HMS Anson (1781)

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Capture of Pomona.jpg
HMS Arethusa and HMS Anson capture the Pomona off Havana, depicted by Thomas Whitcombe
Royal Navy EnsignUK
Name: HMS Anson
Ordered: 24 April 1773
Builder: Plymouth Dockyard
Laid down: January 1774
Launched: 4 September 1781
Honours and
Fate: Wrecked, 29 December 1807
General characteristics [1]
Class and type: Intrepid-class ship of the line
Tons burthen: 1369 bm
Length: 159 ft 6 in (48.62 m) (gundeck)
Beam: 44 ft 4 in (13.51 m)
Depth of hold: 19 ft (5.8 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
  • 64 guns:
    • Gundeck:
      • 26 × 24-pounder guns
    • Upper gundeck:
      • 26 × 18-pounder guns
    • QD:
      • 10 × 4-pounder guns
    • Fc:
      • 2 × 9-pounder guns
  • 44 guns:
    • Gundeck:
      • 26 × 24-pounder guns
    • QD:
    • Fc:
      • 2 × 12-pounder guns
      • 2 × 42-pounder carronades

HMS Anson was a ship of the Royal Navy, launched at Plymouth on 4 September 1781.[1] Originally a 64-gun third rate ship of the line, she fought at the Battle of the Saintes.

The ship proved too weak to stand in the line of battle, so in 1784 she was razéed to produce a frigate of 44 guns (fifth rate). Stronger than the average frigate of the time, the razee frigate Anson subsequently had a successful career during the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars, mostly operating against privateers, but also in small actions against enemy frigates.

Anson was lost in a shipwreck on 29 December 1807. Trapped by a lee shore off Loe Bar, Cornwall, she hit the rocks and between 60 and 190 men were killed. The subsequent treatment of the recovered bodies of drowned seamen caused controversy, and led to the Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1808.

Design and construction[edit]

The ship was ordered on 24 April 1773 as an Intrepid-class ship of the line of 64 guns. The lead ship of the class, HMS Intrepid, had entered service in 1771 and proved satisfactory in sea trials, so the Royal Navy increased their order from four to fifteen ships. Anson was part of the expanded order, named after George Anson, 1st Baron Anson[citation needed], the victorious admiral of the First Battle of Cape Finisterre (1747).

Anson was launched on 4 September 1781[1] by Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire.[citation needed] She was completed and entered service on 15 October 1781.

The Intrepid-class design had been originally approved in 1765, so by the time Anson was launched it was over 15 years old. During that period, the design of ships-of-the-line had evolved, with the standard size and layout now being the seventy-four. Anson was therefore rather small and less solidly built than most of her contemporaries.

American Revolutionary War[edit]

Anson fought at the battle of Les Saintes on 9 April 1782 under the flag of Admiral Sir George Rodney against Admiral de Grasse. She was in the rear division, which was under the command of Rear-Admiral Francis Samuel Drake. In this engagement, Captain William Blair was one of the two Royal Navy post captains killed. In all Anson lost three men killed (including Blair), and 13 men wounded.[2]

Conversion to a frigate[edit]

Experience with 64-gun ships throughout the navy, at the Battle of the Saintes and elsewhere, had shown that they were now too poorly armed and weakly built to stand in the line of battle against larger ships-of-the-line. Rather than dispose of the ships entirely, the Royal Navy subjected some ships to a razée – removing the uppermost deck (and its armament) to produce a large frigate. The subsequent razee frigate was more heavily armed and built than a typical purpose-built frigate, though was not as fast and easy to handle in strong winds.

Anson was chosen for this process and in 1794 the ship was razéed. The original forecastle and quarterdeck were removed, and the former upper deck (now weather or spar-deck) was partially removed and restructured to provide a new forecastle and quarterdeck. The result was a frigate of 44 guns, with a primary gun deck armament of twenty-six 24-pounder cannon (most frigates of the time were too lightly built to handle such heavy guns, so were armed with 18-pounders). The new quarterdeck and forecastle also allowed the armaments stationed there to be substantially strengthened from the original design, including adding carronades. Anson was thus heavily armed for a frigate, and retained the stronger construction (and ability to absorb damage) of a ship-of-the-line.

