HMS Cerberus (1794)

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Career (United Kingdom) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Cerberus
Builder: Adams, Bucklers Hard
Launched: September 1794
Fate: Sold on 29 September 1814
General characteristics as built
Class and type: 32-gun fifth rate frigate
Tons burthen: 796 bm
Length: 135 ft (41.1 m) (gundeck)
Beam: 36 ft (11.0 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
Armament: 32 guns

HMS Cerberus was a 32-gun fifth rate frigate of the Royal Navy.

Early career

Cerberus was launched in September 1794 by Henry Adams, of Bucklers Hard. Her first commander was Captain J. Drew, who took command of her in January 1795. On 29 March 1795 she was sailing with Santa Margarita when the two engaged and captured the 18-gun Jean Bart in the English Channel. The Royal Navy subsequently took the Jean Bart into service as HMS Arab.

In 1796 Cerberus took four prizes. On 5 May, she took the 10-gun privateer cutter Hirondelle. In July, she and Seahorse took the privateer cutter Calvados. Joined by Diana, the three captured the 14-gun privateer Indemnité on 28 August. At the very end of the year, on 28 December, she captured the 4-gun Didon.

The next year brought more prizes. On 11 May 1797, Cerberus captured the 18-gun Dungerquoise. Together with Diana, she took the 12-gun lugger Neptune on 12 September. The on 11 November she took Epervier, and three days later, the 18-gun Renard.

January 1798 started badly when Captain Drew (and Captain John Pulling), drowned in a boat accident in Plymouth on the 11th. Captain J. M'Namara immediately succeeded Drew. Cerebrus captured a privateer in September, the San Norbert, and attacked a Spanish convoy off Cape Ortegal on 20 October.

On 28 September 1799 she captured the French letter of marque Echange. The Echange carried 10 guns and 40 men, and was six days out of Bordeaux bound for San Domingo with a cargo of bale goods and wine. Cerberus was in the West Indies in 1801, but by 1802 she was back at Chatham Dockyard fitting out.

Captain William Selby took command of Cerberus in April 1803. On 13 September she participated in an attack invasion craft at Granville. Two days later, during the action, she grounded and for the three hours it took to refloat her nine gunboats harried her, but without effect.[1]

Attacking a convoy

Cerberus was assigned to operate of the English and French coasts by 1804 and sailed from the Guernsey Roads on the afternoon of 25 January 1804. She passed through the Little Russel and headed towards Cape la Hogue to reach and reconnoitre Cherbourg before nightfall. As she neared the cape, lookouts sighted a convoy of four armed vessels sailing eastwards. The vessels then anchored, while the strong tides prevented Cerberus from closing them. Captain M'Namara sailed slightly to the south until darkness fell. The enemy force was then sighted sailing around the cape, close in shore. Cerberus shadowed them until a squall drove them off the land and allowed Cerberus to engage them. The British captured the gunvessel Chameau, and drove another vessel onto the rocks. The Chameau was a new 300-ton ship, armed with four long 6-pounders and two swivels. She had been under the command of Ensign Francis Gabiare, and carried a crew of 37 plus 21 armed soldiers.

Action against privateers

Cerberus was later involved in another engagement, this time on 2 April 1805. A strange sail was spotted at daylight and Cerberus gave chase, eventually overhauling and capturing her. She was discovered to be the 14-gun privateer brig Bonheur. She had sailed 13 days earlier from Cherbourg under Francis Folliott, with a crew of 36 men. During her cruise she had only managed to make a single capture.

Cerberus continued to serve in the Atlantic, also escorting convoys to the West Indies. On 15 May 1806, while she was escorting one such convoy, dawn revealed a suspicious vessel near the fleet. M'Namara gave chase and after a pursuit lasting six hours overhauled and captured what turned out to be the Aimable Theresa, armed with two brass howitzers and 18 men. She was carrying a cargo of wine and merchandise, and had left Santiago de Cuba three days previously.

In the West Indies

By December 1806 Cerberus was in the West Indies, and in company with HMS Circe was reconnoitering the ports of Guadeloupe and Îles des Saintes. They found little of interest, except a 16-gun brig at Îles des Saintes. M'Namara left Circe, under Captain Pigot to watch her, whilst he took Cerberus on a cruise.

