The History of the Fifth Vanguard of the Royal Navy
1787  -  1821
(Nelson's Vanguard)
                                                                   LIST OF CAPTAINS

                                                                            22 June.  1790   Sir Andrew S. Hammond
                                                                     20 Feb.    1793   John Stanhope
                                                                     17 Dec.    1793   Isaac Schromberg
                                                                       4  May.  1794   Charles Sawyer
                                                                       6  Nov.   1794   Simon Millar
                                                                     20 Dec.    1797   Edward Berry
                                                                       4  Aug.   1798   Thomas Masterman Hardy
                                                                       8  June.  1799   William Brown
                                                                     27 Feb.     1801   Sir Thomas Williams
                                                                     21 Nov.    1801   Charles Inglis
                                                                    17 Apr.      1802   James Walker
                                                                    14  Mar.    1804   Lord William Fitzroy
                                                                      1  Apr.     1804   Andrew F. Evans
                                                                    27  July     1805   James N. Newman
                                                                    16  Feb.     1807   Alex. Fraser
                                                                    25  Feb.     1808   J.F.C.Manwaring
                                                                    21  May.   1808   Thomas Baker
                                                                    27  Jan.     1809   Henry Richard Glynn

The fifth Vanguard, "Nelson's Vanguard", a Third Rate of 1609 tons, 74 guns and a crew of 589 men, was completed at Deptford in 1787. She then lay in ordinary reserve until 25th June 1790, when she was commissioned for service with the Grand Fleet. This fleet was mobilised to ensure a satisfactory solution with Spain in a difference over the possession of Nootka Sound, near Vancouver. When this difference, and another with Russia, were settled, the ship was paid off on 14th September, 1791, after an uneventful commission.

She was commissioned again on 28th February 1793, hostilities having broken out with France. After embarking the 69th and 29th Regiments of Foot as marines at Portsmouth in June, she joined the fleet under Lord Howe at Torbay on 27th September;  with him she cruised at the entrance of the Channel for the next two months, waiting for the French to come out of Brest. On 27th November she joined with three frigates (Phnix, Phton and Latona) in the chase of the French frigate, La Blonde, off Ushant and shared in her capture.

When entering Plymouth on 3rd December, the Vanguard struck a shoal and had to be dismantled and docked for repairs. On their completion she was detailed for duty in the West Indies; at the end of January she joined a convoy in Torbay, arriving at Barbados on 2nd May. Thence she proceeded to Martinique to join the fleet commanded by Sir John Jervis;  on arrival she hoisted the broad pendant of Commodore Charles Thompson, which she carried until June 1795. This fleet had just completed the capture of Martinique and of Guadaloupe, but had to return almost at once to the relief of the latter. The Vanguard arrived off Guadaloupe on 19th June and her captain, Charles Sawyer, was put in command of one of the two battalions of seamen that were landed in co-operation with the army for two or three weeks. Our efforts were unavailing, however, and the fleet was withdrawn when the garrison, except for one outpost, surrendered on 6th October.

For the next three years the Vanguard was employed on naval, as opposed to combined,  operations attacking enemy ships and trade and protecting our own. This must have involved a high proportion of sea-time, as the only way to find the enemy was to wait for him outside his harbours. There must have been long periods of tedium, but she had sufficient success to compensate her for that. On 5th June 1795, she captured the corvette La Perdrix (24) off Antigua; on 1st October, still in the West Indies, she fell in with the French brig Superbe (24) who, as was to be expected, struck to her; on 31st December she chased two privateers under the guns of Marie Galante and sent in boats to cut them out, but she had to withdraw under the heavy fire that met her from the shore batteries.

The year 1796 provided her with no such welcome excitements, and it was not until February 1797 that her luck changed;  on the 5th and 10th she had two chases, but on both occasions the enemy were able to gain the shelter of shore batteries, thus escaping capture ; on l6th February she had slightly better fortune, when in a similar chase she recaptured the Little Mary who had been taken in prize by the French. When, in May, she had completed her three years on the station, she was ordered home. She arrived at the Nore on 14th July 1797, and paid off for a refit on 27th August, having been in commission four and a half years.

