Military Wiki
HMS Tonnant (1798)
"HMS Tonnant" at the Battle of the Nile
HMS Tonnant at the Battle of the Nile, by Louis Lebreton.
Career (France)
Name: Tonnant
Laid down: November 1787
Launched: 12 October 1789
Completed: September 1790
Honours and

Participated in:
Battle of Genoa

Battle of the Nile
Captured: By the Royal Navy on 2 August 1798
Career (UK) Royal Navy Ensign
Name: HMS Tonnant
Acquired: Captured on 2 August 1798
Honours and

Participated in:
Battle of Trafalgar
Battle of Baltimore

Battle of Lake Borgne (ship's boats)
Fate: Broken up in March 1821
General characteristics
Class & type: 80-gun Tonnant-class ship-of-the-line
Tons burthen: 2,281 394 bm
Length: 194 ft 2 in (59.18 m) (gundeck)
160 ft (49 m) (keel)
Beam: 51 ft 9.25 in (15.7798 m)
Depth of hold: 23 ft 3 in (7.09 m)
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
Complement: 700

French service:
30 x 36-pounder long guns
32 x 24-pounder long guns
18 x 12-pounder long guns
4 x obusiers de vaisseau
British service:
Lower deck: 32 x 32-pounder guns
Upper deck: 32 x 18-pounder guns
Quarterdeck: 2 x 18-pounder guns + 14 x 32-pounder carronades

Forecastle: 4 x 32-pounder carronades

HMS Tonnant (French language: "Thundering") was an 80-gun ship of the line of the Royal Navy. She had previously been the Tonnant of the French Navy and the lead ship of the Tonnant class. Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson captured her at Aboukir Bay off the coast of Egypt at the Battle of the Nile on 1 August 1798. She was taken into British service as HMS Tonnant. She went on to fight at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, during the Napoleonic Wars. Tonnant was the flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane during most of the campaign in the Chesapeake Bay during the simultaneous War of 1812 with the United States. On 13–14 September 1814 Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner were dining aboard the ship after negotiations to release some captured prisoners, during the Battle of Baltimore. Key went on to write what later became the words to the American national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner after watching the British attack on Baltimore's Fort McHenry. Tonnant was broken up in 1821.

French service

Death of Du Petit-Thouars, by Auguste Mayer

Tonnant fought in the battles of Genoa on 14 March 1795 and The Nile on 1 August 1798 under Aristide Aubert Du Petit Thouars. During the battle, she severely damaged HMS Majestic, causing nearly two hundred casualties, including 50 killed and 143 wounded. Among the dead was Majestic's captain, George Blagdon Westcott. Du Petit-Thouars, who had both legs and an arm shot off, commanded his ship until he died. Tonnant was the only French ship still engaged in the morning, with her colours flying, though aground. It was not until 3 August that she finally struck her colours. The British took her into their service, registering and naming her as HMS Tonnant on 9 December 1798. She arrived at the naval base at Plymouth, England on 17 July 1799.[1] Even before she formally entered British service, she was among the vessels that participated in the capture of the Greek vessel Ardito on 24 October 1798.[2]

Tonnant was commissioned under Captain Loftus Bland in January 1799, with Captain Robert Fitzgerald taking over in February. He sailed her to Gibraltar and then back to Britain. Upon her arrival in Plymouth in 1800 she was laid up in ordinary.[1]

British service

Napoleonic Wars

Tonnant underwent repairs between December 1801 and April 1803. She was commissioned in March 1803 under Captain Sir Edward Pellew. Under his command she participated in the Blockade of Ferrol.[1] On 24 May the cutter Resolution captured the Esperance and the Vigilant, with the Tonnant sharing in the capture.[3] Next, Tonnant, Mars and Spartiate captured the Dutch ships Coffee Baum and Maasulys on 2 and 4 June.[4] Tonnant then was one of the vessels that shared in the recapture on 27 August of the Lord Nelson.[Note 1] Tonant was part of Rear-Admiral Sir Robert Calder's squadron off Cape Ortegal when she encountered the French ships Duguay-Trouin and Guerrière on 2 September 1803. The two French Navy warships had broken out of the blockade when they met Tonnant. They escaped her but British naval forces of varying strengths harried them during their journey back to port and they only just made it to the safety of A Coruña.

