Saturday, 10 April 2021

All at Sea - The Small Ships at Trafalgar

HMS Pickle - Anthony Cowland

This last post looking at the models built for the Trafalgar collection focusses on the small ships that completed the respective fleets in action at the battle on the 21st October 1805.

I suppose it is not surprising that as wargamers depicting this famous battle, it is tempting to ignore these small ships, being of little consequence in the fighting and just unnecessary models cluttering up the table and needing to be moved out of the way.

However, if you take the view that our table-top is creating a vista or three dimensional picture of the battle as we play, it has always struck me that leaving these small ships out of the picture short changes the viewer and steps back from the historical recreation and more towards just another game using model ships.

One of the Trafalgar 'Small-Ships'', the French brig Furet depicted far left, at Trafalgar, also the schooner Pickle is depicted behind the lead British frigate alongside Nelson's weather column that has just penetrated the Allied line - Nicholas Pocock (National Maritime Museum)

So my intention in building the collection was always to faithfully portray all the ships that took part and to have them be available to perform the roles they were required of by their respective commanders on the day, who obviously would have been rather put out, if some wargamer had told them that they're really not that necessary and shall we just get on with it!

My renditions of HM Schooner Pickle and Cutter Entreprenante  flying red colours, not strictly accurate for Trafalgar, but part of my policy to have all my Royal Navy light vessels flying the red, more appropriate for other scenarios.

Vice Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour 1799 - John Hoppner
(National Maritime Museum)

HMS Pickle was a Bermudan topsail schooner, built in 1799 and originally built as the six-gun civilian vessel Sting, until she was formerly purchased for the navy in December 1800 for £2,500 by Vice Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour commanding the Jamaica Station and who up to that time had been hiring the vessel to act as a tender for £10 a day.

Making his decision to purchase the Sting, was in direct disobedience of the Admiralty, but faced with a fait accompli they finally consented and renamed the vessel Pickle in February 1801. It would seem however that not everyone in naval circles was keen on the new name and her commander Lieutenant Thomas Thrush was reprimanded for persisting in referring to her as 'Sting', a much more warlike sounding nom de plume.

My picture of the model of HMS Pickle as displayed at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and referred to in my post covering our visit in April 2016

The year 1801 saw the Pickle continue her duties in the Caribbean, escorting convoys and taking on French, Dutch and Spanish privateers and on the 25th September 1801 was involved in a particularly gruelling action with a Spanish privateer, flying British colours, who hoisted Spanish ones when the Pickle closed to pistol range and began a one and a quarter hour action that saw her commander Lieutenant Greenshields killed with a musket shot to the body and the wounding of Midshipman Pearce, her master, Thomas Hayer and seven of her thirty-five man crew, with three of them already laid low through sickness.

The Spaniard then attempted to board the Pickle, which having been repulsed saw her pull away leading to the Pickle commencing an hour and a half chase, that ended with the privateer getting away.

In his report of the action, Hayer described the privateer as being armed with two 12-pounder and two nine-pounder guns and a crew of about seventy men, with this sharp little fight appealing to be recreated using 'To Covet Glory' as used during my game Scourge vs Sans Culottes.

In the summer of 1801, Admiral Seymour fell ill with Yellow Fever and despite going to sea for respite care aboard HMS Terpsichore, died from the illness on the 11th September 1801 at the age of 41 and his body was repatriated to Britain aboard the Pickle which after her arrival saw her appointed a new commander on the 24th March 1802, Lieutenant John Richard Lapenotiere; and with the resumption of war with France was attached to the inshore squadron in the blockade of Brest under Admiral William Cornwallis.

Portrait of John Richard Lapenotiere, captain of the Pickle at Trafalgar, seen as a Post Captain in 1815, also from our visit to Portsmouth in 2016

Throughout 1803 and the following year, Pickle cruised off the French base and into the Channel taking on French and American blockade runners, with Pickle cutting out two Chasse Marees loaded with supplies, bound for Brest, on the 25th September 1803, after she had chased them close to shore, later bringing both French vessels into Plymouth.

By July 1805, Pickle was working with British frigates off Gibraltar and Tangier, taking on American brigs and Spanish gunboats and in October joined Sir Henry Blackwood's frigate squadron of observation off Cadiz, leading to her participation at Trafalgar.