French Revolutionary Wars[edit]

Leviathan, Anson, Pompee, Melpomene, and Childers shared in the proceeds of the capture on 10 September of the Tordenshiold.[3]

At the Action of 16 July 1797, Anson and Sylph drove the French corvette Calliope on shore, where Sylph proceeded to fire on her. When Pomone checked a week later, Calliope was wrecked; her crew were camped on shore trying to salvage what stores they could. Pomone confirmed that the flute Freedom and a brig that had also been driven ashore too were wrecked.[4]

On 29 December 1797 Anson recaptured Daphne, which the French had captured three years earlier in December 1794 and taken into service under her existing name. Daphné was under the command of lieutenant de vaisseau Latreyte and transiting between Lorient and Bordeaux on her way to Guadeloupe when Anson captured her at the mouth of the Gironde.[5] Anson fired several shots before Daphne struck. She was armed with 30 guns and had 276 men aboard, including 30 passengers. Two of the passengers were Civil Commissioners Jaiquelin and La Carze, who succeeded in throwing their dispatches for Guadeloupe overboard. Daphne had five men killed and several wounded.[6]

On 7 September 1798, after a 24-hour long chase, Anson and Phaeton captured Flore.[7] Captain Stopford, of Phaeton, in his letter described Flore as a frigate of 36 guns and 255 men. She was eight days out of Boulogne on a cruise.[8] She had also served the Royal Navy in the American Revolutionary War.

Anson was unable to take part in the Battle of Tory Island on 12 October 1798, because she had sustained damage during poor weather and was unable to keep up with the rest of the British squadron. In the aftermath of the original engagement, on 18 October she joined the brig HMS Kangaroo and fought a separate action, capturing the damaged French frigate Loire. Anson was then under the command of Captain Philip Charles Durham, who struggled to manoeuvre his ship after having lost her mizzen mast, main lower and topsail yards during the earlier pursuit.

Anson sailed from Plymouth on 26 January 1799, and on 2 February, in company with Ethalion, captured the French privateer cutter Boulonaise. Boulonaise, of Dunkirk, was armed with 14 guns and had been preying on shipping in the North Sea.

On 9 September 1799 Captain Durham hosted a fête for King George III. During the course of the evening, the king was found on the low deck surrounded by the ship’s company talking to an old sailor.

On 10 April 1800, when north-west of the Canary Islands, Anson detained Catherine & Anna bound for Hamburg, Holy Roman Empire, from Batavia with a cargo of coffee.

On 27 April Anson captured the letter of marque brig Vainquer. Vainquer was pierced for 16 guns but only mounted four. When captured she had been on her way from Bordeaux to San Domingo with a cargo of merchandise.[9]

Two days later, at daybreak, Anson encountered four French privateers: Brave (36 guns), Guepe (18), Hardi (18), and Duide (16). As soon as the French vessels realized that Anson was a British frigate they scattered. As Anson passed Brave going in the opposite direction Anson fired a broadside into her; Durham believed that the broadside did considerable damage, but he was unable to follow up as the Brave had the wind in her favour and so outsailed Anson. Durham then set off after one of the other French vessels, which he was able to capture. She was Hardi, of 18 guns and 194 men. Durham described her as "a very fine new Ship just of the Stocks." The Royal Navy took Hardi into service, first as HMS Hardi, before shortly thereafter renaming her HMS Rosario. Lastly, Durham reported sending into port for adjudication a very valuable ship that had been sailing from Batavia to Hamburg with the Governor of Batavia as passenger.[9] (This may have been Catherine & Anna.)

In 1801 Captain W. E. Cacraft assumed command and Anson joined the Channel station, cruising from Portsmouth. In 1802 she was in the Mediterranean, and in November she sailed from Malta for Egypt. She went in for repairs in 1805 at Portsmouth.

Napoleonic Wars[edit]

On the morning of 23 August 1806 Captain Charles Lydiard in Anson, together with Arethusa, made a successful attack near Moro Castle in Cuba. There they succeeded in capturing the Spanish frigate Pomone.

On 15 September 1806, she encountered the French ship of the line Foudroyant, 84, under jury rig some 15 miles off Havana. Assuming that Foudroyant had been damaged in action Captain Charles Lydiard attacked but then after half an hour found that the French ship had only suffered from bad weather and retained all her firepower. He was forced to haul off after two men had been killed and 13 wounded, his sails and rigging had been badly damaged, and the ships were drifting fast in shore.

The capture of Curaçao, depicted by Thomas Whitcombe

On 1 January 1807 Anson, Latona, Arethusa, Fisgard, and Morne Fortunee captured Curaçao.[10] The Dutch resisted and on Anson seven men were wounded; in all, the British lost three killed and 14 wounded. On the ships alone, the Dutch lost six men killed, including Commandant Cornelius J. Evertz, who commanded the Dutch naval force in Curaçao, and seven wounded, of whom one died later. With the colony, the British captured the frigate Kenau Hasselar, the sloop Suriname (a former Royal Naval sloop), and two naval schooners. In 1847 the Admiralty authorised the issue of the Naval General Service Medal with clasp "Curacoa 1 Jany. 1807" to any surviving claimants from the action; 65 medals were issued.[11]


