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HMS Pearl was a 32-gun fifth-rate frigate of the Niger-class in the Royal Navy. Launched at Chatham Dockyard in 1762, she served in British North America until January 1773, when she sailed to England for repairs. Returning to North America in March 1776, to fight in the American Revolutionary War, Pearl escorted the transports which landed troops in Kip's Bay that September. Towards the end of 1777, she joined Richard Howe's fleet in Narragansett Bay and was still there when the French fleet arrived and began an attack on British positions. Both fleets were forced to retire due to bad weather and the action was inconclusive. Pearl was then dispatched to keep an eye on the French fleet, which had been driven into Boston.

HMS Pearl and Santa Monica Azores, 1779.jpg
HMS Pearl battles the Santa Monica off the Azores in 1779
Royal Navy EnsignGreat Britain
Name: HMS Pearl
Ordered: 24 March 1761
Cost: £16,573.5.4d
Laid down: 6 May 1761
Launched: 27 March 1762
Completed: 14 May 1762
Commissioned: April 1762
Fate: Sold 1832
General characteristics [1]
Class and type: Niger-class fifth-rate frigate
Tons burthen: 683 1694 (bm)
  • 125 feet 0 12 inch (38.1 m) (gundeck)
  • 103 feet 4 38 inches (31.5 m) (keel)
Beam: 35 feet 3 inches (10.7 m)
Depth of hold: 12 feet 0 inches (3.7 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Fully Rigged Ship
Complement: 220
  • Gundeck: 26 × 12-pounder guns
  • QD: 4 × 6-pounder guns
  • Fc: 2 × 6-pounder guns

Pearl was present when the British captured the island of St Lucia in December 1778 and was chosen to carry news of the victory to England, capturing the 28-gun frigate Santa Monica off the Azores on her return journey. Pearl joined Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot's squadron in July 1780, capturing the 28-gun frigate Esperance while stationed off Bermuda in September and, in the following March, took part in the first battle of Virginia Capes, where she had responsibility for relaying signals. At the end of the war in 1782, Pearl returned to England where she underwent extensive repairs and did not serve again until 1786, when she was recommissioned for the Mediterranean.

Taken out of service in 1792, Pearl was recalled in February 1793, when hostilities resumed between Britain and France. On her return to America, she narrowly escaped capture by a French squadron anchored between the Îles de Los and put into Sierra Leone for repairs following the engagement. In 1799, Pearl joined George Elphinstone's fleet in the Mediterranean where she took part in the Battle of Alexandria in 1801. In 1802, she sailed to Portsmouth where she served as a slop ship and a receiving ship before being sold in 1832.

Construction and armamentEdit

Pearl was a 32-gun, Niger-class frigate built to Thomas Slade's design and ordered on 24 March 1761.[1] Her keel was laid down at Chatham Dockyard on 6 April.[2]

When launched on 27 March 1762, Pearl was 125 feet 0 12 inch (38.1 m) along the gun deck, 103 feet 4 38 inches (31.5 m) at the keel, had a beam of 35 feet 3 inches (10.7 m) and a depth in the hold of 12 feet 0 inches (3.7 m).[2] She was 683 1694 tons burthen and by the time she had been completed, on 14 May 1762, she had cost The Admiralty £16,573.5.4d.[2]

Niger-class frigates were fifth-rates, carrying a main battery of twenty-six 12-pounder (5.4 kg) guns on the upper deck, four 6-pounder (2.7 kg) guns on the quarterdeck and two on the forecastle. When fully manned, they carried a complement of 220.[3]


Pearl was first commissioned in April 1762, under Captain Joseph Deane, who took her to The Downs, to be fitted-out. In March 1763 she was recommissioned under Captain Charles Saxton and on 22 May 1764, she left for Newfoundland in British North America.[2] Pearl served there under captains Patrick Drummond and, subsequently, John Elphinston, until she paid off in December 1768.[4] She was recommissioned the following month under John Leveson-Gower, who was superseded by Captain Sir Basil Keith in November.[5]

Between April 1770 and January 1773, Pearl spent time on and off the Newfoundland station, first under John Ruthven then James Bremer. She then sailed for Portsmouth where she underwent repairs, then a refit, at a total cost of £9,008.15.11d. The combined works took until February 1776.[5]

