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Author Topic: HMS Ephira (1808 - 1811)  (Read 1303 times)

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Offline Bilgerat

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HMS Ephira (1808 - 1811)
« Reply #1 on: December 04, 2017, 22:05:08 »
HMS Ephira was an unrated, ten-gun, brig-rigged sloop-of-war of the Cherokee Class built under Navy Board contract by John King at his shipyard at Upnor. She was the second of a pair of such vessels agreed with the Navy Board under a contract signed on 31st December 1807. She was one of six vessels of the class launched from Upnor in 1808.

The Cherokee Class were the most numerous class of warship ordered by any navy at any time in the age of the wooden sailing ship, with 115 vessels being ordered in three batches between 1808 and 1826. Of all the vessels ordered, 104 were actually built. The Cherokee Class gained an unfortunate reputation and were known as 'Coffin Brigs' on account of the fact that of all the vessels built, fully a quarter of them foundered or were wrecked. Flush-decked with a low freeboard, their main deck was frequently flooded in heavy weather and the high loss rate is now put down to their being too small for the global deployments they were often sent on. The most famous member of the class was HMS Beagle, in which a young Charles Darwin sailed and the observations he made were eventually to lead to his writing and publishing 'On the Origin of Species'; his theory of evolution by natural selection. For this voyage, HMS Beagle was refitted with a raised forecastle and quarterdeck to improve her seakeeping and a Three-masted Barque rig, with square sails on the fore and main masts only.

Sloops-of-war like HMS Ephira tended to be commanded by an officer in the position of 'Master and Commander', abbreviated to 'Commander'. It combined the positions of Commanding Officer and Sailing Master. 'Commander' wasn't a formal rank as it is today and an officer in such a position held a substantive rank of Lieutenant. That stated, the Master and Commander would receive a substantially higher salary than a Lieutenant and would also receive the lions share of any prize and head money earned by his vessel and crew. If he was successful, he would be 'Posted', or promoted to Captain and would either remain in command of the sloop or would be appointed to a rated vessel. If a war ended and the vessel was paid off, unless he was lucky and well-connected enough to receive another command appointment, the commander would revert to his substantive rank of Lieutenant and receive half-pay accordingly. Sloops-of-war therefore were generally commanded by ambitious, well-connected young men anxious to prove themselves.

HMS Ephira was launched, hull fully completed at Upnor on 28th May 1808 and was immediately taken the half-mile or so upstream to the great Royal Dockyard at Chatham where she was fitted with her guns, two masts, rigging, sails and was loaded with her stores. HMS Ephira commissioned into the North Sea Fleet with Mr William J Hughes as her Master and Commander during fitting-out during August of 1808 and was declared complete on 2nd September. On completion, HMS Ephira was a vessel of 237 tons, she was 90ft 2in long on her main deck and 73ft 7in long at the keel. 24ft 7in wide across her beam, she drew 6ft 5in of water at the bow and 9ft at the rudder. She was armed with 8 18pdr carronades on her broadside with 2 6pdr long guns in the bow. She also carried about a dozen half-pounder swivel guns attached to her upper deck handrails and in her fighting tops. She was manned by a crew of 52 officers, seamen and boys.

Cherokee Class Plans

Lower and Main Deck Plans and Inboard Profile and Plan:

Framing Plan:

Sheer Plan and Lines:

A replica of HMS Beagle under construction at the Nao Victoria Museum in Punta Arenas, Chile, in March 2013. The truck gives scale:

Approaching completion in February 2016. Note the raised quarterdeck and forecastle. HMS Ephira would have been without these features:

By July 1809, Commander Hughes had been replaced in HMS Ephira by Mr George Edward Watts and she was part of a squadron commanded by Captain George, the Lord Stuart in the ex-French 12pdr-armed 32 gun frigate HMS L'Aimable. Lord Stuart had in turn been ordered by Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Strachan, Commander-in-Chief in the North Sea, to support irregular forces fighting the French in occupied Hannover under the Duke of Brunswick. Sir Richard Strachan was a famous, successful and popular officer, known to the men as 'Mad Dick' on account of his uncontrollable temper and violent cursing when things didn't go his way. Also in the squadron was the 32pdr carronade-armed 18 gun brig-sloop HMS Mosquito and HMS Ephira's sister-brig HMS Briseis.

The Duke of Brunswick was at Zwickau with his force of guerillas and after entering the River Elbe, Lord Stuart's force anchored off Cuxhaven. The following is a letter from Lord Stuart to Rear-Admiral Strachan detailing the action which followed.

