HMS Tonnant (1798)
|Tonnant at the Battle of the Nile|
Tonnant at the Battle of the Nile, by Louis Lebreton.
|Fate:||Captured by the Royal Navy on 2 August 1798|
|Acquired:||Captured from the French on 2 August 1798|
|Fate:||Broken up in 1821|
|Class and type:||Tonnant-class ship-of-the-line|
|Tons burthen:||2190 tons|
|Length:||59.3 m (195 ft) (gun deck length)|
|Beam:||15.3 m (50 ft)|
|Draught:||7.8 m (26 ft)|
|Depth of hold:||7.2 m (24 ft)|
|Sail plan:||Full rigged ship|
French service: rated as 80 guns
Tonnant (French: "Thundering") was an 80-gun ship of the line of the French Navy and lead ship of the Tonnant class. Admiral Nelson captured her at Aboukir Bay on 1 August 1798. The Royal Navy then took her into service. She participated in the Battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic Wars, and was the flagship for Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane during most of the campaign in Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812. Francis Scott Key wrote the American national anthem, the The Star Spangled Banner, while on her deck watching the British attack on Baltimore. She was broken up in 1821.
She fought in the battles of Genoa on 14 March 1795 and the Nile on 1 August 1798 under Aristide Aubert Du Petit Thouars. During the battle, she severely damaged HMS Majestic, causing nearly two hundred casualties, including 50 killed, among them Majestic's captain, George Blagdon Westcott, and 143 wounded. Du Petit-Thouars, who had both legs and an arm shot off, commanded his ship until he died. Tonnant was the only French ship still engaged in the morning, with her colours flying, though aground. It was not until 3 August that she finally struck her colours.
The British took her into the Royal Navy, registering and naming her HMS Tonnant on 9 December 1798. She arrived at Plymouth on 17 July 1799. She was commissioned under Captain Loftus Bland in January 1799, with Captain Robert Fitzgerald] taking over in February. Open her arrival in Plymouth she was laid up in Ordinary.
She was part of Admiral Sir Robert Calder's squadron off Cape Ortegal when she encountered Duguay-Trouin and Guerrière on 2 September 1803. The two French vessels had sortied when the met Tonnant. The escaped her but were harried by British forces of varying strengths during their journey back to port and only just made it to the safety of Corunna.
In 1804 Tonnant was in the Channel under Capt. W. H. Jervis. Unfortunately he drowned off off Brest when going in his gig from Tonnant to the San Josef on 26 January 1805. Jervis had just arrived from Rochefort and was anxious to impart his intelligence to the commander-in-chief. Captain Charles Tyler replaced Jervis in March.
Tonnant underwent a refit at Portsmouth between January and June 1806. She was recommissioned in May under Captain Thomas Browne. She then served as flagship for Rear-Admiral Eliab Harvey. In July 1807 she was under Captain Richard Hancock and served as flagship for Rear-Admiral Michael de Courcy. Between November and December 1809 she was under repair at Plymouth. In 1810 she served under Captain Sir John Gore. She again underwent repair between August and December 1812, this time at Chatham.
War of 1812
Tonnant joined the War of 1812 late. She was fitted for sea in the first quarter of 1814, being recommissioned in January under Captain Alexander Skene. In October Captain Charles Kerr assumed command as Tonnant served as the flagship for Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane during most of the campaign in Chesapeake Bay. From her he directed attacks on Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.
Star Spangled Banner
It was aboard Tonnant that the Americans, Colonel John Stuart Skinner and Francis Scott Key dined with Vice Admiral Cochrane, Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross, where they negotiated the release of a prisoner, Dr. William Beanes.[Note 1] After his release, Skinner, Key and Beanes were allowed to return to their own sloop, but were not allowed to return to Baltimore because they had become familiar with the strength and position of British units and knew of the British intention to attack Baltimore. As a result, Key witnessed the bombarding of Fort McHenry and was inspired to write a poem called The Defense of Ft. McHenry, later named The Star Spangled Banner.
Tonnant continued to serve Cochrane as a flagship when he directed the British naval forces at the Battle of New Orleans. Immediately before the battle, boats from Tonnant participated in the British victory at the Battle of Lake Borgne. Cochrane dispatched a flotilla of ships' boats under the command of Captain Nicholas Lockyer, carrying about 1,000 men, to overcome some American gunboats blocking the way to New Orleans. In 1847 the Admiralty awarded the Naval General Service Medal with clasp "14 DEC BOAT SERVICE 1814" to 205 survivors (from all the participating boats).
Post-war and fate
Tonnant returned to England in the spring of 1815. She then served as the flagship for Admiral Lord Keith when she took part in the exiling of Napoleon to St. Helena in 1815, though she was not part of the flotilla that took him there.
Tonnant was paid off into Ordinary in November 1818. She was broken up at Plymouth in March 1821.
- Winfield (2008), p.33.
- Lavery, Brian (2003) The Ship of the Line - Volume 1: The development of the battlefleet 1650-1850. Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-252-8.
- Roche, Jean-Michel (2005) Dictionnaire des Bâtiments de la Flotte de Guerre Française de Colbert à nos Jours. (Group Retozel-Maury Millau).
- Winfield, Rif (2008). British Warships in the Age of Sail 1793–1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth. ISBN 1861762461.
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