HMS Lark (1794)

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Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Lark
Ordered: 18 February 1793
Builder: Thomas Pitcher, Northfleet
Laid down: May 1793
Launched: 15 February 1794
Completed: 22 April 1794 at Woolwich Dockyard
Commissioned: March 1794
General characteristics
Class and type: 16-gun Cormorant-class sloop
Tons burthen: 426 61/94 bm
Length: 108 ft 7 in (33.1 m) (overall)
91 ft 0.625 in (27.8 m) (keel)
Beam: 29 ft 9 in (9.1 m)
Depth of hold: 9 ft (2.74 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Sloop
Complement: 121
  • Upper deck: 16 x 6pdrs + 12 x ½pdr swivels

HMS Lark was a 16-gun ship sloop of the Cormorant class, built in 1794 at Northfleet. She served primarily in the Caribbean, where she took a number of prizes, some after quite intensive action. Lark foundered off San Domingo in August 1809, with the loss of almost all hands (3 men were saved).

French revolutionary Wars

Lark was commissioned in March 1794 under Commander Josias Rowley. Later that year Commander Francis Austen, who would go on to rise to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet, served on her when she was part of a fleet that evacuated British troops from Ostend and Nieuwpoort after the French captured the Netherlands. In 1795, the Lark was part of the squadron under Commodore Payne that escorted Princess Caroline of Brunswick to England. That same year she was part of the British naval force that supported the invasion of France by a force of French émigrés.

On March 21, 1796, Lark, under William Ogilvy, joined the 32-gun frigate HMS Ceres, Captain James Newman-Newman, in providing support to an unsuccessful attack by British troops from Port-au-Prince on the town and fort of Léogane on the island of Hispaniola.[1]

In late 1798 or early 1799, while on the Jamaica station, boats from the 98-gun second rate HMS Queen and Lark, under the temporary command of Lieut. Hugh Cooke, cut out a schooner of four guns from Port Nieu in the West Indies. Next, still in early 1799, Lark and her captain, Commander John Wentworth Loring, captured another schooner.

In March 1800, Lark destroyed six privateers and other small vessels. The most intense action occurred off Cuba on 14 March when Loring saw a privateer schooner in a bay. He sent boats to bring her out but the enemy had fortified the two heights guarding the bay. From there, they were able to repulse the attack, killing the Lieutenant in command of the boats. Lark then landed a party some ten miles down the coast from the bay. This landing party marched up the coast and attacked the privateers from the rear with the result that when Loring led boats again into the bay he found his target was already in his hands. The privateer had two carriage guns and was one of a number that had long plagued the Jamaican coast. She was not worth bringing out so Loring destroyed her.[2]

In May 1801, while Lark was under the command of Commander James Katon (pro tem), she lost her masts to a hurricane and had to refit in Port Royal.

Lark's next action occurred on September 13, 1801. With Lieut. Johnstone as acting captain, Lark chased a Spanish privateer schooner along the coast of Cuba until evening, when the vessel took refuge within the Portillo Reefs. Johnstone sent his yawl and cutter, each with sixteen men, including officers, to capture her. The privateer, which was armed with a long 8-pounder and two 4-pounders, put up a strong fight. Still, the British prevailed, having lost one man killed and a midshipman and 12 sailors wounded. The Spanish lost 21 dead, and six wounded, including their captain, with the remainder of the 45 man crew being taken prisoner.[3] The privateer was the Esperanza out of Santiago, which in the previous month had taken the British sloop Eliza and the brig Betsey.

On July 4, 1802, Lark left Jamaica for England while under the command of Edward Pelham Brenton. On 15 August, two days before she reached Plymouth, Lark encountered the brig Jane, which was in some distress, and was able to provide her with water and provisions. After reaching Plymouth, Lark sailed the next day to Woolwich to be paid off.

Napoleonic Wars

In May 1804 she was under the command of Fredrick Langford, who in January of the next year took Lark from Portsmouth, headed for West Africa. He found a Spanish merchant cruiser at anchor off the Bay of Senegal and captured her. She was the schooner Camerara, with two guns, though she was pierced for 16. The Camerara was formerly French and had been a privateer at Cayenne. The Governor had intended to present her to her former captain, Victor Hughes, with the aim of using her to harass British trade with or passing Africa.

