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HMS Surprise Research

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Researching HMS Surprise

As with all of our kits, research began with the Admiralty Plans for HMS Surprise. Being a French Prize, the captured 34 Gun Corvette L'Unité, the Admiralty Plans are the 'as taken off' lines which were drawn in February 1798 during the refitting of the ship at Plymouth.

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HMS Surprise Lines and Profile
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HMS Surprise Quarterdeck Plan

As can be seen from the Admiralty Plans, Surprise is a three masted ship with one main gundeck consisting of 13 gunports per side and the quarterdeck which consists of three gunports per side on the forecastle and five gunports per side on the quarterdeck aft of the waist. Research Note 1, the 'lines and profile' plan shows that there were no gunports athwartships of the ships wheel and capstan locations, this is confirmed by the quarterdeck plan which shows the positions of the gunports filled in black.

Several secondary sources list Surprise as a captured 24-Gun ship however, primary sources have confirmed that she was indeed a 34-Gun corvette. These primary sources include a letter from Thomas Fremantle, captain of HMS Inconstant responsible for capturing the prize, to Sir John Jervis, C-in-C in the Mediterranean, this letter was also published in the London Gazette and reads as follows:

Inconstant, at Sea, April 23, 1796.

I Have the Honor to inform you, that on the 19th, cruizing near Tunis, I received an Account that a French Frigate had been seen off Cape Mabera, near Bon; I therefore made sail for that Place, and, on the Evening of the 20th, perceived a Ship under French Colours at Anchor on the Coast, which I came to, by, and directed to Strike ; this was prudently complied with : She is called L'Unité, a Corvette of 34 Guns and 218 Men. The Crew had made an Attempt to set her on Fire, but by the Exertions of Lieutenant Hutchinson it was soon extinguished : Had the Ship been of equal Force with the Inconstant, I have every Reason to believe it would have afforded me a further Proof of the Spirit and Steadiness of every Officer and Person on Board the Ship I command.

I am, &c. &c.

Sir John Jervis, K. B. Admiral
of the Blue, and Commander in
Chief, &c. &c. &c.

Research Note 2, the Progress Book for HMS Surprise states that she was coppered during her re-fit at Plymouth during February 1798. Amazingly, it was to be over three years before any further work was required on her copper when, in July/August 1801 her copper was repaired while at Sheerness yard.


Research Index

Page 2

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To order, call:
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To order, call:
+44 (0)1905 776 073
Or buy online at