HMS Owen Glendower (1808)

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HMS Owen Glendower, c. 1820s, from the collection of the Royal Naval Museum.
Career (United Kingdom) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Owen Glendower
Launched: 1808
Fate: Sold in 1884
General characteristics as built
Class and type: 36-gun fifth rate Apollo class frigate
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
Armament: 36 guns

HMS Owen Glendower was a Royal Navy 36-gun Fifth Rate Apollo class frigate launched in 1808 and disposed of in 1884. In between she was instrumental in the seizure of the Danish island of Anholt, captured prizes in the Channel during the Napoleonic Wars, sailed to the East Indies and South America, participated in the suppression of the slave trade, and served as a prison hulk in Gibraltar.

She was named for "Owen Glendower", Shakespeare’s anglicization of the Welsh Owain Glyndwr (c.1359-c.1416), the last Welsh Prince of Wales, and a leader of the Welsh against the English. She was the only Royal Navy vessel to bear that name.

Captain William Selby, late of Cerberus, took command of Owen Glendower in February 1809.

The Gunboat War

Early in May 1809, Vice-admiral Sir James Saumarez, the British commander-in-chief in the Baltic, sent a squadron, consisting of one 64-gun ship, one frigate, three sloops, and a gun-brig, under the command of Captain Askew Paffard Hollis, of the Standard, to capture the Danish island of Anholt. The task force landed a party of seamen and marines, under the command of Selby, assisted by Captain Edward Nicolls of the Standard's Royal Marines. The Danes put up a short, sharp resistance that killed one British marine and wounded two. Still, on 18 May the Danish garrison of 170 men surrendered, giving the British immediate possession of the island. Anholt was small and essentially barren; its significance rested in the lighthouse that stood on its easternmost point. The Danes had extinguished it at the outbreak of hostilities between Britain and Denmark; the point of capturing the island was to restore the lighthouse to its function to assist British men-of-war and merchantmen in the Kattegat.[1]

The Channel

From late 1809 Owen Glendower operated in the Channel. On 10 March 1810, she captured the French privateer lugger Camille, out of Boulogne, while the crew of Camille was in the act of boarding a schooner. Selby chased the lugger, which refused to surrender till it was half full of water and had had two men killed and three wounded out of her crew of 58. Camille had only six of her fourteen guns mounted.

Then on 1 October Owen Glendower was escorting a convoy off The Lizard in thick fog. A master and crew from one of the vessels in the convoy came aboard and advised Selby that a French privateer cutter had taken his vessel. When the fog lifted, it turned out that the cutter was only a short distance away. The cutter surrendered after undergoing a short cannonade that wounded several of her crew. The turned out to be the 20-gun Indomptable, out of Roscoff, with a crew of 120 men.[2] She had formerly been the Swan, out of Cowes. Selby retook the convoy.

Selby died aboard her whilst at the Cape of Good Hope on 28 March 1811. Edward Henry A'Court, newly promoted to Post-captain on 29 March, took temporary command of Owen Glendower and sailed her back to Britain. Capt. Brian Hodgson replaced him as captain.

East Indies

Owen Glendower's next cruise was to the East Indies. She was due to leave Portsmouth on 25 September 1811, but adverse winds detained her. She sailed five days later, only to be driven back to Falmouth. Finally, she sailed for India on 20 October. In 1812 she served as flagship for Vice Admiral Sir Samuel Hood in the East Indies. In May 1814 off the Nicobar Islands, Owen Glendower captured a U.S. privateer, the 16-gun vessel Hyder Ally, which had a crew of 30.[3] The Hyder Ally was out of Portland, Maine and under the command of Captain Israel Thorndike. She carried sixteen guns: 12 18-pounder carronades, two long 18-pounders, and two long 9-pounders. Apparently some of her armament came from HMS Boxer.[4] The American had already taken two prizes, and sent them back to the US. (The British later intercepted both and retook them. A Britisher privateer, Tom captured the first at Cape Elizabeth, Maine. A British naval vessel took the other at Mount Desert Island.)[5]

Owen Glendower cruised the East Indies, stopping at such places as the Malacca Roads (21 August), Madras (29 August 1815), Penang and China, Trincomalee, and the like. She returned to England in the spring of 1816 and was laid up in Chatham.

South America

Captain the Honorable Robert Cavendish Spencer took command of Owen Glendower in August 1819. He brought with him nearly all the officers and 18 young gentlemen from his previous command, Ganymede. Owen Glendower was nominally ready for sea, but Spencer found the reality less compelling. He spent two and a half months re-rigging and re-fitting.[6] He discharged about a fifth of his crew, and lost about the same proportion to sickness and desertion.

Owen Glendower sailed for South America on 16 November, and arrived in Rio de Janeiro on 19 December, after a record 33-day voyage that included a 24-hour stop in Funchal, Madeira. She then sailed for Montevideo and Buenos Aires where Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy was waiting to make her his flagship. She stayed in Buenos Aires for some time, but then sailed to St Helena on a fact-finding mission to report on the conditions under which Napoleon was living while in captivity. Contemporary accounts stress that Spencer’s political affiliations were such that he would have been ready to find fault; instead, his report affirmed that Napoleon was well treated, though Napoleon chose not to grant Spencer an audience.[7] While Owen Glendower on this mission, Hardy transferred his flag to Creole.

Owen Glendower rounded Cape Horn despite encountering a severe gale, and arrived in Valparaiso on 22 January 1821. Spencer was under orders to find Captain William Shirreff of Andromache, who was a close friend of Lord Thomas Cochrane, then commander of the Chilean Navy in rebellion against Spain. Shirreff had ignored three previous recall messages and Spencer’s orders were to arrest Shirreff if he continue to prove recalcitrant. The reason behind the recall was that Spain had complained that Shirreff had not maintained a strict neutrality.[8] Hardy, in Creole, joined Spencer at Valparaiso. Spencer found Andromache off Peru and Shirreff agreed, without a fuss, to return to Britain.

