Saturday, 4 December 2021

All at Sea - Spanish First Rates for Cape St Vincent

HMS Captain 74-guns commanded by Commodore Horatio Nelson engages the 80-gun San Nicholas and the 112-gun San Josef at the Battle of Cape St Vincent 14th February 1797 - Donald Macleod

Next year will be the 225th anniversary of the Battle of Cape St Vincent fought on the 14th February, St Valentines Day, 1797 between the British fleet of 15 ships of the line, 5 frigates, 1 sloop and 1 cutter under Admiral Sir John Jervis and a Spanish fleet of 25 ships of the line, 7 frigates and a brig under the command of Admiral Don Jose de Cordoba y Ramos near Cape St Vincent, Portugal.

The battle is notable in that the British victory began the fight back at sea by the British Royal Navy to re-establish its supremacy over the fleets of Revolutionary France and her new allies, Spain and the Dutch Batavian Republic as they threatened to combine their strength and launch a surprise invasion of Ireland to knock Great Britain out of the war, as the only remaining opposition to French conquests in Europe.

The Dutch would see a similar reverse that same year on the 11th October when their fleet was decisively defeated off Camperdown or Kamperduin on the Dutch coast by Admiral Adam Duncan leading the British North Sea Fleet.

The British fleet turned in succession as the main force of the Spanish fleet threatened to break contact, causing the frustrated Nelson aboard Captain to respond to Jervis' signal and general orders for Britannia and the ships behind her to close on the enemy line to wear round on them after Vice Admiral Charles Thompson failed to respond and continued to follow in line ahead. - Map from The Trafalgar Companion, Mark Adkin

The Battle of Cape St Vincent is also noted for the arrival to public notice of a rising star among the captains of Sir John Jervis' Mediterranean Fleet, a certain Commodore Horatio Nelson, who had, unknown to himself, been promoted by seniority, before the battle took place, to Rear Admiral and who would firmly establish himself on the road to being perhaps one of the greatest admirals in history with his audacious manoeuvre; that saw him wear his ship, breaking the traditional line of battle and lead an attack on the van and centre of the Spanish fleet, pinning the nearest enemy vessels to him as the main British fleet tacked in succession to come up to him as quickly as possible as he boldly led a boarding party that captured the 80-gun San Nicholas and the 112-gun San Josef, a manoeuvre that earned the facetious title of ;

'Nelson's patent bridge for boarding enemy vessels.'

JJ's Wargames All at Sea Cape St Vincent, Spanish
It was back in June that I finished off my Spanish 3rd Rates 

To commemorate this famous battle, I wanted to make sure I had enough Spanish ships to facilitate its playing and with twenty-five ships of the line needed and only fifteen constructed for the Trafalgar project I set myself the task of completing the other ten Spanish ships that required another seven third rate 74-gun models and three more 112-gun first rates to do it.

These two Spanish first rates complete the line up of Spanish ships of the line as at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1797

Finally, after lots of other work on other projects I got a chance to sit down and get the last two Spanish first rates into JJ's shipyard seeing them into the fitting out dock last week and completed this week as seen above and below.

As with my last batch of third rates I wanted these models to reflect the Revolutionary War paint scheme that preceded the later Nelsonian chequerboard pattern to give this earlier Spanish fleet that look, all be it with some models in that later pattern suggesting the switch from one to the other as ships went in for refits.

So before starting these two final models I was keen to get some inspiration for the look I was after and hopefully feature two of these mighty Spanish first rates that featured in the battle line up.

When inspiration for the look of my Spanish collection is needed I tend to refer to the wonderful art of Carlos Parilla Penagos and was pleased to find two such illustrations depicting the look perfectly and of the ships I had in mind. 

Salvador del Mundo - Carlos Parilla Penagos
The picture depicts the ship in 1790 when Spain hastily prepared an expedition to the Nookta Sound on the coast of modern day Vancouver Island, over a political dispute about trade with Great Britain

So first up is the 112-gun Salvador del Mundo or Saviour of the World the second built of the eight ships of her class, the Santa Anna's known as los Merigildos, designed by Romero Landa and launched at Ferrol on the 2nd May 1787.

