French frigate Sibylle (1792)

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File:Sybille vs Chiffone-cropped.jpg
HMS Sybille capturing the Chiffonne
Career (France) French Navy Ensign
Name: Sibylle
Namesake: Sybil
Builder: Toulon
Laid down: April 1790
Launched: 30 August 1791
In service: May 1792
Captured: 17 June 1794
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Sybille[1]
Acquired: 17 June 1794
Decommissioned: 1833
Honours and
Naval General Service Medal with clasp "SYBILLE 28 FEBY. 1799"
General characteristics
Class and type: Hébé class frigate
Displacement: 700 tonnes
Length: 46.3 metres
Beam: 11.9 metres
Draught: 5.5 metres
Complement: 297
  • French Service: 26 x long 18-pdrs + 8 X long 8-pdrs
  • British service:
1794 - UD 28 x 18-pdrs + QD 12 * 9-pdrs + Fc 4 x 9-pdrs
1799 - 4 x 9-pdrs + 12 x 32-pndr carronades + Fc 2 x 9 pdrs + 6 x 32-pdr carronades
Later - QD 8 x 9-pdrs + 6 x 32 pdr carronades
Armour: Timber

The Sibylle was an 38-gun Hébé class frigate of the French Navy. She was launched in 1791 at the dockyards in Toulon and placed in service in 1792.[2] After the 50-gun Fourth Rate HMS Romney captured her in 1794, the British took her into service as HMS Sybille.[Note 1] She served in the Royal Navy until disposed off in 1833. While in British service Sybille participated in three notable single ship actions, in each case capturing a French vessel. On anti-slavery duties off West Africa from July 1827 to June 1830, Sybille captured numerous slavers and freed some 3,500 slaves. She was finally sold in 1833 in Portsmouth.

French service

File:Sibylle vs Romney.jpg
Capture of Sybille by Romney

From 23 April 1790 to October-December 1792, Sibylle escorted a convoy and transferred funds from Toulon to Smyrna, first under Capitaine de vaisseau (CV) Grasse-Briançon and then CV de Venel. From March 1793 to January 1794, under CV Rondeau, she escorted convoys between Toulon and Marseilles and then she moved to the Levant station. She cruised the Aegean Sea, and in June 1794 she was escorting a convoy from Candia to Mykonos when she encountered Romney.[2] Romney, under Capt. Paget, captured Sibylle on 17 June; she was taken in British service as HMS Sybille.[Note 2]

British service in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars

In 1798, she served off the Philippines. In December, she gave chase to the privateer Clarisse, under Robert Surcouf. Clarisse escaped by throwing eight guns overboard.

File:Sybille vs Forte.jpg
Sybille fighting Forte

In February 1799, while under the command of Captain Edward Cooke, Sybille patrolled the Indian Ocean in a hunt for the French frigate Forte, under captain Beaulieu-Leloup. The ships met on 28 February in the Balasore Roads in the Bay of Bengal. Sybille took Forte by surprise and captured her, as Forte's captain mistook Sybille for a merchantman. Cooke was wounded in the action and died at Calcutta 23 May, aged 26. Though his grave is in Calcutta, the East India Company erected a monument to him in Westminster Abbey in appreciation of the benefit to British trade of his capture of Forte. In all, Sybille lost five dead and 17 wounded. In 1847 the Admiralty authorized the issuance of the Naval General Service Medal with clasp "SYBILLE 28 FEBY. 1799" to all remaining survivors of the action.

In June 1799, Sybille came under the command of Captain Charles Adam. On 23 August 1800, Sybille, with Daedalus, Centurion and Braave captured a Dutch brig. The Royal Navy took her into service as Admiral Rainier.[3] The British ships had entered Batavia Roads and captured five Dutch armed vessels in all and destroyed 22 other vessels.[4] Sybille alone apparently captured one brig of six guns, four proas armed with swivels, four proas armed, between with three 8-pounder and three 4-pounder guns, and some 21 unarmed proas, of which five were lost.[5] How many of these, if any, are among the vessels reported as being taken in the Batavia Roads is not clear.

On 19–20 August 1801, in the Roads of Mahé, Seychelles, Sybille captured the French frigate Chiffonne, despite Chiffone beaching herself to evade capture. Chiffone, under the command of Capitaine de Vaisseau Guieyse, had captured the Portuguese corvette Andorinha off the coasts of Brazil on 5 May, and the East Indiaman Bellona in the Madagascar Channel on 16 June. (Later, from 23 May 1803 to 1805, Charles Adams would command Chiffonne.)

On 3 May 1807, under Capt. Robert Winthrop, Sybille captured the French 4-gun privateer Oiseau in the Channel.[3]

Sybille, under the command of Capt. Clotworthy Upton, participated in Battle of Copenhagen (1807), where she bombarded the city. The battle resulted in the British capturing the Danish Fleet. On 25 January 1808, while on the Home station, she captured the French 4-gun (though pierced for 12) privateer lugger Grand Argus.[6] Grand Argus, under Michael Daguinet and with a crew of 41, was on her first cruise from Granville, but had made no captures in 3 days.

Then on 16 August, Sybille captured the French brig-corvette Espiègle, later recommissioned in the Royal Navy as Electra.[3] Espiègle arrived in Cork on the evening of 31 August.

In the summer of 1809 Sybille cruised off the Greenland ice for the protection of the whalers and also to convoy them home.

