H.M.S.: Historical reconstruction of an 18th-century Royal Navy frigate(I)


Submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies of Texas A&M University

A 1998 joint survey undertaken by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology and Portuguese authorities located and identified the sunken remains of the Royal Navy frigate HMS Pallas (1757-1783) off of the Azorean island of São Jorge. Physical remains are so limited as to suggest that excavation would likely yield little new information. However, much documentary evidence has been preserved in Admiralty archives.

Contemporary treatises about 18th-century British ship construction focus on glossaries of terms, scantling lists and design theory, and include only short sections on frigates insofar as they apply to those topics. They rarely address specific construction aspects. Most current works address individual aspects of ship construction for the period, but provide little significant detail about the frigate as a ship type. All of these works are useful and reliable, however none attempt to combine the ship with the crew, or pursue the complete history of one ship.

As the flagship of a prototypical class, intended to address French superiority in cruiser design, it is reasonable to expect that a history of Pallas would exist with some analysis of how successfully these new frigates fulfilled the Royal Navy’s perceived need. However, to date there has been no attempt to consolidate the evidence of her 26-year career. This study provides a comprehensive history of a single ship from perceived need and conceived solution through design and construction. The ship’s logbooks and additional primary sources made it possible to accurately document and analyze Pallas’ activities, maintenance, modifications, and ultimately to draw conclusions about the overall effectiveness of the frigate type.

I began with basic background information to establish the perceived need for a new frigate type, followed by an examination of the conceived design solution. A partial set of admiralty drafts served as a foundation from which to develop a more complete set of construction plans, a spar plan, and rigging plans. Comprehensive research into life aboard Royal Navy warships of the period provided a social context within which to examine the service history of Pallas. Finally, a review of the maintenance record and the events leading up to her sinking enabled an informed assessment of how well HMS Pallas fulfilled the perceived need for which she was developed.



On January 26, 1783, a small British convoy of eight military transports sailed out of Halifax harbor bound for England. It was accompanied by the captured French 64-gun man-of-war Le Caton, and escorted by the veteran 36-gun frigate HMS Pallas.  In what had begun nearly eight years earlier as a seemingly minor colonial uprising, Britain found itself isolated and at war, not only with the fledgling United States, but with France, Spain and Holland as well. The war in America was lost but not officially over and privateers continued to prowl the Atlantic with the hope of snatching up one last rich prize. Captain Christopher Parker of Pallas had received routine orders to escort the convoy across the North Atlantic to England. First launched in 1757, Pallas was long past her prime despite numerous upgrades and refits (Fig. 1). It is almost certain that this would have been her last voyage had she reached England. Le Caton probably sailed with little more than a prize crew—the absolute minimum crewmen required to sail the ship—and would have been little help in defending the convoy. Nevertheless, the profiles of a 64-gun capital ship and a frigate seen from a distance would have been more than enough to deter all but the most daring of privateers.


Numerous leaks appeared in Pallas’ hull soon after sailing. On January 31st a storm scattered the convoy, heavy seas worsened the leaks, and by February 5th, despite round the clock pumping by the crew, Pallas was shipping six inches (15.2 cm.) of water per hour and eight feet (2.44 m.) of water had accumulated in the hold.5 Guns, shot and heavy stores were thrown overboard to ease the strain and lighten the ship. On the advice of the carpenter and after consulting his officers, Captain Parker decided to make for the nearest port, the city of Horta on the island of Fayal in Portugal’s Azores Islands . They made landfall off Fayal on February 10th but were driven back out to sea by another violent storm before Pallas could be brought to anchor. The crew was nearing exhaustion when the storm abated on the following morning. But while the sea conditions had changed they had not improved. Pallas’ crewmen found themselves becalmed and unable to make any significant headway. The second storm had further stressed the hull, and despite the dead calm, the pumps were no longer able to keep up with the rising water in the hold. Driven eastward beyond Fayal by the storm, Parker decided to seek any port of opportunity. On the morning of February 12th luck returned long enough to slip the stricken frigate through a gauntlet of surrounding rocks and run her aground near the town of Calheta on the island of São Jorge. Examination of the hull by the ship’s carpenter confirmed that the garboard strake and the rabbet of the keel were so worm eaten as to be almost non­existent. The fortnight from February 12th to the 24th was spent removing what provisions, stores and fittings could be salvaged and on February 24th the hulk of HMS Pallas was burnt by her crew.

