Author Topic: HMS Colossus (1787 - 1798)  (Read 245 times)

Offline stuartwaters

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HMS Colossus (1787 - 1798)
« Reply #1 on: August 05, 2021, 01:43:17 PM »

HMS Colossus was a Common Type, 74-gun, Third Rate ship of the line of the Courageux Class, built under Navy Board contract at the shipyard of William Cleverley in Gravesend.


The 74-gun ship of the line was by far the most numerous type of ship of the line, not just in the Royal Navy and the navies of France and Spain, but also in the navies of other powers too. They were also operated in numbers by Russia, Portugal, Sweden and Denmark amongst others. They gave the best compromise between speed and agility on one hand, and strength and firepower on the other. In British hands at least, they could and did go toe to toe against much larger and more powerfully armed opponents and come out on top. They had begun to enter service in the Royal Navy in the mid-1750s and formed the backbone of the British battlefleet until the late 1820s. Some of them survived in supporting roles until well into the 20th Century. HMS Wellesley was renamed to TS Cornwall and was sunk by the Luftwaffe in 1940, HMS Cornwallis was used as a floating jetty at Sheerness Dockyard until just before closure and was broken up in 1957, while HMS Implacable (actually the ex-French Duguay Trouin, the last French survivor of the Battle of Trafalgar) was renamed to TS Foudroyant and was scuttled in 1947 because funds couldn't be found for the ship's preservation in post-war austerity Britain.


The Courageux Class was a group of six ships designed by Sir John Henslow, Co-Surveyor of the Navy and were all built in Kent shipyards. They were direct copies of the ex-French 74-gun ship HMS Courageux, modified for British use. Originally called Le Courageux, she was built in Brest and launched in 1753. She was captured in a single-ship action by the Chatham-built seventy-four HMS Bellona towards the end of the Seven Years War in 1761. After her capture, the now-HMS Courageux was modified for British use, but the work was not completed until after the war had ended in 1763. Like hundreds of surplus ships, she was laid up in the Ordinary or fleet reserve until the outbreak of the American War of Independence twelve years later. Brought back into front line service after the French joined the war on the American side in 1778, the Royal Navy was so impressed by her performance in the war that they ordered the design to be copied. The Courageux Class ships were built in two batches. The first batch of four ships included HMS Colossus and was ordered during the American War of Independence, but none were ready before the war ended in 1783. The other ships of the first batch were HMS Carnatic, built at the Deptford Royal Dockyard, HMS Leviathan, built at the Chatham Royal Dockyard and HMS Minotaur, built at the Woolwich Royal Dockyard. HMS Carnatic was the first to be launched and for that reason, the class is also known as the Carnatic Class. The second batch of two ships was ordered much later on, during the French Revolutionary War and comprised HMS Aboukir, ordered in 1800 and built under Navy Board contract by John and Josiah Brindley at Frindsbury and HMS Bombay, ordered the following year and built at the Deptford Royal Dockyard. The design was also used as the basis for the forty-strong Vengeur Class ordered between 1806 and 1812.


The contract for the construction of HMS Colossus was signed at the offices of the Navy Board in London on the 13th December 1781. When the contract was signed, the Navy Board would have made an up front payment of about a third of the total contracted price of the ship, to enable the builder to buy timber, other materials and to pay wages to begin construction. A further payment was made about halfway through the project so the builder could continue to pay for materials and to pay wages. Once the ship was launched, she would be taken to a Royal Dockyard for fitting out and before that began, the Dockyard's own shipwrights would thoroughly survey the hull and only when they were satisfied would the final payment be made. During the build, the Navy Board would send overseers into the building yard to ensure that the workmanship and materials used in construction were of satisfactory quality.


The first keel section of what was to become HMS Colossus was laid at Cleverley's shipyard during October of 1782, by which time the war for which she was to be built was pretty much over and was ended by the Treaty of Paris, signed on the 3rd September the following year. Because the country was now at peace, the construction project at Gravesend lost its urgency. HMS Colossus was finally launched into the River Thames on the 4th April 1787 and was immediately commissioned under Captain Hugh Cloberry Christian to serve as a Guardship at Portsmouth.


On completion, HMS Colossus was a ship of 1,716 tons. She was 172ft 3in long on her upper gundeck and 140ft 1in long along the keel. She was 48ft wide across her beams, drew 12ft 1in of water at her bows and 17ft 6in at the rudder. HMS Colussus was armed with 28 x 32pdr long guns on her lower gundeck, 28 x 18pdr long guns on her upper gundeck with 4 x 9pdr long guns on her forecastle with fourteen more on her quarterdeck. In addition to her main guns, the ship was fitted with a dozen half-pounder anti-personnel swivel guns attached to her quarterdeck and forecastle handrails and bulwarks. The ship was manned by a crew of 550 officers, seamen, boys and Royal Marines.


Courageux Class Plans


Orlop Plan:





Lower Gundeck Plan:





Upper Gundeck Plan:





Quarterdeck and Forecastle Plans:





Inboard Profile and Plan:





Sheer Plan and Lines:





A digital model of HMS Colossus. The figure in white near her bows gives scale:





A digital image of the stern of HMS Colossus:





Another digital image of HMS Colossus, this time alongside:





In her role as a Guardship, HMS Colossus would have been kept moored in the fleet anchorage off Portsmouth, rigged and armed, but would only carry about half her normal crew complement. The job of the ship and her crew was to provide security for the ships of the Portsmouth Ordinary.


The summer of 1789 saw the French people rise up in revolution, overthrowing centuries of Absolute Monarchy, where the King of France owned everything and everybody in the country. It led to the establishment of a Constitutional Monarchy along similar lines to our own, where the previously absolute power of the French King was limited by an elected assembly. At the same time, British traders began to establish a trading settlement at Nootka, one what is now Vancouver Island on the western coastline of modern day Canada. This was in defiance of a Spanish territorial claim over the entire western coastline of both American continents. Over the course of the next year or so, Britain and Spain drifted towards war in what is now known as the Spanish Armaments Crisis. As part of the British response to the escalating crisis, the British mobilised the fleet, including HMS Colossus. In October 1790, HMS Colossus was fitted for sea and took on a full crew complement. Captain Christian was replaced in command by Captain Henry Harvey on the 15th October. Press Warrants were raised by the Admiralty, enabling the Press Gangs to begin rounding up sailors in all the ports for service in the fleet.


The ship's Standing Officers would have been appointed by the Navy Board immediately after the ship had been launched three years before and were:


The Boatswain or Bosun. He was a man who had worked his way up through the ranks of seamen, with a great many years of experience of the sea. He was answerable to the First Lieutenant and was responsible for the operation, repair and maintenance of the ship's boats as well as her masts and rigging. When the ship was in commission, he was assisted by two Boatswains Mates. Amongst the duties of the Boatswains Mates was the administering of any floggings ordered by the Captain.


The Gunner. He was another man who had worked his way up through the ranks of seamen. He was responsible to the First Lieutenant for the maintenance, operation and repair of the ships main guns, the training of gun crews and training of Midshipmen in Ordinary in the art of gunnery. In action, his station was in the magazine, filling gunpowder cartridges to be taken to the gun captains by the powder monkeys. When the ship was in commission, he was assisted by two Gunners Mates and 20 Quarter Gunners, each of whom was a Petty Officer in charge of four gun crews.


The Carpenter. He was a fully qualified Shipwright who was answerable to the First Lieutenant for the repair and maintenance of the ships hull, frames and decks. When the ship was in commission, he was assisted a Carpenters Mate and had a dedicated crew of eight men.


The Purser. He was answerable directly to the Captain and was responsible for the purchase and distribution of all the ship's stores and provisions. While the ship was in the Ordinary, he was allowed to live ashore within a reasonable distance of the Dockyard.


The Cook. He was responsible to the First Lieutenant for the distribution and preparation of the ships provisions. He was also in charge of the ship's complement of servants.


The ship's six Lieutenants were appointed by the Admiralty and were ranked in order of seniority, based on the dates on which they had passed their Examinations. The First Lieutenant was clearly the most important of these and was the second-in-command and controlled the day-to-day organisation of the ship and her crew.


