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Author Topic: HMS Dragon (1760 - 1784)  (Read 295 times)

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Offline Bilgerat

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HMS Dragon (1760 - 1784)
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2019, 20:45:51 »
HMS Dragon was a Common Type, 74 gun, Third Rate ship of the line of the Bellona Class, built at the Deptford Royal Dockyard. She was one of a group of five, all bar one of which were built in Kent shipyards.

What was significant about these ships was not the long list of major naval battles they fought in, but the political process which led to their being designed and built and what they came to represent in the overall evolution of the British Ship of the Line.

From the 1730's, the French began to introduce to service a new type of ship of the line, one carrying 74 guns on two gundecks. The British soon found that the new French ships were bigger, faster, more manoeuvrable and more heavily armed than their own. The British, on the other hand, were struggling with their own problems, political rather than tactical or technological. The Royal Navy was at the time under the control of two separate and distinct organisations. On one hand was the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, responsible for the organisation and deployment of the fleet. On the other hand was the Navy Board, responsible for the budget, the organisation and day-to-day running of the Royal Dockyards and the design and construction of new ships. The Navy Board was in favour of the standardisation and centralisation of ship designs and for that purpose, produced a series of 'Establishments'. An establishment was a set of detailed specifications, within which the Master Shipwrights in the Royal Dockyards and private shipbuilders were expected to design a new ship. An Establishment was produced in 1745 which called for two types of third-rate ship of the line, then as later, forming the backbone of the Fleet. One was a ship of 70 guns on two gundecks and the other was a ship of 80 guns on three gundecks. The War of Austrian Succession being fought at the time soon gave the Royal Navy the opportunity to try out the new designs and the result was not altogether good. The Royal Navy found that the new 70-gun ships, although tougher and able to spend much longer at sea, were still markedly inferior to those of the French in terms of firepower, speed and manoeuvrability. The British ships had more efficient rigging than the French, meaning they needed smaller crews. On the plus side, this meant that the ships were easier and cheaper to operate, but in action, ran the risk of being overwhelmed by the enemy's superior numbers. This was offset by the British tactic of firing into the enemy's hull at close range, maximising damage and casualties, cancelling out the French numerical superiority. The British ships however, had a fundamental and perhaps fatal flaw. Their lower gundecks were too close to the waterline. This meant that in ideal sailing conditions, they were unable to open their lower gundeck gunports for fear of sinking the ship. The 80-gun ships were found to be too short, too high, sailed badly and were completely outclassed by the French 74-gun ships. For these reasons, only two were ever built, HMS Cambridge and HMS Princess Amelia.

See here for the story of HMS Cambridge:

and HMS Princess Amelia:

On 14th May 1747, at the First Battle of Cape Finisterre, a British fleet commanded by Vice-Admiral George Anson captured one of the finest of the French 74 gun ships, L'Invincible. On being taken into British service, the now HMS Invincible was found to be capable of up to 16 knots in ideal sailing conditions; a good three knots faster than the best of her British counterparts. It was also found that in ideal sailing conditions, she could open her lower gundeck gunports with plenty of room to spare. The Admiralty began to pressure the Navy Board to do something about it, ideally, to produce a British 74 gun ship along the lines of the French ones. Instead, the 1745 Establishment 70 gunner was reduced to 68 guns in order to lighten the ship, in an attempt to increase the height of the lower gundeck above the waterline. The amended Establishment, the so-called 1754 Amendment had a negligable effect.

In June 1751, Anson, by now a full Admiral and the First Baron Anson became First Lord of the Admiralty and with the support of both King and Parliament, began to implement a series of wide-ranging reforms, not least of which was to bring the Navy Board under the control of the Admiralty. Eventually, on 4th September 1755, Lord Anson forced the last of the old guard at the Navy Board, Sir Jacob Ackworth into retirement, appointed two new Surveyors of the Navy, Thomas Slade and William Bately and abolished the Establishment system. The Surveyors were now required to produce new designs centrally, allowing ships of identical design to be built by different shipyards and adopting the Class system the French had been using for decades. Thomas Slade produced a new design, the Dublin Class, a ship based on the 1754 Amendment but enlarged and pierced for 74 guns. Although they were a step in the right direction, being based on the 1754 Amendment specifications, they had the same problems and so were also not entirely satisfactory.

