HMS Amelia (1796)

From SpottingWorld, the Hub for the SpottingWorld network...
HMS Amelia, 1813
HMS Amelia chasing the French Ship Aréthuse, 1813 (detail).
Painted in 1852 by John Christian Schetky
Career (France) French Navy Ensign until 1789 French Navy Ensign (1790-1794) French Navy Ensign (1794-1815)
Name: Proserpine
Builder: Brest, France
Laid down: December 1784
Launched: 25 June 1785
Commissioned: August 1785
Fate: Captured by the Royal Navy on 13 June 1796
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign (1707-1800) Royal Navy Ensign since 1800
Name: HMS Amelia
Renamed: Renamed Amelia on capture
Captured: 13 June 1796 by HMS Dryad
Fate: Broken up in December 1816
General characteristics
Class and type: Hébé-class frigate
Tons burthen: 1,059 tons
Length: 151 ft 6 in (46.18 m)
Beam: 39 ft 6 in (12.04 m)
Sail plan: Ship-rigged
Complement: 284 (later 315)

In French Navy service:

  • Twenty-six 18-lb cannon
  • Eight 8-lb cannon

In Royal Navy service:[1]

  • Upper Deck: 28 x 18pdr cannon
  • Quarter Deck: 8 x 9pdr + 4 x 24pdr carronades
  • Forecastle: 2 x 9pdr + 2 x 24pdr carronades
By 1810 guns had been removed from the quarterdeck and only two 9-pdrs remained on the focsle

Proserpine was a 38-gun Hébé-class frigate of the French Navy that HMS Dryad captured on 13 June 1796. The Admiralty commissioned Prosperine into the Royal Navy as the fifth rate, HMS Amelia. She spent 20 years in the Royal Navy, participating in numerous actions in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, capturing a number of prizes, and serving on anti-smuggling and anti-slavery patrols. Her most notable action was her intense and bloody, but inconclusive, fight with Aréthuse in 1813. Amelia was broken up in December 1816.


Proserpine was a Hébé-class frigate built for the French Navy of the Ancien Régime in Brest and launched in 1785. Jacques-Noël Sané designed her as well as five sister ships and she was rated for thirty-eight guns.

French Naval Service (1785-1796)

The Proserpine was stationed at Saint Domingue from 1786 until 1788. From 1793, she served as a commerce raider, under captain Jean-Baptiste Perrée, notably capturing the 32-gun Dutch frigate Vigilante and several merchantmen of a convoy that she was escorting.[2] On 23 June 1795, under Captain Daugier, Proserpine took part in the Battle of Groix as flagship of Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse. She unsuccessfully attempted to regroup the French fleet, almost colliding with the Droits de l'Homme in the process. She fired a broadside at the approaching British fleet before she escaped.[3]

On 13 June 1796, about 36 nautical miles (67 km) south of Cape Clear, Ireland, the frigate Dryad, under the command of Captain Lord Amelius Beauclerk, captured Proserpine following a relatively brief chase. As the Royal Navy already had a Proserpine, the Admiralty renamed the captured vessel HMS Amelia. The Royal Navy classified her as a fifth rate of a nominal thirty-eight guns.

British service

The Battle of Tory Island (1798)

She joined HM Ships Ethalion and Sylph on 18 September 1798 blockading the French Brest Squadron, preventing them sailing for Ireland to support the Irish Rebellion with troops. During the night of 11 October - 12 October the signal for a general chase was made by the Commodore, Sir John Borlase Warren. Commodore Warren's squadron engaged the French squadron, and captured the Hoche (74 guns) and the frigates Embuscade, Coquille and Bellone. Wolfe Tone, the leader of the United Irishmen was captured.

The Channel Blockade (1798-1802)

On 31 January 1799, while at anchor in the Hamoaze, HMS Formidable broke free from her moorings and struck the Amelia. Fortunately both ships had struck their topmasts and damage was light.[4] Amelia was able to sail on 4 February.