The rest of the senior Warrant Officers were, like the Standing Officers, were appointed by the Navy Board and were:


The Sailing Master. He was the highest-ranking of all the ships Warrant Officers, was answerable to the Captain and so was entitled to live in the wardroom with the commissioned officers. He was a fully qualified Master, able to command a vessel in the merchant service when not employed by the Royal Navy. Of all the wardroom officers, he had the second-largest cabin, second only to that of the First Lieutenant. In a ship like HMS Colossus, he was assisted by a more junior but equally qualified Sailing Master, known as the Second Master and three Masters Mates. Each of the Masters mates was themselves a Qualified Mate, able to work as such in the merchant service. The Master was responsible for the day-to-day sailing and navigation of the ship, training the Midshipmen-in-Ordinary in the arts of navigation and seamanship and the storage of supplies and stores in the hold to ensure the optimum trim of the ship for manoeuvring. In addition to the Second Master and the Masters Mates, he was also assisted by six Quartermasters, each responsible for the ship's steering and each assisted by their own Mate.


The Surgeon. Also answerable directly to the Captain and so entitled to live in the wardroom with the commissioned officers. Although not a qualified Doctor as such, the Surgeon had had to complete a seven-year apprenticeship which had been overseen by the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Physicians. He was responsible for the day-to-day healthcare of the whole ship's Company from the Captain downwards and was assisted in this by two Assistant Surgeons.


The lesser Warrant Officers were appointed by the Captain on the recommendation of the First Lieutenant after having applied for the posts and presenting their credentials. These were:


The Armourer. He was responsible for the storage, maintenance and repair of the ships stocks of small-arms and bladed weapons. A qualified Blacksmith, he would also manufacture new bladed weapons as and where necessary. He was answerable to the Gunner and was assisted by two Armourers Mates.


The Sailmaker. Answerable to the Boatswain and responsible for the maintenance and repair of the ships sails and flags as well as their storage. He was assisted by a single Sailmakers Mate and had a dedicated crew of two men.


The Ropemaker. Also answerable to the Boatswain, he was responsible for the storage, maintenance and repair of the ship's supplies of cordage and the manufacture where necessary of new cordage.


The Caulker. He was answerable to the Carpenter and was responsible for ensuring that the ship's hull and decks remained watertight. He was assisted by a single Caulkers Mate and seamen as and when required.


The Chaplain. An ordained priest, he was answerable to the First Lieutenant. In deference to his status as an ordained priest, the Chaplain was entitled to live in the wardroom with the commissioned officers. In action, his role was to assist the Surgeon's crew with the care of wounded men. In the absence of a Chaplain, the Captain would carry out his pastoral duties.


The Schoolmaster. Answerable to the First Lieutenant, he was responsible for training the Midshipmen-in-Ordinary in the theory of navigation and the associated branches of arithmetic. Where possible and appropriate, he would also teach the rest of the ships boys the basic three Rs.


The Cooper. Answerable to the Purser, he was responsible for the maintenance and repair of all the barrels stored in the hold. He was responsible for cleaning the barrels after their contents had been used, especially barrels used to store the ship's water supply and would be assisted by seamen as and where required.


The Clerk. Answerable to the Purser, he was responsible for all the record-keeping and administration aboard the ship and ensuring that the appropriate books were sent to the Admiralty for checking.


The Master-At-Arms. In effect, he was the ship's policeman and was answerable to the First Lieutenant and was responsible for the day-to-day enforcement of discipline on the ship. He was assisted by two Corporals (not related to the military rank of the same name) who themselves had the status of Petty Officers. He would investigate misbehaving seamen and would report them to the First Lieutenant who would in turn report them to the Captain who would decide their punishment. In cases where the Captain decided that the offender should be flogged, the flogging itself would be carried out by the Boatswains Mates. In cases where the alleged offence required a Court Martial, the offender would be kept in irons until a Court Martial could be arranged and the Master-at-Arms would then be responsible for their safety and security.


A 74-gun ship of the line would have 16 Midshipmen, appointed by the Port Admiral or local commander-in-chief on behalf of the Admiralty. Commanders in training, their job was to assist the Lieutenants in their day-to-day duties.


In addition to the Midshipmen, there would be Midshipmen-in-Ordinary. Also known as Quarterdeck Boys, these young men were in effect officers in training. They would usually be the sons of friends of the Captain, or had a family connection to the Captain, or be sons of people the Captain was either doing a favour for or owed a favour to. They would be on the ships books as Captains Servants, rated and paid as Able Seamen but wore the uniform and performed the duties of a Midshipman. A ship with a crew of almost 600 would entitle the Captain to have as many as 24 servants or four per hundred of her Company, but unless he was extraordinarily extravagant, the Captain  would only actually require a fraction of this number, so the remaining posts were taken up with the Midshipmen-in-Ordinary. The Quarterdeck Boys would have to put in two years of sea-service before they could be appointed as Midshipmen proper and would have to serve at least six years in the post of Midshipman before they would be considered for their Lieutenants Examination.


In any case, the Captain would come aboard with his own staff who would move between appointments with him, consisting of his own Clerk or secretary, his Steward, who would have a Stewards Mate to assist him and his Coxswain. The Captains Coxswain was a Petty Officer who was expected to act as the Captain's eyes and ears on the Lower Deck. The Coxswain himself would appoint a Coxswain's Mate from amongst the Able Seamen.


The rest of the ships crew would be made up with Petty Officers, those men with experience in those roles, such as Captains and Yeomen of Parts of the ship such as the Forecastle, the Waist, Tops, Gun Captains etc. Able Seamen; those men with plenty of sea-going experience who could perform any task asked of them without supervision, Ordinary Seamen; those men with some sea-going experience and Landsmen, those with none. Landsmen were the unskilled labourers in a ship and were generally regarded by everyone else as being the lowest form of life until they had proved themselves. Boys were graded in much the same way, 1st class - those with Able Seaman levels of skills and experience, 2nd class, those with Ordinary Seaman level skills and 3rd class. The Boys 3rd Class were employed as cabin servants for the wardroom and for those senior Warrant Officers entitled to have servants, such as the Standing Officers. In action, the ship's boys would be employed in carrying gunpowder cartridges from the magazine to the Gun Captains, a role known as a "Powder Monkey".


HMS Colossus' contingent of Marines would come aboard as a pre-existing unit and would consist of a Captain of Marines in charge, assisted by three Marine Lieutenants ranked in order of seniority, three Sergeants, three Corporals, two Drummers and 98 Marine Privates. The commissioned Marine officers were entitled to live in the wardroom with the commissioned sea-officers. The Marines themselves would live in a screened-off part of the Lower Deck, known as the Marine Barracks, while the non-commissioned officers would have the same status aboard the ship as the Petty Officers.


In the wider world, Spain's call to the French for assistance in the apparently forthcoming war against the British was declined. The Revolution and the anarchy which followed it meant that the new Revolutionary Government had enough on it's plate without an expensive and protracted war against the old enemy across the Channel. This forced Spain to the negotiating table and the crisis was resolved peacefully. Another crisis came came up the following year, when an ongoing war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire threatened to spill over into territory controlled by British ally Austria. The British Parliament declined to get involved and for the British, the Russian Armaments Crisis also passed off peacefully. HMS Colossus was paid off into the Ordinary and all but her Standing Officers, their servants and twenty-six Able Seamen left the ship. She was stripped of all her stores, sails, yards and running rigging and cameunder the care of the Master Attendant at the Dockyard.


Meanwhile in France, the anarchy which followed the Revolution grew. King Louis XVI had not taken being stripped of his absolute power laying down and supported forces fighting on his behalf, particularly in the Vendee Region on the French Biscay Coast. In late 1792, he and his Queen Marie Antoinette attempted to flee Paris and join them. They were caught and arrested for high treason. In December 1792, the French monarchy was formally abolished and in January of 1793,the King and Queen were executed in Paris for High Treason. The British expelled the French Ambassador in protest and on the 1st February, France declared war.


On the 20th February 1793, HMS Colussus was recommissioned under Captain Charles Maurice Pole, was fitted for sea and once again, took on a full crew.