In subsequent years she captured several privateers. In October 1810 she captured the French privateer Edouard on the coast of Ireland. Edouard, under Guillaume Moreau, was armed with 14 guns and had a crew of 90 men. She was eight days out of Abrevarake.[7]

On 28 January 1812 Sybille was in company with Surveillante and HMS Spitfire, when Surveillante captured the American ship Zone.[8] In 10 May Sybille captured the French 14-gun privateer Aigle at sea. On 2 August she detained and sent into Cork the Perseverance of New York. Lastly, on 5 February 1813 Sybille captured the French 14-gun privateer Brestois at sea.[3]

Post-war service

Captain Sir John Pechell took command of Sybille on 1 July 1823 and fitted her out for service in the Mediterranean. She sailed in October and proceeded to spend three years protecting the Ionian Islands and suppressing piracy.

A year later, Sybille enforced an indemnity on the Greek government of the United States of the Ionian Islands for an attack on a Turkish vessel in violation of their own neutrality. Pechell seized a number of Greek ships until the indemnity of 40,000 dollars was forthcoming.[9] On 5 October 1824, her boats succeeded in cutting out three Greek schooners: Polyxenes of 8 guns and 69 men; San Niccolo of 10 guns and 73 men; and Bella Poula of 8 guns and 37 men. Sybille took the prizes to Zante and the prisoners to Corfu.

In October 1825, later boats from Sybille and Medina, Capt. timothy Curtis, found a Greek mistico and her prize at anchor in a cove at Catacolo. captured a Greek pirate and her Ionian prize.[10] The British handed the Ionian prizeover to the authorities in Zante and sent the mistico to Corfu.

Sybille's next notable action occurred when she attacked a pirate lair on a barren island near Candia at the end of June 1826. Sybille sent in her boats but they were unsuccessful, suffering some 13 dead and 31 wounded, five of whom died subsequently.[11] Gunfire from Sybille killed many pirates until the pirates traded a Royal Marine they had captured from one of the boats for a cease-fire. Sybille left the island though some time later a Turkish brig chased the pirates' remaining boat ashore in Anatolia thus ending that threat.[12]

Suppressing the slave trade

From 4 December 1826 until 1830, she was part of the West Africa Squadron, which sought to suppress the slave trade. There she was under the command of Commodore Francis Augustus Collier.

On 6 September 1827, Sybille captured the Brazilian ship Henriqueta (also Henri Quatre), with 569 slaves on board, of whom 546 survived to be liberated in Sierra Leone. In December the Admiralty purchased Henriquetta for £900 as a tender to Sybille and renamed her Black Joke. Black Joke would go on to be one of the most successful anti-slavery vessels in the squadron.

On 14 March 1828 Sybille was reported to have captured 3 slave vessels: possibly a Dutch schooner with 272 slaves; a Spanish schooner with 282 slaves; and the Hope, former tender to the Maidstone, with a cargo onboard for the purchase of slaves. When Sybille arrived at Sierra Leone on 17 May for refitting in preparation for a passage to Ascension Island, she reported that since she arrived on the station in July 1827 she had freed over 1100 slaves.

In 1829, 204 men died on board Eden from yellow fever. To convince the crew of Sybille that the fever was not contagious, her surgeon, Robert McKinnal, drank a glassful of black vomit from an ailing crew member.

Between February and March 1829 Sybille captured a Brazilian brig, and her tenders captured the slave schooner Donna Barbara. By 11 April 1829, Sybille claimed to have released over 3,900 slaves in the previous 22 months. On 29 April she captured a Spanish schooner with 291 slaves on board. Then on 12 May she sent in to the prize court a schooner with 185 slaves on board.

Sybille also seized and condemned a number of vessels for illicitly trafficking in slaves. On 11 October it was the brigantine Tentadora and on 1 November the brigantine Nossa Senhora da Guia, with 310 slaves, of whom 238 survived. On 30 January 1830 Sybille seized and condemned a third, unnamed vessel. Then on 15 January she took the Umbelino, 377 slaves of whom only 163 survived, and eight days later, the Primera Rosalia, with 282 slaves, of whom 242 survived. She also captured a brigantine from Lagos after a 27 hour chase; the vessel turned out to have 282 slaves on board. Her last capture occurred on 1 April when she captured Manzanares. Sybille finally returned to Portsmouth from the coast of Africa on 26 June and was paid off.


Between January 1830 and July 1831 she was fitted as a lazaretto for Dundee. She was eventually sold to Mr. Henry for ₤2,460 on 7 August 1833.[3]


  1. HMS Sybille, Naval Database
  2. 2.0 2.1 Roche (2005), p.182.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Winfield (2008), pp.160-1.
  4. [1] Michel Phillips' Ships of the Old Navy
  5. Naval chronicle, Vol. 6, p.411.
  6. The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. 103. p. 155.
  7. The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. 108, p.468.
  8. Ommanncy and Druce, Acting Agents, Notice of Prize Money published in the London Gazette, 27 February 1813",, accessed 2 November 2009
  9. Finlay (1861), p.21.
  10. Marshall (1823-1835.), pp.366-8.
  11. Brock Tupper (1835), pp.32-42.
  12. Brock Tupper (1835), p.38.


  • Brock Tupper, Ferdinand (1835) Family records; containing memoirs of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, K.B., Lieutenant E.W. Tupper, R.N., and Colonel William De Vic Tupper, with notices of Major-General Tupper and Lieut. C. Tupper, R.N.; to which are added the Life of Te-cum-seh, a memoir of Colonel Havilland Le Mésurier, &c. &c. &c. (Guernsey, S. Barbet).
  • Finlay, George (1861) History of the Greek revolution. (Edinburgh, London: W. Blackwood and Sons).
  • Marshall, John (1823–1835) "Royal naval biography: or, Memoirs of the services of all the flag-officers, superannuated rear-admirals, retired-captains, post-captains, and commanders, whose names appeared on the Admiralty list of sea officers at the commencement of the present year, or who have since been promoted, illustrated by a series of historical and explanatory notes ... with copious addenda". (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown).
  • 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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