Index of 19th Century Naval Vessels and some of their movements

(Includes links to most of the events mentioned by William James in his History of the RN : 1793-1827)

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Miscellaneous Establishments etc..

Latest news: At the present time am filling in the many gaps in general RN shipping movements from 1803-1810, although most of the more important events have already been noted.

Having recently found additional sources for the movements of RN vessels for 1801 and 1802, which are being transcribed and uploaded at irregular intervals, the last lot, covering the period up to about 31 Dec 1802, going on-line circa end of Mar 2017, and this should hopefully fill in many of the gaps, but not all, in RN vessel movements for Leith, Hull, North / Great Yarmouth, Sheerness, Harwich and the Downs, &c., and the occasional additional movements for Plymouth and Portsmouth, along with the individual movements of vessels noted for Torbay / Brixton, where the Channel Fleet and convoys often anchored, since it provided shelter from the prevailing south westerly gales, and at the same time, provided quicker access to the English Channel, in contrast to the confined waters available of Plymouth, and to a lesser extent for Spithead and St. Helen's, on the east of the Isle of Wight, where a southerly wind would often limit the movements of vessels wanting to sail for the coast of France, .....unfortunately, whilst some movements are available for other parts of the UK, news on the movements of convoys etc., on the West Coast is limited, although convoys from Wales frequently arrive in the West Country ports.

However, further to the last paragraph I do note that whilst the movements do actually take place, different sources sometimes provide slightly differing dates, albeit only a day or two out, but it does get a bit confusing when the weather delays sailings etc., or some news, such as parliamentary debates, means that there is no room for shipping movements in to be detailed in the newspapers ; so you may well find discrepancies !! In addition, I also get the feeling that those who collated the data, were not always given all the information regarding a vessel's movements, and perhaps, to keep the editor off his back, a correspondent might have to be a little inventive e.g. 2 vessels apparently sailing off to the Westward together, but reason not known by the correspondent, so the vague term, such as "sailed on a cruise" comes into play quite often to describe a movement of a vessel out of port, but there are times, when it becomes apparent, perhaps days down the line, that their movements were not connected, or they didn't depart on a cruise, but to go to another port, perhaps for a refit, or to pick up a convoy please be advised that the ship's log is probably the only really reliable source, if it has survived ; although, hopefully, in most cases the movements detailed here will give you a few clues as to what was going on, and where a vessel may have been operating, although that may not be the case in the more remote areas, until such time as world wide communications become available, with the electronic telegraph, shall we say during the latter half of the 19th Century ?

10 Mar 1803 where, for the sake of secrecy, the movements of vessels are not published in the newspapers e.g. in the lead up to the breakdown in the Peace of Amiens, several of the newspapers, whilst not detailing the names of the vessels, note the departure of several frigates, sloops and brigs, some with dispatches for overseas, and others for vessels doing the rounds of the UK ports with a view to pressing men of a suitable age, and ideally seamen, but they don't mention the movements of many vessels. The Aigle came to Portland, and ended up killing three men and a woman who attempted to resist their press gang, albeit the Island being a Royal Manor was exempt from the press gang! Some 200 years later the Admiralty eventually apologised and a plaque can now be found in St George's Church. Shall we say better late than never.

Following the Peace of Amiens and the later breakdown in the Treaty, 1801-1803, it is apparent that many vessels, including not only the smaller sloops and brigs, but many of the frigates and troopships &c., were paid off and put in ordinary and later commissioned and taken out of harbour to the main anchorages, such as Spithead, Plymouth Sound and the Nore &c., without being mentioned in the newspapers, and it is only when they start moving around again and going about their business that they are mentioned more often, and even then, not always ; whereas, at say Plymouth, the preparation of most of the 74s etc., for sea is covered in some detail, and, I would hazard a guess that since much of this must have taken place behind dockyard walls at Portsmouth and Sheerness &c., it hardly receives a mention until vessels are commissioned, and sent out to Spithead &c., apart for the occasional dockings &c., which all tends to leave a lot of gaps in the careers of many vessels, apart from what appears in the ship's logs, and living out in the sticks, I haven't got the capacity to cover that angle, and the National Archives web site details the periods covered by logs and muster list &c., when they've survived.

Further notes to movements :-

Confusion with naval ship's names. Have just been attempting to resolve some confusion with vessel names : e.g. Constant and Constance ; and then editors confusing the Thunderer with the Thunder etc.