The British knew that the French had a powerful fleet based in Toulon on the south coast of France and that if this was to be contained and British interests in the region were to be safeguarded, they would have to assemble a fleet of their own. The fleet was to be sent in several divisions, as ships became available. The first division departed the UK in early April 1793 and consisted of the 98-gun Second Rate ship HMS St George with Rear-Admiral John Gell, along with a 74-gun ship. The second division under Vice-Admiral Phillip Cosby left on the 15th April and comprised the 98-Gun Second Rate ship HMS Windsor Castle with a further three 74-gun ships and a pair of Frigates. HMS Colossus was part of the third division under Vice-Admiral William Hotham, the nominated Second-in-Command of the fleet in the First Rate ship HMS Britannia of 100 guns and along with a further two 74-gun ships, a 64-gun ship and two frigates, left on the 4th May 1793. The fourth and final division left on the 22nd May and consisted of the First Rate ship HMS Victory under the Commander in Chief, Vice-Admiral Samuel, Lord Hood, plus a further five Seventy-Fours, a Sixty-Four, five Frigates and Sloops of War, two Fireships and two Hospital ships.


By the end of August 1793, fleet was assembled off Toulon and comprised the following ships of the line:


HMS Victory and HMS Britannia (both First Rate ships of 100 guns), HMS Windsor Castle, HMS Saint George and HMS Princess Royal (all Second Rate ships of 98 guns), HMS Alcide, HMS Terrible, HMS Egmont, HMS Robust, HMS Courageux, HMS Bedford, HMS Berwick, HMS Captain, HMS Fortitude, HMS Leviathan, HMS Colossus and HMS Illustrious (all of 74 guns), HMS Agamemnon, HMS Ardent, HMS Diadem and HMS Intrepid (all of 64 guns).


The French fleet in Toulon at the time was commanded by Rear-Admiral the Compte de Trogoffe with 17 ships of the line. In addition to those ships which included the massive, almost brand-new Commerce de Marseilles of 120 guns, the Compte also had a further four ships of the line including another ship of 120 guns fitting for sea with nine more either under repair or awaiting repairs. The Compte de Trogoffe was widely known as a staunch monarchist who would have no dealings with the republicans now running his country. It therefore came as no surprise to anybody when his representatives arrived aboard HMS Victory on the 23rd August to negotiate the surrender of the port and the ships in it to the British. Lord Hood was delighted to accept their proposal.


In order to reassure the people of Toulon about the intentions of the British and their Spanish allies, Lord Hood released the following Proclamation:


"PROCLAMATION By the Right Honorable Samuel Lord Hood, Vice-Admiral of the Red, and Commander in Chief of His Britannic
Majesty's Squadron, in the Mediterranean, &c. &c. &c,


Whereas the Sections of Toulon have, by their Commissioners to me, made a solemn Declaration, in Favour of Monarchy, have proclaimed LOUIS XVII Son of the late Louis XVI their lawful King, and have sworn to acknowledge him, and no longer suffer the Despotism of the Tyrants, which at this Time govern France, but will do their utmost to establish Monarchy, as accepted by their late Sovereign in 1789, and restore Peace to their distracted and calamitous Country.


I do hereby repeat, what I have already declared to the People of the South of France, that I take Possession of Toulon,
and hold it in Trust only for Louis XVII until Peace shall be re-established in France, which I hope and trust will be
soon.


Given on board His Britannic Majesty's Ship Victory, off Toulon,
the 28th of August, 1793."





On the 15th September, HMS Leviathan arrived at Portsmouth bearing Lord Hood's report, along with a copy of the Proclamation and a copy of the response of his Spanish ally, Admiral Juan de Langara:


"SIR,


IN my Letter of the 25th, (of which I herewith send a Duplicate, and also of it's Inclosures) I had the Honor to acquaint
you, for the Information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, of the Situation of Things at Toulon and Marseilles :
Since that several Messages have passed between me and the Sections of Toulon, and, having Assurances that they had proclaimed Louis XVII King, and had sworn to acknowledge him, and no longer suffer the Despotism of the Tyrants
which at this Time govern France, and that they would. be zealous in their Endeavours to restore Peace to their distracted and calamitous Country, I came, to the Resolution of landing 1500 Men, and take Possession of the Forts which command
the Ships in the Road. St. Julien,
(the French Rear-Admiral St Julien, a Republican supporter) a turbulent hot-headed Democrat, (to whom the Seamen had given the Command of the Fleet in the room of Trogoffe) had the Command of the Forts on the Left of the Harbour, and declared Resistance.


In all Enterprizes of War, Danger, more or less, is to be expected, and must be submitted to : But, impressed with the
great Importance of taking Possession of Toulon, the great Fort of Malgue, and others on the Main, in shortening the
War, I fully relied, that, in case my Endeavours should not succeed, I should be justified in running some Risque, being
conscious I acted, to the best of my Judgement, as a faithful Servant to my King and Country; therefore, at Midnight on the 27th, I made the necessary Arrangements for putting the Troops on Shore, as near as possible to the great Fort, without their being molested by those Batteries in the Hands of St. Julien, under the immediate Protection of the Meleager and Tartar,
(Frigates) supported by the Egmont, Robust, Courageux, and Colossus, which were all in the Fort by Noon on the 28th. And I authorized Captain Elphinstone to land and enter, at the Head of the Troops, the Fort of Malgue, and to take upon, him the Charge and Command as Governor and directed Captain Dickson, on his anchoring, to send a Flag, with peremptory Notice to St. Julien, that such Ships as did not immediately proceed into the Inner Harbour, and put their Powder on Shore, by Seven, whose Crews ran off with St. Julien, removed in the Course of the Day.


It is impossible for me to express my Obligation to Don Langara, adequate to my Feelings of it for the singular Honor of his implicit Confidence in, and good Opinion of me in the Promptitude his Excellency manifested to comply with the Wishes contained in my Second Letter as his Excellency was not content with sending Admiral Gravina, but came with his whole Squadron, except Four which he left to bring a Body of Troops from the Army at Rosellon, and made his Appearance from the Deck of the Victory as the Troops from His Majesty'sSquadron under my Command were in the Act of Landing, Admiral Gravina
came on board and upon my explaining to him the necessity of as many Spanish Troops being put on Shore immediately as could be spared, he told me he was authorized by his Admiral to pay Attention to any request I should mak
e and undertook to prepare 1000 at least, to be landed this Morning, under the Protection of the Four Ships I had ordered to anchor, and were all in the Fort before Twelve o'Clock I herewith transmit a Copy of Don Langara's Letter, in Answer to mine of the 25th.


The Corps of Carteau
(The Republican General Jean Francois Carteau) has been at Marseilles, and committed, all Manner of Enormities, and is now on it's March to Toulon, expecting to join the Army near at hand from Italy. The former consists of 10,000 Men; the Number of the latter is not ascertained, but be it more or less, I trust the Whole will make no
impression even upon the Town of Toulon; upon the Fort of Malgue, I am pretty confident, they cannot do it.


Information has just been sent me that Carteau has planned to send away from Marseilles all the Money, as well as Merchandize, in the Town the former is said to consist of Four Millions of Livres; but 1 have planned to prevent him, by
having sent off Marseilles Two Ships of the Line, with Orders not to suffer any Vessel to sail; and I am now sending
Two Frigates, which I could not spare before.


After having taken Possession of Toulon and the Forts, I judged it expedient to issue another Proclamation, which Captain
Elphinstone tells me has had a very happy Effect a Copy of which I also inclose.


The Knowledge of this Event to the King and His Majesty's Ministers appears to me of that Magnitude, that I think it
expedient to adopt Two Modes of Conveyance, one by the Way of Barcelona, and the other Genoa.


Lord Hugh Conway
(Captain of HMS Leviathan) has the Charge of one Dispatch, and the Honorable Captain Waldegrave (Captain of HMS Courageux) the other, who will be able to inform His Majesty's Ministers, at those Places they may pass, of the Allied Powers.


I have the Honor to be,
SIR,
Your most obedient humble Servant,
(Signed)
HOOD"



A copy of the Spanish Admiral's letter to Lord Hood:


"Most Excellent Lord,


I have received your Excellency's much-esteemed Letter, with the Intelligence therein and inclosing a Copy of your Proclamation. In consequence, I cannot resist taking the greatest Interest in the Common Cause and, considering the Effects that might result from my not taking Advantage of so favorable an Opportunity, I have determined to proceed immediately, in View of your Squadron and, at the same Time, I dispatched an Express to the Commander in Chief of the Army in
Rosellon, desiring that he would embark in Four Ships, which I left for that Purpose, Two or Three Thousand of the best
Troops, to be employed as your Excellency wishes in the Operations you have pointed out.


