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The Argo as flagship at Gibraltar 1799
|Tons burthen:||87926/94 (bm), (as designed)|
|Length:||140 ft (43 m) (gundeck)
116 ft 4.375 in (35 m) (keel)
|Beam:||37 ft 9.5 in (12 m)|
|Depth of hold:||16 ft 4 in (5 m)|
|Sail plan:||Full-rigged ship|
|Complement:||280 (300 from 1783)|
|Armament:||Lower deck: 20 x 18-pounder guns
Upper deck: 22 × 9-pounder guns
(later upgraded to 12-pounder guns)
Forecastle: 2 × 6-pounder guns
The Roebuck class ship was a class of twenty 44-gun sailing two-decker warships of the Royal Navy. The class carried two complete decks of guns, a lower battery of 18-pounders and an upper battery of 9-pounders. This battery enabled the vessel to deliver a broadside of 285 pounds. Most were constructed for service during the American Revolutionary War but continued to serve thereafter. By 1793 five were still on the active list. Ten were hospital ships, troopships or storeships. As troopships or storeships they had the guns on their lower deck removed. Many of the vessels in the class survived to take part in the Napoleonic Wars. In all, maritime incidents claimed five ships in the class and war claimed three.
The Royal Navy classed the Roebuck class as fifth rates like frigates but did not classify them as frigates. Although sea officers sometimes casually described them and other small two-deckers as frigates, the Admiralty officially never referred to them as frigates. By 1750, the Admiralty strictly defined frigates as ships of 28 guns or more, carrying all their main battery (24, 26 or even 28 guns) on the upper deck, with no guns or openings on the lower deck (which could thus be at sea level or even lower). A frigate might carry a few smaller guns - 3-pounders or 6-pounders, later 9-pounders - on their quarterdeck and (perhaps) on the forecastle. The Roebuck-class ships were two-deckers with complete batteries on both decks, and hence not frigates.
Design and construction
The Admiralty assigned the contract for Roebuck to Chatham Dockyard on 30 November 1769. Some seven years after the design was first produced, the Admiralty re-used it for a second batch of nineteen ships. The Admiralty ordered them to meet the particular requirements of the American War of Independence for vessels suitable for coastal warfare in the shallow seas off North America (where deeper two-deckers could not sail). The first five vessels of the class, and the later Guardian, had two rows of stern lights (windows), like larger two-deckers though actually there was just the single level of cabin behind. Most, if not all, of the other ships of the class - from Dolphin onwards - had a 'single level' frigate-type stern.
Ships in class
- Builder: Chatham Dockyard
- Ordered: 30 November 1769
- Laid down: October 1770
- Launched: 24 April 1774
- Completed: 4 August 1775
- Fate: Broken up at Sheerness in July 1811.
- Charon (i)
- Builder: John Barnard, Harwich
- Ordered: 9 October 1776
- Laid down: January 1777
- Launched: 8 October 1778
- Completed: 23 January 1779 at Sheerness Dockyard
- Fate: She was trapped at the Yorktown so her stores, men and guns were taken ashore; on 10 October 1781 heated shot from a French battery set her on fire.
- Builder: Chatham Dockyard
- Ordered: 8 January 1777
- Laid down: 1 May 1777
- Launched: 10 March 1781
- Completed: 11 May 1781
- Fate: Broken up in July 1817
- Serapis (i)
- Builder: Randall & Co, Rotherhithe
- Ordered: 11 February 1778
- Laid down: 3 March 1778
- Launched: 4 March 1779
- Completed: 6 May 1779 at Deptford Dockyard
- Fate: Taken by American Bonhomme Richard, assisted by other vessels, and transferred to the French who employed her as a privateer; wrecked 1781 off Madagascar.
- Serapis (ii)
- Builder: James Martin Hillhouse, Bristol
- Ordered: 13 July 1780
- Laid down: May 1781
- Launched: 7 November 1782
- Completed: December 1782 at Bristol
- Fate: Sold to be broken up at Jamaica on 17 July 1826
- Builder: Robert Fabian, East Cowes, Isle of Wight
- Ordered: 13 July 1780
- Laid down: June 1781
- Launched: 27 November 1784
- Completed: 11 January 1785 at Portsmouth Dockyard
- Fate: Sold to be broken up 8 September 1836
- Builder: Robert Batson, Limehouse
- Ordered: 11 August 1780
- Laid down: December 1780
- Launched: 23 March 1784
- Completed: 20 May 1784 at Deptford Dockyard
- Fate: Collided with iceberg 24 December 1789 and of the 40 men and passengers who set out in boats, 10 survived; Guardian, with the remaining 61 crew, convicts and passengers, arrived at Cape Town in sinking condition 21 February 1790 and beached on 12 April during a gale; remains sold to be broken up 8 February 1791.
- Charon (ii)
- Winfield, Rif (2007) British Warships in the Age of Sail 1714-1792: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates.
- Hepper (1994), pp.61-62.
- Hepper (1994), p.95.
- Hepper (194), p.66.
- Hepper (1994), p.74.
- Hepper (1994), p.78.
- Hepper (1994), p.87.
- Hepper (1994), pp.73-4.
- Hepper, David J. (1994) British Warship Losses in the Age of Sail, 1650-1859. (Rotherfield: Jean Boudriot). ISBN 0-948864-30-3
- David Lyon, The Sailing Navy List, Brasseys Publications, London 1993.
- Rif Winfield, British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1714 to 1792: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates, Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley 2007. ISBN 978-1-84415-700-6.
- Robert Gardiner: Ships of the Royal Navy: the 44-gun two-decker, in: Robert Gardiner (Hrsg.): Nelson against Napoleon. From the Nile to Copenhagen, 1798-1801. Chatham 1997, S. 85-87.