HMS Cerberus (1758)

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RN EnsignGreat Britain
Name: HMS Cerberus
Ordered: 6 May 1757
Builder: Pleasant Fenn, East Cowes
Laid down: 13 June 1757
Launched: 5 September 1758
Completed: 11 November 1758 at Portsmouth Dockyard
Decommissioned: May 1858
Fate: Abandoned and burnt to prevent capture at Rhode Island on 5 August 1778
General characteristics
Class and type: 28-gun Coventry-class sixth-rate frigate
Tons burthen: 593 14/94 bm
  • 118 ft 7.5 in (36.157 m) (gundeck)
  • 97 ft 2.125 in (29.61958 m) (keel)
Beam: 33 ft 10.5 in (10.325 m)
Depth of hold: 10 ft 6 in (3.20 m)
Sail plan: Full-rigged ship
Complement: 200
  • Upper deck: 24 × 9-pounder guns
  • Quarterdeck: 4 × 3-pounder guns
  • 12 × ½-pdr swivels

HMS Cerberus was a 28 gun sixth-rate frigate of the Royal Navy.


She was ordered on 6 May 1757 from the yards of Pleasant Fenn, East Cowes and was laid down on 13 June 1757. She was launched just over a year later on 5 September 1758.[1][2]

The frigate was named after Cerberus, the multi-headed dog from Greek mythology that reputedly guarded the doors to Hades. The choice of name followed a trend initiated in 1748 by John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, in his capacity as First Lord of the Admiralty, of using figures from classical antiquity as descriptors for naval vessels. A total of six Coventry-class vessels were named in this manner; a further ten were named after geographic features including regions, English or Irish rivers, or towns.[3][4][a]

In sailing qualities Cerberus was broadly comparable with French frigates of equivalent size, but with a shorter and sturdier hull and greater weight in her broadside guns. She was also comparatively broad-beamed with ample space for provisions and the ship's mess, and incorporating a large magazine for powder and round shot.[b] Taken together, these characteristics would enable Cerberus to remain at sea for long periods without resupply.[6][7] She was also built with broad and heavy masts, which balanced the weight of her hull, improved stability in rough weather and made her capable of carrying a greater quantity of sail. The disadvantages of this comparatively heavy design were a decline in manoeuvrability and slower speed when sailing in light winds.[8]

Her designated complement was 200, comprising two commissioned officers – a captain and a lieutenant – overseeing 40 warrant and petty officers, 91 naval ratings, 38 Marines and 29 servants and other ranks.[9][c] Among these other ranks were four positions reserved for widow's men – fictitious crew members whose pay was intended to be reallocated to the families of sailors who died at sea.[9]

Naval career[edit]

Bushnell mines destroying a small British boat from Cerberus
Lark and Cerberus wreck map

Cerberus saw action in the American Revolutionary War. One of its first duties was to dispatch generals William Howe, Henry Clinton, and John Burgoyne to Boston after the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The American press likened the three generals to the three-headed dog that was the ship's namesake.[10] It provided naval reinforcement at the Battle of Bunker Hill.[10] The ship was the target of an early torpedo attack by David Bushnell's newly developed powder keg torpedoes in 1777. The attack killed four sailors[11] in a small boat, but did not severely damage the ship.

Cerberus was eventually burnt to prevent being captured by the French on 5 August 1778 during the American War of Independence, in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.[1][12] The remains of the Cerberus are now part of a site listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the "Wreck Sites of HMS Cerberus and HMS Lark."


  1. ^ The three exceptions to these naming conventions were Hussar, Active and the final vessel in the class, Hind[3][5]
  2. ^ Cerberus' dimensional ratios 3.57:1 in length to breadth, and 3.3:1 in breadth to depth, compare with standard French equivalents of up to 3.8:1 and 3:1 respectively. Royal Navy vessels of equivalent size and design to Cerberus were capable of carrying up to 20 tons of powder and shot, compared with a standard French capacity of around 10 tons. They also carried greater stores of rigging, spars, sails and cables, but had fewer ship's boats and less space for the possessions of the crew.[6]
  3. ^ The 29 servants and other ranks provided for in the ship's complement consisted of 20 personal servants and clerical staff, four assistant carpenters an assistant sailmaker and four widow's men. Unlike naval ratings, servants and other ranks took no part in the sailing or handling of the ship.[9]


  1. ^ a b Winfield. British Warships of the Age of Sail 1714–1792: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. p. 230.
  2. ^ "Archaeological Sites Under Investigation at AUVfest 2008". Archived from the original on 31 May 2008. Retrieved 19 August 2013.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  3. ^ a b Winfield 2007, pp. 227–231
  4. ^ Manning, T. Davys (1957). "Ship Names". The Mariner's Mirror. Portsmouth, United Kingdom: Society for Nautical Research. 43 (2): 93–96. doi:10.1080/00253359.1957.10658334.
  5. ^ Winfield 2007, p. 240
  6. ^ a b Gardiner 1992, pp. 115–116
  7. ^ Gardiner 1992, pp. 107–108
  8. ^ Gardiner 1992, pp. 111–112
  9. ^ a b c Rodger 1986, pp.348–351
  10. ^ a b Kathy Abbass and Rod Mather. "The History of the HMS Cerberus and HMS Lark". Retrieved 9 November 2013.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  11. ^ Battle of the Kegs
  12. ^ Marx, Robert F. (1987). Shipwrecks in the Americas. Dover Publications. p. 152. ISBN 0-486-25514-X.