HMS Trincomalee was built in Mumbai during the Napoleonic Wars. That conflict ended before she saw action but the vessel later served in the West Indies and the Pacific. Thereafter she was relegated to a training role but in the 1990s a major restoration effort commenced and thereafter she was placed on display in Hartlepool. She is the oldest ship afloat in Europe.
HMS Trincomalee was ordered in October 1812. Britain was on a full war footing due to the ongoing Napoleonic and American wars, so the requirements for new ships, particularly frigates, outpaced the ability of British shipyards to build them especially as supplies of oak were running scarce. Accordingly the Admiralty looked to the wider Empire for additional construction facilities and Bombay dockyard in India was chosen to construct three Leda class frigates (HMS Amphitrite, HMS Diamond and HMS Trincomalee). Plans were dispatched from Britain on HMS Java but these were lost when she was captured by USS Constitution. Replacement plans were sent on HMS Stirling Castle and were duly received in 1813. Trincomalee was laid down in April 1816 and was constructed from Malabar teak due to readily available supplies. She was named after the Battle of Trincomalee (1782) which had been fought off Sri Lanka.
The vessel was a Leda class frigate which was based on a captured French vessel, the Hébé. This had been seized in 1782 and the design had impressed the Admiralty as it offered speed, manoeuvrability and also supported significant fire-power. The design was copied by the Royal Navy starting with HMS Leda in 1800. The class eventually included forty-six vessels although, due to peace with France, the final ships in the class were never completed. Two of them survive, HMS Trincomalee and HMS Unicorn.
Trincomalee was classed as a Fifth Rate Warship (see below) and the design benefited from having its main armament on a single Gun Deck. This replaced the earlier Roebuck class, which had their main weapons divided between two decks and could only use their lower tier of guns in calm seas. Instead the 28 heavy guns on Trincomalee's single deck (14 on each side), could be operated up to and including moderate sea states.
At the time of its launch, the main weapons on the ship were 18-pounder long guns whilst the secondary armament consisted of shorter range 32 pounder Carronades. However, the rebuild of the ship in 1845 reduced her weapons fit to 26 guns. The Main Gun deck was fitted with twelve 32-pounder and six 8-inch shell guns. A further six 32-pounders were installed on the Upper Deck along with two 56-pounders. Her weapon fit was modified again prior to her second commission with a 10-inch pivot gun being installed along with ten 9-inch shell guns. Her complement of 32-pounders was reduced to ten guns.
Gun Deck (Main Deck)
As noted above, the main deck supported the primary armament of the ship but it also served as the main working space where day-to-day activities were conducted such as carpentry and repairs to the sails. The deck also included the Galley and, at the stern, the Captain's Cabin. The latter offered the Commanding Officer significant space and would have been well furnished albeit it was shared with four of the heavy guns. Unlike later ships of the class, Trincomalee did not originally have a rounded stern making it vulnerable to gun fire targeted at its rear. This was modified during the 1845 rebuild when it was restructured into an elliptical stern.
Lower Deck (Mess Deck)
The Lower Deck provided the accommodation for the Ship's Company. Officers were in the Wardroom at the rear in individual cabins that surrounded the main table where they worked and ate. The cabins were modular and were dismantled when the ship secured for action during which the Wardroom was re-designated as a Medical Centre (comparable with a modern warship). In front of the Wardroom were the Warrant Officers and Senior Rates cabins. Here key individuals - such as the Master Gunner, Carpenter and Boatswain - were accommodated. It was also home to Midshipmen (trainee Officers).
The forward half of the deck was the open plan Mess Deck which provided the eating and sleeping space for the Trincomalee's approximately 230 strong crew of Junior Ratings (who would have been augmented by up to 50 Royal Marines). The sailors slept in hammocks which were secured during the day and replaced with temporary wooden tables for dining.
Orlop Deck and Hold
Below the Mess Deck was the Orlop Deck and beneath that the Hold. Both were used for storing provisions and equipment required to sustain the ship for as long as six months at sea. The Orlop Deck also supported two Magazines used for storing Gunpowder and these were fitted out with a copper lining to prevent rats biting into the prepared powder cartridges whilst a double glazed window allowed an external lantern to provide light without the risk of explosion. The Orlop Deck, which is just below the waterline, was built with a walkway running along the Ship's hull on both sides to enable the Carpenter to respond quickly to any damage in this crucial area.
Trincomalee was launched on October 1817 and arrived in Portsmouth in 1819. By this stage the Napoleonic wars were over and there was peace between Britain, France and the United States of America. Trincomalee, was immediately placed in reserve and remained in this condition for almost three decades. However, in 1845 her hull was assessed and deemed to be in excellent condition. She was reclassified as a Corvette and her armament modified.
Trincomalee commenced her first Commission in 1847 under the Command of Captain Richard Warren. The vessel took up station in the West Indies where she was responsible for anti-slavery patrols and supporting British interests in the region. The latter included protecting Spanish held Cuba from attempts by the United States of America to annex it. The vessel returned to Portsmouth in August 1850 and thereafter was refitted.
The vessel's second Commission was in the Pacific. She sailed in 1852 and spent almost five years on station conducting policing duties. This included preventing the United States of America from seizing the Hawaii Islands in December 1854 and seizure of Petropavlovsk in April 1855 during the Crimea War. Trincomalee arrived back in Britain in September 1857 and thereafter was placed in reserve.