American Revolutionary WarEdit

Troops escorted by Pearl, land at Kip's Bay in September 1776

John O'Hara assumed command in November 1775 but was succeeded by Thomas Wilkinson in March 1776; he returned Pearl to North America in April to fight the revolution.[5] She was present during the landings at Kip's Bay in September, having escorted troop ships along the Hudson River.[6] On 20 December, she captured the 16-gun sloop USS Lexington. John Elphinston was back in command towards the end of the year[5] and from January to May 1777. Pearl made more than a dozen captures, including Batchelor on 21 March (which was suspected of piracy on account of its armament) and a whaleboat from Lewes on 29 May that was thought to be spying.[7][8] In July 1777, boats from Pearl and Camilla captured and burnt the Continental schooner Mosquito in a cutting out expedition.[5]

Another change in command followed in December 1777 when Captain John Linzee took over.[5] Pearl then joined Richard Howe's fleet in Narragansett Bay. On 20 April 1778, Pearl captured a sloop, then forced the surrender of a schooner and a brig, again while in the company of Camilla. She took two schooners while stationed off Sandy Hook on 8 July 1778, as well as a sloop while cruising with the 44-gun HMS Roebuck, and a third schooner and a brig while in the company of Roebuck and 14-gun HMS Falcon.[9] Five days later, she captured a large poleacre[10] and the 26-gun frigate Industry on 25 July.[5] Pearl was present in August during an engagement with a French fleet under Comte d'Estaing.[11] On 29 July, d'Estaing entered Narragansett Bay and attacked British positions on Conanicut and Goat Island the following day.[12] On 8 August, 4,000 French soldiers and sailors were landed to reinforce the 10,000 American troops who had just crossed from the mainland to lay siege to the British garrison on Rhode Island.[13]

Howe's fleet arrived off Point Judith on 9 August. D'Estaing had superior numbers and guns, so sailed out the next morning, fearing that the British might soon be reinforced.[14] A violent gale scattered the fleets and ended several days of manoeuvring, in which both commanders sought the weather gage.[15] When the British were eventually reunited, it was evident that repairs were required and they sailed for New York City on 15 August. The French fleet fared even worse and was forced to retire to Boston.[16] Howe left for England in September 1778, and Pearl joined a squadron under Rear-Admiral John Byron, watching the French fleet in Boston.[17][18]

D'Estaing's fleet of 15 ships of the line left Boston on 3 November 1778 two days after Byron's squadron had been blown off station and driven into Newport by more bad weather.[17][18] Pearl was despatched to carry news of the escape to Admiral Samuel Barrington; Byron was to follow two to three days later if he was unable to locate the French. Not knowing Barrington's precise whereabouts, Pearl at first sailed to Antigua, arriving on 4 December, before immediately heading for Barbados.[18] En route, she stopped a Dutch vessel which had encountered a French warship out of Boston on the previous night. From the information received, Linzee deduced that d'Estaing's fleet was somewhere near Barbados and arrived there himself on 13 December.[18]

D'Estaing's fleet attacks Barrington's at St Lucia

In the meantime, William Hotham had left New York on 4 December with a convoy of 5,000 troops, escorted by a small squadron comprising two 64-gun and three 50-gun ships of the line, a bomb vessel, and three frigates.[17] The British force arrived at Barbados on 10 December where it joined with Barrington's two ships of the line and set off to capture the island of St Lucia. Arriving on 13 December, the British convoy landed troops on the west side of the island who quickly captured the batteries covering the bay.[19] With the support of these batteries, Barrington's much smaller fleet was twice able to repulse d'Estaing when he arrived the following day, although the French were able to land 7,000 troops of their own. But the British had command of the high ground and the French were beaten off.[20] The French troops were re-embarked, and when d'Estaing's fleet left on 29 December, the island surrendered.[21]

News of the capture of St Lucia was carried back to England in Pearl. She left Antigua on 16 February 1779 in the company of HMS Sultan with despatches from both Byron and Barrington, and arrived at Spithead on 22 March.[22] She was then paid off, sheathed in copper, and refitted at Plymouth.[5] She served for a short while in the Channel before returning to the North American Station under Captain George Montagu.[5]

