HMS Aetna (1803)

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'Etna' (Aetna) (1804) RMG J0389.png
Ship's plans for Etna (Aetna)
Name: HMS Aetna
Namesake: Mount Etna
Acquired: by purchase, 1803
Commissioned: December 1803
Decommissioned: Late 1815
Honours and
Fate: Sold, 1816 and disposed in Woolwich
General characteristics
Type: Bomb vessel
Propulsion: Sails
  • 8 × 24-pounder carronades
  • 1 × 13 in (330 mm) mortar
  • 1 × 10 in (250 mm) mortar

HMS Aetna was one of the Royal Navy bomb vessels involved in the attack on Fort McHenry in the Battle of Baltimore and the bombardment of Fort Washington, Maryland in 1814, during the War of 1812. In these actions she was commanded by Richard Kenah. Prior to this, Aetna participated in the second Battle of Copenhagen in 1807 and the Battle of the Basque Roads in 1809. In both these actions, she was commanded by William Godfrey.

Service history[edit]

Aetna was the merchant vessel Success, that the Admiralty purchased in 1803.[3] She was commissioned in December 1803 under Commander George Cocks and first served in the Mediterranean. His replacement was Commander Richard Thomas.[3]

In December 1805 she came under the command of Captain John Quillam and in February 1807 or so under Commander William Peake, still in the Mediterranean. She was recommissioned in June 1807 under Commander William Godfrey for the Baltic.[3] There she took part in the siege and bombardment of Copenhagen between 15 August and 20 October 1807, resulting in the capture of Danish Fleet by Admiral Gambier.[4]

Battle of the Basque Roads[edit]

On 6 April 1809, Aetna, eight fire ships and a transport with Congreve rockets, joined Captain Lord Cochrane's fleet of frigates, sloops and gunbrigs off the Chasseron lighthouse where it was preparing to attack French warships in the Basque Roads.[5]

Aetna was the only vessel of her class present. On the night of 11 April Aetna, the frigate HMS Indefatigable and the sloop Foxhound were stationed near the north-west of the Île-d'Aix while the fire ships were launched against the enemy. At 11:00 on the 13th Aetna, HMS Beagle, the gun-brigs and the rocket cutters moved up to the mouth of the Charante to fire on the French ships Océan, Régulus and Indienne which had been driven ashore. Aetna split her 13-inch mortar in the attack. At 16:00 the falling tide forced them to return to their former anchorage under fire from shore batteries. By the evening of the 14th she had fired away all her 10-inch shells, but she did not leave the mouth of the Charente until the 29th.[5][Note 1] In 1847 the Admiralty awarded the then still surviving participants in the battle the Naval General Service Medal (NGSM) with the clasp "Basque Roads 1809".

Walcheren Campaign[edit]

Aetna then formed part of the naval force in the Scheldt under the command of Sir Richard Strachan. At 06:00 on the morning of 28 July 1809 Aetna, together with the whole fleet in The Downs, set sail for Flushing and that evening they anchored about 18 miles from Walcheren. On the 30th they watched the troops go ashore covered by the frigates.

The following morning at 11:00 Aetna, with the rest of the force, opened fire with her two mortars for the first time and fired 42 shells before an officer in a boat came round the various ships about midnight to desire them to desist. Commander Paul Lawless assumed command of Aetna in August, though he may have already been in command then.[3]

On 2 August Aetna moved towards the fort at Rammekens and on the 5th she anchored about a mile and a half from Flushing. Aetna saw no more action until the 13th when she fired seventy-four 13-inch shells and thirty-nine 10-inch at Flushing before the tide turned. When they were able to close again another fifty-two 12-inch and nine 10-inch shells were discharged. HMS Vesuvius, several gunbrigs and man-of-war launches with 24-pounders were firing alongside them. There was more firing on the 14th and 15th before a white flag was seen and the town surrendered on the 17th. By the 18th Aetna was a little more than 12 miles from Antwerp and a number of officers went ashore for a walk on South Beveland. On the 22nd they dropped down to the town of Doel and fired thirty-five 13-inch and five 10-inch shells to deter the French from throwing up a battery. HMS Hound, Thunder, and Aetna threw one shell per hour through the night, but in the morning they found that the enemy had continued work so, until the 26th they fired another 133 shells at the battery. All this time Antwerp was only seven or eight miles away, but still the troops waited, suffering from miasmatic fever and dysentery. On the 29th Aetna fired fifteen large shells against the battery and Thunder, Hound and a brig threw their shells into the enemy troops on the opposite side of the Scheldt. The following day forty-one more shells were fired. During the first week in September South Beveland was evacuated and the fiasco of the Walcheren expedition drew to a close.[5]

Cockburn in his dispatches after the campaign noted that "the constant and correct Fire from the Ætna, Captain Lawless, particularly drew my Attention."[7] Commander John Bowker replaced Lawless and then sailed Aetna for Cadiz on 8 April 1810.[3]

Defence of Cadiz[edit]

Aetna was subsequently employed in the defence of Cadiz. On 23 November Aetna, Devastation and Thunder, with a division of Spanish, and two divisions of British gun-boats, bombarded Fort Catalina at the southern end of the Bay of Bulls, while mortar and howitzer boats threw about 100 shells into French gunboats in the Guadalete river by El Puerto de Santa María.[5]

