HMS Anson (1781)

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For other ships of the same name, see HMS Anson.
Capture of Pomona.jpg
HMS Arethusa and HMS Anson capture the Pomona off Havana, depicted by Thomas Whitcombe
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Anson
Ordered: 24 April 1773
Builder: Plymouth Dockyard
Laid down: January 1774
Launched: 4 September 1781
Honours and

Participated in:

Fate: Wrecked, 29 December 1807
General characteristics [1]
Class & type: Intrepid-class ship of the line
Tons burthen: 1369 bm
Length: 159 ft 6 in (48.62 m) (gundeck)
Beam: 44 ft 4 in (13.51 m)
Depth of hold: 19 ft (5.8 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Full rigged ship

64 guns:

  • Gundeck: 26 × 24-pounder guns
  • Upper gundeck: 26 × 18-pounder guns
  • QD: 10 × 4-pounder guns
  • Fc: 2 × 9-pounder guns

44 guns:

  • Gundeck: 26 × 24-pounder guns
  • QD: 8 × 12-pounder guns, 4 × 42-pounder carronades
  • Fc: 2 × 12-pounder guns, 2 × 42-pounder carronades

HMS Anson was a 64-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched at Plymouth on 4 September 1781[1] by Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire.[citation needed]


She fought at the Battle of Les Saintes on 9 April 1782 under the flag of Admiral Sir George Rodney against Admiral de Grasse. In this engagement, Captain William Blair was one of the two Royal Navy post captains killed.

In 1794, she was razéed to a large frigate of 44-guns by removing her forecastle and quarterdeck and altering the former upper deck (now weather or spar-deck) to 42-pounder carronades from the 18-pounder long guns previously mounted.

Leviathan, Anson, Pompee, Melpomene, and Childers shared in the proceeds of the capture on 10 September of the Tordenshiold.[2]

On 18 October 1798 under the command of Captain Philip Charles Durham, in company with Kangaroo, she captured the French frigate Loire, this after having earlier lost her mizzen mast, main lower and topsail yards during the pursuit of a French squadron off Ireland.

She sailed from Plymouth on 26 January 1799, and on 2 February, in company with Ethalion, captured the French privateer cutter Boulonaise, 14, from Dunkirk which had been harassing shipping in the North Sea.

On 9 September 1799 Captain Durham hosted a fête for King George III. During the course of the evening, the king was found on the low deck surrounded by the ship’s company talking to an old sailor.

On 10 April 1800, when north-west of the Canary Islands, Anson detained the Catherine & Anna bound for Hamburg, Holy Roman Empire, from Batavia with a cargo of coffee.

In 1801 Captain W. E. Cacraft assumed command and the ship was placed on the Channel station, cruising from Portsmouth. In 1802 she was in the Mediterranean, and in November she sailed from Malta for Egypt. She went in for repairs in 1805 at Portsmouth.

On the morning of 23 August 1806 Captain Charles Lydiard along with Arethusa made a successful attack near Moro Castle in Cuba.

On 15 September 1806, she encountered the French Foudroyant, 84, under jury rig some 15 miles off Havana. Assuming that she had been damaged in action Captain Charles Lydiard attacked but then after half an hour found that the French ship had only suffered from bad weather and retained all her firepower. He was forced to haul off after two men had been killed and 13 wounded, his sails and rigging had been badly damaged and the ships were drifting fast in shore.

