Military Wiki
HMS Circe (1785)
Career (Great Britain) Royal Navy Ensign (1707-1801)
Name: HMS Circe
Ordered: 6 March 1782
Builder: Henry Ladd, Dover
Laid down: December 1782
Launched: 30 September 1785
Completed: 2 November 1790
Commissioned: September 1790
Honors and
Naval General Service Medal (NGSM) with clasp "Camperdown"[1]
Fate: Wrecked off Norfolk, 17 November 1803
General characteristics
Class & type: Enterprise-class sixth-rate frigate
Tons burthen: 599 5594 (bm)
Length: 120 ft 6 38 in (36.738 m) (gundeck)
99 ft 5 in (30.30 m) (keel)
Beam: 33 ft 7 34 in (10.255 m)
Depth of hold: 11 ft 0 in (3.35 m)
Sail plan: Full-rigged ship
Complement: 200 officers and men
Armament: Gundeck: 24 × 9-pounder guns
QD: 4 × 6-pounder guns + 4 x 18-pounder carronades
Fc: 2 x 18-pounder carronades

HMS Circe was a 28-gun Enterprise-class sixth-rate frigate of the Royal Navy. She was launched in 1785 but not completed or commissioned until 1790. She then served in the English Channel on the blockade of French ports before she was wrecked in 1803.


The Circe was first commissioned in September 1790 under the command of Captain George Oakes. She was paid off in October 1791. Captain A. H. Gardiner commissioned her in April 1792.[2]

Joseph Sydney Yorke was promoted to post-captain on 4 February 1793 and given command of Circe, then part of a squadron under Admiral Richard Howe. He patrolled off the French port of Brest. In March Circe took the French ships Diane, Vaudreuil and Jeune Felix. Circe shared the prize money for Diane and Vaudreuil with Druid.[3] On 18 March Circe captured the Danish brig Pelican.[4]

Then in May Circe took the French privateers Didon (or Dido) and Auguste (or 1 Auguste).[5] Didon was armed with 14 guns and had a crew of 100 men. Auguste was armed with 18 and had a crew of 160.[2][6] Lastly, Circe captured the privateer Coureur (or Courier), of 10 guns and 84 men.[2][6] She shared with Aimable in the prize money for Courier, which they had captured on 26 May.[7]

With Nymphe, Circe captured the corvette L'Espiegle on 20 November. Espiegle was pierced for 16 guns, and was manned with 100 men under the command of Mons. Pierre Biller, Enseign de Vaisseau.[8] The Royal Navy took Espiegle into service under her existing name.

Circe played a minor, supporting role at the Action of 20 October 1793 and consequently shared with Crescent in the prize money for Reunion.[9] At some point Circe and Phaeton recaptured the brig Venus and sloop Ant, "laden with Butter".[10] On 24 May 1794, Circe recpatured the brig Perseverance, while in company with the rest of the squadron under the command of Rear-Admiral Montagu.[11][12]

In October 1794 Captain Peter Halkett took command of Circe. In May 1797, due to the exertions of her officers, Circe's crew did not join the Spithead and Nore mutinies. Halkett received orders to put out to sea, which he did, leaving Yarmouth and sailing, together with some hired armed vessels to protect merchant trade. He continued to cruise until his supplies were almost exhausted and then he sailed Circe into the Humber. He then waited at Hull until the mutiny was over.[13] Halkett received the "thanks of the Admiralty and the freedom of the town of Hull for the conduct of his ship during the alarming period."[14] On 23 August 1795, Circe captured the Swedish corn vessel, Auguste Adolphe, in the North Sea.[15]

In October 1797 Circe was part of the squadron under Sir Henry Trollope that was at the Texel to watch the Dutch fleet. On 11 October Circe served to repeat signals for the Starboard or Weather Division under Admiral Adam Duncan at the Battle of Camperdown.[16] On 12 February 1798 £120,000 in prize money resulting from the sale of Dutch ships captured on 11 October 1797 was due for payment.[17] In 1847 the surviving members of the crews of all the British vessels at the battle qualified for the NGSM with the clasp "Camperdown".

