HMS Phoebe (1795)

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Capture of Néréide by HMS Phoebe, on 20 December 1797, by Thomas Whitcombe, 1816
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Phoebe
Ordered: 24 May 17942
Builder: John Dudman, Deptford Wharf
Laid down: June 1794
Launched: 24 September 1795
Honours and

Naval General Service Medal

  • "PHOEBE 21 DECR. 1797"
  • "PHOEBE 19 FEBY. 1801"
  • "OFF TAMATAVE 20 MAY 1811"
  • "JAVA"
  • "PHOEBE 28 MARCH 1814"
Fate: Sold 1841
General characteristics
Class and type: Phoebe class frigate
Type: 36-gun 18-pounder Fifth Rate
Tonnage: 926 8/94 bm
Length: 142 ft 9 in (43.51 m) (overall)
139 ft 0 in (42.4 m) (keel)
Beam: 38 ft 3 in (11.66 m)
Depth of hold: 15 ft 5.5 in (4.712 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Ship rigged.
Complement: 264
  • UD: 26 x 18-pounder guns
  • QD: 8 xc 9-pounder guns + 6 x 32-pounder carronades
  • Fc: 2 x 9-pounder guns + 4 x 32-pounder carronades

HMS Phoebe was a 36-gun Fifth Rate of the British Royal Navy. She had a career of almost twenty years and fought in the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. Overall, her crews were awarded six clasps to the Naval General Service Medals, with two taking place in the French Revolutionary Wars, three during the Napoleonic Wars and the sixth in the War of 1812. Three of the clasps were for single-ship actions and carried the name Phoebe. During her career, Phoebe sailed to the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the Indian Ocean, South East Asia, North America and South America.

Once peace finally arrive, Phoebe was laid up, though she spent a few years as a slop ship during the 1820s. She was then hulked. The Admiralty finally sold her for breaking up in 1841.


She was one of four frigates ordered on 24 May 1794 to a design by Sir John Henslow, Surveyor of the Navy. The contract for the first ship was placed with the Thames-side yard of John Dudman, where the keel was laid in June 1794. Named Phoebe on 26 February 1795, the frigate was launched on 24 September 1795 at Deptford Wharf on the Thames, and then moved to Deptford Dockyard, where she was completed on 23 December.[1]

French Revolutionary Wars

The Phoebe was first commissioned in October 1795 under Captain Robert Barlow.[1][Note 1] On 10 January 1797, after an eight-hour chase, she captured the 16-gun Atalante, Lieut. Dordeli, off the Isles of Scilly. Atalante had a crew of 112 men and was well coppered with a 80 foot keel. The Royal Navy took her into service under her existing name.

In 1797 she was off Brest as part of an inshore squadron of frigates under Sir Edward Pellew in HMS Indefatigable. The squadron included HMS Amazon, HMS Révolutionnaire and the hired lugger Duke of York.[2]

On 22 December 1797 Phoebe captured the French 36-gun Néréide, Captain Antoine Canon. Phoebe sighted the Néréide at 10am; the chase started at 11:30am and ended at 10:45pm with Néréide's surrender. During the chase Néréide fired her stern guns at Phoebe and the two vessels exchanged broadsides shortly before the Néréide surrendered. Phoebe suffered three men killed and 10 wounded; Néréide lost 20 men killed and 55 wounded. Part of the reason for the disparity in casualties was that the ratio of the weight of the broadsides was 407 pounds to 268 pounds.[3] In 1847, the Admiralty awarded the Naval General Service Medal with clasp "PHOEBE 21 DECR. 1797" to all remaining members of her crew who had participated in the action.

Together with Revolutionnaire, Phoebe captured the 26-gun Bourdelais on 11 October 1799[1].

On 21 February 1800, Phoebe captured the French privateer Belle Grade of Saint-Malo.[1] Belle Garde carried 14 guns and a crew of 114 men. In the 16 days she had been cruising she had captured the Chance, of London, and the brig Friends, of Dartmouth. Later, on 24 February, Kangaroo recaptured Chance.[4]


On 5 March, Phoebe captured the privateer Heureux in the English Channel off Bordeaux. Heureux had intended to cruise the West Indies. Instead, she arrived at Plymouth on 25 March.