Too late to see service in the War of American Independence the Salvador del Mundo was part of a mobilisation of the Spanish navy as the Viceroy of Mexico triggered a dispute with the British East India Company that had set up a fur trading base in Nookta Sound on the Canadian Pacific seaboard to facilitate the trade in furs with China.

Jose Joaquin Romero y Fernandez de Landa 
Spain's first official naval engineer and designer

The Spanish Crown had laid exclusive claim to the entire Pacific coast since the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 and the Viceroy sent two Spanish warships to the area that caused both Britain and Spain to send major elements to sea before better sense prevailed and an agreement was reached that saw Spain abandon its claim and pay reparations for damages.

My interpretation of the Salvador del Mundo with her distinctive ochre strake directly below her poop deck aft quarter rails as depicted in the Penagos picture above

Less than ten years after her launch the Salvador del Mundo would see her first battle against the adversary she narrowly missed meeting in 1790 as at 06.30 on a cold foggy morning of the 14th February 1797, the 74-gun HMS Culloden at the head of the British fleet signalled to Admiral Jervis aboard HMS Victory;

'Five enemy sail in sight to the south-east.'

At 10am with the mist clearing fast, Flag Captain Robert Calder, on board the 102-gun Victory, began to count the Spanish ships as they sailed slowly into view on the starboard quarter;

'There are eight sail of the line Sir John.'
'Very well, sir.'
'There are twenty sail of the line Sir John.'
'Very well, sir.'
'There are twenty-five sail of the line Sir John.'
'Very well, sir.'
'There are twenty-seven sail of the line Sir John, nearly twice our own number.'

Admiral Sir John Jervis 'Old Jarvie' circa 1795 - Lemuel Francis Abbott

'Enough sir.' snapped Jervis, 'The die is cast and if there are fifty sail I will go through them!'

The Salvador del Mundo was under the command of Brigadier Antonio Yepes and was part of the 4th Division of the First Squadron in the centre of the Spanish line under the command of Admiral Cordoba aboard Santisima Trinidad the fleet flagship.

Battle is joined showing the position of the Salvador del Mundo as she comes under attack from the Victory and the 74-gun HMS Excellent under Captain Cuthbert Collingwood who force the Spanish first rate together with the 74-gun San Ysidro to strike. Trafalgar Companion - Mark Adkin

At 14.35 the British 74-gun Excellent under a certain Captain Collingwood drew alongside the Salvador del Mundo to exchange broadsides and was later joined by the 64-gun HMS Diadem under Captain George Towry and with the Excellent on the bow quarter and Diadem on the stern quarter the two British third rates battered the Spanish first rate just as they were joined by Jervis and the Victory who on passing the stern of the Spanish ship, caused her to strike.

HMS Victory rakes the Salvador del Mundo as she passes astern at the Battle of Cape St Vincent - Robert Clevely

The Salvador del Mundo suffered 166 casualties of whom 42 were killed. In return Excellent and Diadem escaped the battle with just 23 and 2 casualties respectively with 11 killed all aboard Excellent.

The Salvador del Mundo was taken into service by the Royal Navy through the rest of the Revolutionary War and the subsequent Napoleonic War not seeing front line service but seeing out her days on harbour duties until her decommissioning and scrapping at the end of the war.

In 1797 the Salvador de Mundo is shown as armed with 30 x 36-pounder long guns on her lower gun deck, 32 x 24-pdr guns on her middle deck, 32 x 12 pdrs on her upper deck and 20 x 8-pdr guns on her forecastle and quarterdeck.

Next we have the San Josef herself, perhaps the most famous Spanish ship involved in the Battle of Cape St Vincent after the Santisima Trinidad.

The San Josef or San Jose was a 114-gun first rate ship of the line designed and built by the French builder Francisco Gautier and also launched at Ferrol on the 30th June 1783.

'The Saint Joseph' - Carlos Parilla Penagos
A perfect illustration of the Revolutionary War scheme

She was built along the same plans and design of the 112-gun Purisima Concepcion launched in 1779 by the same designer, but unlike her the San Josef turned out to be a much finer ship and the better sailor of the two.