On the 17th May 1756, the Seven Years War had broken out and the British began a massive program of warship building as the war escalated into what is regarded as being the first real world war in the true sense of the phrase.

On 21st May 1757, the design of HMS Invincible was ordered to be copied for two new ships, HMS Valiant which was to be built at the Chatham Royal Dockyard and HMS Triumph at the Woolwich Royal Dockyard. These two ships were significantly larger than previous Third Rate ships and therefore much more expensive and time-consuming to build. What was needed was something smaller, cheaper and quicker to build, but having the same advantages as the larger ships.

See here for the story of HMS Valiant:

and HMS Triumph:

Finally, on 28th December 1757, orders were placed with two Royal Dockyards for three new ships designed once more by Thomas Slade, HMS Bellona from Chatham and HMS Dragon and HMS Superb from Deptford. A year later, two more ships were ordered, HMS Defence from Plymouth and HMS Kent from Deptford. The new ships were a totally new design, based on that of HMS Invincible, although smaller and were intended from the start to carry 74 guns. The design of HMS Bellona and her sisters was to form the basis of what became known as the 'Common' Type of 74 gun ship and within ten years, the design had evolved and became the dominant type of Ship of the Line in the Royal Navy. Over the course of the next 60 years, the Common Type and later Middling Type of 74 gun Third Rate Ship of the Line effectively won the wars against the French and their allies and secured the foundations upon which the British Empire was built and it had started with HMS Bellona and her sisters.

On the 28th March 1758, the first keel section of what was to become HMS Dragon was laid in the Deptford Royal Dockyard and over the course of the next twenty-three months, the ship took shape. On the 4th March 1760, HMS Dragon was launched into the great River Thames and was secured to a mooring buoy in the river to be fitted with her guns, masts and rigging.

Three days after her launch, HMS Dragon commissioned into the Channel Fleet under Captain Augustus John Hervey and on the 19th April, the ship was declared complete at Deptford having cost £38,118.6s. On completion, HMS Dragon was a ship of 1,614 tons, she was 168ft long on her upper gundeck, 137ft 11in long at the keel, 46ft 11in wide across the beams, drew 12ft 7in of water at the bows and 17ft 11in at the rudder. The ship was armed with 28 x 32pdr long guns on the lower gundeck, 28 x 18pdr long guns on the upper gundeck, 4 x 9pdr long guns on her forecastle and 14 x 9pdr long guns on the quarterdeck. In addition to her main guns, she also carried a dozen half-pounder swivel guns attached to her quarterdeck and forecastle handrails and in her fighting tops. HMS Dragon was manned by a crew of 550 officers, seamen, boys and Royal Marines.

Bellona Class Plans

Orlop Plan:

Lower Gundeck Plan:

Upper Gundeck Plan:

Quarterdeck and Forecastle Plan:

Inboard Profile and Plan:

Sheer Plan and Lines:

Rigging Plan:

The Navy Board model of HMS Bellona. Apart from her figurehead and decorations, HMS Dragon was identical. This model was used by John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich and First Lord of the Admiralty between 1771 and 1782 to demonstrate the principle of coppering a ships lower hull to King George III and the Prince of Wales. It is now in the collection of the National Maritime Museum.

Port Bow view:

Port Broadside view:

Stern view, showing the decorations:

Another model of HMS Bellona, this time of the ships frames:

Captain John Augustus Hervey was an experienced, senior and well-connected naval officer. He was born in May of 1724, the fourth child and second son of John Hervey, 2nd Baron Hervey of Bristol. His father had been a friend of Frederick, Prince of Wales under King George II and was a prominent member of the Government under William Walpole, widely seen as the first Prime Minister. Educated at the exclusive Westminster School, he had first entered the Royal Navy in 1735 at the age of 11 aboard HMS Pembroke (60) as Midshipman-in-Ordinary, on the ships books as cabin servant to his uncle, Captain the Honourable William Hervey. Captain Augustus Hervey had passed his examination for Lieutenant on the 31st October 1740 and gained his first command appointment as Master and Commander in the 16-gun ship-sloop HMS Porcupine on the 16th September 1746. He was first Posted, or promoted to Captain on the 15th January 1747 when he had been appointed to command the 70-gun, third rate ship of the line HMS Princess. By the time he took command of HMS Dragon, he had seen action in most of the major naval battles of the Seven Years War so far, including the defeat at the Battle of Minorca on the 20th May 1756 which had resulted in the trial and execution of Admiral John Byng and the decisive victory over the French in the Battle of Quiberon Bay on the 20th November 1759.

After the Battle of Quiberon Bay, 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 assaults on the Biscay Coast of France itself as well as to prevent the French from using the naval base. The planned invasion 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 because King George II had outlived Frederick, Prince of Wales. 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 including HMS Dragon, eight frigates, three sloops-of-war, three bomb vessels and two fireships. Commodore Keppel flew his command Broad Pennant in the 74 gun ship of the line HMS Valiant.

The fleet departed from the great anchorage off St. Helens, Isle of Wight on 29th March 1761 and sighted the island on April 6th. The fleet had been joined by more ships of the line en route, so that by the time they arrived at Belle Isle, the fleet comprised the following ships:

HMS Sandwich (90), HMS Valiant, HMS Dragon, the ex-French HMS Temeraire, HMS Torbay and HMS Hero (all of 74 guns), HMS Swiftsure, HMS Buckingham, HMS Burford and HMS Chichester (all of 68 guns), HMS Hampton Court, HMS Monmouth and HMS Essex (all of 64 guns), HMS Achilles and HMS Prince of Orange (both of 60 guns), HMS Lynn and HMS Launceston (both two-deckers of 44 guns), the ex-French HMS Melampe (12pdr 36), HMS Southampton and HMS Adventure (both 12pdr 32), HMS Actaeon (9pdr 28), HMS Flamborough and HMS Aldeborough (both 9pdr-armed post-ships of 24 guns), the ex-French 6pdr armed ship-sloop HMS Escorte of 14 guns, the 4pdr-armed snow-rigged sloop of war HMS Druid of ten guns, the 3pdr-armed ketch-rigged sloop of war HMS Fly of eight guns, the bomb-vessels HMS Firedrake, HMS Infernal and HMS Furnace and the fireships HMS Vesuvius and HMS Etna.

See here for the stories of:
HMS Valiant:

HMS Sandwich:

HMS Burford:

That evening, the Commodore detached a force of six frigates to patrol between Belle Isle and the mainland to sever communications and a further force of eleven ships of the line and three more frigates from the main Channel Fleet to blockade Brest. The first attempt at a landing was made in the morning of the 8th of April near the harbour of Port Andro under covering fire from HMS Prince of Orange, HMS Achilles, HMS Dragon and two bomb vessels, but was driven off after the French mounted a fierce resistance with the retreating troops withdrawing under covering fire from the ships. Further attempts at landing were frustrated by bad weather until the 22nd, when two feints were made, one at Saint Foy, the other at the port of Sauzon to distract the French from the real landing which was made under the command of Major-General John Crauford at Fort D'Arsic. HMS Sandwich, HMS Dragon, HMS Prince of Orange, two bomb vessels and two armed transport ships provided covering fire for this landing. Brigadier-General Hamilton Lambart, commanding the feints was given orders that if he saw a chance of making a successful landing, he was to do so and to attempt to hold his position if possible. Under covering fire from HMS Swiftsure, HMS Hampton Court, HMS Essex and HMS Lynn and assistance from the fleet's Marines under Lieutenant-Colonel McKenzie and Captain Murray, the Brigadier-General's force made a successful landing. Because this landing was made before the intended attack at Fort D'Arsic, the troops intended for that landing were diverted to support and between them, they drove the enemy back allowing all the troops to be landed from the fleet's boats by 17:00. The French withdrew back to the town of Palais so that on the 2nd May, the British were able to erect batteries before the town's defences. On the 13th May, the enemy was driven from the redoubts, out of the town and into the citadel which from the 16th May was subjected to an intense bombardment. On June 7th, a large breach was opened in the citadel walls and the British began making preparations to storm it. These preparations did not go unnoticed by the French and they offered terms of surrender the following day. With the fall of the citadel at Palais, the island was taken. The island of Belle Isle was to remain in British hands for the rest of the war, but was ceded back to France under the terms of the 1763 Treaty of Paris which ended it.

