HMS St Lawrence (1814)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

HMS St Lawrence 001.jpg
A painting of HMS St Lawrence
United Kingdom
Name: HMS St Lawrence
Builder: Kingston Royal Naval Dockyard
Laid down: 12 April 1814
Launched: 10 September 1814
Decommissioned: 1815
Fate: Sold, 1832
General characteristics
Type: Ship of the line
Tons burthen: 2,304 ​9094 bm
Length: 194 ft 2 in (59.18 m) (gun deck length)
Beam: 52 ft 7 in (16.03 m)
Complement: 700
  • 112 guns:
    • Gun deck: 28 × 32 pdrs, 4 × 24 pdrs, 2 × 68 pdr carronades
    • Middle gun deck: 36 × 24 pdrs
    • Upper gun deck: 32 × 32 pdrs, 2 × 68 pdr carronades

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.[1] 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.[2][3] 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.[2] 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.[4]

As built St Lawrence measured 2,304 ​9094 tons burthen.[5] The gundeck's length was 194 feet 2 inches (59.18 m) and the beam was 52 feet 7 inches (16.03 m).[5] 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.[6]

Service history[edit]

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.[7] 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.[7] 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.[8]

St Lawrence was launched on 10 September 1814.[5] 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.[2] The ship cost Britain £500,000.[9] The day after the ship's launch, an American fleet under Chauncey appeared off Kingston and offered to battle, which the British declined.[3] 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.[10]

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.[11]

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.[12] 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.[12] Later, it sank in 30 feet (9.1 m) of water close to shore at 44°13′14″N 76°30′18″W / 44.22056°N 76.50500°W / 44.22056; -76.50500Coordinates: 44°13′14″N 76°30′18″W / 44.22056°N 76.50500°W / 44.22056; -76.50500. The vessel's remains rotted away until as of 2009, only the keel and ribs of the frame of St Lawrence remain.[13] The wrecksite, along with those of Princess Charlotte and Prince Regent, were designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2015.[14]


Model of HMS St Lawrence at the Royal Military College of Canada Museum built by master modeller Louis Roosen

The Royal Military College of Canada Museum in Kingston, Ontario has a scale model of HMS St Lawrence, built by master modeller Louis Roosen.[15]


  1. ^ Malcolmson 1997, p. 419.
  2. ^ a b c Winfield 2005, p. 55.
  3. ^ a b Malcolmson 2001, p. 300.
  4. ^ Malcolmson 2001, p. 293.
  5. ^ a b c Winfield 2005, p. 57.
  6. ^ Lyon & Winfield 2004, p. 100.
  7. ^ a b Malcolmson 2001, p. 239.
  8. ^ Malcolmson 2001, p. 295.
  9. ^ Hounsom 1970, p. 17.
  10. ^ Bamford 2007, p. 127.
  11. ^ Malcolmson 2001, pp. 309–310.
  12. ^ a b Preston 1964, p. 290.
  13. ^ Kidd, Kenneth (3 May 2009). "Feared warship now 'just a keel and bunch of ribs'". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  14. ^ McKay, Julia (4 August 2015). "War of 1812 Shipwrecks designated historic site". The Kingston Whig-Standard. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  15. ^ RMC club site. Archived 13 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine


  • Bamford, Don (2007). Freshwater Heritage: A History of Sail on the Great Lakes, 1670–1918. Toronto: Natural Heritage Books [Dundurn Group]. ISBN 978-1-897045-20-6.
  • Hounsom, Eric Wilfrid (1970). Toronto in 1810. Toronto, Ontario: Ryerson Press. ISBN 0770003117.
  • Lyon, David; Winfield, Rif (2004). The Sail & Steam Navy List: All the Ships of the Royal Navy, 1815–1889. London: Chatham. ISBN 1-86176-032-9.
  • Malcolmson, Robert (1997). "HMS St Lawrence: The Freshwater First-Rate". The Mariner's Mirror. 83 (4): 419–33. doi:10.1080/00253359.1997.10656663.
  • Malcolmson, Robert (2001) [1998]. Lords of the Lake: The Naval War on Lake Ontario 1812–1814 (Paperback ed.). Toronto: Robin Brass Studio. ISBN 1-896941-24-9.
  • Moore, Jonathan (2006). Archaeological and Historical Investigations of Three War of 1812 Wrecks at Kingston, Ontario : HMS St. Lawrence, HMS Kingston and HMS Burlington : Report for Province of Ontario Licence to Conduct Archaeological Exploration or Fieldwork 1999-096 at Sites BbGd-6, BbGc-45 and BbGc-46. Ottawa. ISBN 0-9781712-0-9.
  • Preston, R. A. (1964) [Reprinted c. 1980]. "The Fate of Kingston's Warships". In Zazlow, Morris (ed.). The Defended Border (Paperback ed.). Toronto: Macmillan of Canada. ISBN 0-7705-1242-9.
  • Winfield, Rif (2005). British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1793–1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Barnsley, UK: Seaforth Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84415-717-4.