French frigate Africaine (1798)

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File:Africaine-Durand Brager img 3109.jpg
Career (France) French Navy Ensign
Name: Africaine
Namesake: Africa
Builder: Rochefort
Laid down: March 1795
Launched: 3 January 1798
Commissioned: May 1798
Captured: 19 February 1801
Career (UK) Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Name: HMS Africaine
Acquired: Captured, 19 February 1801
Fate: Broken up, 1816
General characteristics
Class and type: Preneuse class frigate
Displacement: 720 tonnes
Length: 47.8 metres (157 ft)
Beam: 11.9 metres (39 ft)
Draught: 5.8 metres (19 ft)
Propulsion: Sail

French service, 40 guns:

British service:

  • Upper Deck - 28 x 18-pounder guns
  • Quarter Deck - 14 x 32-pounder carronades
  • Forecastle - 2 x 9-pounder guns + 2 x 32-pounder carronades
Armour: Timber

The Africaine was one of two 40-gun Preneuse class frigate of the French Navy built to a design by Raymond-Antoine Haran. She carried 28 18-pounder and 12 8-pounder guns.[1] The British captured her in 1801, only to have the French recapture her in 1810. They abandoned her at sea as she had been demasted and badly damaged, with the result that the British recaptured her the next day. She was broken up in 1816.

French service

She was commissioned on 14 September 1799 under Capitaine de frégate Magendie. In 1800, she sailed to Saint-Domingue. She then sailed from Rochefort with Regenerée to try to resupply the French forces in Egypt.[1] She was carrying ordnance, stores and 400 soldiers reinforcing Napoleon's army in Egypt.

On 19 February 1801, HMS Phoebe, under Captain Robert Barlow, captured her east of Gibraltar. Phoebe, which had the weather gage, overtook Africaine and engaged her at close range, despite the French soldiers, who augmented the frigate's guns with their musket fire. Phoebe's guns inflicted more than 340 casualties on the soldiers and seaman of Africaine before she struck at 9:30PM. The Royal Navy took her into service as HMS Africaine.[2]

British service: the English Channel

Africaine was commissioned under Cmdr. J. Stewart in April. Then in July Captain Stevenson took command, only to be replaced in September by Capt. George Burlton. On 31 January 1802 she arrived in Portsmouth from Malta and sailed again to Chatham on 7 February to be paid off before being re-fitted. She arrived in at Deptford on 17 February 1802 for refitting. In November Capt. Thomas Manby took command, though the vessel was not yet ready. When Earl St. Vincent gave Manby the appointment St. Vincent said that he did not like to see an active officer idle on shore. He had a point as while Manby was waiting for the vessel to be ready Lady Townshend presented him to Caroline, the Princess of Wales, who became friendly towards him. Rumours abounded that the Princess became too familiar with Manby and that Manby was even the father of one of her children. An investigation followed during which Manby swore an affidavit on 22 September 1806 that the rumours were "a vile and wicked invention, wholly and absolutely false".[3]

Africaine was commissioned at Deptford for the North Sea in 1803. While on his way to the Nore, Manby landed a press gang at Gravesend that secured 394 seamen between midnight and sunrise the following morning. From the Nore she sailed to Hellevoetsluis to blockade two French frigates there; she remained on this service for two years until the frigates were dismantled.

During this service the French general at Scheveningen fired on four boys shrimping in Africaine's jolly boat. Manby retaliated by seized sixty fishing boats and sending most of them to Yarmouth. This deprived The Hague of fish for many weeks. Also, on 20 July 1803, Africaine's First Lieutenant, William Henry Dillon, landed at Hellevoetsluis in a boat from Leda under a flag of truce. The Dutch commodore there detained Dillon until men from the Furieuse could take him prisoner. Dillon nearly died of a fever caught on board the Fureiuse; eventually the French moved him to the prison camp at Verdun where he remained until exchanged in September 1807. On 1 August a lightning strike on the foremast killed one man and injured three others.