Map of Belle Isle:

An engraving of the Invasion of Belle Isle:

A model of the town and citadel at Palais, Belle Isle:

After the successful invasion of Belle Isle, HMS Dragon and her crew remained in the Channel Fleet, engaged on a close blockade of the French Atlantic Ports. In October 1761 however, Captain Hervey received orders to take his ship to the West Indies to join a fleet commanded by Rear-Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney and the ship departed the UK on the 30th. By this stage of the war, the Royal Navy was rampant and the French were being driven back on all fronts. By the end of 1760, Canada had fallen to the British and the following year, the British had successfully taken the island of Dominica. In the light of this, the French had correctly guessed that the enemy's next target would be Martinique and had made preparations accordingly. An earlier attempt in 1759 by the British to invade Martinique had failed and they had moved on and had successfully invaded the rich island of Guadeloupe. The French force defending Martinique this time consisted of 1,200 regular troops, plus 7,000 local militia and around 4,000 hired mercenaries. Ranged against them was a British army of about 8,000 men under the command of General Robert Monckton.

On 5th January 1762, the fleet left Barbados and headed towards Martinique, arriving two days later. A landing at Les Anses d'Arlet Bay proved unsuccessful because it was not possible to move heavy field guns along the road from there to Fort Royal, the capital. The entire force was re-embarked. On 16th January, the invasion began again. After a short campaign, Fort Royal fell to the British on 3rd February and by 12th, the whole island was in British hands. After the fall of Martinique, General Monckton sent detachments to the islands of Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Grenada, all of which surrendered to his troops without a fight.

Up until the end of 1761, Spain had remained neutral in the war, but the accession of King Charles III in August 1759 had brought about a change. The new King was nervous about the string of British successes that year and considered that Spain's own possessions would be targeted by the seemingly unstoppable British. Spain began to give assistance to the French; something which didn't go unnoticed in London. It seemed as though war with Spain was becoming unavoidable and the Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder suggested a pre-emptive attack on the Spanish treasure ships bringing gold from South America but the Government refused and Pitt resigned in protest. Nevertheless, Britain had declared war on Spain on 4th January 1762.

The Spanish for their part, had anticipated the British declaration of war and in June 1761, a force of seven ships of the line and 1,100 troops had arrived in Cuba to reinforce the defences of Havana, the most important Spanish possession in the Americas north of the Equator. The city of Havana possessed an anchorage capable of holding up to 100 ships of the line and shipyards capable of building First Rate ships. The reinforcements increased the Spanish garrison in Havana to about 2,400 men and once reinforced, the harbour was base to a force of 12 ships of the line with over 5,000 sailors and 700 Spanish Marines. The harbour at Havana was accessed via a narrow channel about 200 yards wide, guarded on one side by the Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro (known in English as Morro Castle) mounting 64 heavy guns and manned by 700 men. The other side was guarded by the slightly smaller Castillo de San Salvador de la Puntal (known in English as Fort Puntal). The city itself stood on the south side of the channel and was protected by walls extending about three miles around the whole city. The entrance to the harbour had been defended by a stout boom extending across the channel between the two castles.

