HMS Vanguard (1835)

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Royal Navy EnsignUK
Name: HMS Vanguard
Ordered: 23 June 1832
Builder: Pembroke Dockyard
Laid down: May 1833
Launched: 25 August 1835
Commissioned: 1837
Renamed: HMS Ajax, 1867
Fate: Broken up, 1875
General characteristics [1]
Class and type: Vanguard class ship of the line
Displacement: 2889 tons (2935.4 tonnes)
Tons burthen: 2609 bm
  • 190 ft (58 m) (gundeck);
  • 155 ft 3 in (47.3 m) (keel, for tonnage)
Beam: 56 ft 9 in (17.30 m)
Depth of hold: 23 ft 4 in (7.11 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
Complement: 700-750 officers and men (gun crew = 702 men)
  • 78 guns (4 July 1832, as ordered):
  • Gundeck: 26 × 32 pdrs (56 cwt), 2 × 68 pdr carronades
  • Upper gundeck: 30 × 32 pdrs (56 cwt)
  • Quarterdeck: 10 × 32 pdrs (25 cwt)
  • Forecastle: 2 × 18 pdrs (42 cwt), 4 × 32 pdr carronades (25 cwt)
  • Poop deck: 4 × 18 pdr carronades (10 cwt)
  • 80 guns (3 December 1834 - as launched):
  • Gundeck: 26 × 32 pdrs (56 cwt), 2 × 68 pdr carronades (60 cwt)
  • Upper gundeck: 26 × 32 pdrs (48 cwt), 2 × 68 pdr carronades (60 cwt)
  • Quarterdeck: 14 × 32 pdrs (48 cwt)
  • Forecastle: 2 × 32 pdrs (48 cwt), 4 × 32 pdr carronades (25 cwt)
  • Poop deck: 4 × 18 pdr carronades (10 cwt)
  • Cost to build: £56,983
  • Cost to fit for sea: £20,756

The sixth HMS Vanguard, of the British Royal Navy was an 78-gun (or 80-gun) second-rate ship of the line, launched on 25 August 1835 at Pembroke Yard.[1] She was the first of a new type of sailing battleship: a Symondite.


The Vanguard was designed by John Edye, Chief Clerk in the Surveyor's Office,[2] to the directions of the Surveyor, Captain Sir William Symonds. The Vanguard was the first of a class of eleven. She was ordered from Pembroke Yard in June 1832; HMS Collingwood was ordered 'as a duplicate frame using the moulds of Vanguard, to test the efficacy of an American scheme whereby duplicate frames were stored for many years.'[3] Vanguard was laid down in May 1833; she required 60 skilled men for 16 weeks to set up the frame. She was launched on schedule in August 1835.[3] At the time she was the broadest ship ever built in England.[4] 'Vanguard cost £56,983 to build, and a further £20,756 to fit for sea.'[5] Her construction used 3,560 loads of timber and required 186 man-years.[6]

Characteristics of Symondite warships[edit]

Warships designed to the ideas of Captain Sir William Symonds (1782–1856) are known as Symondite warships, although the adjective has no official use as terminology. His intention was to give the Royal Navy an advantage in speed (under certain weather conditions), allowing it to force action.[7]

Symondite warships were very broad, and had a sharp 'V'-shaped hull-form.[8] (Preceding designs had a 'U'-shaped hull form.)

  • Their wide beam gave them very high stability, which allowed them to carry nearly twice the power of sail as vessels of the old type.[9] Unfortunately the Surveyor's department was understaffed,[10] with the result that their stability was over-done. Symondite warships rolled quickly, heavily and sometimes unevenly. This made them poor gun platforms. The rapid rolling also caused the rigging to wear out more quickly than on previous designs.[11]
  • Because Symondite warships got their stability from their great beam, they did not need to carry so much iron ballast as previous designs.[11]
  • Their 'V'-shaped hull with its steeply rising floors was inconvenient for carrying stores.[12]
  • They had higher and wider gun decks than preceding designs. This gave the gun crews more space to work in, improving efficiency. It also helped their sailing performance, because they were carrying fewer guns for their size.[7]
  • They had an excessively raked stern. In some ships, modifications to their sterns to remedy defects in the original design left "the stern timbers badly arranged, weakly supported and held together with iron straps."[6] The Symondite stern "lacked the defensive strength of the true round stern. There was simply too much glass to offer any protection to the crews of the stern battery in action."[13]