In December 1797 Captain R. Winthrop replaced Halkett.[2] On 8 May 1798 Circe sailed with Sir Home Popham's expedition to attack the sluice gates at Ostend. The expedition landed 1300 troops under Major General Coote. The army blew up the locks and gates on the Bruges canal but was then forced to surrender. Winthrop commanded the seamen landed from the different ships, and for getting the powder and mines up for the destruction of the locks. To signal his approbation, Home Popham had Winthrop and Circe carry back the dispatches.[18] Circe lost two master's mates killed.[19]

Between 27 July and 29 August 1798, Circe captured five Greenland ships and six Iceland doggers.[20]

On 4 June 1799, Circe and Jalouse recaptured the sloop Ceres.[21] Six days later, Circe recaptured the Expedition from the French.[22] Then at the end of the month, on 26 June, Circe and the hired armed cutter Courier captured the Twee Gesisters.[23] Two days later, Winthrope sent in the boats of Circe, Jalouse, Pylades, Espiegle, and Tisiphone to cut out some gunboats at Ameland. When the British arrived, they found that their targets were pulled up on shore where the cutting out party could not reach them. The British instead took out 12 merchant vessels, six with cargoes and six in ballast, and retreated. There were no British casualties, even though Dutch shore batteries fired on the attackers.[24]

Then on 10 July Circe was a part of a small squadron consisting of Jalouse, Espiegle, Courier, Pylades, and the hired armed cutter Nancy, all under Winthrop's command. The boats of the squadron rowed for 15 or 16 hours into the Watt at the back of Ameland. There they captured three merchant vessels carrying sugar, wine and brandy, and destroyed a galliot loaded with ordnance and stores.[25]

Between 18 July and 1 August, Circe, Pylades, Espiegle, Courier, and Nancy captured Marguerita Sophia, Twee Gesister, Twee Gebroders, Twee Gebroders, Jussrow Maria Christina, Vrow Henterje Marguaritha, Stadt Oldenburg, Vrow Antje, Vrow Gesina, Endraght, and the Frederick.[Note 1]

On 28 August 1799, Circe was at the Nieuwe Diep. There she took possession of 13 men-of-war, ranging in size form 66 guns to 24, and three Indiamen. She also took possession of the Naval Arsenal and its 95 pieces of ordnance.[26] This was all part of the Vlieter incident, the surrender without a fight of a squadron of the navy of the Batavian Republic, commanded by Rear-Admiral Samuel Story, during the Anglo-Russian Invasion of Holland to the British navy on a sandbank near the Channel known as De Vlieter, near Wieringen, on 30 August.[Note 2][Note 3]

More modestly, on 15 September Circe captured the Frau Maria Decelice.[29]

On 9 October Circe's boats captured the Lynx and the schooner Perseus at the port of Delfzel the River Ems. Lynx was armed with 12 guns and had a crew of 75 men; Perseus had eight guns and a crew of 40 men. Although the Dutch vessels' guns were loaded and primed, they apparently did not put up any resistance.[30] The cutters Hawke and Nancy shared in the prize money.[31]

In January 1800 Captain Isaac Woolley assumed command of Circe. On 25 June she and Venus captured the Danish vessel Carolina, which was carrying a cargo of wine from Bordeaux to Bremen.[32] Winthrop then sailed Circe for Jamaica in July. Between 3 August and 1 January 1801, Circe captured a number of small prizes on the Jamaica station.