This study began with an archaeological examination of the scant remains of HMS Pallas. The subsequent review of existing primary sources pertaining to her construction and service history—most of which are preserved in the Public Record Office and The National Maritime Museum in London—has contributed significantly to our understanding of the frigate type and its application by the Royal Navy. Furthermore, this study has conclusively establishedPallas’ role as a prototype for all subsequent Royal Navy frigate designs and as a developmental test bed for numerous innovations introduced to Royal Navy warships during the late 18th century. Finally, a brief overview of the conditions and organization aboard Royal Navy warships will give substance and personality to a period of the Royal Navy’s history which is often neglected in favor of the more glamorous Napoleonic era.



Geo-Political Context: Emergence of the Royal Navy in the 17th Century
The role of England in Europe’s social, political and economic development can be largely attributed to its geographic location. Traditionally England has relied upon its position— an island nation separated from the European mainland—for a defensive advantage. The English Channel has provided the inhabitants of the British Isles with a natural barrier against all but the most determined invaders. As economic conditions improved throughout western Europe during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, English channel ports increasingly exploited their position as natural trade centers and trans-shipping points for goods passing between the Mediterranean, France and the newly developing markets in the Lowlands and the Baltic. Furthermore, England was ideally situated to control the passage of shipping through the narrow Channel and consequently in a position to exert considerable political and economic influence upon continental Europe. It was during this period that England first embraced naval supremacy both for defence and as a tool of foreign policy.

The period from 1650-1815 was one of intense imperial rivalry between the western European powers. Economic and colonial disputes, dynastic conflict, and revolution all contributed to an era of almost continuous tension and conflict which stimulated military and naval development, and led to unprecedented shipbuilding programs.

Although Spain was the dominant power at the beginning of the 17th century, the second half of the century witnessed the precipitous decline of Spanish influence; its navy fell into a state of complacent decay, and its ability to project political influence was consequently diminished. As Spanish fortunes waned, those of Holland expanded to fill the growing void.

Dutch commercial and colonial success increasingly attracted the jealous attention of both France and England. Holland’s economic strength derived primarily from commercial shipping (by mid-century the majority of European goods were shipped in Dutch bottoms) and from its dominance of far-east trade. However, independence from Spain in 1648 left Holland exposed to predations by both France and England. Crippling trade restrictions and high-handed treatment of Dutch shipping by the English in the North Sea and the Channel (culminating in the Navigation Act of 1651) led to open defiance by the Dutch. The three Anglo-Dutch wars during the third quarter of the 17th century (First Anglo-Dutch War, 1652 to 1654; Second Anglo-Dutch War, 1664 to 1667; Third Anglo-Dutch War, 1672 to 1674), although militarily largely inconclusive, essentially broke the Dutch monopolies on commercial shipping and far-eastern trade. With the Dutch colonial empire effectively dismantled, England’s only remaining serious rival was France.

The second half of the 17th century had also witnessed the emergence of French sea power. However, the continental ambitions of Louis XIV often meant that the needs of the army superseded those of the navy. Consequently the French Navy rarely had the money to maintain more than a portion of its fleet and generally elected to pursue a naval policy of regional superiority and commerce raiding.

