HMS Phaeton (1782)
Contemporary Japanese drawing of HMS Phaeton (Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture)
|Ordered:||3 March 1780|
|Builder:||John Smallshaw, Liverpool|
|Laid down:||June 1780|
|Launched:||12 June 1782|
|Completed:||27 December 1782|
|Naval General Service Medal with clasp "27 Oct. Boat Service 1800".|
|Fate:||Sold to break up 26 March 1828.|
|Class & type:||Minerva-class frigate|
|Tons burthen:||944 (bm)|
|Length:||141 ft 0 in (42.98 m)|
|Beam:||39 ft 0 in (11.89 m)|
|Depth of hold:||13 ft 10 in (4.22 m)|
|Armament:||Fc: 2 x 9-pounder guns + 4 x 18-pounder carronades|
HMS Phaeton was a 38-gun, Minerva-class fifth rate of Britain's Royal Navy. This frigate was most noted for her intrusion into Nagasaki harbour in 1808. John Smallshaw (Smallshaw & Company) built Phaeton in Liverpool between 1780 and 1782. She participated in numerous engagements during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars during which service she captured many prizes. Francis Beaufort, inventor of the Beaufort Wind-Scale, was a lieutenant on Phaeton when he distinguished himself during a successful cutting out expedition. Phaeton sailed to the Pacific in 1805, and returned in 1812. She was finally sold on 26 March 1828.
Phaeton was commissioned in March 1782. Within a year she had been paid off.
Service in the Channel
Then on 14 April Phaeton sighted the French privateer Général Dumourier (or Général Du Mourier), of twenty-two 6-pounder guns and 196 men, and her Spanish prize, the St Jago, 140 leagues to the west of Cape Finisterre. Phaeton was part of Admiral John Gell's squadron and the entire squadron set off in pursuit, but it was Phaeton that made the actual capture.
The St Jago had been sailing from Lima to Spain when the General Dumourier captured her on 11 April. In trying to fend off the General Dumourier, St Jago fought for five hours, losing 10 men killed and 37 wounded, before she struck. She also suffered extensive damage to her upper works. St Jago's cargo, which had taken two years to collect, was the richest ever trusted on board a single ship. Early estimates put the value of the cargo as some ₤1.2 and £1.3 million. The most valuable portion of the cargo was a large number of gold bars that had a thin covering of pewter and that were listed on the manifest as "fine pewter". The General Dumourier had taken on board 680 cases, each containing 3000 dollars, plus several packages worth two to three thousand pounds.
The ships that conveyed St Jago to Portsmouth were St George, Egmont, Edgar, Ganges and Phaeton. The money came over London Bridge in 21 wagons, escorted by a party of light dragoons, and lodged in the Tower of London.
On 11 December the High Court of Admiralty decided that the ship should be restored to Spain, less one eighth of the value after expenses for salvage, provided the Spanish released British ships held at Corunna. The agents for the captors appealed and on 4 February 1795 the Lords of the Council (the Privy council) put the value of the cargo at £935,000 and awarded it to the captors. At the time, all the crew, captains, officers and admirals could expect to share in the prize. Admiral Hood's share was £50,000.
On 28 May Phaeton took the 20-gun Prompte off the Spanish Coast. Together with Weasle she took two privateers in the Channel in June - the 10-gun Poisson Volante and the Général Washington. On 27 November she and Latona took the 28-gun Blonde of Ushant. In February 1794 she was paid off, but the next month Captain William Bentinck recommissioned her.
Captain Robert Stopford
In September, Phaeton came under the command of Captain Stopford. In May 1795 Phaeton escorted Princess Caroline of Brunswick to England. Then began what would become a spectacular string of prize-taking. During Stopford's service in the Channel, Phaeton captured some 13 privateers and three vessels of war, and also recovered numerous vessels that the French had taken.
