HMS Niemen (1809)

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File:Battle of niemen against Amethist and Arethuse.jpg
Combat de la frégate Niemen contre les frégates Aréthusa et Amethyst, by Jean-Baptiste Henri Durand-Brager
Career (France) Civil and Naval Ensign of France.svg
Name: Niémen
Namesake: Neman River
Builder: Chantier Courau Frères, Bordeaux
Laid down: May 1807
Launched: 8 November 1808
In service: January 1809
Captured: 6 April 1809, by the Royal Navy
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Niemen[1]
Acquired: 5 April 1809
Fate: Broken up in September 1815
General characteristics
Class and type: 38-gun fifth rate
Tons burthen: 1,093+37/94 tons
Length: 154 ft 2½ in (47.003 m) (gundeck)
129 ft 1¾ in (39.364 m) (keel)
Beam: 39 ft 10¾ in (12.160 m)
Draught: 12 ft 5⅞ in (3.807 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
Complement: 300 (later 315)
  • French service - 44 guns

28 X 18-pounder guns
8 x 8-pounder guns
8 x 36-pounder carronades

  • British service - 46 guns:

Upper deck: 28 × 18-pounders
Quarterdeck: 14 × 32-pounder carronades

Forecastle: 2 × 9-pounder guns + 2 × 32-pounder carronades

HMS Niemen was a Royal Navy 38-gun Fifth Rate. She began her career as the Niémen, a 44-gun French Navy Armide class frigate, designed by Pierre Rolland. She was only in French service for a few months when in 1809 she encountered some British frigates. The British captured her and she continued in British service as Niemen. In British service she cruised in the Atlantic and North American waters, taking numerous small American prizes. She was broken up in 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812.

Construction and capture

Niémen was built by Chantier Courau Frères at Bordeaux to a design by Pierre Rolland, carrying 40 guns.[2] She was launched in 1808 but spent only months in French service.[3] She was commissioned at Bordeaux on 22 November 1808, but not completed until January 1809. On 4 April 1809 she sailed under the command of Commandant Jean Dupotet for Fort-de-France with stores and a substantial crew of 319.[2]

Two days later, as she was she was in the Bay of Biscay, she encounterd three British vessels, including the 36-gun frigate HMS Amethyst, under the command of Captain Sir Michael Seymour.[4] Also sailing in company with Amethyst were the 36-gun HMS Emerald, (Captain Frederick Lewis Maitland), and the 38-gun HMS Arethusa, (Captain Robert Mends).[4]

Seymour, who had previously won fame by capturing the French frigate Thétis the previous November, gave chase at 11am.[4] After a sustained chase lasting all day, the Amethyst lost sight of the Emerald, which could not match the speed of the two others, and had failed to gain on the Niémen.[4] Seymour then wore his ship around and was able to bring himself close to the Niémen at 9.30pm.

The two ships began exchanging fire at 11.30pm, with Amethyst coming alongside at 1am on the morning of 5 April to exchange sustained broadsides. By 3am the Niémen had lost her main and mizzen masts, and her fire was slackening. The Arethusa then arrived on the scene, firing a couple of broadsides at the badly damaged French ship. At this point Niémen surrendered.[4] Other accounts report that during the night, Niémen came in position to capture Amethyst, when Arethusa came to the rescue and forced her to strike her colours[5].

Regardless, Niémen had surrendered, having lost 47 killed and 73 wounded, compared to eight killed and 37 wounded on the Amethyst.[4] Sir Michael brought her in as a prize, and was rewarded with a baronetcy for his actions in capturing the Niémen, and the earlier capture of the Thetis.[4] In 1847 the Admiralty authorized the issue of the Naval General Service Medal with clasp "AMETHYST 5 APRIL 1809" to awarded upon application to all British participants still living in 1847.

As HMS Niemen

The Admiralty purchased Niémen for the sum of £29,979-2-10d in prize money; the Royal Navy took her into service and commissioned her as HMS Niemen.[6] Nieman arrived at Portsmouth on 26 April. There she underwent a Small Repair between August and November.[7] Her captor, Sir Michael Seymour, was appointed to command her in September 1809.[4]

On 15 May 1810 she left on a cruise in the Atlantic. In 1811 she was on the Irish station, based at Cork.[7] During the year she took the Danube, bound from New York to Bordeaux, the American gun-vessel Charlestown, and the American schooner Purse, Capt. Turner, sailing from New York to Bordeaux. The cause, at least in the case of Purse, was breach of the blockade of France.