The naval battles of the Anglo-Dutch wars were typically fought within sight of land; crews and vessels rarely remained at sea for more than a few days. The Royal Navy’s primary function remained the protection of the British Isles against foreign aggression. However England’s growing colonial interests compelled the navy to accept much broader responsibilities. It was increasingly called upon to defend overseas colonies, to enforce imperial regulations, and, most importantly, to protect merchant shipping throughout the growing empire from the predation of trading rivals, political enemies and pirates. By the beginning of the 18th century the Royal Navy’s influence had expanded into the Mediterranean. England played an active role in the War of Spanish Succession 1702-1713 and it was there that the Royal Navy was first employed as a strategic weapon, raiding shore installations and supporting the army’s campaigns on the European mainland. England also gained a permanent strategic position in the Mediterranean by seizing the vital ports of Gibraltar and Port Mahon and in doing so gained control of maritime traffic between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. The War of Jenkins Ear and the War of Austrian Succession in 1739-1748 required that the Royal Navy operate for extended periods in the Caribbean. The Seven Years’ War 1756-1763, which ranged from Canada to India was the world’s first truly global conflict and Britain’s ultimate victory established Royal Navy supremacy for years to come.


The Royal Navy as a Tool of Empire

It was from the Anglo-Dutch wars that the Royal Navy truly emerged as a cohesive, homogenous entity capable of projecting global influence. This period witnessed the development of formalized tactics, standardized ship design, a recognizable strategic doctrine, and the foundations of a permanent naval administration.

Shipbuilding technology had progressed considerably during the previous centuries, but naval tactics had not. Prior to the 16th century naval battles were little more than infantry battles at sea with ships being employed to carry infantry into combat. Purpose-built state-owned warships were rare; in time of war, merchant vessels were conscripted or hired by the state and hastily refitted for military service. Fleet formations typically entered battle in line abreast or echelon formations, but once engaged battles degenerated into clusters of individual duels with ships seeking out opponents of comparable size, or several smaller ships engaging a single larger one. Long range weapons such as catapults, and later cannon, were employed only until the opposing vessel could be grappled and boarded. Early cannon were primarily used to destroy rigging, clear enemy decks of defenders prior to boarding. Ship design of the period reflected this form of warfare. High fore and aft castles were incorporated to gain both a height advantage and provided a secure keep from which to engage enemy boarders.

It was not until the introduction of the smaller, more agile, English race-built galleons of the late 16th century that ships began to be viewed as pure gun platforms. The success of these types against the much larger ships of the Spanish Armada in 1588 clearly demonstrated the superiority of heavily armed warships that were capable of battering enemy ships into submission from a distance.

During the 1630’s Charles I established England’s first permanent navy. By levying ‘ship-money,’ from the counties he was able to build, and maintain a small purpose-built fleet of warships year round. This also enabled the development of a professional cadre of officers and sailors. Furthermore, this marked the beginning of English naval influence upon the balance of power in Western Europe. 0 England’s Parliamentarian government of the 1650’s expanded upon Charles’ naval program, increasing naval spending and initiating substantial new shipbuilding projects. Permanent dockyards and logistical facilities had been established by 1600, but it was the Commonwealth government after 1649 that was largely responsible for establishing the foundations of the navy’s permanent professional administrative machinery, command structure, and extensive shore facilities that would eventually support English naval operations on a global scale.

Improvements in guns and gunnery throughout the 17th century facilitated a fundamental change in naval doctrine. Tactical requirements shifted from crew capacity and defence to maneuverability and gun-power. The high defensive works were cut down or completely removed, and a large portion of the personnel was re-allocated as gun crews. Predictably during this period warships grew in size and tonnage as more and larger guns were introduced; the largest carrying up to 100 guns on three gun decks.

Almost exclusively naval conflicts, the Anglo-Dutch wars were the setting for some of the largest fleet engagements in history and resulted in fundamental changes in naval tactics and, consequently, ship design. In 1653, following the first Anglo-Dutch War, English Admiral Robert Blake introduced his Fighting Instructions in an attempt to impose order upon the disorganized melees that had, up until then, characterized naval warfare. In this milestone of naval doctrine he outlined the use of a rigid line-of-battle that revolutionized naval tactics and ultimately ship design. He proposed that ships enter battle in line-ahead formation so as to minimize exposure of the vulnerable bow and stern, and to maximize the broadside firepower of all of the ships in the formation. Only as strong as its weakest link, a line-ahead formation increased the interdependency of the ships within the formation, thereby dictating the need for greater homogeneity of construction. Vessels exhibiting similar sailing qualities were better able to maintain station within the formation and thus not compromise the integrity of the unit as a whole.