On May 29, Lark captured the French brig Cecile.

Towards the end of 1806, Lark was escorting the Africa convoy to Gorée when by the Savage Islands she came upon a French squadron consisting of five sail of the line, three frigates, a razée and two brig-corvettes. The convoy dispersed and Lark was able to escape and made her way to Cadiz to alert the British fleet there. Lark reached Cadiz on 26 November, and Rear Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth immediately took his squadron to try to find the French. The French squadron, under Contre-Admiral Allemand, was part of a French break-out from Brest.[4]

Lark went on to Portsmouth. She then left Portsmouth under the command of Commander Robert Nicholas, bound for the West Indies. On the way she chased a Spanish schooner. During the pursuit on January 19, 1807, the schooner capsized due to the weight of sail that she was carrying and the entire crew drowned before Lark could reach them.

Later that January, on the 27th, after a 14-hour chase, Lark captured two Spanish guard costa vessels out of Cartagena and bound for Portobelo . These were the Postillon (one long 12-pounder gun, two six-pounders, and 76 men), and the Carmen (one 12-pounder, four six pounders, and 72 men).[5] On February 4, the British then encountered a Spanish convoy of several small market boats with an escort of two gunboats and an armed schooner. Lark was able to drive the vessels of the convoy ashore, but the escorts took refuge under the guns of a 4-gun battery in a creek of Zispata Bay. Captain Nicholas was able to silence the battery, and then took his crew in boats to try to take the prizes. While capturing one of the Spanish vessels, a gun boat with one long 24-pounder and two 6-pounders, Nicholas and three of his men sustained wounds. Later, another three men were wounded in the continuing action. During the action, the pilot ran Postillon and Carmen ashore, forcing Nicholas to order their prize crews to burn them.[6]

On August 23, Lark, in the company of the Cruizer class brig sloop HMS Ferret, captured the French privateer schooner Mosquito, out of Santo Domingo. She had eight guns and a crew of 58 men.

In 1807, Nicholas became lieutenant governor of Curaçao shortly after the British captured it. When he left, the merchants there gave him a silver plate in appreciation for his efforts in protection of their trade.[7]

In the summer of 1809, Lark participated in the blockade of San Domingo until the city fell on July 11 to Spanish forces and the British under Hugh Lyle Carmichael. The blockading squadron, under Captain William Pryce Cumby in the 64-gun third rate Polyphemus, also included Aurora, Tweed, Sparrow, Thrush, Griffon, Moselle, and Fleur-de-Mer.


Unfortunately, on August 3, 1809, Lark foundered in a gale off Cape Causada (Point Palenqua), San Domingo, with the loss of Commander Nicholas and all but three men of her crew of 120. The 18-gun Cruizer class brig sloop Moselle, rescued the three survivors.[8] Nicholas had just been made post-captain into HMS Garland.


  1. William James and Frederick Chamier. 1837. The Naval History of Great Britain. (London : R. Bentley), p. 412.
  2. Foreign Intelligence. 1800. The European Journal. Vol. 38 (July), p. 73.
  3. William James. Naval History of Great Britain, Vol. III - 1800 - early months of 1805. p. 158.
  4. William James and Frederick Chamier. 1837. The Naval History of Great Britain. (London : R. Bentley), p. 187.
  5. William James and Frederick Chamier. 1837. The Naval History of Great Britain. (London : R. Bentley), p. 322.
  6. William James and Frederick Chamier. 1837. The Naval History of Great Britain. (London : R. Bentley), pp. 322-3.
  7. James Waylen. 1897. The house of Cromwell. (London: Elliot Stock), p.
  8. Grocott (1997), p. 280-2.
  • Colledge, J.J. (1987) Ships of the Royal Navy: The Complete Record of All Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy From the Fifteenth Century to the Present. (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press). ISBN 0-87021-652-X.
  • Grocott, Terence (1997) Shipwrecks of the revolutionary & Napoleonic eras. (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books).
  • Winfield, Rif (2008) British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1793-1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. (Seaforth Publishing, 2nd edition). ISBN 978-1-84415-717-4.