Author Topic: HMS Majestic (1785 - 1816)  (Read 298 times)

Offline stuartwaters

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Re: HMS Majestic (1785 - 1816)
« Reply #2 on: August 30, 2020, 09:14:59 PM »
"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.

Offline stuartwaters

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HMS Majestic (1785 - 1816)
« Reply #1 on: October 12, 2019, 08:19:10 PM »

HMS Majestic was a Common Type 74 gun third rate ship of the line of the Canada Class, built under contract by William Barnard at his shipyard in Deptford, then part of Kent.

The Common Type, as it's name suggests, was the most numerous kind of 74 gun ship, which itself was by far the most numerous kind of ship of the line in the world. The 74 gun ship of the line was the smallest vessel able to carry a full battery of 28 or 30 x 32pdr long guns and offered the best compromise between speed and agility on one hand and sheer strength and firepower on the other.

The Canada Class was a group of 4 ships designed by William Bately, Co-Surveyor of the Navy and had been built in two batches. The first, comprising of just HMS Canada had been built at the Deptford Royal Dockyard and launched in 1765. The other three ships were ordered during the American War of Independence, some 20 years later and of those three, two were built in Kent shipyards; HMS Majestic and HMS Orion, which was also built at the Deptford Royal Dockyard. The odd one out was HMS Captain, built under contract across the River Thames at Limehouse. When built, HMS Canada had been the largest home grown 74 gun ship yet built. Although the Large Type ships HMS Valiant and HMS Triumph were significantly bigger, they were direct copies of the ex-French ship HMS Invincible.

The contract to build HMS Majestic was signed at the offices of the Navy Board in London on 23rd July 1781, as the American War of Independence was at it's height. Her keel was laid in July 1782 and she was launched into the River Thames, virtually complete on Monday 11th February 1785. After that, the ship was taken to the Royal Dockyard at Deptford and fitted with her masts, rigging and guns. At the time, the 74 gun third rate ship was the largest type of ship whose construction was contracted out to commercial shipyards. All commercially built warships were fitted out in the Royal Dockyards. Her construction at Barnards had cost £31,543, 16s, 4d. Fitting her out at Deptford Royal Dockyard cost a further £4,867.

On completion, HMS Majestic was a ship of 1,642 tons. She was 170ft 6in long on her upper gundeck and 46ft 9in wide across her beam. She was armed with 28 x 32pdr long guns on the lower gundeck, 30 x 18pdr long guns on the upper gundeck, 6 x 9pdr long guns and 8 x 32pdr carronades on her quarterdeck, 4 x 9pdr long guns on her forecastle and 6 x 18pdr carronades on her poop deck. Although officially rated as a 74 gun ship, she actually carried 82 main guns. In addition to the main guns, the ship carried about a dozen half-pounder swivel guns attached to her forecastle and quarterdeck handrails and in her fighting tops. The reason for the discrepancy is because the inclusion of carronades was a grey area, some ships included them, others didn't. She was manned by a crew of 550 officers, men and marines.

Canada Class Plans

Orlop Plan:

Lower Gundeck Plan:

Upper Gundeck Plan:

Quarterdeck and Forecastle Plans:

Inboard profile and Plan:

Sheer Plan and Lines:

A model of HMS Majestic:

By the time the ship was ready for sea, the war for which she had been built was over. The ship briefly commissioned between September and October 1790 under Captain William Waldegrave as part of the mobilisation of the fleet in response to the Spanish Armament Crisis of that year. What happened after that is unclear, but the ship underwent minor repairs at Chatham Royal Dockyard in October 1791.

War broke out between Britain and France in February 1793 and in March of that year, HMS Majestic commissioned under Captain Sir Charles Cotton and joined the Channel Fleet, under the overall command of Admiral Richard, the Lord Howe.

On 13th June 1793, HMS Majestic sailed with the Channel Fleet from the anchorage off St Helens, Isle of Wight and on the 18th, the ship was in collision with HMS Bellerophon (74).

By the spring of 1794, 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 117 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.