As a direct result of Blake’s innovations, in 1706, the Royal Navy instituted the first Establishment system in an attempt to standardize warship construction. A system of ship ratings was introduced based on tonnage and number of guns carried. For each rating the Establishment defined a list of scantlings or basic dimensions to be observed by shipwrights. The line of battle was made up of first-, second- and third-rate ships of between 70 and 100 guns. Cruisers and small two-decked ships–fourth to sixth-rates–were no longer deemed suitable to stand in the line-of-battle and were assigned duties for which they were better suited.

Finally, this period witnessed the emergence of a recognizable and consistent strategic doctrine. Buttressing its continental allies with subsidies allowed England to sap the military resources of its enemies. With little need for a land army England was able to consolidate naval superiority. A policy emerged of blockading enemy fleets within their ports, attacking maritime commerce, and seizing undefended colonial possessions abroad.

In little more than 100 years, naval warfare evolved from disorganized regional scuffles fought by part-time navies, to a means of projecting economic and political policy around the globe. This change in the use of naval power demanded a new kind of warship. While the battle fleet remained the core of the Navy, emphasis had shifted. The new requirement was for a cruiser capable of operating independently; capacious, rugged and weatherly enough to remain at sea for long periods; a ship more economical to build and operate than a ship-of-the-line yet powerful enough protect itself and project authority.


The origin of the 18th century frigate is a broad, subjective and, at times, contentious topic. The most common arguments focus on two questions: what constitutes a ‘true frigate,’ and where did the concept originate? Because the primary focus of this study is a particular frigate, HMS Pallas, the evolution of the frigate as a ship type will be examined only to the extent necessary to establish a clear historical and developmental lineage.

To most, the word ‘frigate’ conjures images of great battles between massive wooden warships, yardarm to yardarm, blazing away with row upon row of cannon. The term is often given incorrectly to describe any large wooden warship from the period 1650-1850. It is imperative to correct this misnomer. The origins of the word can be found in the Greek aphraktos and later in the Latin form fragata. The term frigate to identify a type or class of ship has been used by mariners and navies alike for thousands of yearsFor most of this period the term was used in general way to identify a small vessel, long and slender, propelled by one or more banks of oars. Unlike larger galleys, they were not suited for warfare and served primarily as light, fast dispatch vessels. Not until the 17th century is a noticeable change evident in the form and use of the ‘frigate’ type. Early in that century shipwrights at the French port of Dunkirk began to build a small warship that combined the agility of the oared galley with the deep round hull and broadside firepower of the northern European fighting ship.

In his treatise on French frigates, Jean Boudriot has compiled a list of dictionary definitions for the term ‘frigate’ from the period 1643-1847. Although they differ greatly and evolved as time passed, they include these qualities and characteristics in common: a small, lightly framed warship, ship-rigged, designed to be propelled by either sail or sweeps, built long and low in the water so as to be a fast and agile sailor, and usually armed on a single deck.
For the first century of this period, frigates were not viewed as ‘cruisers.’ They typically worked close to shore performing dispatch or scouting duties. They were manoeuvrable under sail, and the addition of sweeps enabled them to work against light currents in the mouths of rivers and up estuaries, and the ability to bring broadside guns to bear without the use of a spring. Britain’s acquisition of a global colonial empire imposed greater demands on the Royal Navy, increasing the need for an effective yet economical vessel to help administer and police overseas possessions exert naval influence, act as advanced scout and pass signals for the battle fleet, carry dispatches, gather intelligence, interdict enemy maritime commerce, perform escort duty and suppress piracy and privateers. Such duties called for a swift warship, small yet powerful, capable of operating independently and remaining at sea for long periods.

