In it is an article about a ‘Selway Fisher’ designed boat which the builder called ‘Pickle’ after HMS Pickle. The boat built was a Tideway 14 but that wasn’t what interested me. What chewed away in the back of my mind was “‘HMS Pickle’....I’m sure I’ve seen a replica of her in South west waters somewhere and I have a dim memory that she was at Trafalgar........wasn’t she”?
Curiosity aroused......time for a little investigative work.
Yes HMS Pickle was at Trafalgar but she was too small to do much fighting.....what she did do though is bring news back to Britain of Nelson’s death. But I’m rushing ahead........
HMS Pickle was a topsail schooner of the Royal Navy. Now I had to confess I had to look up what a topsail schooner was.....forgive me ignorance dear reader! According to Wikipedia...................(and here I feel I do need to do my teachers bit which goes like this.....
1. wiki, contrary to popular belief, IS NOT the fountain of all knowledge;
2. Wiki is an open contribution site so please check for inaccuracies, opinion, bias, assumption and propaganda;
3. Do try to verify what you read on wiki with other sources;
4. Check who wrote the article on wiki – do they have a reputable academic background etc etc etc!
5. If you are tempted to copy and paste and then hit the print button and submit a seven page essay to me from wiki – then I will shred it and make you do it again.
This last point was a public service announcement on behalf of the teaching profession here in the UK!)
Where was I? Oh yes – what is a schooner..........apparently it is a sailing vessel which had fore and aft sails on two or more masts with the forward mast being no taller than the rear masts. First used by the Dutch and later popularised by the Americans, two masted schooners were the most common and were used in trades that required speed, windward ability and an ability to outrun officialdom........slaving, privateering, blockade running, traditional offshore fishing, smuggling etc. You can find out more here at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topsail_schooner
Now HMS Pickle started life as a civilian vessel of six guns called ‘Sting’ and she was used as an armed tender on the Jamaica station (“Jamaica? No she went of her own accord”! – You’d have to be British and a fan of the ‘Goons’ show to be up on that one). Anyway Pickle did see action when she captured a french privateer (serves them right!) in 1807. Poor old Pickle was wrecked without loss of life in 1808.
So her beginnings then were interesting. In 1800 Vice Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour, Commander-in-Chief at Jamaica informed the Navy board that he wished to purchase a new schooner to act as tender to his flagship HMS Sans Pareil; to which the Navy Board replied ‘No!!’. However it would seem that Lord Hugh was son of the Marquis of Hertford, grandson of the Duke of Conway, son-in-law to the Marquis of Waldegrave and the Duchess of Gloucester, friend of the Prince of Wales, MP for Portsmouth and a former Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty. Consequently it was probably likely that he didn’t like taking “NO!!” as an answer from anyone.............so he went ahead anyway and purchased ‘Sting’, informing the Navy Board only after the purchase had taken place.
‘Sting’ measured some 73 ft. overall, by 20 ft 7 in breadth and 9ft 6in depth, weighing in at 127 tons. With six carronades and a complement of 35 to 40, she was commanded by one Lieutenant Thomas Thrush and her first year of service in the Caribbean was as squadron despatch vessel, carrying despatches, orders, stores and personnel to the station's outlying ships and establishments.
Lord Hugh Seymour died of yellow fever in 1801and so the STING carried the Admiral’s body home to England. Between January and March 1802, she refitted for Channel Service at Plymouth, and in February the Navy Board renamed her HM Schooner PICKLE. Her first employment was in coastal patrols in the English Channel between the Solent and Land's End – chasing smugglers. In May 1802 Lt Thrush was relieved by the PICKLE's new commander, Lt John Richards Lapenotiere. Thrush was promoted to Commander, and eventually in 1809 to Post Captain.
I don’t think life aboard HMS Pickle under Lapenotiere’s command was good. In 1803 she lost a man overboard and he was never recovered. There may have been doubts about Lapenotiere’s seamanship. Pickle was not built for blockade work, which is what she was delegated to do, and many described her as a ‘wet ship’.
I read somewhere that during Lapenotiere's 41 months in command HMS Pickle lost or sprung her bowsprit or jib boom seven times, along with several other spars including her main boom three times. On occasions he had to heave the schooner's guns overboard to save the ship. 20 men deserted her every year under his command. He flogged people relentlessly; and the Bosun’s mate even deserted her at one point with several other men. He was caught and accused of mutiny and conspiring to take over the vessel but the charges were dismissed and he got away with a flogging around the fleet! In 1804, one John Boucher got a dozen lashes for ‘drunkenness, and throwing his clothes overboard’.