May God preserve you a Thousand Years.
Most Excellent Lord,
I kiss your Lordship's Hands,
Your most obedient, and faithful
humble Servant,


(Signed) Juan de Langara & Huarte.


On board of the Mexicano,
off the Coast of Rosellon
the 26th of August, 1793."



Lord Hood and his Spanish ally 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. On the 24th September, HMS Colossus arrived in Toulon carrying 350 Sardinian troops.


The Allied 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.


British ally Austria had also promised troops to assist with the occupation and defence of Toulon, but these could only be transported there by sea. It had been arranged that the troops would embark in Genoa, which was at the time the capital of the Republic of Genoa. Genoa was officially neutral, but was torn by political upheaval. A significant proportion of the Genoese government supported the French cause and despite British demands that it should stop, the Genoese were regularly sending supplies to the French military. Those French naval ships which had been at sea when Toulon had been occupied had taken shelter in neutral Italian ports which included Genoa and other ports under the Republic's control. Lord Hood decided to confront this problem head on and sent Rear-Admiral Gell in HMS St George with HMS Bedford, HMS Captain, the French Royalist 74 gun ship Le Scipion, the 12pdr armed 32 gun frigate HMS Mermaid, the 9pdr armed 28 gun frigate HMS Tartar, the 6pdr armed 14 gun French Royalist brig-sloop L'Alerte, the 6pdr armed 18 gun ship-sloop HMS Eclair, the 18pdr carronade armed 14 gun fireships HMS Vulcan and HMS Conflagration and the 4pdr armed 14 gun brig-sloop HMS Speedy. The British were aware that the French 12pdr armed 32 gun frigate La Modeste was in the harbour at Genoa and that this ship would need to be eliminated before the Austrian troops could be embarked.


Rear-Admiral Gell's squadron arrived off Genoa on 5th October 1793 and the Modeste was clearly visible, moored near the mole and accompanied by a pair of armed tartans, each carrying four guns and about 70 men. The Rear-Admiral held a captains conference aboard HMS St George and the commanders decided that since diplomacy had already failed and that the Genoese were clearly biased towards the French, force was the most appropriate solution. HMS Bedford was towed into the harbour by her boats which brought her alongside the Modeste. Her arrival was greeted with jeers of derision by the French sailors who were laughing on the other side of their faces when armed British sailors began to board their ship. Derision soon turned to resistance which ended when HMS Bedford's Royal Marines fired into the crowd of French sailors on the Modeste's deck, killing one and wounding several others. The rest of the French sailors either surrendered or jumped overboard, only to be picked up by boats from HMS Captain which had come alongside. In the meantime, HMS Speedy's boats attacked the Tartans, one of which surrendered immediately, the other after a short fight. In the raid on Genoa, the British force suffered no casualties. On 12th October, HMS Captain's boats captured another French frigate, this time, the 18pdr armed 36 gun frigate Imperieuse, from within the harbour at Leghorn. The Modeste was taken into the Royal Navy under her French name and the Imperieuse was renamed HMS Unite.


Although the raids were a success, they were to have disastrous consequences. Although he was acting under Lord Hood's orders, Rear-Admiral Gell had deliberately violated Genoese neutrality, however one-sided it may have been. This gave the Genoese the excuse to break off diplomatic relations with the British and the 5,000 or so Austrian troops were forced to return home. Without the crack Austrian troops, the British and their allies occupying Toulon 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. Bonaparte came up with a plan to attack a weak point in the defences 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. When the Republican forces entered the city on 19th December, they massacred many of the remaining defenders, shooting or bayonetting up to 2,000 prisoners-of-war on the Champ de Mars. For his role in the retaking of Toulon, Bonaparte was promoted to Brigadier-General by a grateful National Convention.


The evacuation of Toulon:





After the disaster at Toulon, HMS Colossus returned to the UK and entered a refit at Portsmouth. On completion of the refit, HMS Colossus was reassigned to the Channel Fleet, commanded by Admiral Lord Howe flying his command flag in the First Rate ship of the line HMS Queen Charlotte of 100 guns. By this time, France was in trouble. The harvest the previous year had failed and the country was facing widespread famine. The fact that France was at war with all her neighbours precluded overland shipments, so the Revolutionary Government had looked to their colonies and to the United States for assistance. By March, they had arranged for a huge shipment of grain from the Americans. In order to minimise the risk of interception of this vital cargo by the British, it was arranged between France and the USA that it should be shipped across the Atlantic in one go. A massive convoy of over 100 merchant ships assembled in Hampton Roads in Chesapeake Bay. This contained enough food to feed the whole of France for a year. From the French point of view, failure was not an option. The convoy was expected to take up to two months to cross the Atlantic and departed American waters on 2nd April 1794.


The British were aware of the convoy and it's importance to France and had made preparations for it's interception and destruction. It was hoped that if Lord Howe and his Channel Fleet could succeed in destroying the convoy, this would bring the war to an early end.


On 2nd May 1794, Lord Howe led the Channel Fleet out of the anchorage off St Helens, Isle of Wight in order to begin the search for the French convoy.


Rear-Admiral George Montagu, flying his command flag in the 74 gun ship HMS Hector, with a squadron comprised additionally of HMS Bellona, HMS Alexander, HMS Ganges, HMS Theseus and HMS Arrogant (all of 74 guns), HMS Ruby (64) plus the frigate HMS Venus (12pdr 36) was detached from the main body of the Channel Fleet to escort the East India convoy past dangers presented by French privateers and naval units and then cruise off Cape Ortugal until 20th May. Howe's plan was to cruise in mid-Atlantic in search of the French convoy and should they fail to find them, rendezvous with Montagu's squadron and intercept the convoy as it closed with the French coast. In any case, Montagu's orders were to intercept the convoy if it was sighted as Lord Howe and the Admiralty knew that the convoy itself only had two French ships of the line as close escort, the Tigre and Jean Bart (both of 74 guns). While waiting, Montagu's force recaptured some British merchant vessels taken by the French and learned from them that the entire French Atlantic Fleet was at sea, searching for Lord Howe in order to prevent him from intercepting the convoy. What Montagu didn't know was that Lord Howe was already in pursuit of it far to the west of Ushant, so he sent HMS Venus in search of Lord Howe to inform him that the French Fleet was at sea and then return. Montagu waited in vain for several more days after the 20th May for the return of HMS Venus and having sighted neither the convoy or the French Fleet, complied with his orders and returned to Plymouth, arriving on 30th May.


News of Montagu's return to Plymouth reached the Admiralty on 2nd June. The Admiralty were of the view that the interception and destruction of the convoy was the absolute, number one priority and that all available resources were to be dedicated to that end. Orders were sent at once to Plymouth for Rear-Admiral Montagu to take his squadron and wait off Ushant for either intelligence from Lord Howe or in the event of Howe having already engaged the French Atlantic Fleet, to protect any disabled British ships, capture any disabled French ships or if any intelligence should reach him concerning the whereabouts of the convoy, he was to find and destroy it. On the 3rd June, HMS Audacious (74) arrived in Plymouth with news of Howe's skirmish against the French Atlantic Fleet on 28th May and of Howe's expectation that a decisive engagement against the French was about to occur.


On 4th June, Montagu's squadron set sail from Plymouth as ordered, reinforced by HMS Colossus and her sister-ship HMS Minotaur with the frigates HMS Pallas (18pdr, 38) and HMS Concorde (12pdr, 32). At this stage, Rear-Admiral Montagu was not aware that Lord Howe and his fleet had already engaged and defeated the French Atlantic Fleet in the Battle of the Glorious First of June, taking six French ships of the line as prizes and sinking a further one. The squadron reached Ushant in the morning of the 8th of June and at 15:30, sighted and chased 12 sail to their east-south-east. At 16:00, after discovering that eight of the strangers were in fact French ships of the line, Montagu ordered his ships to form a line of battle and stand on to meet the enemy. At 18:00, the enemy, by now identifed as being the Majestueux of 110 guns, the Aquilon, Jupiter, Marat, Nestor, Redoubtable, Revolution (all of 74 guns), plus two frigates, a corvette and a cutter, steered away from the British squadron and made all sail towards the bay of Bertheaume. Rear-Admiral Montagu's squadron, led by HMS Concorde, chased the French into the bay, where the enemy joined two more ships of the line already laying there. Rear-Admiral Montagu didn't want to fight the enemy in confined waters, close to the shore in the failing light, so at 20:00, ordered his ships to shorten sail and cruise off the bay, waiting for the next day.