On 9 April, after reconnoitring two French frigates in L'Orient, HMS San Fiorenzo and Amelia stood towards Belle Île in very hazy weather. Here three French frigates and a large gun vessel hiding under the land surprised them. At that instant a sudden squall carried away Amelia's main-top-mast and fore and mizzen top-gallant masts; the fall of the former tearing much of the mainsail from the yard. Captain Neale of the San Fiorenzo shortened sail and ordered Amelia to bear up with him to maintain the weather gage and prepare for battle. The enemy showed no inclination for close-quarter action and, although the British ships came under fire from shore batteries, they had to bear down on the French three times to engage them. After nearly two hours the French wore ship and stood away to take refuge in the Loire. From a captured French ship they learned later that the French frigates were the Vengeance, Sémillante and Cornélie. Amelia lost 2 killed and 17 wounded.

During a stormy night on 5 February 1801 Amelia captured the French privateer brig Juste of St Malo. It was so dark that the two vessels did not see each other until the brig ran into the Amelia, which cost the brig her foremast and bowsprit. Juste, with 14 guns and 78 men under the command of Jean Pierre Charlet, had been out from L'Orient for 30 days without making a capture. A prize crew brought Juste into Plymouth on 10 February, and Amelia returned on 21 February. On 10 May Amelia had just anchored close to the mouth of the Loire when a brig was seen standing in to the river. As soon as she made out the English ship she tacked and made off with all sail. Still, Captain Herbert captured her after a chase of four hours. She was the privateer Heureux of St. Malo with 14 guns and 78 men. She had been cruising for 41 days but had made no captures. She was uncoppered due to the shortage of that material and this resulted in her being slower than she otherwise might have been. Amelia sent Heureux into Plymouth where she arrived on 17 May.

On 23 June Amelia took bullocks out to the Channel Fleet. Next, Amelia sent a Spanish packet into Plymouth as a prize on 4 August. With 6 guns and 40 men, the packet had been taking a cargo of sugar, coffee and hides from Havana to Ferrol.

At the end of June, Amelia stood into Rochefort to reconnoitre the enemy. Medusa (50 guns), together with an unidentified 44-gun ship and an armed schooner, came out to oppose her. A smart action ensued in full view of the spectators lining the cliffs. Although the Embuscade (32 guns) stood out to assist them, the enemy retired under the protection of the shore batteries after an hour. Captain Herbert lay to, but they declined to come out again, so he sailed to join Sir Edward Pellew.

In September Amelia captured a number of coasters and brigs in the Bay of Biscay. One of them, the brig Cheodore, laden with sardines, arrived in Plymouth on 27 September, together with another brig in ballast. Shortly after, a seaman from Amelia died in the Royal Naval Hospital after being wounded by a loaded musket which went off as the armourer was cleaning it. At the inquest, on 19 October, Mr Whitford, the coroner for Devon recorded a verdict of accidental death. Two more men were wounded but recovered and a third man, who was killed on the spot, was buried at sea.

Anti-smuggling service and the Peace of Amiens (1802-1803)

On 6 January 1802 Amelia was ordered to be victualled for 4 months, and 21 days later she sailed on a cruise against smugglers. During the night of 1 March some words passed between the boat's crew of Amelia and some Portuguese seamen at the Pier Head, Barbican, Plymouth. A violent scuffle ensued which developed into a battle; during the conflict one of the Portuguese drew a long knife and stabbed one of Amelia's men in the groin. He bled profusely but a surgeon managed to stop the flow. The Portuguese fled but were rounded up the following morning.

In April 1802 Captain Lord Proby took command. On 6 May Amelia sailed from Plymouth for Cork, Waterford and Dublin with 150 discharged seamen, returning on 28 May. Orders came down from London on 11 June that all the sloops and frigates in the Sound were to be sent to sea immediately as the coast from Berry Head to Mount's Bay was infested with smugglers. Amelia, Amethyst, Blanche and Rosario were immediately victualled for two months. By the end of August 1802, Amelia had sailed for Den Helder with Dutch troops discharged from the British service. She returned on 4 September.

1803 saw Amelia based mainly at Portsmouth. She arrived there from the Downs on 27 March and sailed on 1 April with part of the 83rd Regiment of Foot for Jersey. She was back on 8 April and sailed again for the Downs on the 15th.