It has been said, that with fairness to Lapenotiere, part of the malcontent was because Pickle spent 70% of her time at sea. Blockade work would have been very boring; scuttling around the fleet as a messenger boy – somewhat insulting I should think. There were occasions of excitement – being sent in to Brest harbour to count the French fleet for example. She rarely took any prizes so there was little prize money to distribute amongst the crew. I could see why a crew might get bored and resentful.
During the battle of Trafalgar, she was ordered to keep out of the way of the large line of battle ships and to act as rescue boat. In the later stages of the battle, Pickle, Entreprenante, and the boats of Prince George and Swiftsure went to the rescue of the crew of the French ship, Achille, which caught fire and subsequently exploded. In all she saved 160 french sailors and one woman. The prisoners in Pickle outnumbered her crew three to one and were heard plotting to take her over to take her into Cadiz. Nothing happened though Pickle's crew kept a particularly sharp watch over the prisoners. Anyway, after discharging her prisoners to larger ships, Lt Lapenotiere was summoned on board HMS Euryalus, Admiral Collingwood's temporary flagship, on the 26th, to be given the prize job of taking news of the victory - and of Nelson's death - home to the Admiralty.
Someone wrote that this was, for Lapenotiere, ‘the career defining moment’ of his life. At 35 years old he had a command, but it was merely a schooner...which probably said more about his lack of seamanship and lack of contacts than anything else. He was at that age unlikely to get further promotion. However, whoever carried this news home about Nelson’s death and the details of the victory at Trafalgar – well they were sure to get promotion to Commander and a sloop to command; a sizeable cash reward - £500 was the going rate for bringing news of a victory; and of course some fame. Whilst this task would have gone to a frigate Captain, poor Collingwood was concerned about a breakout by the combined fleet of France and so required every ship to stay on station with him. Consequently Pickle was the only ship he could spare.
At noon on the 26th, with ‘fresh breezes and a heavy swell’ from the West South West HMS Pickle shaped her course for England. On the 4th November, she arrived in Falmouth and the rest as they say is history. Lapenotiere hired a coach to take him to London...a brave deed since it would have been half his annual salary to hire four horses and a coach! He knew the urgency of the dispatches he carried. It took 20 changes of horses and 37 hours to reach the Admiralty, an astonishing achievement. Lapenotiere arrived at the Admiralty at 1am on 6 November. He was shown through to the First Secretary of the Admiralty, Mr Marsden. Lord Barham, First Lord of the Admiralty was raised from his sleep to receive the news. The Prime Minister, William Pitt received the news at 3am and King George III and Queen Charlotte heard at 7am when Lapenotiere explained to King George the movements of the opposing fleets and how the battle was won. As the news was being broadcast across the city with saluting guns from the Tower of London, the news was also received by one Lady Emma Hamilton.
Lapenotiere was promoted to Commander and did receive a sword worth 100 guineas from the Patriotic Fund plus his share of the prize money from the battle, and eventually, but only after three petitioning letters, the £500 customary for the bearer of news of a victory. He also had his expenses chit honoured and was eventually promoted to Post Captain in 1811
After the excitement of the battle, the vessel returned to normal service and on 3rd January 1807, she captured a French privateer of 18 guns off the Lizard. Eighteen months later, on 28th July 1808, the Pickle was grounded on a shoal as she entered Cadiz harbour, carrying Lieutenant Moses Cannadey who was bearing dispatches from England to Admiral Lord Collingwood. Lookouts had reported broken water at midnight and it was clear that Lt Cannadey had misjudged his surroundings. Daylight revealed that her bottom was completely stoved in and she was unsalvageable. His court martial in August commented on his ‘unaccountable error in reckoning and the distance travelled’. Cannadey was reprimanded.
But this isn’t the end of the story about HMS Pickle. The journey of HMS Pickle and the bearing of the news from Trafalgar is commemorated by Warrant Officers of the Royal Navy on November 5th, known as Pickle Night, in a similar celebration to that of Trafalgar Night celebrated by Commissioned Officers.
As to the replica of HMS Pickle – well I’m not sure. She did end up in Conwy harbour, a place I know well for I lived there for 6 years. But where she is now I am not so sure. She was put up for sale and if you are interested, these two sites give some further illumination.
This is some You tube footage of the replica entering Ilfracombe harbour.