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HMS Bellona.

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HMS Bellona.

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HMS Bellona was a 74-gun
Bellona-class third-rateship of the line of the Royal Navy. Designed by Sir Thomas Slade, she was a prototype for the iconic 74-gun ships of the latter part of the 18th century. "The design of the Bellona class was never repeated precisely, but Slade experimented slightly with the lines, and the Arrogant, Ramillies, Egmont, and Elizabeth classes were almost identical in size, layout, and structure, and had only slight variations in the shape of the underwater hull. The Culloden class ship of the line was also similar, but slightly larger. Thus over forty ships were near-sisters of the Bellona." Bellona was built at Chatham, starting on 10 May 1758, launched on 19 February 1760, and commissioned three days later. She was the second ship of the Royal Navy to bear the name, and saw service in the Seven Years' War, American Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars.
Immediately upon commissioning, HMS Bellona was sent to join the Western Squadron, then blockading Brest and sailed from Chatham on 8th April 1760. At the time, Britain was in the midst of the Seven Years War against France.

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HMS Bellona's time with the blockading squadron was uneventful until 13th August 1761. On that day, whilst patrolling off the River Tagus in company with the frigate HMS Brilliant, Bellona spotted the French 74 gun 3rd Rate ship Courageux in company with 2 frigates. The British ships chased the French for 14 hours before catching them and bringing them to action. HMS Brilliant attacked the 2 frigates while HMS Bellona got stuck into the Courageux. Things did not go well for HMS Bellona to start with, she lost her mizzen mast after 9 minutes of fierce combat, but once the wreckage and broken rigging had been cut away, HMS Bellona began to get the better of the French Ship, bringing down the enemy's main and mizzen masts. The British practice of firing into the hull of the enemy ship caused terrible casualties amongst the French crew and by the time the Courageux struck her colours after 2 hours of fighting, half her crew of 600 men were dead or wounded. Bellona on the other hand lost 6 dead with 28 men wounded. The French ship had been severely damaged and was taken into the River Tagus for repairs before being sailed back to the UK and was taken into Royal Navy service. Bellona also made good her own repairs at the same time.

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Bellona and Courageux arriving at Spithead by Geoff Hunt

HMS Bellona was paid off in 1762 as the Seven Years War was coming to a close. She was assigned to guardship duties at Portsmouth in 1764 and was kept rigged and armed with a token crew of about 100 men aboard. In 1771, the ship was taken to Chatham and laid up in the Ordinary. This meant that a deckhouse was built over her upper decks and her guns, masts and associated rigging were all removed.

In 1775, the American War of Independance started and by 1778, the Royal Navy began to be mobilised to counter the increasing French intervention in that war. In 1778, the Admiralty ordered that HMS Bellona be refitted for service in the Channel Fleet, so the ship was taken into dock and was given a major refit, which included sheathing her lower hull in copper. The refit also included the replacement of her forecastle guns with the then new carronades.

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1. Breech bolt 2. Aft sight 3. Vent hole 4. Front sight 5. First reinforcing ring 6. Barrel 7. Muzzle
8. Second reinforcing ring 9. Azimutal pivot 10. Chock 11. Elevation pivot 12. Wheel 13. Mobile pedestal 14. Carriage 15. Pommel 16. Elevation thread.

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. A carronade is a light weight, short range,large calibre gun which vastly increased the short range firepower available to the Royal Navy's ships. The shipwrights model of HMS Bellona had previously been used to demonstrate the principle of coppering to the King. For that reason, the model still exists and is in the collection of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.

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The model of Bellona showing her coppered hull

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The stern showing the intricate carving around her stern gallery'.

HMS Bellona was recommissioned into the Grand Fleet and sailed from Chatham on 17th April 1780. On 30th December 1780, in company with the 3rd rate HMS Marlborough, HMS Bellona captured the Dutch 44 gun Frigate Princes Carolina. This ship was taken into the Royal Navy and renamed HMS Princess Caroline. On 12th April 1781, HMS Bellona was part of a fleet of 29 ships of the line under Vice-Admiral George Darby which was escorting 100 supply ships for the Second Relief of Gibraltar. The Spanish, then laying seige to Gibraltar, were unable to stop them.

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Vice-Admiral George Darby.

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Captain, Richard Onslow

After that, HMS Bellona was reported by her captain, Richard Onslow, to be in poor condition, so between May and July 1781, she was refitted at Portsmouth. After that, until December of that year, the ship was in the North Sea. From December 1781 until 11th September 1782, she was at Portsmouth. On that sate, HMS Bellona sailed as part of a fleet and convoy escort for a further relief of Gibraltar under the command of Vice-Admiral Richard 'Black Dlck' Howe. This fleet had an enormous stroke of luck. Immediately prior to their arrival at Gibraltar, a storm blew up and scattered the Franco-Spanish fleet blockading the harbour and Howe and his fleet were able to enter the harbour unopposed.