My second new Spanish first rate designed to stand in for the San Josef or San Jose when we refight Cape St.Vincent.

The Battle of Cape St Vincent would be her first and last action at sea under Spanish colours and she would sail under the command of Rear Admiral Francisco Javier Winthuysen commanding the 6th Division of the 3rd Rear Squadron under the command of Vice Admiral Don Joaquin Moreno.

Rear Admiral Francisco Javier Winthuysen y Pineda - Naval Museum of Madrid

At 13.20 Admiral Jervis signalled to all rear divisions to turn onto a larboard tack individually and attack and by 13.45 the battle between the two fleets became general as ship after ship closed with the Spanish fleet, as illustrated in the map above.

Nelson aboard Captain 74-guns and Troubridge astern of him in the 74-gun Culloden drew level with the San Nicholas 84-guns and the San Josef 112-guns to begin an hour long exchange of broadsides at very short range.

Eventually the Culloden fell away disabled from the exchange of fire leaving the Captain to continue the unequal struggle only to be joined by Collingwood and the Excellent 74-guns sent ahead by Jervis to fill the gap between the Captain and her enemies.

HMS Captain capturing the San Nicholas and the San Josef - Nicholas Pocock

The battle was still very close and at about 15.00 Collingwood relieved Nelson by passing the Excellent between Captain and the San Nicholas and the San Josef firing as she passed, with Collingwood retelling the action in a letter to his wife stating;

'. . . we did not touch sides, but you could not put a bodkin between us, so that our shot passed through both ships, and in attempting to extricate themselves they got onboard of each other.

Captain Cuthbert Collingwood seen here before
reaching flag rank and looking much younger than the man
depicted in his portraits after Trafalgar 

 My good friend, the Commodore, had been long engaged with these ships, and I happily came to his relief, for he was dreadfully mauled.'

The shattered Captain ship's company made the best of their brief respite to replenish empty shot lockers and repair their badly cut up rigging caused by fire from the Santisima Trinidad and her consorts.

In addition, she had casualties to treat including Nelson who was injured after being struck in the side by a splinter from one of the rigging blocks.

An illustration of the individual ship movements leading up to the capture of the San Nicholas and San Josef by Commodore Nelson's Captain - Trafalgar Companion, Mark Adkin

However despite his injury Nelson was not content to simply rest on his laurels following the respite granted by the interceding Excellent and seeing that the San Nicholas was very much preoccupied in the struggle to free their ship from the San Josef and still reeling from the shock of the broadsides delivered by the Excellent he immediately realised the opportunity the situation presented, acting with promptness and courage that was fast becoming his command trade mark.

Nelson gave the order to his Flag-Captain Ralph Miller to steer the Captain alongside the stricken Spaniard, whilst calling for boarders and putting himself at their head, a very unusual thing for a flag-officer of Nelson's rank to do but illustrative of his instinctive leadership.

With the Captain's cathead lodged in the stern gallery windows 
of the San Nicholas, Nelson led the boarding party.

The Captain's cathead became lodged in the stern gallery window of the San Nicholas as her bow crashed into the Spaniard's starboard quarter and her spritsail yard pushed over the the enemy quarterdeck.

A soldier of the 69th Foot on board and serving as marines reached over and broke a stern window with his musket butt and Nelson then scrambled out along the cathead and climbed through the shattered glass into the Spanish captain's cabin, followed by his men.

The coat of Colour-Sergeant Chadwick of the 69th Foot who saw service as 
marines at the Battle of Cape St Vincent at which Chadwick took part. Next to his
jacket is a naval cutlass and sea service pistol.
JJ's Wargames - Cardiff Castle, 2021

The cabin doors were locked and Spanish officers were firing their pistols through the windows, but the momentum of the attack was maintained as the boarders broke down the doors with axes and stormed onto the quarterdeck, cutting down the Spanish Commodore, Don Tomas Geraldino as they went.

Meanwhile, another party, under Edward Berry, had run out along the bowsprit and dropped from the spritsail yard onto the quarterdeck and moments later Nelson was receiving the swords of the Spanish officers as the San Nicholas struck her colours.

