HMS Amazon (1799)

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HMS Amazon pursuing unnamed French vessel, possibly the Belle Poule, by Nicholas Pocock
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Amazon
Ordered: 27 April 1796
Builder: Woolwich Dockyard
Laid down: April 1796
Launched: 18 May 1799
Completed: By 5 July 1799
Fate: Broken up in May 1817
General characteristics
Class and type: 38-gun Amazon-class fifth rate
Tons burthen: 1,038 6/94 bm
Length: 150 ft (45.7 m) (overall)
125 ft 7.75 in (38.3 m) (keel)
Beam: 39 ft 5 in (12.0 m)
Depth of hold: 13 ft 9 in (4.19 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
Complement: 284 (later 300)
  • Upper deck: 28 x 18pdrs
  • Quarter deck: 2 x 9pdrs + 12 x 32pdr carronades
  • Forecastle: 2 x 9pdrs + 2 x 32pdr carronades

HMS Amazon was a 38-gun Amazon-class fifth rate of the Royal Navy. This frigate served during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars under several notable naval commanders and played a key role in the Battle of Copenhagen under Captain Edward Riou, when Riou commanded the frigate squadron during the attack. After Riou was killed during the battle, command briefly devolved to First-Lieutenant John Quilliam. Quilliam made a significant impression on Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson who appointed him to serve on the flagship HMS Victory, and Amazon passed to William Parker, who continued the association with Nelson with service in the Mediterranean and participation in the chase to the West Indies during the Trafalgar Campaign. She went on to join Sir John Borlase Warren’s squadron in the Atlantic and took part in the defeat of Charles-Alexandre Léon Durand Linois's forces at the Action of 13 March 1806. During the battle, she hunted down and captured the 40-gun frigate Belle Poule.

Amazon continued in service for several more years, being active in combating raiders and privateers, before being withdrawn from active service in late 1811. She was retained in ordinary until several years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, when she was broken up.

Construction and commissioning

One of two ships built to a design by Sir William Rule, Amazon was ordered from Woolwich Dockyard on 27 April 1796 and laid down there that month.[1] She was launched on 18 May 1799 and quickly put into service, having cost £33,972 to build, including fitting her out.[1][2] She was commissioned in May 1799 under her first commander, Captain Edward Riou.[1]

British waters and the Baltic

Riou and the Amazon served initially in the English Channel, capturing the 18-gun French privateer Bougainville on 14 February 1800, but the prize sank following a collision the next day.[1] Riou and Amazon were then assigned to Sir Hyde Parker's expedition to the Baltic in 1801, to compel the Danes to abandon the League of Armed Neutrality.[1][3][4]

File:Captain Edward Riou engraving.jpg
Engraving made in 1801 of Amazon's first commander Edward Riou; Captn Edwd Riou Commander of the Guardian Frigate in the year 1789 but late of His Majesty's ship Amazon who fell gloriously in the Attack of the Danish Fleet and Batteries off Copenhagen April 2nd 1801

Riou worked closely with Parker's second in command Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson and Captain Thomas Foley in the lead up to the Battle of Copenhagen, and Nelson duly appointed Riou commander of the frigates and smaller vessels, with the instruction to deploy his ships in support of the main fleet.[3][4] As the battle began, several of Nelson's ships of the line ran aground on shoals in the harbour, and a new plan of attack had to be improvised. As Nelson's ships engaged their Danish counterparts, Riou took his frigates in to harass the Tre Kroner forts and blockships.[3][4] Despite being heavily outmatched and dangerously exposed they exchanged fire for several hours.[3][4] The ships suffered heavy casualties, and Riou was hit on the head by a splinter.[3]

At 1.15 pm, Parker was waiting outside the harbour with the reserve and raised a signal ordering Nelson to withdraw. Nelson acknowledged the signal but ignored it, while Nelson's second in command, Rear-Admiral Thomas Graves repeated the signal but did not obey it.[5] Riou now found himself in a difficult position. Too junior an officer to risk disobeying a direct order, he remained in action for a further half an hour before reluctantly giving the order for his small squadron to withdraw. In doing so, his ships were forced to turn their sterns to the Danish guns, leaving themselves open to heavy fire on their most vulnerable area.[3] The withdrawal of HMS Alcmene and then HMS Blanche reduced the thick cloud of gunsmoke that was helping to obscure the British ships, leaving the Amazon exposed to the full force of the Danish guns.[6][7] Lieutenant-Colonel William Stuart, commanding the soldiers of the 48th Regiment, recorded that Riou was killed:

[He] was sitting on a gun, was encouraging his men, and had been wounded in the head by a splinter. He had expressed himself grieved at being thus obliged to retreat, and nobly observed, 'What will Nelson think of us?' His clerk was killed by his side; and by another shot, several marines, while hauling on the main-brace, shared the same fate. Riou then exclaimed, 'Come, then, my boys, let us all die together!' The words were scarcely uttered, when the fatal shot severed him in two.[3]

