HMS Leopard (1790)
The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair
|Ordered:||16 October 1775
Reordered in May 1785
|Builder:||Portsmouth Dockyard (1775)
Sheerness Dockyard (1785)
|Laid down:||January 1776 (Portsmouth)
7 May 1785 (Sheerness)
|Launched:||24 April 1790|
|Completed:||By 26 May 1790|
|Reclassified:||Troopship in 1812|
|Naval General Service Medal with clasp "Egypt"|
|Fate:||Wrecked on 28 June 1814|
|Class & type:||50-gun Portland-class fourth rate|
|Tons burthen:||1,055 75⁄94 (bm)|
|Length:||146 ft 5 in (44.6 m) (overall)
120 ft ¾ in (36.6 m) (keel)
|Beam:||40 ft 8 in (12.4 m)|
|Depth of hold:||17 ft 6 in (5.33 m)|
|Sail plan:||Full rigged ship|
Fc: 2 x 6-pounder guns
Construction and commissioning
She was first ordered on 16 October 1775, named on 13 November 1775 and laid down at Portsmouth Dockyard in January 1776. She was reordered in May 1785, ten years since having first been laid down, and construction began at Sheerness Dockyard on 7 May 1785. Work was at first overseen by Master Shipwright Martin Ware until December 1785, and after that by John Nelson until March 1786, when William Rule took over. She was launched from Sheerness on 24 April 1790, and had been completed by 26 May 1790. She was commissioned for service in June that year under her first commander, Captain John Blankett.
Because Leopard served in the navy's Egyptian campaign (8 March to 8 September 1801), her officers and crew qualified for the clasp "Egypt" to the Naval General Service Medal that the Admiralty issued in 1847 to all surviving claimants.
The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair
In early 1807, a handful of British sailors—some of American birth—deserted their respective ships, then blockading French ships in Chesapeake Bay, and joined the crew of the USS Chesapeake. In an attempt to recover the British deserters, Captain Salusbury Pryce Humphreys, commanding the Leopard, hailed the USS Chesapeake and requested permission to search her. Commodore James Barron of the Chesapeake refused, and the Leopard opened fire. Caught unprepared, Barron surrendered, and Humphreys sent boarders to search for the deserters. The boarding party seized four deserters from the Royal Navy–three Americans and one British-born sailor–and took them to Halifax, where the British sailor, Jenkin Ratford, was hanged for desertion. The Americans were initially sentenced to 500 lashes, but had their sentence commuted; Britain also offered to return them to America.
In 1812, the Leopard had her guns removed and was converted to a troopship. On 28 June 1814 she was en route from Britain to Quebec, carrying a contingent of 475 Royal Scots Guardsmen, when she grounded on Anticosti Island in heavy fog. The ship was destroyed, but all hands on board survived.
The Leopard in fiction
In Patrick O'Brian's novel Desolation Island, the fifth book of the Aubrey–Maturin series, Jack Aubrey commands the Leopard on a cruise through the Atlantic and Indian oceans after the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair, a voyage which included the sinking of the fictional Dutch ship of the line Waakzaamheid, and a disastrous collision with an iceberg. The "horrible old Leopard," as it is repeatedly described in the series, ends its days as a store ship sailing from the English Channel to the Baltic.