The capture of Curaçao, depicted by Thomas Whitcombe

On 1 January 1807 Anson, Latona, Arethusa, Fisgard, and Morne Fortunee captured Curaçao.[3] The Dutch resisted and on Anson seven men were wounded; in all, the British lost three killed and 14 wounded. On the ships alone, the Dutch lost six men killed, including Commandant Cornelius J. Evertz, who commanded the Dutch naval force in Curaçao and seven wounded, of whom one died later. With the colony, the British captured the frigate Kenau Hasselar, the sloop Suriname (a former Royal Naval sloop), and two naval schooners. In 1847 the Admiralty authorised the issue of the Naval General Service Medal with clasp "Curacoa 1 Jany. 1807" to any surviving claimants from the action; 65 medals were issued.[4]


'Loss of the Anson Frigate, off Cornwall', in an 1808 depiction by William Elmes
HMS Anson monument at Loe Bar

Anson was wrecked off Loe Bar, Cornwall, on 29 December 1807. The previous day she had been driven onto a lee shore by a gale while attempting to return to Falmouth. She had anchored, but the first anchor rope snapped at 4 am. The ships smaller anchor rope broke at 7 am and now with no anchor the Captain attempted to breach the ship but she hit the rocks broadside. The mainmast broke and fell onto the beach and some men managed to get ashore.[5] Estimates of the number of lives lost vary from sixty[6] to 190.[5] Captain Lydiard was among the casualties, his body being recovered on 1 January 1808 and taken to Falmouth for burial with full military honours.[7] Most of the other victims were buried in pits dug on unconsecrated ground on the cliffs with no burial rites. Some of the survivors were press ganged and took the opportunity to escape.[5]

Post script[edit]

The loss of the Anson caused controversy at the time, because of the treatment of the dead sailors washed ashore. In those days it was customary to unceremoniously bury drowned seamen without shroud or coffin in unconsecrated ground, with bodies remaining unburied for long periods of time. This controversy led to a local solicitor, Thomas Grylls, drafting a new law to provide more decent treatment for drowned seamen. This law was introduced to parliament by John Hearle Tremayne, Member of Parliament for Cornwall, and was enacted as the Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1808. A monument to the drowned sailors, and to passing of the Grylls Act, stands near the entrance to the harbour of Porthleven.[8][9]

Henry Trengrouse, a Cornish resident of the area, witnessed the wreck of the Anson. Distressed by the loss of life caused by the difficulties in attaching lines to the wreck, he developed a rocket apparatus to shoot lines across the surf to shipwrecks, to take off survivors in cradles. This was an early form of the breeches buoy.[10] An example of his life-saving apparatus is on display at Helston Folk Museum, as is a cannon salvaged from the Anson.


  1. ^ a b Lavery, Ships of the Line, vol. 1, p. 181.
  2. ^ The London Gazette: no. 15704. p. 652. 22 May 1804.
  3. ^ The London Gazette: no. 16003. pp. 241–243. 22 February 1807.
  4. ^ The London Gazette: no. 20939. p. 241. 26 January 1849.
  5. ^ a b c Treglown, Tony (2011). Porthleven in years goneby Local Shipwrecks. Ashton: Tony Treglown. 
  6. ^ Gilly. Narratives of Shipwrecks of the Royal Navy. p. 125. 
  7. ^ Ships of the Old Navy, Anson.
  8. ^ Hitchins, Fortescue (1824). Samuel Drew, ed. The history of Cornwall: from the earlist records and traditions ..., Volume 2. William Penaluna. p. 607. Retrieved 4 September 2009. 
  9. ^ Schofield, Edith (2009). Cornwall Coast Path (third ed.). Trailblazer Publications. ISBN 978-1-905864-19-5. 
  10. ^ Pearce. Cornish Wrecking, 1700–1860. pp. 115–6. 


  • Robert Gardiner,Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars, Chatham Publishing, London 2006. ISBN 1-86176-292-5
  • Gilly, William Stephen (1851). Narratives of shipwrecks of the Royal Navy: between 1793 and 1849. J. W. Parker. 
  • 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.
  • Pearce, Cathryn (2010). Cornish Wrecking, 1700–1860: Reality and Popular Myth. Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 1-84383-555-X. 
  • Michael Phillips. Anson (44) (1781). Michael Phillips' Ships of the Old Navy. Retrieved 3 November 2008.

External links[edit]