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HMS Comet's (1783) notable 1812-era sister Sloops of War


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Many of us lament the lack of 1812-era plank-on-frame plans for sloops-of-war. But there is an solution already presented to us, in the form of the fireship HMS Comet of 1783. David Antscherl and Seawatch Books recently gave us the monograph of the aforementioned ship, "The Royal Navy Fireship Comet of 1783" (or as I call it, "TFFM Vol. 5" :) ) complete with lofted frames in 1/48 scale.

 

HMS Comet proved to be such a fine, fast ship, that the Royal Navy launched six more copies of her between 1806 and 1807, but by the time they were commissioned, Trafalgar had eliminated the need for fleet -destroying fireships, so all were converted to badly-needed sloops of war. They were the Thais, Tartarus, Prometheus, Lightening, Erebus and Comet (II). They were small, quarter-decked ship-sloops of about only 109 feet on the gun-deck, rather short actually, and they were armed with 26 guns, viz, sixteen 24-pounder carronades on the main-deck (some reportedly had 32-pounders instead), with eight 18-pounder carronades and two long nine-pounders on the spar deck. All were fast, and had successful careers. They looked larger and more powerful than they actually were, since only eight of their eleven main deck ports were armed, and they had a full, flush spar deck fore-and-aft, with built up bulwarks amidships, complete with three more (unarmed) ports. The Tartarus of 1807, in particular, was actually able to mount twenty-two 24-pounder carronades in 1814, arming all her main deck ports, bringing her total number of guns up to an astonishing 32! The draught of the updated Comets appears on page 149 of Davis Lyon's "The Sailing Navy List".  In comparison, the USS Wasp (I), also launched in 1806, was only four feet shorter on the gun deck, but was flush-decked, and could carry only eighteen guns. 

 

Anyone wanting to build one of these quarter-decked ship-sloops just has to get David Antscherl's Comet plans, and you're good to go. The only major differences are the lack of ornate carvings, the newer ships probably having only bust or billet heads and scroll-work on their sterns, and normally hinged gun-ports, etc. Two of the sloops, Thais and Prometheus, were cut down into flush decked, 16-gun ships later in their careers. 

 

The most famous of the six was HMS Erebus. The following history comes from that infallible source, Wikipedia:

 

"HMS Erebus was originally built as a Royal Navy fireship, but served as a sloop and was re-rated as such in March 1808. She served in the Baltic during the Gunboat and Anglo-Russian Wars, where in 1809 she was briefly converted to a fireship, and then served in the War of 1812. In 1814 she was converted to a rocket vessel to fire Congreve rockets.  While serving off America, Erebus participated in the sack of Alexandria, Virginia, and launched the rockets that bombarded Fort McHenry in Baltimore on September 13th, 1814. In March 1815, off Georgia, she fired the second-to-the-last-shot of the war. She was laid up in 1816 and sold for breaking up in 1819.

 

Baltic

 

Commander William Autridge commissioned Erebus in January 1808, and she sailed for the Baltic in April. 

 

In July, Vice-Admiral Sir James Saumarez and his British fleet were blockading Rager Vik (Ragerswik or Rogerswick or Russian: Baltiyskiy) where the Russian fleet was sheltering after the British 74-gun third rates Implacable and Centaur had destroyed the Russian 74-gun ship of the line Vsevolod.

 

Saumarez wanted to attack the fleet and ordered that Erebus and Baltic be prepared as fireships. However, when the British discovered that the Russians had stretched a defensive chain across the entrance to the harbour, precluding an attack by fireships, Saumarez abandoned the plan and the two vessels returned to normal duties. 

 

Between 28 October and 9 November, Erebus captured the Danish sloops Debitor, Ellen Maria and Rengende Jacob.  On 28 October Erebus captured the Danish galliot Emanuel.  On 29 November Erebus and Devastation captured the Danish galliots Ellen Maria, Gertrude Maria and Fem Sodskende. Between 30 November and 6 December, Erebus captured the Danish vessels Neptunus, Neptunus and Frau Maria. 

At some point Commander Henry Withy assumed command.  On 4 August 1809, Captain Thomas Byam Martin of Implacable, while off Hogland, assigned Erebus to patrol between Aspo and Sommars rock. Her mission was to harry Russian shipping and give warning should she spot the Russian fleet exiting Kronstadt.

