and attempted to head off by appointing a commission to negotiate an end to the war with the Americans by offering major concessions. The French, fearing this, offered the Americans unlimited military assistance and financial aid in return for a commitment to seek nothing less than full and complete independence. On February 6th 1778, the American Rebels and the French signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and a month later, Britain declared war against France.

In December 1778, HMS Union recommissioned for the Channel Fleet under Captain John Dalrymple and was fitted for sea. The ship was found to be in need of repairs and as part of the repairs and fitting for sea, she was fitted with 6 x 12pdr carronades on her poop deck, her lower gundeck 32pdr long guns were replaced with 24pdrs and her lower hull was sheathed in copper.

On April 13th 1781, HMS Union was part of a fleet commanded by Vice-Admiral Sir George Darby, which mounted the Second Relief of Gibraltar after evading the Franco-Spanish fleet blockading the Rock.

In late 1781, the British received intelligence that the French were about to send a convoy of transport ships with troops and military stores together with a fleet of 19 ships of the line to reinforce their possessions in both the East and West Indies, both of which were under attack by the British. Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Kempenfelt was ordered to hoist his command flag in the first rate ship of the line HMS Victory (100), take a fleet and intercept the convoy before it dispersed to it's destinations. As well as HMS Union and HMS Victory, the Rear-Admiral also had HMS Britannia (100), HMS Duke, HMS Queen and HMS Ocean (all of 90 guns), HMS Alexander, HMS Edgar, HMS Valiant and the ex-French HMS Courageux (all of 74 guns), HMS Agamemnon of 64 guns, HMS Medway of 60 guns and HMS Renown of 50 guns under his command. Also under his command, Kempenfelt had the frigates HMS Arethusa (18pdr, 38), the ex-French frigates HMS Prudente (12pdr, 38), HMS Monsieur (12pdr, 36), the 9pdr-armed Post Ship HMS Tartar of 24 guns and the 18pdr carronade-armed fireship HMS Tisiphone of 14 guns. It was HMS Tisiphone which spotted the enemy first, reporting to the Rear-Admiral that the powerful escort had fallen downwind of the cargo ships. Kempenfelt decided on an immediate attack and his fleet fell upon the helpless transport ships before their escort could turn around and intervene, capturing 15 of them. Kempenfelt wisely decided not to attack the French escort, outnumbered 15 to 19 as he was.

The French had taken a risk in setting sail during the Atlantic storm season. The remaining French ships were scattered by a storm which blew up shortly after the battle and only two of the French ships of the line made it to the Caribbean in time to participate in the crushing defeat inflicted by Vice-Admiral Rodney at the Battle of the Saintes in April 1782.

The outcome of the Second Battle of Ushant had political consequences. In France, claims for compensation from the owners of the cargo ships captured by the British brought the French government of King Louis XVI to near-bankruptcy and in the UK, with the war already unpopular, the Whig opposition to the Tory governent of Lord North forced an official inquiry as to why the force sent to intercept the French convoy was so small. This political defeat was the first in a series of challenges to the Government which would eventually lead to it's fall later in 1782.

By September of 1782, Gibraltar was in need of further relief. In the UK, a fleet of transports had been assembled at Spithead, which was to be escorted to Gibraltar by the bulk of the Channel Fleet, now under the command of Vice-Admiral Richard, the Earl Howe, comprised at the time of no less than 35 ships of the line including HMS Union. Howe was ordered 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 Union had been assigned to the first squadron of the Rear Division of the Channel Fleet, commanded by Vice-Admiral Mark Milbanke, flying his command flag in HMS Ocean (98). Also under the Vice-Admiral's command were the 80-gun three-decker HMS Cambridge, HMS Dublin and HMS Vengeance (both of 74 guns), and HMS Buffalo of 60 guns. Lord Howe himself was commanding the fleet from 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 had their lower hulls sheathed in copper 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 Siege of Gibraltar, from 1779 to 1783 remains the longest seige ever endured by British forces. In what is now called the Battle of Cape Spartel, HMS Union suffered casualties of five men killed and fifteen men wounded.

Howe's Relief of Gibraltar by Richard Paton:



In the meantime, back in March of 1782, the government of Lord North had fallen and had been replaced by a Whig-led coalition lead by the Marquess of Rockingham. The Whig party had been against the war in the first place and wanted it ended as soon as possible. The destruction of the French fleet at the Battle of the Saintes in April had ended French ambitions in the Caribbean and the British military disaster at Yorktown the previous September meant that there was nothing left to fight over. In April 1782, peace talks had opened 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 siege 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.

