- HMS Shannon (1806)
HMS "Shannon" was a 38-gun "Leda" class
frigateof the Royal Navy. She was launched in 1806 and served in the Napoleonic Warsand the War of 1812. She won a noteworthy naval victory on June 1, 1813, during the latter conflict, against the American Navy's USS "Chesapeake".
Construction and commissioning
"Shannon" was built by Brindley, at
Frindsburyin Kent, and was launched on 5 May 1806. She was to spend her first seven years under the command of Captain Philip Broke, who was transferred from HMS "Druid", and took command of "Shannon" in June that year. "Shannon" was one of the largest frigates built by the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, at a time when the Admiraltyconcentrated on building them in larger numbers but to smaller builds and less heavy armament.
"Shannon" was quickly put into service. She formed part of a squadron under Commodore Owen which was patrolling off the French port of Boulogne, and on
8 Octobertook part in the bombardment of the town using Congreve rockets. Her next task was sailing in 1807 with HMS "Meleager" to protect the whale fisheryoff Greenland. Despite encountering ice on 7 May 1807, they were able to push through, reaching the southern part of Spitsbergenon 17 June. There the two ships surveyed the Bay of Magdalena, at a latitudeof 80 deg N. They eventually reached a latitude of 80 deg 6min N before being stopped by ice. They then turned westwards, and reached the coast of Greenland on 23 July. The island of Shannon was named after the ship. Early autumn was spent cruising from Shetland, and "Shannon" then left, returning to Yarmouth by the end of September, where she cruised off the Downs. She put into Spitheadon 28 Septemberto undergo a refit.
By the end of 1807, the Portuguese had declared war on Britain. "Shannon" joined Sir Samuel Hood's expedition against
Madeira. The island was taken without a shot being fired after a show of force, and Captain Broke was ordered to escort the transports that had accompanied the fleet back to England, where they arrived on 7 February 1808. She then put into Plymouthbefore returning to patrolling in the Channel. In November 1808, the "Shannon" took the French frigate "Thetis" in tow. The "Thetis" had been captured shortly before by HMS "Amethyst", and later entered service as HMS "Brune". "Shannon" spent 1809 with the Channel Fleet, and on 27 Januarycaptured the French 14-gun privateercutter "Pommereuil". Broke sent the prize into Plymouth. On 1 June 1811, "Shannon" returned to Plymouth and was put into the dock where her hull was re-coppered. After this was completed, she sailed for Portsmouth to complete her refitting and resupplying in preparation for being assigned to foreign service.
The American coast
Broke and the "Shannon" were ordered to sail for North America as tensions between Britain and the
United Statesdeteriorated in the run up to what would become the War of 1812. The "Shannon" sailed from Portsmouthand arrived in Halifax on 24 September 1811after a journey of 45 days. On 5 July 1812Broke was given command of a squadron consisting of "Shannon", HMS "Africa", HMS "Belvidera", HMS "Aeolus" and later HMS "Guerriere". He was then ordered by Vice-Admiral Herbert Sawyerto carry out a blockadeof American ports. Broke's first success came on the 16th, when he captured the 16-gun American brig"Nautilus" off Sandy Hook. The "Nautilus" had been on a cruise from New York. Later in the evening, the squadron spotted and gave chase to the USS "Constitution" as she sailed from Chesapeake Bayto New York. The chase lasted some 65 hours, during which both pursued and pursuers had to tow and warp. The "Belvidera" eventually managed to come within gun shot of the "Constitution" on the afternoon of the 17th, but a lucky breeze blew up, and the fact that the "Constitution" had a clean bottom allowed the fleeing American to make good her escape.
The "Shannon"’s next duty was to meet a convoy homebound from
Jamaica. An American squadron under Commodore John Rodgers had sailed to intercept it. Broke and the "Shannon" ensured the convoy safely passed the Great Banks, before returning to the American coast. She put into Halifax on 20 Septemberto take on provisions. Sir John Warren arrived whilst she was in port, and took up the post of Commander in Chief of the North American and West Indies Station. "Shannon" was then despatched with the schoonerHMS "Bream" to rescue the crew and offload the money being carried by the frigate HMS "Barbadoes", which had been wrecked on Sable Island. Whilst carrying this out, "Shannon" encountered and subsequently captured an enemy privateer, which she took back to Halifax with her.