Obsolescence and Training Role
In 1861 Trincomalee was towed to Sunderland where she served as a platform for training members of the Royal Navy Reserve. She was moved to Hartlepool the following year and remained there until 1877 in the same role. She was then towed to Southampton and spent the next twenty years languishing waiting to be broken up. However, the vessel was purchased in 1897 by Wheatley Cobb to replace his youth training ship, HMS Foudroyant, which had been shipwrecked earlier that year. Trincomalee was towed to Falmouth, fitted out and renamed HMS Foudroyant. Cobb died in 1932 and the vessel was towed to Portsmouth. It remained there during World War II serving as a training ship. It remained in Portsmouth until 1987 after which it was moved back to Hartlepool where she was restored to her original configuration and renamed back to HMS Trincomalee.
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Ships of the Line
Although it had been developing since Tudor times, a formal rating system for Ships of the Royal Navy was detailed by Samuel Pepys, Secretary to the Admiralty in 1677. His aim was to standardise classification and with it the number of guns and men required enabling the cost of construction, operation and logistics to be effectively determined. It also enabled calculation of which vessels could be employed as 'Ships of the Line', namely how many were available to form part of the battle line in a major sea battle. The scheme was key in the development of the Royal Navy as a world power and was updated on a number of occasions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The largest and most powerful ships in the Royal Navy, these had three tiers of guns (at least two Gun Decks and weapons on the Upper Deck); between 100 and 120 guns in total. These were 'Ships of the Line' and HMS Victory is a surviving example. The reforms to Pepys' rating system in 1817 led to all three deck warships being classified as First Rate.
These were also 'Ships of the Line' but fitted with 90 guns or fewer (this was later increased to 98). These could be configured in two or three tiers although the latter were reclassified solely as First Rate in 1817.
These were the smallest 'Ships of the Line' and fitted with 80 guns or fewer. Normal configurations were 64, 70, 74 or 80 guns across two decks.
Vessels with two Gun Decks with either 50 or 60 guns. By the mid-eighteenth century these had been deemed too small for sea battles and therefore were no longer Ships of the Line. By the time Trincomalee was built Fourth Rate ships had largely been superseded by the more versatile Fifth Rate frigates although some continued to be used in outposts of the British Empire.
Fifth Rate (Frigates)
Designed to be fast and manoeuvrable but also large enough to support significant fire-power (configurations were 32, 36, 38, 40, 44 or 46 guns). All their main weapons were on a single Gun Deck (although additional weapons were also on the Upper Deck). The ships were frequently deployed as advanced scouts for the main fleet or deployed as singleton units. In the modern Royal Navy a frigate has a similar role as a general purpose platform although since World War II increased focus has been on Anti-Submarine Warfare.
Sixth Rate (Small Frigates and Corvettes)
Smaller ships of either 20, 24 or 28 gun configuration including small frigates and corvettes. These ships were predominantly used for blockade and convoy escort duties as well as hunting down enemy privateers.
Not part of the rating system but nevertheless a type of warship that formed a major part of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars. Fitted with fewer than 20 guns.
HMS Trincomalee is the centre-piece of the Hartlepool Maritime Experience. The vessel has been painstakingly restored and is very well presented. There are surrounding exhibits and reconstructions linked with the ship’s history.
HMS Trincomalee. The vessel was a 46-gun Fifth Rate Leda Class frigate. Its design was based on a captured French frigate, the Hébé which had been seized in 1782 and was copied by the Royal Navy. The class included forty-six vessels although, due to peace with France, the final ships in the class were never completed. Famous ships of the class were HMS Shannon, which defeated the USS Chesapeake during the 1812 war, and HMS Pomone which sank off the Needles in 1811. HMS Unicorn, a late Leda-class vessel, is a museum ship in Dundee.
Colour Scheme. The distinctive colour scheme of the Unicorn is a legacy of Admiral Nelson. He ordered his ships to be painted black with a yellow band on each of the Gun Ports making it easy to recognise each class of Ship. In 1817 the yellow band was changed to white.
Figurehead. The ship’s figurehead is thought to be Jamsetjee Bomanjee Wadia, the Master Builder of the Bombay dockyard where HMS Trincomalee was constructed.
Weapons. The ship’s primary armament at the time of its construction consisted of twenty-eight 18-pounder guns installed on the main Gun Deck (left). This weapon was based on a version designed by Sir Thomas Blomefield and had a range of over one mile with huge penetrative power capable of punching through almost a metre of solid oak at closer ranges. Light carronades were installed on the Upper Deck.
Top. These were platforms installed on each of the masts and provided an elevated viewpoint for spotting ships and land.
Galley. The ship had one galley (kitchen). Junior rates would draw their own victuals from stores and would bag them up and present them to the galley where they would be boiled in large coppers. Sailors were well fed with three meals a day consisting of a high protein diet of over 4,000 calories.
Captain's Cabin. The Commanding Officer’s cabin occupied a substantial area including his own cot, working area and ablutions.
Lower Deck. The ship’s accommodation for all personnel except the Commanding Officer, was on a dedicated deck. The front part of the deck was an open area occupied by the Junior Rates and Royal Marines. Astern of that were the Warrant Officer and Midshipman cabins. At the stern was the Wardroom, the Officer’s accommodation.