  • English schooner Success, of 60 tons;
  • American schooner Automaton, of 60 tons, carrying cordage and lead;
  • Spanish schooner Susannah, of 60 tons'
  • American schooner Scorpion, of 100 tons, carrying coffee;
  • French schooner Hussar, of 15 tons carrying old iron;
  • Spanish sloop Mexicana, of 20 tons;
  • American schooner Assistance, of 110 tons, carrying coffee; and,
  • French privateer schooner Secrisua, of 90 tons.[33]

In July 1802 Captain J. Hayes replace Woolley.[2]


Captain Charles Fielding assumed command in June 1803.[2] On 16 November 1803, Circe was sailing to return to her station on the blockade of France after gales had driven her into the North Sea.[34] At 3pm she struck the Lemon and Ower sandbank. Although she was able to get over the bank, she lost her rudder and her hull started to let in water. By 2am on 17 November she was able to anchor and daylight revealed that she was off the coast of Norfolk. Several fishing vessels came out of Yarmouth to help. She took the captains of two of them on board as pilots, and towing their boats, sailed for the port. However, the weather had not improved and, despite her crew's efforts at the pumps, the water in her kept rising. Fielding decided to abandon ship and at 7pm her crew transferred to the fishing vessels. The subsequent court martial blamed inaccuracies in Circe's navigation charts for her loss.[34]


  1. The prize money to an able seaman on Circe for these vessels amounted to £6 14s.[23]
  2. Prize money for the vessels captured on 28 August was paid to the fleet in February 1802. A sixth-class share, that of an ordinary seaman, was worth 6s 8d.[27]
  3. Prize money for the vessels captured on 30 August was paid in November 1802.[28]
  1. "No. 20939". 26 January 1849. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 "NMM, vessel ID 382383". Warship Histories, vol v. National Maritime Museum. Retrieved 30 July 2011. 
  3. "No. 13607". 24 December 1793. 
  4. "No. 13921". 13 August 1796. 
  5. "No. 13612". 11 January 1794. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Norman (2004), p.429.
  7. "No. 13919". 6 August 1796. 
  8. "No. 13601". 7 December 1793. 
  9. "No. 13627". 25 February 1794. 
  10. "No. 13729". 6 December 1794. 
  11. "No. 15094". 29 December 1798. 
  12. "No. 15095". 1 January 1799. 
  13. Ralfe (1828), pp.331-2.
  14. '"Gentleman's magazine, (January 1840), p. 90.
  15. "No. 15495". 6 July 1802. 
  16. "No. 14055". 16 October 1797. 
  17. "No. 14089". 6 February 1798. 
  18. "No. 15017". 19 May 1798. 
  19. "No. 15042". 17 July 1798. 
  20. "No. 15242". 25 March 1800. 
  21. "No. 15203". 12 November 1799. 
  22. "No. 15212". 10 December 1799. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 "No. 15580". 13 April 1803. 
  24. "No. 15156". 6 July 1799. 
  25. "No. 15160". 16 July 1799. 
  26. "No. 15176". 3 September 1799. 
  27. "London Gazette". 13 February 1802. 
  28. "No. 15533". 16 November 1802. 
  29. "No. 15212". 10 December 1799. 
  30. "No. 15196". 19 October 1799. 
  31. "No. 15258". 17 May 1800. 
  32. "No. 15358". 25 April 1801. 
  33. "No. 15365". 12 May 1801. 
  34. 34.0 34.1 Hepper (1994), p.102.


  • Hepper, David J. (1994). British Warship Losses in the Age of Sail, 1650-1859. Rotherfield: Jean Boudriot. ISBN 0-948864-30-3. 
  • Gardiner, Robert (1992) The First Frigates. (London: Conway Maritime Press). ISBN 0-85177-601-9.
  • Lyon, David The Sailing Navy List, Conway Maritime Press, London 1993. ISBN 0-85177-617-5.
  • Norman, C.B. (2004) The Corsairs Of France. (Kessinger Publishing). ISBN 978-1-4179-6534-2
  • Ralfe, James (1828) The naval biography of Great Britain: consisting of historical memoirs of those officers of the British navy who distinguished themselves during the reign of His Majesty George III. (Whitmore & Fenn).
  • Winfield, Rif (2007) British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1714 to 1792. (London: Seaforth Publishing). ISBN 978-1-84415-700-6.

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