There must have been many angry hearts in Chatham that Christmas of 1797, as the Vanguard re-commissioned on 24th December, her refit having been completed in under four months. A great honour was in store for her, however: on 29th March 1798, at Spithead, she hoisted Nelson's flag. A month later she had joined St. Vincent's fleet off Cadiz and, almost at once, Nelson was ordered to take her, with two other seventy-fours and three frigates, to watch the French fleet in Toulon. Picking up the rest of his squadron at Gibraltar, Nelson was off Hyeres on 21st May, where a heavy gale caused severe damage to his ships, and particularly to the Vanguard. The three frigates, becoming separated, went to Gibraltar, thinking the Vanguard would have to return there to make good the damage to her foremast and other spars. But that was not Nelson's way. The Alexander took the Vanguard in tow to San Pietro on the N.W. coast of Sardinia, where she was repaired with help from the other two ships, in four days. By the 31st the three seventy-fours were off Toulon to find that the French fleet had sailed, but with no indication of their objective. There followed an apparently hopeless search for them, which lasted for two months and entailed sailing some 5000 miles. In the first week of June, Nelson was reinforced by ten ships of the line, a 50-gun ship and a sloop. On 12th June the squadron was off Corsica ; on the 17th at Naples, on the false information that the French had gone to Syracuse; thence Nelson sailed for Malta but, before he reached there, he heard that Malta had fallen and that the French had already sailed when a N.W. wind was blowing. Nelson immediately set course for Alexandria, where the squadron arrived on 28th June but, finding no news of the French, left next day for the Turkish coast, He again drew blank;  then returned to Syracuse, where provisions and water were embarked between 19th and 24th July. Nelson, still certain that the French were to the eastward, sailed for the coast of Greece, where he heard that they had been seen four weeks earlier from the coast of Crete, sailing south-east. Course was again set for Alexandria, which was sighted for the second time at 1000 on 1st August:  what a relief it must have been to see the harbour was full of ships!  There was a short lived disappointment when the Alexander reported that they were all merchantmen and transports, but this was dispelled at 1300 when the Zealous reported 17 ships of war at anchor in Aboukir Bay, some 15 miles to the east of the harbour. The long search was over.

Battle of the Nile
There was little rest for anyone in the British squadron that afternoon or evening. At 1500 Nelson made the signal to prepare for battle, and at 1600 to prepare to anchor by the stern;  while the ship was being cleared for action, the stream cable was led out through the gunroom port and forward below the lower deck gun-ports, to be bent on to the bower anchor when brought to anchor thus, the ship could be slewed as necessary to bring her guns to bear in the required direction, by veering on the bower or stream cable. Shortly after 1600, Nelson signalled his intention to concentrate his attack on the enemy van and centre. The squadron was then running with a N.W. wind broad on the port quarter, some nine miles from the French fleet, but it had still to wear round the Aboukir shoal, under the lee of which the French were anchored:  their 14 ships of the line were in single line with the frigates inshore of them. The Vanguard rounded the Aboukir shoal at 1730, the fleet being ordered to form a single line ahead and astern of her in the most convenient order. There was some competition for the van position which was eventually gained by the Goliath, with the Zealous next astern of her. The Vanguard vas luffed up to allow the Orion, Audacious and Theseus to form ahead of her, thus putting her in the centre of the line, followed by the Minotaur, Defence, Bellerophon, Majestic and Leander. The Culloden had dropped some way astern, whilst the Alexander and Swiftsure, who had been sent to investigate the shipping in Alexandria, were still many miles to the westward.