On 10 March 1796, Phaeton engaged and captured the French corvette Bonne Citoyenne off Cape Finisterre. She was armed with twenty 9-pounder guns and had a crew of 145 men. She had left Rochefort on 4 March in company with the French frigates Forte, Seine and Régénérée and the brig Mutine, all sailing for the Île de France with troops and military supplies. Stopford took her back to England as his prize. The Royal Navy then bought her in as Bonne Citoyenne, a Sixth Rate sloop of war.
While cruising in the Channel, on 6 March 1797, Phaeton took the French privateer Actif. She was armed with 18 guns and had a crew of 120 men. She had sailed from Nantes on the 17 of February and ten days later had captured the sailing packet Princess Elizabeth, which was her only prize.
On 16 September Phaeton took the 6-gun Chasseur. Then two days later she took the privateer Brunette. Then with Unite she took 16-gun Indien on 24 September off the Roches Bonnes. On 9 October Unite captured Découverte, with the 32-gun frigate Stag and Phaeton in company.[Note 1]
Phaeton also recaptured thre British vessels. These were the Adamant (24 September), Arcade (3 October), and Recovery (20 October).
Then on 28 December Phaeton took the 12-gun Hazard in the Bay of Biscay. The next day, the 44-gun Anson, Captain Philip Charles Durham, with Phaeton, retook the 20-gun Sphinx-class post ship Daphne, which the French had captured almost exactly three years earlier. Out of a crew of 276, including 30 passengers of various descriptions, the Daphne, lost five men killed and several wounded before she surrendered. The Anson had no casualties.
On New Year's Day, 1798, Phaeton took Aventure. On 19 February she took the 18-gun Légère in the Channel. On 22 March she participated in damaging the 36-gun frigate Charente near the Cordouan lighthouse. Phaeton fired on Charente, chasing her first into range of the guns the 74-gun Third Rate Canada, under the command of Captain Sir John Borlase Warren, with whom she exchanged broadsides. Charente grounded, but then so did Canada. Phaeton and Anson had to abandon the chase to pull Canada free. In the meantime, Charente threw her guns overboard, floated free, and reached the river of Bordeaux, much the worse for wear.
With Anson, she took the 18-gun privateer Mercure on 31 August, and the 32-gun privateer Flore on 6 September after a 24-hour long chase. Then on 8 October she took the 16-gun privateer Lévrier. Together with Ambuscade and Stag, on 20 November she took the Hirondelle.
On 24 November 1798, Phaeton captured the French privateer brig Resolue (or Resolu). Resolue was armed with 18 guns and carried a crew of 70 men. She had previously captured the English merchant ship General Wolfe, sailing from Poole to Newfoundland and an American sloop sailing from Boston to Hamburg. Stag later recaptured the American.
On 6 December, Phaeton and Stag captured the French privateer brig Resource. She was armed with 10 guns and carried a crew of 66 men. She had sailed from La Rochelle two days previously and was sailing for the African coast. Ambuscade shared in the prize money for both Resolu and Resource.
In July 1799 Captain Sir James Nicoll Morris took command of Phaeton and sailed with Lord Elgin, of the eponymous Elgin Marbles, for Constantinople. Elgin would be Britain's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire until 1803. In May 1800 she participated in the blockade of Genoa as part of Lord Keith's squadron. The Austrian general besieging the city, Baron d'Ott, particularly appreciated her fire in support of the Austrian army.
On 25 October 1800 Phaeton chased a Spanish polacca to an anchorage under a battery of five heavy guns at Fuengirola, where she joined a French privateer brig. The following night the brig escaped while the polacca tried twice, unsuccessfully, to escape to Malaga. On the night of the 27 October, Francis Beaufort led Phaeton's boats on a cutting out expedition.[Note 2] Unfortunately the launch, with a carronade, was unable to keep up and was still out of range when a French privateer schooner, which had come into the anchorage unseen, fired on the other boats. The barge and two cutters immediately made straight for the polacca and succeeded in securing her by 5 am. The captured ship was the San Josef, alias Aglies, of two 24-pounder iron guns, two brass 18-pounder guns as stern chasers, four brass 12-pounder guns and six 6-pounder guns. She was a packet, carrying provisions between Malaga and Velilla. She had a crew of 49 seamen, though 15 were away, and there were also 22 soldiers on board to act as marines.