Pearl engages the Santa Monica in the Action of 14 September 1779

On 14 September 1779, Pearl engaged the 28-gun Santa Monica off the Azores. Pearl left Fayal on 13 September where she had spent two days resupplying. At 6:00 the following morning, the Spanish frigate was spotted to the north-west and was brought to action after a 3½-hour chase. The Santa Monica surrendered after a two-hour engagement, having 38 men killed and 45 wounded. Pearl had 12 killed and 19 wounded.[23] The Santa Monica was a larger frigate than Pearl, at 956 tons burden, but not as well armed; she was rerated as a 36-gun when taken into British service.[24]

Pearl took part in an attack on a convoy from Caracas on 8 January 1780[5] comprising 22 ships, including seven Spanish men of war, and the entire convoy was taken. A proportion of the captured ships were carrying naval supplies and these were despatched to England with Pearl and HMS America as escorts, while the remainder were sent to Gibraltar.[25] Pearl later returned to North America, arriving from Halifax, Nova Scotia with HMS Robust. She joined Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot's squadron off Sandy Hook on 3 July 1780, where preparations were being made to repel an expected attack by the French fleet.[26]

Arbuthnot set sail on 13 July, after learning from two of his frigates that the French fleet was at sea; he heard that they had put into Narragansett Bay on 17 July. Arbuthnot's squadron arrived on 22 July to find the French encamped on Rose Island and the fleet strung out between there and Conanicut. Arbuthnot sent orders for transports from New York, in case the British Army thought an attack on the island necessary, then anchored his squadron off Block Island.[26] After re-provisioning on 6 August, the British squadron stationed itself off Newport, then retired to Gardiner's Island on 9 August, leaving on 17 August for an eight-day cruise between the Nantucket Shoals and the east end of Long Island, returning to lie off Martha's Vineyard.[26]

Pearl engages Esperance in an action on 30 September 1780

Pearl fell in with the 28-gun French frigate Esperance off Bermuda on 30 September 1780, on her way to Bordeaux from Cape Francais. After a two-hour fight, Esperance broke off but Pearl pursued her and the two engaged in a running battle for a further two and a half hours, after which the Frenchman was forced to strike. She had 20 men killed and 24 wounded; Pearl had 6 men killed and 10 wounded.[27]

Battle of Virginia CapesEdit

In January 1781, Arbuthnot had a French squadron blockaded in Newport. On 23 January, his ships were caught in a squall off the east end of Long Island which resulted in the loss of HMS Culloden and the dismasting of HMS Bedford. America was blown out to sea but turned up two weeks later undamaged.[28] Pearl escaped serious damage and was able to capture a French snow on 29 January.[29] The French, however, now had a numerical advantage; they broke out on 8 February and captured the British frigate Romulus.[28] The British brought Bedford back into service by salvaging the masts from the wreck of the Culloden and set sail to look for the French on 9 March.[30] The two forces discovered each other at 06:00 on 16 March in a thick fog some 40 miles off Cape Henry.[31] The British caught up by 13:00 and found themselves to windward of the French after some manoeuvring, where the increasingly strong winds and high seas prevented them from opening their lower gunports. The French held the lee and leaned away from their opponents; they were not so disadvantaged and could bring more and larger guns to bear. The fleets engaged by 14:30 with the heaviest action upon the leading three ships of the British vanguard.[32] The three ships were so badly damaged that the British were unable to pursue when the French broke off and turned towards Newport, so they put into Chesapeake Bay. The British casualties were 30 killed, 73 wounded, while the French had 72 killed and 112 wounded.[33] Pearl was too small to be in the line of battle and had stood off with the other frigates, incurring no loss or damage. She had responsibility for relaying signals during the battle.[34]

Arbuthnot's ships were seaworthy by 24 March and he set sail for Delaware, where he assumed that the French fleet had gone, but contrary winds forced him to return. Two days later, Pearl was sent out with Iris to search for the French but again was unable to locate them.[33][34]