At 1820 the first shots were fired by the Conquerant and Guerrier, the headmost of the French ships, as the Goliath and Zealous approached to pass ahead of them and anchor on their inshore beam. The next three ships, Orion,  Audacious,and Theseus having done likewise, the five leading French ships thus found themselves attacked on what they had too easily assumed would be their disengaged side.
The sun set at 1830, and ten minutes later the Vanguard anchored 80 yards on the seaward beam of the Spartiate, the third ship in the French line. The Theseus, who was engaging the, Spartiate from her port beam, then shifted her fire to the Conquerant and the Aquilon (the next ahead and astern) who were also firing at the Vanguard.
The Minotaur and the Defence anchored similarly abeam of the Aquilon and the Peuple Souverain, astern of the Spartiate. The five leading French ships, now assailed from both sides by eight of our ships, were soon reduced to four as the Conquerant struck at about 1900, having lost her fore and mizzen masts and being completely disabled.
The Vanguard had as her main opponent the Spartiate but she was also engaged by the Aquilon, who put a spring on her cable to bring her port battery to bear on the Vanguard's bows. The fighting at the head of the French line was heavy until about 2100, when the, Spartiate, completely dismasted, struck to the Vanguard about the same time the Guerrier and the Aquilon surrendered, and the Peuple Souverain, having parted her cable, drifted astern alongside the L'Orient, who was still heavily engaged by the Alexander and the Swiftsure.
The Vanguard had suffered considerable damage to her hull and took no further active part in the action, which  continued intermittently all night. At 2200 the French flaghip, I.'Orient, a First Rate of 120 guns, blew up with a shock that stupified everyone in both fleets for several minutes ; by  midnight, the seven van ships of the enemy had either been captured or destroyed: at dawn Nelson ordered specific ships to weigh and deal with the remainder, of whom five had hardly been engaged. In the end, only two of the fourteen ships of the line and two of the four frigates escaped.
The completeness of the victory might lead one to assume that the opposition had been light, but the story of the captain of the Tonnant should dispel any such idea:  this man, Capitaine Dupetit Thouars, was struck by three separate round shot witch removed one after another his right arm, his left arm and one of his legs; he then had himself placed in a tub of bran, from which seat. he continued to fight his ship until he fainted from loss of blood.  Nor had our losses been light : in the Vanguard almost one man in every five was a casualty - with 30 killed and 70 wounded in a ship's company of less than 600 - and these figures were exceeded in the Bellerophon who had come up against the huge L'Orient, and the Majestic who had taken on the heroic Tonnant. Among the wounded was Nelson himself, who was struck by a splinter above his blind right eye.
The fleet remained at Aboukir Bay, refitting, for less than three weeks before returning to Naples with the prizes ; in the meanwhile on 5th August, Captain Edward Berry of the Vanguard, being entrusted with the despatches for home reporting the victory, was relieved by Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy, who was later Nelson's flag-captain at the Battle of Trafalgar.
On 15th October the Vanguard was off Malta, where Nelson assumed personal command of the blockading squadron; the neighbouring island of Gozo surrendered at the end of the month, but Malta itself held out longer than expected. Nelson and the Vanguard,  however, had to return to Naples early in November as the ship was required to transport over 700 Neapolitan army officers and troops to Leghorn. Their successes against the French army in Italy were short-lived so, on 21st December, the Vanguard evacuated the Neapolitan Royal Family, Sir William Hammilton (the English ambassador) and their suites to Palermo.

The ship remained in the Mediterranean throughout 1799:  in March she was off Tripoli and in May at Marittimo. 0n 23rd May a strange gift for Nelson arrived on board the Vanguard. Captain Benjamin Hallowell, of the Swiftsure, which had been one of the three ships mainly engaged with the 120-gun L'Orient at the Nile, had salved a part of the mainmast of that ship after she blew up ; he caused a coffin to be made from the wood of it, fastened with metal forged from its ironwork. He sent it to Nelson with the following brief note:-

            "My Lord,
            Herewith I send you a Coffin made of part of
             L'Orient's Main mast, that when you are tired of this
             life you may be buried in one of your own Trophies -
             but may that period be far distant is the sincere wish of
             your obedient and much obliged servant,

                                                                     BEN  HALLOWELL.

                Swiftsure, May, 23, 1799"

Hallowell, a native of Boston, Massachusetts, was known for his dry humour; be was also a friend of long standing, or Nelson might have taken amiss this reminder of his mortality which, arriving as it did at the height of his entanglement with the Neapolitan court, was almost too appropriate. Be that as it may, it was proudly exhibited in Nelson's cabin, upright behind his dining chair ; and on his death he was buried in it.   The ship's company noted its arrival with more mixed feelings: one man said "We shall have hot work of it indeed : you see the Admiral intends to fight until he is killed, and there he is to be buried."

On 8th June, Nelson shifted his flag- and his coffin  - to time Foudryant, taking Captain Hardy with him ; Captain William Brown transferred from the new flagship to the Vanguard.  At the end of June she was back at Naples, this time landing her marines to occupy the castles Uovo and Nuovo when they were surrendered by the French. At the end of November she sailed for England, where she arrived on 7th January 1800, and paid off on l7th February.