Once Morris was sure that his men had secured the prize he sailed Phaeton in pursuit of a second pollaca that had passed earlier, sailing from Ceuta to Malaga. Phaeton was able to catch her under a battery at Cape Molleno. While Phaeton was returning to pick up Beaufort, his men and their prize, the French privateer schooner sailed past, too far away for Phaeton to intercept.
The British immediately commissioned San Josef as a British sloop-of-war under the name Calpe, the ancient name for Gibraltar. Although it would have been usual to promote Beaufort, the successful and heroic leader of the expedition, to command Calpe, Lord Keith chose instead George Dundas who not only was not present at the battle, but was junior to Beaufort. In 1847 the Admiralty awarded the survivors to that date of the boarding party the Naval General Service Medal with clasp "27 Oct. Boat Service 1800".
On 16 May 1801, boats from Phaeton and Naiad under the direction of Naiad's first lieutenant, entered the port of Marín, Pontevedra, in Galicia in north west Spain. There they captured the Spanish corvette Alcudia and destroyed the armed packet Raposo, both under the protection of a battery of five 24-pounders. Alcudia, commanded by Don Jean Antonio Barbuto, was moored stem and stern close to the fort. Her sails had previously been taken ashore so the boats had to tow her out but soon after a strong south-west wind set in and it was necessary to set her on fire. Only four men from the two British ships were wounded.
Phaeton then returned to Britain and was paid off in March 1802.
In July 1803 Captain George Cockburn recommissioned Phaeton for service in the Far East. On 2 August 1805, under Captain John Wood, she fought the 40-gun Sémillante, Captain Léonard-Bernard Motard, in the San Bernardino Strait off San Jacinto, Philippines, together with the 18-gun Cruizer class brig-sloop Harrier, Captain Edward Ratsey. After exchanges of fire first with Harrier and then with Phaeton, Sémillante took refuge under the guns of a shore battery. Unable to dislodge her, the two British vessels eventually sailed off, each having suffered two men wounded. Sémillante was reported to have suffered 13 killed and 36 wounded. After resupplying at San Jacinto, Sémillante intended to sail for Mexico in March 1805 to fetch specie for the Philippines; the encounter with Phaeton and Harrier foiled the plan. Motard returned to the Indian Ocean, operating for the next three years against British shipping from Île de France.
Nagasaki Harbour Incident
After the French had conquered the Batavian Republic and Napoleon begun to use its resources against England, Royal Navy ships started to prey on Dutch shipping. In 1808, Phaeton, by now under the command of Captain Fleetwood Pellew, entered Nagasaki's harbour to ambush a couple of Dutch trading ships that were expected to arrive shortly.
The Phaeton entered the harbour on 4 October surreptitiously under a Dutch flag. Despite the arrival of this "Dutch" ship being later in the season than normal, the Japanese and Dutch representatives did not suspect anything. So, Dutch representatives from their Nagasaki trading enclave of Dejima rowed out to welcome the visiting ship. But, as they approached, Phaeton lowered a tender and captured the Dutch representatives, while their Japanese escorts jumped into the sea and fled. Pellew threatened to execute the Dutch representatives unless supplies (water, food, fuel) were delivered to Phaeton. Phaeton also fired cannons and muskets to press her demands, and Pellew threatened to destroy the Japanese and Chinese ships in the harbour. The cannons in the Japanese harbour defenses were old and most could not even fire. Consequently, the meager Japanese forces in Nagasaki were seriously out-gunned and unable to intervene. 
