Author Topic: HMS Achille (1798 - 1865)  (Read 106 times)

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Offline stuartwaters

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HMS Achille (1798 - 1865)
« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2019, 10:15:55 PM »

HMS Achille was a large 'Middling' type 74 gun 3rd rate ship of the line of the Pompee Class, and was built in Gravesend. The Pompee Class was a pair of large 74 gun ships both of which were built in Kent shipyards.

The Pompee Class were so-called because they were direct copies of the 80-gun French ship of the same name handed to the Royal Navy by French Royalists during the Toulon Campaign of 1793. At this time, the First Lord of the Admiralty was the George John, the Second Earl Spencer. He favoured copying French designs and under his leadership in 1795, eight 74 gun ships were ordered and only two of them were home grown designs. The other six included HMS Achille and her sister-ship, HMS Superb.

You may think it odd that the Royal Navy should have a ship built and then give her a French name. It was a practice of both the British and French navies at the time to continue the names of enemy ships, which after their capture, went on to distinguish themselves in action against their former owners. The French Navy for example, in 1780, built a ship called 'Northumberland'.

The contract for the construction of HMS Achille was signed on Thursday 30th April 1795, Her first keel section was laid in October and she was launched, hull complete, on Monday 16th April 1798. On the day she was launched, HMS Achille was taken to the Royal Dockyard at Chatham to be fitted out. This involved installing her masts, guns and rigging and took until Saturday 25th August 1798 to complete. On completion, HMS Achille was a ship of 1,929 tons. At 182ft 2in long on her upper gundeck and 49ft 3in wide across her beam, she was a big ship for what she was. She was actually just over a foot shorter and two feet narrower than the first rate ship HMS Victory. On completion, HMS Achille was armed with 30 32pdr long guns on her lower gundeck, 30 18pdr long guns on her upper gundeck, 4 18pdr long guns on her quarterdeck with 2 more on her forecastle. In addition to these guns, she carried 10 32pdr carronades on her quarterdeck, 2 32pdr carronades and 2 18pdr carronades on her forecastle with 6 18pdr carronades on her poop deck. Although the ship was officially rated as a 74 gun third rate ship, she actually carried 86 guns in all. She was manned by a crew of 640 officers, men, boys and marines.

Pompee Class Plans

Orlop plan:

Lower Gundeck Plan:

Upper Gundeck Plan:

Quarterdeck and Forecastle plans:

Framing plan:

Inboard Profile and plan:

Sheer Plan and lines:

Construction at Cleverley's shipyard had cost £38,450 and fitting out at Chatham cost a further £15,165. The ship commissioned under Captain Sir Henry Stanhope in June 1798 while fitting out was ongoing. On 15th August 1798, HMS Achille was joined by a new Midshipman, Mr Midshipman John Simpson. 21 years old at the time, HMS Achille was to be his second sea-going posting. After commissioning, HMS Achille was assigned to the Channel Fleet and based out of Portsmouth and Plymouth spent her time exercising with the fleet and patrolling the Channel and Western Approaches.

On 15th February 1799, a court-martial was held aboard HMS Gladiator (44) at Portsmouth. Seaman James Haily was charged with striking a midshipman going about his lawful duties and mutinous conduct. The unfortunate Haily was found guily and sentenced to be hanged. What is unusual about this case is that under normal circumstances, the captain would have ordered that the seaman be given a couple of dozen lashes with the cat o' nine tails. Captains generally disliked Court Martials because they involved a whole lot of inconvenience, what with having to gather witnesses, written statements and the whole business of waiting for the trial to reach it's almost inevitable conclusion, which would usually end with the Captain having to replace one of his precious sailors. Much better all-round to deal with the matter 'in-house'. Either the unfortunate Haily was a persistent offender or the midshipman concerned was very well connected.

In April 1799, Captain Stanhope was replaced in command by Captain George Murray. On 13th June 1799, HMS Achille limped into Plymouth after having been badly damaged in collision with HMS Caesar (80). She had lost her bowsprit and fore-topmast in addition to other damage and had suffered one man killed with several injured.

On the 19th July, HMS Achille received orders to transport 50 head of cattle to Vice-Admiral Pole's squadron. Also to be transported were several tons of hay at £5 per ton.

