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HMS Surprise Research

Page 2 of 4

Researching HMS Surprise


Research Note 3, HMS Surprise ordnance and rating.

The decision over the armament of HMS Surprise was a particularly long and arduous affair, beginning in early January 1798, and finally being settled on March 10, 1798. The guns themselves were received onboard HMS Surprise on April 21, 1798.
Due to the sheer number of letters exchanged in reference to the armament of Surprise, the account below only outlines the most important developments.

January 12, 1798: Evan Nepean, Secretary to the Admiralty, writes to the 'Respective Officers' at Plymouth Yard.

...
You are also to fit her
(Surprise) with as few alterations as shall be necessary, proposing to us what number and nature of Guns and compliment of Men it may be proper to establish upon her (Surprise).
...


January 16, 1798: Captain Hamilton writes to Evan Nepean, illustrating his desire for carronades from the outset.

Surprise in Hamoaze, 16th January 1798

Gentlemen

As the Guns of His Majesty's Ship Surprise under my command were taken in the ship; and are supposed to be unfit for the English Service.

I am to request you will be pleased to order the Ship to be fitted for two and thirty pound Carronades on the Main Deck and twenty four on the Quarter Deck and Forecastle.

I have the honour to be
Gentlemen

Your most obedient Servant
E. Hamilton.


January 18, 1798: In the mean time, Evan Nepean had received recommendations from Plymouth Yard to fit Surprise with carriage guns, and responded accordingly.

... His Majesty's Ship Surprise may be established with the following number & nature of Guns and Compliment of Men:


Upper Deck ____ 24 Guns 9pdr  
Quarter Deck ___ 8 _____ 4 " and 4 Carronades 12pdr
Forecastle _____ 2 _____ 4 " ___ 2 _________ 12 "
  34 6

Compliment of 200 Men.
...


January 30, 1798: Obviously disappointed with the decision to fit Surprise with carriage guns, captain Hamilton writes to Evan Nepean again this time providing the 'carrot' that fitting with carronades would require less work, implying that it would get him to sea faster.

London, 30th January 1798

Sir

Be pleased to lay before my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, my request, that His Majesty's Ship Surprise under my Command may be supplied with 32 pounders carronades on the Main Deck, and 18 or 24 pounders on the Quarter Deck and Forecastle as the ports will not require to be enlarged for that purpose.

I have the honour to be
Gentlemen

Your most obedient Servant
E. Hamilton.

The idea that fitting Surprise with carronades would mean less alterations to the gun ports and therefore get the ship to sea that little faster appears to have struck a chord as a series of letters were now written back and forth between Evan Nepean, Plymouth Yard, Plymouth Stores, the Navy Board and the Board of Ordnance.

February 1, 1798: Evan Nepean writes to the Navy Board.

1st February 1798

Gentlemen

Having laid before my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty the enclosed letter from Captain Hamilton of His Majesty's Ship Surprise, requesting that she may be supplied with 32 Pound Carronades on the Main Deck and 18 or 24 Pounders on the Quarter Deck and Forecastle; I have their Lordships Commands to signify their direction to you to consider and report to me your opinion what may be proper to be done on the occasion, their Lordships being inclined to accede to the proposal provided you see no objection there to.
...


February 1, 1798: The Navy Board replies to Evan Nepean.

3rd February 1798

Sir

In answer to your letter of the 1st instant enclosing one from Captain Hamilton of His Majesty's Ship Surprise requesting she may be supplied with 32 Pounder Carronades on the Main Deck and 18 or 24 Pounders on the Quarter Deck and Forecastle, and signifying to us the directions of the Rt Hon Admiralty to report what may be proper to be done on the occasion, their Lordships being inclined to accede to the proposal, provided we see no objection there to.

We desire you will please to acquaint their Lordships, it appearing by Captain Hamilton's letter, that the Ports will not require to be enlarged we see no objection to her being supplied with 32 and 18 Pounder Carronades agreeably to his request.
...


Many more similar letters passed back and forth as everyone concerned agreed that there were no objections to Surprise being fitted with carronades and all of this culminated in a letter from Evan Nepean to the Board of Ordnance requesting Surprise be supplied with 32pdr and 18pdr carronades.
Due to the volume of letter and conflicting information provided over the previous two months, the Board of Ordnance replied to Evan Nepean requesting a final and definitive statement regarding the guns to be supplied to Surprise.

March 10, 1798: Evan Nepean replies to the Board of Ordnance.

10th March 1798

Gentlemen

In answer to Mr Crew's letter of the 8th instant, relative to the Establishment of Ordnance intended for His Majesty's Ship Surprise at Plymouth; I am commanded by my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to acquaint you that the Establishment of Carronades mentioned in their letter of the 6th instant is meant to annul the former Establishment by substituting Carronades of 32pds in lieu of Guns of 9pds for the Main Deck, and that her Quarter Deck and Forecastle should be armed entirely with Carronades of 18pds regulating the numbers by those mentioned in their Lordships letter of the 19th January last.
...


And so it appears that Surprise was to be armed as follows:

Upper Deck ____ 24 Carronades 32pdr  
Quarter Deck ___ 8 __________ 18pdr  
Forecastle _____ 2 __________ 18pdr  
  34  

However, in February 1798, while the letters were being exchanged with regard to the armament for Surprise, a standing order was issued to Plymouth Yard that all Frigates carrying carronades only were to be issued with two carriage guns to be mounted as chase guns. The final Armament of Surprise, and the one depicted in our kit is therefore:

Upper Deck ____ 24 Carronades 32pdr  
Quarter Deck ___ 8 __________ 18pdr  
Forecastle _____ 2 __________ 18pdr and 2 Guns 4pdr
  34 2

 




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