Thomas Slade

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Sir Thomas Slade, painting made by an unknown artist

Sir Thomas Slade (1703/4–1771)[1] was an English naval architect, most famous for designing HMS Victory, Lord Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Career outline[edit]

Like many who rose to the pinnacle of the design of British sailing warships, Thomas Slade began as a shipwright in the Royal Dockyards. His uncle Benjamin Slade was Master Shipwright at Plymouth Dockyard (a master shipwright was responsible for all ship construction and repair at the dockyard in which he served).[2]

In 1744 Thomas became Deputy Master Shipwright at Woolwich Dockyard. On 22 November 1750 he replaced his uncle, who had died that year, as Master Shipwright at Plymouth. On 27 May 1752 he was transferred temporarily back to Woolwich Dockyard as Master Shipwright, and from there to Chatham Dockyard on 17 June 1752 and subsequently on 15 March 1753 to Deptford Dockyard, where he remained until 5 August 1755.

Battle of Quiberon Bay: the Day After (Richard Wright, 1760). The Dublin-class HMS Resolution is on her starboard side in the foreground

He was appointed Surveyor of the Navy in August 1755 by George Anson, First Lord of the Admiralty, serving until his death in February 1771. For the first decade, he shared the appointment with William Bately, formerly the Deputy Surveyor of the Navy, until the latter's retirement in June 1765. On Bately's retirement, John Williams was appointed to share the post. Nevertheless, Slade was clearly the senior surveyor throughout his tenure.


According to N. A. M. Rodger:[3]

The ships which [he] designed...were admirably suited to Britain's strategic requirements...By common consent, Slade was the greatest British naval architect of the was generally agreed (even by themselves) that his successors, though competent designers, never matched his genius.

During this tenure, Slade was responsible for several major design changes. He produced a 'generic design' that was used as a template for the Royal Navy's 74-gun ships and frigates. His '74' designs, starting with the Dublin-class, were an evolution of current British ships, built to compete with the new French '74's, some of which had been captured during the War of Austrian Succession in 1747. At least forty-six '74's were built to his designs; the last was launched in 1789.

HMS Asia in Halifax Harbour, 1795. Watercolour by George Gustavus Lennock, a lieutenant aboard Asia.

He also designed HMS Asia, which was the first true 64-gun ship.[4] As a result, the Royal Navy ordered no further 60-gun ships but instead commissioned more 64s. Because these incorporated alterations learned from trials with Asia, subsequent ships were bigger, she was the only ship of her draught (class).[4] The first of these was HMS Ardent, which ushered in the Ardent-class.

Slade also designed smaller vessels, such as the 8-gun Board of Customs cutter, HMS Sherborne.

HMS Victory in Portsmouth Harbour with a coal ship alongside, 1828. Etching by Edward William Cooke based on his own drawing.

Victory was his most famous single vessel. Once commissioned, she became the most successful first-rate ship of the line ever built. On 13 December 1758, the Board of Admiralty in London placed an order for the construction of 12 new ships of the line, including one of 100 guns. The following year the Admiralty chose the name Victory for this vessel, despite the previous holders of the name having been largely unsuccessful. In 1758, Nelson was born, who would die on her decks at Trafalgar.[when?] [clarification needed][citation needed]

Out of the 33 ships which were available to Nelson at Trafalgar, eight (Africa, Victory, Agamemnon, Bellerophon, Defiance, Thunderer, Defence, and Prince) were built to Thomas Slade's designs. Two more of his ships (Swiftsure and Berwick) had been captured by the French earlier and fought on the French side. Slade's designs represented 24% of Nelson's ships and 29% of his guns.


This table lists ships that were built to designs drawn up by Thomas Slade. Some of them were not ordered until after his death.

