HMS Astraea (1781)

From SpottingWorld, the Hub for the SpottingWorld network...
HMS Astraea captures the Gloire, a print by Thomas Whitcombe
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Astraea
Ordered: 7 May 1779
Builder: Robert Fabian, East Cowes
Laid down: September 1779
Launched: 24 July 1781
Commissioned: July 1781
Fate: Wrecked off Anegada, 23 March 1808
General characteristics
Class and type: Fifth Rate frigate
Tons burthen: 703 tons
Length: 126 ft (38 m) (gundeck)
103 ft 7.375 in (31.58173 m) (keel)
Beam: 35 ft 9 in (10.90 m)
Depth of hold: 12 ft (3.7 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
Complement: 250
Armament: 32 guns:Upper deck 26 x 12-pounder guns;
quarter deck 4 x 6-pounder guns;
forecastle 2 x 6-pounder guns.

HMS Astraea was a 32-gun Fifth Rate Active Class frigate of the Royal Navy. She was launched in 1781 by Fabian at E. Cowes, and was wrecked on 23 May 1808 off the coast of Anegada in the British Virgin Islands.

She saw action in the American War of Independence as well as during the Napoleonic Wars. She is best known for her capture of the larger French frigate Gloire in a battle on 10 April 1795, while under the command of Captain Lord Henry Paulet.

Capture of South Carolina

On 20 December 1782 the British 44-gun Fifth Rate two-decker HMS Diomede, Captain Thomas L. Frederick and the sister frigates - HMS Quebec, Captain Christopher Mason, and Astrea, Captain Matthew Squires - captured the American frigate South Carolina in the Delaware River. The South Carolina was attempting to dash out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, through the British blockade. She was in the company of the brig Constance, schooner Seagrove and the ship Hope, which had joined her for protection.

The British chased South Carolina for 18 hours and fired on her for two hours before she struck. She had a crew of about 466 men when captured, of whom she lost six killed or wounded. The British suffered no casualties.

The Astraea and Quebec also captured Constance, which was carrying tobacco. Prize crews then took South Carolina and Constance to New York.

In 1786, Astraea, under Captain Peter Rainier, Jr., proceeded to Ferrol, Madeira, and the West Indies, where she remained for three years. During this time she visited all the British islands and most of the French and Spanish colonies.

From 1793 until spring of 1795, Astraea's captain was Robert Moorsom. After he removed to Hindostan, his replacement was Captain Henry Paulet.

French Revolutionary Wars

Astraea and Gloire

File:HMS Astraea and Gloire.jpg
HMS Astraea captures the Gloire, a print by Thomas Whitcombe

On 10 April 1795, Rear-admiral Sir John Colpoys, while cruising in the English Channel with a squadron composed of five ships of the line and three frigates, gave chase to three French frigates spotted through a break in thick fog. Colossus, having got within gun-shot of one of them, opened fire, but the French frigates took different courses. Robust and Hannibal pursued two.

The Astraea, under Captain Paulet, gave chase to one of them. He closed the distance, and after foiling an attempt from the French ship to rake the Astraea, Paulet came alongside and the two ships exchanged broadsides for nearly an hour before the French ship struck.[1] She was discovered to be the 42-gun Gloire, with 275 men aboard. She had suffered casualties of 40 killed and wounded because the British had fired into her hull;Astraea, of 32 guns and 212 men, had only eight wounded because the French had fired high, at the mast and rigging, in an attempt to cripple her.[1] For this feat Paulet received the Naval Gold Medal.[2] John Talbot, First Lieutenant on Astrea, took Gloire to Britain where he received promotion to Commander and took over the 14-gun sloop of war HMS Helena.

The Admiralty bought in Gloire as a 36-gun frigate and retained her name. She was already somewhat of an old ship and in March 1802 the Admiralty sold her.


Astraea, under Captain Richard Lane, was present at the Second Battle of Groix, which took place on 23 June 1795 off the west coast of France. She did not take part in the actual, inconclusive battle.

On 27 Apr 1796 Astraea, under the command of Captain Richard Lane, brought troops to the naval squadron attacking Sainte-Lucie. The British captured the island on 26 May.

On 1 June 1797, off the Skaw, she captured the the Dutch privateer Stuiver of 10 guns and with a crew of 48 men. Then in September Astrea rescued the young midshipman, Benjamin Clement (later post captain), who had been adrift in a jolly boat while returning from Monarch to his ship, Nassau. His crew had gotten intoxicated and he and they ended up drifting in the jolly boat for 40 hours, out of sight of the fleet in the North Sea.[3]

On 22 April 1798, Astraea captured the French privateer Renommée. Then on 20 May she captured the French privateer Vengeance while on the Jamaica station.

In 1799, she served in the North Sea under Capt. R. Dacres. On 29 March Astraea and several other vessels were in the company of Latona when she captured the galliot Neptunus. On 10 April, some 20 miles west of the Texel, Astraea captured the 14-gun French privateer lugger Marsouin after a chase of three hours.

In 1801 she served under Capt. Peter Riboleau in the Mediterranean. Astraea was armed en flute when she took part in the landings in March at Abu Qir Bay. Fire from the French on shore wounded one seaman.

Napoleonic Wars

In 1805 she served under Capt. James Carthew in the Downs. On 1 December 1806 she was at Elsinore, Denmark. She had experienced bad weather near the Skaws and then grounded on a shoal some three miles off the island of Anholt in the Kattegat. One of Astraea's passengers, Lord Hutchinson, had gone ashore indisposed. Her captain at the time was James Dunbar. On 14 December she captured the French privateer Providence. At the end of the year Capt. Edmund Heywood took command of her as she was fitting out at Chatham for the West Indies.


In 1808, the Astraea escorted a mail packet ship past the danger of Caribbean privateers. Heywood, thinking that Anegada was Puerto Rico, wrecked upon the deadly horseshoe reef. All but four of her crew survived, either by making it to the island or to Virgin Gorda. Two days after the wrecking, the 22-gun sloop and former French privateer Christopher arrived and rescued the crew. The two 32-gun frigates Jason and Galatea also arrived and engaged in salvage attempts. The British abandoned the wreck on 24 June. Many of the crew went on to serve aboard Favourite.

As was usually the case in the Royal Navy, Captain Heywood was court martialled. The court martial was held on HMS Ramillies in Carisle Bay, Barbados on 11 June 1808. The court held that the ship foundered due to an "extraordinary weather current," and Captain Heywood was exonerated.[4]

Wreck site

The British Virgin Islands have honoured Astrea with a stamp. The reason is that in 1967 Bert Kilbride, Her Majesty's Receiver of Wreck in the British Virgin Islands, rediscovered her. Subsequently, some items were salvaged, but not the heavy cannon. The rugged reef conditions still remain treacherous and as a result tourists are rarely able to dive the wreck today.

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 "The Right Hon. Lord Henry Paulet". Annual Biography and Obituary. 1832. p. 48. 
  2. Royal Navy (1850). The Navy List. H.M. Stationery Office. p. 296. OCLC 1604131. 
  3. Marshall (2007), p.392.
  4. The court martial held:"... having heard the narrative thereof by Captain Edmund Heywood, together with explanations given by himself and also by Mr. Allan McLean, the master of the said ship, and having fully completed the inquiry, and maturely and deliberately weighed and considered the whole thereof, the court is of opinion that the loss was occasioned by an extraordinary weather current having set the ship nearly two degrees to the eastwards of the reckoning of all the officers on board ... and that no blame is attributable to Captain Heywood, his officers, and ship's company"