Pearl captured the French privateer Singe on 10 July 1781 and the 8-gun American Senegal on 19 August. After the war, in July 1782, Pearl paid off and returned to England for substantial repairs. The cost of repairs amounted to £19,267.13.8d and took until June 1784, after which she was laid up at Deptford.[5][Note 1]

Mediterranean service and the outbreak of warEdit

Pearl was refitted between July and December 1786 and sailed to the Mediterranean on 22 March the following year.[5] She returned home in 1789 but was recommissioned under Captain George Courtnay and rejoined the Mediterranean fleet in May 1790. Sometime in 1792, Pearl was taken out of service but was recalled the following year after France again declared war on Britain, in February. She was fitted out at Plymouth between June and August at a cost of £7,615, before sailing to the Irish Station under Captain Michael de Courcy where she served until November 1795. Following a small repair at Plymouth, costing £9,686, Captain Samuel James Ballard took command in February 1796.[5]

While cruising in the company of the 36-gun HMS Flora, on 16 April 1797, Pearl helped capture the 24-gun privateer, Incroyable. In March 1798, she sailed for the Leeward Islands via West Africa where on 24 April, she escaped from two French frigates.[5] While passing through the Îles de Los, an archipelago off the coast of Guinea, Pearl discovered an enemy squadron comprising 4 large ships at anchor and a brig under sail. As she approached one of the French frigates hoisted her colours and opened fire. Forced to run between two frigates, Pearl engaged both as she passed then hove to, continuing to fire for a further hour before making off with one, or possibly both frigates in pursuit.[35][36] The chase continued through the night and all through the following day before Pearl managed to escape, and arrived at Sierra Leone on 27 April, where she was inspected for damage. She had been holed in several places, although all were above the waterline; her foretopgallant yard and fore yard had been shot away and a number of lower shrouds and other rigging had been cut through. In addition two of her carronades had been dismounted, causing the death of one man.[35][Note 2]

While off the coast of Antigua, on 14 October, Pearl captured the 10-gun privateer, Scocvola and in December, the 12-gun privateer Independence. Pearl sailed for the Mediterranean on 22 October 1799 where, on 13 January the following year, she captured a Spanish brig bound for Genoa.[5][37] On 9 February near Narbonne, she drove ashore and destroyed, a large Genoese polacca of 14 guns.[38] On 28 April, Pearl took the Genoese brig Vertue and a settee Cofianza, both out of Marseilles. More prizes from Marseilles came on 2 and 3 May when Pearl captured two Genoese settees.[39] A Ragusan brig also out of Marseilles was captured by Pearl and HMS Hindostan on 20 May.[40]

On 5 June, Pearl took and burned a French settee, captured a Ragusan ship on 11 June, and on 24 June, she took two Spanish setees and a xebec from Alicante.[41] Two Ragusan slavers were captured by Pearl on 10 July.[42] The crew of Pearl took part in a cutting out expedition, on 20 July, which resulted in the capture of two xebecs and six settees. Shortly after the action a storm blew up and three of the prizes had to be scuttled.[43] Pearl captured four more settees on 31 August 1800 and destroyed a further two on 11 October. On the same day, she took a French Ketch on its way to Nice. Two Genoese ships were taken on 14 October and three French setees the following day while a fourth was burned.[44]

Pearl received a share of the prize money for a transport, wrecked off Minorca and salvaged on 20 October with the aid of the 18-gun sloop, Lutine, the 8-gun bomb vessel, Strombolo, and the 6-gun tender, Alexander. On 31 October, Pearl with Lutine, Strombolo, the 20-gun corvette Bonne Citoyenne and the 12-gun polacca, Transfer, took another transport from Port Mahon.[45]


In January 1801, a large expedition of 16,000 troops and more than 100 vessels was assembled in Malta in preparation for an invasion of Egypt. George Elphinstone's fleet, to which Pearl was attached, escorted the force to Aboukir Bay, arriving on 1 February 1801.[46] The Battle of Alexandria was brought to a successful conclusion when the French surrendered on 2 September, following a long siege.[47] In 1850, a medal with the clasp "Egypt" was retrospectively awarded to the surviving members of Pearl's crew, for their part in the campaign.[46][48]

