HMS St Lawrence (1814)
A painting of HMS St Lawrence
|Name:||HMS St Lawrence|
|Builder:||Kingston Royal Naval Dockyard|
|Laid down:||12 April 1814|
|Launched:||10 September 1814|
|Type:||Ship of the line|
|Tons burthen:||2,304 90⁄94 bm|
|Length:||194 ft 2 in (59.18 m) (gun deck length)|
|Beam:||52 ft 7 in (16.03 m)|
HMS St Lawrence was a 112-gun first-rate wooden warship of the Royal Navy that served on Lake Ontario during the War of 1812. She was the only Royal Navy ship of the line ever to be launched and operated entirely in fresh water. Constructed in 1814, the ship's arrival on the lake ended all naval action and St Lawrence finished the war having never gone into battle. Following the war, the vessel was laid up, eventually being sold in 1832 to private interests. The ship was later sunk and is now a recreational dive spot.
Master shipbuilder John Dennis and nearly 200 shipwrights built St Lawrence in under ten months, although several sources credit master shipwright William Bell as the designer and builder. Unlike sea-going ships of the line, St Lawrence was constructed without a quarterdeck, poop deck or forecastle. This gave the vessel the appearance of a spar-deck frigate. Furthermore, St Lawrence was not expected to make long ocean voyages and did not have to carry the same amount of stores and provisions. This allowed the designers to make savings in the vessel's capacity. The shipwrights constructing the vessel believed they were building a ship larger than that of the flagship of Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, HMS Victory.
As built St Lawrence measured 2,304 90⁄94 tons burthen. The gundeck's length was 194 feet 2 inches (59.18 m) and the beam was 52 feet 7 inches (16.03 m). The crew numbered 700. In way of armaments, she carried thirty-two 32-pounder carronades and two 68-pounder carronades on the upper deck, thirty-six 24-pounder long guns on the middle deck and twenty-eight 32-pounder long guns, four 24-pounder long guns and two 68-pounder carronades on the lower deck.
The ship was ordered to correct the inferior state of the Royal Navy on Lake Ontario in relation to the United States naval forces, specifically in relation those units under the command of Isaac Chauncey. St Lawrence had her keel laid on 12 April 1814. The construction of the ship took a toll on British resources in the area, affecting supply levels throughout the region during the spring and summer. Projected launch dates in June, July and August were missed and in order to provide all of the gear for a ship of this size, the 74-gun ships of the line HMS Ajax, HMS Centaur and HMS Warspite were stripped at Montreal and the material brought to Kingston.
St Lawrence was launched on 10 September 1814. British naval commodore Sir James Lucas Yeo commissioned her as his flagship, with Captain Frederick Hickey as Flag Captain, in the Kingston Royal Naval Dockyard in Kingston, Upper Canada. The ship cost Britain £500,000. The day after the ship's launch, an American fleet under Chauncey appeared off Kingston and offered to battle, which the British declined. The vessel did not put to sea until 16 October, making several trips around Lake Ontario. On 19 October, the ship was struck by lightning, damaging the mast and killing several of the crew. The Americans made an attempt to blow St Lawrence up in Kingston harbour using a "torpedo" which was much more like a floating naval mine. The British drove the attackers off before they could make a serious attempt on the vessel.
At the time, Lake Ontario was effectively landlocked for any but the smallest vessels, due to shallow water and rapids on the St. Lawrence River downstream and Niagara Falls upstream. As a result, warships operating on Lake Ontario had to be built on site, either in Kingston or in the American naval dockyards at Sackets Harbor, or converted from merchant ships already operating in the lake.
Control of the lake, which was the most important supply route for the British for military operations to the west, had passed back and forth between the Americans and the British over the course of the war. The construction of a first rate ship of the line, in a campaign that had been dominated by sloops and frigates, gave the British uncontested control of the lake during the final months of the war. HMS St Lawrence never saw action, because her presence on the lake deterred the U.S. fleet from setting sail.
After the war ended in 1815, the ship was decommissioned. In January 1832, the hull was sold to Robert Drummond for £25. Between May and August, the hull was towed out of Navy Bay. It later formed the end of a pier attached to Morton's Brewery in Kingston and was used as a storage facility by the brewery, for cordwood among other materials. Later, it sank in 30 feet (9.1 m) of water close to shore at Coordinates: . The vessel's remains rotted away until as of 2009, only the keel and ribs of the frame of St Lawrence remain. The wrecksite, along with those of Princess Charlotte and Prince Regent, were designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2015.
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