On 13th May 1800, Midshipman Simpson, by now aged 24, was placed on the Sick List and removed from duty. He had presented himself to the ship's surgeon complaining of sickness and nausea, pains in the loins and legs, severe headache and a sense of cold all over. It seems that a weeks rest did him a power of good because on 20th May, he was discharged back to duty.

On 28th August 1800, HMS Achille was one of a number of ships of the Channel Fleet which arrived in Plymouth from blockade duty off Brest. On 5th September, orders were received from the Earl St Vincent (Admiral Jervis) for all ships ready for sea to join him off Brest as soon as possible. The same day, HMS Achille departed in company with HMS Royal Sovereign (100), HMS Princess Royal (90), HMS Prince (98), HMS Prince George (90) and HMS Bellona (74).

In January 1801, Captain Murray swapped ships with Captain Sir Edward Buller of HMS Edgar (74). The reason was that Captain Murray was much better acquainted with the North Sea, where HMS Edgar was being sent. In February 1801, a French convoy of 160 ships which had been bottled up in Bordeaux with stores for the French fleet at Brest, sailed under escort. After two days at sea, the convoy was scattered in severe weather. On 21st February, HMS Achille took one of the French merchant vessels, a brig laden with wheat, which was sent into Plymouth with a prize crew.

On 15th July 1801, HMS Achille and HMS Excellent (74) were both taken into the Royal Dockyard at Plymouth for refit. Her yards and topmasts were lowered so that the standing rigging could be renewed.

Back at sea by the autumn, HMS Achille was caught in a severe gale and returned to Plymouth on 29th October 1801. For November and December 1801, HMS Achille was temporarily commanded by Captain James Wallace, before Captain Buller returned to the ship. In the meantime, on 26th November, HMS Achille was at anchor in Cawsand Bay, Plymouth and was waiting for her crew's wages to come aboard. Several bum boats were alongside and the ship's First Lieutenant, Mr Mudge, was concerned that seamen wishing to desert would find ways of getting aboard them and getting ashore. He ordered the traders, busy selling their wares to the sailors, off the ship. One boat, with girls aboard did not comply. Lt Mudge took the gangway sentry's musket and asked if it was loaded. The marine replied that he didn't know if it was loaded or not. It had been handed to him when he came on watch. Lt Mudge then took a cartridge off the marine and, throwing the ball away, poured the powder into the musket. Aiming the musket at the boat, he cocked it and squeezed the trigger. The musket had been loaded and the ball struck the trader full in the face. The unfortunate man later died of his wound ashore in the Royal Naval Hospital. Lt Mudge was sent aboard the flagship at the Homoaze and on 28th November, a coroners jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against Lt Mudge. HMS Achille sailed for Ireland in a snowstorm the next day.

By the end of 1801, it was well known throughout the fleet that peace talks were underway and that the war's end was in sight. Many men were expecting to be given shore leave or be paid off after years of service. In December 1801, the men of HMS Temeraire mutinied after finding out that their ship was being sent to the West Indies for a year or so with the end of the war so close. The details of this are here:

On 14th January 1802, Midshipman Simpson left HMS Achille and five days later, the executions of three of HMS Temeraire's mutineers were carried out aboard the ship at Portsmouth.

On 25th March 1802, the Treaty of Amiens was signed and the French Revolutionary War ended. Captain Buller remained in command until May, when he handed command to Captain John Hardy. The peace was not to last for long and war broke out again in May 1803. The outbreak of what is commonly called The Napoleonic War saw HMS Achille continue as she had before.

