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HMS Centaur and HMS Ramillies

Go to: 'Come Hell and High Water'

THE LOSS OF HMS CENTAUR AND RAMILLIES, 1782 (See: Come Hell and High Water)

Background to the losses:

The Battle of the Saintes took place on 12 April 1782 between a French fleet commanded by the Comte de Grasse and a British fleet under Admiral Rodney in the waters off the Iles des Saintes in the Caribbean. (For an excellent account of that engagement , read “Broadsides: the age of fighting sail 1776-1815 ” by Nathan Miller, published by John Wiley and Sons Inc.)

The result was a comprehensive British victory; the prizes included de Grasse’s mighty 110-gun flagship Ville de Paris.

On 15 August, Admiral Thomas Graves sailed from Jamaica in the 74-gun flagship HMS Ramillies, escorting the French prizes and some 100 merchant ships. The other British warships were HMS Canada (Captain William Cornwallis), and HMS Centaur (Captain John Nicholson Inglefield), both 74 guns, plus the 36-gun 5th Rate HMS Pallas (Captain Christopher Parker) which returned to Jamaica two weeks into the voyage because of leaks. On 16 September a huge storm sprang up which wreaked havoc with the warships and the 100 or so merchant ships also being convoyed. It resulted in the loss of HMS Ramillies and HMS Centaur, of all the French warships and of many of the merchantmen. Only HMS Canada reached England.

A two-part file exists at the National Archives, Ref: ADM1/ 5322. There are no minutes of the two trials, which, under the circumstances, were probably formalities

Captain Sylvarius Moriarty

The court martial of Captain Sylvarius Moriarty commander of HMS Ramillies, for the loss of his ship on 21st Sept 1782 took place on Monday 2nd December 1782 onboard HMS Dunkirk, anchored in the Hamoaze.

President of the court: John Macbride captain of HMS Artois and second officer in command of HM ships and vessels at Plymouth.

James Milligen
Archibald Dickson
Charles Hope
George Keppel
Charles Powell Hamilton
Isaac Vaillant
James Worth
Hon William Waldegrave
Richard Rodney Bligh
Robert Simonton
James Richard Dacres
Alexander Edgar

The verdict of the court was:
Every possible and laudable exertion was made by Captain Moriarty whose conduct through the whole merits the highest encomiums, nor are the officers and people less deserving of it from Captain Moriarty.

Moriarty had written the following letter to the Admiralty, dated 29/11/82. The original is in the file.