HMS Majestic under Captain Cotton was part of Lord Howe's fleet and participated in the search for the convoy. The French had tasked Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse and the entire French Atlantic Fleet with the protection of the convoy. The two fleets engaged in skirmishes on 28th and 29th of May, the most significant being on 29th, where several ships on both sides were damaged. On 1st June, Howe prepared to put his battle plan into action. The plan was innovative and if successful, would lead to the complete destruction of the French Fleet. Howe planned to bring his fleet into line alongside the French, then simultaneously turn into the French line, breaking it in 25 places. Each British ship would then sail between two French ships, raking them through bows and sterns before turning and coming alongside their now seriously weakened and damaged enemy and fighting it out at point blank range.

Unfortunately, things didn't go the way Howe planned and many of his captains either disobeyed or failed to understand Howe's signals and as a result, only six British ships executed the plan. The rest either engaged the enemy at long range or didn't break through the French line before engaging. HMS Majestic was one of the former, firing into the melee at long range. HMS Majestic did succeed in taking the French 80 two-decker Sans Pareil. The Sans Pareil had drifted out of the melee after having been totally dismasted and severely damaged. In the initial phase of the battle, the chatham-built 100 gun First Rate ship HMS Royal George had crossed her bows and raked her, as had the 98 gun Second Rate ship HMS Glory. Sans Pareil had put up little resistance to HMS Majestic as half her crew were dead or wounded. Notwithstanding this, Howe was less than impressed by the performance of HMS Majestic amongst others and Captain Cotton and his ship were not mentioned at all in Howe's dispatches.

Both sides regarded the battle as a victory, the British because they had engaged and defeated a superior enemy force and the French because the convoy got through. Psychologically though, the result of the battle was a huge boost to the British and a massive blow to the French. Despite all their revolutionary zeal, the French had been comprehensively defeated, the morale of the French navy never recovered and they didn't win a single set-piece naval battle in the entire war. The British had suffered 1,200 dead or wounded but had lost no ships. The French on the other hand suffered 4,000 dead or wounded with another 3,000 captured and had lost six ships of the line captured and one sunk. Because she had taken little part in the battle, HMS Majestic suffered only slight damage, with two crewmen killed and five wounded.

Disposition of the fleets at the Battle of the Glorious First of June:

The bulk of the victorious British Channel Fleet including HMS Majestic arrived back in the Spithead anchorage off Portsmouth on 13th June and spent the period from then until February the following year making good their damage and losses. On 1st January 1795, Captain Cotton was replaced in command by Captain George Westcott. HMS Majestic spent the rest of 1795 and the first three months of 1796 cruising the English Channel, escorting convoys and chasing down blockade-runners until the end of March when she was detached to Marin Bay, Martinique to transport Admiral Sir John Laforey back to England after he had handed over command of the Barbados Station to Rear-Admiral Hugh Christian. Laforeys retirement had been forced because he had fallen seriously ill and tragically, this famous British admiral died aboard HMS Majestic of Yellow Fever during the return trip. The rest of 1796 saw the ship on blockade duty in the English Channel, where she remained until she went into Portsmouth Royal Dockyard in April 1797 for repairs.

Her repairs complete, HMS Majestic sailed for the Mediterranean in June 1797 and joined the fleet blockading Cadiz. Two years previously, Spain had changed sides and had joined the French in the war against Britain. On 14th November 1797, HMS Majestic captured the Spanish vessel El Bolador of 16 guns.

At this time, the Royal Navy maintained a firm control of the Atlantic Ocean. This was gained as a result not only of Howe's victory in the Battle of the Glorious First of June, but also because of Sir John Jervis' victory against the Spanish at the Second Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1795. That battle had been won as a result of the daring actions of one of Jervis' junior flag-officers, a young Commodore called Horatio Nelson. Nelson had been knighted as a reward for his actions. The same cannot be said of the situation in the Mediterranean, where the French had gained control. The French government had appointed one of her up and coming generals, Napoleon Bonaparte to command an operation where a vast armada of ships would land a 35,000 strong army on the shores of Egypt. After establishing a base in Egypt, Bonaparte would then command an overland operation to march this huge army to India, where it would join up with local forces opposed to growing British control of that vast empire and eject the British from it.