In May she was part of the squadron under Rear Admiral Edward Thornborough in HMS Raisonnable, keeping watch over Hellevoetsluis, Flushing, Netherlands and other Dutch ports. Amelia sent a French Chasse-marée in ballast into Plymouth on 23 May, and on 11 August the French privateer lugger Alert, of 4 guns and 27 men, into Portsmouth. She chased two others in mid-channel before returning on 16 August. She sailed again on a cruise two days later. The extent of her success against smugglers is hard to judge. On 14 August she did catch at sea one Henry Sothcott (born 1774), who was sentenced to 5 years pressed into the Navy for smuggling; he jumped ship within seven months.[5]

The West Indies and the loss of Captain Lord Proby (1804-1807)

Amelia deployed to the Leeward Islands Station, but her Captain, Lord Proby, died on 6 August 1804 at age 25 at Surinam, from yellow fever.[6] Captain William Charles Fahie took command while the ship was in Barbados. In December she captured the Spanish brig Isabella and the ship Conception, both laden with wine and brandy, and the ship Commerce, laden with cotton. She returned to Deptford and in 1807 refitted at Sheerness.

Battle of Les Sables-d'Olonne

December 1807 saw Captain Frederick Paul Irby appointed to her at for service in the English Channel and coast of Spain. He sighted three French 44-gun frigates (Calypso, Italienne and Sybille) near Belle Île on 23 February 1809 and Amelia and the brig Dotterel chased them all night. The following morning they had approached so close to the rearmost French ship that her companions had to haul up to her support. HMS Naiad soon came into sight and the French made for the Sable d'Olonne. Rear Admiral Stopford and his squadron, who had been watching eight French sail-of-the-line standing into the Pertuis d'Antioche, came down to join them and stood in with Caesar, Defiance, Donegal and Amelia. They opened fire, passing as near to the enemy as the depth of water permitted, and forced the frigates to run ashore at the top of high water. Amelia had her bowsprit shot through and she was hulled in several places but had no casualties. The French lost 24 men killed and 51 wounded. The three French frigates survived, but Cybèle was declared irreparable and broken up, while Italienne and Calypso were sold to commerce.

The Battle of the Basque Roads (1809)

She was present with Admiral Lord Gambier at the blockade of Basque Roads in April 1809. There she was directed to dislodge the French who were endeavouring to strengthen their position in Aix Roads. On 1 April she destroyed some batteries there. She was reconnoitering with Alcmene when Alcmene was wrecked on the Three Stones on the north end of the La Blanche shoal near the mouth of the Loire on 30 April.[7] Amelia was instrumental in rescuing the crew and a great part of Alcmene's stores.[8]

Action at Santander (1810)

One of Captain Irby's contemporary reports states:

HMS Amelia, Coruña, May 6, 1810

Captain Irby to Mr Croft

"I have been cruising for these two months past between Bayonne and Santona.

"In addition to the troops I have observed under arms, there has been a great proportion of armed peasantry at Baquio, a small place to the westward of Rachidaes; as our boats were returning from destroying some batteries, they were attacked by armed peasantry alone, who were dispersed by shot from the ship, and also since they have assisted the French troops, when we captured a vessel laden with military stores from St. Ander"[9]

On 15 May Lord Gambier ordered Captain Irby to investigate the situation at Santander where an attack was about to be made by Spanish patriots on the French troops in the town. HMS Statira joined him on 8 June but strong winds and current prevented them getting there before 10 June. As they approached they could see firing on shore and several vessels trying to escape from the harbour. The two British ships captured three French vessels: The corvette La Mouche of sixteen brass 8 pounders and 180 men; the brig Rejouie with eight 8-pounders; and a schooner, No. 7 (also called La Mouche), with one 4-pounder gun. They also took two luggers: Legere, which was unseaworthy so her cargo was put on board Rejouie; and Notre Dame, a Spanish vessel the French had seized. The aide-de-camp to General Ballestero reported that the town was in possession of the Spanish and that the French troops had all surrendered. Because of the large number of prisoners, Captain Irby sent Statira into the harbour with the prizes while Amelia remained off the coast in hopes of being able to render more assistance to the Spaniards. The corvette La Mouche, which the sloop Goldfinch and the Hired armed lugger Black Joke had recently engaged, had been a threat to British trade for some time.

