HMS Acasta (1797)

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Battle of St Domingo PU5760-cropped.jpg
HMS Acasta and HMS Magicienne at the Battle of San Domingo
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Name: HMS Acasta
Builder: John Randall & Co,, Rotherhithe
Launched: 14 March 1797
Fate: Broken up on 1 January 1821
General characteristics 40-gun fifth rate
Class and type: Acasta-class frigate
Tons burthen: 1,142 long tons (1,160.3 t)
Length: 154 ft (46.9 m)
Beam: 40 ft 9.5 in (12.4 m)
Depth of hold: 14 ft 3 in (4.3 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
Complement: 320

40 guns:

  • 30 x 18-pounders
  • 8 x 9-pounder long guns
  • 4 x 32-pounder carronades (later)
  • 2 x 9-pounder long guns
  • 4 x 32-pounder carronades (later)

HMS Acasta was a 40-gun Royal Navy fifth rate. This frigate saw service in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, as well as the War of 1812. Although she never took part in any notable single-ship actions nor saw action in a major battle, she captured numerous prizes and rid the seas of a number Spanish, French and American privateers. She was finally broken up in 1821.


Sir William Rule designed her to develop a frigate to replace the 44-gun ships that carried their armament on two decks.[1] Consequently, she was one of the largest frigates built in England, mounting forty guns, thirty 18-pounders on one main gun deck, with another ten 9-pounder long guns on the quarterdeck and forecastle. Later eight 32-pounder carronades replaced the 9-pounder guns. John Randall & Co., of Rotherhithe, launched her in 1797.

French Revolutionary Wars

Acasta's first captain was Richard Lane, who took command in February 1797 and oversaw her launch and commissioning.[1] He sailed her to Jamaica in February 1798.

She took numerous prizes in the Caribbean. On 1 May she captured the privateer Santa Maria.[1] Eleven days later she took the privateer San Antonio.[1] Later that month she captured Hirondelle and another vessel.[1] On 30 June Acasta captured Trompe, and then on 2 July San Josef de Victoria.[1] Eleven days after that she captured San Miguel y Acandoa and Actif.[1]

In October 1798 she joined with Trent and the two cruised off Porto Cavello. In late 1798 or early 1799 she captured Cincinnatus and another vessel.[1]

Lane then died suddenly aboard ship off Jamaica in the spring of 1799. Captain Edward Fellowes replaced Lane and continued to cruise in the Caribbean. He was a successful commander, making a number of captures. He captured the 8-gun Spanish ship Juno, carrying a cargo of cocoa and indigo, an armed polacca carrying brandy and wine, and a French schooner carrying a cargo of coffee. He also took two French rowboats, two Spanish doggers and a 16-gun xebec, along with a number of unarmed merchantmen with various cargoes. Acasta participated in the destruction of the 10-gun French privateer Victoire, with a crew of 60 men, which was destroyed under the batteries of Aguader.

After these successes, Fellowes took Acasta back to England as part of the escort of a trade convoy, arriving in September 1801. Captain Fellowes remained in command until spring 1802 when James Athol Wood took command of Acasta.

Wood had just returned from Madagascar where his previous ship, Garland had been wrecked. Acasta spent some time the Mediterranean, arriving back in Portsmouth on 8 July 1802, before sailing again for the Mediterranean on 8 November with dispatches relative to the Treaty of Amiens. She returned to England again and was recommissioned under Wood. From January 1803 she was on the the North sea station, based at Lieth.[1]

She sailed to Guernsey on 7 March 1803, being based there until the renewal of hostilities with the French. From April she was under the command of Captain James Oswald (temporary).[1] Acasta then joined Admiral William Cornwallis in patrolling off Ushant, watching the French fleet in harbour at Brest.

Napoleonic Wars

On 2 October 1803 Wood captured the French privateer Aventure.[1] The Aventure was out of Bordeaux, carrying 20 guns and 144 men. The Acasta pursued her in the mid-Atlantic for two days, finally bringing her to action and capturing her. Wood also recaptured two prizes, the Royal Edward and the St. Mary's Planter, that Aventure had taken from the Jamaican convoy. When she was intercepted, Aventure had been about to take possession of the Jane, before going after a fourth ship of the convoy.

Wood also took the opportunity to cruise along the north coast of Spain, and examined and reported in the many ports and inlets there. He advised that in the event of a war with Spain, the peninsula of Santona, which lay midway between Bilbao and Santander, should be occupied to provide a base for the Navy and form a Gibraltar of the north. Acasta then spent the later part of 1804 escorting a valuable fleet to the West Indies.

Upon arriving at Jamaica, Sir John Duckworth ordered that Wood remove to Hercule, which was then at sea. Acasta would then receive a new captain and return to England with Duckworth. This was a highly unusual practice, but Sir John remained adamant. Wood's replacement was Captain Richard Dunn.[1]

Wood had the indignity of returning home as a passenger in his own ship. The Board of Admiralty immediately issued a new regulation that forbade Admirals from using their authority in such a way. Wood was restored to his command, but could not take up the appointment to the Hercule.

Acasta next saw action under Duckworth in the Battle of San Domingo on 6 February 1806. Acasta, and the smaller ships - Magicienne, Kingfisher and Epervier - formed up windward of the line-of-battle ships. Two of the enemy ships were driven ashore and burnt whilst another three were captured. Donegal forced the surrender of the French ship Brave and directed Acasta to take possession of her, whilst the Donegal moved on to engage the other French ships. Acasta then took the prize to Jamaica.