However, the crew of the Purse recaptured their vessel, after killing Midshipman Sanders, the Prize Master from Niemen. On her return trip to New York with a valuable cargo of brandy, wine, and silks, Purse encountered Armide. After a 14 hour chase during which Purse's fore-top mast was shot away, Armide captured her. The Purse's master and crew were brought into Plymouth in irons.[Note 1]

In March 1812 Niemen came under the command of Captain Samuel Pym at Spithead.[8] On 4 January 1813 sailed with a convoy for Saint Helena. She escorted a convoy to Bermuda in January 1814, and then spent 1814 on the Bermuda station.[7] Here she took some 17 prizes, most of them small schooners, but a few of greater import.

  • 8 February: the American 9-gun US letter of marque packet Bourdreaux.
  • 8 May: the merchantman Hound.
  • 23 May: Niemen's boats cut out three American letter of marque schooners at Little Egg Harbour: Quiz, 28 men, pierced for 14 guns but mounting two, and the Claraand Model, each pierced for 12. The cutting out expedition suffered four men wounded.[9]
  • 5 June: the merchantman Flash.
  • 12 July: Niemen captured the American privateer Henry Guilder (or Henry Gilder), of 12 guns (eight 12-pounders and two long 9-pounders), and 45 or 50 men. Henry Guilder was sold at the prize court's auction in August at Halifax and became the (unsuccessful) British privateer Sherbrooke.[10]
  • 15 July: Niemen recaptured the Sir Alexander Ball, which had been taken on a voyage from Bristol to Malta, with a cargo of British manufactures and colonial produce.
  • 7 August: the Swedish brig Enigheton, sailing from St. Andrews to Philadelphia with a cargo of plaster of paris and of hardware.
  • 30 August: the merchantman Enterprise, sailing from Barnstable to Washington with salt and Glauber salts.
  • 2 September: the merchantman Los Dos Ermanos.
  • 5 September: the merchantman James, sailing from Washington to New York with a cargo of flour.
  • 21 September: the merchantman Swift.
  • 4 September: the letter of marque Daedalus, off Chincoteague, and the merchantman Hibernia. Daedalus was sailing from Port au Prince to New York with a cargo of coffee.
  • 3 October: the merchantman Tickler, sailing from Philadelphia to Saint Bartholomew with flour, bread, crackers and soap
  • 1 December: the merchantman Industry, off Cape Henry.
  • Unknown date: the merchantman Janus.


Nieman was broken up at Deptford in September 1815.[7] Her name was perpetuated in a 28-gun sixth rate launched in 1820 as HMS Niemen.[6]


In 1843 Jean-Baptiste Henri Durand-Brager made a painting of the battle, Combat de la frégate Niemen contre les frégates Aréthusa et Amethyst. It is at the Bordeaux Museum of Fine Arts but not on display.[11]

External links


  1. Naval Database
  2. 2.0 2.1 Roche (2005), p.326.
  3. Sail and Steam Navy List. pp. p. 48. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Annual Biography and Obituary. pp. pp. 195–201. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Colledge. Ships of the Royal Navy. pp. p. 243. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Winfield (2008), p.178.
  8. ships of the old navy
  9. The Naval Chronicle, Jul-Dec 1814, p.171.
  10. The Naval Chronicle, Jul-Dec 1814, p.508.
  11. Base Joconde (inventory numbers Bx E 399 and Bx M 5997)


  • Colledge, J. J.; Warlow, Ben (2006) [1969]. Ships of the Royal Navy: the complete record of all fighting ships of the Royal Navy (Rev. ed.). London: Chatham. ISBN 9781861762818. OCLC 67375475. 
  • Lyon, David and Winfield, Rif (2004) The Sail and Steam Navy List, All the Ships of the Royal Navy 1815–1889 (Chatham).ISBN 1-86176-032-9
  • "No. XV. Sir Michael Seymour, of High Mount, County Cork, and friary Park, Devon, Bart. and K.C.B.; Rear-Admiral of the Blue; and Commander-in-Chief on the South American Station". The Annual Biography and Obituary for the Year 1835. Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown. 1835. pp. pp. 195–201. 
  • [1] HMS Niemen at Ships of the Old Navy
  • 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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