Capture of the privateer Charles (1810)

Amelia captured the corvette-built privateer Charles of Bordeaux on 8 November 1810 about 400 miles west of Finisterre after a chase of 13 hours, sometimes reaching a speed of twelve and a half knots. Under the command of Pierre Alexandre Marrauld, she had sailed from L'Orient on 4 October to make her maiden run to the Ile de France. About 200 tons, she was pierced for 22 guns but mounted twelve long 6-pounders and eight 18-pounder carronades, all English measurement. Amelia arrived in Plymouth Sound on 16 November.

Destruction of Amazone (1811)

On the morning of 24 March 1811 Captain Macnamara in HMS Berwick gave chase to the French frigate Amazone about 12 or 13 miles off the Barfleur lighthouse and forced her to take refuge in a rocky bay about a mile to the west of the lighthouse. He was joined by Amelia, Niobe and the sloops Goshawk and Hawk, hoping to launch an attack with boats. When the tides proved too strong for a boat attack, Niobe led in, with Amelia and Berwick following in succession, and they fired on the enemy for two hours. They stood in the following morning to renew the attack but the enemy set fire to the frigate and she burned to the waterline. Amelia had one man killed and one wounded.

Passage to Canada (1811)

Leaving Lymington on 11 April 1811, she sailed for Canada with a convoy. On 18 June she left Quebec carrying General Sir James Henry Craig from Canada to England when he was relieved as Governor-General.[10]

The West African Station (1811-1813)

On 15 October 1811 Amelia sailed for the coast of Africa where Captain Irby became senior officer of the anti-slavery squadron there. Throughout her time on the station Amelia suffered with damp powder. Although the large portion which had caked in the magazine was sent ashore to be dried, the problem was never properly solved. In June 1812 Irby learned that the natives at Winnebah, half way between Accra and Cape Coast Castle, had murdered Mr Meredith, the governor of the fort. When the authorities at Cape Coast Castle asked for Captain Irby's assistance he sailed for Winnebah with a detachment of the Africa corps under Mr Smith, Governor of Tantumquerry, and anchored off the port on 2 July. The natives had fled so he landed his marines and the troops, who demolished the fort.

In January 1813 Lieutenant Pascoe had to run his gunbrig Daring on shore and burn her at the island of Tamara, Iles de Los, after being chased by three French vessels. Two days later he and part of his crew arrived in the river of Sierra Leone where Amelia was about to leave for England, with many of her crew debilitated with fever and barely fit for duty after more than 12 months on the station. Before leaving, Captain Irby sent Lieutenant Pascoe off in a small schooner to reconnoitre.

Amelia and Aréthuse

File:Amelia vs Arethuse.jpg
HMS Amelia in action with the French Frigate Aréthuse, 1813, by John Christian Schetky, 1852

Pascoe reported back on 3 February that he had sighted a force consisting of three ships. Two were the French frigates Aréthuse (Captain Pierre Bouvet) and Rubis (Captain Louis-François Olivier). The third ship was a Portuguese prize, La Serra, which they were unloading before sailing to intercept British merchant vessels, a convoy from England being expected daily. The master and the rest of the crew from Daring arrived in a cartel, having given their parole, and confirmed Lieutenant Pascoe's report. Standing in towards Tamara on the 6 February, Captain Irby met the government schooner Princess Charlote and learnt that the two frigates were anchored a considerable distance apart. Although he was not aware of it, Rubis, the southernmost one, had struck a rock, which had disabled her. The Aréthuse weighed and stood out to sea followed by Amelia, Captain Irby having hopes of enticing her into action. For nearly four hours they exchanged fire, throughout which Aréthuse used the usual French practice of firing high. Having cut Amelia's sails and running and standing rigging to pieces, the French ship bore up. Twice during the action the enemy had attempted to board but the marines, under the command of Lieut. Simpson RM, drove them back.

The fight of the French frigate Aréthuse and Amelia on the shores of Guinea, 7 February 1813, by Louis-Philippe Crepin

The British losses were heavy, with 46 killed, including Lieutenants John Bates, John Pope and George Wills, Lieutenant William Pascoe, the commander of Daring, and 2nd Lieutenant R G Grainger, Royal Marines. Five more men died of their wounds later. 51 were dangerously or seriously wounded, and 44 slightly wounded. Captain Irby appointed Lieutenant Reeve, invalided from HMS Kangaroo and wounded several times in the action, as his First Lieutenant, and Master's Mates Samuel Umfreville and Edward Robinson (who had been severely wounded) as second and third. Mr Williamson, the surgeon, his assistant Mr Burke and Mr Stewart of Daring cared for the wounded as the crippled Amelia made her way north towards Madeira and then home, arriving at Spithead on 22 March. The wounded were examined by the Lieutenant Governor of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich who was astonished at their debilitated condition.