Heureux, of 22 long brass 12-pounders and 220 men, mistook Phoebe for an East Indiaman, and approached her. Heureux did not discover her mistake until she had arrived within point-blank musket-shot. She then wore upon the Phoebe's weather bow, and hauled to the wind on the same tack. Her hope was that well-directed fire would disable Phoebe's masts, rigging, and sails, and thereby enable Heureux to escape.[5] Phoebe's broadside, however, was too powerful and Heureux was forced to strike her colours. Phoebe had three seamen killed, or mortally wounded, and three slightly wounded. Heureux had 18 men killed, and 25 wounded, most of whom lost limbs.[5] The British took her into service as Heureux.

Also around March, Phoebe recaptured the merchant vessel Britannia, from Lisbon.

On 11 May, about 650 miles W.S.W of Cape Clear, Phoebe captured the French privateer Grand Ferrailleur, of 16 brass 6-pounder guns. She was 16 days out of Bordeaux and had made no captures.


Captain Thomas Baker took command of Phoebe in January 1801. On 19 February, about six miles east of Gibraltar, she sighted a French ship off Ceuta, also sailing eastwards. Barlow chased the French vessel for two-and-a-half hour chase before he could bring her to a close action. Phoebe remained on the enemy's quarters throughout the action, raking her with steady fire. After about two hours the French vessel struck her colours as she was a wreck, her guns dismounted and her decks covered in dead and wounded.

She proved to be the Africaine, of twenty-six 18-pounders and eighteen 9-pounders, and had sailed from Rochefort on the 13th. She was commanded by Capitaine Majendie and flew the broad pennant of Commandant la Division Saunier. She was carrying 400 troops under General Desfourneaux as reinforcements for a French invasion force in Egypt, in addition to her crew of 315 officers and men.

The French reported that they had suffered 200 killed in the action, including the Commandant, the Chef de Brigade and two army captains, and 143 wounded, the later including the general and the captain, who was wounded in two places. The dreadful slaughter was due to the French troops refusing, as a point of honour, to go below during the action. Instead, they crowded the upper deck, uselessly. Phoebe lost one man killed, and 12 men wounded. Her masts, sails and rigging were badly damaged but she managed to continue to Port Mahon. The British took Africaine into service under her existing name. The action earned Phoebe's crew the clasp "PHOEBE 19 FEBY. 1801" to the Naval General Service Medal (1847).

Napoleonic Wars

In June 1802 Capt. James Shephard took command. Captain The Hon. Thomas Bladen Capell followed him and recommissioned Phoebe in September.[1] She then sailed for the Mediterranean on 28 September.[1] In 1803 Phoebe was sailing out of Malta. At some point, perhaps during the summer, her boats participated in a disastrous attack on two French privateers off Civitavecchia. The privateers repulsed the British, who lost eight men killed and wounded.[6] On 1 August, Phoebe captured two settées, which a French squadron recaptured. In recapturing the settées, the French squadron involved lost an opportunity to capture Phoebe, though they did also capture the schooner Redbridge and a transport.[6][7]


Hindostan arrived at Gibraltar in March and then sailed from there to join Nelson off Toulon in company with Phoebe,[8] but the vessels became separated during a gale in the Gulf of Lyons. Shortly thereafter Hindostan caught fire and was totally destroyed.[Note 2]

On 13 June Phoebe and Amazon made ready to engage two French frigates anchored under the guns of the north-most fort at Toulon. The fort fired at Phoebe, but she was out of range. When the French fleet sortied, the British vessels rejoined their squadron, however the French fleet returned to port without engaging.[9]

HMS Victory was passing the island of Toro on 4 April 1805 when Phoebe brought the news that the French fleet under Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve had escaped from Toulon. While Nelson made for Sicily to see if the French were heading for Egypt, Villeneuve entered Cadiz to link up with the Spanish fleet.

Then, while Nelson was pursuing the French fleet from Toulon to the West Indies, Capel, in Phoebe, was in charge of a small squadron of five frigates and two bomb vessels with the mission of covering Sicily, Sardinia and the route to Egypt.[10] Phoebe joined the blockade of Cadiz later in the summer.

The arrival of the additional frigates Phoebe, Naiad, Sirius, Juno, and Niger off Cadiz allowed Nelson to detach them to disrupt local shipping supplying provisions for the Franco-Spanish Combined Fleet fleet in Cadiz.

In October, the frigate squadron as acting as the eyes of the British fleet. When the Combined Fleet put to sea on 19 October, Phoebe was first in line, followed by Naiad and the Third Rate Defence. Capel spotted the Combined Fleet's exit and notified Nelson. As the combined fleet approached the British over the next couple of days, the frigates shadowed it, reporting on its movements.