On 2 January, as the Cerberus was sailing between Martinique and Dominique lookouts sighted a privateer schooner, with a schooner and a sloop standing nearby. The three ships were heading for St. Pierre. Cerberus gave chase, cutting them off from the port and forcing them to anchor close to shore, under cover of a battery near the Pearl Rock. A volunteer force, under Lieutenants Coote and Bligh was formed, including Mr Hall, master's mate, Mr Sayer, Mr Carlwis and Mr Selby, midshipmen, Mr Collins, boatswain and Messers Horopka and Ratcove, two Russian gentlemen acting as midshipmen. They took the Cerberus’s boats in, under heavy fire from cannon and musketry, boarded the schooner and sloop, and brought them out. The privateer schooner escaped in the darkness, using her sweeps. Though the attack was successful, it was at heavy cost. Lieutenant Coote was blinded and a musket ball hit George Sayer in the leg. Two men, William Torbuct, ordinary seaman, and William Townsend, marine, were killed, and eight more were wounded. One of the wounded, ordinary seaman Peter Pipon, died later.[2]

Cerberus remained with the British force in the West Indies through 1807 and into 1808. By now, Captain Selby, the commander of the blockading squadron covering Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, had realised that the French privateers were using the batteries on Marie-Galante to shelter themselves and their prizes. He ordered Captain Pigot to take 200 seamen and marines from Cerberus, Circe and Camilla and capture the island. Pigot landed his force early on 2 March 1808 some two miles from Grand Bourg and the garrison duly capitulated.[3]

Cerberus remained in the area, and on 29 March and in company with HMS Lily, HMS Pelican, HMS Express, HMS Swinger and HMS Mosambique, sailed from Marie-Galante to attack the island of La Désirade. They arrived on 30 March and landed seamen and marines under the command of Captain Sherriff. As the squadron approached they exchanged fire with a battery of 9-pounders covering the entrance to the harbour. The ships' guns silenced the battery and the French surrendered.

The Baltic

Cerberus then returned to England and was paid off at Deptford later in 1808. Captain Selby took command of HMS Owen Glendower in February 1809 and died aboard her whilst at the Cape of Good Hope on 28 March 1811.

Cerberus was recommissioned in 1809 under the command of Captain Henry Whitby, and she sailed to the Baltic in March that year. On 25 July, 17 boats from the British squadron, consisting of Cerberus, HMS Princess Carolina, HMS Minotaur and HMS Prometheus, attacked a flotilla of four enemy gunboats and a brig off Hamina in the Grand Duchy of Finland, Russia . Captain Forrest of Prometheus commanded the boats and succeeded in capturing three of the gunboats and the brig. Lieutenant Simpson commanded the Cerberus’s boats, which had five seamen and two marines wounded in the operation. Cerberus then moved to the Mediterranean in 1810.

The Mediterranean

Whilst cruising in the Mediterranean, on 28 June 1810 HMS Amphion intercepted a convoy from Trieste and chased it into Grao. Amphion and Cerberus sent a number of boats into the harbour and after a brief struggle, captured the town, taking a number of French soldiers prisoner and discovering 25 vessels in the harbour. Boats from HMS Active reinforced the shore parties, enabling them repel a counter attack by more French troops. On the evening of 29 June, the British sailed 14 prizes and a number of prisoners out of the harbour, having destroyed a number of the remaining vesels.

Prize taking continued the following year when Captain Whitby discovered four vessels anchored at Pestichi on 4 February. He dispatched a number of barges from Cerberus and Active to capture them. They took three trabaccolos and sent them off to Lissa, whilst burning a fourth. On 12 February boats from Cerberus set out to secure a number of vessels spotted moored at Ortano. As Cerebus's boats attempted this, they came under heavy fire from shore positions, more troops from Active landed to secure the shore to protect the cutting out operation.

On 11 March, Cerberus, along with Active, Volage and Amphion engaged an enemy force consisting of five frigates, a corvette, a brig, two schooners and a xebec in what became the Battle of Lissa. The result was a British victory with the capture of two French ships and the burning of another. Cerberus lost 13 killed and 44 wounded.

Cerberus came under the command of Captain Robert Clephane later in 1811, before passing to Captain Thomas Garth in 1812.

On 29 January 1813, boats from Cerberus captured a trabaccolo of two guns with a cargo of corn and flour, bound for Corfu. Then on 13 March, she took the gunboat Veloce, of one gun. Boats from Cerberus took out a large trabaccolo from under the guns of a battery at Brindisi.[4]

In March 1813 men and boats from Cerberus captured one vessel, destroyed a number of others, and destroyed a number of enemy fortifications. On 11 April, boats from Cerberus and HMS Apollo captured Devil's Island off Corfu, going on to capture two grain ships. Several other ships were also captured that month.[5]

On 17 May, boats from Cerberus took a ship near Brindisi, and ten days later two gunboats. On 30 May, again with Apollo’s boats, Cerberus’s boats attacked a heavily defended convoy off Fano, capturing two gunboats and four of the convoy.[6]

Cerberus spent much of the first half of 1814 in the Gulf of Venice. She returned to Portsmouth on 16 June.


Cerberus was back in Spithead on 29 September 1814. She was then sold on 29 September 1814.


  1. Clowes and Markham, pp.50-1
  2. Clowes and Markham, p.395.
  3. Clowes and Markham, p. 251.
  4. The European Magazine, and London review, Vol. 64, p.160.
  5. The European Magazine, and London review, Vol. 64, p.253.
  6. The European Magazine, and London review, Vol. 64, p.253.