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HMS Surprise - Captured French ship, rated Fifth-Rate - Geoff Hunt

HMS Surprise - Captured French ship, rated Fifth-Rate - Geoff Hunt

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Though credited with 34 guns, this very small frigate might be better described as a corvette. Originally the French l’Unité, she was captured by HMS Inconstant in April 1796 and is here seen arriving at Ajaccio. Renamed HMS Surprise, she served until 1802 but is now best known for her subsequent fictional career in Patrick O’Brian’s novels.

The Surprise was made famous by the writings of Patrick O’Brian, in his books on the adventures of Captain Aubrey and the surgeon Maturin, described by the world famous writer as his favourite ship. A short history of the original Surprise is listed below.

The fabulous frigate was constructed in Le Havre as L’Unite in 1794. It was a 24-gun corvette, armed with 8lb long guns. The British captured her in April 1796 in the Mediterranean, and her name changed to the HMS Surprise. She was re-armed and classed as a 28-gun ship. She carried 24 32 lb carronades on her main deck, 8 32 lb carronades on her quarter-deck, and 4 6 lb long guns on her foredeck.

French frigates were much sought after by the British, because of their manoeuvrability and speed. The streamlined design of the hull below the waterline meant that these frigates could outrun most other ships.

Her big moment came in October 1799 under the command of Captain Edward Hamilton for the daring rescue of the frigate Hermoine. The latter’s crew had mutinied, killing their commander and officers. The ship was surrendered to the Spanish and was taken to the harbour at Puerto Cabello in modern-day Venezuela.

In trying to rescue the ship, the boats of the HMS Surprise were spotted and fired on by patrolling gunboats. They soldiered on, boarded the Hermoine, cleared the deck and sailed her out. Their losses were 12 wounded, whilst the Spanish suffered a loss of 216 wounded (including many dead). Captain Hamilton who led the rescue was knighted for his conduct, and the Hermoine was restored to the British Navy.

You may order the full set of 12 'Fighting Sail' prints, all with the same edition number.

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