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Vice-Admiral Richard Howe.

After that success, HMS Bellona was ordered to the West Indies. arriving off the Leeward Islands in January 1783. By this time, the American War of Independance (at least on the mainland) had been lost with the surrender General Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown. The French had ceased to be a major threat in the area after the destruction of their fleet by Vice-Admiral Rodney at the Battle of the Saintes in April of 1782. The Treaty of Paris which officially ended the war was under negotiation at the time and the Royal Navy was looking to draw down its fleets. HMS Bellona wasn't in the Caribbean for long. After arriving in January, she returned to Portsmouth on 25th May and was decommissioned and laid up in the Ordinary on 7th June.

HMS Bellona remained in the Ordinary for just over four years. She was commissioned on 3rd October 1787, but paid off again just two months later, on 7th December. At the beginning of 1789, she was re-rigged and re-armed and recommissioned as Guardship at Portsmouth. On 18th August, the ship participated in a Fleet Review and mock battle before sailing with the Grand Fleet the following September. The ship returned to Portsmouth in October 1790 and resumed her guardship duties the following January. In June of 1791, she was part of a fleet mobilised as part of a war scare with Russia. This came to nothing and the ship was again decommissioned, this time at home in Chatham.

In September 1792, there occurred a political event which in the context of the times was cataclysmic. After three years of political turmoil, the people of France deposed their King, Louis XVI and a republic was declared. HMS Bellona was taken into dock and was refitted. She was relaunched on 9th July 1793 and recommissioned at Chatham on the 18th. The new Revolutionary Government in France had declared war on Britain on 1st February and the Royal Navy was recommissioning ships as quickly as possible. HMS Bellona left Chatham on 7th September 1793 to join Howe's Channel Fleet, blockading French ports.

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Bellona off Brest by Geoff Hunt.

It didn't take long for HMS Bellona to get into the action. On 7th November 1793, she took part in an unsuccessful chase of a French squadron. HMS Bellona did not take part in the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794, but did take part in a chase of one of the surviving French squadrons five days after the battle but again failed to engage the enemy. On 13th October 1794, HMS Bellona was sent to the Caribbean, arriving off Martinique on 14th November.

Over the course of the next three years, HMS Bellona was never far from the action. On 5th January 1795, she took part in an action against a French squadron near Guadeloupe and fought a Spanish squadron on 7th February 1797 off the Caspagarde Islands. In April 1797, she took part in an attack on Puerto Rico. She was sent back to the UK and entered a refit at Portsmouth in October 1797.

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Lord St. Vincent.

In May of 1799, HMS Bellona joined the fleet under the command of John Jervis, Lord St. Vincent off San Sebastian. She returned to Torbay in September 1799.

By the turn of the century, Czar Paul of Russia signalled his growing admiration of Napoleon Bonaparte by promising to send his Baltic Fleet to join the French fleet, threatening to put further strain on an already stretched Royal Navy. The Danish, then neutral but favouring the British, had been threatened with invasion if they did not allow the Russians to transit the Skaggerak into the North Sea. This put them in an impossible position, as it did the British. The British sent a fleet under the command of Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, known throughout the fleet for some reason as 'Batter Pudding'.

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Admiral Sir Hyde Parker.

Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson was his 2nd in command. Their mission was to put the Danish fleet out of the equation and attack Copenhagen.
HMS Bellona joined Hyde Parker's fleet on 18th March 1801. Nelson's mission was to take the smaller ships of the line into Copenhagen and destroy the Danish ships there while Sir Hyde Parker held back with the heavier ships. Bellona was assigned as part of Nelson's force.

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Unfotunately, HMS Bellona grounded on a shoal on the way in and was reduced to the part of a helpless spectator as Nelson's ships tore into the Danes. It was during this action on 3rd April 1801 that Sir Hyde Parker signalled Nelson to disengage at the height of the battle. Nelson, knowing that the battle was not yet won raised a telescope to his blind eye and exclaimed "I really do not see the signal" and ordered that the action be continued until the Danes surrendered.

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The Battle of Copenhagen: Nelson's British Fleet sails up the Royal Channel to attack the Danish Fleet and the Trekroner Citadel. The 3 British ships aground are to the right: Bellona, Russell and Agamemnon.

On 7th July 1801, HMS Bellona left the Baltic and rejoined the blockading squadron off Cadiz.

Five months later, she was in the Caribbean, but her age and years of hard use were taking their toll on the by now old ship. On 16th March 1802, her Captain, Thomas Bertie reported to the Admiralty from Jamaica that HMS Bellona was 'an old and crazy ship'. As a result, she was ordered back to Britain and on arrival at Portsmouth on 6th July 1802 was decommissioned and placed in the Ordinary.