13 Octoberaboard "Shannon", and whilst cruising with HMS "Tenedos", HMS "Nymphe" and HMS "Curlew" Broke captured the American privateer brig "Thorne". Sir John Warren was at Bermudaduring the winter of 1812, and left Broke in command of the Royal Navy squadrons operating on the coasts of Nova Scotia, New Brunswickand New England. In December Broke took the "Shannon" and escorted a homebound convoy half way across the Atlantic, returning to North America by sailing round the Azores. In 1813, Captain Oliver arrived on the station aboard the 74-gun third rateHMS "Valiant", and took command from Captain Broke. Broke continued to deploy with his squadron, until the "Shannon" and "Tenedos" became separated from them in a gale. They decided to steer for Boston, reaching the port on 2 April. Having observed the activity in the port, they returned to their squadron and reported the presence of the American frigates USS "Congress", USS "President" and USS "Constitution". In their absence, the USS "Chesapeake" had entered the harbour through the eastern channel.
Captain Capel aboard HMS "Hogue" ordered the "Shannon" and "Tenedos" to watch the port from close inshore, while the rest of the squadron cruised in the offing. On
16 Maythey chased a large armed ship under American colours, and force her to run aground near Cape Ann Town. "Shannon" anchored close to the grounded ship and fired a few shorts to disperse a number of militiamenwho were assembling. Lieutenant George Watt then managed to bring the ship off the shore without loss. She was discovered to be the French corvette-built privateer "Invincible". She had already been captured in the Bay of Biscayby HMS "Mutine", but had been retaken by the American privateer "Alexander". The "Invincible" was sent into Halifax. On 25 March"Shannon" took on stores of water and provisions from "Tenedos", which was then detached, with orders to rejoin the "Shannon" on 14 June.
Fighting the "Chesapeake"
Issuing a challenge
During his long period in command of "Shannon", Broke had drilled his crew to an extremely high standard of
"The weekly routine at sea was for the watch on deck to be exercised at the great guns on Monday and Tuesday afternoons, and in the afternoons the first division of the watch was exercised at small arms. Wednesday and Thursday forenoons saw the watch on deck at the carronades, and in the afternoons the second division of the watch at small arms. Friday was reserved for the Midshipmen – great guns in the morning, small arms in the afternoon. Thus each man had one morning at the 18-pounders, one morning at the carronades and two afternoons with musquets in every week. Saturdays were reserved for washing clothes and scrubbing the berth deck in the afternoon. Sunday, apart from Church service and any necessary evolutions with the sails, was free." [Padfield, "Broke and the Shannon" (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1968)]In addition to these gunnery drills, Broke was fond of preparing hypothetical scenarios to test his crew. For example, after all hands had been drummed to quarters, he would inform them of a theoretical attack and see how they would act to defend the ship. He would also arrange on occasion for a wooden cask to be sent over the side so competitions could be held to see which crew could hit it and how fast they could do so. A game called 'singlestick' was also devised and practised. "This was a game employing roughly similar thrusts and parries as were used with cutlass, but as it was played with blunt sticks, hits, although painful, were not often dangerous. It soon developed quickness of eye and wrist." [Padfield, Broke and the Shannon (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1968), p. 120.]
Eager to engage and defeat one of the American 'super-frigates' that had already scored a number of victories over the Royal Navy in single ship confrontations, Broke prepared a challenge. The USS "President" had already slipped out of the harbour under the cover of fog and had evaded the British. The "Constitution" was undergoing extensive repairs and alterations and would not be ready for sea in the foreseeable future. However, the "Chesapeake" appeared to be ready to put to sea. Consequently Broke decided to send his challenge to the USS "Chesapeake", which had been refitting in
Bostonharbour under the command of Captain James Lawrence, offering single ship combat. Whilst patrolling offshore, the "Shannon" had intercepted and captured a number of American ships attempting to reach the harbour. After sending two of them off to Halifax, he found that his crew was being dangerously reduced. Broke therefore resorted to burning the rest of the prizes in order to conserve his highly trained crew in anticipation of the battle with the "Chesapeake". The boats from the burnt prizes were sent into Boston, carrying Broke's oral invitation to Lawrence to come out and engage him. He had already sent the "Tenedos" away in the hope that the more favourable odds would entice the American out, but eventually began to despair that the "Chesapeake" would ever come out of the harbour. He finally decided to send a written challenge.