 

On 24 October Erebus, again under the command of Autridge, captured the Courier.  Almost a month later, on 16 November, Rose, with Erebus in company, captured the Concordia.  That day Rose was in company with Erebus, the cutter Cheerful and the hired armed cutter Mary when they captured the Catherine Elizabeth. 

 

The next day Erebus captured four vessels. One was the Chriftina, N. Jorgensen (or Jergensen), master.  Erebus was in company with Rose when they captured the Danish sloop Anna Catherina, H.P. Larsen, master.  Rose, Cheerful and Mary were in sight as Erebus captured the Twende Brodre, H. Holmer, master. Rose was also in company when she and Erebus captured the Danish sloop Anna Margaretha. 

On 29 December Erebus captured the Crown schooner No. 27. The next day Erebus captured the Elizabeth Christina.  The day after that Erebus captured the Victoria, Hans Larsen, late master. 

Erebus was employed on convoy duties and on 21 June 1810 she and Loire escorted 100 vessels through the Great Belt into the Baltic. On 6 July 1810, Erebus captured the Vrou Sitske.  On 28 July Erebus captured the Maria, J. Schumacha, master. Then on 13 August she captured the Maria Sophia, J.C. Guhlstoff, master. 

 

War of 1812

 

Erebus was at Hull on 2 October, having just detained the Hopper, Somanberg, and Maria Sofie Guhlstorff, from Saint Petersburg. On 17 December 1811, Erebus captured the Danish sloop Fuldmannen, A. Anderson, master. 

In 1812 Erebus was again employed on convoy escort in the Baltic under Saumarez. On 12 May Erebus, under the command of Commander George Brine, the Danish sloop Snelvegen. Then on 25 May Erebus recaptured the Diverdina. 

 

On 15 June Erebus, again under the command of William Autridge, captured the Danish sloop Henrietta, Anders Jergensen, master.  On 18 August 1812, Commander Henry Lyford took command and served on her until he was made post-captain on 4 December 1813. 

 

On 4 October Podargus captured the Danish sloop Speculation and shared the prize money with Persian, Erebus, Woodlark and Plover by agreement.  Then on 17 October Persian and Erebus were again in company with Podargus when Podargus captured the Danish vessels Anna Maria, Twende Brodre, and two market-boats.  Next month, on 11 November Podargus captured Syerstadt, with Persian and Erebus in company.  On 16 December Persian captured the Danish galliot Ebenetzer, with Thracian in company. Erebus shared in the prize money by agreement with Persian. 

 

On 27 July 1813 Sheldrake, Erebus, Thracian, and Woodlark captured the Forsoget, Stephanus, and Erskine. Prize money was paid on 15 January 1819. Then on 20 October Ariel, Erebus, and Hamadryad captured the Venus. Prize money for this vessel too was paid on 15 January 1819. After Lyford, Erebus then came under the command of Commander John Forbes. 

 

In early 1814, during the War of 1812, while under the command of John Forbes, Erebus was again in Baltic. However, in April, while under Commander David Ewen Bartholomew, she was at Woolwich, fitting as a Congreve rocket ship and for the North American station. On 23 May Erebus attempted to leave Portsmouth for the North American station but contrary winds forced her to put back. Still, on 29 May she was at Cork and got underway with the convoy for Newfoundland, Halifax and Quebec.

 

Potomac

 

On 17 August 1814, Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane detached Devastation, Euryalus, Ætna, Meteor, Manly and Erebus, all under Captain Alexander Gordon in Seahorse, to go up the Potomac and bombard Fort Washington, which was on the left bank of the river, some ten or twelve miles below Washington itself. The British suffered from several disadvantages. First, they lacked pilots that knew the Kettle-

Bottoms, a difficult stretch of the river. Second, the winds blew in the wrong direction, slowing their advance. Consequently, it took them ten days to reach the fort, and during the journey all the ships grounded at least 20 times. For five successive days they had to warp over a distance of 50 miles. 

On the evening of 27 August the bomb vessels started bombarding Fort Washington. This caused the garrison to flee. However, suspecting trickery, Captain Gordon ordered the vessels to continue to fire, only ceasing when the powder magazine exploded at eight o'clock. 

