HMS Endymion (1797)
HMS Endymion on 23 January 1809 by Admiral Sir Charles Henry Paget
|Ordered:||30 April 1795|
|Builder:||John Randall & Co, Rotherhithe|
|Laid down:||November 1795|
|Launched:||29 March 1797|
|Commissioned:||12 June 1797|
|Reclassified:||Re-rated as 50-gun fourth rate in 1817|
|Struck:||1859, Receiving ship|
|Fate:||Broken up in Plymouth, 18 June 1868|
|Class and type:||Endymion-class frigate|
|Tons burthen:||1,277 bm|
|Length:||159 ft 3 in (48.54 m)|
|Beam:||42 ft 7 in (12.98 m)|
|Draught:||15 ft 8 in (4.78 m)|
Over 14 knots (16 mph; 26 km/h) running|
11 knots (13 mph; 20 km/h) close-hauled
|Complement:||300, increased to 340 during the War of 1812|
26 × 24-pounders (11 kg), from 1803 to 1813
26 × 18-pounders (8 kg)
14 (1813: 16) × 32-pounder (15 kg) carronades
2 × 9-pounder (4 kg)
4 × 32-pounder (15 kg) carronades
HMS Endymion was a 40-gun fifth rate that served in the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812 and during the First Opium War. She was built to the lines of the French prize Pomone captured in 1794. She was the lead ship of her class of six 24-pounder frigates, although the other five ships built to this design were not built until nearly the end of the Napoleonic War.
She was famous for her duel with USS President on 15 January 1815, in which she damaged the American frigate, which led to the President's capture some hours later. Apart from this, Endymion was known as the fastest sailing-ship in the Royal Navy during the Age of Sail, logging 14.4 knots running.
Endymion was first commissioned in June 1797. She then served in the Channel Fleet, off the coast of Ireland and in the Mediterranean until the Peace of Amiens. When war broke out again in 1803, she was part of the blockading squadron off Brest until 1805. During these first years of service, Endymion took a number of French and Spanish prizes, mainly merchants and privateers, but also some warships of up to 20 guns.
In Autumn 1805, she joined the squadron of Rear Admiral Louis off Cadiz, part of Vice Admiral Nelson's fleet, blockading the allied Franco-Spanish force under Admiral Villeneuve. On 2 October, Nelson ordered Louis's five ships of the line with Endymion to Gibraltar for water and provisions; in consequence, Endymion missed the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October.
In 1807 she took part in the Dardanelles Operation, where she was detached to Constantinople with the British ambassador for negotiations with the Ottoman Empire. The mission was a failure and when the squadron sailed back through the Dardanelles, Turkish shore batteries attacked the British, with Endymion suffering three killed and nine wounded. From 1808 on, Endymion served again in home waters, where she took a number of French privateers.
In August 1810, Endymion, in company with HMS Princess Charlotte, sailed to the then little-known remote islet of Rockall. T. Harvey, her master under Captain Thomas Bladen Capel, plotted its position to 57° 39' 32" N. 13° 31' 16" W., around 7 miles north-east its true position.
John Purdy's Memoir was long accepted for dating the first landing on Rockall as being on this voyage, on 8 July 1810. Examining Endymion's own logs at the Public Record Office, James Fisher (of the 1955 Rockall landing) discovered that the date had actually been 8 August, as the only date when both Capel was her captain and Harvey her master. One of her lieutenants was one Basil Hall, who was still with the ship a year later when the landing was actually made.
In July 1811 Endymion was again within sight of Rockall and made soundings of the Rockall Bank. By 8 September she had returned and hove to 2 miles ENE. Dating the landing was again Fisher's detective work, based on Hall's own log. Lieutenant Basil Hall was part of this first landing party upon it, probably under the command of Lieutenant Richard Israel Alleyn, Endymion's First Lieutenant.
The landing appears to have begun most casually. To quote Hall's own book, "As we had nothing better on our hands, it was resolved to make an exploring expedition to visit this little islet. Two boats were accordingly manned for the purpose; ... the artists prepared their sketch books and the geologists their hammers, for a grand scientific field day."  Whilst indicating the impromptu nature of the landing, this also signifies that science was a deliberate aim from the first. The sea on this "fine autumnal morning" was unusually smooth, but a swell of many feet made landing difficult and required a great deal of confidence when leaping ashore. Observations and measurements were made until a fog was observed. Concern over the Endymion's continuing visibility caused them to begin their return. The increasing swell made embarking difficult and it took half an hour to gain the boats. By this time Endymion was lost in the fog. One of the party was landed back on the rock, in an attempt to scale it in search of a fog-free look-out. His first view was of an approaching fog bank, which in this area could last for some days. The ship was sighted though, and after another delay to retrieve their "shivering scout" they rowed off in chase. Unfortunately the ship didn't see them before the fog returned and they were forced to return yet again to Rockall. At this point planning began for a long stay on the island, despite their lack of provisions or fresh water. It was resolved to abandon the heavier of the two boats and to drag the other ashore to improvise an overnight shelter. Fortunately they were saved by the fog suddenly rising, revealing the ship once more. On finally returning to the ship, some five or six hours after the fog, it was almost dark.
Although Hall wasn't alone in landing party, and unlikely to have been either its commander or the "shivering scout", he's known for having been the only person to publish a written account of it. The 1955 landing thus named the big ledge near the top, where they erected their flagpole, "Hall's Ledge" after the only name they knew for certain.
