French frigate Cléopâtre (1781)

Cléopâtre was a 32-gun Vénus class frigate of the French Navy. She was designed by Jacques-Noël Sané, and had a coppered hull. She was launched in 1781, and the British captured her in 1793. She then served the Royal Navy as HMS Oiseau until she was broken up in 1816.

OISEAU 1793 RMG J5938.jpg
Oiseau, drawn in 1793
French Navy Ensign French Navy Ensign French Navy EnsignFrance
Name: Cléopâtre
Namesake: Cleopatra
Builder: Saint Malo
Laid down: 1780
Launched: 19 August 1781
Commissioned: December 1781
Fate: 1793 captured by the Royal Navy
Great Britain
Name: Oiseau
Acquired: 19 June 1793 by capture
Fate: Broken up 1816
General characteristics
Class and type: Vénus-class frigate
Displacement: 1,082 tons (French)
Tons burthen: 9131694 (bm)
  • Overall:145 ft 7 34 in (44.393 m)
  • Keel: 120 ft 8 78 in (36.801 m)
Beam: 37 ft 8 12 in (11.494 m)
Depth of hold: 11 ft 11 34 in (3.651 m)
Complement: 254 (British service)
  • French service:
  • Originally: 18 × 12-pounder + 14 × 6-pounder long guns
  • May 1783-1793:18 x 18-pounder guns vice 12-pounders (Loaded at Trincomalee)
  • 1793:26 x12-pounder guns + 10 x 6-pounder guns
  • British service:
  • Upper deck:26 × 12-pounder guns
  • QD:8 × 24-pounder carronades
  • Fc:2 × 6-pounder guns + 2 × 24-pounder carronades
Armour: Timber

French career and captureEdit

Cléopâtre took part in the taking of Cuddalore in 1782.

On 19 June 1793, as she sailed off Guernsey under Lieutenant de vaisseau Mullon, she encountered HMS Nymphe, under Captain Edward Pellew. During the short but sharp action, Cléopâtre lost her mizzenmast and wheel, and the ship, being unmanageable, fell foul of Nymphe. The British then boarded and captured her in a fierce rush. Mullon, mortally wounded, died while trying to swallow his commission, which, in his dying agony, he had mistaken for the vessel's secret signals. Pellew then sent the signals to the Admiralty.

In the battle Nymphe had 23 men killed and 27 wounded. Pellew estimated the number of French casualties at about 60.[1]

Cléopâtre was the first French frigate taken in the war. In 1847 the Admiralty awarded the Naval General Service Medal with clasp "Nymphe 18 June 1793" to the four surviving claimants from the action.[2]

British careerEdit

The Royal Navy commissioned Cléopâtre as HMS Oiseau in September 1793 under Captain Robert Murray.[3] On 18 May 1794 he sailed her from Plymouth to Halifax in a squadron commanded by Rear-Admiral George Murray. Between 1793 and 1795, the Russian naval officer Yuri Lisyanski sailed aboard Oiseaux as a volunteer. Between 1803 and 1806 he would captain the Russian-American Company's sloop Neva on the first Russian circumnavigation of the world.

In June 1794 Oiseau and Argonaut seized fourteen French vessels of a convoy of 25, all loaded with flour, naval stores, beef, and pork. The vessels were American-owned and had sailed from Hampton Roads with two sets of papers, one set showing the cargo going to England and the other giving their destination as France. The British sent the vessels into Halifax.[4]

In July, Argonaut, Oiseau, Thetis, and Resolution captured Potowmac and True Republican.[5]

On 8 January 1795, Argonaut captured the French Republican warship Esperance on the North America Station.[6] Esperance was armed with 22 guns (4 and 6-pounders), and had a crew of 130 men. She was under the command of lieutenant de vaisseau de St. Laurent and had been out 56 days from Rochfort, bound for the Chesapeake. Argonaut shared the prize money with Oiseaux.[7] Because she was captured in good order and sailed well, Rear Admiral Murray put a British crew aboard and sent Esperance out on patrol with Lyn on 31 January.[6]

In 1798, Oiseau served in the Indian Ocean, where she captured the French Réunion on 1 September. On 21 April 1799 her boats went into Saint Denis on the Íle de Bourbon and cut out two merchant vessels, Denree, which had a cargo of bale goods and coffee, and Augustine, which had a cargo of rum and arrack. Augustine was lost in St. Augustine's Bay.