In July of 1783, HMS Union paid off at Chatham and entered the Ordinary, to be manned by a skeleton crew as before.

By the mid-1780's, 90-gun ships like HMS Union were becoming obsolete and were being progressively replaced with new, larger ships mounting 98 guns. In October 1787, HMS Union was taken into the Royal Dockyard and was converted to a Hospital Hulk. In June 1790, at the height of the Spanish Armaments Crisis, she was commissioned as a Hospital Ship and in April 1793, shortly after the French Revolutionary War broke out, the ship was moved to the Swale, off Sheerness.

Union Hospital Ship Middle Deck Plan showing the layout of the cabins for the medical staff:



Upper Deck plan showing the layout:



Amongst Vice-Admiral Sir George Rodney's staff aboard HMS Formidable (98) in the lead-up to the Battle of the Saintes in April 1782 was the noted Scottish physician Dr Gilbert Blane, who had been engaged by Rodney to act as his own private physician. With the Commander-in-Chief's blessing and encouragement, Dr Blane asked all the ship's surgeons to provide him with weekly reports and sick lists. This allowed Dr Blane to conduct an early form of statistical analysis and the report which resulted from this was to have startling and far-reaching effects on the entire field of marine medicine. Dr Blane is widely regarded as being the father of modern day medicine and it all resulted from his time in HMS Formidable. The recommendations in his report, entitled "Observations on the Diseases Incident to Seamen", eventually fully implemented by Admiralty Order in 1795, but were more or less common practice throughout the fleet from about 1790. These included:

1) A daily ration of lemon or lime juice
2) Fresh vegetables and fruit to be included in the men's diet where possible
3) Beer or wine be substituted for rum
4) That the men and their living spaces be subjected to regular inspections for cleanliness.
5) That ships be kept clean and fumigated on a regular basis.

Dr Blane's work was more comprehensive that that of Dr Joseph Lind, undertaken in the late 1740's, whose work concentrated on the treatment and prevention of Scurvy. Taken together, these reforms led to the almost complete eradication of the biggest killers of sailors, Scurvy, Typhus and Dysentery.

Furthering Dr. Blane's work, the Admiralty asked Dr James Carmichael-Smyth to conduct an experiment aboard HMS Union where Nitrous (or Nitric) Acid vapour was used to fumigate the ship and the effect that this had on contagion. Although bacteria had yet to be discovered, the medical profession knew that cleanliness had an effect on certain diseases and the cleaner the environment, the less disease there was. Dr Carmichael-Smyth was a prominent doctor, was a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and was Physician Extraordinaire to King George III. After the experiment was concluded, Dr Carmichael-Smyth wrote to Lord Spencer, First Lord of the Admiralty with his results in 1796.

The conclusion of his report reads thus:

"WHOEVER reads the preceding pages with attention, must be struck with the great conformity of opinion, observable amongst the different indivi|duals, in regard to the principal object of our inquiry, viz. the power of the nitrous vapour to destroy contagion.

But although the same sentiment universally pre|vails, I cannot help remarking, that whilst the opinion of some gentlemen is founded on general observation alone, the opinion of others is supported by such an accurate detail of facts reduced to the cer|tainty of arithmetical calculation, as carry with them a conviction, little short of demonstration itself.

The power of the nitrous vapour on contagion once established, all its other effects can easily be understood and explained; one of the most obvious of these is its destroying putrid smell. Although I am far from imagining that putrid smell and contagion are one and the same, on the contrary, am convinced that they often exist independent of each other, yet as they are of the same family, and arise from a common cause, we may fairly suppose from analogy, that what destroys the one, will prove effectual in destroying the other. I confess, that where there is a direct and positive proof, as in the present instance, reasoning from analogy is of little consequence. The observation, however, is in itself important, particularly for those whose duty leads them to an attendance on the sick, as the offensive smell to which they are exposed, constitutes not the least disagreeable part of such an office.

But besides removing the offensive smell of hospitals and prisons, another advantage of the nitrous fumigation is that of rendering the air purer and sitter for the purposes of animal life; a fact which chemistry readily explains. From it we learn, that in the decomposition of nitre by the vitriolic acid, a certain proportion of vital air,* or oxygen gas, is let loose; and physiology informs us, that this air, which constitutes a very interesting part of our atmosphere, is necessary for the respiration of animals, at the same time that it is constantly consumed by it.

