For many years Michael Phillips' website at has been the regular port of call for any naval historian, researcher, student or amateur.

To let such an important resource vanish in cyberspace without trying to save it would be a shame.

Both as a tribute to his work, and popular demand on various forums and mailing lists, I have decided to resurrect it here.

Thanks to Simon Harrison and Randy Maffit who sent me recent versions of the old website.

My only contibution has been cosmetic: some improvements to the lay-out, the correction of typos, and the addition of a well needed search engine.

I would like to hear from you here if you have further info or contributions.

Patrick Marioné

Please don't contact me if you are looking for info on ships: I can't be of any help in that field.
Use the forum on this website instead: it's here for that very reason.
Most of the text comes from contemporary documents and so the spelling of proper nouns is very variable. So if you don't find a name, try various spellings!

• Historical Background


Ships of the Old Navy

A history of the sailing ships of the Royal Navy by Michael Phillips

A |  B |  C |  D |  E |  F |  G |  H |  I |  J |  K |  L |  M |  N |  O |  P |  Q |  R |  S |  T |  U |  V |  W |  X |  Y |  Z

The very valuable contributions made by correspondents are acknowledged in the text.


This book attempts to provide more information than the usual ship lists, which normally only mention launch date, dimensions and fate, by giving an anecdotal history of the vessel's voyages, actions and people. It covers the period from the mid 18th century to about 1840 - the last half century of the sailing warship.
The information was derived from contemporary sources and and is presented using the political, moral and social conventions of the time.

Sailing warships were rated according to the number of their guns.
Only 1st rates, 100 or more guns, 2nd rates, 90 or 94 guns and 3rd rates, 74 or 80 guns, were powerful enough to fight in the line of battle. The frigates had 32, 36, 38 or 40 guns mounted on a single gun deck. Carronades were not included in the rating and in at least one case 20 additional carronades were carried on a vessel rated as a 32-gun ship.

Below the 6th rates came the sloops, brigs, gun-brigs, bombs, schooners and cutters which were commanded by either a commander or a lieutenant.
The names of two standard types of brig-sloop, which were built in large numbers, are listed in the text - 115 of the 10-gun Cherokee class and 110 of the 18-gun Cruiser class.

The alphabetical list includes not only all those vessels built for, and commissioned in, the Royal Navy between the 1780s and the 1840s, but also a number of the many commercial vessels which were hired for service as warships during the French wars, and some of the private warships, or privateers, fitted out by commercial owners to attack enemy trade and operating under letters-of-marque. (Some 4000 such licenses were issued during the two French wars. The practice ended in 1856.)

For the first fifteen years of the period Great Britain was at war with a succession of enemies, some of whom later became allies. Many vessels during the war spent their sea-time cruising or escorting convoys of merchant ships across miles of empty ocean. In this humdrum existence their only enemy was the violence of the sea and they rarely, if ever, encountered an enemy warship or privateer. They only became noteworthy when they were wrecked or foundered, a not uncommon occurence. Others were always in the thick of it and success seemed to breed success with some commanders, the same names often reappear in action after action in a succession of ships.

After the fall of Napoleon in 1815 most of the battle fleets were laid up "in ordinary" for the remainder of their days but the navy was nevertheless involved in a number of small wars - Burma, Greece, Egypt, China and Argentina - and British vessels were in the cross-fire during a number of others, usually civil wars such as as that in Portugal in 1832. Many small vessels were used in suppressing piracy all round the world, particularly in the Mediterranean, the West Indies and the Far East. In the eastern Mediterranean, and particularly in the Aegean and around the Ionian islands during 1826-7, while warships from Britain, Russia and France were actively defending Greece against the Turks, Greek pirates were plundering British ships and Greek warships were seaching neutral ships and calling all cargo Turkish property. The Ionian islands formed a British protectorate until they were ceded to Greece in 1863.

Large numbers of vessels were employed on anti-slavery patrol around the African coast where small, fast vessels, brigantines and schooners, were needed to catch slavers. The older brigs were far too ponderous. On most stations casualties were high - from sickness not the violence of the enemy. Yellow fever, or Yellow Jack as it was called, would frequently kill three-quarters of a ship's company and leave the survivors too weak to work the sails. During 1816 CHILDERS, in the period of a month in the West Indies, lost several officers and 35 men from fever in addition to five pursers appointed in succession, and in 1820 the 26-gun TAMAR arrived in Halifax from Jamaica with scarcely enough men to bring her into harbour; her captain, Arthur SNOW, and 75 of her crew having died during the voyage. It was not until the beginning of this century that it was discovered that it was carried by a mosquito.

The names of all ships and the surnames of British naval officers and men are in upper case. The names of Marines are in lower case to distinguish between naval and marine ranks. The rank of Commander should be assumed when not otherwise indicated, for the captain of a warship.

Several people have queried the meaning of the numbers following the name of a ship. These denote the number of great guns or cannon carried, according to an establishment laid down by the Admiralty for each class of vessel. The number does not include any carronades that might be carried.

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© 1995, 2007 Michael Phillips