"As the Chesapeake appears now ready for sea, I request you will do me the favour to meet the Shannon with her, ship to ship, to try the fortune of our respective flags. The Shannon mounts twenty-four guns upon her broadside and one light boat-gun; 18 pounders upon her main deck, and 32-pounder carronades upon her quarter-deck and forecastle; and is manned with a complement of 300 men and boys, beside thirty seamen, boys, and passengers, who were taken out of recaptured vessels lately. I entreat you, sir, not to imagine that I am urged by mere personal vanity to the wish of meeting the Chesapeake, or that I depend only upon your personal ambition for your acceding to this invitation. We have both noble motives. You will feel it as a compliment if I say that the result of our meeting may be the most grateful service I can render to my country; and I doubt not that you, equally confident of success, will feel convinced that it is only by repeated triumphs in even combats that your little navy can now hope to console your country for the loss of that trade it can no longer protect. Favour me with a speedy reply. We are short of provisions and water, and cannot stay long here." [Battles of the British Navy, Vol. 2, p. 425]
By now the "Shannon" had been off Boston for 56 days and was running short of provisions, whilst the extended period at sea was wearing the ship down. She would be even more at a disadvantage facing the "Chesapeake", fresh from harbour and a refit. A boat was despatched carrying the invitation, manned by a Mr Slocum, a discharged American prisoner. The boat had not reached the shore when the "Chesapeake" was seen underway, sailing out of the harbour. She was flying three American ensigns and a large white flag at the foremast inscribed 'Free Trade and Sailor's Rights'. "Shannon" carried 276 officers, seamen and marines of her proper complement; eight recaptured seamen; 22 Irish labourers who had been 48 hours in the ship, and of whom only four could speak English, and 24 boys, of whom about 13 were under 12 years of age. Broke had trained his gun crews to fire accurate broadsides into the hulls of enemy vessels, with the aim of killing their gun crews, rather than shooting down the masts. Lawrence meanwhile was confident in his ship, especially since she carried a substantially larger crew. Meanwhile the previous American victories over Royal Navy ships left him expectant of success. Just before the engagement, the American crew gave three cheers.
The two ships met at half past five in the afternoon, convert|20|nmi|km east of Boston lighthouse, between
Cape Annand Cape Cod. "Shannon" was flying a rusty blue ensignand her dilapidated outside appearance after a long period at sea suggested that she would be an easy opponent. Observing the "Chesapeake"’s many flags, a sailor had questioned Broke: "Mayn't we have three ensigns, sir, like she has?" "No," said Broke, "we've always been an unassuming ship." [Murdoch, History of Nova Scotia, vol. 3, pp. 354.] The two ships opened fire just before 18:00 at a range of about 35 metres, with "Shannon" scoring the first hit, striking the "Chesapeake" on one of her gunports with two round shot and a bag of musket balls fired by William Mindham, the gun captain of one of "Shannon"’s starboard 18-pounders. Two or three further broadsides followed which swept the "Chesapeake"’s decks with grape and roundshot from "Shannon"’s 32-pounder carronades. The "Chesapeake" fell on board "Shannon", lying athwart her starboard bow, trapped by one of "Shannon"’s anchors.