At 07:00 on the 9th of June, the British sighted a strange fleet to their west and two hours later, the strangers were identifed as being no less than nineteen French ships of the line, three frigates and two smaller vessels. What Rear-Admiral Montagu's men had sighted was actually the remnants of the French Atlantic Fleet, heading for land, then at a distance of 17 leagues or about 50 miles from their position. At 09:30, Montagu ordered his ships to form a line of battle and on seeing this, the French did the same. It was Montagu's intention to remain upwind of the enemy. The French formed a very tight line; they had to. Of the nineteen French ships of the line, five of them were totally dismasted and were being towed by other ships and of the ships under tow, two were enormous three-deckers, Republicain of 120 guns, damaged and dismasted in the Action of the 28th May and Terrible of 110 guns, the others were ships of 74 guns, including the Mucius and the Jemmappes, all severely damaged and dismasted in the main battle on the 1st of June. Rear-Admiral Montagu now faced a serious problem. He had an enemy force equal to his own on his landward side and a force more than twice his own bearing down on him from his seaward side. In addition, two of his ships, HMS Ganges and HMS Alexander, were sailing particularly badly and were struggling to keep up with the rest and were unlikely to be able to outsail the French if it came to a chase. He headed south, followed by those French ships which were able to do so. The French were gaining rapidly, despite HMS Ganges and HMS Alexander setting every stitch they could carry. Despite being over 30 years old, HMS Bellona was still one of the fastest and most manoeuvrable ships in the Royal Navy and was forced to shorten sail to avoid leaving the rest of the squadron behind. At 17:00, despite the fact that his leading ships were less than four miles behind the British, Villaret de Joyeuse, the French Admiral ordered his ships to bear up and head back to port. He was concerned about being drawn away by the British. Seeing the French bear up, apart from breathing a huge sigh of relief, Montagu ordered his ships to head back towards Ushant. On 10th June, having failed to sight either Lord Howe's fleet or the convoy, Montagu ordered his force to head back into the English Channel and on the 12th, his ships anchored in Cawsand Bay off Plymouth, where they were joined the same day, by nine of Lord Howe's ships.


On 13th of June, the rest of Lord Howe's battered but victorious fleet arrived at the great fleet anchorage at Spithead and the celebrations in the UK were ecstatic.


After this, HMS Colossus was ordered to join the Inshore Squadron, enforcing the blockade of the French Biscay ports. The squadron was under the command of Rear-Admiral John Colpoys who flew his command flag in the 98-gun Second Rate ship of the line HMS London. Also in the squadron were the Seventy-Fours HMS Hannibal, HMS Robust and HMS Valiant, with the Frigates HMS Thalia (18pdr, 36) and HMS Astrea (12pdr, 32). On 10th April 1795, the squadron was going about it's business off Brest when they sighted three sails in the distance. Colpoys immediately ordered the squadron to give chase. The three strangers were identified as being the French 12pdr-armed 36-gun frigates Gloire, Fraternite and Gentille. This small squadron had been on a commerce-raiding sortie in the Bay of Biscay and were returning to Brest when they had been sighted by the British squadron. With the wind in their favour, the British squadron quickly caught up with the French frigates. HMS Colossus got close enough to exchange fire with the French before the French commander ordered his squadron to split up. Gentille and Fraternite headed out into the Atlantic pursued by the fastest of the British ships of the line, HMS Hannibal and HMS Robust while Gloire headed north-west, pursued by the rest of the squadron. Of the rest of the British squadron, only HMS Astrea managed to remain in contact with the fleeing French frigate and at 22:30, Captain Lord Henry Paulet managed to get his frigate alongside the larger French ship and began a firefight with La Gloire which continued for the next hour or so until the rest of the British squadron came into sight and the French captain decided to surrender in the face of overwhelming British force. Once the prize had been secured, Colpoys ordered the squadron to go to Portsmouth to refit and resupply. On arriving at Portsmouth, Colpoys learned from Captain Edward Thornborough of HMS Robust that HMS Hannibal had captured the Gentille while the Fraternite had escaped. By all accounts, the captain of the Gentille had surrendered without a fight rather than face a one-sided fight against the British Seventy-Four. The French captain had apparently been astonished that his frigate had been overhauled and outsailed by HMS Hannibal in open water. When Captain John Markham of HMS Hannibal was asked about this, he merely responded that "The Hannibal sails like a witch".


The Prize money from the two French frigates captured during the Action of 10th April 1795 was distributed amongst the crews of the squadron.


By June 1795, Admiral Lord Howe had retired and command of the Channel Fleet had passed to Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Hood, the Lord Bridport and younger brother of Admiral Samuel, Lord Hood. On 12th June, Lord Bridport, flying his command flag in the 100-gun First Rate ship of the line HMS Royal George, led the Channel Fleet including Vice-Admiral Colpoys' squadron out of Spithead to escort a convoy of troopships intended to land a French Royalist army at Quiberon Bay in order to launch a counter-revolution in France. What Lord Bridport didn't know was that a British squadron of 5 ships of the line under Vice-Admiral The Honourable Sir William Cornwallis had encountered a French squadron of three ships of the line with a convoy and after seizing the convoy, had forced the enemy warships to seek shelter under the guns of the highly fortified French island of Belle Isle back in May. Cornwallis had withdrawn to escort his prizes back to UK waters before returning with the intention of destroying the French squadron. In the meantime, the French Atlantic Fleet had learned of the situation of their colleagues and had sailed in full force to rescue them. When Cornwallis returned, he had encountered the full force of the French fleet and had been forced to beat a hasty retreat. After abandoning the pursuit of Cornwallis' squadron, the French had sought shelter from deteriorating weather in the anchorage at Belle Isle. In the meantime, Lord Bridport sent the troopships ahead under the command of Commodore John Borlase Warren while he stood his fleet offshore, anticipating the arrival of the French attempting to prevent the landings. One of Warren's frigates, HMS Arethusa (18pdr, 38) spotted the French as they were departing Belle Isle on their way back to Brest. On 20th June, Warren's force again met up with the Fleet and informed Lord Bridport of their discovery. Lord Bridport immediately manoeuvred the fleet to stand between Warren's landing force and the French Fleet. At 03:30 on 22nd June, lookouts on HMS Nymphe (12pdr, 36) spotted the French. On spotting the British, the French turned back towards the land. On seeing that the French did not intend to fight, Lord Bridport ordered his fastest ships to give chase, so at 06:30, HMS Sans Pareil (80), HMS Orion (74), HMS Valiant, HMS Colossus, HMS Irresistible (74) and HMS Russell (74) broke formation to start the chase. The rest of the Channel Fleet followed as fast as they could. The chase continued all day, with the British very slowly gaining on the French. At 12:00, the two fleets were about 12 miles apart. Lord Bridport ordered his ships to adopt a formation so that they could intercept the French regardless of where they turned. At 19:00, Lord Bridport ordered his leading ships to attack the rear-most French ships and at 19:25, to attack the French as and when they overhauled them. At 22:30, the wind died away, causing both fleets to come to a stop, but by 03:00 the following morning, it had risen again from the south-west. This was enough for the British to push ahead so that by dawn, the French fleet was dead ahead. They were in a loose cluster of ships, with two or three stragglers and with one ship, the Alexandre (74), formerly HMS Alexander, trailing about three miles astern of the rest. In a suprising turn of events, Captain Sir Andrew Snape Douglas in HMS Queen Charlotte had managed to catch up with the leading ships with his massive 100 gun first rate ship.