The Capture of Havana - Morro Castle and the Boom Defence before the attack by Dominic Serres:

Almost as soon as war had been declared, the Government decided that Havana would be taken from the Spanish and to this end, the troops already in the Caribbean would be reinforced from the UK. Lieutenant-General George Keppel, the Third Earl of Albemarle would be in command of the operation. Vice-Admiral Sir George Pocock would be in command of the supporting naval forces with Commodore Sir Augustus Keppel as his second. In February 1762, five regiments of infantry embarked aboard transport ships at Spithead and sailed on March 5th, escorted by seven ships of the line. After meeting up with British forces already in the area, the British arrived off San Domingo and began preparations for the siege. It was a veritable armada. Pocock had the following ships under his command:

HMS Namur (90 guns, fleet flagship), HMS Cambridge (80), HMS Valiant (still Keppel's flagship), HMS Culloden, HMS Dublin, the ex-French HMS Temeraire, HMS Dragon, HMS Devonshire (all of 74 guns), HMS Orford, HMS Hampton Court, HMS Stirling Castle, HMS Temple (all of 70 guns), HMS Marlborough (68), HMS Belle Isle (64), HMS Edgar, HMS Pembroke, HMS Ripon, HMS Nottingham, HMS Defiance, HMS Centurion and HMS Depford (all of 60 guns), HMS Hampshire (50), HMS Penzance, HMS Dover and HMS Enterprise (all 44 guns), HMS Richmond and HMS Alarm (both of 32 guns), HMS Trent and HMS Boreas (both of 28 guns), HMS Rose, HMS Port Mahon and HMS Fowey (all of 24 guns), HMS Glasgow and HMS Mercury (both of 20 guns), HMS Cygnet of 18 guns, HMS Barbados, HMS Port Royal, HMS Ferret and the cutter HMS Lurcher (all of 14 guns), HMS Viper and HMS Merlin (10 guns) plus the bomb vessels HMS Thunder, HMS Basilisk and HMS Grenado. All told, the land forces committed to the attack comprised over 12,000 men, with 14,000 seamen and Marines. The foot regiments committed were:

1st (Royal), 4th (Kings Own), 9th (Whitmore's), 15th, 17th, 22nd, 27th (Inniskilling), 28th (Townshends), 34th, 35th (Otways), 40th (Armigers), 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 42nd (Royal Highland), 43rd (Talbots), 48th (Dunbars), 56th, 60th (Royal American), 66th (Cholmondleys), 72nd (Richmonds), 77th (Montgomerys) and the 90th (Morgans). There were also 377 men from the Royal Regiment of Artillery.

See here for the story of the bomb-vessel HMS Basilisk:

The Capture of Havana - Landing the guns and stores, by Dominic Serres:

The Spanish on their part did not seriously believe that the British would attack such a well-defended position and when the sails of the British fleet were sighted from the top of Morro Castle in the morning of 6th June, they assumed it was the British Jamaica Convoy on it's way to the UK. The alarm finally broke out when messengers from Morro Castle reported that the fleet had large numbers of flat-bottomed boats in tow. The British immediately blockaded Havana and began to land troops and guns the following day. By 12th June, the landings were complete and the British had taken the high ground overlooking Morro Castle. Their first priority was to take the castle and by 22nd June, had completed the construction of siege batteries comprising 12 heavy guns and 38 mortars, which commenced firing that day. On July 1st, the British launched a combined sea and land assault on Morro Castle. HMS Cambridge, HMS Dragon, HMS Marlborough and HMS Stirling Castle moved into position within a musket-shot of the castle and opened fire, along with the batteries constructed ashore. Sadly, the ships were too close to the castle walls and their fire was ineffective, while the Spanish guns on the walls inflicted damage and casualties on the ships below.

The artillery duel lasted until 14:00 and although the fire from the ships had been largely ineffective, that from the batteries ashore had not and by the time the exchange of artillery fire ended, only three of Morro Castle's guns facing the siege batteries was still in action.

In this depiction of the bombardment of Morro Castle by Phillip Paton, HMS Dragon is the ship in the centre, HMS Cambridge is the three-decked ship on the right and HMS Marlborough is on the left. The boat in the foreground is carrying Captain John Lindsay, formerly of HMS Trent to take command of HMS Cambridge because that ship's commander, Captain William Goostrey had been killed by Spanish fire from the walls of the castle.