British Cruiser Development

At the beginning of the 18th century the Royal Navy employed a vast variety of 5th and 6th-rate ships differing widely in design, layout and armament. It continued to rely upon small two-deckers, single-deck 6th-rates and assorted smaller vessels to protect commerce. Small, one and a half decked 5th-rates were not considered to be an acceptable solution and were discontinued following the 1713 Peace of Utrecht. Subsequently no warship types existed between the two-deck, 40-gun ships and single-deck, 20 and 24-gun ships, usually referred to as sloops-of-war, until the Admiralty began experimenting with captured French types in the middle of the century.

The initial Establishment of 1706-1718 attempted to standardize the dimensions of larger warships and establish some degree of uniformity within the Royal Navy’s line of battle (Table 1). However, Establishments did not dictate design until after 1745. Shipyard surveyors were restricted in dimension and scantling but they were free to alter ships’ lines and styling as long as the finished product was within the Establishment parameters. Furthermore, proposed designs of smaller ships were subject to far fewer design constraints than those of their larger counterparts . The smallest ships included in the 1706-1718 Establishment were 40-gun, two-decked, 5th-rates. These were to be 118 feet (40 m.) long on the lower deck, 32 feet (9.7 m.) in beam, 531 tons, and crewed by 130 to 190 men . There were to be eighteen 9-pound guns on the gun deck, twenty 6-pound guns on the upper deck and four 4-pound guns on the quarterdeck.

Smaller 32-gun 5th-rates were not built to an Establishment of dimensions but were beginning to show some degree of uniformity. Ships of this class, built prior to the 1706 Establishment, were an eclectic mix ranging from 102 to 110 feet (31.1 to 33.5 m.) long on the lower deck, 24 to 30 feet (7.3 to 9.1 m.) in beam, 350 to 390 tons, and were crewed by 100 to 145 men. The guns were arranged with four 9-pound guns on the gun deck, twenty to twenty-two 6-pound guns on the upper deck and four to six 4-pound guns on the quarterdeck. Those built after the 1706 Establishment were 108 to 110 feet (32.9 to 33.5 m.) long, 29 feet (8.8 m.) in beam, 416 to 423 tons, and carried 100 to 145 crewmen. The guns were arranged with either four 9-pound or eight 12-pound guns on the gun deck, twenty-two 6-pound guns on the upper deck and six 4-pound guns on the quarterdeck.  Like the smaller 5th-rates, the 6th-rates of the early Establishment period were not built to an Establishment of dimensions but were also beginning to show a tendency towards uniformity. Ships of this class built prior to the 1706 Establishment ranged from 92 to 98 feet (28 to 29.9 m.) long on the gun deck, 24 to 26 feet (7.3 to 7.9 m.) in beam, 240 to 270 tons, and were crewed by 85 to 115 men. The main battery of twenty 6-pound guns was mounted on the single gun deck with an additional four 4-pound guns mounted on the quarterdeck of the 24-gun ships only. Those built after the 1706 Establishment were 94 to 95 feet (28.6 to 28.9 m.) long, 25 to 26 feet (7.6 to 7.9 m.) in beam, 260 to 280 tons, and carried 85 to 115 crewmen. Gun weight and arrangement did not significantly change during this period.


The Establishments

The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 concluded almost sixty years of continuous war between the major European powers, at the end of which Britain had become the dominant naval power. Although French and Spanish designs were generally accepted as more advanced, the Royal Navy established superiority in construction, management, logistics, and quality of crew.  However, the long peace that followed saw a dramatic decline in spending and stagnation in ship development within the Royal Navy. The 1719 Establishment fixed the dimensions of all rated warships down to 20-gun 6th-rates, but little effort was made to improve upon pre-existing cruiser designs. All of the guns were mounted on the weather deck and a complete bank of oar ports remained on the lower deck for rowing.  Ships continued to be designed by master shipwrights of individual yards who retained some freedom of design as long as they worked within the parameters fixed by the Establishment.

