HMS Calcutta (1795)

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File:Regulus stranded on the shoals of Les Palles August 12 1809.jpg
The Régulus stranded on the shoals of Les Palles, 12 April 1809; Calcutta is on the right, also aground.
Career (United Kingdom) Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Name: HMS Calcutta[1]
Builder: Perry & Co.
Launched: 16 October 1788
Acquired: 9 March 1795
Fate: Captured by the French Navy, 26 September 1805
Career (France) French Navy Ensign
Name: Calcutta
Captured: 26 September 1805
Fate: Scuttled by fire on 12 April 1809 at the Battle of the Basque Roads
General characteristics
Class and type: late Indiaman
Type: 56-gun Fourth Rate
Complement: 324 [1]

56 guns: [1]
lower deck: 28 x 18-pounder long guns

Upper deck: 26 x 32-pounder cannonades + 2 x 9-pounder long guns

HMS Calcutta was an East Indiaman converted to a Royal Navy 56-gun Fourth Rate. This ship of the line served for a time as an armed transport. She also transported convicts to Australia in a voyage that became a circumnavigation of the world. The French 74-gun Magnanime captured Calcutta in 1805. In 1809, after she ran aground during the Battle of the Basque Roads and her crew had abandoned her, a British boarding party burned her.

East Indiaman

Originally Calcutta was the 1176-ton East Indiaman Warley, built at John Perry's Blackwall Yard in 1788, the first vessel of the name that Perry built for the East India Company. She made two trading voyages to the Far East (1789-90 and 1792-94). Warley's captain for her two voyages was Charles Wilson. [2]

(The second Warley, also an East Indiaman, was built in 1795 at the same yard as her predecessor. Her captain for her first five voyages was also Henry Wilson.[3] While under his command on her fourth voyage, Warley participated in Nathaniel Dance's victory at the Battle of Pulo Aura.)

In 1793, the first Warley participated in an action in the Straits of Malacca. The three East Indiamen Triton, Warley, and Royal Charlotte came upon a French frigate, with some six or seven of her prizes, replenishing her water casks ashore. The three British vessels immediately gave chase. The frigate fled towards the Sunda Strait. The Indiamen were able to catch up with a number of the prizes, and after a few cannon shots, were able to retake them.[4] Earlier, the same three vessels had participated in the capture of Pondicherry by maintaining a blockade of the port, together with HMS Minerva.[5]

Cruiser and Armed Transport

In early 1795, the Royal Navy purchased the first Warley and had her original builders, Perry & Co., refit her as a 56-gun Fourth Rate, under the name Calcutta, at a cost of £10,300. She was one of nine large merchantmen that the Navy Board purchased that year for conversion to convoy escorts.[6]

Captain William Bligh was her first commander, assigned to her in order to supervise her conversion. He commissioned her in May 1795. In October 1795, the crew of the 74-gun HMS Defiance (then commanded by Captain Sir George Horne) mutinied. Bligh, in Calcutta, was ordered to embark 200 troops and take them alongside Defiance so that they might board her and regain control. The threat of the soldiers ended the mutiny for the time being, though the crew of the Defiance mutinied again in 1797 and 1798. Bligh continued to command Calcutta until she was paid off in 1796 and transferred to the Transport Board.

In order for her to fulfill her new role, the Transport Board had the guns on her lower deck removed. As a result she no longer needed as large a crew and her complement fell to 160 officers and men. Calcutta served in the transport role under Lieutenants Robert Arnold (June 1796-August 1797), Edward Jekyll Canes (August 1797-January 1798), Richard Polden (January 1798-December 1799), and John Anderson (December 1799-May 1802).

Convict transport

Between May 1802 and February 1803, the Navy had Calcutta fitted out for the transport of convicts to penal colonies in Australia. She received new armament in the form of 16 24-pounder carronades on her upper deck and two six-pounder guns on the forecastle. Capt. Daniel Woodriff recommissioned her in November 1802 and sailed her from Spithead on 28 April, 1803, accompanied by the Ocean, to establish a settlement at Port Phillip. Calcutta carried a crew of 150, together with 308 male convicts, along with civil officers, marines, and some wives and children.[7]

She reached Rio De Janeiro on 19 July, and the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope on 16 August. While Calcutta was at the Cape, a vessel arrived with news that Britain was now at war with the Batavian Republic. The colony's Dutch commodore sent a representative aboard Calcutta to demand her surrender and that of her contents. While the representative waited, Woodriff spent two hours preparing her for battle. He then showed the representative her sailors and marines at their guns, and told the Dutchman to inform the commodore that "if he wants this ship he must come and take her if he can". To speed up the preparations, William Gammon, the master's mate, had asked the convicts if any would volunteer to fight and work the ship. All volunteered. The commodore gave Woodriff 24 hours to leave, saying that he "did not wish to capture such a large number of thieves".[8]

