HMS Elephant (1786)

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For other ships with the same name, see HMS Elephant.
Royal Navy EnsignUK
Name: HMS Elephant
Ordered: 27 December 1781
Builder: George Parsons, Bursledon
Laid down: February 1783
Launched: 24 August 1786
Honours and
Fate: Broken up, 1830
General characteristics [1]
Class and type: Arrogant class ship of the line
Tons burthen: 1604 bm
Length: 168 ft (51 m) (gundeck)
Beam: 46 ft 9 in (14.25 m)
Depth of hold: 19 ft 9 in (6.02 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
  • Gundeck: 28 × 32-pounder guns
  • Upper gundeck: 28 × 18-pounder guns
  • QD: 14 × 9-pounder guns
  • Fc: 4 × 9-pounder guns

HMS Elephant was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy. She was built by George Parsons in Bursledon, Hampshire, and launched on 24 August 1786.[1]

In late November 1790 the ship narrowly avoided destruction when lightning struck her whilst she was in Portsmouth harbour. The main topmast exploded but did not plunge through the quarterdeck as it was still held by the toprope.

In 1801 Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson chose Elephant as his flagship during the Battle of Copenhagen due to its suitability for the shallow waters there. It was on this ship that he is said to have put his telescope to his blind eye and claimed not to be able to see a signal ordering him to withdraw.

In mid-1803, the squadron under Captain Henry William Bayntun, consisting of Cumberland, Hercule, Bellerophon, Elephant, and Vanguard captured Poisson Volant and Superieure.[2] The Royal Navy took both into service. The ship participated in the Blockade of Saint-Domingue in the same year. The British patrolled off Cap-François. On 24 July the squadron, made up of Bellerophon, Elephant, HMS Theseus, and HMS Vanguard, came across two French 74-gun ships, Duquesne and Duguay-Trouin, and the frigate Guerrière, attempting to escape from Cap-François.[3] The squadron gave chase, and on 25 July overhauled and captured Duquesne after a few shots were fired, while Duguay-Trouin and Guerrière managed to evade their pursuers and escape to France.[4] One man was killed aboard Bellerophon during the pursuit.[3] Elephant remained blockading Cap-François until November, when the French commander of the garrison there, General Rochambeau was forced to surrender.

To prevent Rochambeau escaping, launches from Bellerophon and Elephant went into the Caracol Passage where they cut out the French schooner Découverte on 22-23 November. The French formally surrendered on 30 November.


Elephant was reduced to a 58-gun fourth-rate in 1818, and broken up in 1830.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Lavery, Ships of the Line vol.1, p180.
  2. ^ "no. 15620". The London Gazette. 13 September 1803. p. 1228. 
  3. ^ a b Cordingly. Billy Ruffian. p. 165. 
  4. ^ Goodwin. The Ships of Trafalgar. p. 68. 


  • Cordingly, David (2004). Billy Ruffian: The Bellerophon and the Downfall of Napoleon: The Biography of A Ship of the Line, 1782–1836. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 0-7475-6544-9. 
  • Goodwin, Peter (2005). The Ships of Trafalgar: The British, French and Spanish Fleets October 1805. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 1-84486-015-9. 
  • 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.