Aréthuse mounted twenty-eight 18-pounder long guns on the main deck and sixteen 36-pounder carronades and two long guns on the upper deck. Amelia put more than 30 round shot in her hull on the starboard side below the quarter deck and, according to one report, the French suffered at least 31 killed and 74 wounded. Still, Aréthuse arrived in St Malo on 19 April. The Rubis was burnt on 8 February when it was found impossible to re-float her. A flavour of the intensity of the battle may be gained from William James writing in his Naval History of Great Britain, 1793 - 1827:

The Amelia ... in attempting a second time to cross her antagonist, a second time fell on board of her; and the two ships now swang close alongside, the muzzles of their guns almost touching. This was at about 9 h. 15 m. p.m., and a scene of great mutual slaughter ensued. The two crews snatched the spunges out of each other's hands through the portholes, and cut at one another with the broadsword. The Amelia's men now attempted to lash the two frigates together, but were unable, on account of the heavy fire of musketry kept up from the Aréthuse decks and tops; a fire that soon nearly cleared the Amelia's quarterdeck of both officers and men ... Here was a long and bloody action between two (taking guns and men together) nearly equal opponents, which gave a victory to neither. Each combatant withdrew exhausted from the fight; and each, as is usual in the few cases of drawn battles that have occurred, claimed the merit of having forced the other to the measure.[11]

In addition to her ship's company, she brought at least one passenger: Exbury parish baptism register records the baptism on 6 June 1813 of a boy, "Irby Amelia Frederick, aged 9 or 10, a native of Poppoe near Whidah, Africa, who was stolen as a slave, but rescued at sea by HMS Amelia" - it is recorded in the Baptismal Register of 1813 as being "in grateful testimony of the humanity and intrepidity of his gallant deliverer".[12]

Reserve at Portsmouth and Mediterranean service (1813-1816)

Amelia paid off at Portsmouth in May 1813, underwent a Small Repair, and then was placed in Ordinary.[1] The Honourable Granville Proby, younger brother of Lord William Proby, who had died in command in 1804, recommissioned her for a cruise in 1814. She was in Leghorn in December 1816, and was broken up at Deptford that same month,[1] having given 30 years of continual wartime service to both the French and British navies.

Commanding Officers

From To Captain[4]
September 1797 1802 Captain the Honourable Charles Herbert
April 1802 6 August 1804 Captain William Allen Proby, Lord Proby (died in command)
January 1805 February 1805 Captain John Woolcombe
February 1805 June 1805 Lieutenant Charles Eakins (acting)
June 1805 May 1806 Captain William Charles Fahie
May 1806 October 1807 Captain William Champain
October 1807 1813 Captain Frederick Paul Irby
1814 1816 Captain the Honourable Granville Proby


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Winfield (2008), p.161.
  2. "Association des Amis et Passionnés du Père-Lachaise (Association of Friends and Fans of Père-Lachaise) (French Language)". Retrieved 2008-10-31. 
  3. " website (French Language)". Retrieved 2008-10-31. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Age of Nelson website". Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  5. "Sothcott Family Tree". Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  6. "". Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  7. Ralfe (1828), p.425.
  8. The United service magazine (1844), Part 3, p.122.
  9. William Francis Patrick Napier , History of the War in the Peninsula and in the South of France, Carey and Hart, Philadelphia, 1842.
  10. I Brook, F B Tupper The Life and Correspondence of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, K. B. Simpkin, Marshall & co, Canada, 1847.
  11. William James , The Naval History of Great Britain from the declaration of war by France in February 1793 to the accession of George IV in January 1820 : with an account of the origin and progressive increase of the British Navy (New edition in Six volumes), Volume VI, pp183-190, R Bentley, London, 1837.
  12. "St George's News". Retrieved 2008-01-31.