On Monday, 26 January 1801, at 8.00 a.m., at 45°N 12°W / 45°N 12°W / 45; -12, Oiseux, under Captain Samuel Hood Linzee fell in with and chased Dédaigneuse, which was bound from Cayenne to Rochefort with despatches. By noon the following day, with Cape Finisterre in sight, Captain Linzee signaled to Sirius and Amethyst, which were in sight, to join the pursuit. Dédaigneuse maintained her lead until 2.00 a.m. on the 28th when came within small arms range. Dédaigneuse opened fire from her stern-chasers, and the two British ships returned fire. After a running fight of 45 minutes, two miles off shore near Cape Bellem, fire primarily from Sirius had cut Dédaigneuse's running rigging and sails ). She had also suffered casualties with several men having been killed,and 17 wounded, including her Captain and fifth Lieutenant. She then struck her colours. Unfavourable winds kept Amethyst, from getting up before Dédaigneuse had struck. Sirius was the only British ship to sustain any damage (rigging, sails, main-yard and bowsprit) in the encounter and there were no fatalities on the English side. Captain Linzee declared the encounter a long and anxious chase of 42 hours and acknowledged a gallant resistance on the part of Dédaigneuse. At the time of the encounter she was armed with twenty-eight 12-pounder guns. Linzee described her as "a perfect new Frigate, Copper fastened and sails well...". He sent her into Plymouth with a prize crew under the command of his first lieutenant, H. Lloyd.[8] The Admiralty took Dédaigneuse into the Royal Navy under the same name HMS Dedaigneuse.

On 28 January, along with HMS Sirius, she captured 3 French frigates off Ferrol.

On 16 September 1800, Oiseau, Wolverine and the cutter Fly captured Neptunus when Neptunus was going into Havre de Grace. The next day Wolverene brought Neptunus into Portsmouth, together with her cargo of naval stores that Wight had captured [9][10]


In June 1806 Oiseau was commissioned under Lieutenant Walter Kennedy as a prison hulk at Portsmouth. In 1812 Lieutenant William Needham succeeded Kennedy. She was laid up in December, but then lent to the Transport Board.[3]

In 1814 she was under the command of Lieutenant John Bayby Harrison. She was then put in ordinary in 1815.[3] Oiseau was advertised for sale on 2 September 1816,[11] and sold for breaking up to a Mr. Rundle for £1500 on 18 September.[3]

Citations and referencesEdit


  1. ^ "No. 13539". The London Gazette. 18 June 1793. pp. 517–518.
  2. ^ "No. 20939". The London Gazette. 26 January 1849. p. 238.
  3. ^ a b c d Winfield (2008), p. 204.
  4. ^ Gwyn (2003), pp. 90-1.
  5. ^ "No. 15513". The London Gazette. 7 September 1802. p. 961.
  6. ^ a b "No. 13799". The London Gazette. 25 July 1795. p. 780.
  7. ^ "No. 15086". The London Gazette. 4 December 1798. p. 1173.
  8. ^ "No. 15335". The London Gazette. 7 February 1801. pp. 162–163.
  9. ^ Naval Chronicle, Vol. 4, p.253.
  10. ^ "No. 16692". The London Gazette. 12 January 1813. p. 113.
  11. ^ "No. 17169". The London Gazette. 3 September 1816. pp. 1707–1798.


  • Gwyn, Julian (2003) Frigates and foremasts: the North American Squadron in Nova Scotia waters, 1745-1815. (UBC Press). ISBN 978-0-7748-0910-8
  • Winfield, Rif (2008). British Warships in the Age of Sail 1793–1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth. ISBN 978-1-86176-246-7.

External linksEdit