Tonnant shared in the capture of the Perseverance on 28 October, though the prize money was much less.[Note 2] Then on 29 November, Ardent destroyed the Bayonnoise; Tonnant was among the vessels sharing, by agreement, in the bounty money.[6] In the new year, on 18 February 1804, Tonnant and the ships of the squadron recaptured the brig Eliza.[7]

Later in 1804 Tonnant was in the Channel under Captain William Henry Jervis. Unfortunately he drowned off Brest when going in his gig from Tonnant to the San Josef on 26 January 1805.[8] Jervis had just arrived from Rochefort and was anxious to impart his intelligence to the commander-in-chief.[9] Captain Charles Tyler replaced Jervis in March.[1]

During the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805) she captured the French ship Algésiras of 74 guns. She lost 27 officers and men killed and 55 officers and men wounded in the battle, with Tyler being among the wounded.[10][Note 3]

Tonnant underwent a refit at Portsmouth between January and June 1806.[1] She was recommissioned in May under Captain Thomas Browne.[1] She then served as flagship for Rear-Admiral Eliab Harvey. While under his command Minerve distinguished herself in a number of small cutting out expeditions.[12] In July 1807 she was under Captain Richard Hancock and served as flagship for Rear-Admiral Michael de Courcy.[1] In April 1809 she was under the command of Captain James Bowen when she recaptured the Ann of Leith on the 8th.[13] Tonnant then was among the vessels sharing in the captures of the Goede Hoop 9 July and the Carl Ludwig on 2 August.[14]

Between November and December 1809 she was under repair at Plymouth.[1] In 1810 she served under Captain Sir John Gore. On 24 March 1812, still under the command of Gore, she was off Ushant when she captured the French privateer Emilie. Emilie was armed with twelve 10-pounder guns and had a crew of 84 men. She was nine days out of Saint-Malo and had captured one vessel, a Spanish merchant ship that the Royal Navy had recaptured on the 24th.[15] At the time that she captured Emilie Tonnant was in company with Hogue, Colossus, Bulwark, and Poictiers.[16] Then on 18 April Tonnant captured the Martha.[17] On 12 May, Abercrombie captured the Betsy. Abercrombie was in company with Tonnant, Royal Sovereign, Queen, Pompee and Goldfinch.[18][Note 4] Tonnant then again underwent repair between August and December 1812, this time at Chatham.[1]

War of 1812

Tonnant joined the War of 1812 late. She was fitted for sea in the first quarter of 1814, being recommissioned in January under Captain Alexander Skene.[1] In October Captain Charles Kerr assumed command as Tonnant served as the flagship for Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane during most of the campaign in Chesapeake Bay. From her he directed attacks on Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.

Star Spangled Banner

It was aboard Tonnant that the Americans, Colonel John Stuart Skinner and Francis Scott Key dined with Vice Admiral Cochrane, Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross, where they negotiated the release of a prisoner, Dr. William Beanes.[Note 5] After his release, Skinner, Key and Beanes were allowed to return to their own sloop, but were not allowed to return to Baltimore because they had become familiar with the strength and position of British units and knew of the British intention to attack Baltimore. As a result, Key witnessed the bombarding of Fort McHenry and was inspired to write a poem called The Defense of Ft. McHenry, later named The Star Spangled Banner. During the bombardment, Erebus provided the "rockets red glare" whilst Meteor provided at least some of the "bombs bursting in air" that feature in the lyrics.

The body of Major General Robert Ross

After Major General Robert Ross' death in the Battle of North Point, his body was stored in a barrel of 129 gallons (586 l) of Jamaican rum aboard Tonnant. When she was diverted to New Orleans for the forthcoming battle (see above), the body was later shipped on the British ship Royal Oak to Halifax, Nova Scotia where his body was interred on 29 September 1814 in the Old Burying Ground.

New Orleans

Tonnant continued to serve Cochrane as a flagship when he directed the British naval forces at the Battle of New Orleans. Immediately before the battle, boats from Tonnant participated in the British victory at the Battle of Lake Borgne.