Survivors from the French 74-gun Achille which blew up at the end of the battle being rescued by British boats

On the approach to battle, the Pickle joined Blackwood's frigate line north-west of Nelson's weather column and kept well out of the way of battle, later joining with Entreprenante to rescue survivors, including two women from the French third-rate Achille which blew up at the close of battle.

Example of a Lloyds Patriotic Sword awarded to exemplary commanders, this one seen at Portsmouth and awarded to Captain William Prowse who commanded the 36-gun frigate Sirius at Trafalgar

With command of the British fleet devolving to Admiral Collingwood, he dispatched Lieutenant Lapenotiere and Pickle, together with three times her number of French prisoners home to deliver news of the victory to the Admiralty, which despite a plot by the prisoners to take the ship into Cadiz, she achieved, with Lapenotiere rewarded for the honour of delivering the news by promotion to Commander and the award of a Lloyds Patriotic Award sword together with one-hundred guineas.

The Pickle returned to service in the Channel and off the French and Spanish Atlantic coast ending her days on the 26th July 1808 on rocks close to Cadiz after a navigation error left her grounded and her bottom ripped out, but with her crew managing to get off in her boat.

HMS Pickle had a compliment of forty men and was armed with eight 12-pounder carronades.

The smallest ship at Trafalgar was HM Cutter Entreprenante, captured from the French in 1798 and commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1799, and is thought to have been built in 1797 in the French-Basque port of Socoa, modern day Ciboure, near Saint Jean de Luz on the Franco-Spanish Pyrenean border originally as a privateer under the command of Ensign Dominique Delouart from Bayonne.

The early years of her career in British service, during the years 1801 to 1802, was spent operating in the Mediterranean, carrying despatches and intercepting enemy supply merchantmen off Genoa , then under siege by the Austrians with support from the British navy.

On the 2nd March 1801 she was part of the fleet supporting the British landing at Aboukir Bay in Egypt for which surviving members of her crew were awarded the Naval General Service Medal with clasp 'Egypt' in 1850.

A Royal Navy cutter sails past the stern of a frigate at anchor in choppy seas off the Devon coast - Thomas Luny (National Maritime Museum)

With the end of the French Revolutionary War in 1802, Entreprenante returned to Britain to be refitted in Portsmouth ready to return to war in December 1803 under her new commander Lieutenant James Brown who would relinquish command to Lieutenant Robert Benjamin Young on the 12th April 1804.

Young would be in command of Entreprenante at Trafalgar and attached to Collingwood's Lee Column, but as with Pickle, staying well away from the action and later taking part in the rescue of the survivors from the Achille sinking.

Following picking up the survivors of the Achille, Young discovered that the prize crew aboard the captured Spanish 74-gun Bahama had been overpowered and the Spanish were attempting to get the ship into Cadiz which was thwarted once Young had reported the situation to Collingwood, who later sent him with his dispatches to Faro in Portugal, announcing the victory but condemning Young to miss out on the opportunity accorded to Lapenotiere to carry the news home and the rewards that that entailed. 

HM Cutter Entreprenante, shadows the remnants of the Combined Fleet into Cadiz whilst battling the common enemy, the sea - Thomas Butterworth

The repercussions of this decision were huge for Young, who having no influence within the service was doomed to continue as a lieutenant for nineteen years, finally made a Commander in 1810, but following a severe sickness in 1807 overlooked for seagoing commands, dying impoverished and broken in 1847 in Exeter.

Sadly even his last resting place in Exeter was destroyed in a bombing attack on the city by the Germans in 1942.

As for Entreprenante, she continued to see service off the Spanish coast around Gibraltar and Cadiz during the early years of the Peninsular War taking part in her final action on the 25th April 1811, destroying a six-gun French privateer, by driving her aground and recapturing her Spanish prize insight of the French garrison in Malaga watched by a hundred onlookers in an action that lasted just over fifteen minutes and without the British cutter losing a single man.

On the 22nd March 1812, Entreprenante arrived in Plymouth with dispatches from the Mediterranean squadron and was paid off in April, to be broken up the following June after a distinguished service record.

