HMS Vengeance (1800)

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HMS Seine captures the Vengeance on 25 August 1800, depicted in a print by Thomas Whitcombe
Career (France) French Navy Ensign
Name: Vengeance
Builder: Paimbœuf
Laid down: June 1793
Launched: 8 November 1794
Completed: By April 1795
Captured: 25 August 1800, by the Royal Navy
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Vengeance
Acquired: 25 August 1800
Fate: Possibly broken up in 1803
May have remained in service until 1814
General characteristics
Class and type: 38-gun Résistance-class frigate
Tons burthen: 1,180 bm
Length: 160 ft 6 in (48.9 m) (overall)
134 ft 9 in (41.1 m) (keel)
Beam: 40 ft 6 in (12.3 m)
Depth of hold: 13 ft 3.5 in (4.1 m)
Sail plan: Full-rigged ship
  • Upper deck: 28 x 18pdrs

HMS Vengeance was a Royal Navy 38-gun fifth rate. As the French Navy frigate Vengeance, she fought the frigate USS Constellation during the Quasi-War in an inconclusive engagement that left both ships heavily damaged. During the French Revolutionary Wars, HMS Seine hunted Vengeance down and captured her after a sharp action. The British apparently never returned her to sea-going service. Accounts are divided as to her eventual fate. She may have been broken up in 1803 after grounding in 1801, or continued as a prison ship until 1814.


Vengeance was one of two frigates built to Pierre Degay's design of 1793, initially ordered as the Bonne Foi, and launched on 8 November 1794.[1] She was one of the larger classes of frigate, armed with 24-pounders.[2]

French career

On 8 August 1796, off Guadeloupe, encountered the 32-gun Mermaid, under the command of Captain Robber Waller Otway. The subsequent action was prolonged but indecisive. When the 40-gun British frigate Beaulieu, came up Vengeance retired to the shelter of the batteries of Basseterre. Mermaid had suffered no casualties; Vengeance had lost 12 killed and 26 wounded.[3]

Within the month, on 25 August, Vengeance again engaged the British when she chased the 26-gun Raison, Captain John Poer Beresford, to the west of the gulf of Maine. After the vessels had exchanged fire for two hours, foggy weather helped Raison escape, but not before she had suffered three killed and six wounded. Vengeance suffered six killed and an unknown number of wounded.[4]

=Vengeance vs Constellation

On 31 January 1799, during the Quasi-War, Vengeance engaged the USS Constellation. Vengeance broke off the action despite having a broadside of 559 pounds compared to the American vessel's 372 pounds.[5]

The Constellation had sailed under Captain Thomas Truxtun from Saint Kitts on 30 January, and came across the Vengeance the following day. The Vengeance was bound for France under her Captain F M. Pitot, carrying passengers and specie, and initially attempted to outrun the Constellation.[6] Truxton gave chase, and eventually came within range during the evening, and after Pitot refused a request to surrender, the two began to exchange broadsides, with the Vengeance aiming high to damage the Constellation's rigging.[6]

The action lasted until one o'clock the following morning, having been fought in poor light, with the ships often ill defined shapes to each other. The Vengeance's guns eventually fell silent and Pitot may even have struck his colours, but the Constellation had suffered considerable damage to her masts and rigging, eventually losing her main mast at the conclusion of the action.[7] Constellation was therefore unable to take possession of the Frenchman and the two ships drifted apart while the Americans repaired their damage.[7] The Americans initially believed the Vengeance had sunk, but her captain managed to sail her as far as Curacao, where he ran her onto the beach to prevent her from sinking.[5] Estimates of French casualties ran to 160, while the Constellation had 15 killed and 25 wounded.[5] Pitot recorded that his guns had fired 742 rounds during the action, while the Constellation had fired 1,129.[5]


The French repaired Vengeance and returned her to service but on 20 August 1800 the frigate HMS Seine attacked her in the Mona Passage. Both ships sustained heavy casualties; 13 crew were killed aboard the Seine, 29 were wounded, and the ship was cut up.[8] The Vengeance sustained worse damage and surrendered.[1][9] One source estimates that Vengeance suffered some 35 men killed and some 70 wounded before she struck.[10]

The broadsides in this case were 498 pounds for Seine and 434 for Vengeance. Crew sizes were 281 men and 326 men, respectively.[10][Note 1]

The naval historian William James subsequently exaggerated the engagement in favour of the French. He declared that as Seine had done what Constellation could not, British naval forces were "more potent than American thunder".[8]

British career

Vengeance was re-armed with 18-pounders but not initially commissioned, and having been damaged by grounding in 1801,[11] she became a receiving ship at Portsmouth.[1] Some records indicate that she was then broken up in 1803; others suggest that she served as a prison ship until 1814.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Winfield. British Warships in the Age of Sail. p. 152. 
  2. Gardiner. Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars. p. 40. 
  3. Clowes (1897-1903), pp.501-2.
  4. Clowes (1897-1903), p.502.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Toll. Six Frigates. p. 135. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Toll. Six Frigates. p. 132. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Toll. Six Frigates. p. 133. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 James (2004), pp.32-3.
  9. Colledge. Ships of the Royal Navy. p. 370. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Laird Clowes (1897-1903), p. 533.
  11. Gossett (1986), p.35.


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