On 8 December 1814, two US gunboats fired on Sophie, Armide and the sixth-rate frigate Seahorse while they were passing the chain of small islands that runs parallel to the shore between Mobile and Lake Borgne.[20]

Between 12 and 15 December 1814, Captain Lockyer of Sophie led a flotilla of some 50 boats, barges, gigs and launches to attack the US gunboats. Lockyer drew his flotilla from the fleet that was massing against New Orleans, including the 74-gun Third Rates Royal Oak and Tonnant, and a number of other vessels including Armide, Seahorse, Manly and Meteor. Lockyer deployed the boats in three divisions, of which he led one. Captain Montresor of the gun-brig Manly commanded the second, and Captain Roberts of Meteor commanded the third.[20] After rowing for 36 hours, the British met the Americans at St. Joseph's Island.[20] On 13 December 1814, the British attacked the one-gun schooner USS Sea Horse. On the morning of the 14th, the British engaged the Americans in a short, violent battle.

The British captured or destroyed almost the entire American force, including the tender, USS Alligator, and five gunboats. The British lost 17 men killed and 77 wounded; Tonnant had three men killed and 15 wounded, one of whom died later. Anaconda then evacuated the wounded. In 1821 the survivors of the flotilla shared in the distribution of head-money arising from the capture of the American gun-boats and sundry bales of cotton.[21][Note 6] In 1847 the Admiralty awarded the Naval General Service Medal with clasp "14 Dec Boat Service 1814" to 205 survivors (from all the participating boats).

Tonnant was off New Orleans in January 1815, and in the vicinity of the attack on Fort Bowyer in February 1814. She left the anchorage off Mobile Bay on the 18th February and arrived in Havana on 24 February 1815, accompanied by the Asia and the Vengeur.[23]

Post-war and fate

Tonnant returned to England in May 1815. She then served as the flagship for Admiral Lord Keith when she took part in the exiling of Napoleon to St. Helena in 1815, though she was not part of the flotilla that took him there.

Captain John Tailour assumed command in November. From 1816 to 1817 she was the Flagship of Rear-Admiral Sir Benjamin Hallowell on the Cork station.[1] Tonnant was paid off into ordinary in November 1818. She was broken up at Plymouth in March 1821.[1]

Notes and references

See also


  1. Pellew received £1667 10s 2½p in prize money. A seaman received £2 14s 6½d.[5]
  2. Pellew received £85 12s 1d; a seaman received 3s 5¼d.[5]
  3. For seamen and marines Parliament's grant for Trafalgar amounted to £4 12s 6d per capita.[11] This represented roughly three months' wages.
  4. The capture involved many large vessels and the Betsey was apparently not very valuable. The result was that the amount of prize money per seaman was only 6d, or less than half-a-day's wages.[19]
  5. Shortly thereafter a sniper would kill Ross while Ross was leading his forces against Baltimore.
  6. A first-class share of the prize money was worth £34 12s 9¼d; a sixth-class share, that of an ordinary seaman, was worth 7s 10¾d.[22]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 Winfield (2008), p.33.
  2. "No. 15320". 16 December 1800. 
  3. "No. 16057". 18 August 1807. 
  4. "No. 15940". 26 July 1806. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "No. 15683". 13 March 1804. 
  6. "No. 15804". 4 May 1805. 
  7. "No. 15718". 10 July 1804. 
  8. Grocott (1997), p.192.
  9. Marshall (1824), Vol. 2, p.292.
  10. "No. 15937". 15 July 1806. 
  11. "No. 15955". 9 September 1806. 
  12. "No. 15967". 18 October 1806. 
  13. "No. 16225". 9 May 1809. 
  14. "No. 16435". 15 December 1810. 
  15. "No. 16591". 11 April 1812. 
  16. "No. 16705". 20 February 1813. 
  17. "No. 16701". 9 February 1813. 
  18. "No. 16765". 17 August 1813. 
  19. "No. 16850". 29 January 1814. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 "No. 16991". 9 March 1815. 
  21. "No. 17719". 26 June 1821. 
  22. "No. 17730". 28 July 1821. 
  23. Letter from Admiral Cochrane to the Admiralty dated 25 February 1814. This is within WO 1/143 folio 14, which can be downloaded for a fee from the UK National Archives website
  • Grocott, Terence (1997) Shipwrecks of the revolutionary & Napoleonic eras (Chatham). ISBN 1-86176-030-2
  • Lavery, Brian (2003) The Ship of the Line - Volume 1: The development of the battlefleet 1650-1850. Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-252-8.
  • Roche, Jean-Michel (2005) Dictionnaire des Bâtiments de la Flotte de Guerre Française de Colbert à nos Jours. (Group Retozel-Maury Millau).
  • Winfield, Rif (2008). British Warships in the Age of Sail 1793–1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth. ISBN 1-86176-246-1. 

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).