Myopic conservatism among the Navy Board continued to obstruct innovation in ship design and resisted efforts to address existing design deficiencies.  The Navy Board was conscious, perhaps overly so, that even small increases in ship size amounted to substantial increases in construction and maintenance costs. Consequently, the 1733 and 1741 Establishments that followed were little more than conservative revisions of the scantlings and dimensions fixed by the 1719 Establishment. These were primarily increases in size and strength to accommodate increased battery size and to compensate for lost performance resulting from added gun weight.  Nevertheless, throughout the Establishment period (1719-1745) the fleet gradually attained a greater degree of standardization as older ships were retired, broken up and replaced or rebuilt.

During the Establishment period, ship design and spending were the prerogative of the Navy Board, a permanent bureaucracy of naval officers that ran the dockyards and was responsible for ship design, construction, maintenance, victualling and day-to-day operations of the fleet. The Admiralty, a council of temporary, politically appointed members, petitioned parliament for funding and dictated policy but exerted little influence over how the Navy Board administered the Navy. The conservatism of the Royal Navy during this period was largely due to Sir Jacob Ackworth, surveyor of the Navy since 1715, who harboured a firm belief in the superiority of the ships of the late 17th century.

The outbreak of war with Spain again in 1739 (The War of Jenkin’s Ear) did little to change existing attitudes. Spain was not in a position to effectively pursue a guerre de course (war on trade) and the Royal Navy saw no need to invest money and resources improving cruiser designs. However, French entry into the war in 1740 (The War of Austrian Succession) witnessed a dramatic increase in losses of British merchant shipping. The Royal Navy’s 20-gun 6th-rates found themselves increasingly outclassed not only by their French counterparts but by French privateers as well. Consequently, the Admiralty began to seriously examine French cruiser design.


French Influence on Royal Navy Cruiser Development

Early French cruiser designs were either clumsy two-deckers similar to their British equivalents or under-gunned single-deckers with their battery dangerously close to the waterline. Like the British, French naval shipwrights sought to bring together the best qualities of both designs into a successful new cruiser design. Their solution undertaken in the early 1740’s, was to move the lower deck down to, or below, the waterline, reduce the headroom on the lower deck to about four feet (1.2 m.), and place all of the battery on the upper deck. This reduced topside profile while retaining sufficient freeboard to run out the main battery in all weather conditions. Blaise Ollivier, son of a master shipwright, gained considerable prestige as an innovator in ship design throughout the early part of the 18th century. He was made Master Shipwright at Brest in 1736 where he distinguished himself as France’s preeminent shipwright until his death ten years later. Ollivier’s Medée, built in 1741, is widely credited as the first genuine frigate but there remains little real evidence that this was in fact the case. Many French privateers of the day exhibited similar design characteristics. Medée featured two decks, the upper strengthened to bear the weight of the main battery of twenty-six 8-pound guns, the lower with reduced headroom and no ports was devoted entirely to berthing and storage. Ollivier’s reputation within the French Navy promoted eventual acceptance of the type and it was the first such design widely accepted for service in the French Navy. It was not the first French vessel to incorporate these design features, but it became the prototype for a class that eventually numbered 30 or more vessels. Ironically, Medée was also the first such vessel captured by the British but for some reason she was not taken into Royal Navy service. It is unclear why the Royal Navy failed to capitalize or, at the very least, carry out a detailed survey of this prize. Renommée, a near-sister of Medée, was highly regarded and immediately taken into Royal Navy service after she capture in 1747. During the same period Ollivier’s contemporary, Jacques-Luc Coulomb undertook the parallel development of a smaller 20-gun version based upon the same design concepts. His Panthère, built in 1744, was also taken into Royal Navy service when captured in 1745. While the Royal Navy greatly admired the design and sailing qualities of these prizes, little effort was devoted to reproducing them. A year later, the French 40-gun Embuscade, the largest frigate-built prize of her day, was renamed Ambuscade and taken into Royal Navy service. The French 8-pound guns were replaced with British 12-pound guns and the heavier broadside seems to have been the decisive factor in British cruiser development. Until this point, the Royal Navy had been unwilling to commit resources to the development of what was perceived to be an under-gunned warship.