Command of the Amazon devolved to her first lieutenant, Lieutenant John Quilliam, who completed the withdrawal.[3] Nelson went aboard the badly damaged Amazon after the battle and asked Quilliam how he was doing. Quilliam replied 'Middlin', a response that apparently amused Nelson and may have contributed to Nelson's subsequent appointment of Quilliam as first lieutenant aboard HMS Victory.[8]

Parker and Nelson


Command of the Amazon then passed to Captain Samuel Sutton, who was succeeded the following year by Captain William Parker.[1] Under Parker, Amazon captured the 16-gun privateer Felix on 26 July 1803, and survived a brush with a French fleet off Cape Capet on 2 May 1804. Amazon was one of the ships to take part in the Trafalgar Campaign the following year, serving with Nelson in the Mediterranean. On one occasion in December 1804 Nelson ordered Parker to bring a consignment of live bullocks to supply the fleet off Toulon.[9] The Amazon was a notably smart ship, and had just been repainted, so presumably the instruction to convert his ship into a floating farmyard was not received with much enthusiasm.[9] Parker duly returned with a shipment, prompting Nelson to enquire with gentle humour 'Well, Parker, of course you would not dirty the Amazon for much for anything; have you brought a dozen and a half, or a dozen?'[9] Parker had in fact brought sixty bullocks and thirty sheep, prompting Nelson to promise a reward for his good service.[9]

Parker and the Amazon remained with Nelson after the division of the Mediterranean commands left the Spanish coasts under the supervision of Sir John Orde.[9] Nelson suspected that Orde was intercepting his despatches and commandeering Nelson's frigates to use himself. Nelson therefore ordered Parker not to stop for any of Orde's ships if this was possible.[9] Parker attempted this but was intercepted by HMS Eurydice. He was however able to convince the Eurydice's commander, William Hoste, to turn a blind eye and having delivered his despatches to Lisbon, acted on Nelson's hint that he was not expected back until February by carrying out a cruise that netted him several prizes worth a total of £20,000.[9] Orde complained about the 'poaching' taking place on his station, but the prize money went to Parker and Nelson.[9]

On 17 September 1805, Amazon captured the Spanish corvette Principe de la Paz, off Ushant. Principe was armed with 24 guns and 4 swivels.

West Indies and Atlantic

Amazon went on to join Nelson in the chase to the West Indies and back during the Trafalgar Campaign.[1] During the voyage across the Atlantic, Nelson wanted to pass on specific instructions to his captains about how he wished to engage the French, but did not want to lose time by ordering his ships to heave to.[10] Instead he gave the plans to Parker, who was described by Pulteney Malcolm as the 'best frigate captain in the service', and Parker sped along the line in Amazon, delivering the instructions so efficiently that the fleet lost 'hardly a yard of ground'.[10] Once more in European waters after the fleet's return, Amazon captured the 24-gun Spanish privateer Principe de la Paz off Ushant on 17 September 1805.[1] Amazon was back in the Atlantic in 1806, this time as part of Sir John Borlase Warren’s pursuit of Jean-Baptiste Philibert Willaumez. When Warren's fleet unexpectedly encountered a separate French fleet under Charles-Alexandre Léon Durand Linois, Amazon became involved in the resulting Action of 13 March 1806.[1] During the battle she hunted down and captured the 40-gun frigate Belle Poule in a running engagement.[1] The Amazon lost four killed and five wounded during the engagement, while the Belle Poule lost six killed and 24 wounded.[11]

Amazon captured the 14-gun privateer Général Pérignon on 21 January 1810, and Captain John Joyce succeeded Parker as captain in May.[1] Joyce captured the 14-gun privateer Cupidon on 23 March 1811, and in December 1811 Amazon was laid up at Plymouth.[1] She paid off into Ordinary the following year and saw out the remainder of the Napoleonic Wars in the reserve. HMS Amazon was finally broken up at Plymouth in May 1817.[1]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 Winfield. British Warships of the Age of Sail 1794-1817. p. 141. 
  2. Colledge. Ships of the Royal Navy. p. 12. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Tracy. Who's who in Nelson's Navy. p. 306. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "Riou, Edward". Dictionary of National Biography. 1896. p. 316. 
  5. Adkin. The Trafalgar Companion. p. 468. 
  6. Coleman. The Royal Navy in Polar Exploration. p. 113. 
  7. Palmer. Command at Sea. p. 191. 
  8. Adkin. The Trafalgar Companion. p. 134. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 Gardiner. Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars. p. 166. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Gardiner. Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars. p. 160. 
  11. James. The Naval History of Great Britain, Volume 4. p. 310.