HMS L'Aimable off Cuxhaven

July 29 1809


The French troops in Hanover not content with frequent predatory and piratical incursions in the neighbourhood of Cuxhaven had the audacity to enter the village of Ritzbuttle with a body of horse at mid day on the 26th instant and very narrowly missed making several officers of the squadron prisoners. In consequence I was induced to land a detachment of seamen and marines from the vessels composing the squadron under my orders for the purpose if possible of intercepting them. In the ardour of pursuit we advanced until we got sight of the town of Bremerlehe into which we learnt they had retreated. The information was incorrect. On entering the town we were assured that the enemy to the number of about 250 occupied the town of Gessendorf two miles distant and further that it contained a depot of confiscated merchandise. It was resolved instantly to attack it. For this purpose Captain Goate of the Mosquito advanced with a detachment while I directed Captain Pettet of the Briseis to proceed by a circuitous route and take a well constructed battery of four 12 pounders commanding the river Weser in flank while the remainder under my own immediate directions headed by Captain Watts of the Ephira advanced to attack it in front. The road we had to pass subjected us all to a galling fire of round and grape from the battery the guns of which were all pointed inwards and which we could only answer by discharges of musketry Gessendorf though certainly tenable with the numbers the enemy had opposed to ours was on the approach of Captain Goate precipitately evacuated. The enemy being previously informed of our approach had put into requisition a number of light waggons for the transportation of the foot in the rear of which 60 well mounted cavalry drew up. The enemy in the battery seeing us determined notwithstanding their fire to carry our point and that we were making preparations for fording a deep and wide creek in their front abandoned it and embarked in boats on the Weser ready for their reception under a severe fire of musketry from our detachment with the loss on their part of several killed and wounded. From a foreknowledge of our intentions on the part of the enemy we made but four prisoners, the Commandant of the battery M. le Murche, a Lieutenant and two inferior officers. The battery guns were burst in pieces, the embrazures demolished, the gun carriages burnt together with the magazine guard houses &c &c. The powder we brought off as also six waggon loads of confiscated merchandise. The distance from Gessendorf to Cuxhaven is 28 miles, I leave it then to their Lordships to estimate the spirit alacrity and expedition with which this service has been performed when I state that in 24 hours from our departure the whole detachment returned and were safely embarked on hoard their respective ships without the loss of an individual.

I have the honor to be &c

Signed G Stuart

Although Lord Stuart's force suffered no fatalities during the action, Commander Watts was wounded.

At this time, although they were still allies, the French were exerting an increasing level of control over the government of Spain. After the defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar, tensions rose between the allies and Spain began to ally herself towards the British. This changed when British ally Prussia was defeated by the French in 1807 and Spain changed allegiances again, back to the French. This switching of allegiances caused Napoleon to mistrust his Spanish allies and undermined the authority of King Charles IV of Spain. In 1807, there was an attempted coup when the King of Spain's eldest son and heir to the throne, Crown Prince Ferdinand attempted to seize power for himself. All this upheaval and instability forced the French to send 100,000 troops to Spain and the country came under a French occupation. On 19th March, following an uprising at the Winter Palace at Aranjuez, King Charles IV abdicated and was succeeded by his son, who became King Ferdinand VII.  The situation in Spain continued to spiral out of control and the following month, after having received an appeal from Charles for help in regaining his throne, Napoleon summoned both Fredinand and Charles to Bayonne in France, where he forced them both to abdicate, declared the Bourbon Dynasty deposed and declared his brother Joseph to be King Joseph I of Spain. This in turn led to a mutiny in the Spanish army and an uprising in Madrid, starting on 2nd May and which was brutally put down by the French. The situation in Spain continued to deteriorate and fighting broke out between French and Spanish forces in Spain, a chain of events which marked the beginning of the Peninsular War. On the 4th July 1808, the British government ordered that all hostilities against Spain were to end and that henceforth, the Spanish should be given every asssistance in their fight against their former allies.

By the winter of 1809, Cadiz was under seige by the French and the British were doing all in their power to assist. To this end in February of 1810, by now under Commander Thomas Everard, HMS Ephira was ordered to Portugal to join British forces supporting the Spanish, the naval element of which was commaded by the famous Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Goodwin Keats flying his command flag in the ex-French HMS Implacable of 74 guns. The British had agreed to support a Spanish plan to land 3000 British and 7000 Spanish troops between Cape Trafalgar and Tarifa, who would then march to Cadiz and attack the French forces beseiging the city from the rear. HMS Ephira was to be art of the escorting force for the troop ships, which also comprised the 64-gun third rate ship of the line HMS St.Albans, the 12pdr-armed 32 gun frigate HMS Druid, the 9pdr-armed 22 gun post ship HMS Comus, the ex-French, 32pdr carronade-armed 18 gun brig-sloop HMS Sabine, the ex-Neopolitan 24pdr carronade-armed 16 gun brig-sloop HMS Tuscan and the 18pdr carronade-armed gun brigs HMS Steady and HMS Rebuff, both of 12 guns.

Although the Anglo-Spanish force defeated the French at the Battle of Barossa, the scale of the French defeat was not enough to force the French to lift the seige.

In the meantime, HMS Ephira remained with the fleet off Cadiz until she was wrecked on the Porpoises Rocks in the entrance to the harbour on 26th December 1811. All her crew were saved.

"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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