Establishment Reforms

As previously stated, the Navy Board controlled the budget and, because of costs involved, was disinclined to increase ship size or to impose any radical design changes. In 1744, the Admiralty began to become involved in Navy Board business. Admiral George Anson, a sea admiral with considerable influence, was appointed to the Admiralty. He in turn immediately appointed Sir John Norris to investigate a complete revision of the Establishment system. Dockyards were instructed to watch for ships with good sailing characteristics for evaluation and technical analysis, and all surveys of French prizes were to be forwarded by the Navy Board for Admiralty inspection. Eventually all proposed designs had to be authorized by the Admiralty before being forwarded to the Navy Board for construction. In response to increasing demands by its sea-officers, the Admiralty ordered a new, improved Establishment for 1745. What the Navy Board drew up was once again little more than a conservative increase in dimensions of the larger ships of the line. Upon returning from blockading the French coast during the winter of 1747, Anson complained of a lack of quality cruisers. In fact, the upgraded French prize Ambuscade had been his best ship. He required an improved all-weather cruiser to institute his new strategy of blockading of French ports year round. Finally, in April 1747, displeased with Navy Board conservatism, and in an unprecedented break with tradition, the Admiralty ordered a draught of the captured -gun French privateer Tygre. A St. Malo privateer of French frigate design, Tygre was not purchased by the Royal Navy due to poor quality construction, but it had exhibited excellent performance and sailing characteristics. The Admiralty ordered two copies built. Unicorn and Lyme were to be constructed “to the lines of the Tygre French privateer.” It is interesting to note that some comparative experimentation is demonstrated by the fact that Lyme was designed with a round bow and Unicorn with a beakhead bow; one in the French tradition and one in the English tradition.

A second generation of Tygre-based vessels, Lowestoffe and Tartar, followed in 1755, to be constructed “to the draught of the Lyme with such alterations as may tend to the better accommodation of men and carrying of guns.” Comparative experimentation is once again evident in that Tartar was designed with a round bow and Lowestoffe was designed with a beakhead.

The third generation of four vessels was ordered in 1756-7, to be constructed “by the draught of the Tartar with such alterations withinboard as shall be judged necessary.” The success of these vessels is demonstrated by the fact that eighteen third generation Unicorn-class frigates were eventually built. All were increased to 28 guns with the addition of four 3-pound guns in September 1756 and were further furnished with twelve 1/2-pound swivel guns in November of that same year. All of the generations up to this point were in some way based upon French designs and all carried main batteries of 9-pound guns.

The Slade Era

Sir Thomas Slade was born in 1703 or 1704 into a family with a long tradition of shipbuilding. He worked his way up in the profession gaining prestige first as a timber broker, then as Shipwright’s Assistant at Harwich and Woolwich. His talent and connections led to his appointment as the Master Shipwright at Deptford where he was responsible for the design and construction of five ships between 1749 and 1755. In 1755, he and William Bately, the Deputy Surveyor at Plymouth, were appointed joint Surveyors of the Navy to replace the retired Sir Joseph Allen. Slade retained this title until his retirement in 1770, becoming the preeminent Royal Navy ship designer and builder of his day. His Southampton-class frigates introduced in 1756 are generally regarded as the first ‘genuine frigates’ designed and built in England. They were based on the same design principles as their French precursors but were completely original designs. They were considerably larger than the Unicorn-class ships and carried a heavier main battery of twenty-six 12-pound guns on their upper deck. The following year, 1757, Slade introduced the Pallas class frigates, which were simply enlarged versions of the Southampton design. When launched Pallas-class frigates were regarded as the best fighting cruisers fielded by any navy of their day.

The True Frigate Form

It is clear that the first ‘true frigate’ of the Royal Navy was derived from a French design that was ultimately perfected by the British. Whether French or English, the sailing frigate was hereafter defined as a two-decked, square rigged warship with three masts (the traditional ship rig), having the main battery on the upper deck and the secondary battery divided between the quarterdeck and forecastle. It was self sufficient and capable of staying at sea for long periods while carrying out a variety of duties. It was large enough to warrant a rating but generally not large enough to stand in the line of battle.