Owen Glendower then spent three months off Spanish Peru, during which she visited the Galapagos Islands.[9] One of her midshipmen was Robert FitzRoy, who, as captain of HMS Beagle, would take Charles Darwin there in 1834.[10] While Owen Glendower was at Callao, the Chilean fleet attacked the port. However, Cochrane’s forces were not strong enough and he was forced to retire. During the attack, Spencer moved Owen Glendower to expose a Chilean vessel that had tried to take cover behind her.

Blockade succeeded where force had not, and Spain entered into negotiations with the rebels, negotiations that took place on Owen Glendower. These negotiations continued after Spencer’s recall and were completed on board Conway; the negotiations resulted in the formation of the Republic of Peru.[citation needed]

Owen Glendower sailed for home with freight worth about £400,000.[11][12] Off the Azores they came across an American ship from Smyrna that had run out of food and water. Spencer sent them some and informed them that they had a fair wind for Flores, which was only a few hours away. Owen Glendower arrived at Spithead on 19 January 1822.

The Eastern Atlantic

Owen Glendower underwent a much needed refit that included rebuilding the stern that Sir Robert Sepping had given her. Spencer then sailed her, with his father, Earl Spencer, to Copenhagen to invest the Danish King with the Order of the Garter.[13] Two or three weeks later she was at Falmouth determining its longitude before making a fast passage to Madeira to determine Funchal’s longitude. She was then paid off at Chatham.

Another midshipman on Owen Glendower at about this time who later came to be of note was Richard Brydges Beechey. He would go on to reach the rank of Rear Admiral. He was also a painter, and son and brother of painters.

Fighting the slave trade

File:Cheesman Henry Binstead.jpg
Portrait of Cheesman Henry Binstead, 1826, from the Royal Naval Museum

In October 1821, the Admiralty appointed Captain Sir Robert Mends to the West Africa Squadron as Commodore and Senior Officer on the west coast of Africa, to be employed in the suppression of the slave trade. He commissioned Owen Glendower in November 1822.

On 16 June 1823, Owen Glendower seized the slave vessel Concheta. On 5 September she seized the slave vessel Fabiana.

Returning to Africa following an outbreak of yellow fever, Mends defended the Cape Coast against the threatened attack of the Ashantis. It was during this operation that he fell ill with cholera. He died three days later on 4 September.

On 8 February 1824 marines from Owen Glendower defended Cape Coast Castle following the Ashanti defeat of government forces: two marines and a Krooman were killed and two marines and five seamen from the ship wounded.[14] Thereafter the vessel visited ports along the coast where the Ashanti might have been taking refuge.

One of the officers on Owen Glendower during her time with the West Africa Squadron was Cheesman Henry Binstead. He served as an Admiralty Midshipman and later as an acting Lieutenant. He is most noted for the diaries that he kept, which detail life on the squadron, including the frustrations, the slave ships chased and captured, the fears of attack and imprisonment, impressions of the indigenous African people, and the effects of ill-health and fever on the ship’s men. When Owen Glendower finally returned to England, Binstead was one of the few of her original crew to have survived.

Cape of Good Hope

From early 1825 to early 1827, Owen Glendower was based at the Cape of Good Hope. On 10 March 1826, 19 sailors from Owen Glendower drowned in a boating accident at Simon's Bay when her pinnace swamped. After another trip to England via St Helena, she was paid off at Chatham in July.


In March 1842 Owen Glendower was in Chatham, being fitted as a prison hulk to be based at Gibraltar. She then sailed from Chatham for Gibraltar with 200 convicts for work on the development of the Dockyard and the construction of a new breakwater there. Among the convicts were some who had run afoul of the restrictive political laws of the time, such as the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Once in Gibraltar, Owen Glendower then served for decades as a convict hulk.


In 1876 Gibraltar abolished the Convict Establishment and Owen Glendower, which had been operating as the convicts’ hospital, became a receiving ship. In 1884 she was sold to F. Danino at Gibraltar,[15] for ₤1036.


  1. James (1827) Vol. 5, 130.
  2. The Gentleman's Magazine (November 1810), Vol. 80 Part 2,466.
  3. Niles's Weekly Register, 15 February 1815, 400.
  4. Goold (1886), 467.
  5. Ellis (2009), 90-1.
  6. He introduced "Congreve's Lights" at his own expense before the Board of Ordnance had authorized them. (The annual biography and obituary for the year 1832, Vol. 16, 5; London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown).
  7. Forsyth and Lowe (1853), 128.
  8. Vale (2001), 22.
  9. While Spencer was in Peru a report reached London that he had been killed in a duel with his First Lieutenant; it was two months before the story was contradicted.(Le Marchant (1876), 219-20.)
  10. Gribbin and Gribbin (2003), 24 and 30.
  11. The Navy permitted Captains returning to Britain to carry "freight" in the form of remittances. The captains earned a commission of one percent of the value, half of which they kept and half of which went to the Greenwich Hospital (London); unlike in the case of prizes, the crew did not share in the proceeds.
  12. Vale (2001), 23.
  13. The annual biography and obituary for the year 1832, Vol. 16, 5; (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown).
  14. Also Krouman or Kruman. This was the term for an ex-slave, rescued from West Africa and locally recruited into the Royal Navy. The Navy used it as a title, such as "Krooman Jim Freeman", or "Head Krouman Jim Freeman".
  15. Colledge, p. 254.


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