During the subsequent Battle of Trafalgar, Phoebe relayed Nelson's signals to the rest of fleet, and remained close to the action although she did not actually engaged the enemy. In the gale that followed a few days later the Donegal and Phoebe assisted two of the prizes, the Swiftsure and Bahama, with the result that they were saved.[11][Note 3]

North Sea and Baltic

In January 1806 Capt. James Oswald took command. Phoebe then served in the North Sea and the Channel, before sailing for the Mediterranean.[1] On 9 July Phoebe, Thames and Blanche were detailed to the Shetland Islandsfind a French squadron reported to be destroying British and Russian fishing and merchant vessels in the Arctic.[12] Although Phoebe met with no success, Blanche encountered and captured Guérriére. Phoebe then sailed to the West Indies.

In April 1809 Capt. Hassard Stackpoole took command for the Baltic. Between 7 and 12 July, Phoebe captured the Russian vessels Saint Nicholas 1 and Saint Nicholas 2, and another vessel, name unknown. In August Capt. James Hillyar replaced Stackpoole.[1] On 6 January 1810 Phoebe sailed from Torbay for off the Île de Batz. Later she was in the Gulf of Livonia where her boats took numerous prizes.

Indian Ocean

By 21 November she was off the island of Rodriguez preparing for a joint naval and military expedition to take the Île de France. The expedition arrived on 28 November and the French signed the capitulation on 3 December.

In March 1811, Phoebe survived two major hurricanes in the Indian Ocean. Phoebe the participated in the Battle of Tamatave, where she fought another Néréide, under Captain Jean-François Lemaresquier. In the severe action the British captured Renommée; Néréide surrendered subsequently on the 25th at Tamatave. The British took both vessels into service, Néréide as Madagascar and Renommée as Java.

Phoebe suffered seven dead and 24 wounded. Néréide suffered some 130 men dead and wounded. This battle earned Phoebe's crew the clasp "OFF TAMATAVE 20 MAY 1811" to the Naval General Service Medal.


On 3 August 1811, Phoebe joined the fleet involved in the invasion of Java. Lieutenant-general Sir Samuel Auchmuty was the military commander-in-chief, and Commodore William Robert Broughton of the 74-gun Third Rate Illustrious was the naval commander-in-chief. Later, Rear-Admiral Robert Stopford took charge of the naval forces.

On 31 August Stopford detached the frigates Nisus, President, and Phoebe, and the sloop Hesper to take Cheribon, a seaport about 35 leagues east of Batavia. They arrived at dark on 3 September and the fort surrendered the next morning without a shot being fired.[13]

On 11 September, all squadron re-embarked the seamen and marines that had landed, together with about 700 prisoners, including 237 Europeans. At 4 a.m. Nisus and Phoebe weighed and steered for Taggal, a port about 20 or 25 leagues further to the east. The next day Phoebe arrived off the harbour. Together with a landing party of seamen, marines, and some sepoys, Captain Hillyar took quiet possession of the fort and public stores.[13]

Phoebe, Nisus, President, and Harpy joined Stopford with Scipion and Lion on 14 September. The next day they sailed for Surabaya. On 17 September they anchored off Ledayo on the Java shore where three transports with 450 men joined them. There they learned that the Dutch and French had surrendered the day before. The troops landed two days later and took possession of the place on 20 September under the general terms of the capitulation.

In 1847 the Admiralty authorized the issuance of the Naval General Service Medal with clasp "JAVA" to all remaining survivors of the campaign. Phoebe arrived at Plymouth Dock on 18 January 1812 with dispatches from the East Indies.

War of 1812

On 9 April 1812 Phoebe sailed with a convoy for Quebec.[1] She returned to Deal on 2 August. On 30 September she was in Plymouth, having brought dispatches from Halifax. She then underwent a refit.

In late December 1812, Phoebe captured two American schooners. One was the Vengeance, an American letter of marquee 12-gun schooner from New York, bound to Bordeaux, laden with sugar and coffee. Vengeance arrived in Plymouth on 8 January. The Royal Navy took Vengeance into service as Telegraph. Vengeance was closely followed by Hunter, a privateer schooner, of 14 guns and 100 men. The capture of Hunter occurred on 23 December after a chase during which she threw 12 of her guns overboard.[14]

A few days later, Phoebe was sailing off the Azores in the company of the 74-gun third rate HMS Elephant, under the command of Francis Austen, the brother of the acclaimed novelist Jane Austen, together with Hermes. On 27 December they captured the American privateer schooner Swordfish of Gloucester, John Evans, master. Swordfish was 16 days out of Boston and had a crew of 82 men, and originally twelve 6-pounder guns. However, she had thrown 10 overboard during the chase, which took 11 hours and covered more than 100 miles.[15]

On 18 March 1813 Phoebe left Portsmouth with a convoy for Brazil and the East Indies. On 6 July Phoebe, the sloop-of-war Cherub, and Raccoon sailed from Rio de Janeiro around Cape Horn to the Juan Fernández Islands. There, Racoon continued on to the fur trading outpost of Fort Astoria. Phoebe and Cherub remained to search for the 36-gun USS Essex. Hillyar was under orders to capture the Essex "at all costs".

