HMS Seraphis 1779

HMS Serapis was a Royal Navy two-decked, Roebuck-class fifth rate. She was built by Daniel Brent at Greenland South Dockyard, Rotherhithe and launched her in 1779. She was armed with 44 guns (twenty 18-pounders, twenty 9-pounders, and four 6-pounders). Serapis was named after the god Serapis in Greek and Egyptian mythology. The Americans captured her during the American Revolutionary War. They transferred her to the French, who commissioned her as a privateer. She was lost off Madagascar in 1781 to a fire.

American Revolutionary War battle
On 23 September 1779, commanded by Captain Richard Pearson, she engaged the American warship USS Bonhomme Richard under the command of Captain John Paul Jones in the North Sea at the Battle of Flamborough Head, England. At the time of this battle, the ship carried 50 guns, having an extra six 6-pounders. The two vessels exchanged heavy fire and Bonhomme Richard lost most of her fire power, but by attaching the two ships together, Jones was able to overcome much of Pearson's advantage of greater firepower (although the Bonhomme Richard was a larger ship with a considerably greater crew). The famous quote, "I have not yet begun to fight!" was Jones's response to Pearson's premature call for Bonhomme Richard to surrender. The battle raged on for three hours as the crew of Bonhomme Richard tenaciously fought Serapis, raking her deck with gunfire. Eventually, Alliance, a frigate in Jones's squadron, began firing at both the attached ships indiscriminately. Bonhomme Richard began to sink, but Captain Pearson, unable to aim his guns at the frigate because he was tied to Jones's ship, surrendered, handing Serapis over to the Americans.

Jones sailed to the neutral United Provinces (the Netherlands), but diplomatic complications arose because the Dutch authorities did not recognize the United States. The Serapis was renamed by Jones after her capture as the USS Serapis. An improvised Serapis flag was secretly entered into the Dutch records to avoid the charges of piracy. Serapis and her consort Countess of Scarborough were later declared as French captures.

Although the two British vessels had lost the battle, they had succeeded perfectly in protecting the very valuable convoy, and both captains were well rewarded.

Loss of Serapis
The French commissioned Serapis as a privateer under a master named Roche who planned to use the ship against the British in the Indian Ocean. However, in July 1781 the ship was lost off the coast of Madagascar when a sailor accidentally dropped a lantern into a tub of brandy. The crew fought the fire for two and one half hours, but the flames eventually burned through the spirit locker walls and reached a powder magazine. The resulting explosion blew the stern off the ship and the vessel sank.

Discovery of the wreck
In November 1999 American nautical archeologists Richard Sweet and Michael Tuttle located the remains of the Serapis.


Post a Comment