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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol I


Constant-Warwick, the First British Frigate


suppose that the French frigate was a national frigate. She was most probably, a privateer; and may have been one of the many that the enterprising " Dunkirks," as Fuller calls them, had fitted out. Both writers refer to a model, or pattern, as if there were something in their frigate to distinguish her from the generality of ships of war ; and yet neither has taken the pains to give the faintest description of what that peculiarity, whether of form, or of armament, or of both, consisted. We may gather that the prototype, as she was a privateer, was a swift-sailer, and not of very large dimensions or force. To arrive at any further particulars, we must grope a little deeper into the records of these early times.

The name of the Constant-Warwick occurs in several lists between 1652 and the end of the century; but in scarcely any two of those lists, does the ship appear with the same tonnage and number of guns. Both the year in, and the place at which, and even the person by whom, she was built are differently stated ; yet there was, undoubtedly, but one ship of the name in the British navy. Without quoting from so many contradictory authorities, we shall briefly state the result of our very careful researches on the subject.

The Constant-Warwick was built in 1646, at Ratcliffe, by Mr. Peter Pett the elder, for the use of the Earl of Warwick, as a privateer, or, in softer language, as a sort of private-armed cruising yacht. She measured, in the modern way of computing the tonnage, from 380 to 400 tons, and mounted 26 guns ; consisting of 18 light demi-culverins, or short 9-pounders, on the main deck, six light sakers, or short 6-pounders, on what was virtually the quarterdeck, and two minions on what, as being of no greater extent than was requisite for a roof to the chief officer's cabin, may be called the poop. We have seen several draughts of English fifth and sixth rates, as they were constructed in the latter half of the seventeenth century, that correspond exactly with this arrangement of the guns. The deck on which the sakers are mounted is really a whole deck, reaching from stern to stern; but the bulwark, or barricade, commences only where that of the modern quarterdeck does, at the after side of the gangway-entrance. A ship, of the size and armament of the Constant-Warwick, well formed in her carène, or lower body; lightly but handsomely ornamented in her upperworks, and rigged according to the most approved plan of the day, did no discredit to the name of frigate, now first applied in England to any determinate form of vessel.

The earl subsequently disposed of his frigate to the commonwealth, but not, as it would appear, until she had afforded decided proofs of her superiority of sailing. At what precise time the transfer took place is uncertain ; but the first list, in which the Constant-Warwick appears as a national ship, is one of 1652. There she classes as a fifth-rate; of 28 guns. In another

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