By 1805, a full-blown invasion scare was under way. The French and Spanish fleets were at sea under the command of the French admiral Villeneuve. The French Army was camped en-masse around the French channel ports. Although Nelson, by now flying his flag in Victory was in hot pursuit, the Royal navy was desperately short of ships and every available ship, even old crazy ones like HMS Bellona were being dragged back into service. On 3rd April 1805, Bellona was docked at Portsmouth and was fitted with the Snodgrass System of internal diagonal bracing, to stiffen her old and tired frames. She was relaunched at Portsmouth on 26th June 1805.

In October 1805, after having missed the main event at Trafalgar, she was assigned to a squadron of five ships of the line under Captain Sir Richard Strachan. Unfortunately, she became separated from his force and missed the Battle of Cape Ortegal on 4th November 1805 when Strachan's force found and captured a group of French survivors of the Battle of Trafalgar.

She later reurned to Plymouth and departed there on 19th May 1806 bound for Barbados. On 14th September 1806, whilst in company with HMS Belle Isle (74) and HMS Melampus (36) off Cape Henry, Virginia, she sighted the French 74 gun ship Impétueux, sailing under a jury rig after having been dismasted in a hurricane. The French ship was desperately searching for an American port to put into. Rather then face an unequal fight against the British, the French commander chose to run his ship ashore. Despite the fact that the French ship was now aground on American soil, the Melampus opened fire anyway. This was followed up by a boat attack with boats from both Bellona and Belle Isle carrying men ashore to capture the French vessel. Impétueux was later ordered to be burned.

In July 1807, HMS Bellona was involved in an incident in Hampton Roads concerning the impressment of American seamen into the Royal Navy. This was a major bone of contention between the Americans and the British at the time. Deserters from the Royal Navy had found that if they managed to get aboard an American ship, they could claim asylum and be offered US Citizenship. This led the Royal Navy to stop and search American ships at sea for deserters and press anyone who was unable to prove American citizenship into British service. This practice was one of the causes of the 1812 war between Britain and the USA.

On 7th March 1808, HMS Bellona was part of the fleet which failed to get into the harbour at Basque Roads. The battle of Basque Roads ended up as a British victory anyway, despite the fact that the fleet could not engage the enemy as fireships were sent in. In the ensuing chaos, many French ships drifted ashore or onto rocks and were destroyed by long-range gunfire from smaller ships and by raiding parties.

In July 1809, she took part in the unsuccessful Walcheren Campaign where a marshy island in the Scheldt Estuary was invaded by elements of the British Army.

On 18th December 1810, Bellona took part in the capture of the french privateer L'Heros du Nord.

1811 and 1812 and most of 1813 saw HMS Bellona employed in blockading Dutch ports, apart from a trip to St Helena in the Atlantic Ocean in May 1813. In September 1813, she returned to the Basque Roads but was back on blockade duty off Cherbourg by October.

By 1814, the naval element of the Napoleonic War was over and the Royal navy was again looking to draw down its fleets. HMS Bellona arrived back home at Chatham on 4th February 1814. On 19th July 1814, Bellona was docked at Chatham for the last time and was broken up in dock during September 1814.

HMS Bellona's career had encompassed some of the most turbulent years of Britains history. She had been in service throught the period in which the 74 gun 3rd Rate had formed the backbone of the Royal Navy's fleets. She was one of the longest serving ships in the navy of the time, being 54 years old when her career finally came to an end. Her career saw the establishment of the Royal Navy as the dominant armed force in the world, one which gave Britain total control of the worlds oceans and maritime trade routes for a century, until the outbreak of the First World War.

She was the subject of the book 'Anatomy of the Ship - the 74 Gun Ship HMS Bellona' (ISBN 0-85177-368-0), which gives exact details and scale drawings of her design. This in turn has led to HMS Bellona being the subject of many beautiful model kits now available. here's a picture of one of the many models available:

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The ship has also appeared in fiction, appearing in Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey novels 'The Commodore' and 'The Yellow Admiral', starring as the ship in which Aubrey flies his Broad Pennant.

Class and type: Bellona-class74-gunship of the line
Tons burthen: 1615 bm
Length: 168 ft (51 m) (gundeck), 138 ft (42 m) (keel)
Beam: 46 ft 11 in (14.30 m)
Draught: 21 ft 6 in (6.55 m)
Depth of hold: 19 ft 9 in (6.02 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
Complement: 650 officers and men
Armament: Lower gundeck: 28 × 32 pounder guns

Upper gundeck: 28 × 18 pounder guns

QD: 14 × 9 pounder guns

Fc: 4 × 9 pounder guns