 

The following morning the British occupied the defenses. The principal fort contained two 52-pounder, two 32-pounder and eight 24-pounder guns. On the beach there was also battery of five 18-pounders;

there was also a Martello tower with two 12-pounders and a battery in the rear with two 12 and six 6-pound field guns. Before they fled the Americans had spiked the guns; the British landing party of seamen and marines completed the destruction, especially of the gun carriages.  The loss of the forts and batteries left the town of Alexandria undefended.

 

Between 31 August and 6 September Erebus and the squadron continued on the Potomac River. They took Alexandria and also captured 21 merchant vessels. While there the British looted stores and warehouses of 16,000 barrels of flour, 1,000 hogsheads of tobacco, 150 bales of cotton and some $5,000 worth of wine, sugar and other items.

 

The Americans had placed two field guns in a battery situated high on a bluff at White House Plantation (modern day Fort Belvoir), and had fired on Fairy as she sailed to reach Gordon. On 1 September, Gordon sent Fairy and Meteor to engage the battery to impede its completion, but they were unsuccessful. In all, the Americans had established batteries with a total of 11 guns - five naval long guns and eight artillery field pieces. 

 

The British spent most of 2 September mustering their ships and prizes for the run down river while awaiting favourable winds. At the same time they were working to free Devastation, which had run aground. 

On 3 September the bomb vessel Ætna and Erebus joined in the effort to suppress the American batteries. That same day, Commodore John Rodgers, with four U.S. gunboats and some fireships, made an unsuccessful attempt to destroy Devastation. Sniping and gunfire continued throughout 4 and 5 September, as the Virginia militia arrived to block British landings at the batteries.

 

On 6 September the frigates Seahorse and Euryalus came down the river and joined Fairy. The three vessels shifted their ballast to the port side to enable their combined 63 starboard guns to elevate sufficiently to engage the batteries. They then opened fire and within 45 minutes had silenced the American cannons.

 

All eight British warships and their prizes, 22 merchant vessels, brigs, ships and schooners, moved back to the main fleet. During the run down the river the British had suffered only seven dead and 35 wounded, including Charles Dickson, Fairy's second lieutenant. However, Erebus alone lost one man killed and 16 men wounded; two died, eight were severely wounded and Commander Bartholomew, Lieutenant Reuben Paine and four others were slightly wounded. The Admiralty issued the Naval General Service Medal with the clasp "The Potomac 17 Augt. 1814" to those members of the vessels' crews that had survived to 1847.

Baltimore 


Erebus was one of the ships involved in the bombardment of Fort McHenry in the Battle of Baltimore. She was equipped with a battery of 32-pound Congreve rockets installed below the main deck, which fired through portholes or scuttles pierced in the ship's side. This was an improved version of the design that Congreve had first installed in HMS Galgo. 

 

Erebus, Meteor, Ætna, Terror, Heron, and Devastation moved up the Patapsco River on 12 September 1814 in preparation for an attack on Baltimore. They commenced their bombardment on Fort McHenry and the water batteries on 13 September, but were ordered to withdraw the next day. It was fire from Erebus that provided the "rockets' red glare" that Francis Scott Key described in The Star-Spangled Banner.

 

Georgia 

 

In February 1815 Erebus was with Sir George Cockburn's squadron off Georgia. She contributed her boats to a force of 186 seamen and marines under Captain Phillott of Primrose.  This force then proceeded to sail up the St Mary's River to attack an American detachment. 

 

The force had navigated fairly far up river when they came under unexpected fire from Spanish Florida. The British soon silenced the fire, but Phillott decided to retreat as the river ahead was narrow (only 30 to 40 yards wide), with commanding heights and houses to their rear.  During the withdrawal, the expedition was exposed to harassing fire for over ten hours. In all, the expedition cost the British three men killed and 15 wounded. Bartholomew, of Erebus, was hit four times. He took his first hit in his head and then a second ball hit his middle finger and thumb when he put his hand up to feel the first wound. He was also hit in the neck and throat.  Phillott too was wounded twice. 

