Nelson & His World

Discussion on the life and times of Admiral Lord Nelson
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 Post subject: About renaming the captured enemy warships
PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 4:50 pm 
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I noticed that many, if not most French warships retained their names with the customary HMS suffixes added, while some were renamed. Was there a system to that, or perhaps the Admiralty regulation of some sort?
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 Post subject: Re: About renaming the captured enemy warships
PostPosted: Thu Jul 18, 2013 6:02 pm 
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I have never heard of any 'system' either in the RN or other navies - except that it was unwise to have two ships with the same name - and would be interested to hear from others.
My impression is that keeping the original name of a captured vessel was normal since it enabled them to be presented as trophies and a deliberate attempt to remind everyone of the victory by which the enemy had lost the vessel. The United States certainly used prizes from the 1812 war (Cyane and Macedonian, for example) as propaganda by deploying them on foreign stations under their original names as living proof that they could beat the Brits. They even rebuilt the 'Macedonian' totally but still pretended she was the original British prize. Neither was it a coincidence that two newly built American ships were called 'Guerriere' and 'Java' to remind people of the defeat of British ships with the same names. The British were little different: when the USS 'President' was captured, the ship in the RN which had the same name was rechristened so that the new HMS 'President' could keep the name and serve as a trophy and reminder of victory in the American War. And when the Chilean Navy under Cochrane captured the Spanish 'Esmeralda' there were protests from the (largely British) officers when the CinC (a General) decided to change the name to 'Valdivia': they regarded it as an insult and a diminution of their victory.
When navies purchased ships from other nations however, they seem to have been renamed. The S American navies in the wars of independence for example all bought foreign vessels and renamed the lot.

Brian


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 Post subject: Re: About renaming the captured enemy warships
PostPosted: Fri Jul 19, 2013 12:10 pm 
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Dmitry,

I am of the same persuasion as Brian, in that I don't believe there were any laid down rules for the renaming of captured ships. As he says, having ships of the same or similar names in the fleet was ideally something to be avoided, but beyond that I don't know of any other restrictions.

Regarding the suffix 'HMS' I'm not sure this was used much, if at all, when referring to a ship's name during the Nelsonian period. This usage seems to have been introduced in the later nineteenth century and, of course, today it is the most usual way of referring to a British naval vessel (and incidentally, also Swedish one). Having a quick look in Vol 1 of William James, probably the foremost naval authority of the nineteenth century, was a little illuminating. Andrew Lambert in his introduction, mentions a particular ship giving it the modern 'HMS' prefix (although she was the Guerriere, and he may have wanted to differentiate it from the American vessel.) James himself, refers to a ship by name only, or by prefixing it with 'the'.

I'm not certain when 'HMS' came into general usage, but it does not seem to be usual during this period. Perhaps someone else has more definite knowledge on this?

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 Post subject: Re: About renaming the captured enemy warships
PostPosted: Fri Jul 19, 2013 5:38 pm 
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I have certainly seen it stated by respected sources that 'HMS' was not commonly used during the 'Nelsonian period', but it's something that historians repeat without checking, and there is plenty of easily accessed evidence to contradict this. Look no further than naval gold medals issued to captains for the Glorious First of June, Camperdown, etc., and also Lloyds Patriotic Fund sword inscriptions of the same period. (It's interesting that on naval gold medals usage changed from HMS 'The Ramillies' in 1794 to HMS Victory in 1805.) In logs and musters of the period you more often see 'H M Ship' than 'HMS', but 'HMS' is not that unusual. In the earlier part of the period, around the American War of Independence, you of course also sometimes see 'HBMS' for 'His Britannic Majesty's Ship'.

I'm in agreement that there seems to be no evidence for a system or regulation on the naming or renaming of captured ships. The Admiralty does seem to have drawn the line at including French admirals names in the Royal Navy, hence the renaming of Duguay Trouin to Implacable. Also, despite the example of the USS President, I'm aware of one case where they obviously baulked at retaining the name 'Premier Consul', but it was only a small privateer and didn't represent much of a trophy. Maybe the renaming of captured privateers was more common?

The French also kept the names of the few British ships they captured, so reading some battle accounts can get pretty confusing. At Trafalgar, for example, there was a Swiftsure in both fleets.

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 Post subject: Re: About renaming the captured enemy warships
PostPosted: Fri Jul 19, 2013 6:31 pm 
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Re: the HMS usage in Nelson's day:

I have a letter by Lady Hamilton to Captain Sutton aboard the Amazon, with the address panel written in Nelson's hand -
'H M Ship Amazon',

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Anna


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 Post subject: Re: About renaming the captured enemy warships
PostPosted: Sat Jul 20, 2013 8:20 pm 
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Royal Navy Museum says

Quote:
11. The abbreviation HMS came into common usage around 1790s. Prior to this, ships were referred to as "His Majesty's Ship" in full to indicate it belonging to the Royal Navy. The earliest example of the abbreviation being used is in 1789 when it was used for HMS Phoenix.


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 Post subject: Re: About renaming the captured enemy warships
PostPosted: Sat Jul 20, 2013 11:56 pm 
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It simply is not possible to be that definitive, and the museum is incorrect. For example, the Captain's log of the Fortunée in 1782, which is one I happen to have studied, refers to 'H.M.S. Barfleur' seven years earlier than the museum's example. That is highly unlikely to be the earliest example, and you would have to read an awful lot of documents to have any confidence in making such a claim.

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 Post subject: Re: About renaming the captured enemy warships
PostPosted: Tue Jul 23, 2013 8:51 pm 
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English definition of 'around' includes dates earlier than the stated. Plus your date is what seven years less than the one they found. Looks accurate to me and I rarely find cheese paring about such matters worth the trouble. Common usage is just that.


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 Post subject: Re: About renaming the captured enemy warships
PostPosted: Thu Aug 01, 2013 12:23 am 
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Joss, I apologise for having offended you, which was the last thing I intended to do. I also apologise for not making my meaning as clear as I should have done. I made the post hastily from my phone, and should have taken more care. When I said the Museum was incorrect, what I meant to say was that their last sentence was incorrect.

The last sentence definitively states that the earliest example of HMS being used is in 1789. Cheese-parers like me (and some others) consider it interesting and important to question the veracity and source of statements such as that. In my experience the museums would be the first to admit that they do not perform a large amount of research themselves, and have to rely on other sources for information. They simply do not have the budget or manpower. In this case their information has evidently been taken almost verbatim from Peter Kemp's 'the Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea'. I think the information was first included in the 1975 edition, and it is almost certainly based on a very brief note by W E May in The Mariners Mirror, volume 58, in 1972. In the note he stated that H.M.S. did not come into use until the late eighteenth century, which is a much safer way of putting it. The note says that the earliest example he had found was the H.M.S. Phoenix example in 1789, and that the next two examples he had found were in 1795, one by Rear Admiral Christian. This is interesting because my 1782 example was also by Christian when he was then a captain, and now suggests to me the possibility that the abbreviation was then only used by a very small number of people apart from in inscriptions when space forced an abbreviation.

I also think it highly unlikely that the abbreviation was used in speech until many more years had passed. Does anyone have any information or evidence for when it may have first been used in speech? While the quest for earlier written examples may be lengthy, it must be even more difficult to determine when it may have been used in speech.

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