HMS Apollo (1799)

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Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Apollo
Builder: Dudman, Deptford Wharf
Launched: 1799
Fate: Wrecked, 2 April 1804
General characteristics
Class and type: Fifth-rate frigate
Tons burthen: 956 long tons (971 t)
Length: 145 feet (44 m)
Beam: 38 feet 6 inches (11.73 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
Armament: 36 × 18-pdr

HMS Apollo, the fourth ship of the Royal Navy to be named for the Greek god Apollo, was a Fifth Rate frigate of 36 guns. She was the name ship of the Apollo class frigates. Apollo was launched in 1799 and wrecked with heavy loss of life in 1804.

Early life

Apollo was built at Deptford Wharf in 1799, taking the name Apollo from a fifth-rate of the same name which had been wrecked off Holland in January. She was commissioned in October under Captain Peter Halkett — who had commanded the previous Apollo when she was lost — and was posted to the West Indies, cruising there and escorting convoys to Britain. In November of that year, cruising in the Gulf of Mexico, she recaptured the sloop Resolution, of 16 guns, which had been captured by Spain; however, after towing her for two weeks, she was found to be "generally rotten" and had to be sunk. The Apollo took two other prizes around this time. She returned to Portsmouth in March 1802 to be paid off after the Peace of Amiens, and was rushed into commission again in October of that year, for service in the Channel under Captain John William Taylor Dixon. She captured a French brig, the Dart, in June 1803.[1]


On 26 March 1804, she sailed from Cork with a convoy of sixty-nine merchantmen, accompanied by HMS Carysfort, immediately encountering a strong gale. After five days, believing the convoy to be safely far from shore, Apollo ran aground off the Portuguese coast near Cape Mondego in the early morning of 2 April; about forty of the vessels in the convoy, travelling closely behind due to the low visibility and bad weather, were also wrecked. All the boats of the frigate were destroyed, and it took two days to bring the crew of the Apollo off the wreck and onto the shore. Sixty officers and men died;[2] around twenty of them died in the first few hours, but most perished of exposure waiting to be rescued. The number of dead in the merchant vessels is not known, but contemporary records suggest that it was high. Carysfort and her half of the convoy had shifted course on the evening of the 1st, taking advantage of a change in the wind, and so escaped the fate of their companions.[1]

It transpired that an iron tank had been shipped on board the Apollo, and her compass had not been adjusted to deal with the disturbances caused by the large metal mass of the tank; the minor errors accumulated over the course of the voyage, and when she struck the coast, she was thought to be some forty miles out to sea.[3] The convoy had been sailing in consistently heavy weather since leaving Cork, in conditions where taking sightings to correct their position would have been near-impossible; as a result, they could only estimate their position from a known speed and an inaccurate heading.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Apollo (36), 1799". Ships of the Old Navy. Retrieved 2009-11-03. 
  2. A list of the drowned was published in The Times of 2 May 1804. It included Captain Dixon and one of his lieutenants.
  3. The companion to the British almanac, for the year 1874, p. 53. London, 1875.