Sir John Jervis, now Earl St Vincent, was ordered to detach a force of ten ships of the line under Nelson, now flying his command flag in the 74 gun third rate ship HMS Vanguard, to go into the Mediterranean to discover what the French were up to. HMS Majestic was ordered to join this force and departed from the blockading force off Cadiz on 24th May 1798 and joined Nelsons force in the Mediterranean on 7th June. Once news reached the Admiralty about Napoleon's plans, Nelson's force was reinforced by a further ten ships of the line and a single fourth rate ship. Nelson spent the next two months scouring the eastern Mediterranean, searching for the French fleet, passing them in the night on one occasion and missing them by a few hours on others. Nelson received intelligence that the French fleet was in Alexandria. He arrived at Alexandria on 28th June, but left after discovering the French weren't there. They arrived the following day, unseen by the British. After landing the troops, the French naval commander, Vice-Admiral Francois-Paul Brueys D'Aigalliers had decided to anchor his fleet of warships further along the coast, in Aboukir Bay. This was because he felt that the harbour at Alexandria was too shallow for the larger ships in his fleet.

By this time, Nelson was searching the Egyptian coast for the French and 14:00 on 1st August 1798, lookouts on HMS Zealous (74) spotted the French at anchor in Aboukir Bay and reported back to Nelson in HMS Vanguard. Brueys had anchored his fleet in what he thought was a strong defensive position, close to the shore and had prepared his ships to fight to seaward. He had made a mistake however in positioning his ships too far apart and had underestimated the skill and daring of the British and in particular, that of their commander, Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson.

Nelson formulated a plan whereby half his fleet would pass through the gaps in the French line and anchor inshore of the French, using two anchor cables so they could adjust their arcs of fire, while the rest would pass the seaward side of the French line, catching them in a murderous crossfire. HMS Majestic was to be one of the ships attacking from the seaward side

In the late afternoon on 1st August 1798, the British bore down on the French line. Battle was joined at 18:20 when the leading French ships Guerrier and Conquerant opened fire on HMS Goliath (74) and HMS Zealous. HMS Majestic followed behind HMS Bellerophon (74). The Bellerophon missed her station and found herself under the guns of the giant French flagship L'Orient (120). HMS Bellerophon was quicky reduced to a floating wreck by the L'Orients massive broadsides, but did severe damage to the bigger French ship in response. Brueys was severely wounded in the face and hands by splinters and debris from HMS Bellerophon's broadsides. HMS Majestic also missed her station and came under heavy fire from the Tonnant (80) while almost colliding with Heureux (74). Unable to stop his ship in time, HMS Majestic's bowsprit became entangled in Tonnant's rigging. The ship came under intense small-arms fire from Tonnant and Captain Westcott was shot and killed. HMS Majestic's First Lieutenant, Mr Robert Cuthbert assumed command and successfully disentangled his ship. HMS Majestic had been badly damaged and had suffered heavy casualties. Her main and mizzen masts had been shot away and the ship began to drift downwind so that by 20:30, she was stationed between Tonnant and Heureux and was pouring broadsides into both enemy ships.

HMS Majestic (backgound) engages Tonnant (foreground) and Heureux:

At about 20:20, Admiral Brueys was struck in the midriff by a cannon ball which virtually cut him in half and he died on the deck of L'Orient 15 minutes later. At 22:00, the massive French flagship exploded after having been seen by British ships to be on fire. The explosion was so huge that the concussion opened the seams of the nearest ships and burning wreckage started fires aboard HMS Alexander and HMS Swiftsure as well as the French ship Franklin. Although the fires were quickly brought under control, the effects of the explosion caused all the ships engaged in the battle to cease firing for ten minutes. By midnight, only the Tonnant remained in action. Her commander, Commodore Aristide Aubert Du Petit Thouars continued his fight against HMS Majestic and by 03:00, his ship was a dismasted wreck. Du Petit Thouars had lost both his legs and an arm, but remained in command, propped up on deck in a bucket of wheat. He had ordered that his colours be nailed to the stump of the mizzen mast to prevent them from being struck. At sunrise, about 04:00, the fighting between Tonnant and HMS Majestic resumed. By this time, HMS Alexander had drifted nearby, as had the French ships Guillaume Tell, Genereux and Timoleon. In the meantime, Du Petit Thouars had died of his wounds. Briefly outnumbered, the battered British ships were soon joined by HMS Goliath and HMS Theseus and the remaining French ships which were able to escape did so.