At about 05:00, the French commander, Villaret Joyeuse, became concerned that the Alexandre would be isolated and taken by the British, so he sent the frigate Regeneree to tow her out of trouble. He hadn't reckoned on Captain Douglas' exceptionally skilled handling of his massive ship and at about 06:00, HMS Queen Charlotte was able to drive off the Regeneree and engage the Alexandre and with the support of Captain Sir James Saumarez in HMS Orion (74), both ships quickly reduced the Alexandre to a shattered ruin. At 06:15, HMS Queen Charlotte moved on to the next ship in the French line, the Formidable of 74 guns. The Formidable put up a fierce resistance to the British first rate ship's overwhelming firepower for about 15 minutes until a fire broke out on the Frenchman's poop deck. While the French crew were dealing with this, HMS Sans Pareil moved up and poured a broadside into the already broken French two-decker. While HMS Queen Charlotte and HMS Sans Pareil were dealing with the Formidable, HMS London, HMS Queen (98), HMS Colossus and HMS Russell pushed into the centre of the French fleet and got stuck in. By this time, HMS Queen Charlotte had suffered severe damage to her rigging and had become unmanageable. At 07:14, HMS Queen Charlotte drifted past the Alexandre and let her have another broadside. The French ship had had enough and struck her colours in surrender. Even as his ship drifted out of control, Captain Douglas ordered his ship to engage the French seventy-fours Peuple and Tigre at long range. They were joined in this by HMS Sans Pareil, which forced the Tigre out of the French formation and isolated her. At this point, HMS London and HMS Queen joined in the attack. Faced with such overwhelming odds, the Tigre surrendered. By 08:00, the British fleet flagship HMS Royal George (100) had reached the scene of the action and had been joined by HMS Queen Charlotte, whose crew had managed to make sufficient repairs to be able to bring their ship under control. HMS Royal George let the Peuple have a broadside before Lord Bridport realised that the French commander was attempting to lure him close to the island of Groix, with it's rocks and fast currents. Concerned for the safety of his ships, Lord Bridport ordered that the Alexandre, Formidable and Tigre be taken in tow by the as-yet unengaged HMS Prince (98), HMS Barfleur (98) and HMS Prince George (98) while the rest of the fleet should discontinue the action and withdraw. Lord Bridport ordered that the captured French ships be sent back to the UK with prize crews while he remained in the area with the fleet should the French attempt to disrupt the landings in Quiberon Bay. The Quiberon Bay operation ended in disaster and on 20th September, Lord Bridport returned to the UK in HMS Royal George leaving Rear-Admiral Henry Harvey in command of the blockading fleet. In the Battle of Ile Groix, HMS Colossus was one of the most heavily engaged British ships and suffered casualties of five men killed and thirty men wounded. Of the French prizes, the Alexandre was taken back into the Royal Navy under her original name of HMS Alexander, Formidable was taken into the Royal Navy and renamed HMS Belle Isle and the Tigre was taken into the Royal Navy under her French name. After the battle, Lord Bridport was criticised by some for not exploiting his advantage and utterly annihilating the French Atlantic Fleet. The Admiralty however, believed he made the right decision and stood by their man. Lord Bridport was to remain in command of the Channel Fleet until 1800.


The Battle of Groix, 22nd/23rd June 1795:





On the 19th January 1797, HMS Colossus, in company with HMS Prince George (98), HMS Namur (90), HMS Irresistible, HMS Orion (74) and HMS Thalia were detached from the Channel Fleet in order reinforce Vice-Admiral Sir John Jervis' Mediterranean Fleet. By now, Spain had changed sides in the war and were allied with the French. Sir John Jervis was flying his command flag in HMS Victory and when the reinforcements arrived, his fleet consisted of:


The First Rate ships of the line HMS Victory and HMS Britannia (both of 100 guns), the Second Rate ships of the line HMS Prince George, HMS Barfleur, HMS Blenheim (all of 98 guns) and HMS Namur (of 90 guns), the Third Rate ships of the line HMS Captain, HMS Goliath, HMS Excellent, HMS Orion, HMS Colossus, HMS Egmont and HMS Irresistible (all of 74 guns) and HMS Diadem of 64 guns.


In addition to the ships of the line, Jervis also had the 18pdr armed 38 gun ex French frigate HMS Minerve, the 18pdr armed 32 gun frigate HMS Lively, the 12pdr armed 32 gun frigates HMS Southampton and HMS Niger, the 20 gun ex-French post-ship HMS Bonne Citoyenne, the 18 gun brig-sloop HMS Raven and the 12 gun hired armed cutter Fox.


Of these ships, HMS Minerve had been left behind keeping an eye on the French at Corsica and was flying the command Broad Pennant of one of Jervis' squadron commanders, Commodore Horatio Nelson. What Jervis didn't know was that the French had overrun Corsica and Nelson had had to evacuate the Court of the Viceroy of Corsica along with British officials attached to the Court. At the time HMS Prince George joined the fleet, Nelson was headed in search of them. The fleet suffered a disaster early in the morning of 12th February when HMS Colossus collided with HMS Culodden. HMS Colossus, being the bigger of the two ships escaped with relatively minor damage, but HMS Culodden was seriously damaged.  Any other captain would have asked to go to a dockyard to have the damage repaired, but Captain Thomas Troubridge was determined to remain with the fleet and he and his crew surprised everyone when they reported ready for action come daybreak.


In the morning of 13th February, HMS Minerve, flying Nelson's command pennant, was sighted and Nelson was bringing his admiral some alarming news. The young Commodore reported in person to Jervis aboard HMS Victory that on the 11th, while leaving Gibraltar after having failed to find the fleet there, he had been chased by two Spanish ships of the line and a little later, while in the mouth of the Straits of Gibraltar, he had spotted the entire Spanish fleet at sea and heading towards the Atlantic Ocean, possibly on their way from Cartagena to Cadiz. On hearing the news, Jervis, unaware of the size of the Spanish force, ordered his fleet to alter course and intercept. What Jervis didn't know was that ranged against his fleet was an armada outnumbering his force almost two to one. What he also didn't know was that of the 27 Spanish ships of the line, there were no less than seven ships carrying over 100 guns, including the largest and most powerful warship in the world, the Santissima Trinidad carrying 140 guns on four gundecks.


Dawn on the 14th February 1797 broke hazy, with a fresh wind from the west-by-south. The British fleet was formed up in two divisions with Cape St. Vincent bearing east-by-north distant 8 leagues (or 24 miles). At 06:30, HMS Coludden signalled HMS Victory that she had five sail in sight, a sighting confirmed by HMS Lively and HMS Niger shortly afterward. On being informed of the sighting, Vice-Admiral Jervis ordered HMS Bonne Citoyenne to take a closer look. At 08:15, Jervis ordered the fleet to form in close order and a few minutes afterwards, to prepare for battle. Aboard the ships of the fleet, all hell broke loose as captains ordered their ships to be cleared for action. Screens separating commissioned and warrant officers cabins were taken down, all the sailors chests and personal possessions were cleared away. The screens forming the captains quarters were also taken down and everything was stowed in the hold, deep in the bowels of the ships. Sand was scattered on the decks to give the gunners bare feet a better grip, powder cartridges were filled by the gunner and his assistants in the magazine and taken to the waiting gun captains by the powder monkeys, while shot was stored close to hand. Chains were rigged to hold the great yards secure should the rigging supporting them be shot away and nets were rigged across the ship's upper decks to offer the gunners some protection against debris falling from above. Hammocks were stowed in the nettings along the top of the ship to provide protection against incoming small-arms fire. The ships contingents of Marines drew their sea service muskets from the small-arms lockers and formed up on the forecastle, the poop deck, the quarterdeck and along the gangways linking the forecastle with the quarterdeck, ready to repel boarders and to rain small-arms fire onto the enemy. Sharpshooters climbed the shrouds to the fighting tops in preparation to mark down officers and gunners on the upper decks of any enemy warships they might come alongside. If there was enough time, the fragile boats would hoisted off their tier amidships, lowered over the side and either taken in tow or cast adrift lest they unleash a storm of deadly splinters when hit by incoming enemy fire. Commanders like Captain George Murray of HMS Colossus drilled their crews in these actions day after day, to the point where they could achieve all this in ten minutes or less under all possible circumstances. By the time the process was completed, HMS Colossus had been transformed from the home and workplace of 600 or so men from every background in Georgian Great Britain into a floating fortress, a deadly, efficient fighting machine.


At 09:30, HMS Blenheim, HMS Prince George and HMS Culloden were ordered by signal from HMS Victory to give chase to the enemy and at 09:55, on receiving a signal from HMS Bonne Citoyenne that she had now sighted eight sail, HMS Irresistible, HMS Colossus and HMS Orion were ordered to join them. By 10:00, the leading six British ships were so far ahead of the rest of Jervis' fleet that they could be made out to be ships of the line by the Spanish frigates Santa Catalina and Precioso. Up to this point, the Spanish had assumed that the British ships they had sighted in the hazy distance were part of a convoy. The Spanish at this point were over-confident. An American merchantman who had sighted the British fleet before the reinforcements had arrived, had informed the Spanish Admiral Don Josef de Cordova that Jervis only had nine ships of the line available to him. With his 27 ships of the line, he expected any encounter with the British to end in an easy victory.


