HMS Ajax (1798)
Watercolor of HMS Ajax (1798), in the collection of the National Maritime Museum; no artist or date given
|Ordered:||30 April 1795|
|Laid down:||September 1795|
|Launched:||3 March 1798|
|Fate:||Accidentally burnt, 14 February 1807|
|General characteristics |
|Class and type:||Ajax-class ship of the line|
|Tons burthen:||1953.5 tons (1984.8 tonnes)|
182 ft 5 in (55.60 m) (gundeck)|
149 ft 10.625 in (45.68508 m) (keel)
|Beam:||49 ft 6 in (15.09 m)|
|Depth of hold:||21 ft 3 in (6.48 m)|
|Sail plan:||Full rigged ship|
Captain James Whitshed had been in charge of the vessel during her latter construction stages from January 1798, but she was eventually commissioned in June 1798 under Captain John Hollowat, and a month later command passed to Captain John Pakenham, for Channel service. After a brief spell under Captain John Osborn in April 1799, the Ajax was placed in May 1799 under the command of Captain Alexander Cochrane, who was to command her for two years.
In 1801, Cochrane and Ajax participated in the Egyptian operations. On 1 March, some 70 warships, together with transports carrying 16,000 troops, anchored in Aboukir Bay near Alexandria. Bad weather delayed disembarkation by a week, but on the 8th, Cochrane directed as 320 boats, in double line abreast, brought the troops ashore. French shore batteries opposed the landing, but the British were able to drive them back and by the next day Sir Ralph Abercromby's whole British Army was ashore. Ajax had two of her seamen killed in the landings.
The naval vessels provided a force of 1,000 seamen to fight alongside the army, with Sir Sidney Smith of the 74-gun HMS Tigre in command. On 13 March, Ajax lost one man killed and two wounded in an action on shore; on 21 March she lost two killed and two wounded.
After the Battle of Alexandria and the subsequent siege, Cochrane in Ajax, with the Sixth Rate HMS Bonne Citoyenne, sloop HMS Cynthia, the brig-sloops HMS Port Mahon and HMS Victorieuse, and three Turkish corvettes, were the first vessels to enter the harbor.
In April, Admiral Lord Gardner sent Ajax, together with HMS Malta and HMS Terrible to reinforce Vice Admiral Sir Robert Calder's squadron at Ferrol after a storm had reduced the squadron to only five ships of the line.
In May 1805 Captain William Brown took command of Ajax. On 22 July, Calder's fleet of 15 sail of the line, two frigates, a cutter and a lugger was off Cape Finisterre when it encountered the combined Spanish-French fleet of 20 ships of the line, three large ships armed en flute, five frigates and two brigs.
Calder stood towards the enemy with his force. The battle lasted for more than four hours in fog so thick at times that it make signaling impossible and prevented either side from gaining a decisive victory. Still, the British were able to capture two Spanish ships, the 80-gun St. Raphael and the 74-gun Firme. The action cost Ajax two men killed and 16 wounded.
Captain Brown was called as a witness at the court martial of Sir Robert Calder for his failure to resume the battle the next day in the action in July. As a result, on 18 September, Ajax sailed from Plymouth with her First Lieutenant John Pilfold as captain, together with HMS Victory and HMS Thunderer.
At the Battle of Trafalgar, Ajax was seventh in line in Admiral Lord Nelson’s column and she fired on both the French 74-gun Bucentaure and the Spanish 136-gun Santissima Trinidad. During the battle Ajax assisted Orion in forcing the surrender of the French 74-gun Intrépide. Ajax lost just two men killed and 9 wounded during the battle.
A storm followed the battle and Ajax rescued seamen from ships in danger of sinking. Lieut. Pilfold received a direct promotion to Post-captain in December; missing the battle cost Brown the remainder of his career.
Loss of Ajax
When part of the squadron under Admiral Sir John Duckworth in the Dardanelles Operation, Ajax, while under the command of Captain Henry Blackwood, was destroyed in an accidental fire. The fire began on the evening of 14 February while Ajax was anchored off Tenedos. The fire began in the bread-room where the purser and his assistant had negligently left a light burning. As the fire burned out of control, the officers and crew were forced to take to the water. Although 380 people were rescued, 250 lost their lives that night, including many of the crewmen who had been at Trafalgar. Ajax burned through the night and then drifted on to the island of Tenedos where she blew up the following morning. A court martial cleared Capt. Blackwood.
Citations and notes
- Lavery, Ships of the Line vol.1, p184.
- Alexander Allardyce. 1882. Memoir of the Honourable George Keith Elphinstone, K.B., Viscount Keith, Admiral of the Red. (Edinburgh and London: W. Blackwood), p.257.
- Gossett (1986), p.57.
- p.188, Brenton for description
- Brenton, Edward Pelham (1837) The Naval History of Great Britain, from the Year MDCCLXXXIII. to MDCCCXXXVI.: From the Year MDCCLXXXIII. to MDCCCXXXVI, Volume II, Henry Colburn Publisher, London.
- Colledge, J.J. Ships of the Royal Navy: The Complete Record of All Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy From the Fifteenth Century to the Present. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1987. ISBN 0-87021-652-X.
- Gossett, William Patrick (1986). The lost ships of the Royal Navy, 1793-1900. Mansell. ISBN 0-7201-1816-6.
- Lavery, Brian (2003) The Ship of the Line - Volume 1: The development of the battlefleet 1650-1850. Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-252-8.
- Winfield, Rif. British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1793-1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth Publishing, 2nd edition, 2008. ISBN 978-1-84415-717-4.
- Ships of the Old Navy