HMS Nymphe: A Brief Overview 1780-93


The society style themselves as a landing party of Pellew’s command HMS Nymphe c.1793.

La Nymphe; originally of the French Marine Royale was laid down at Brest in the first half of ’77. Her complement upon commissioning later that year was to be some 290 men under the command of Charles-Marie de Trolong du Rumain. 

Designed by Pierre-Augustin Lamothe the first of 3 Nymphe Class vessels of the Quatrième Rang; and was considered upon capture, a frigate of fifth-rate according to the Royal Navy’s 1745 establishment. Pierced for 40 guns but installed with only 32 her broadside weight of 174 (French) pounds consisted of 26 guns of 12 (French) pounders on the gun deck supplemented by 6 smaller 6 (French) pounders spread across the forecastle and quarterdeck.

The capture of La Nymphe off Ouessant (Ushant) near Brest in August 1780 upon engagement is said to have to have lasted little over an hour and a half. Borne down on by HMS Flora, La Nymphe waited until but a couple cable-lengths before raising her flag and opening fire. The close proximity of the action favoured the recently installed carronade of the British ship negating it’s inaccuracy at range and allowing the deck of the French vessel to be raked by grape which explains the comparatively higher losses aboard her.

Whilst repelling the French attempt to board, an explosion thought to be of a cache of French cartridge urged the crew of the Flora to respond in kind and it was noted the French flag was “quickly struck”. La Nymphe battered and bruised was returned to England for transfer, refit and repairs which were carried out at Portsmouth.

The initial refit; said to have cost £9657 10s 7d (close to £1.6 million today) whilst increasing the number of guns offered only a marginal gain to the broadside weight increasing to 186lb equivalent to approx. 201 (French) pound.

HMS Nymphe sailed then for the colonies in America and the Caribbean where under the command of John Ford was present at both the Battle of the Chesapeake (’81) and Battle of the Saintes (’82) to no great distress. Upon returning she was paid off for the first time in the middle of ’83 and so remained until ’87 when a need for readiness from the Admiralty saw her recommissioned and middling repairs undertaken again at a similar cost as before. 

This; it would seem, was a false alarm for the tempers of the continent simmered and she was again to sit mothballed until the killicks strained once more and her new recommissioning brought with it a substantial upgrade. The fitting in the year of 1790 added significantly to armament of the forecastle and quarterdeck costing over two thousand pounds. 

The use of carronade that proved so effective in the capture of the ship some 10 years hence was gaining traction throughout the Royal Navy as a necessary weapon of close engagement. To that end HMS Nymphe now sported on her quarterdeck 12x 32-pound carronade in place of the 8x 6-pounders and the 2x 6-pounders on the forecastle upsized to 8-pounders supplemented* with an additional 2x 32-pounder carronade. All-in-all over doubling the broadside weight to 389lb!        

For the next two and a half years her captain and commanding officer was George Campbell but she was to see little to no action or noteworthy affray and was retained for the threat of war with revolutionary France. As this fomented there was an apparent opportunity for enthusiastic and capable officers to come to the fore and sure enough at the beginning of the year of 1793 Captain Edward Pellew was to assume command of HMS Nymphe; his springboard to knighthood.

In February ’93 with the writing very much on the wall the French Republic as expected, declared war on Britain. Over the next few months it’s channel frigates harried and attacked British trade vessels along the channel. In response to the raiders a pair of frigates were stationed at Falmouth one of which was HMS Nymphe. Aboard, her complement of 240 men comprised (of which it is well noted that) at least a third were very much unskilled sailors (nay tin-miners no less!) and the remaining majority were mostly acquired from the merchant vessels escorted under their protection.

The disadvantage in her crew’s dearth of seamanship proved surmountable as; after aiding the pursuit of some French vessels into Cherbourg and subsequent separation from her party, en route back she captured a privateer brig called the Sans Culottes. Returning to Britain she again prowled the peninsula and had not but four months to wait until she saw action once more.

Sailing alone off Start Point in the early hours of the morning of June 18th they identified a vessel and made for her. In a short time they were able to identify her as the Cléopâtre, a ship similar in size and armament but sporting more crew, a ship known to have been a principle player in the harassment and marauding along the channel – such a prize would not go unsought! 

The unfolding action, the subsequent capture of the Cléopâtre and the resultant honours bestowed upon Edward Pellew and his crew will be covered in greater detail in an article later this year for which we hope you’ll visit us once more!

*source dependent these may have been in place of, as noted earlier the ship was only “pierced” for 40 guns yet regular reference is made to her having 42.

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