Manby sailed from Yarmouth on 4 October 1804 to deliver Rear Admiral Thomas Macnamara Russell out to Eagle, one of the vessels of the British flotilla watching the Dutch fleet in the Texel. Manby returned on 7 October with Rear Admiral Edward Thornborough. While she was serving in the blockade off the Texel, a gale caused a piece of Africaine's rudder to break off and damage the stern post. Glatton escorted Africaine to Yarmouth. On the way she was only saved from being driven ashore by cutting away all her masts. On 31 December a court martial took place in Sheerness on Africaine to try Captain the Honorable John Colville, the officers and ship's company of Romney for the loss of their ship off the Texel on 19 November.[4]

In May 1805 Africaine was on the Irish Station. She was then re-fitted at Sheerness and escorted a large convoy to the West Indies on 19 June 1805, calling at Suriname, Demerara, and various islands. She arrived in Barbados with a crew of 340 men all in perfect health. Sir Alexander Cochrane ordered her to return to England taking as passengers invalids from the hospitals in Barbados. Within two days of her setting out, yellow fever broke out on board Africaine. The surgeon and the assistant surgeon died on the second day; Manby himself carried out their duties dispensing, large doses of calomel on the advice of a doctor at St Kitts. Manby had an attack of the fever and it affected his subsequent health. In all, fever killed one third of the crew of 340 men during the six weeks it took to reach Falmouth. After Africaine had spent 40 days in quarantine off the Scilly Islands, she was put out of commission at Sheerness.

In Spring 1807, Africaine fitted out at Chatham. Later, at Plymouth, Captain Richard Raggett took command. On 5 July 1807 Africaine sailed from England with General Lord William Cathcart to Swedish Pomerania where King Gustavus was defending his territory against an invading French army. Cathcart would take command of the land-forces for the forthcoming siege and bombardment of Copenhagen.

Africaine arrived at the island of Rugen on 12 August where she joined Admiral Gambier's fleet for the attack on Copenhagen. Africaine's boat operated as part of the advanced squadron and had one man wounded in an action on 23 August.[5] As part of the capitulation, the Danes surrendered their fleet. A prize crew from Africaine took the captured Danish frigate Iris into the Medway.[6]

By 24 December she was at Madeira, having accompanied Sir Samuel Hood there.[7] The British occupation was a friendly affair and the garrison surrendered without resistance on 26 September.

On 11 Jan 1808 Africaine captured the Spanish felucca Paloma. Africaine then sailed to the Baltic to serve under Vice-Admiral Sir James Saumarez.

East Indies: capture and recapture

In spring 1810, Africaine had returned to Plymouth from Annapolis after having delivered Mr. Jackson, the British ambassador to the United States. During this period the crew threatened mutiny when informed that Captain Robert Corbet, who had a reputation for brutality, was to take command of Africaine. The Navy quickly suppressed the incipient mutiny and Africaine sailed for the East Indies with Corbet in command. During the voyage Corbet reportedly failed to train his men in the accurate and efficient use of their cannon, preferring to maintain the order and cleanliness of his ship than exercise his gun teams.

After the Battle of Grand Port, which was a disaster for the British, Commodore Josias Rowley sent urgent messages to Madras and Cape Town requesting reinforcements. The first to arrive were Africaine and HMS Ceylon, both of which were sailing alone.

Africaine was still on her way from England to Madras when on 9 September she stopped at the island of Rodriguez to replenish her water. There she heard of the debacle. By 11 September she had arrived off the Île de France where she sent her boats in shore to find a passage through the reef with a view to capturing a French schooner. The boats' crews succeeded in boarding the vessel, which turned out to be French dispatch vessel No. 23, but had to abandon it in the face of fire from soldiers on shore that killed two men and wounded 16. Africaine then sailed for the Île de Bourbon, which he had learned was in British hands and where Rowley was located to drop off the casualties, arriving on 12 September and then sailing that evening in pursuit of some French vessels that had been sighted.

Next day Iphigénie and Astrée captured her. She had been sailing with HMS Boadicea, HMS Otter, and HMS Staunch trailing some distance behind. When she chased the French frigates and the brig Entreprenante early on the morning of 13 September, she outdistanced her companions, with unfortunate results. Early in the battle a shot took off Corbet's foot and his crew took him below decks. Africaine fought on under her remaining officers with First Lieutenant Joseph Crew Tullidge having taken command. After about two hours, with Tullidge having suffered four wounds, she struck.

Out of 295 men and boys aboard, including 25 soldiers from the 86th Regiment, she had suffered 49 killed and 114 wounded. The French took Tullidge and about 90 survivors prisoner and conveyed them to Mauritius where they remained until the British took the island in December. The French lost nine killed and 33 wounded in Iphigénie and one killed and two wounded in Astrée.