The San Nicholas had suffered grievously with 203 casualties of which 144 were killed including her commander.

The even larger three decked San Josef  was still trapped alongside with the Prince George 98-guns close by firing well aimed broadsides only adding to the carnage created previously by the Captain and Excellent.

Rear-Admiral Winthuysen had been carried below, having lost both legs earlier in the action, and over 140 of her crew were dead or wounded, but some of her crew were still resisting, firing down onto the quarterdeck at Nelson's boarding party and threatening an awkward reversal of fortunes if not dealt with rapidly.

Again Nelson responded with his usual sangfroid ordering sentries posted to the hatchways and hailing Captain Miller to send over reinforcements to keep the San Nicholas under control, and thus having secured his rear led his boarding party in another furious rush up the sides of the San Josef.

Nelson boarding the San Josef - George Jones c1829 (National Maritime Museum Greenwich)
Not a particularly accurate portrayal, as the San Josef's quarterdeck was higher than the San Nicholas and Nelson's men were forced to climb up rather than descend on to it. The green facings of the 69th Foot makes a nice touch though.

Edward Berry gave his commodore a leg-up into the main chains, from where he leapt over the bulwark and down onto her quarterdeck, where he was met by the Spanish captain presenting his sword as a gesture of surrender and explaining that his admiral was dying of his wounds below.

The Surrender of the San Jose - Daniel Orme c 1799 (National Maritime Museum Greenwich)
Again a rather symbolic representation of events rather than historically accurate as the Spanish admiral lying left was actually dying below decks at the time. The rounded stern gallery of the San Nicholas can be seen captured in the background and the 69th Foot are again nicely represented.

Suspicious at the sudden collapse of enemy resistance Nelson asked the captain 'on his honour' if the ship had surrendered and, on being assured that she had, shook hands with him and told him to assemble the other officers for a formal surrender ceremony.

Hull plan of the captured San Josef (National Maritime Museum Greenwich)

Total casualties suffered by the San Josef were 142 which included 46 killed including Rear-Admiral Winthuysen.

The San Josef would be taken into service in the Royal Navy as the 114-gun HMS San Josef seeing later service as the flagship Admiral John Thomas Duckworth in 1809.

She would have a long service career with the Royal Navy seeing out her post war years as a flag-ship, gunnery training ship and guard ship before being broken up at Devonport, Plymouth in 1849.

HMS San Josef seen in later years of Royal Navy service - (National Maritime Museum Greenwich)

Apparently small pieces of the ship exist today with a quoin from one of her guns to be seen in the Tresco Abbey Gardens, Isles of Silly and her carved Triumph of Arms taken from her stern rail was sold at auction in 2014 whilst some of her timbers were used in the rebuilding of St Nicholas Church, West Looe, Cornwall in 1852.

At Cape St Vincent the San Josef was likely armed with 30 x 36-pounder long guns on her lower gun deck, 32 x 24-pdr guns on her middle deck, 32 x 12 pdrs on her upper deck and 22 x 8-pdr guns on her forecastle and quarterdeck.

That concludes the work on my own age of sail collection for the time being as I look forward to Warlord Games releasing their new models, a small third rate 64-gun ship, a 4th rate 50-gun ship and a 22-24 gun corvette, with the first mentioned key to my next additions and collection, namely the Dutch fleet for Camperdown

That said I aim to present some more games with the collection currently built and I will be working on some more models for a mate from club, Bob, who is keen to have his own fleets available and it will allow me to keep my ship modelling skills up in readiness for the new models.

As well as that I also plan to work on some more at anchor models for Algeciras and the Nile and I still need to get some Spanish gunboats built, a Xebec and Polacre and some shore line facilities, so plenty to do in the All at Sea project.

The Trafalgar Companion - Mark Adkin
1797 Nelson's Year of Destiny - Colin White
Nelson's Battles, The Art of Victory in the Age of Sail - Nicholas Tracy


  1. Replies
    1. Hi Peter,
      Thank you, it’s great fun when others enjoy what you are doing and your comment is much appreciated.