 

On 16 March 1815 Erebus fired the second-to-the-last shot of the war when she fired a shot at Gunboat No. 168 in Wassaw Sound, off Georgia, even though Bartholomew knew the war was over and the gunboat's master, Mr. John H. Hurlburd, had announced that he was carrying letters for Cockburn. No. 168 fired one shot pro forma across the bows of Erebus and then struck. When Hurlburd came aboard Erebus, Bartholomew apologized and stated that he had not given any order to fire. Fortunately, Erebus's shot had been fired high and had only done a little damage to some ropes and the sail on No. 168.

Erebus returned to England on 28 April. Bartholomew received promotion to post-captain on 13 June, but remained with Erebus until after she had assisted in the repatriation via Ostend of the British wounded from Waterloo. Still, in June 1815 Erebus came under the command of Commander Francis le Hunte.

 

On 25 June and again on 5 July Erebus and Foxhound arrived at Deal from Ostend with French prisoners. On the first trip she convoyed transports that between them were carrying 8,000 French prisoners.

Erebus was laid up at Deptford in 1816. The Admiralty sold her on 22 July 1819 for ₤1,150 to Mr. Manlove for breaking up."

 

I'll add more ships histories as I get them ... :)

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From wiki, we again get:

 

"HMS Thais was built for the British Royal Navy in 1806 and was the name-vessel of her class of fireships. Between 1811 and 1813 she served in the West Africa Squadron, which was attempting to suppress the slave trade. During this service she captured several slave traders and an American privateer. She made one voyage to the East Indies. Thais was sold in 1818. She then became a merchantman. She was last listed in 1826.


Commander Isaac Ferrieres commissioned Thais in June 1807 as a fireship.  Thais was among the naval vessels at Plymouth on 27 and 28 August 1807 and so shared in the proceeds arising from the detention of the Danish vessels Elizabeth, Tiesco, and Aurora, in the run-up to the Gunboat War with Denmark.  Ferrieres sailed Thais on 9 September for the West Indies.  There she participated in the capture of the Danish West Indies during December. 

 

By February 1808 Thais was back at Plymouth and undergoing refitting as a sloop, a process that took into April. On 21 January 1809 Thais was at Cape Town. There Admiral Bertie, admiral in charge of the Cape of Good Hope Station, sent her out to look for Diana, which had been reported damaged, and for the East Indiamen Experiment, Glory, and Lord Nelson, which were overdue.  It turned out that the three East Indiamen had foundered without a trace. Later in 1809 Thais served in the North Sea. In August Thais was part of a squadron under the command of Sir Home Riggs Popham in the Scheldt during the Walcheren Campaign.  On 23 May 1810 she escorted a convoy to the Mediterranean. 

 

 

In November 1810 Commander Edward Scobell assumed command.  On 14 December Thais left Gibraltar as an escort to a convoy for Britain. 

Service with the West Africa Squadron.

 

Thais was re-rated as a sixth rate in 1811,  and on 3 April Scobell received promotion to post captain.  Thais and Scobell then sailed for the West Coast of Africa. 

 

On 28 July 1811 Thais captured the brig Havannah.  The capture took place off "Trade Town". Havannah was suspected to be a British vessel sailing under a foreign flag. She had 100 slaves aboard, of whom 98 survived to be landed at Freetown, where the Vice admiralty court condemned her. On 30 August, Thais captured the Portuguese brig Venus off Badagry. She too was condemned at Freetown, and 21 slaves were landed there. Three days later, Thais captured another Portuguese brig, Calypso, off Lagos. She landed 13 slaves at Freetown, but the court returned her to her owners. 

 

On 24 June 1812 Thais captured the American schooner Dolphin south of Gorée. She landed 79 slaves at Freetown, where the court condemned her. 

Then on 14 August Thais captured the Spanish brig Carlotta at Loango Bay.  She had no slaves aboard. On 29 August, Thais captured the Portuguese brig Flor d'America, also at Loango, that was carrying 364 slaves. The court at Freetown condemned both vessels. 

 

On 5 September Thais captured the Portuguese schooner Orizonte at Mayumba Bay. She landed 18 slaves at Freetown, where the court condemned her. 