Symondite warships were very sensitive to how they were stowed.[14] If trimmed carefully, they were fast in moderate winds, thought they did not do as well as preceding designs in head seas, or rough seas.[15]

Compared with previous designs, Symondite warships required 19% more loads of wood and 30% more man-hours to build.[16]

Some of the Symondite warships were converted to steam in the 1850s (though not Vanguard). Their 'V'-shaped hull made it difficult to add a steam engine and boilers and to store coal.[17] The extra weight was low in the ship, exacerbating their excess stability, which made their rolling even worse than before.[18] (In fairness, at the time they were designed, it was never anticipated that they would be converted to steam.)

Service Life[edit]

Vanguard was commissioned in 1837 by Captain Sir Thomas Fellowes, with the normal picked complement of officers, including Baldwin Walker as First Lieutenant[19] and Mr Miller, one of Symonds's favourite sailing masters. The object was clear. Symonds wanted his ships to be tried by men capable of making the best of their qualities... Out in the Mediterranean Vanguard soon made a name for herself as the fastest ship in the fleet, with the handiness of a frigate when beat out of Grand Harbour [Malta].'[6] At the end of her first three-year commission Captain Fellowes wrote that Vanguard had 'great stability' was 'very easy at sea and works less than ships of her class' and had 'great advantage in all points of sailing.'[20]

On the night of 30 January 1838, Vanguard was at Malta under the command of Captain Sir Thomas Fellowes. The ship's First Lieutenant, C.M.M. Wright, ordered the Assistant Surgeon, Robert Thomas Charles Scott, to stomach-pump a drunken seaman. Scott expressed the medical opinion that a stomach-pump should not be administered. Wright ordered him to give it anyway as a punishment and reminded Scott that it was an order he had received. A short while later Wright ordered Scott to do the same to another seaman. The next morning Scott reported the matter to Commander Baldwin Walker who reported Scott to the Captain for disrespect and disobedience of a lawful order. Captain Fellowes threatened Scott with a court martial and reported him to Sir William Burnett, the Physician-General of the Navy. When this affair became public knowledge, an Admiralty Order was issued banning the use of a stomach-pump as a punishment.[21]

Captain David Dunn commanded Vanguard from 2 April 1843 to August 1843. Vanguard again served in the Mediterranean (including operations on the coast of Syria in 1840), and off Lisbon. In October 1843 Vanguard was out of commission at Devonport.[22]

On 4 February 1845, Vanguard was commissioned by Captain George Wickens Willes, and served in the Channel Squadron, the 1845 and 1846 Evolutionary Squadrons, and in Mediterranean.[22]

In the first trial of the Evolutionary Squadron of 1845, Vanguard (Captain George Willes) and her sister Superb (Captain Anwar Lowry Corry) were the slowest battleships in the squadron. The Surveyor (Symonds) thought that they had been badly stowed and needed recoppering. Once this was done they performed well.[12] Vanguard's captain wrote: 'such an entire change has taken place in her motion at sea, steering and working generally (although she is still deficient in her weights low down) that I can scarcely bring myself to believe she is the same ship.'[23] Vanguard was refitted after the 1845 trials (as were Superb and Canopus). In the August 1846 trials, Vanguard and Canopus were 'nearly alike in performance, with the former superior in smooth water, and the latter in rough.'[24] (The significance of Canopus is that she was regarded as one of the best of the previous type of 84-gun two-deckers.)

In May 1846 Evolutionary Squadron exercised firing the stern batteries. This was a rare occurrence and reflects no credit on any of the two-deckers:

  • Vanguard took ten minutes to clear for action and then fired two rounds from each stern gun. However the extreme overhang of the stern prevented the muzzles running clear, with the result that there was a minor fire.
  • Superb took 15 minutes to clear for action plus an hour to remove her sashes, and then was able to fire without incident.
  • Canopus was excused firing altogether.[24]

Captain Willes died on 26 October 1847. Captain George Frederick Rich commanded Vanguard in the Mediterranean from 6 November 1847 until Vanguard paid off in March 1849.[22]