On 31st March 1805, Captain Hardy handed command to Captain Richard King. The advent of Captain King taking command was the beginning of a change of pace in the career of HMS Achille, which up to now had been pedestrian to say the least. Captain King was one of the Royal Navy's rising stars, whose rise to prominence had been meteoric. The Royal Navy had a reputation at the time for being a meritocracy, with promotions being awarded as rewards for displays of skill or courage. Despite this there was plenty of room for good, old-fashioned nepotism and King exploited this for all it was worth. King was the son of Sir Richard King, 1st Baronet King. He had joined the Navy in 1780 aged just 6 as Captains clerk in HMS Exeter (64). He had seen action at the Battles of Sadras and Providien in 1782 and again at the 2nd Battle of Cuddalore in 1783. He was appointed Midshipman in January 1789 aged 14 in HMS Crown (64), Lieutenant in 1791 aged 17 in HMS Phoenix (36). He was promoted Captain of HMS Excellent (74) in May 1794, six months short of his 20th birthday. All of this was helped not just by the influence of his father, but also by his own undoubted skill. He proved this in command of HMS Sirius (36). In 1797, he had sat on the court Martial board for the trial of Richard Parker, the ringleader of the Great Mutiny at the Nore. In the Action of 24th October 1798, Kings command had captured two Dutch frigates and on 28th January 1801 had captured the French frigate Dédaigneuse. In November 1803, he had married the daughter of Admiral Sir John Duckworth, which only increased his influence. It was because of his influence and undoubted skill that he was rewarded with command of HMS Achille, one of the fastest and most powerful two-deckers in the Navy.

On 12th April 1805, HMS Achille's company was joined by Sergeant Thomas Burley. He had joined the Marines on 28th January 1781. He became Sergeant in HMS Camilla in April 1796.

Britain was at this time in the grip of an invasion scare and with good reason. Napoleon Bonaparte commanded an army which was encamped around Boulogne preparing for the planned invasion and Pierre-Charles Villeneuve had broken out with a fleet of powerful French ships-of-the-line. Villeneuve's original plan to put into Brest and join up with the fleet there had been thwarted by his defeat at the Battle of Cape Finisterre by Sir Robert Calder and he had been forced to sail south to Cadiz and join the Spanish fleet there. Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood was in command of a fleet which had Villeneuve and the combined Franco-Spanish fleet bottled up there. Vice-Admiral Horatio, Lord Nelson had been ordered to hand-pick a fleet and join Collingwood off Cadiz and take overall command of the force. Once his fleet was assembled, Nelson spent the next few weeks preparing to meet the Combined Fleet. He quickly formulated a battle plan whereby the British fleet would be split in two, with one column led by Nelson in HMS Victory and the other by Collingwood in HMS Royal Sovereign. The plan was that the most powerful ships in the fleet would head up the colums. There are very good reasons for this. Firstly, all the captains knew that the lead ships would be the most exposed to fire from the enemy and the biggest ships were better placed to absorb the punishment. Secondly, the initial contact had to be so devastating to the enemy as to demoralise them and the three-decked first and second rate ships could best achieve this.

In September 1805, Captain King sensing that there was glory to be had in operations off Cadiz, used his influence with his father-in-law, Admiral Duckworth and got him to pursuade Nelson to give HMS Achille a place in his fleet. Nelson, who was aware of King by reputation agreed to the move and HMS Achille joined the fleet on 21st October 1805. The enemy had left Cadiz on 19th October and were spotted by the British on the day HMS Achille joined the fleet. HMS Achille was assigned a place in Collingwood's Lee (downwind) column, in seventh place between HMS Colussus (74) and HMS Revenge (74).

The fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar, 21st October 1805. British ships are in red, French in blue and Spanish in black.

HMS Achille followed closely behind HMS Colussus as Collingwood led his column through the hail of enemy fire in HMS Royal Sovereign. Sailing well, she broke through the enemy line close astern of the Spanish ship Montanez (74). Luffing up (sailing into the eye of the wind, effectively stopping the ship), HMS Achille engaged the Spaniard to leeward (on her downwind side). After less than 15 minutes, the Montanez sheered off, so HMS Achille headed to assist HMS Belle Isle, lying dismasted and surrounded by three enemy ships. She found her path obstructed by the Spanish ship Argonauta (80). Captain King brought HMS Achille up on Argonauta's port side and began a fight with the Spaniard which lasted an hour. Argonauta attempted to set more sail to head away from HMS Achille, but when this failed, her lower gundeck ports closed and her crew draped a British ensign over her stern, indicating a wish to surrender. As HMS Achille's prize crew was taking possession of Argonauta, two French ships came up. One, the French ship Achille (74), passed down HMS Achille's port quarter and opened fire before heading off in the direction of HMS Belle Isle. The other, ex-HMS Berwick. came up on HMS Achille's starboard side, between her and the Argonauta. Argonauta dropped off downwind and HMS Achille and Berwick were left to it. Their fight lasted an hour before the Berwick surrendered to HMS Achille.