Departure for America
In 1812, the ship underwent a large repair at Plymouth, finally docking out in July 1813. Two further 32-pounder carronades were added to her armament and her complement was increased to 340 men. She was then detached to North America, where she captured some American privateers, including the Prince de Neufchatel. Her crew undertook also several boat-attacks to raid American shipping. In August 1814, together with HMS Armide she captured the American privateer Herald of 17 guns and 100 men. In late 1814, Endymion joined the blockading-squadron off New York.
Duel with USS President
On 14 January 1815, USS President under the command of Commodore Stephen Decatur left New York for a mission in the Indian Ocean. She then fell in with the British blockading-squadron, consisting of the razee Majestic (56 guns, Captain John Hayes) and the frigates Endymion (Captain Henry Hope), Pomone (38 guns, Captain John Richard Lumley) and Tenedos (38 guns, Captain Hyde Parker). Immediately, the British squadron gave chase with Majestic leading. At noon, Endymion, being the much superior in sailing, overhauled her squadron and left them soon behind. It was 2 pm when she gained on the President and shortly afterwards both ships exchanged broadsides, with the latter still trying to escape. Endymion was able to rake her antagonist three times and did considerable damage to her hull, whereas the fire from President was mainly directed to the Endymion's rigging in order to slow her down. Finally at 7:30 pm, President shot away most of the Endymion's foresails with chain shot, and in consequence, the British frigate was no longer able to follow.
At 11 pm Pomone and Tenedos came up with the heavily damaged President. Captain Decatur decided that further resistance was futile and hailed, that his ship has surrendered. But the men on Pomone didn't hear that, and fired two broadsides into the President, which then hauled down a light to show the British that she had surrendered. Shortly afterwards, Captain Lumley (from Pomone) took possession of the President.
According to British accounts, President had lost 35 men killed and 70 wounded, including Decatur. American sources give their losses as 24 killed and 55 wounded. Endymion had 11 killed and 14 wounded. In 1847 the Admiralty authorized the issue to any still surviving crew from Endymion of the Naval General Service Medal with clasp "ENDYMION WH. PRESIDENT".
The running fight between Endymion and President has always been the subject of a debate over whether the British frigate had beaten the President, or the American frigate had beaten the Endymion. Clearly, President could not fight a normal duel like - for instance - that which USS Constitution fought with Java. Had Decatur tried to fight Endymion broadside to broadside, he would have had little chance of escaping the other British ships. His only hope was to get rid of the Endymion by dismantling her rigging, and in this he was successful. On the other hand, Endymion - as the smaller and weaker ship (see below) - managed to slow down and damage the American frigate, including pouring in three raking broadsides that caused heavy casualties.
There has also been much discussion about how many of the American casualties were due to Pomone's broadsides. Before Pomone fired her first broadside, President was already shattered with shot holes on the starboard-side, the side the Endymion had engaged. Pomone engaged the port side, and there was only little damage recorded. (See the external links, for two different descriptions of the fight.)
Comparison of force (English measurement methods used for both ships)
|HMS Endymion||USS President|
|Length (gundeck)||159 ft 3 in||173 ft 3 in|
|Beam||42 ft 7 in||44 ft 4 in|
|Tonnage||1277 tons||1533 tons|
|Complement||346 men||at least 450 men|
|Armament||26 × 24-pounder, 2 × 9-pounder
20 × 32-pounder carronades
2 × 18-pounder
|32 × 24-pounder|
22 × 42-pounder carronades
1 × 18-pounder
|Broadside weight||659 lb (299 kg)||846 lb (384 kg)|
After the War of 1812, Endymion was kept in reserve until 1833. From 1840 to 1842, she took part in the First Opium War, including operations on the Yangtze river. In 1859, she became a receiving ship in Plymouth, and was finally broken up in June 1868.
Throughout her career, Endymion was praised for her remarkable good sailing qualities and therefore was a highly desirable command for every frigate captain. Even in the 1830s, long after her war service, she was regarded as the benchmark for Royal Navy frigates. She was still capable of outsailing much newer ships with which she sailed in company.
- 1797 Capt. Sir Thomas Williams
- 1801 Capt. Philip Charles Durham
- 1803 Capt. Hon. Charles Paget
- 1805 Capt. Edward Durnford King
- 1806 Capt. Thomas Bladen Capel
- 1810 Capt. William Bolton
- 1813 Capt. Henry Hope
- 1833 Capt. Sir Samuel Roberts
- 1840 Capt. Hon. Frederick Grey
- 1845 Capt. George R. Lambert
Endymion in literature
The British author Jane Austen mentions Endymion in her novel Mansfield Park (1814) as being in Portsmouth harbour along with Canopus when Lieutenant William Price departs for the Thrush. Two of Jane Austen's brothers served in the Royal Navy during the period she was writing. In fact, Francis Austen was once captain of Canopus (1805-6) and Charles Austen a midshipman (1797) on Endymion and then her First Lieutenant (1803-4).
- William James, Naval History of Great Britain 1793 - 1827, in Six Volumes
- Robert Gardiner, Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars, (Chatham Publishing, 2000) ISBN 1861762925
- Rif Winfield, British Warships in the Age of Sail 1793 - 1817, (Chatham Publishing, 2005) ISBN 1861762461
- HMS Endymion vs. USS President by the British contemporary historian William James in his Naval History of Great Britain Vol. 6
- HMS Endymion vs. USS President by Theodore Roosevelt in his Naval War of 1812