Name Type Guns Laid Down Commissioned Shipyard Notes
HMS Victory 1st Rate 104 1759 1778 Chatham Dockyard Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar.
HMS Sandwich 2nd Rate 90 1759 Chatham Dockyard
HMS Ocean 2nd Rate 90 1761 Chatham Dockyard Sandwich class.
HMS Blenheim 2nd Rate 90 1761 Woolwich Dockyard Sandwich class.
HMS London 2nd Rate 90 1766 Chatham Dockyard
HMS Prince 2nd Rate 98 1788 Woolwich Dockyard London class.
HMS Impregnable 2nd Rate 98 1786 Deptford Dockyard London class.
HMS Windsor Castle 2nd Rate 98 1790 Deptford Dockyard London class.
HMS Barfleur 2nd Rate 90 1768 Chatham Dockyard
HMS Prince George 2nd Rate 90 1772 Chatham Dockyard Barfleur class.
HMS Princess Royal 2nd Rate 90 1773 Portsmouth Dockyard Barfleur class.
HMS Formidable 2nd Rate 90 1777 Chatham Dockyard Barfleur class.
HMS Dublin 3rd Rate 74 1755 1757 Deptford Dockyard Lead ship of the first class of 74-gun ships built for the Royal Navy.
HMS Norfolk 3rd Rate 74 1755 1758 Deptford Dockyard Dublin class.
HMS Shrewsbury 3rd Rate 74 1755 1758 Wells & Company, Deptford Dublin class.
HMS Lenox 3rd Rate 74 1755 1758 Chatham Dockyard Dublin class.
HMS Mars 3rd Rate 74 1755 1759 Woolwich Dockyard Dublin class.
HMS Warspite 3rd Rate 74 1755 1758 Thomas West, Deptford (completed at Deptford Dockyard) Dublin class.
HMS Resolution 3rd Rate 74 1755 1759 Henry Bird, Northam, Southampton (completed at Portsmouth Dockyard) Dublin class.
HMS Hero 3rd Rate 74 1759 Plymouth Dockyard
HMS Hercules 3rd Rate 74 1759 Deptford Dockyard
HMS Thunderer 3rd Rate 74 1760 Woolwich Dockyard Hercules class.
HMS Bellona 3rd Rate 74 1757 1760 Chatham Dockyard
HMS Dragon 3rd Rate 74 1757 1760 Deptford Dockyard Bellona class.
HMS Superb 3rd Rate 74 1757 1760 Deptford Dockyard Bellona class.
HMS Kent 3rd Rate 74 1758 1762 Deptford Dockyard Bellona class.
HMS Defence 3rd Rate 74 1758 1763 Plymouth Dockyard Bellona class.
HMS Asia 3rd Rate 64 1758 1771 Portsmouth Dockyard


Sir Thomas Slade died on 23 February 1771 in Bath, and is buried in St Clement's churchyard, Grimwade Street, Ipswich. His will was proven on 19 March 1771 (Prob. 11/965). His wife Hannah and her parents were buried next to the west boundary of the churchyard.


Slade Point 21°04′S 149°14′E / 21.067°S 149.233°E / -21.067; 149.233 on the central Queensland coast was named after him.

His 1745 apprentice John Henslow (later Sir John) also became Chief Surveyor to the Navy in 1784 and was the grandfather of Darwin's mentor John Henslow.[5]


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  2. ^ Staffordshire Records Office
  3. ^ N. A. M. Rodger (7 September 2006). The Command of the Ocean: a naval history of Britain, 1649-1815. Penguin Books in association with the National Maritime Museum. ISBN 978-0-14-102690-9. Retrieved 16 December 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Lavery, p.177
  5. ^ Darwin’s Mentor: John Stevens Henslow, 1796-1861 S. M. Walters and E. A. Stow CUP


  • The Billy Ruffian: The Bellerophon and the Downfall of Napoleon (2003) - David Cordingly, Bloomsbury, USA.
  • British Napoleonic Ship-Of-The-Line (2001) - Angus Konstam [Tony Bryan, Illustrator], Osprey Publishing.
  • British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1714 to 1792 (2007) - Rif Winfield, Seaforth Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84415-700-6.
  • British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1793 to 1817 (2005) - Rif Winfield, Chatham Publishing.
  • The 74-gun ship Bellona (1985) - Brian Lavery. ISBN 0-85177-368-0.
  • Thomas Slade: Oxford Biography Index entry. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 3 August 2008.