 

On 31 March 1813 Thais captured the U.S. brig Rambler. Rambler, of 160 tons (bm), was armed with twelve 9 & 6-pounder guns, and had a crew of 88 men. She had sailed from Rhode Island on 28 January and had not made any captures. The capture took place off Cape Mount (6.80663518°N 11.37337442°W). 

 

Then on 28 May 1813 Thais was involved in apprehending Juan a ship sailing near the Rio Pongo, which was then taken to Sierra Leone.  She was an American sloop carrying no slaves; British records indicate that the capture took place off Cape Sierra Leone. The court at Freetown condemned her. 

 

Thais assisted the privateer Kitty after she captured two slave traders, San Jose Triumfo and Phoenix, on 4 June. On 27 June Thais and the colonial armed schooner Princess Charlotte captured three small craft off Cape Mesurado. 

 

In January 1814 Captain Henry Weir replaced Scobell, who had resigned his commission. 

 

In late March Thais was at Hellevoetsluis to transport French coins that Nathan Rothschild had collected. Rothschild had a contract to deliver £600,000 to the south of France by 14 March. By the time Thais and Comus were able to deliver to Bordeaux the £450,000 that Rothschild had gathered Napoleon had abdicated.  From Bordeaux Thais carried General Balyley and his staff to Plymouth. 

Between October and December 1814 Thais was at Plymouth being cut down, losing her spar deck, and having her armament being reduced to 16 guns. 

 

In 1815 she sailed to the East Indies,  escorting East Indiamen. On 6 April Thais took Mercury, Browsse, master, into Madeira. She had been sailing from Bordeaux to Martinique when Thais intercepted her. Thais then sent Mercury to England.  Mercure, Brouessett, master, reached Lisbon. There she was released to resume her voyage to Martinique. 

 

On 10 September Thais left Penang for China. 

 

Between 6 and 11 April 1816, Weir was president of a court-martial that took place on HMS Cornwallis in Madras roads. The board found that Captain Robert O'Brien, captain of Cornwallis, had exceeded his authority in appointing himself a Commodore and dismissed him from the service.  Weir then assumed command of Cornwallis. 

Weir returned to Thais. Under his command she arrived at St Helena on 28 September from India, and sailed two days later for England. 

 

 

By 1817 Thais was in ordinary at Plymouth. The "Principal Officers and Commissioners of His Majesty's Navy" offered "Thais, of 22 guns and 431 tons", lying at Plymouth, for sale on 13 August 1818. She sold on that day for £1,400. 

 
Thais appears in Lloyd's Register for 1819 at London with Robson, master, and Brown & Co. owners.  This entry continues unchanged until 1826, which is the last time Thais is listed."

 

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I 've always been interested in HMS Tartarus, 1807, since she chased and almost caught the Wasp in 1814. When I get time, I'll post some stuff on her, if anyone is interested.

 

Tartarus is on the long build-wish list, but well behind the long-dragged-out Frolick/Wasp (II), the USS John Adams, and the mighty Razee Cumberland. Then again, there is that fleeting time element ...

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The Comets are neat ships, trim and elegant. I don't have too much to add, though I can say that Gardiner's Warships of the Napoleonic Wars also has the plans from the NMM in it. He also points out that even though they operated as sloops, they maintained a quick fireship conversion capability, including a permanent fire room (which is shown in the plans). Erebus and Terror were decomissioned shortly after the war and their names immediately reused for a pair of new-build bombs that need little introduction.

 

In Winfield's British Warships  in the Age of Sail 1793-1817, he prints the specifications for the ship, including the removal of the spar deck and reduction in armament to 14 x 18-pdr carronades on the upper deck and a pair of long nines in the forecastle for Thais and Prometheus in 1814. Prometheus was likely the last survivor, as she became a lazerette and then recieving ship in Portsmouth under the name Veteran and wasn't broken up until 1852.  Comet (ii) meanwhile was sold into merchentile service as the Alexander. None of the others survived the 1810s, all being broken up before the end of the decade. Interestingly, Winfield they are nearly identical to the Cormorant class except for the spar deck. They were rerated as 20-gun Sixth Rates in 1811 or 1812, and 24-gun Sixth Rates in 1817. He lists the commanders as well, in Thais' case, her captain (Edward Scobell) was retained, but promoted from Commander to Captain in 1811 along with the rerating.

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