"Shannon" now opened fire on the "Chesapeake"’s maindeck with her after guns firing through the "Chesapeake"’s port holes. Many of "Chesapeake"’s crew were killed or wounded, with two thirds of her gun crews already casualties. The "Chesapeake"’s wheel was then shot away and her helmsman killed by a 9-pounder gun that Broke had ordered installed on the quarter deck for that very purpose. Trapped against the "Shannon" and unable to manoeuvre away, the stern now became exposed and was swept by raking British fire. Her situation worsened when a small open cask of
musketcartridges abaft the mizzen-mast blew up. When the smoke cleared, Captain Broke judged the time was right and gave the order to board. Lawrence had also tried to give the order to board but the British were faster.
The British board
Mr Stevens, the
boatswainattempted to lash the two ships together to prevent the "Chesapeake" from disengaging and escaping, and lost an arm as he did so. A party of small-arm men rushed aboard the "Chesapeake", led by Broke and including the purser, Mr G. Aldham, and the clerk, Mr John Dunn. Aldham and Dunn were killed as they crossed the gangway, but the rest of the party made it onto the "Chesapeake".
"Captain Broke, at the head of not more that twenty men, stepped from the rail of the waist-hammock netting to the muzzle of the after-carronade of the Chesapeake, and sprang from thence upon her quarterdeck." [Battles of the British Navy, Vol. 2, pp. 427-8.]The main-deck was found to be empty, having been swept clear by "Shannon"’s broadsides. Broke and his men quickly advanced forward along the deck, whilst more British reinforcements leapt aboard.
Meanwhile, the First lieutenant, Mr George T. L. Watt, had attempted to hoist the British colours over the "Chesapeake", but was hit in the forehead by grapeshot as he did so. Fighting had now broken out along the top-masts of the ships as rival sharpshooters fired upon the their opponents in their rival's masts, and on the sailors on the exposed decks. The British marksmen, led by midshipman William Smith, who had command of the fore-top, stormed the "Chesapeake"’s fore-top over the yard-arm and had killed all the Americans there. Captain Broke himself led a charge against a number of the Americans who had managed to rally on the
forecastle. After four minutes of fierce fighting, the Americans called for quarter, but finding themselves superior in numbers to the British, they rallied and counter attacked. Three American sailors, probably from the rigging, descended and attacked Captain Broke. Taken by surprise, he killed the first, but the second hit him with a musket which stunned him, whilst the third sliced open his skull with his sabre, knocking him to the deck. Before he could finish Broke off, he was cut down by William Mindham, and the "Shannon"’s crew rallied to the defence of their captain and carried the forecastle, killing the remaining Americans.
Broke handed over command of the "Shannon" to Lieutenant Wallis. Though wounded, Broke was able to save the life of a young American
midshipmanwho had slid down a rope from the fore-top. With American resistance weakening, Lieutenant Charles Leslie Falkiner who had commanded the boarders who had rushed the main-deck, took command of the prize. Whilst the two yard-arms had been locked together, Mr Cosnaham, who had commanded the main-top, had crawled out on the main yard-arm where he could fire down onto the "Chesapeake", killing three of her men.
The "Chesapeake" is taken
The British then secured the ship and took her surrender. The engagement had lasted just eleven minutes. "Shannon" had lost 23 killed, and had 56 wounded. "Chesapeake" had about 60 killed, including her four lieutenants, the master and many other of her officers, and about as many wounded. Captain Lawrence had been mortally wounded by fire from "Shannon"’s fore-top and was carried below before the "Chesapeake" was boarded. His last order upon being wounded was "Don't give up the ship!". A large cask of un-slaked lime was found open on "Chesapeake"’s forecastle and another bag of lime was discovered in the fore-top. The intention was to throw handfuls into the eyes of "Shannon"’s men as they attempted to board. This was regarded as unfair and dishonourable by the British sailors. "Shannon"’s midshipmen during the action were Messers. Smith, Leake, Clavering, Raymond, Littlejohn and Samwell. Samwell was the only other officer to be wounded in the action. Mr Etough was the acting master, and conned the ship into the action. Shortly after the frigate had been secured, Broke fainted from loss of blood and was rowed back to the "Shannon" to be attended to by the ship's surgeon. After the victory, a prize crew was put aboard the "Chesapeake" and the "Shannon" escorted her and her crew into Halifax, arriving there on
6 June. There the sailors were imprisoned and the ship was repaired and taken into service by the Royal Navy. The "Chesapeake" was sold at Portsmouth, England in 1820 and broken up.