From about 09:00, 31 enemy ships, including 20 of the line, could be seen by the masthead lookouts aboard HMS Victory. At 10:15, HMS Bonne Citoyenne made a signal confirming 20 enemy ships of the line, but by 11:00, she had signalled that there were now 25 enemy ships of the line in sight from her position. At this stage, either by incompetence or as a result of their overconfidence, the Spanish fleet had separated into two groups and once this had happened, the Spanish learned to their horror that Jervis actually had 15 ships of the line, formed into two tight lines of battle and that both columns were headed directly for the gap between the two groups of Spanish ships. The six ships of the separated group were sailing as hard as they could to close the gap and to join the larger group. At 11:00, Jervis ordered his fleet to form a single line of battle, ahead and astern of HMS Victory as convenient. The British Vice-Admiral made it his priority to cut off the group of six enemy ships from the larger group of 19 and engage both groups together on either side as they sailed through the gap.


The British line of battle now comprised, from front to rear, HMS Culloden, HMS Blenheim, HMS Prince George, HMS Orion, HMS Colossus, HMS Irresistible, HMS Victory, HMS Egmont, HMS Goliath, HMS Barfleur, HMS Britannia, HMS Namur, HMS Captain, HMS Diadem and HMS Excellent (74).


At 11:12, Jervis committed himself and ordered that the signal to engage the enemy be hoisted. At 11:28, HMS Victory ran up her huge Battle Ensign, measuring 40 feet by 20, followed by the rest of the British fleet, leaving the Spanish in no doubt about British intentions. At 11:30, the signal "Admiral intends to pass through enemy lines" was hoisted aboard HMS Victory.


At 11:31, with the British vanguard passing that of the Spanish, the leading British ship, HMS Culloden, opened fire with her starboard guns, to which those Spanish ships which were able to, replied in kind. At this point, two of the Spanish three-deckers and one of their two-deckers sailed across the head of the British line and joined the smaller Spanish division. HMS Culloden and the ships following her opened fire on the Spanish as they sailed past them, the two fleets heading in opposite directions as they were.


Battle of Cape St. Vincent - 10:45:





At 12:08, HMS Culloden passed the rear-most of the Spanish ships and on sighting the signal from HMS Victory to tack in succession, went about and sailed after the Spanish. Six minutes later, HMS Blenheim reached the position and went about, followed ten minutes later by HMS Prince George. A little before this, the smaller Spanish division, to leeward of the British line, put about and followed HMS Prince George. The next British ship to tack, HMS Orion, was quickly followed by HMS Colossus, but as that ship went about and was in stays (that is, the actual moment when the bow of the ship passes through the eye of the wind, with the ship briefly out of control and stationary), she came under fire from the smaller Spanish leeward division, having her fore yard, fore topsail yard and fore topmast shot away. This obliged HMS Colossus to wear ship, that is to change tack by passing the stern through the eye of the wind rather than the bows, a manoeuvre which took more time and as she did so, exposed herself to being raked by the leading Spanish three-decker. Seeing this, HMS Orion backed her main topsail, stopping the ship dead in the water, allowing herself to support the now damaged HMS Colossus. Once HMS Colossus had completed the manoeuvre, HMS Orion sailed on to join the rest of the British ships, now in pursuit of the Spanish. HMS Colossus was followed by HMS Irresistible, HMS Victory, HMS Egmont and HMS Goliath, all of which were exposed to the fire from two Spanish three-deckers while they completed their manoeuvres, with all the British ships returning the enemy's fire as they did so. At this point, the Spanish commander attempted a bold move, the Principe de Asturias (112) was ordered to cut through the British line ahead of HMS Victory, but that ship, despite her huge size and being over thirty years old was still one of the fastest ships of the line in the fleet and was far too fast to enable them to complete the move and the Spanish giant was forced to go about under the guns of the smaller but still massively powerful British First Rate ship. Raked by HMS Victory and also receiving fire from HMS Egmont and HMS Goliath, the Principe de Asturias was in utter confusion.


HMS Victory rakes the Principe de Asturias:





At 12:51, Jervis ordered the signal "Take stations for mutual support and engage the enemy as coming up in succession" to be hoisted. Commodore Nelson, seeing that the Spanish were threatening to get away, decided to interpret his Vice-Admiral's orders very liberally. Obeying the last signal, but disregarding the earlier one to tack in succession, he ordered that his flagship HMS Captain tack immediately, rather than waiting until she came up on the position where HMS Culloden had tacked. HMS Captain ran across the bows of the sixth Spanish ship, the mighty Santissima Trinidad.


Battle of Cape St. Vincent - 13:00 - Nelson tacks early and gets stuck into the heart of the Spanish fleet:





At this point, the Spanish windward division, rather than being in a tight, disciplined line like the British, were in a disorganised huddle, three or four deep and this had the effect of presenting the British gunners with a nice, big, fat target and they suffered for it. HMS Captain opened fire on the Santissima Trinidad while HMS Culloden opened fire from alongside the huddle. Coming under heavy fire from the two British seventy fours and with the larger British three-deckers HMS Blenheim and HMS Prince George coming up quickly in support, the Spanish Admiral abandoned his plan of running to leeward of the British. Instead he ordered his ships to bear up and present their broadsides to the advancing British, which gave the crew of HMS Captain time to replenish their shot before they came face to face with the Spanish giants. HMS Blenheim joined in the action at this point, letting the Spanish have a few of her mighty broadsides. At 14:00, HMS Prince George and HMS Orion added to the carnage being wrought on the now completely disorganised Spanish fleet, while at the same time, HMS Victory, HMS Barfleur, HMS Namur, HMS Egmont and HMS Goliath were coming up in support. At 14:36, HMS Excellent, commanded by Captain Cuthbert Collingwood, later to be Nelson's second-in command at the Battle of Trafalgar, arrived alongside the disabled Spanish ship Salvador del Mundo (112) before moving on to the San Ysidro and battering that ship into surrender. Salvador del Mundo was then attacked by HMS Diadem and HMS Irresistible and continued fighting the two British ships until she saw HMS Victory, closely followed by HMS Barfleur about to cross her stern, which convinced her captain to surrender before his ship was reduced to a bloody and shattered ruin. HMS Excellent then moved on to the San Nicholas, already damaged after a fight against HMS Captain. Passing within ten feet of the Spanish ship's starboard side, HMS Excellent let them have it at virtually point blank range. In attempting to escape from HMS Excellent's withering broadsides, the San Nicholas collided with the San Josef, already crippled by a prolonged bombardment from HMS Captain, HMS Culloden, HMS Blenheim and HMS Prince George. HMS Captain had been left crippled by her fight against the San Nicholas so as soon as HMS Excellent was out of the way, Nelson ordered that the San Nicholas be boarded. After a brief fight in which Nelson personally led yelling and cheering British seamen onto the Spanish ship's deck, San Nicholas surrendered. Nelson then led the boarders onto the deck of the San Josef, a ship of 112 guns, which they also captured.


Battle of Cape St. Vincent, situation at 14:00:





HMS Goliath, damaged in her rigging, briefly withdrew from the fighting to make repairs, after which she took the Santissima Trinidad under her lee, slowing that ship and allowing HMS Blenheim, HMS Irresistible, HMS Orion and HMS Excellent to surround the Spanish giant and pound her into submission. The lee division of the Spanish fleet had by now recovered and headed towards the crippled Santissima Trinidad, driving off the British ships, allowing their now badly damaged flagship to make off towards safety. At 15:52, Jervis having seen this Spanish move, ordered his ships to be ready to protect the prizes taken thus far together with the disabled British ships. At 16:15, HMS Victory signalled the frigates to take the prizes in tow and at 16:39, for the fleet to form into a line astern of her. At 17:00, HMS Victory ordered the fleet to discontinue the action.