Commanding the assaults in the Caribbean

In 1807, whilst Acasta was serving in the Channel, Captain Philip Beaver replaced Wood. She escorted a convoy back to Britain from the Leeward Islands in December, and performed the same duty again in 1808. On 17 July 1808 she captured the 18-gun Serpent at La Guiara.[1]

She then joined a fleet commanded by Sir Alexander Cochrane in 1809, and Beaver was placed in command of landing the troops on shore at Bay Robert in Martinique during the British attack on the island. Lieutenant-General Beckwith, the commander of the land forces, came aboard Acasta to oversee operations. The fleet sailed from Carlisle Bay, Barbados on 28 January and by 31 January the army transports were 12 miles to windward of Carvel Rock. Acasta bore up with them, accompanied by Ethalion, Forester, Ringdove, Ringdove, Haughty and Eclair. The British were hampered by the weather, which was very windy and squally with a considerable swell. Beaver decided to enter the Cul de Sac with all his warships rather than risk anchoring off Loup Garou. He prepared carefully, sending out boats with flags to mark the shoals before Acasta led Penelope and the transports in. They successfully negotiated the passage and were all anchored by noon. The landing commenced and by sunset 4,500 men with a proportion of artillery and horses had been landed. The reserve were landed by 7 o'clock the next morning and the attack began. The assault ended in the French calling for a truce when one of the magazines in the fort blew up after a prolonged bombardment.

Cochrane was again in action in April, blockading a French squadron of three sail of the line and two frigates which had taken shelter in the Iles des Saintes near Guadeloupe. An attempt to capture the islands was prepared, and Captain Beaver aboard Acasta was made commodore of the division. The fleet sailed from Fort Royal Bay, Martinique on 12 April with two or three thousand troops. Beaver made an examination of the enemy positions with Cochrane before launching the attack. Despite heavy weather the night before, the ships had collected together by 10 o'clock on the morning of 14 April. Acasta led Gloire, Narcissus, Circe and Intrepid into the channel and anchored opposite the Bois Joly. The frigates covered the landings which were made without opposition except from the guns in the Islet of Cabrit which fired over the ridge. Three days of fighting followed, which resulted in the reduction of the French forts had been reduced and the capture of the French troops. The French ships had abandoned the area on 14 April.

Acasta then returned to England and was under repair in Plymouth in 1811, with Captain Alexander Robert Kerr taking over command in April 1811.

War of 1812

On the outbreak of the War of 1812, Acasta was assigned to operate off the coast of America. On 24 July 1812 she captured the privateer Curlew.[1]

She captured the brig Federal on 17 September 1812. The Federal was bound for Boston from Prince's Island. The Acasta also retook the schooner Blonde on 17 October, which had been on passage from Martinique to Newfoundland.

Further success followed in 3 November when Acasta, Maidstone, Aeolus and Childers captured the 10-gun privateer schooner Snapper and her crew of 90 men while she was cruising out of Philadelphia.

On 10 December Acasta and Poictiers captured the letter of marque brig Herald, bound from Bordeaux to Baltimore.[1] The next day Acasta took the schooner Farmer's Fancy, en route from Charlestown to Philadelphia. The British took Fancy into service as the sloop-of-war Barbadoes. Acasta also assisted in the capture of the privateer Snapper and the letter of marque Porcupine. The latter was carrying a valuable cargo from Bayonne to Boston.

Acasta captured the privateer Highflyer in January 1813, as well as the Lydia, out of Rhode Island. Further captures followed. She sent the American schooner Providence and the sloop Diana sent into Halifax in July 1814. then on 2 August she took another two schooners, the Stephanie and the Hazard, and the sloop Jane.

During these actions, one Robert Cox, one of Acasta's seamen, was tried by court martial for deserting to the enemy on 13 May 1813 and for attempting to persuade others to do the same. The charges were proved and Cox was sentenced to death.

Chasing the Constitution

Sir George Collier had also been active in American waters, and aboard Leander had for several months been watching the USS Constitution, then in harbour at Boston. He had been forced to break off his surveillance in order to re-provision the Leander in Halifax, but had left Acasta and Newcastle off the port. Whilst Collier was away the Constitution and two other heavy frigates left Boston on a cruise. Sir George prepared for pursuit, but had orders to send Acasta into Halifax for a refit. Captain Kerr pleaded to allowed to join the chase, and Collier relented and allowed Acasta to remain. The British squadron eventually sighted the Constitution in heavy weather on 11 March 1815. She was proceeding with two prizes, the sloops HMS Levant and HMS Cyane off Porto Praya. A chase ensued but Constitution was able to escape.

Acasta retook Levant after fire from Leander had caused Levant to run ashore. Acasta then took possession.[2] Sir George eventually left Acasta and Newcastle windward of Barbados while he searched for the Constitution. However, the Constitution had returned to port, thus avoiding an engagement.

That same month, Acasta recaptured St Lawrence.[2]


Acasta returned to England in 1815. Shw was paid off to Ordinary on 12 September.[1] She was broken up at Woolwich up on 1 January 1821.[1]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 Winfield (2008), pp.149-50.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Gossett (1986), p.95.

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