The evening of Monday 16th of September gave every indication of a gale of wind. In consequence every preparation was made on board the Ramillies both for the safety of the ship and that the convoy may follow the example. We brought to early the mainsail on the starboard tack, the wind increased and blew strongly from the SE with a very heavy sea. Between 3 and 4 of the morning of the 17th flew about to the NNW and without a lull took us by the lee, blowing a most violent hurricane. The main mast went by the board, the mizzen mast halfway up, the foremast over the starboard bow, the foreyard broke in the slings , the rudder almost tore off from the sternpost , the tiller snapped in two. In this distressed situation I ordered the Lieuts Larcom and Silly to examine the state of the ship below and to continue with the people at the pumps Lieutenant Nash, Turnball the master and myself, under the direction of Admiral Graves, gave orders to an encouraged the people to get clear of the wreck and . The exertions were great and were effected expeditiously. The morning…presents, O God, a most awfull and affecting view, every species of sea distress surrounded us. A ship under our lee, [illegible writing that looks like Miserable Vire] was lying on her side, apparently waterlogged, her ensign was hoisted, they first cut away the mizzen mast and made an effort to wear her, then her mainmast , in attempting the foremast she went down suddenly by the head, the fly of her ensign was the last thing we saw of her. In the interim I was told by the carpenter and Lieuts at the pumps that the Ramillies had six feet water in the hold and that the pumps would not free her., that the water ways worked all the oakum out , and that her beams amidships almost worked out of the clamps. On which I ordered all the buckets to be manned and the whole of the officers to attend in freeing the ship. We set the spritsail on the foremast and a main top gallant sail on the stump of the mizzen mast and bore up before the winds and kept bailing and pumping the whole of the 17th without gaining anything materially on the ship. The officers came to me in a body and said there was an absolute necessity to relieve the ship by throwing the guns overboard. The admiral, observing that the Ramillies was the only protection that remained to the convoy, with reluctance consented to have the forecastle and aftermost quarterdeck guns thrown overboard. We soon got clear of them and of a great quantity of shot and other articles of little consequence . In the course of the night of the 17th, or 18th by the log, all hands were employed bailing and pumping , seven foot water in the hold and blowing very hard from the westward. The officers informed me that the ballast getting into the pumpwell rendered the whole of their pumps useless , in this exigency there was nothing left than bailing. In the morning saw nothing of the Canada the ship that had opened considerably in the night, the officers again made application to me to have the upper deck guns thrown overboard , the admiral again with reluctance to have the foremost and three of the aftermost guns on the main deck with the reminder of the quarterdeck guns except two thrown overboard which was soon effected. The ship opening very much, we nailed tarred canvas and hides all fore and aft from under the cells of the ports on the main deck to the fifth plank from the waterways . This duty Mr Larcom executed with his usual diligence. The same was done on the lower deck, though without my orders. The complaints of the ship were now so alarming that it became necessary to get clear all the upper deck guns, the shot on the upper and lower decks were hove over board with several hevy stores. A leak in the light room of the Grand Magazine almost filled the forward. Eight foot water in the magazine; the exertions were great; every gentleman on the ship took his turn at the whips or handling the buckets. We frapped the ship from the foremast to the mainmast , by close of the day we gained on the ship considerably by the officers accounts by the carpenters very little; this gave the Admiral and me some hopes we would still be able to save her. In the course of the night the ship strained much and gained on us to 7 foot. Still blowing hard with very heavy squalls , the ship in all appearance settling forward . In the morning of the 19th the officers came to me in a body to say the ship complained still more, and its being reported to the admiral he consented to cut away both bowers, which was soon accomplished. All the junk went overboard , one sheet and one small bower cable were cut into junk and thrown over and every heavy store we could lay hold of. All the powder in the magazine forward being damaged was thrown overboard; the cutter and pinnace were stove and got clear of, every person in the ship bailing . The 6th Lieut. got one of the pumps up but to no purpose as the shot locker broke down and some shot and ballast got into the well, As it moderated a little Mr Turnbull, whose knowledge and exertions were conspicuous, with Mr Ravenscraft were getting everything ready for heaving the lower deck guns over board, twenty sail of merchantmen in company . It was resolved to throw everything overboard that could in the least relieve the her. I begged the Admiral to go on board one of the vessels in company and save his life that was valuable to the country, but he obstinately refused it, saying that living a few years longer was of very little consequence and that leaving the ship in the situation she was in would discourage the people . It lulled considerably in the night all hands bailng 6ft fore and aft. In the morning of the 20th cut away the spare and stream anchors, made the signal for all masters of merchant and men which was answered by the majority of them. In the course of the day got clear of the lower deck guns. As the strengths of the ship’s company was quite exhausted I ordered one half of them to the bailing, the other to take a little rest, in hopes as everything we could possibly think of was done for the ship we may be able to swim her to England. To my sorrow she gained and considerably this night, though there was but little wind… at three of the clock of the morning of the 21 the officers, ships company and carpenters came to me saying it was impossible to keep her above water. I informed the admiral of that melanchoely circumstance , who at last came to a determination to t take the people out of her and divide them among the merchant men. Early on the morning of the 21st we made the signal to the merchantmen to take the people agreeable to an arrangement made the previous evening , got out remaining boats and what bread we had on the quarterdeck ready to send with the people. At 9 the admiral left us. 9 feet of water in the hold. . I used every effort to send the people away, dividing the officers who had my particular orders to deliver them to the first man of war or tender they met with. Acquainting the Admiralty with their proceedings. Between three and four of the afternoon got most of the people away. 13 feet of water in the hold. I had the pleasure t observe the punctuality obedience, sobriety and attention of the ship’s company to the last moment. If there was a possibility of saving the ship, the unremitted exertions of the officers would have accomplished it. Mr Nash the 1st lieut , Mr Turnbull the 2nd Mr Larcom, the third, Mr Silly the 4th, Mr Bunbury 5th, Mr Young the 6th, Mr Hinton Acting on board, Mr Chapman the Master, Mr Bullock of the Marines, the warrant officers, mates and midshipmen did everything that possibly could be expected from them. At half past four I left the Ramillies with the 1st and 3rd Lieuts and every individual that remained except Mr Young to whom I gave orders to set fire to her. 14 foot water in the hold She burned very rapidly, the fire reached the after magazine where the filled powder was placed as high as possible by my orders . She blew up and sunk before I reached the Augustus Caeser where Captain Fowler received 52 people and myself with that politeness and humanity that particularly distinguish that gentleman.

Captain John Nicholson Inglefield

The Court Martial of Captain John Nicholson Inglefield, over the loss of the Centaur was held on HMS Warspite 25/2/83.

President of the Court: Commodore William Hotham
John Elphinstone
Thomas Fitzherbert
Hon Wm Cornwallis
Samuel Reeve
John Holloway
John Duckworth
Jonathan Faulknor
Hon Peregrine Bertie
Samuel Marshall
Samuel Wittewrong Claton
Cuthbert Collingwood
Hon James Luttrell.

This also resulted in an acquittal, the verdict of the court being that Inglefield had acquitted himself as a cool, resolute and experienced officer, and was well supported by his officers and ship’s company, their united exertions appearing to have been so great and manly as to highest honour upon the whole and to leave the deepest impression on the minds of this court that more could not possibly have been done to preserve H M ship Centaur.

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