Things at Morro Castle contained in this vein throught the rest of June into July 1762. By mid-July, disease and enemy action had taken a serious toll on the British. 5,000 troops and some 3,000 sailors were either dead or sick with Yellow Fever. Siege works were continuing, with a mine being dug under the walls of the castle. Things looked up for the British when on July 27th, reinforcements of some 3,000 men arrived from America. Finally, at 13:00 on 30th July, the mine was ready and was detonated. After a desperate pitched battle amongst the rubble and debris, Morro Castle finally fell to the besieging British later that day.

The British now turned their attentions to the city of Havana and the fort on the other side of the channel. The next two weeks were spent preparing the batteries on Morro Castle to fire on Fort Puntal and the city and further batteries were built on the high ground overlooking both. On August 5th, more reinforcements arrived from America, of about 1,500 men and on August 10th, the Earl of Albemarle sent a summons to surrender to General Juan de Prado, the Spanish commander-in-chief. The summons was refused, so at dawn on the 11th August 1762, the British opened fire on the city. The British had 47 guns, 15 32pdr guns and 32 24pdr guns taken from the ships with 10 mortars and 5 howitzers and by 10:00, Fort Puntal was silenced and there were only a handful of guns on the city walls still firing. In the early after noon, the Spanish sent a flag of truce and negotiations for the Spanish surrender began. The negotiations went on for the rest of the day and all the next day before the surrender was agreed on August 13th. On August 14th 1762, the British entered the city of Havana. The jewel in the crown of Spanish possessions in the Americas had fallen, the British had captured the finest harbour and port in the entire Caribbean and not only that, but had seized military equipment and merchandise valued at almost 3 million Spanish Pesos and no less than nine Spanish ships of the line, three frigates and nine smaller vessels. In addition, two Spanish ships of the line under construction in the shipyard were burned.

The Capture of Havana - Taking the town by Dominic Serres:

After the fall of Havana, HMS Dragon returned to the UK and by November of 1762 had been paid off into the Portsmouth Ordinary. The reason for this was that peace talks were under way between the warring parties and the Royal Navy was drawing down the fleet in anticipation of the apparently imminent end of the war. Indeed, on the 10th February 1763, the was was ended by the Treaty of Paris. The war had been a disaster for the French and Spanish. Under the Treaty, France was forced to hand over all of Canada, the eastern half of what was then French Louisiana, from the Mississippi River to the Appalachian Mountains (the area now comprised of the American States of West Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia), together with the Caribbean islands of Dominica, Grenada, Tobago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In return, the British handed Belle Isle, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia, Senegal in West Africa and Goree (off the Senegalese coast) back to France after they too were taken during the war. Spain was forced to hand Florida to the British in exchange for the return of Manila in the Philippines and Havana. France had been left bankrupt by the costs of the war and had been forced to default on it's debts. This default had led banks and financiers to refuse further requests for loans by the French king, meaning that he had no alternative but to sue for peace.

HMS Dragon was to remain secured to a mooring bouy in Portsmouth Harbour with her guns, sails, running rigging and yards removed, her hatches and gunports sealed shut and manned by a skeleton crew under the care of the Master Attendant at Portsmouth until the 6th May 1773. The ship recommissioned under Captain John Montagu as Portsmouth Guardship. In that role, the ship was to be fully armed and rigged, but was only to carry about half her normal crew complement. She was not expected to go to sea. Her crew would instead be engaged in providing security for the ships of the Portsmouth Ordinary, the prison hulks moored in the harbour and also commissioned vessels entering the harbour.

Captain Montagu would remain in command for exactly three years until he was replaced by Captain John Albert Bentinck until 21st March 1769 and then by Captain Robert Hughes until the 2nd April 1770, when she paid off back into the Portsmouth Ordinary.

HMS Dragon was to remain in the Portsmouth Ordinary despite the outbreak of the American War of Independence in 1775. In fact, her fighting days were over. The ship recommissioned as a Receiving Ship in September 1780 and was used to house the huge numbers of men being rounded up by the press gangs until they could be assigned to ships. The American War of Independence was ended by the 1783 Treaty of Paris, signed on 3rd September and effective from May 12th 1784. The ship was again paid off on 21st April 1783 and was sold on 1st June 1784.
"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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