Pearl, while cruising with the 32-gun HMS Santa Theresa on 28 February, took a Genoese merchant ship on its way home, laden with goods from Marseilles. The two British frigates later managed to save some cargo from a sinking Genoese tartan and scuttled a French tartan. Both ships were out of Marseilles.[49] On 20 March, a French ship bound for Alexandria was intercepted and captured by Pearl, Santa Teresa and HMS Minerve.[49] With the 16-gun sloop Peterel and 14-gun brig Victorieuese, Pearl seized a Genoese ship carrying arms to Alexandria on 29 April. The three British ships took a French aviso, also going to Alexandria, on the same day.[50] On 1 July, Pearl took a small privateer.[5]

Siege of Porto FerrajoEdit

Pearl was in John Borlase Warren's squadron when it was called upon to relieve the British garrison at Porto Ferrajo; under siege since the beginning of May 1801.[51] The arrival of the British ships on 1 August, caused the two French frigates blockading the port to retreat to Leghorn.[52] The two frigates were later brought to action on 2 September. Pomone, Phoenix and Minerve recaptured Succès and destroyed Bravoure after she had run aground.[Note 3][54]

The next day at 14:30, Phoenix, Pomone, Pearl were cruising off the west side of the island of Elba, when they spotted the 40-gun Carrère, on her passage from Porto-Ercole to Porto-Longone with a convoy of small vessels. Pomone was the only frigate close enough to engage and Carrère struck to her after a 10-minute action. The convoy however managed to escape.[52]

Comprising Pearl and Pomone, frigates, Renown, Gibraltar, Dragon, Alexander, Généreux, Stately, of the line, and brig-sloop Vincejo; Warren’s squadron supplied nearly 700 seamen and marines for an attack on the French batteries investing the town. The action took place on 14 September but was only partially successful, and eight days later the British ships left Elba. Porto Ferrajo remained in British hands until the end of the war however.[55]


After the Treaty of Amiens, Pearl remained in the Mediterranean under Ballard until May 1802 when she returned to England and was laid up in ordinary at Portsmouth.[56] In April 1804, she was fitted out as a slop ship.[Note 4] In 1812, she was laid up in ordinary once more, then fitted as a receiving ship in April 1814. Renamed Protheé in March 1825 she was eventually sold in 1832 for £1,230.0.00d.[5]


  1. ^ Winfield's book gives the year of these repairs as 1884 but this is clearly an error, as 1786 appears next in the timeline and Pearl was sold in 1825.
  2. ^ William James claims the ship that chased Pearl was the 36-gun Régénérée, while Onésime-Joachim Troude, in his third volume of "Batailles navales de la France" (p.130), states the 40-gun Vertu was the ship in pursuit. Clowes on p.510 of his book says that both the frigates chased Pearl.
  3. ^ Succès was previously HMS Success, captured off Gibraltar by Ganteaume's force on 9 February 1801.[53]
  4. ^ A slop ship was a vessel where sailors clothing (slops) were stored and distributed.[57]