Argonauta was seriously damaged in the battle and suffered 400 dead or wounded. She was captured but sank in the storm which followed the battle.

Berwick was also severely damaged in her fight with HMS Achille. When HMS Achille's prize crew boarded, they found 51 dead bodies in her cockpit and cable tier. The dead included her captain. The number of wounded came to almost 200. Most of these casualties were caused by the unremitting hail of fire put upon her by HMS Achille's gunners. The Frenchman's quarterdeck was cleared twice by British cannon-fire, which accounted for almost all of her officers.

HMS Achille suffered damage, but at the end of the battle, all her masts were still standing but were damaged, as was her hull. The losses amongst her crew came to Mr Midshipman Francis Mugg, six seamen and six marines killed. Lieutenants Parkins Prynn and Josias Bray, Marine Captain Palms Westropp. Marine Lieutenant William Leddon, Mr George Pegg (Master's Mate), Midshipmen William Staines, William Snow and William Warren, 37 seamen and 14 marines were wounded. Amonst the wounded marines was Sergeant Burley. He was discharged ashore at the Gibraltar Naval Hospital on 3rd December 1805. Sergeant Burley was admitted to the Greenwich Naval Hospital as an in-pensioner on 15th September 1806 and lived out the rest of his days there.

On 25th September 1806, HMS Achille was part of a squadron of six ships of the line patrolling off Rochefort, of which 5 were 74 gun third rate ships and one ship, HMS Windsor Castle was a 98 gun second rate ship. 7 strange sails were sighted and the squadron was ordered by the flagship to give chase. The strangers were quicky identified as being a French squadron of five heavy frigates, four of which carried 40 or more guns. HMS Achille took little part in the actual fighting in the Action off Rochefort, most of which fell to HMS Monarch (74) and HMS Centaur (74). Later that year, King inherited his father's titles and became Sir Richard King, 2nd Baronet.

Still in the Channel Fleet with Captain King still in command, HMS Achille was employed on the blockade of Ferrol, on the Galicia coast of Spain throughout 1807 and 1808. In July 1809, HMS Achille took part in the unsuccessful Walcheren Campaign where a marshy island in the Scheldt Estuary was invaded by elements of the British Army.

On 18th February 1811, HMS Achille sailed for the Mediterranean. On 3rd March 1811, Sir Richard King was finally replaced in command by Captain Askew Hollis. King had been appointed to command the ex-Spanish HMS San Josef (114). He was promoted to Rear-Admiral on 12th August 1812 and became Second-in-Command, Mediterranean Fleet. He was made a KCB in January 1815 and was promoted to Vice-Admiral in 1819. He went on to serve as Commander-in-Chief East Indies Station before becoming Commander-in-Chief at the Nore in 1833. He died of Cholera at Admiralty House, Sheerness on 5th August 1834 aged just 59. He is buried at All Saints, Eastchurch.

With the end of the war in 1814, HMS Achille sailed to the East Indies, but was back at Chatham by 1817. By this time, ship design had moved on and HMS Achille was selected for a major refit to update her and bring her into line with current thinking in naval design. The main feature of her rebuild was the replacement of her open, galleried stern, with a round stern. The reason was that the classic open glazed stern was the main weak point of a ship in action. when a ship cleared for action, she was open from bow to stern and if an enemy vessel managed to cross the stern, the consequences were usually catastrophic and very bloody. With the round stern, the hull planking was continued around the stern and didn't present an enemy with a vulnerable target. The round stern became a feature of British warships until the introduction of first, iron and then steel hulls much later in the 19th century. Here's a picture of HMS Unicorn, a later Leda Class frigate, built with a round stern.

HMS Achille's rebuild took until 1822 to complete. On completion of the work the ship was placed in the Ordinary. In 1829, she was moved to Sheerness. In 1839 she was officially reclassed as a 76 gun 3rd rate ship of the line.

On Wednesday 1st November 1865, HMS Achille was sold to Castle and Beech Shipbreakers of Anchor and Hope Wharf, Charlton for £1000.
"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.