Thursday, 18 August 2016

The hunt for William Richardson continues

Yesterday Sue and I paid one of our irregular trips to the National Archives in Kew in order to continue our hunt for one of her forebears, William Richardson. (Earlier blog entries about our search can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

My searches proved to be more successful that Sue's, and I have now traced him through his entire eleven years of service in the West Indies, his return to the UK, and his first year back in Woolwich, the then home of the Royal Artillery. Bearing in mind that being sent to the West Indies was often tantamount to a death sentence (very few soldiers survived a posting there, and many often died within a few months of arriving in the Caribbean), he must had been a very hardly soldier. He was also a lucky one, as he sailed home on HMS Anson, a frigate that had taken part in several successful actions in the Caribbean before returning to Great Britain. Only months after her return, HMS Anson was wrecked off Loe Bar, Cornwall on 29th December, 1807.

HMS Anson
HMS Anson was a member of the fifteen-strong Intrepid-class of 64-gun third rate ships of the line. She was built in Plymouth Dockyard between January 1774 and October 1781. She was converted into a frigate in 1794 when her original forecastle and quarterdeck were removed and her former upper deck was remodelled to give her a new lower forecastle and quarterdeck. This process was known as being razeed, a term that is derived from the French vaisseau rasé(i.e. a shaved down ship).

HMS Anson was now a 44-gun frigate and embarked on a very successful career:
  • 10th September 1794: Along with four other ships, she was involved in the capture of the Tordenshiold.
  • 16th July 1797: Helped to drive the French corvette Calliope on shore, where she was wrecked.
  • 29th December 1797: Recaptured Daphne, which had been captured by the French in December 1794.
  • 7th September 1798: Helped to captured the French frigate Flore after a 24-hour long chase.
  • 18th October 1798: Helped to capture the French frigate Loire.
  • 2nd February 1799: Helped to captured the French privateer cutter Boulonaise off Dunkirk.
  • 10th April 1800: Detained the merchant ship Catherine & Anna bound for Hamburg with a cargo of coffee.
  • 27th April 1800: Captured the French brig Vainquer.
  • 29th April 1800: In action with four French privateers, Brave (36 guns), Guepe (18 guns), Hardi (18 guns), and Duide. HMS Anson inflicted damage on Brave and managed to capture Hardi. The latter was taken into Royal Navy service and after being known as HMS Hardi, she was renamed HMS Rosario.
  • 1802 to 1805: HMS Anson served in the Mediterranean. She was then sent to the West Indies.
  • 23rd August 1806: HMS Anson, in company with HMS Arethusa, attacked and captured the Spanish frigate Pomone near Moro Castle in Cuba.
  • 15th September 1806: Unsuccessfully engaged the French ship of the line Foudroyant (84 guns) 15 miles off Havana. HMS Anson's sails and rigging we badly damaged during the action , and two members of the crew were killed and thirteen wounded.
  • 1st January 1807: HMS Anson, along with HMS Latona, HMS Arethusa, HMS Fisgard, and HMS Morne Fortunee, captured Curaçao. The British force also captured the Dutch frigate Kenau Hasselar, the sloop Suriname (a former Royal Naval sloop which had been captured from the French on 20th August 1799 and then taken by the Dutch on 23rd June 1803), and two armed schooners.
HMS Anson was wrecked on 29th December 1807, having been driven onto a lee shore by a gale on the previous day whilst attempting to sail into Falmouth.

The loss of the HMS Anson as depicted in 1808 by William Elmes.
As was the custom at the time, the bodies of the drowned sailors from the wreck were buried without a shroud or coffin in unconsecrated ground. A local solicitor – Thomas Grylls – was so incensed by this that he drafted a law to provide drowned seamen with a proper, Christian burial, and this was eventually enacted as the Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1808. Furthermore, Henry Trengrouse, who had witnessed the wrecking of HMS Anson, was so distressed by the fact that it had proved impossible to get lines over to the ship to help rescue survivors, that he developed a rocket apparatus to shoot lines to shipwrecks so that survivors could be taken off in an early version of a breeches buoy.


  1. As illustrious as was her career, it pales when compared to the adventures of ships related in the various novels of the age of sail. I suppose a true historical reckoning of the careers of these ships and men wouldn't sell as many books.

    1. Dick Bryant,

      Very true ... but I doubt that any fictional warship was responsible for ensuring the proper burial of drowned sailors or the development of such an important piece of lifesaving equipment.

      All the best,



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