In the Battle of Cape St Vincent, the British fleet of 15 ships of the line had taken on a Spanish fleet of 27 ships and had comprehensively defeated them. HMS Colossus got away relatively lightly having suffered casualties of 5 men wounded during the battle. Across the rest of the fleet, British casualties came to 73 dead and 327 wounded. Spanish casualties were more severe, with 250 dead, 550 wounded and 3,000 men taken prisoner by the British. The Spanish had lost four ships of the line taken by the British, which included two enormous 112-gun three-deckers, the Salvador del Mundo and the San Josef, both of which would be taken into the Royal Navy and commissioned as First Rate ships under their Spanish names.


The day after the battle, the battered British ships anchored in Lagos Bay and began to make repairs. For the victors, the rewards were very rich indeed. Vice-Admiral Sir John Jervis was made Baron of Jervis of Meaford and Earl St. Vincent and Commodore Nelson was knighted. By coincidence, he was about to be automatically promoted to Rear-Admiral through seniority anyway and received the promotion shortly after the battle. In addition, all of the British First Lieutenants were made Masters and Commanders, to be given their own commands as vessels became available.


On 31st March 1797, the now-Lord Saint Vincent and the fleet, now numbering 21 ships of the line having been reinforced, left Lisbon bound for Cadiz to mount a close blockade. Between the 4th May and the 19th July, Lord Saint Vincent and the fleet including HMS Colossus cruised off Cadiz and on the 19th July, the fleet anchored directly in front of the port, a move that Lord Saint Vincent, hoped would provoke the Spanish into coming out for another fight. On the 29th June, the British were aware that the Spanish were again preparing for sea and that in the port, there were 28 ships of the line ready and waiting. By this time, news had reached Lord St. Vincent of the outbreak of the Great Mutiny at Spithead. In order to try to provoke the Spanish into coming out and to take his men's minds off any thoughts of joining the Great Mutiny, the British admiral decided to launch a bombardment of the city. He delegated command of the operations to the now-Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson. Anticipating just such an attack, the Spanish had fitted out a number of gunboats to guard the harbour entrance and had stationed a garrison of over 4,000 men and more than 70 guns on fortifications around the city. The first attempt, on 3rd July 1798 had ended in failure after the bomb-vessel HMS Thunder had damaged her 13.5in mortar and been forced to retire. This had prompted a spirited Spanish counter-attack in boats which was repelled by the British in an action led by Nelson personally, which had descended to hand-to-hand fighting in small boats. Following two more failed attacks which had the opposite effect to that which was intended, driving the Spanish ships further into the harbour out of range, the Vice-Admiral called off the attacks and turned his attention elsewhere.


The victory at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent effectively forced the main Spanish battlefleet out of the war, but the same cannot be said of the French. By this stage in the war, although they had effectively lost the war at sea, the war ashore in Europe was the complete opposite for France. Numerous victories over British allies on the continent meant that by the time 1797 turned to 1798, the British stood alone against France. This in turn meant that the British Mediterranean Fleet had been unable to range at will in that Sea. The British withdrawal from the Mediterranean meant that the French were able to pursue a strategy of landing a huge army in Egypt. The plan was that this army would gather allies along the way, march overland and attack India from overland. The French had sent an armada across the Mediterranean from their base at Toulon,landing in Aboukir Bay in the mouth of the great river Nile. Lord St. Vincent had got wind of the plan and had sent Nelson into the Mediterranean with a squadron to see what the French were up to. Nelson's squadron, which over time had grown into a fleet, had destroyed the French fleet in the Battle of the Nile, fought between the 1st and 3rd August 1798, leaving the French army stranded in the Egyptian desert. In the period leading up to the Battle of the Nile and afterward, Nelson had established a base of operations in Naples, where he had established a good working relationship with Sir William Hamilton, the British Ambassador to the Court of the King of Naples. A number of Nelson's ships had been badly damaged in the Battle of the Nile and HMS Colossus was one of a number of ships of the line sent as replacements for ships Nelson had been forced to send back to the UK for repairs.


On their way to Egypt, the French had taken possession of the strategically vital islands of Malta and left a sizeable garrison on the islands. With the bulk of the French Toulon Fleet destroyed and their army stranded in Egypt, the British had decided the time was right to take the islands from the French. Lord St. Vincent dispatched a squadron of ships belonging to British ally Portugal to blockade the islands. The Portugese squadron comprised the ships Principe Real, Rainha de Portugal, San Sebastian and Alphonso Albuquerque (all of 74 guns), HMS Lion (64), HMS Incendiary (Fireship of 14 guns) and the Portugese brig Falcao. The force was commanded by the Portugese admiral the Marquess de Niza. As soon as the French had occupied the islands, the Maltese people, who had no wish to be occupied by the French immediately rose in resistance and forced the French to withdraw to the great fortress at Valette. Commodore Sir James Saumarezwho had been given the task to escorting the French prizes from the Battle of the Nile back to Gibraltar called at Malta met with the Portugese squadron blockading the islands and on appraising the situation, sent dispatches to Nelson at Naples. Nelson in turn, sent some of his ships to reinforce the blockade, HMS Alexander, HMS Coludden and HMS Colossus. The Blockade of Malta itself began in earnest on the 12th October 1798 and on the 24th, Nelson himself arrived on the scene in HMS Vanguard (74) in company with HMS Minotaur and took command of operations. Blockaded inside the harbour at Valetta were the French 80-gun ship of the line Guillaume Tell (a survivor of the carnage at the Nile, which could throw a broadside of similar weight and power to a British 98-gun Second Rate ship of the line), together with the large frigates Justice and Diane (both 18pdr-armed ships of 40 guns) and the ex-Maltese 64-gun ships of the line Athenien and Dego with the ex-Maltese frigate Carthaginien of 36 guns. Ranged against the French garrison of about 3,000 men was a Maltese force of over 10,000 men who had been supplied with arms and ammunition by Sir James Saumarez when he had stopped at the islands and who were kept supplied and armed by the British.


After handing over some of her 18pdr guns to arm Maltese gunboats to assist with the blockade of the harbour at Valetta, men from HMS Colossus and the other ships landed and assisted the Maltese to force the surrender of the French garrison on neighbouring Gozo, which surrendered on the 28th October.


Shortly after the French surrender at Gozo, HMS Colossus was ordered to return to the UK, calling at Naples on the way, where she was to pick up a collection of antique vases belonging to Sir William Hamilton for transport to the UK. On her return, HMS Colossus also called in at Lisbon, where she was to pick up the body of Admiral Molyneux Shuldham who had died in the city and return him to his family.


At Lisbon, HMS Colossus joined the convoy bound for home. Shortly after the convoy sighted the Isles of Scilly on the 7th December 1798, the weather deteriorated to the point where the ship was unable to continue, so Captain Murray ordered that she anchor in the St Mary's Road and ride out the storm. The ship rode the storm at anchor until the night of the 10th December, when her anchor cable snapped. All attempts to lay out a spare anchor failed and the ship drifted out of control and totally at the mercy of the storm until she ran aground on a rocky ledge called the Southern Wells near the island of Sampson in 18 feet of water. Firing distress guns brought local fishermen to the scene and her whole crew, bar Quartermaster Richard King who had fallen overboard attempting to sound the depth of water and drowned, were rescued. On the 11th December, the ship settled on her side and on the 15th, her main mast and bowsprit were carried away. By now, it was clear that HMS Colossus couldn't be saved and by the 29th December, weather had calmed enough to allow the Gun Brig HMS Fearless (12) to come alongside the now wrecked ship and recover stores and the body of Admiral Shuldham. In early January 1799, the wreck rolled off the ledge and sank.


The wreck of HMS Colossus was rediscovered in 1974 and many artifacts, particularly the collection of Sir William Hamilton were recovered and are now on display at the British Museum.  In 2000, amateur diver Todd Stevens discovered further artifacts and the wreck was registered with the Receiver of Wrecks. On the 4th July 2001, the wreck received it's designation under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, meaning that further dives on the wreck and an area 300 meters around it require a license, protecting the wreck, theoretically, from being plundered, The Isles of Scilly Museum in Hugh Town now has a huge collection of artifacts recovered from HMS Colossus.


A carving from the stern of HMS Colossus on display at Tresco Abbey Gardens in the Isles of Scilly:


"I did not say the French would not come, I said they will not come by sea" - Admiral Sir John Jervis, 1st Earl St Vincent.