You may come across items for vessels leaving Portsmouth or Spithead noted as "departed for the east" or departed for the river," or similar. These are notes as I've found them and imply that the actual destination probably wasn't known until the vessel arrived in the waters commanded by the Commander in Chief of the Nore, in the mouth of the River Thames, when the need to remove stores, powder and guns and victuals etc., could be assessed, and whether she was there for repairs, to be paid off etc., and her destination could be translated as being bound for either Deptford, Chatham, Sheerness, or Woolwich, one of the home ports on the River Thames or in the River Medway. If "departed for the east" from Plymouth you can add Portsmouth to the equation. Occasionally, subsequent notes may clarify this, but not always ; some vessels seem not to get noticed or are frequently ignored, and perhaps some commanding officers make sure that the press is informed regarding shipping movements etc.

Whilst collecting the movements I occasionally come across bits and pieces of interest regarding changes in the Service and service life as they've come to hand - click here ie items that don't perhaps require a full article or web page.

N.B. A health warning. This database was created from many sources published in the 19th Century, including navy lists, directories, newspapers, books, such as the Naval Chronicles etc. I make no claims as to its accuracy, eg there are times when sources conflict ! In addition, I have noted on occasion that some vessels would appear to have been incorrectly identified : and I occasionally see references to vessels for which I can find no trace in the usual sources and must therefore conclude that whilst the name might have been correct it was perhaps a merchant vessel incorrectly allocated..... hopefully I have weeded out the obvious ones, but take nothing for granted.....I often find that I'm having to make corrections.

For the record, this index, which was originally created for my personal use, should be used merely as a guide, and you are strongly advised to refer to the captain's, master's and ship's logs etc., one or more of which are often available at the Public Records Office, Kew, London (now the National Archives.), from whence extracts can now be ordered on-line. And very good they are too ! There is nothing like reading the source material, and these days there is no need to take a trip to Kew, although, now writing a few years later, in 2017 I note that some prices appear to have increased by more than the rate of inflation. Perhaps they are finding that it takes more time to copy a few pages from a ship's log etc., than when these projects were originally costed ?

You may come across notes such as the following :

Jul 1830 Sheerness


20 Dec 1848 East Indies

This merely indicates that I have found a note, in this case in a Navy Lists for 1830, and 1848, that this is where a vessel was supposed to be when the book was printed. There are many such notes of a similar nature. Taking into account the time that information used to take to travel in those days, one should draw conclusions accordingly.

It is also perhaps worth remembering that sailing vessels relied on the wind for their propulsion. There are occasions when passages, that would only take a few days by sea today, may have taken a month or more in the early part of the 19th Century, especially where large numbers of vessels were concerned eg convoys, and you may find a convoy for the West Indies forming up at Portsmouth in say November, sailing in December, being forced into Falmouth due to bad weather, and having to remain there for another month until the wind was right : sailing for Cork to pick up more vessels whilst passing, and maybe having to wait there until more favourable winds arrived. There are occasions when troop transports, loaded with their regiments at Portsmouth, have had to wait out at Spithead for a couple of months before the wind has changed to an appropriate direction, often with many false starts in between. One wonders what living in such cramped and crowded conditions must have done to the health and morale of the troops ?

For those wishing to find out more about the ships of the Royal Navy for this period in question I can recommend:-

British Warships in the Age of Sail 1793-1817 by Rif Winfield 2005

The Sail and Steam Navy List 1815-1889 by the late David Lyon and Rif Winfield 2004

Ships of the Royal Navy by J.J. Colledge, an index of ships, providing brief details of when and where built, when and where scrapped or broken up, wrecked etc., tonnage, vital statistics, armament, etc.

And where to find the important Naval events involving many of those ships:

Naval History of Great Britain 1793 - 1827 by William James published in 6 volumes in 1837, including earlier and subsequent editions, including a modern one, the details of which escape me - but the one considered, by some, to be the best, the 1837 edition, is on-line on this web site - take links back to the main menu. Several original editions are also available in Google Books.

The Royal Navy - A History from the Earliest of Times to 1900 in 7 volumes by WL Clowes, first published 1901-3, reprinted in softback 1997, but now also available in Google Books ; but even here, when I've quoted extracts, it has been drawn to my attention that everything was not as it seems and better sources are sometimes available.

See also the Australian National Maritime Museum for what I thought a reasonable resumé of suggested reading.