At Trafalgar Entreprenante had a compliment of forty men and was armed with ten 12-pounder carronades

French brig Furet in action with the British frigate Hydra, 27th February 1806 off Cadiz - George Chambers senior (National Maritime Museum)

The French navy provided all the light ships that accompanied the Combined Fleet at Trafalgar and the two smallest vessels were the 16-gun Furet and the 14-gun Argus both brigs and both armed with 8-pounder long guns.

The Furet was an Abielle class brig of 350 (French) tons launched in Toulon on the 24th December 1801, which made a nice Xmas present for someone.

Launched in time for the start of the Napoleonic War, Furet came under the command of lieutenant de vaisseau Demay and under whose command she would be when she sailed with Admiral Villeneuve on the 29th March 1804, bound for Martinique, participating in the Battle of Cape Finistere on the 22nd July 1805 and at Trafalgar in October.

At Trafalgar she was attached to the 1st (centre) squadron under Villeneuve's direct command along with the 40-gun frigate Hortense and was to the rear of that ship on station leeward of the Allied line when the British attack commenced just before midday.

Keeping out of the action with the frigates, Furet headed back to Cadiz, but later joined the sortie under French Commodore Cosmao and Spanish Commodore MacDonell as the Pluton, Heros, Neptune, San Francisco de Asis and the Rayo attempted to take back some of the the British prizes, but losing over a thousand men in the attempt due mainly to ships being wrecked in the storm that followed the battle.

Furet returned to Cadiz to find herself blockaded along with the other survivors until the 23rd February 1806 when a storm forced the blockaders off station allowing the frigates Cornelie, Rhin, Hortense and Hermione, together with the Furet to breakout; not before being later spotted on the 26th February by the British frigate, Hydra and the brig-sloop Moselle, with Moselle detached to Collingwood's main fleet to call for support as Hydra gave chase.

The two hour chase saw the Hydra cut Furet off from her consorts, with the French frigates making no effort to come to her support and after an obligatory broadside from her guns, she hauled down her colours and was captured.

The other brig, Argus was a Vigilant class vessel launched in Le Havre on 20th July 1800 and I can find no references as to her activities prior to Trafalgar, being under the command of lieutenant Yves-Francois Taillard and together with the 40-gun frigate Themis attached to the 1st Squadron of Observation under Admiral Gravina, taking her place ahead of that frigate and behind the frigate Rhin in the frigate line to leeward.

Like her sister brig Furet she made her way back to Cadiz and participated in the sortie but her exploits after this event are again unclear, all that seems to be known is that she was absent from Cadiz when other French ships fell into Spanish hands in 1808 at the start of the Peninsular War, with the next report of the Argus being in action off Cayenne (modern day French Guiana) on 27th January 1807 in company with the former British 16-gun sloop Favourite, renamed Favorite in French service, after being intercepted by the British 32-gun frigate Jason, with the Favorite battling the British ship for an hour to allow the Argus to escape.

However the luck of the Argus was short lived as she is next reported as being broken up in Cayenne in April 1807.

A cutter heading into my home town, Exmouth, and the Exe estuary, probably depicted from the Dawlish shore of the river with Exmouth ahead on the centre right of the picture - Thomas Luny

This post concludes the focus on specific models for the Trafalgar collection and I will now put together a presentation of the complete collection, prior to putting some games together and adding other models to enable other actions.

Sources consulted;
The Trafalgar Companion - Mark Adkin


  1. I look forward to seeing the whole collection, as you have done an amazing job of painting these, and sharing the history of each ship. Thank you.

    1. Hi Anthony,
      Thank you and glad you’ve enjoyed seeing the collection come together and I look forward to displaying it now its complete and hopefully in the near future getting it on a table for a game.


  2. cracking mate, a lovely job and those and some nice research


    1. Hi Matt,
      Thanks mate, much appreciated.

  3. Pickle Night is the Warrant Officers and Senior Rates' Mess complement to the Wardroom's Trafalgar Night in the Royal Navy

    1. Hi Jeremy,
      Ah yes, well if I can get arrangements made around a suitable venue I think this little collection of ships would make a very pleasant way to commemorate the immoral memory on the 21st October together with the odd jar or two for ‘Pickle Night’.


  4. Replies
    1. Hi MurdocK,
      Thanks, glad you enjoyed the read.