On 24 November the mortar and howitzer boats threw several hundred shells into Santa Maria whilst Aetna, Devastation and Thunder, with part of the Spanish flotilla and the British gunboats drew the fire from Catalina. At the beginning of December Aetna burst her large mortar, the fourth time she had done so during the siege.[5]

War of 1812[edit]

Potomac River expedition[edit]

In April 1814 Aetna sailed to America to join the squadron of Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane. On 17 August the frigate Euryalus, bombs Devastation, Aetna, and Meteor, the rocket ship Erebus, and the dispatch boat Anna-Maria were detached under Captain Gordon of Seahorse to sail up the Potomac River and bombard Fort Washington, about ten or twelve miles below the capital. Contrary winds meant they had to sweep for more than 50 miles over a period of five successive days, and lacking a pilot through Kettle-Bottoms, meant that it took ten days to reach the Fort.[5]

On the evening of the 27th they began a bombardment of the fort which continued until the powder magazine exploded. When the British took possession the following morning they found that the Americans had retreated leaving 21 heavy guns and 6 field-pieces - all spiked. On the 29th they accepted the surrender of the town of Alexandria and took possession of 21 seaworthy vessels which were loaded with merchandise and naval and ordnance stores. On 31 August Fairy arrived with news that the Americans were mounting guns downstream to oppose the squadron's return, so they started back without delay. Unfortunately Devastation ran aground, and the Americans tried to destroy her with three fire ships. This attempt was defeated by the British who launched their own boats, drove off the Americans, and towed the fire-vessels to shore. The squadron spent a total of 23 days in the river.[8] In 1847 the Admiralty awarded the then still surviving participants in the battle the NGSM with the clasp "The Potomac 17 Augt. 1814".

Battle of Baltimore[edit]

On 12 September 1814 Erebus, Meteor, Aetna, Terror, Volcano, and Devastation sailed up the Patapsco River in preparation for an attack on Baltimore, commencing their bombardment of Fort McHenry on the 13th, before being ordered to withdraw on the 14th.[4]

On 19 September 1814 the fleet, including the Royal Oak, Asia, Ramillies, and Aetna, remained at anchor in the Patuxent River until 27th when it moved to the Potomac where shore operations were recommenced from 3 to 14 October, after which the fleet departed for Negril Bay, Jamaica, arriving on 5 November, to prepare for the attack on New Orleans.[4]

Gulf Coast[edit]

Aetna and Meteor were dispatched up the Mississippi, along with Thistle, Herald and Pigmy, to create a diversion, by bombarding Fort St Philip.[9] For most of January 1815, Aetna was moored off the Mississippi, and moved to a new anchorage off Ship Island on 27 January 1815. On 9 February, Aetna was off Mobile Sound, and was ordered to send Lieutenant Knight and his Marine Artillerymen to join the army on shore, who were preparing to besiege Fort Bowyer. The following day, the bomb vessels Meteor [10] and Hydra arrived. The ship was to witness the capitulation of the fort, and the raising of the Union Jack.[11]

Aetna was to remain off Mobile until the end of March 1815. On 25 April 1815, some refugee slaves were embarked, having come from the Negro Fort which was being evacuated by the British, for passage to the Caribbean. Once they had been disembarked, and invalided servicemen were embarked in their place, Aetna proceeded to Portsmouth.


Returning from America, Aetna arrived back at Portsmouth on 19 July 1815,[4] before sailing to Woolwich for disposal. The principal Officers and Commissioners of His Majesty's Navy offered the "Ætna bomb, of 368 tons", lying at Woolwich, for sale on 14 December.[12] She sold there on 11 January 1816 for £1,850.[3]

Notes, citations, references[edit]


  1. ^ Head money was paid in March 1819. An ordinary seaman received 13 shillings; a first-class share was worth £86 13s 2¼d.[6]


  1. ^ "No. 20939". The London Gazette. 26 January 1849. p. 242.
  2. ^ "No. 20939". The London Gazette. 26 January 1849. p. 245.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Winfield (2008), p.374.
  4. ^ a b c d "HMS Aetna". Retrieved 6 October 2009.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "AETNA (1803)". Retrieved 6 October 2009.
  6. ^ "No. 17458". The London Gazette. 9 March 1819. p. 450.
  7. ^ "No. 16289". The London Gazette. 20 August 1809. p. 1326.
  8. ^ "DEVASTATION (1804)". Retrieved 6 October 2009.
  9. ^ "No. 16991". The London Gazette. 9 March 1815. pp. 449–451.
  10. ^ Fraser, p. 294
  11. ^ "Royal Marines on the Gulf Coast". Retrieved 19 January 2014. Extracted information from the log of HMS Aetna
  12. ^ "No. 17086". The London Gazette. 2 December 1815. p. 2399.


  • Fraser, Edward, & L. G. Carr-Laughton (1930). The Royal Marine Artillery 1804-1923, Volume 1 [1804-1859]. London: The Royal United Services Institution. OCLC 4986867
  • Winfield, Rif (2008). British Warships in the Age of Sail 1793–1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth. ISBN 1-86176-246-1.

External links[edit]