HMS Orpheus (1773)

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Career (UK) RN Ensign
Name: HMS Orpheus
Operator: Royal Navy
Ordered: 1771
Builder: John Barnard, Harwich
Laid down: 1771
Launched: 7 May 1773
Commissioned: 11 June 1773
Fate: Burnt at Rhode Island to avoid capture, 1778.
General characteristics
Class and type: Lowestoff class frigate
Tons burthen: 708 40/94 bm
Length: 130 ft 0 in (39.62 m)
Beam: 35 ft 1 in (10.69 m)
Depth of hold: 12 ft 6 in (3.81 m)
Propulsion: Sail
Complement: 220–
Armament: UD: Twenty-six 12-lb guns
QD: Four 6-lb guns
FC: Two 6-lb guns
Also 12 swivels

HMS Orpheus was a British Modified Lowestoffe Class Fifth Rate frigate, ordered on 25 December 1770 as one of five Fifth Rate frigates of 32 guns each contained in the Emergency frigate-building programme inaugurated when the likelihood of war with Spain arose over the ownership of the Falkland Islands (eight Sixth Rate frigates of 28 guns each were ordered at the same time). Sir Thomas Slade's design for the Lowestoffe was approved, but was revised to produce a more rounded midships section; the amended design was approved on 3 January 1771 by Edward Hawke's outgoing Admiralty Board, just before it was replaced. The contract to build the Orpheus was awarded to John Barnard at Harwich, the keel being laid in May 1771, and the frigate was launched 7 May 1773, at a cost of £12,654.16.11d. She sailed from Harwich on 24 May for Sheerness Dockyard, where she was completed and fitted out to the Navy Board's needs (for £835.7.7d) by 11 June.

The Orpheus measured 130 ft 0 in on the gun deck and 108 ft 2.5 in on the keel, with a breadth of 35 ft 1 in (one inch wider than designed) and a depth in hold of 12 ft 6 in; a total of 708 40/94 tons BM. She mounted twenty-six 12-pounder guns on the upper deck, four 6-pounder guns on the quarterdeck, and two 6-pounder guns on the forecastle; she also carried twelve small (half-pounder) swivel guns. She was established with a complement of 220 men.

The Orpheus was first commissioned in early 1773 under Captain John MacBride. On completion, she first took part in the Spithead Review on 22 June 1773, and was then sent cruising in the Channel. She was paid off into Ordinary (Reserve) in August 1774. A year later she was recommissioned in July 1775 under Capt. Charles Hudson, was fitted at Plymouth (for £3,729.11.8d) between August and the end of September 1775, and sailed for North America on 30 September 1775. The Orpheus was abandoned and burnt to avoid capture by the French at Rhode Island on 5 August 1778.


  • Rif Winfield, British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1714 - 1792, Chatham Publishing.

See also