HMS Theseus (1786)
HMS Theseus in the 1804 Antigua–Charleston hurricane.
|Ordered:||11 July 1780|
|Builder:||Perry, Blackwall Yard|
|Laid down:||3 September 1783|
|Launched:||25 September 1786|
|Fate:||Broken up, 1814|
|General characteristics |
|Class and type:||Culloden-class ship of the line|
|Tons burthen:||1660 tons (1686.6 tonnes)|
|Length:||170 ft (52 m) (gundeck)|
|Beam:||47 ft 2 in (14.38 m)|
|Depth of hold:||19 ft 11 in (6.07 m)|
|Sail plan:||Full rigged ship|
Commanded by Rear Admiral Horatio Nelson, she participated in the unsuccessful expedition of 1797 against Santa Cruz de Tenerife. In the engagement, Nelson was wounded by a musket ball while aboard the Theseus, precipitating the amputation of his right arm.
In 1798, Theseus took part in the decisive Battle of the Nile, under the command of Captain Ralph Willett Miller. The Royal Navy fleet was outnumbered, at least in firepower, by the French fleet, which boasted the 118-gun ship-of-the-line L'Orient, three 80-gun warships and nine of the popular 74-gun ships. The Royal Navy fleet in comparison had just thirteen 74-gun ships and one 50-gun fourth-rate.
During the battle Theseus, along with Goliath, assisted Alexander and Majestic, who were being attacked by a number of French warships. The French frigate Artemise surrendered to the British, with the crew setting fire to their ship to prevent it falling into the hands of the British. Two other French ships Heureux and Mercure ran aground and soon surrendered after a brief encounter with three British warships, one of which was Theseus.
The battle was a complete success for the Royal Navy, as well as an important success for the career of Admiral Nelson. It was an utter rout for the French Navy and cut supply lines to the French army in Egypt, whose wider objective was to threaten British India. The casualties were heavy; the French suffered over 1,700 killed, over 600 wounded and 3,000 captured. The British suffered 218 dead and 677 wounded. Nine French warships were captured and two destroyed. Two other French warships managed to escape. Theseus had five sailors killed and thirty wounded, included one officer and five Royal Marines.
Theseus was played a less successful role in the 1799 Siege of Acre, under the command of Captain Ralph Willett Miller. On 13 May 1799 she reached the nearby port of Caesarea, and Miller ordered the ship readied for action in bombarding Acre the following morning. A large quantity of ammunition was brought to the deck for use by the ships guns, including more than 70 18-pound and 36-pound shells. At 9.30am on the 14th, the ammunition was accidentally ignited while the ship was under way. The resulting explosion set fire to the deck, main and mizzen masts and killed Miller and 25 other men. Another 45 crew members were injured. 
Flames quickly spread between Theseus ' decks, and a second detonation of ammunition stores destroyed the poop and quarterdecks and toppled the main mast over the starboard bow. A furtehr ten men were killed before the fire was brought under control, leaving the ship unserviceable for the Acre campaign.
Four years later a refitted Theseus took part Blockade of Saint-Domingue in 1803, under Captain John Bligh. She also took part in the Battle of the Basque Roads in 1809. Lord Cochrane initiated a daring attack, led by fire ships and other explosive vessels, in an attempt to cause chaos among their target, an anchored French squadron. Many of the French ships were subsequently run aground due to the havoc that this attack caused. The enemy squadron would probably have been wiped out completely had the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Lord Gambier, not hesitated over necessary decisions, such as to deploy the main fleet which instead lay in wait for their orders. Thus the remnants of the French escaped destruction.
- Lavery, Ships of the Line vol.1, p180.
- Mostert, TLUAW p221
- Mostert, TLUAW p266
- Mostert, TLUAW p267
- Mostert, TLUAW p268
- Grocott 1997, pp. 74-75
- Grocott, Terence (1997). Shipwrecks of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Eras. Chatham Publishing. ISBN 1861760302.
- 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.
- Mostert, Noel (2007). The Line Upon A Wind. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-393-06653-1.