Vanguard did not see service during the Crimean War.[22]

Unlike most members of the Vanguard-class, Vanguard was not converted to steam.[25]

Vanguard's last commission was as Coast Guard at Kingston from 18 February 1861 to March 1862, commanded by Commanded by Captain Edmund Heathcote.[22]

Vanguard was renamed Ajax in 1867, to allow her former name to be given to an ironclad battleship then being laid down in the ways. Ajax (ex-Vanguard) was broken up in 1875.[22]


  1. ^ a b Lavery, Ships of the Line vol.1, p191.
  2. ^ Lambert, The Last Sailing Battlefleet, p72.
  3. ^ a b Lambert, The Last Sailing Battlefleet, p158.
  4. ^ Brown, Before the Ironclad, p39.
  5. ^ Lambert, The Last Sailing Battlefleet, p159, Admiralty to Surveyor 11 April 1842 - UK National Archives ADM 83/86.
  6. ^ a b c Lambert, The Last Sailing Battlefleet, p159.
  7. ^ a b Lambert, The Last Sailing Battlefleet, p71.
  8. ^ There is a midship section model of Vanguard in the Science Museum in London. A photograph of this model is in: Lambert, The Last Sailing Battlefleet, p158.
  9. ^ Comments by Admiral John Hayes summarised in Lambert, The Last Sailing Battlefleet, p159.
  10. ^ Lambert, The Last Sailing Battlefleet, p32 & 72.
  11. ^ a b Brown, Before the Ironclad, p38-41.
  12. ^ a b Lambert, The Last Sailing Battlefleet, p161.
  13. ^ Lambert, The Last Sailing Battlefleet, p80. There is a model of the Albion's stern in the Science Museum in London.
  14. ^ 'It may do very well for a yacht to require as nice trimming and handling as Albion seems to do, when they are only running a race from Cowes and back, but it is a serious drawback in a two decker.' Sir Charles Wood to Lord Minto 30 November 1844 (Papers of Lord Minto, National Library of Scotland), quoted in Lambert, The Last Sailing Battlefleet, p82.
  15. ^ Brown, Before the Ironclad, p38-41. Lambert, The Last Sailing Battlefleet, p161-2.
  16. ^ Lambert, Battleships in Transition p66.
  17. ^ For instance, the Symondite 3-decker Queen had 1,300 cubic feet (37 m3) less space below the orlop than the slightly smaller Trafalgar (an earlier design). Lambert, Battleships in Transition p17.
  18. ^ Lambert, Battleships in Transition p63.
  19. ^ Whilst Lambert claims that Walker was First Lieutenant (The Last Sailing Battlefleet, p159), an online biography of Walker states that Walker had been promoted to commander on 15 July 1834, and was commander (i.e. executive officer or 2nd in command) on Vanguard from 1 September 1836 until 24 November 1838 (Online biography of Admiral Sir Baldwin Wake Walker (1802-1876))
  20. ^ Fellowes to Admiral Sir E Codrington C-in-C Portsmouth 29 Mar 1840 - UK National Archives ADM 87/10, quoted in Lambert, The Last Sailing Battlefleet, p159.
  21. ^ Maritime History and Naval Heritage Web Site
  22. ^ a b c d e f Online history of HMS Vanguard (1835)
  23. ^ Willes to Admiralty 17 November 1845, quoted in Lambert, The Last Sailing Battlefleet, p161.
  24. ^ a b Lambert, The Last Sailing Battlefleet, p162.
  25. ^ Lambert, Battleships in Transition


  • Brown, David K. Before the Ironclad, Development of Ship Design, Propulsion and Armament in the Royal Navy, 1815-60, published Conway Maritime Press, 1990. ISBN 0-85177-532-2
  • Fincham, John A History of Naval Architecture, pub Whittaker, 1851, reprint Scolar Press, 1979. ISBN 0-85967-569-6
  • Lambert, Andrew The Last Sailing Battlefleet, Maintaining Naval Mastery 1815-1850, published Conway Maritime Press, 1991. ISBN 0-85177-591-8
  • Lambert, Andrew Battleships in Transition, the Creation of the Steam Battlefleet 1815-1860, published Conway Maritime Press, 1984. ISBN 0-85177-315-X
  • 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.

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