Some important dates :

2 Oct 1801 Preliminary Articles of Peace between his Majesty, the Batavian Republic and the French Republic were signed last night at Lord Hawkesbury's office, in Downing-street, by the Right Honourable Lord Hawkesbury, one of his Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State, on the part of his Majesty, and by M. Otto, on the part of the French Government. However, however due to time delays caused by communications, hostilities didn't end until 22 Oct., when convoys were abandoned by the Admiralty and 24 Oct when Convoy Duty ceased, and the newspapers of 30 Oct advise that hired vessels were to be paid off in Home ports, e.g. Portsmouth and Plymouth etc., although there would appear to have been some exceptions.

31 Mar 1802 the Definitive Peace Treaty for the Peace Treaty signed at Amiens was published.

The Peace of Amiens lasted until 18 May 1803, however, in view of Bonaparte attitude over so many areas of the Peace Treaty, along with other Treaties in which Britain was not involved, it had been in the process of unravelling for some months when the British declared war on France, with even those who were previously in favour of peace, now supporting the Government's action. For the record on the 17th, the British detained all the French and Dutch vessels and their crews in British ports at the time. Even as early as 10 Mar 1803 Britain was making major preparations for the breakdown in Peace, although the newspapers seemed to have been hinting that all was not well for some time, but now many ships at Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth &c., were ordered to be got ready, and commissioned, with the dockyard artificers being ordered to work "double tides."

After the recommencement of the War in May 1803 I've noted a large number of merchant vessels trading at French and Dutch ports being taken by HM ships, and privateers &c., and whilst I would like to note note them all, as in the earlier years of the war I'd prefer to continue logging the movements of HM ships &c., anyone looking for details of prizes can do a free search of the London Gazette which should soon answer any questions you have, or, alternatively, search the daily papers of the day in the British Newspaper Archive, although, you may have to pay a fee for this.

The preparation for and declaration of War by the United States on Great Britain in 1812.

14 Apr 1812 an act was passed, laying an embargo on all ships and vessels of the United States, during the space of 90 days.
1 Jun 1812 The president's message to congress sounded the preparative for war between the US and Great Britain.
18 Jun 1812 an act of congress was passed declaring the "actual existence of war between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the United States of America."

Peace concluded between the United States and Great Britain 1814-15.

24 Dec 1814 the treaty had been signed at Ghent.
18 Feb 1815 the treaty of Ghent ratified by the president at Washington.
25 Nov 1816 a memorial was submitted by the board of admiralty to the Prince Regent, proposing a re-rating of ships of the Royal navy, and that they should be rated according to the number of carriage-guns mounted, which was published and introduced in February 1817, although it would appear that certain carronades were still ignored.

13 Jun 1817 circular sterns introduced. By an order of the board of Admiralty, of 13 Jun 1817, directs, that all new ships, down to fifth-rates inclusive, are to be so constructed, and all ships of the same rates receiving extensive repairs are also to have circular sterns, provided the timbers in the old or square sterns are defective. The number of ships belonging to the British navy, which on the 1st of January, 1820, were repairing, building, or ordered to be built, with circular sterns, amounted to 67, † and the number of ships building of teak, at the same date, amounted to 19.

Letters to denote the State of the Weather

b denotes Blue sky; whether with clear or hazy atmosphere.
c ditto Cloudy; i.e., detached opening clouds.
d ditto Drizzling rain.
f ditto Fog.
g ditto Gloomy dark weather.
h ditto Hail.
l ditto Lightning.
m ditto Misty or hazy - so as to interrupt the view.
o ditto Overcast i.e., the whole sky covered with impervious cloud.
p ditto Passing showers.
q ditto Squally.
r ditto Rain i.e., continuous rain.
s ditto Snow.
t ditto Thunder.
u ditto Ugly threatening appearance in the weather.
v ditto Visibility of distant objects, whether the sky be cloudy or not.
w ditto Wet dew.
* ditto Under any letter denotes an extraordinary degree.

Figures to denote the Force of the Wind.

0 Calm.    
1 Light air just sufficient to give Steerage-way.
2 Light Breeze. with which a well-conditioned man-of-war, under all sail, and clean full, would go in smooth water, from 1 to 2 knots.
3 Gentle Breeze. 3 to 4 knots.
4 Moderate Breeze  5 to 6 knots.
5 Fresh Breeze in which the same ship could just carry closed Royals, &c.
Single-reefs and top-gallant-sails, Double-reefs, jib, &c.
Triple-reef, courses, &c.
6 Strong Breeze
7 Moderate Gale
8 Fresh Gale
9 Strong Gale.
10 Whole Gale. with which she would only bear Close-reefed main-topsail and reefed foresail.
11 Storm. with which she would be reduced to Storm-staysails.
12 Hurricane. to which she could show No canvas.

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