HMAS Pallas

HMS Pallas 

As built: 135ft ½ in, 112ft 8½in x 36ft ¼in x 12ft 6in. 777 81/94 bm

Draught: 9ft 8in / 14ft 5in

Ord: 9th Dec 1790.   K: May 1792.   L: 19th Dec 1793.   Completed fitting: 5th May 1794

First cost: £20,455 including fitting

Men: 257 (254 from 1796).

GunsUD: 26 x 18pdrs; QD: 4 x 6pdrs + 4 x 32pdr carronades;  Fc: 2 x 6pdrs + 2 x 32pdr carronades.

(Winfield 2005)

 HMS Pallas was one of three ships ordered on 9th December 1790 to John Henslow’s first frigate design, the others being HMS Stag and HMS Unicorn. Originally to be built at Portsmouth, the order was transferred to Woolwich Dockyard in July 1791 and her keel was laid in May 1792. She was launched on 19th December 1793 and commissioned in January 1794 under The Hon. Capt. Henry Curzon.

On 16th June 1795, Pallas was one of the ships involved in Cornwallis’s Retreat. Over the next two years, she saw service in the Mediterranean, capturing the 16 gun privateer Santa Jose y Nuestra Senora de Begoyna on 16th July 1795 (Winfield 2005)

On Tuesday 3rd April 1798, HMS Pallas put into Plymouth Sound. Captain Curzon was due to sit at Court Martial hearings to be held in Cawsand Bay that week and spent part of the day officiating at one.  He returned to the Pallas in the afternoon and left directions for the security of the ship before apparently leaving once more. The weather was squally with fresh south-westerly gales and at 21:00, Pallas’s position was shifted to ensure a suitable berth.  Her position was recorded as lying in 6 ½ fathoms (an hour and a half after high water), being due west of Whithy Hedge, with Drakes Island to the north and an open view of The Tower on Devil’s Point.

That evening the Master and William Holland, the 1st Lieutenant, noted that the best bower anchor appeared to be slack, an observation also made by the 3rd Lieutenant at about 22:30. As the wind had dropped and the small anchor was holding, the decision was made to heave it to early the next day.

By morning the south-westerly winds were strengthening and the tide was rising. The order was given to heave the slack bower anchor in and it became clear that the shank of the anchor had broken. The bower cable was cut and attached to the spare anchor.  Meanwhile, the small anchor continued to take the full strain of the ship. The cutter was launched in order to range the spare cable and, as the weather continued to worsen, orders were given for the top masts to be struck and the top gallant masts to be brought down on deck. At 08:30 it was “blowing very stormy” (Court Martial Minutes) and the tide was on the turn. Before the spare anchor could be dropped, the small anchor cable parted and the ship began to drive.  She drove eastwards for “some considerable distance” (Court Martial Minutes) before the spare and sheet anchors brought her up in 4 ½ fathoms, a position that would see her strike at low water. There Pallas rode for about twenty minutes before slowly continuing to move eastwards into even shallower waters.

The order was given to cut down the masts in an attempt to bring the ship up. In the course of this action, a seaman named Peter Charlock was killed. The Signal of Distress and In Want of Assistance was made by firing the fore guns. HMS Canada, moored in the Hamoze, responded to the signal by sending a boat with six seamen and an officer.  As they left the Hamoze, the conditions were so extreme that they were forced to turn back, in the course of which, their boat over-turned and acting Lieutenant Massey and three of the seamen were drowned. The other seamen were picked up by a gunboat which was moored in the vicinity. Other ships noted Pallas’s plight but were unable to send assistance due to the weather conditions.

After the masts were cut, Pallas brought up for a while but before long, the spare anchor cable had parted and the ship came broadside to the shore and struck in 2 ½ fathoms. The sheet anchor cable also parted and at about 10:00, Pallas was driven onto the shore with her bow seawards. Over the next hour, her bow was gradually forced around to face the shore by the constant buffeting of the surf; it was so severe that those on land feared the whole crew would be lost. As the tide ebbed, the ship heeled over towards the shore, offering some protection to the crew and preventing too much water entering the ship. At some point, the cutter was launched with Mr Bissell, the 3rd Lieutenant and five seaman and they managed to bring a hawser to shore. By 12:00, the crew were able to leave the ship.

The gale abated at about 13:00. With low water at about 14:00, there was a window of opportunity for the removal of all personal effects and most of the stores. The ship remained on the rocks, badly broken up. Over the next few days, the last stores were apparently removed and the copper sheeting was stripped off by shipwrights. It was suggested that the government would sell off what was left but whether the remains of the broken vessel were ever salvaged or whether they were left to break up and disperse in the vicinity of the wrecking remains unclear.

As a matter of course, Court Martial proceedings were begun to enquire into the circumstances of the loss of the ship and the conduct of the Captain, officers and crew. The immediate consequence of this was that Captain Curzon was deemed ineligible to sit at the Court Martial of a seaman by name of W Kerr, which was due to take place on Friday 6th April 1798.

A Court Martial for the loss of HMS Pallas took place on HMS Cambridge on Saturday 26th May 1798. HMS Cambridge under her captain, Richard Boger, had been moored in the Hamoze on the day of Pallas’s wrecking and her own records refer to the dreadful weather conditions which prevented Cambridge from sending assistance. The court convened at 09:00 and by noon, the Captain, officers and crew had been fully acquitted.  The wrecking was ascribed to, “a violent gale of wind, one of her anchors breaking and three cables parting” (Court Martial Minutes).

Primary References:

Minutes of the proceedings of a Court Martial to try the Hon. Henry Curzon, the officers and company for the loss of the Pallas, 26th May 1798, National Archives ref: ADM1/5344

Ship’s Log for HMS Boston, National Archives ref: ADM51/1224

Ship’s Log for HMS Calypso, National Archives ref: ADM51/1241

Ship’s Log for HMS Cambridge, National Archives ref: ADM51/1231

Ship’s Log for HMS Canada, National Archives ref: ADM51/1224

Ship’s Log for HMS Pallas, National Archives ref: ADM51/1217

Ship’s Log for HMS Phoebe, National Archives ref: ADM51/1237

Secondary References:

Gossett, W.P., 1986, Lost Ships of the Royal Navy 1793-1900, Mansell, London

Grocott, T., 1997, Shipwrecks of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Eras, Chatham Publishing, London

Winfield, R., 2005, British Warships in the Age of Sail 1793 – 1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates, Chatham Publishing, London