The Battle of the Nile, otherwise known as the Battle of Aboukir Bay was a stunning British victory. On the morning of 2nd August, Nelson stated "Victory is not a name strong enough for such a scene" and Able Seaman John Nicholl of HMS Goliath wrote in his journal "I went on deck to view the state of the fleets, and an awful sight it was. The whole Bay was covered with dead bodies, mangled, wounded and scorched, not a bit of clothes on them except their trousers.".

Of the British ships, HMS Majestic was one of the most severely damaged, losing two masts and suffering 50 dead including her captain with 143 wounded. The French losses were catastrophic, with between 3-5,000 men killed, captured or wounded. Of 13 French ships of the line, only two escaped. Two were sunk and the rest were captured.

The Battle of the Nile

HMS Majestic and the rest of the British fleet spent the next two weeks making repairs at Aboukir Bay. On 14th August, HMS Majestic, in company with HMS Bellerophon, HMS Orion (74), HMS Minotaur (74), HMS Audacious (74), HMS Defence (74) and HMS Theseus, left Aboukir bay bound for Gibraltar with the seaworthy French prizes. These were Franklin, Tonnant, Aquilon, Peuple-Souverain, Conquerant and Spartiate. The force was under the overall command of Captain Sir James Saumarez and they arrived at Gibraltar sometime in mid-September. HMS Majestic remained in Gibraltar while the rest of the force continued on to England.

By February 1799, her repairs were complete and HMS Majestic rejoined the Mediterranean fleet under the command of her former First Lieutenant, now Acting-Captain Cuthbert. On 22nd February, the ship was in sight and witnessed the 18 gun brig-sloop HMS Espoir capture the Spanish xebec (a kind of oared galley mounting heavy guns in the bow) Africa off Gibraltar. On 4th April 1799, HMS Majestic, in company with the brig-sloop HMS Transfer, drove ashore a 16 gun French privateer. The French vessel was unable to be refloated, so was destroyed by men under the command of Lt Boger of HMS Majestic operating from the ships boats.

In May 1799, the ship was ordered to sea from Gibraltar on receipt of news that a French squadron which had earlier broken out of Brest was heading to Cadiz. Although the French force was spotted the following day, they sailed on into the Mediterranean and were neither pursued or engaged by HMS Majestic. From then until September, the ship was engaged in patrols and operations in the Mediterranean until she was ordered to Portsmouth. On 24th October 1799, she departed Portsmouth to escort a convoy to Gibraltar in company with HMS Zealous and the frigate HMS Aurora (32). She returned to Plymouth on 19th November 1799 and paid off for a refit the following day. Such was the desperate need of men in the Royal Navy, that her crew were dispersed to the ex-French frigate HMS Loire (48) and the British frigate HMS Decade (44). The battering the ship had received at the Battle of the Nile had not properly been made good and her structure was worn out, despite the fact that she was only 14 years old. Before the refit commenced however, HMS Majestic hosted a Court Martial. The master of the gun-brig HMS Growler was being tried for the loss of his vessel after he had been jumped by two French gunboats off Dungeness. The Court Martial found him not guilty and he was honourably acquitted. Her refit involved fitting the Snodgrass System of internal diagonal bracing to stiffen her frames as well as replacing the copper sheathing on her lower hull. On recommissioning, she was stationed at Great Yarmouth and although she wasn't involved in either of the two Battles of Copenhagen in 1801 and 1807, she spent the next ten years in the North Sea and Baltic Sea engaged in patrols and blockade duty.

On 18th June 1812, tensions which had been simmering for a few years with the United States came to a head with an American declaration of war. The US Navy, which had been founded at the end of the 18th century possessed a small number of extremely large frigates which had been designed to be able to overwhelm any other frigate in the world. The American ships had been designed with full length spar decks as their uppermost deck, instead of the traditional forecastle and quarterdeck arrangement. This enabled them to carry a large number of 42 pdr carronades on their spar deck in addition to the 24 pdr long guns carried on their gundeck. This had enable them to score a number of notable victories against British frigates, most notably in the destruction of HMS Guerriere by the USS Constitution. These had severely dented the Royal Navy's reputation for invincibility at sea and the Royal Navy needed to find an answer to the American Frigates and fast. The answer was found in the form of the Razee Frigate. A Razee Frigate was a kind of Heavy Frigate created by cutting down a ship of the line. The most famous example of a Razee Frigate was HMS Indefatigable, originally built as a 64 gun ship of the line but converted into a 24pdr-armed Heavy Frigate.