She had over a year in which to make good the battle damage she received at the Nile, as she did  not re-commission until 27th February, 1801.
She was not in  time to sail for Copenhagen within the fleet under Admirals Hyde Parker and Nelson on l2th March, but joined it there at the end of may, six weeks after the famous battle;  she returned to Spithead in August. Shortly afterwards, she was sent to join Sir James Saumarez's squadron off Cadiz where she was when peace was signed in October ; the squadron was then withdrawn to Gibraltar.

It  was a very uncertain peace and, early in the New Year, the Vanguard was ordered with other ships to Jamaica to counter French concentrations in the West Indies. It was a familiar service to her, after the three-year commission she had spent in those waters earlier in the war, and she did not have to wait for long after hostilities re-started:  on 18th May 1803, before she took her first prize. On 3Oth June the French frigate, La Creole, tried to slip past her into the harbour of San Domingo, which she was blockading, but was captured with 530 troops on board.
A month later she was still off San Domningo with Commodore John Loring's squadron consisting of the 74 gun ships Bellerophon, Elephant, and Theseus and two frigates, Tartar and Aeolus. On the afternoon of 24th July the Douguay-Trouin nad the Duguesne - seventy fours - put to sea in an attempt ot return to France. When the British squadron gave chase the French ships separated. The Duquesne tried to return to the harbour but, owing to the lightness of the wind, could  not make it before the Vanguard and the Tartar came up with her:  weakened by sickness and in no condition to fight, she surrendered after a brief resistance, but not before the Vanguard had killed one man and another wounded.

The next two years were occupied within the dull monotony of the trade protection , mostly off  San Domingo. She was intended to join Captain Bligh's force for the capture of Curacoa in January 1804 but, as her orders did not reach her, she was not at the appointed rendezvous with the Theseus,  Bligh's flagship, and took no part in the abortive operation.   One more prize came her way; this provided little glory but a more material compensation, since she was a Spanish schooner carrying 10,000 dollars, of which 1345 were immediately paid out to the ship's company. Even Nelson's chase of the French fleet to the West Indies in June 1805, during the Trafalgar campaign, and his request for reinforcements  from the squadrons stationed there, did not gain for the Vanguard a place in his fleet and the battle of Trafalgar She remained in the West Indies until 27th July; she then returned to Plymouth, where she paid off into reserve and for refit on 31st October 1805.

Equipped with new guns, she recommissioned on 5th May 1807 to join the fleet Yarmouth.
At this time Napoleon was having things almost entirely his own way in northern Europe, our only certain ally being Sweden. In the summer, a strong combined naval and military force was sent to Copenhagen to persuade the Danes to hand their fleet over to us for the duration of the war. The Vanguard, included in this fleet, was employed during this operation in patrolling the Great Belt to prevent reinforcements being sent over to Zeeland. Thus she did not take part in the bombardment of the town, which practically destroyed it and was the direct cause of the Danish surrender. On 16th October the expeditionary force was re-embarked to sail for England within the prizes ; one of these, the Neptunos of 80 guns, having run ashore, the Vanguard was detailed to refloat her and bring her home ; she persisted in her efforts, much harried the while by Danish small craft, until 5th November when she burnt the prize; she rejoined the fleet at Yarmouth on l3th December.

Though the Danish fleet had been thus dealt with in 1807, it was necessary to send another fleet to the Baltic in 1808 to assist the Swedes against the Russian fleet, which was at that time fighting for the French.   The Vanguard was one of twelve ships of the line sent with Sir James Saumarez's fleet for this duty. She left England in January to bring a convoy home from Wingo Sound,   but was icebound at Flemish Roads from the middle of February to the middle of March.  She served in the Baltic until November, when she returned to Chatham to refit.

In 1809 she spent another season in the Baltic and, at the end of the year, joined a squadron that was sent to cover the withdrawal from Walcheren. The springs and summers of 1810 and 1811 were again spent in the Baltic. On 13th November of the latter year the fifth Vanguard  paid off for the last time, after eighteen years' very full service.
The last ten years of her life were spent in useful but inactive service at Plymouth:  as a prison until 1814, then as a powder ship until she was broken up in 1821.

The Fifth Vanguard icebound at Flemish Roads in March 1808
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Link to Letters and Dispatches of Lord Nelson from abroad HMS Vanguard during the Mediterranean Campaign