Yet something had to be done. The Lydia had supplied him with two hundred able-bodied seamen (his placard said nothing of the fact that they had been compulsorily transferred without a chance of setting foot on English soil after a commission of two years’ duration) but to complete his crew he needed another fifty seamen and two hundred landsmen and boys. The guardship had found him none at all. Failure to complete his crew might mean loss of his command, and from that would result unemployment and half-pay — eight shillings a day — for the rest of his life.
One of the underlying themes of most novels set during the Age of Sail is the difficulty of manning a ship of the era. Those familiar with C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower will recall the sleepless nights Captain Hornblower spent worrying about his ability to man HMS Sutherland (quoted above) because he knew if he could not man her, Admiralty would give her to someone who could. Continue reading
I’ve recently finished working my way through Dewey Lambdin’s series of novels following the career of his character Alan Lewrie. I stumbled onto the first by accident, was captured in the first paragraph, back in November and to a certain extent that novel, The King’s Coat, crystallized some ideas that had been floating around in my head about providing a researched resource covering life at sea, particularly life in the British navy, in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
It seems that I have nearly a year to wait until the next installment arrives, so I’ll close this chapter with my perspective on the novel and the character.
Captain Henry Trollope with the moratlly wounded Marine Captain Henry Ludlow Strangeways on the deck of HMS Glatton
We’ve observed on several occasions that many of the incidents in novels set during the Age of Sail are heavily influenced by actual events. In most cases, the novel’s protagonist expands on the accomplishments of the actual character. In Ramages’s Diamond
, Lord Ramage manages to turn the battery later known as HMS Fort Diamond
into a combat multiplier that enables his mini-squadron consisting of his frigate, a prize frigate, and a prize sloop to snap up a French convoy and its escorts.
Alexander Kent, on the other hand, perhaps feeling that the actual event was too improbable, actually downplays Nelson’s use of one Spanish ship of the line as a bridge to board and take a second, larger Spanish ship of the line and has Richard Bolitho use a friendly brig as a bridge to board and take a French frigate.
Every once in a while, though, the novel’s protagonist makes out worse than the actual character.
Ship design during the Age of Sail was characterized by a constant struggle to achieve an optimum balance between speed and firepower. As technology and the art of shipbuilding advanced the size of ships increased.
Under the standard rating system for men o’war, ships of the line came in four rates. 1st rates carrying 100-120 guns, 2d rates carrying 90-98 guns, 3rd rates carrying 64-80 guns, and 4th rates carrying 48-60 guns. By the latter half of the 19th century it was obvious that 4th rates and those 3rd rates carrying fewer than 74 guns could no longer hold a place in the line of battle. To compound their weakness as line of battle ships they were too slow to be used as frigates.
Navies were confronted with the dilemma of how to best use these ships as scrapping them before their useful life cycle was ended wasn’t a good option. The solution was to convert them as razees.
A razee was simply a larger warship with a deck removed, or razed, to convert it to a large frigate. The resulting ship would have the strength of construction to carry larger guns and take more punishment than other ships in its class. As a bonus, their increased length made them fast sailers.
This process will be familiar to anyone who wrestled in high school or college. A razee is the guy at the low end of a weight class who could shed 7-10 pounds in a week so he could wrestle at a couple of classes lower than his natural weight.
Take, for instance, Sir Edward Pellew’s famous HMS Indefatigable. Indefatigable started life as a 64-gun 3rd rate that was obsolete upon its launch in 1784. A fact that was recognized by the fact that this new ship was never commissioned. In 1794, Indefatigable was razeed into a 44-gun frigate converting a useless ship of the line into a frigate that could outsail anything it could not outfight.
As technology progressed, razees became more extreme. HMS Majestic was a 74-gun 3rd rate that was razeed into a 58-gun frigate. The US Navy razeed the USS Macedonian, the former 38-gun frigate HMS Macedonian, into a 20-gun sloop. The 50-gun USS Cumberland was razeed into a 24-gun sloop. In these latter two cases not only did the longer hull length and heavier construction overmatch other ships in their class, improvements in technology enabled them to carry the same weight of broadside as they had as larger ships.