On 12 October, she reached her destination. However, David Collins, the commander of the expedition, found that the poor soil and shortage of fresh water made the area unsuitable for a colony. Collins wanted to move the colony to the Derwent River on the south coast of Tasmania (then Van Diemens Land) to the site of current-day Hobart. Woodriff refused the use of Calcutta, arguing that the Ocean was large enough to transport the colony, and that he was under orders to pick up naval supplies for transport to England. In December Woodriff sailed to Sydney where he took on a cargo of lumber. At midnight on 4 March, Woodriff landed 150 of his crew and marines to assist the New South Wales Corps and the Loyal Association, a local militia, in suppressing a convict uprising in support of the Castle Hill convict rebellion, a revolt by some 260 Irish convicts against Governor King.[9] Afterward, the commander of the marine detachment on Calcutta, Charles Menzies, offered his services to the governor as superintendent of a new settlement at Coal Harbour, an offer Governor King accepted. Another Calcutta officer, Lieut. John Houston, accepted an appointment as acting Lieutenant Governor of Norfolk Island while Major Joseph Foveaux was on leave.[10]

Calcutta left on 17 March, 1804, doubled Cape Horn and reached Rio on 22 May. In reaching Rio, she had thus circumnavigated the world in ten months three days. She arrived at Spithead on July 23.[11]

Ship of the line

The action of September 1805 in which the French captured HMS Calcutta, by Thomas Whitcombe

In September 1804 the Admiralty again fitted out Calcutta for duty as a cruiser, re-arming her as a 56-gun Fourth Rate. About a year later, on 26 September, 1805, while still under the command of Captain Woodriff, as she escorted a large convoy, she encountered Allemand's squadron off the Isles of Scilly. In a brilliant delaying action, Calcutta battled against the 40-gun frigate Armide, which she damaged. However, the gunfire drew the rest of the French squadron, including the 74-gun Magnanime. Woodriff brought Calcutta alongside Magnanime, but after a battle of some three-quarters of an hour was forced to strike. The French had shot high, bringing down her rigging, disabling her. Because they fired high, Calcutta suffered only six dead and six wounded, out of a crew of 350.[12][13]

The French brought Calcutta into French service. The court-martial, on 1 January 1808, for Woodriff and his officers acquitted all, praising the captain for his gallantry and skillful maneuvering, which had driven the French south, thus allowing the convoy to escape.[13]

French service

On 12 April, 1809, Calcutta was part of the squadron of La Rochelle under captain Jean Baptiste Lafon. During the Battle of the Basque Roads, Calcutta ran aground on the shoals of Les Palles, as did most of the other French ships. Under fire from Imperieuse under Captain Lord Thomas Cochrane, Calcutta's crew panicked and abandoned ship without orders. A midshipman with a small party from Imperieuse took over Calcutta, but then set her afire to prevent her re-capture, causing her to explode.[14]

A court-martial held Lafon responsible for the loss of his ship, and deemed his behaviour to have been cowardly. In a five to four vote, the court sentenced him to death; a firing squad executed him on the deck of the Océan on 9 September.[14]

Other information

The National Library of Australia has three oil paintings by Thomas Whitcombe of the battle between Calcutta and Magnanime and Armide .[15].

References and sources

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 HMS Calcutta, Naval Databse
  4. Monthly Magazine, July 1812, p.595, referenced in: Kilpatrick & Crawley, p. 127.
  5. Universal Magazine, January 1794, p. 60.
  6. Winfield (1997)
  7. Tipping, p.49.
  8. Tipping, p. 61.
  9. Tipping, p.106.
  10. Tipping, p. 106.
  11. Pateshall.
  12. James & Chamier, p.148-50.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Grossett (1986), pp.48-9.
  14. 14.0 14.1 James & Chamier, p.98-129.
  15. Woodriff, Daniel (1756 - 1842), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition
  • Roche, Jean-Michel (2005). Dictionnaire des bâtiments de la flotte de guerre française de Colbert à nos jours 1 1671 - 1870. ISBN 978-2-9525917-0-6. OCLC 165892922. [page needed][self-published source?]
  • Colledge, J.J. (1987) 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. ISBN 0-87021-652-X.
  • Gossett, William Patrick (1986) The lost ships of the Royal Navy, 1793-1900. (London:Mansell). ISBN 0-7201-1816-6
  • James, William & Frederick Chamier (1837) The naval history of Great Britain : from the declaration of war by France in 1793 to the accession of George IV. (London : R. Bentley)
  • Kilpatrick, Jane & Jane Crawley (2007) Gifts from the gardens of China : the introduction of traditional Chinese garden plants to Britain 1698-1862. (London : Frances Lincoln)
  • Pateshall, Nicholas (1980) A short account of a voyage round the globe in H.M.S. Calcutta, 1803-1804. (Carlton, Vic.: Queensbury Hill Press).
  • Tipping, Marjorie. (1988) Convicts Unbound: The story of the Calcutta Convicts and their Settlement in Australia. (Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin Books). ISBN 0 670 90068 0
  • Winfield, Rif (1997) The 50-gun ship. (London : Chatham).
  • Winfield, Rif (2008). British Warships in the Age of Sail 1793–1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth. ISBN 978-1-84415-717-4.