HMS Ajax (1809)

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For other ships of the same name, see HMS Ajax.
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Ajax
Ordered: 1 July 1807
Builder: Perry, Blackwall Yard
Laid down: August 1807
Launched: 2 May 1809
Fate: Broken up, 1864
General characteristics [1]
Class and type: Vengeur-class ship of the line
Tons burthen: 1761 bm
Length: 176 ft (54 m) (gundeck)
Beam: 47 ft 6 in (14.48 m)
Depth of hold: 21 ft (6.4 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
Armament: Gundeck: 28 × 32-pounder guns

Upper gundeck: 28 × 18-pounder guns
QD: 4 × 12-pounder guns, 10 × 32-pounder carronades
Fc: 2 × 12-pounder guns + 2 × 32-pounder carronades

PD: 6 × 18-pounder carronades

HMS Ajax was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched on 2 May 1809 at Blackwall Yard.[1]

Napoleonic Wars[edit]

On 11 September 1810, in a ship action off Elba in the Mediterranean, Charles Benyon, Lieutenant in 'Ajax', aged 22, was killed attempting to board a French vessel. 3rd son of Richard Benyon of Englefield House, Berks, where the Benyon family still live.[2]

On 13 December 350 sailors and 250 marines from the 74-gun third rates Ajax, Cambrian and Kent attacked Palamós. (The sloops Sparrowhawk and Minstrel covered the landing.) The landing party destroyed six of eight merchant vessels with supplies for the French army at Barcelona, as well as their escorts, a national ketch of 14 guns and 60 men and two xebecs of three guns and thirty men each. The vessels were lying inside the mole under the protection of 250 French troops, a battery of two 24-pounders, and a 13" mortar in a battery on a commanding height. Although the attack was successful, the withdrawal was not. The British lost 33 men killed, 89 wounded, and 86 taken prisoner, plus one seaman who took the opportunity to desert.[3]

On 31 March 1811, Ajax and HMS Unite encountered a French squadron comprising the frigates Adrienne and Amélie, and the armed transport French corvette Dromadaire. Ajax captured Dromadaire, while the frigates managed to escape to Portoferraio. Captain Otway of Ajax reported that Dromadaire was frigate-built and sailed remarkably well. Her cargo consisted of 15,000 shot and shells of various sizes and 90 tons of gunpowder.[4] Apparently Napoleon Bonaparte intended them as a present for Hammuda ibn Ali, the Bey of Tunis.[5] Admiral Sir Charles Cotton, commander in chief of the British Mediterranean Fleet, decided to buy her and her stores for the Royal Navy.[4]

On 17 March 1814, Ajax captured the French 16-gun brig Alcyon near the Lizard. Alcyon was armed with sixteen 24-pounder carronades, and had a crew of 120 men. She was provisioned for a four-month cruise, but was only 24 hours out of Saint-Malo when Ajax captured her.[6]


Monument, in Dún Laoghaire, to Captain Boyd and five crew of the AJAX

Ajax was converted to a blockship with screw propulsion for coastal defence (also called 'steam-guard-ships') in 1846.[1] The conversion process involved removing her copper, ballast and some of the bulkheads, and cutting her down in the shape of a blockship.[7]

From 1846 until 1853 she was stationed as a guardship in Queenstown, now Cobh. She took part in the Crimean War 1853-1856. In 1854 she was involved in the Bombardment of Bomarsund, Finland. In 1858 she resumed guardship duties, this time in Kingstown, now Dún Laoghaire, where she remained until 1864 when she was decommissioned and broken up.[8]

Captain John McNeil Boyd R.N. was master of the Ajax while she was in Dún Laoghaire. On 8 February 1861 there was the worst storm in memory. 29 ships were lost between Wicklow Head and Howth Head, all close to Dún Laoghaire. Boyd organised rescues, but he and 5 of his crew were lost. Fifteen surviving members of the Ajax crew were decorated for bravery and most were promoted. There are many memorials to Capt. Boyd and his men.[9]


She was broken up in 1864.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Lavery, Ships of the Line, vol. 1, p. 188.
  2. ^ Monument, S aisle, East wall St Mark's church, Englefield, W of Reading, Berks. see family tree by ALE,
  3. ^ James (1837), Vol. 5, pp.259-60.
  4. ^ a b The London Gazette: no. 16484. p. 872. 11 May 1811.
  5. ^ Marshall (1823), Vol. 1, Part 2, p.700.
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 16873. p. 628. 22 March 1814.
  7. ^ 'Workmen are engaged in removing the housing over her, and preparing her for cutting down to a blockship for that port.' (Times Newspaper, 30 October 1845). '29 October 1845: The Ajax, 72, intended for a block ship, was docked yesterday to have her copper stripped off and to be cut down.' (Times Newspaper, 30 October 1845). '2 November 1845: The Ajax, 72, was undocked yesterday at Portsmouth, having had her copper stripped off, ballast removed, and some of her bulkheads taken out. She will be towed to Cowes in a day or two for conversion to a blockship, by Mr. White.' (Times Newspaper, 3 November 1845)
  8. ^ Lowth, Cormac F. "The Boyd Disaster". On-line Journal of Research on Irish Maritime History. Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  9. ^ "Melabcholy Catastrophe at Kingstown". The Times. 12 February 1861. Retrieved 15 February 2014. 


  • James, William (1837). The Naval History of Great Britain, from the Declaration of War by France in 1793, to the Accession of George IV. R. Bentley. 
  • Lavery, Brian (2003) The Ship of the Line - Volume 1: The development of the battlefleet 1650-1850. Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-252-8.
  • 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).

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