'Loss of the Anson Frigate, off Cornwall', in an 1808 depiction by William Elmes
HMS Anson monument at Loe Bar

Anson was wrecked off Loe Bar, Cornwall, on 29 December 1807. The previous day she had been driven onto a lee shore by a gale while attempting to return to Falmouth. She had anchored, but the first anchor cable snapped at 4 am. Anson's smaller anchor cable broke at 7 am and now with no anchor the Captain attempted to beach her but she hit the rocks broadside. The mainmast broke and fell onto the beach and some men managed to get ashore.[12] Estimates of the number of lives lost vary from sixty[13] to 190.[12] Captain Lydiard was among the casualties, his body being recovered on 1 January 1808 and taken to Falmouth for burial with full military honours.[14] Most of the other victims were buried in pits dug on unconsecrated ground on the cliffs with no burial rites. The death toll is uncertain as some of the survivors had been press ganged and took the opportunity to desert.[12]

Post script[edit]

The loss of the Anson caused controversy at the time, because of the treatment of the dead sailors washed ashore. In those days it was customary to bury unceremoniously drowned seamen without shroud or coffin in unconsecrated ground, with bodies remaining unburied for long periods of time. This controversy led to a local solicitor, Thomas Grylls, drafting a new law to provide drowned seamen more decent treatment. This law was introduced to parliament by John Hearle Tremayne, Member of Parliament for Cornwall, and was enacted as the Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1808. A monument to the drowned sailors, and to passing of the Grylls Act, stands near the entrance to the harbour of Porthleven.[15][16]

Henry Trengrouse, a Cornish resident of the area, witnessed the wreck of the Anson. Distressed by the loss of life caused by the difficulties in attaching lines to the wreck, he developed a rocket apparatus to shoot lines across the surf to shipwrecks, to take off survivors in cradles. This was an early form of the breeches buoy.[17] An example of his life-saving apparatus is on display at Helston Folk Museum, as is a cannon salvaged from Anson. A carved figure from the stern of HMS Anson was sold at auction for £19,975 and is currently displayed on the Holland America cruise liner MS Noordam outside the Level 10 Observation Lounge.

Citations and references[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Lavery, Ships of the Line, vol. 1, p. 181.
  2. ^ "No. 12396". The London Gazette. 1782-10-12. pp. 3–4. 
  3. ^ "No. 15704". The London Gazette. 22 May 1804. p. 652. 
  4. ^ "No. 14031". The London Gazette. 25 July 1797. p. 697. 
  5. ^ Fonds, p.194.
  6. ^ "No. 14084". The London Gazette. 20 January 1798. p. 61. 
  7. ^ James (1837) Vol. 2, p.239.
  8. ^ "No. 15061". The London Gazette. 15 September 1798. p. 879. 
  9. ^ a b "No. 15257". The London Gazette. 13 May 1800. p. 475. 
  10. ^ "No. 16003". The London Gazette. 22 February 1807. pp. 241–243. 
  11. ^ "No. 20939". The London Gazette. 26 January 1849. p. 241. 
  12. ^ a b c Treglown, Tony (2011). Porthleven in years goneby Local Shipwrecks. Ashton: Tony Treglown. 
  13. ^ Gilly. Narratives of Shipwrecks of the Royal Navy. p. 125. 
  14. ^ Ships of the Old Navy, Anson.
  15. ^ Hitchins, Fortescue (1824). Samuel Drew, ed. The history of Cornwall: from the earlist records and traditions ..., Volume 2. William Penaluna. p. 607. Retrieved 4 September 2009. 
  16. ^ Schofield, Edith (2009). Cornwall Coast Path (third ed.). Trailblazer Publications. ISBN 978-1-905864-19-5. 
  17. ^ Pearce. Cornish Wrecking, 1700–1860. pp. 115–6. 


  • Gardiner, Robert (2006) Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars. (London: Chatham Publishing). ISBN 1-86176-292-5
  • Fonds Marine. Campagnes (opérations ; divisions et stations navales ; missions diverses). Inventaire de la sous-série Marine BB4. Tome deuxième : BB4 1 à 482 (1790-1826) [1]
  • Gilly, William Stephen; Gilly, William Octavius Shakespeare (1851). Narratives of shipwrecks of the Royal Navy: between 1793 and 1849. J. W. Parker. 
  • 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.
  • Pearce, Cathryn (2010). Cornish Wrecking, 1700–1860: Reality and Popular Myth. Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 1-84383-555-X. 
  • Michael Phillips. Anson (44) (1781). Michael Phillips' Ships of the Old Navy. Retrieved 3 November 2008.

External links[edit]