HMS Hippomenes (1803)

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Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Hippomenes
Builder: Vlissingen (Flushing)
Launched: 1797
Acquired: 20 September 1803 by capture
Fate: Broken up, 1813
General characteristics
Tons burthen: 407 tons
Length: 95 ft 10.5 in (29.223 m) (gundeck)
85 ft (26 m) (keel)
Beam: 30 ft 1 in (9.17 m)
Depth of hold: 7 ft 5.5 in (2.273 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Full rigged ship

18 guns:

  • Upper deck: 16 × 32-pdr carronades, plus 2 × 9 pdrs

HMS Hippomenes was a former Dutch corvette built in Vlissingen in 1797 for the Batavian Republic. She was armed with 14 guns: 10 long 12-pounders, two long 8-pounders and two 24-pounder carronades, all Dutch caliber. The British took her in 1803 and sold her in 1813. During her service with the Royal Navy she had a crew of 121 men and carried two long 9-pounders and sixteen 32-pounder carronades.[1] With the Royal Navy she participated in two notable single-ship actions in the West Indies.


In the summer of 1803 the Dutch Hippomenes was acting as a guard ship at Fort Stabroek, Demerara. She was responsible for the Governor's maritime affairs and served as harbour master for visiting ships.

When Commodore Sir Samuel Hood arrived to take command in the Leeward Islands, he raised his pennant in the 74-gun Third Rate Centaur. This ship of the line seized Hippomenes on 20 September 1803 at the taking of Demerara.[2]

On capture, she was taken to Antigua where she was added to the RN and established as the 18-gun sloop-of-war HMS Hippomenes. This entailed the removal of her 14 Dutch guns, which were incompatible with British requirements - Dutch 8-pounders, in particular, could not take RN ammunition.[3] Her first British commander was Lieutenant John Woolcombe.

British service

Conway Shipley took command of Hippomenes on 22 March 1804. On 25 March 1804, he retook the French prize Reliance, out of London. From her he obtained information about the whereabouts of the French privateer Egyptienne (the former frigate Railleuse).

Two days later, after a 54 hour long chase, and a running fight of over 3 hours, Hippomenes captured Egyptienne. The French vessel struck her colours as soon as Hippomenes pulled alongside, with the result that the British suffered only one man wounded. A few days earlier, on 23 March, Egyptienne had battled the British 18-gun sloop HMS Osprey, losing eight men killed and 19 men wounded before she could escape. Apparently this demoralized her captain so that when faced with yet another British warship he surrendered without putting up strong resistance. The British took Egyptienne into service as HMS Antigua. Antigua served as a prison ship until she was scrapped in 1816.[4]

Hippomenes formed part of Commodore Hood's squadron at the capture of Surinam River in 1804. The squadron consisted of Hood's flagship Centaur, Pandour, Serapis, Alligator, Hippomenes, Drake, the 10-gun schooner Unique, and transports carrying 2000 troops under Brigadier-General Sir Charles Green. On 24 April, Hippomenes escorted a convoy carrying a division of the army under Brigadier-General Frederick Maitland to land at Warappa creek to collect enough boats from the plantations to transport troops to the rear of Fort New Amsterdam.[5]

On 30 April, Kenneth Mackenzie of the 16-gun, ex-French privateer brig Guachapin, who had left his ship 150 miles to leeward and brought up her boats, assisted Shipley in superintending the landing of Maitland's troops at Warappa. The Dutch governor initially rejected the surrender terms but surrendered on 5 May after the British captured the battery of Friderici. Hood made Shipley Post-Captain into Centaur. (One day earlier the Admiralty had promoted him into the ex-French 28-gun frigate HMS Sagesse; he later assumed command of her at Jamaica.)

In June, MacKenzie took over command of Hippomenes, whose crew, he complained, consisted mainly of discontented foreigners. When the British had commissioned the vessel, Shipley had noted that he had crewed her partly by draughts on other vessels, which gave the commanders of those vessels an opportunity to rid themselves of "skulkers, raw hands, incorrigible rogues and foreign renegades."

The poor quality of the crew came to the fore on 21 June when she was cruising off Antigua disguised as a Guinea trader. A Guadeloupe privateer, the Buonaparte, of 18 long 8-pounders and a crew of 146 men, ran alongside in order to take her. Mackenzie jumped on board the privateer, followed by his officers and a few men, some 18 in all; the rest of the crew remained behind. In the fight on the privateer, the British lost five dead and eight wounded; only nine of the original 18 managed to escape back to Hippomenes, and his wounds rendered Mackenzie himself senseless for a while. Prior to the boarding, the Buonaparte had lost five dead and 15 wounded.[6]

During August 1804, Hippomenes, retook the English ship Young Nicholas, which was laden with mahogany. In 1805 she was under the command of Commander William Autridge. In 1806, he handed over command to Commander Edward Woolcombe, who had been promoted out of Centaur. On 24 January 1807, a court martial acquitted Woolcombe of "wasteful expenditure of His Majesty's stores.[7]

On 27 March 1808 the boats of Hippomenes joined those of Ulysses, Castor, and Morne Fortunee to try and cut out the 16-gun French brig Griffon at Marin, Martinique. They succeeded in capturing a battery but were driven back empty handed.

Last years

On 25 September 1808 she arrived in Portsmouth and was laid up. She was sold on 28 April 1813 for ₤600.


  1. Winfield (2008), p.273.
  2. Southey (1827), Vol. 3, pp.232-4.
  3. Aspinall (1969), p.131, reports that two of Hippomenes's 18-pounder went to fortifying Diamond Rock, which took place in early 1804. This is inconsistent with her armament either in Dutch or British service.
  4. Colledge, p. 34
  5. Edwards (1818-19), p.131-5.
  6. James (1902), pp.273-275.
  7. Byrne (1989), p.49.
  • Aspinall, Sir Algernon Edward (1969) West Indian tales of old. (New York, Negro Universities Press).
  • Byrne, John D. (1989) Crime and punishment in the Royal Navy : discipline on the Leeward Islands station, 1784-1812 (Aldershot, Hants, England: Scolar Press).
  • Clowes, Sir William Laird. The Royal Navy: A History From the Earliest Times to 1900, Volume V. Sampson Low, Marston ad Company, 1900. (Republished by Chatham Publishing, London, 1997. ISBN 1-86176-014-0.)
  • Colledge, J.J. 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, 1987. ISBN 0-87021-652-X.
  • Edwards, Bryan (1818-19) The history, civil and commercial, of the British West Indies. (London, G. and W.B. Whittaker).
  • James, William (1902) The Naval History of Great Britain from the declaration of war by France in 1793 to the accession of George IV., Vol. 3. (London).
  • Southey, Thomas (1827). Chronological history of the West Indies, (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, & Green), Vol. 3.
  • Winfield, Rif. British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1793-1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth Publishing, 2nd edition, 2008. ISBN 978-1-84415-717-4.