At the time, it was the Saga clan's turn to uphold the policy of Sakoku and to protect Nagasaki, but they had economized by stationing only 100 troops there, instead of the 1,000 officially required for the station. The Nagasaki Magistrate, Matsudaira Yasuhide (Nagasaki bugyō) (ja), immediately ordered troops from the neighbouring areas of Kyūshū island. The Japanese mobilized a force of 8,000 samurai and 40 ships to confront the Phaeton, but they could not arrive for a few days. In the meantime, the Nagasaki Magistrate decided to respond to the ship's demands, and provided supplies.
The Phaeton left two days later on 7 October, before the arrival of Japanese reinforcements, and after she had learned that the Dutch trading ships would not be coming that year. She also left a letter for the Dutch director Hendrik Doeff. The Nagasaki Magistrate, Matsudaira, took responsibility by committing suicide by seppuku.
Following the attack of the Phaeton, the Bakufu reinforced coastal defenses, and promulgated a law prohibiting foreigners coming ashore, on pain of death (1825–1842, Muninen-uchikowashi-rei). The Bakufu also requested that official interpreters learn English and Russian, departing from their prior focus on Dutch studies. In 1814, the first English-Japanese dictionary (6,000 words) was written by the Dutch interpreter Motoki Shozaemon.
In May, Phaeton escorted the second division of British troops, commanded by Major-General Frederick Augustus Wetherall, from Madras to Prince of Wales Island, and then on to Malacca. Once the expedition reached Batavia, Phaeton and three of the other frigates patrolled for French frigates known to be in the area.
On 31 August a landing party from Phaeton and Sir Francis Drake, together with marines from Hussar, captured a fort from the French at Sumenep on the island of Madura, off Java. The British lost three men killed and 28 wounded.
In April 1818, Capt. W. H. Dillon commissioned Phaeton. In the autumn of 1818 Lieutenant John Geary, who had joined Phaeton at her re-commissioning, faced a court martial.[Note 4] The charges were that he had concealed two deserters from the band of the 18th Regiment of Foot. More formally, the charges were: "Inveigling musicians from one of the Regiments in garrison and with practicing deception towards the officers who were sent on board to search for them." The board found him guilty. He was severely reprimanded and dismissed from Phaeton. Robert Cavendish Spencer, late of Ganymede, a captain on the board, thought enough of Geary to shake his hand and offer him a job in the future. Several years later Spencer made good on his offer.
Phaeton went on to the East Indies. In October 1819 she was paid off and then recommissioned within the month under Captain William Augustus Montagu, for Halifax. She was paid off in September 1822. She was immediately recommissioned under Captain Henry Evelyn Pitfield Sturt. She sailed for Gibraltar and Algeceiras and was paid off some three years later.
Phaeton was sold on 11 July 1827 to a Mr. Freake for ₤3,430, but the Navy Office canceled the sale, "Mr. Freake having been declared insane." She was finally sold on 26 March 1828 for ₤2,500 to Joshua Cristall for breaking up.
In popular media
The Nagasaki Harbour Incident plays a role in the novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. However this depiction is highly fictionalised; the ship in the novel is HMS Phoebus, the incident occurs in 1800 and finding no Dutch ships the Phoebus of the novel bombards Dejima.
The Nagasaki Harbour Incident plays a role in the novel "Blood of Tyrants" by Naomi Novik This depiction is historical fantasy; the Japanese sink HMS Phaeton with dragons stationed at Nagasaki at the time.
- Découverte had been launched in 1896 as the Papillon, renamed Parleur, and then in 1795 renamed to Découverte.
- Fortuitously, Beaufort had served with Stopford on Aquilon some years earlier.
- In November 1801 the Navy awarded Beaufort a pension of £45 12s. 6d. per annum for his wounds.
- This was at least Geary's second court martial. In 1810 he was captain of Mullett when he was found guilty of not having done his utmost to follow orders to sail to South America. At that time he was severely reprimanded.
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