In a former publication I did not hesitate to give a decided opinion, (judging partly from experience, and partly from the similarity of putrid contagions) that the nitrous vapour would be found equally an antidote to all, even to the plague itself. I have now the satisfaction to see this opinion confirmed, in so far at least, as relates to the dysentery, a putrid disease equally contagious with the jail fever, and in military hospitals, at least, still more fatal.

The efficacy, however, of the nitrous vapour, as appears from almost the whole of the reports, is not confined to the destroying or preventing the communication of contagion; its salutary influence is no less remarkable on the sick and on those recovering from sickness; but on this very important subject, I could wish the reader to consult Mr. Paterson's Table of the Weekly Returns at Forton Hospital, from which it appears, that during the short space of six weeks, in an hospital containing from 300 to 400 men, there was a difference, from employing the nitrous fumigation, of about 50 lives saved, and about 110 men restored to a state of health fit for active duty; but if the reader is desirous of forming an accurate judgement of the immediate effect of the nitrous vapour on those ill of typhus fever, I would advise him to read with attention, what Mr. M'Grigor and Mr. Hill have written on the subject.óBy Mr. M'Grigor we are told, that some years back, during the prevalence of a fever similar to the one he describes, in the same place, the island of Jersey, the 88th regiment to which he belongs, in the space of ten weeks, suffered a loss of 40 or 50 men; where|as during the present illness, when he employed the nitrous fumigation, of 64 men seized with the fever, he did not lose a single patient. He further remarks, that by using constantly the nitrous vapour, the malignant symptoms of the disease disappeared, and that from a typhus it became a simple fever.

But of all the advantages to be derived from the use of the nitrous vapour, none is more remarkable or likely to be of such extensive application as its effect on ulcers, an effect first taken notice of by Mr. Paterson, and which has been confirmed, upon every subsequent trial.

That the nitrous vapour, by correcting the malignant and contagious air of hospitals, which is known to affect* more or less, all persons confined in them, should so far at least prove serviceable to those affect|ed with ulcers, and in general to surgical patients; we can readily believe, and indeed it is an induction to which we should have been led, reasoning as it called a priori. But the nitrous vapour seems to be not only useful in this way, it is found of efficacy also as a topic or local application; its operation, however, as such, must have its limits; to suppose that it will prove a universal remedy for all ulcers, is an idea that cannot be entertained for a moment, by any one in the least conversant with the animal oeconomy, or with the history of diseases. Those persons who are too precipitate in general conclusions, have commonly some ground to go back again.

Were I to form a conjecture respecting the kind of ulcers in which the nitric acid, either in a gazeous or liquid state, is likely to be found most serviceable; I should say, the sloughy or sphacelous, the scrophulous, and the scorbutic: but those gentlemen, who are professionally engaged in the treatment of such complaints, will look upon this observation more as a hint than an opinion.

The preceding effects of the nitrous vapour are what have been observed by all or by many; but there is one which rests as yet on the authority of Mr. Paterson alone. He only has made trial of it, and with success, in the hooping-cough. His remarks on this subject, I must say, are extremely interesting, and open a wide field for the reflexion and experience of the practical physician.

Having finished the few observations I had to offer, on the letters and reports which I have now the honour to lay before the public; the reader I hope will pardon me if I detain him a few minutes longer, to make one remark which relates principally to myself. It cannot have escaped his notice any more than it has done mine, that, as appears by several of the letters, there are prejudices entertained against the nitrous fumigation by many surgeons of the navy. At this I am by no means surprised; we are all children of habit, and unwilling to relinquish opinions which we entertained in early life: the introduction, however, of the nitrous fumigation into the navy, has been opposed not by prejudice only, but by arguments drawn from chemistry. It would be no very difficult task for me to point out the fal|lacy of such chemical reasoning, but to endeavour to refute by argument what is directly contrary to experience and observation, would be an abuse of time, and an insult to the public judgment. The only answer then that I shall give to such philosophers, is to address them in the words of an author, whose opinion must be considered of high authority on such a subject, as he was not only a physician of character, but certainly one of the first chemists in Europe; the circumstances and occasions were perfectly similar.
"

On the 6th February 1802, HMS Union was renamed to HMS Sussex. The reason was that the Navy Board had ordered a new HMS Union, a 98-gun second rate ship of the line of the Boyne Class, from the Royal Dockyard at Plymouth.

The now-HMS Sussex remained in her role as Hospital Ship at Sheerness through the rest of the French Revolutionary War, the Peace of Amiens and throughout the Napoleonic War. In April 1814, the Napoleonic War was ended and HMS Sussex was moved back to Chatham to enter the Ordinary there in March of 1816. In October, the ship 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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