|HMS York as a prison hulk, by Edward William Cook|
The keel of HMS York was laid down in Nelson Dock in 1805 and she was launched in 1807, the year that the British abolished the slave trade. She was one of eight 74-gun ships ordered in 1805 during the Napoleonic wars. Up until this point the policy of the Navy was to repair existing ships rather than commission new ones. I have been researching the repairs and refits undergone by the mid 18th Century HMS Carcass, which eventually retired in 1784, and the sheer amount of work carried out was quite staggering. However, both ongoing and new threats meant that new ships were required. Because York was not present or conspicuous in any famous skirmishes, nor associated with a celebrated commander, there are few interesting details available about her career or crew, and I have been unable to find an image of her before she was converted to a prison hulk.
She was a 74-gun Modified-Fame Class full-rigged third rate ship of the line. Her weight was estimated at 1743 tons, she was 175ft long by 47ft 6ins wide and was 20ft 6ins deep. In Britain warships were divided into six divisions based on the number of guns that they could carry. HMS York was a Modified-Fame class ship, also known as the Hero-Fame Class (ship types were named for the first ships that first took a particular for), a type designed by Sir John Henslow, based on the design for HMS Fame but influenced by his Hero-class ships. As an early 19th Century third rate she was a medium sized ship that could carry between 70 and 84 guns and between 500 and 700 men. The 74-gun third rates (usually known simply as "74s") were popular with the Navy because they were easier to handle than the bulkier first and second rates, they were faster, and they were less expensive to build, arm and crew. They formed the backbone of the British Navy during the Napoleonic War.
|Nineteenth century 12 pound carronade on|
HMS York saw limited action but traveled widely. Her first commander was Captain Robert Barton. She was first posted to Madeira (off the Moroccan coast in the North Atlantic) in the squadron of Rear Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, together with two other 74s, HMS Centaur and HMS Captain, the 64-gun Intrepid and four frigates. They were stationed at Madeira, during the second British occupation of the island in 1807. The Portuguese colony island of Madeira was both strategically and commercially important due to important shipping lanes. When British hostilities with the French and Spanish were resumed during the Napoleonic wars, neutral Portugal was dragged into the conflict, with France insisting that she close her ports to British ships. A secret compromise was worked out between Britain and Portugal, in which if Portuguese ports were closed to British shipping, Britain would occupy Madeira. The Prince Regent of Portugal, Dom Joao, abandoned Portugal for Brazil in November 1807, and in the December Admiral Samuel Hood took eight warships to Madeira, including York, and fifteen transport ships. Britain annexed Madeira until April 1808, when it was returned to Portugal. It was a peaceful occupation, as had been agreed with Portugal.
|Routes of the British Columns in 1809|
Later in 1809 York was back in the English Channel, where she was involved in the disastrous Walcheren Campaign. Her role here was again largely transportation. As with the invasion of Martinique, this campaign was all about undermining the French. The plan was to land a huge force of troops and forces in Holland, landing at the Dutch island of Walcheren, to assist the Austrian resistance against France by causing a distraction whilst they destroyed the French fleet at Flushing (Vlissingen) in Holland. 39,000 troops were landed in the July of 1809, but the Austrians had already been defeated and the French fleet had moved to Antwerp. As well as being a strategic disaster a huge number of troops succumbed to illness. In the region of 100 men were lost in combat but over 4000 died of something that became known as Walcheren fever, and a staggering 11,000 were recorded as ill.
|Blockade of Toulon, by Thomas Luny|
|Prison hulks at Portsmouth by Louis Garneray (for a good |
set of similar photographs see the BBC website at:
My sincere thanks to friend Jack Edwards for the loan of the 1970 edition of the 1828 Shipping and Craft by Edward William Cook, which as well as providing the image of the HMS York as a hulk, was also a useful source of information about prison hulks in general.