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Latitude 50° 22.0285 N
Longitude 004° 11.5547 W
Accuracy 50m
Location Description Hamoaze
Craft type 3rd Rate
Date built 1787
Date of loss 22 Mar 1813
Manner of loss Burnt
Outcome Broken up
Construction Wood
Propulsion Sail
Nationality United Kingdom
Departure port Plymouth, as a hulk
Destination port Plymouth
Hull length 51.82
Hull beam 14.33
Hull displacement 1639
Armament 74 x cannon
Crew 600
Built Batson, Limehouse
Owners Royal Navy

HMS Captain

HMS Captain was a a modified Canada class 3rd Rate 74 gun line of battle ship built by Batson in Limehouse in 1787. The Captain had a long and distinguished carreer, her most famous commander was the then Commodore Horatio Nelson, finally paying off in 1809 where she was fitted as a receiving ship.

In 1813 the once glorious warship was reduced to a hulk and was moored off the New Dock in Devonport Dockyard. On Monday 22nd March she was alongside the 112 gun first rate San Josef who was unloading her stores before going in to dock. At 10:45 that evening a fire broke out on board Captain, in the galley at the forward end of the ship.

The fire quickly took hold of the Captain which put the huge San Josef in peril, so ropes joining the ships were cut and the San Josef was towed away, followed soon after by the other ships nearby.

An hour later, the flames had started to burn most of the upper parts of the hulk having been fanned by a light wind, and two hours after 'the internal parts were so completely ignited, that they presented the appearance of iron in a state of red heat, without losing their original shape and connexion.'

The tide was dropping so it was feared that the Captain would drift downstream once the flames had reached the mooring bitts securing her to her anchors. So dockyard shipwrights attached ring bolts to the burning hull to which hawsers and chains could be secured, her securing lines were cut and she was towed away to a safe distance from the dock. Orders were given to sink the ship but with the ship aflame it was not possible to scuttle her from the inside.

Two field guns and carronades were taken near to the burning hulk in ship's launches and the wreck was bombarded for over an hour with more than 200 shots going in to her. The gunners aimed at the waterline to put holes in the hull to flood the ship. Unfortunately, at the same time the hulk was beoming more buoyant as her upperworks burned away, she rose steadily and the shot-holes rose out of the water.

The moonlit night was lit by the much brighter glare of a 74 gun ship aflame which could be seen 30 miles away. The bombardment proceeded until 4:20am by which time she had burned to the waterline, what was left of the hull flooded through her gunports , her bow drooped and she slipped beneath the waves in 14m of water.

The Captain took with her part of the San Josef's stores and some of her captain's property, but only two lives were lost. The Captain's cook was missing and it was presumed that he died in the galley as that was where the fire had started. A black man belonging to the San Josef was also missing, but he may have survived by taking the opportunity to run from the Navy in the confusion. The Boatswain, Gunner and Carpenter of the Captain were absent without leave when she was burnt and their absence was noted in the inquiry.

On 16th May orders were given to raise the remains of the Captain using the dockyard workers from the rigging house as manpower, but by 21st they had only moved the wreck 60 yards. The intention was to salvage the hull and take it to a dock to be broken up but by June the plan had changed and the wreck was to be beached on the Rubble Bank on the eastern shore. By now she was lying on her port side bilge and the stern was above water at low tide, eventually she was dragged close to the wall where the shipwrights could get on the timbers at low tide, remove the ballast and break her up.

The Captain had met the San Josef before, when she was the Spanish San José during the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. The ship was under the command of Horatio Nelson and he had put Captain alongside the Spanish first rate San Nicolás to board her; coming to her aid the San José became entangled on the other side of the San Nicolás. Nelson took his men over the San Nicolás, they boarded the San José and captured her as well. The idea of using one enemy vessel as a stepping stone to capture another was afterwards known in the Royal Navy as "Nelson's patent bridge for boarding first rates".

HMS Captain

HMS Captain (Geoff Hunt)


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