Nelson & His World

Re-naming captured ships
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Author:  tycho [ Wed Oct 29, 2008 6:46 am ]
Post subject:  Re-naming captured ships

On the 'Ralph Dixon' thread, Peter noted that there were two ships named 'Wasp' at the time in question, one of which had formerly been a French ship, 'La Guepe.'

I was under the impression that it was not the custom to rename captured enemy ships but to leave them with their original name. If I have got this right, I wonder why 'La Guepe' was given an English name - a direct translation - 'guepe' is French for 'wasp' - especially when there seems to have been a ship of that name already.

Author:  Tony [ Wed Oct 29, 2008 9:54 am ]
Post subject: 

Of the examples I have come across, captured privateers and merchant ships that were bought into the navy were renamed, but captured French and Spanish Navy ships were not. I don't know how far this represents a general rule. Perhaps others can say?

I believe there were examples of ships added to the Navy on foreign stations being given duplicate names, but can't think of any offhand. If there was a second Wasp in 1805, it is not listed by David Lyon, Rif Winfield or Steel's Navy Lists for the year (other than the victualling vessel at Portsmouth Dock Yard).

Hired transport ships would be another source of duplicate names.

Author:  PhiloNauticus [ Wed Oct 29, 2008 3:00 pm ]
Post subject: 

On the subject of renaming prize vessels, Manning & Walker in "British Warship Names" state -

"A problem which attained considerable prominence during the latter part of the 18th century was that of naming ships captured from the enemy. When a captured ship was pronounced fit for further service she was added to our own Navy, and if her name was neither already in use nor too difficult for an Englishman to twist his tongue round, it was often left unchanged......sometimes, for one reason or another, it was considered preferable to translate a foreign name into English, and several of our warship names which have since become famous originated in this way, Glory (Gloire) and Renown (Renomee) being two notable examples. When, as occasionally happened, it became necessary to choose an entirely fresh name, this usually had some association with the old one, or with the circumstances which its bearer had been captured. Thus the Hebe was renamed Ganymede and the Franklin (captured at the Nile) Canopus".

Author:  brian [ Wed Oct 29, 2008 4:19 pm ]
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Retaining the original name of a captured ship had good propaganda value. The ships of the British South America squadron were constantly reminded that they were not invincible by the presence of the 'Cyane', the 'Macedonian' (and then the ship which captured her, the 'United States') - all no doubt carefully selected to make the point as well as repesent American interests.

When the Chileans decided to rename the captured Spanish 'Esmeralda' as 'Valdivia' in memory of another of Cochrane's victories under Cochrane, the British officers of the squadron were seriously displeased,
thinking it diminished their triumph.


Author:  Tony [ Thu Oct 30, 2008 10:14 am ]
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The choice of name for a captured ship must have depended much on the personalities involved in the decision, as well as the circumstances of the capture. Perhaps there was more leeway when ships were taken into service on a foreign station. In some cases the choice seems remarkably unimaginative, as in "Beaver's Prize" (the American privateer 'Oliver Cromwell' captured in 1778), although the name does an admirable job in giving full credit to the officers and crew of the Beaver, and does have a certain ring to it.

Sometimes the propaganda value of a name seems to have been squandered, as with the French privateer 'Premier Consul' captured by the Dryad (Capt Mansfield, of course) in 1801. I would have thought that 'Le Premier Consul' captured and in the service of the Royal Navy might have generated some consternation among the French, but I suppose there may have been some reluctance by British seamen to serve in a ship of that name. She was renamed 'Scout', and I am still searching for some hidden meaning in that name change! In fact the name 'Scout' seems to have been for the benefit of Captain Henry Duncan who had just lost his previous sloop 'Scout', wrecked off the Isle of Wight, and who was then given command of the newly acquired 'Scout'.

It is commonly said that it is a traditional sailor's superstition that it is unlucky to rename a ship, and even more unlucky to rename a ship after one that has been lost. However I have seen no evidence that this superstition existed in Napoleonic times, and if it did, the Admiralty certainly ignored it. It seems to be a tradition that has grown more recently. In this case however, fate responded to the temptation, and this 'Scout' proved even more unlucky for Captain Duncan than the previous 'Scout', and he was lost along with the ship and all hands off Newfoundland the following year.

Perhaps I should also mention that the renamed "Beaver's Prize" was also lost in a hurricane in 1780.

Author:  tycho [ Thu Oct 30, 2008 11:42 am ]
Post subject: 

Many thanks for those interesting posts.

May I make a totally frivolous and only mildly relevant post. I was at school with a girl named Venetia, a pretty name of which I was wildly envious. She explained that she was named after HMS Venetia, a ship in which her father had served. He had intended to call her Warspite, after another ship in which he had also served, but the vicar refused point blank at the font and, in great haste, Venetia was chosen instead.

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