USS Essex

On 8 February 1814 Phoebe and Cherub arrived at Valparaíso, a neutral port, where Essex and her prizes were anchored. Having trapped Essex in the harbour, Hillyar waited six weeks for her to come out and thwarted all of the efforts of her captain, David Porter, to escape. Eventually, on 28 March, Porter attempted to break out of the harbour. A squall took off his main topmast and he attempted to return to harbour but Phoebe and Cherub drove Essex into a nearby bay and defeated her in a short engagement.

Phoebe and Cherub also captured Essex's tender, Essex Junior, the ex-British whaler Atlantic. In the engagement, Phoebe had four men killed, including her 1st Lieutenant, and seven men wounded. Cherub had one killed and three wounded, including her captain. The British reported that Essex had 24 killed and 45 wounded, though the Americans reported higher casualties. Lieut. Pearson of Phoebe commanded the prize crew that sailed Essex back to Britain, where he was promoted to Commander. In 1847 the then surviving crew members of Phoebe and Cherub were awarded the Naval General Service Medal with clasp "PHOEBE 28 MARCH 1814".[16]

On 31 May 1814 Phoebe and Essex set sail for England. On the way they stopped for some time in Rio de Janeiro. The two ships finally anchored in Plymouth sound on 13 November.


Phoebe was paid off in 1814 and laid up at Plymouth in August 1815. Between January 1823 and October 1826 she was a receiving ship and slop ship. She became a hulk in 1826 at Plymouth. Phoebe was sold for breaking up to Joshua Crystall for £1,750 on 25 May 1841.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Winfield (2008), p.147.
  2. James (1837), Vol. 2, p.6
  3. James (1837), Vol.2, pp.92-93.
  4. The Naval chronicle, Volume 3, p.320.
  5. 5.0 5.1 James (1837), Vol. 3, pp.33-4.
  6. 6.0 6.1 The fireside book; a miscellany. (Philadelphia), Vol. 1, p.397.
  7. Marshall (1823-1835), Vol. 4 Part 1, p.283-4.
  8. Nelson and Nicholas (1845 - 1846), p.330.
  9. James (1837), Vol. 2, p.237-8.
  10. White (2005), pp.33-4.
  11. Jackson (1899-1900), pp.306-12.
  12. James (1837), Vol. 2, p.249.
  13. 13.0 13.1 James (1837), Vol. VI, pp.38-9.
  14. Maclay (1899), p.365.
  15. Huback & Huback (1906), p.228.
  16. Long (1895), p.202.


  • Hubback, J.C., and Edith C Hubback (1906) Jane Austen's sailor brothers: being the adventures of Sir Francis Austen and Charles Austin. (New York: J. Lane).
  • Jackson, Robert Sturges (1899–1900) Logs of the great sea fights, 1794-1805. (Navy Records Society), vol. 1794-1805, Volume 18, Issue 2.
  • James, William (1837). The Naval History of Great Britain, from the Declaration of War by France in 1793, to the Accession of George IV.. 1, 2, 3, 6. R. Bentley. 
  • Long, William H. (1895) Medals of the British navy and how they were won: with a list of those officers, who for their gallant conduct were granted honorary swords and plate by the Committee of the Patriotic Fund. (London: Norie & Wilson).
  • Maclay, Edgar Stanton (1899) A history of American privateers. (New York: D. Appleton and Co.).
  • Marshall, John ( 1823–1835) Royal naval biography, or, Memoirs of the services of all the flag-officers, superannuated rear-admirals, retired-captains, post-captains, and commanders, whose names appeared on the Admiralty list of sea officers at the commencement of the present year 1823, or who have since been promoted ... (London : Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown).
  • Nelson, Horatio & Nicholas Harris Nicolas (ed.) (1845-6) The Dispatches And Letters 2. London: Colburn.
  • White, Colin (2005) The Trafalgar captains : their lives and memorials. (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press). ISBN 978-1591148746
  • Winfield, Rif (2008). British Warships in the Age of Sail 1793–1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth. ISBN 1861762461. 

External links

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