HMS Majestic was taken into the Royal Dockyard at Chatham at the end of 1812 and was converted to a Spar-Decked Razee Frigate. The work involved the removal of her poop deck, quarterdeck and forecastle. Her upper gundeck then became the spar deck. Her main armament, the 28 x 32 pdr long guns on her lower gundeck were retained, but her upper gundeck armament of 30 x 18 pdr long guns was removed and replaced with 30 x 42 pdr carronades. Two 12 pdr long guns were fitted in her bow and the ship emerged from the conversion as a 58 gun Fourth Rate Razee Frigate. The reduced weight of the ship had a positive effect on her speed and agility while the heavier guns now mounted on her upper deck gave her a ferocious close-range broadside. She was now more than a match for the famous American frigates, but was still able to take on a ship of the line. In actual fact, in her new configuration, she threw a slightly heavier broadside than she did before. In addition, the work also meant that she now required a smaller crew - only 495 men.

On 23rd March 1813, HMS Majestic sailed through the Downs off Deal on her way to Portsmouth, where she arrived on 29th. On 2nd June, she left Portsmouth bound for Bermuda and joined a huge convoy of 550 ships off Falmouth before setting out across the Atlantic. On 30th June, she captured the USS Ulysses, en route from Savannah, Georgia to France and sent her into Halifax, Novac Scotia with a prize crew. On 6th August 1813, HMS Majestic arrived at Halifax and quickly got stuck into the job of enforcing the blockade of the American east coast.

On 27th August, she captured the Spanish schooner Euphemia, 34 days out from Havana bound for Boston and sent her into Halifax with a prize crew. On 3rd September, the same fate befell the American vessel Jerusalem also out of Havana bound for Boston. On 7th October an unknown Swedish ship, 48 days out from Gothenberg arrived at Halifax with a prize crew from HMS Majestic aboard. Her new configuration was proving to be an outstanding success and this continued on 26th October 1813 when HMS Majestic captured the American schooner Betsy and Jane bound for Boston.

On 2nd February 1814, HMS Majestic sighted and gave chase to the American privateer Wasp. The following day, she sighted two large armed ships flying French colours and on closing, discovered that they were the 40 gun frigates Atalante and Terpsichore. She abandoned the chase after the USS Wasp and instead chased the two French ships. In the action which followed, HMS Majestic drove off the Atalante and captured the Terpsichore.

HMS Majestic engages the Terpsichore while driving off Atalante:

By this time, HMS Majestic's crew had been depleted by having to send prize crews on vessels captured earlier and in order to ensure the French crew of the Terpsichore behaved themselves, the prize was escorted back to Halifax, arriving on 15th March.

After retrieving her prize crews at Halifax, HMS Majestic continued with the job of enforcing the blockade and on 22nd May, captured the 4 gun schooner privateer Dominica, en-route from Charleston to St Bartholomew. Once again, a prize crew was put aboard and the Dominica arrived at Halifax on 6th July. HMS Majestic returned to Halifax, retrieved her prize crew and departed again on 6th August 1814. This time, the ship patrolled off New York, in company with the 24pdr-armed 40-gun Heavy Frigate HMS Endymion and HMS Pomone (18pdr, 38). It was known at the time that the large American frigate USS President was trapped in New York. On 10th December 1814, HMS Majestic recaptured the brig Recovery, which had been captured by an American privateer and sent her to Bermuda with a prize crew.

The war against the USA had proved very costly to both sides. Maritime trade had been paralysed along the east coast of the USA. On land, the war had become stalemated and both sides needed to end the war quickly. Peace negotiations had been underway since August 1814 and on Christmas Day 1814, both sides had signed th Treaty of Ghent, which the British Parliament had ratified on December 27th. The US Congress however, had not ratified the treaty and the war continued apace.

The squadron blockading New York had been reinforced by the arrival of HMS Tenedos (18pdr, 38) and on 14th January, the squadron was blown out to sea by a storm, which the USS President exploited to escape. On 15th January, the squadron spotted the USS President and gave chase. The USS President was eventually captured after an action in which HMS Majestic played only a very small part.

On 18th February, the US Congress ratified the Treaty of Ghent and the war ended. HMS Majestic was ordered to return to the UK and paid off at Portsmouth on 30th May. In April 1816, HMS Majestic was broken up.
"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.


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