The next day Boadicea and her two companions recaptured Africaine. Because she was dismasted and damaged the French did not try to tow her. Also, Astrée had to take Iphigénie into tow. Africaine still had 70 of her wounded and some 83 uninjured of her crew aboard, as well as a ten-man French prize crew.

By the time the British had recaptured Africaine Corbet was dead; he had died some six hours after his foot was amputated. Later, rumors circulated that he had committed suicide because of the dishonor of defeat, or that members of the crew had killed him. From the amount of shot that was still on the vessel there was also reason to suspect that the crew had stopped shotting the cannons after the first few broadsides, perhaps in protest against Corbet. Regardless, a court martial on 23 April 1811 honorably acquitted the surviving officers and crew of the Africaine for the loss of their ship. In August Tullidge received a promotion to Commander.

The French also captured Ceylon, but Boadicea quickly retook her too. Rowley was able to seize Jacques Hamelin and his flagship Vénus at the Action of 18 September 1810.

To get Africiane ready for sea again, Bertie appointed Lieut. Edward Lloyd of Boadicea to supervise the repairs. This he accomplished using the lower masts, yards and sails from a recaptured East Indiaman. On 14 December she sailed again with a crew of 30 sailors, a company of the 87th. Regiment and about 120 blacks from the plantations. During the subsequent Invasion of Île de France, Africaine, under Captain Charles Gordon, late of Ceylon, was Vice Admiral Bertie's flagship. She arrived in Portsmouth on 21 March with Vice Admiral Bertie.

East Indies again, and return to England

In July 1811 Capt. Brian Hodgson took command, only to be replaced the next month by Captain Edward Rodney, whose appointment was dated September 1810. On 26 November 1811 Rodney and Africaine sailed for the East Indies again.[7]

On 28 August 1813, Rodney sent in boats to take the Annapoorny, a merchant vessel belonging to Prince of Wales Island that the King of Acheen had seized and which claimed to be British. Some correspondence between Rodney and the King had preceded the seizure, and afterwards the King entertained the lieutenant in charge of the cutting out party and Richard Blakeny. The King was a relatively young man and had a few years earlier served for three years as a midshipman on HMS Caroline.[8].

In May 1815, Africaine and the brig Victor were escorting six East Indiamen from Ceylon to England. One of the vessels was the ill-fated Arniston, which got separated from the convoy and was wrecked on the coast of South Africa with the loss of 372 lives.[9][10] She returned to Portsmouth on 6 December 1815. Africaine had only 42 of her original crew of 350 aboard.[11]

Also in 1815, James Cooper and three of his shipmates were publicly court martialed, then hanged on 1 February 1816 following their being found guilty of sodomy onboard the ship.[12][13] Two other members of her crew received a flogging for deviant sexual behavior.


Africaine was broken up at Deptford in September 1816.[7]

Further reading

HMS Africaine features prominently in The Mauritius Command by Patrick O'Brian.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Roche (2005), p. 24.
  2. "Phoebe". Phoebe Tree for All. 2007-06-20. 
  3. Perceval, Spencer (1813); Royal Commission to Inquire into the Truth of Certain Written Declarations Touching the Conduct of the Princess of Wales. The genuine book. An inquiry, or delicate investigation into the conduct of Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales. (London: Printed by R. Edwards and published by W. Lindsell; reprinted and sold by M. Jones, 1813), p.183.
  4. Colville and his officers were honourably acquitted. However, the court ordered that the pilots forfeit all their pay, never again pilot any of his Majesty's ships or vessels of war, and that one should be imprisoned in the Marshalsea for a year and the other for six months.
  5. Burke, Edmond (1807) Dodsley's annual register, Volume 49, 697.
  6. Naval Chronicle, Vol. 18 (1807), p 378.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Winfield (2008), p. 164.
  8. Blakeney, Richard (1841) The journal of an oriental voyage in His Majesty's ship "Africaine". (London: Simpkin, Marshall), pp.180-1.
  9. Raikes, Henry (1846). Memoir of the Life and Services of Vice-admiral Sir Jahleel Brenton. Hatchet & Son. p. 527. 
  10. Blakeny 1841, 255-7.
  11. Blakeny (1841), 285.
  12. Barry Richard Burg (2007). Boys at Sea: Sodomy, Indecency, and Courts Martial in Nelson's Navy. ISBN 0230522289. Retrieved 2008-02-23. 
  13. Barry Richard Burg (1995). Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition: English Sea Rovers in the Seventeenth. NYU Press. ISBN 0814712363. Retrieved 2008-02-23. 
  • 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.