The victory in closely-matched combat raised the shaken morale of the Royal Navy, and the Americans honoured the heroism of Captain Lawrence. After setting out on
5 Septemberfor a brief cruise under a Captain Teahouse, the "Shannon" departed for England on 4 October, carrying the recovering Captain Broke. They arrived at Portsmouthon 2 November. After the successful action Lieutenants Wallis and Falkiner were promoted to the rank of commander, and Messrs. Etough and Smith were made lieutenants. Captain Broke was made a Baronetthat September. [LondonGazette|issue=16779|startpage=1890|date= 21 September 1813|accessdate=2008-02-05] [LondonGazette|issue=16852|startpage=280|date= 5 February 1814|accessdate=2008-02-05] The Court of Common Councilof Londonawarded him the freedom of the city, and a sword worth 100 guineas. He also received a piece of plate worth 750 pounds and a cup worth 100 guineas.
The "Shannon" was placed in reserve as a
receiving shipat Sheernessin 1831, was renamed HMS "St Lawrence" in 1844, and was finally broken up at Chatham, a process completed on 12 November 1859.
Graves of "Shannon's" crew are marked in the cemetery of the Naval Dockyard and Saint Paul's Church in Halifax. A plaque was erected to commemorate the battle in Halifax in 1927. Museum displays include "Shannon's" bell at the Maritime Command Museum in Halifax and an exhibit about the battle which includes USS Chesapeake's surgeon's chest and mess kettle the
Maritime Museum of the Atlanticin Halifax.
Fictionalised accounts of the battle appear in "
The Fortune of War" by Patrick O'Brianand " The Key to Honor" by Ron Wattanja.
The battle became the subject of a British ballad:
The Chesapeake and the Shannon
The Chesapeake so bold, out of Boston, I am told,
Came to take a British frigate neat and handy, O!
It allowed immigrants to lambast the critical events
that unfolded during the Kentucky resolutions, O!
"Yankee doodle, Yankee doodle dandy, O!
"The people of the port came out to see the sport,
"With their music playing Yankee doodle dandy, O!"
The British frigate's name, that for the purpose came
To tame the Yankee's courage neat and handy, O!
Was the Shannon, Captain Broke, with his crew all hearts of oak,
And in fighting, you must know, he was the dandy, O!
"Yankee doodle, &c."
The fight had scarce began when the Yankees, with much fun,
Said, we'll tow her into Boston neat and handy, O!
And "I'll kalkilate" we'll dine, with our lasses drinking wine,
And we'll dance the jig of Yankee doodle dandy, O!
"Yankee doodle, &c."
But they soon every one flinched from the gun,
Which at first they thought to use so neat and handy, O!
Brave Broke he waved his sword, crying, "Now, my lads, let's aboard,"
And we'll stop their playing Yankee doodle dandy, O!
"Yankee doodle, &c."
He scarce had said the word, when they all jump'd on board,
And they hauled down the ensign neat and handy, O!
Notwithstanding all their brag, the glorious British flag
At the Yankees' mizzen-peak it looked the dandy, O!
"Yankee doodle, &c."
Then here's to all true blue, both officers and crew,
Who tamed the Yankees' courage neat and handy, O!
And may it ever prove in battle, as in love,
The true British sailor is the dandy, O!
"Yankee doodle, &c."
* [http://www.ageofnelson.org/MichaelPhillips/info.php?ref=2031 HMS Shannon's career]
6 July 1813|accessdate=2008-02-08 The original despatches reporting the capture of the "Chesapeake", as printed in the "London Gazette".
* [http://www.contemplator.com/sea/chesapeak.html 'The Chesapeke and the Shannon']
* [http://www.royal-navy.mod.uk/server.php?show=conWebDoc.1604&changeNav=3533 HMS Shannon 1806, from the Royal Navy's website] .
* [http://ns1763.ca/hfxrm/shannon.html Shannon vs. Chesapeake plaque at Halifax]
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