  1. ^ a b Winfield pp.193–195
  2. ^ a b c d Winfield p.195
  3. ^ Winfield p.193
  4. ^ Winfield pp.195–196
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Winfield p.196
  6. ^ McCullough, David (2005). 1776. Simon & Schuster. p. 204. ISBN 0-7432-2671-2.
  7. ^ "No. 11786". The London Gazette. 8 July 1777. pp. 2–3.
  8. ^ "No. 12222". The London Gazette. 4 September 1781. p. 2.
  9. ^ "No. 11951". The London Gazette. 6 February 1779. pp. 3–4.
  10. ^ "No. 12227". The London Gazette. 22 September 1781. p. 1.
  11. ^ Clowes (Vol.III) p.406
  12. ^ Clowes (Vol.III) pp.402–403
  13. ^ Clowes (Vol.III) p.403
  14. ^ Clowes (Vol.III) p.405
  15. ^ Clowes (Vol.III) pp.405–408
  16. ^ Clowes (Vol.III) pp.408–409
  17. ^ a b c Clowes (Vol.III) p.428
  18. ^ a b c d "No. 11955". The London Gazette. 20 February 1799. pp. 1–2.
  19. ^ Clowes (Vol.III) p.429
  20. ^ Clowes (Vol.III) pp.431–432
  21. ^ Clowes (Vol.III) p.432
  22. ^ "No. 11963". The London Gazette. 20 March 1779. p. 1.
  23. ^ "No. 12018". The London Gazette. 11 July 1758. p. 1.
  24. ^ Clowes (Vol.IV) p.33
  25. ^ "No. 12056". The London Gazette. 8 February 1780. p. 1.
  26. ^ a b c "No. 12122". The London Gazette. 26 September 1780. p. 4.
  27. ^ "No. 12135". The London Gazette. 11 November 1780. pp. 1–2.
  28. ^ a b "No. 12181". The London Gazette. 21 April 1781. p. 1.
  29. ^ "No. 12243". The London Gazette. 17 November 1781. p. 2.
  30. ^ "No. 12181". The London Gazette. 21 April 1781. p. 2.
  31. ^ Mahan p.171
  32. ^ Mahan pp.171–172
  33. ^ a b Mahan p.173
  34. ^ a b "No. 12181". The London Gazette. 21 April 1781. p. 3.
  35. ^ a b James (Vol.II) p.219
  36. ^ Clowes (Vol.IV) p.510
  37. ^ "No. 15255". The London Gazette. 6 May 1800. p. 442.
  38. ^ "No. 15242". The London Gazette. 25 March 1800. p. 297.
  39. ^ "No. 15278". The London Gazette. 22 July 1800. p. 843.
  40. ^ "No. 15278". The London Gazette. 22 July 1800. p. 844.
  41. ^ "No. 15301". The London Gazette. 11 October 1800. p. 1169.
  42. ^ "No. 15301". The London Gazette. 11 October 1800. p. 1170.
  43. ^ "No. 15294". The London Gazette. 16 September 1800. p. 1062.
  44. ^ "No. 15358". The London Gazette. 25 April 1801. p. 446.
  45. ^ "No. 16017". The London Gazette. 7 April 1807. p. 441.
  46. ^ a b Long p.112
  47. ^ Long p.113
  48. ^ "No. 21077". The London Gazette. 15 March 1850. pp. 791–792.
  49. ^ a b "No. 15428". The London Gazette. 17 November 1801. p. 1385.
  50. ^ "No. 15428". The London Gazette. 17 November 1801. p. 1386.
  51. ^ James (Vol.III) p.95
  52. ^ a b James (Vol.III) p.96
  53. ^ James (Vol.III) p.97
  54. ^ James (Vol.III) pp.96–97
  55. ^ James (Vol.III) p.98
  56. ^ The Naval Chronicle, Containing a General and Biographical History of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, with a Variety of Original Papers on Nautical Subjects. XI. London: J. Gold. 1804. p. 510.
  57. ^ James, Charles (1810). A New and Enlarged Military Dictionary: In French and English; in which are Explained the Principal Terms ... of All the Sciences that are ... Necessary for an Officer and Engineer. II. London: T. Egerton.


  • Clowes, William Laird (1996) [1900]. The Royal Navy, A History from the Earliest Times to 1900, Volume III. London: Chatham Publishing. ISBN 1-86176-012-4.
  • Clowes, William Laird (1997) [1900]. The Royal Navy, A History from the Earliest Times to 1900, Volume IV. London: Chatham Publishing. ISBN 1-86176-013-2.
  • James, William (2002) [1827]. The Naval History of Great Britain, Volume II, 1797–1799. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-906-9.
  • James, William (2002) [1827]. The Naval History of Great Britain, Volume III, 1800–1805. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-907-7. 0811700232
  • Long, W. H. (2010). Medals of the British Navy and how they were won. United Kingdom: Lancer Publishers. ISBN 978-1-935501-27-5.
  • Mahan, A. T. (2013) [1913]. The Major Operations of the Navies During the War of American Independence. London: Sampson Low, Marston and Co. ISBN 9781481236942.
  • Winfield, Rif (2007). British Warships in the Age of Sail 1714–1792: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84415-700-6.