HMS Phoebe (1795)

Phoebe captures the 36-gun frigate Néréide on 20 December, 1797. Painting by Thomas Whitcombe, after an engraving by Thomas Sutherland. Original in the collections of the Royal Museums, Greenwich.

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Ship Type
Laid Down

HMS Phoebe was one of the most successful frigates of the Royal Navy. Launched 24 September, 1795, she was a 36-gun frigate, and lead ship of her class. Phoebe was in action almost immediately, capturing the 16-gun Atalante off Scilly on 10 January, 1797. She actually had a fight on 22 December, capturing the 36-gun Néréide in an eleven-hour fight. Phoebe picked up the French privateer Grand Ferrailleur in 1799, and the privateers Bellegarde and Heureux in 1800. Heureux mistook Phoebe as an East Indiaman, and made the first attack, which was described as an "Act of Temerity to be regretted". Phoebe forced her to surrender with a single broadside. She captured the frigate Africaine in 1801, but had less success after transferring to the Mediterranean, only taking six smaller ships in three years, two of which were assisted. Phoebe was instrumental in keeping Admiral Nelson informed of the movements of the French Fleet in 1804 and 1805, and was his main signal relay ship during the Battle of Trafalgar, though she did not participate in the action herself. Her successes slowed down after Trafalgar, as she was shifted between the North Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Baltic. She participated in the capture of Île de France in December, 1810, and shrugged off two major hurricanes the following March. Phoebe was back in service by May, when she forced another Néréide to surrender in the Battle of Tamatave. She followed this up with service in the Java campaign, where she specialized in taking forts and ports without firing a shot. Phoebe arrived home in January, 1812, and after a brief rest was sent to Canada with a convoy. After returning, Phoebe underwent a refit, before she was turned loose on the Americans. She captured three more privateers in late December, before being sent to the Pacific in July to hunt down and capture the USS Essex "at all costs". Phoebe was assisted by the sloop HMS Cherub, and they finally cornered Essex 28 March, 1814, along with her consort sloop, USS Essex Junior. Both Americans were captured, and Phoebe returned to England in company with Essex. Phoebe was getting on in miles and years, and was paid off after she arrived in England. She was a receiving ship from 1823-26, and was then hulked, not being broken up until 1841.