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Robert (1793 ship)

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Robert (1793 ship)

French Navy EnsignFrance
Name: Robert
Builder: Nantes
Launched: 1793
Captured: 13 June 1793
Royal Navy EnsignUK
Name: HMS Espion
Acquired: 13 June 1793 by capture
Captured: 22 July 1794
French Navy EnsignFrance
Name: Espion
Acquired: 22 July 1794 by capture
Captured: 4 March 1795
Royal Navy EnsignUK
Name: HMS Spy
Acquired: 4 March 1795 by capture
Captured: Sold 7 September 1801
United Kingdom
Name: Spy
Acquired: 1801 by purchase
General characteristics [1][2]
Displacement: 400 tons (French)
Tons burthen: 2758394,[1] 300,[3] 298[4] (bm)
  • 86 feet 5 12 inches (26.4 m) (overall);
  • 69 feet 6 38 inches (21.2 m) (keel)
Beam: 27 feet 3 34 inches (8.3 m)
Depth of hold: 13 feet 0 inches (4.0 m)
Propulsion: Sail
  • Robert: 170
  • HMS Espion: 120[1]
  • Espion: 135-146,[2] but 140 at capture
  • HMS Spy: 120
  • 1803: 45[4]
  • 1805: 107[4]
  • Robert: 16 guns + 8 × swivel guns
  • HMS Espion: 16 × 16-pounder guns
  • Espion:18 × 6-pounder guns
  • HMS Spy:16 ×6-pounder guns
  • 1803: 24 × 12 & 4-pounder guns[4]
  • 1805: 8 × 4-pounder guns + 18 × 18-pounder carronades + 2 × swivel guns[4]
Armour: Timber

Robert was the 16-gun French privateer sloop launched in 1793 at Nantes. The British captured her in 1793 and named her HMS Espion. The French recaptured her in 1794 and took her into service as Espion.[5] The British recaptured her in 1795.[6] but there being another Espion in service by then, the British renamed their capture HMS Spy. She she served under that name until the Navy sold her in 1801. She then became a slave ship, whaling ship, privateer, and again a whaler, serving in the South Seas whale fisheries until at least 1813.[7]


  • Robert 1
  • HMS Espion 2
  • Espion 3
  • HMS Spy 4
  • Mercantile service 5
  • Citations and references 6


The frigate HMS Syren , Captain John Manley, captured the French privateer Robert on 13 June 1793 in the Bay of Biscay after a chase of 28 hours.[8] One report gave Robert 22 guns and a complement of 200 men, but all other reports trimmed this to 16 carriage and eight swivel guns, and 170 men.[9][10] Robert had been out three days from Bordeaux, but on this voyage had captured nothing. On an earlier cruise, Robert had recaptured a French East Indiaman that HMS Thetis had captured.[8]

HMS Espion

The Royal Navy commissioned Espion in March 1794 under the command of Commander William Hugh Kittoe, for the Channel. On 22 July 1794 Tamise and two other French frigates captured Espion south of the Isles of Scilly.[1] Kittoe was so outnumbered and outgunned that he struck without resistance.[11] The French Navy took her into service as the corvette Espion.


On 23 August 1794, HMS Flora, Captain John Borlase Warren, and HMS Arethusa, Captain Sir Edward Pellew, chased two French corvettes, Alerte and Espion into Audierne Bay. The two corvettes anchored off the Gamelle Rocks, but when they saw that the British intended to capture them, their captains got under weigh and ran their vessels aground below the guns of three shore batteries. The corvettes continued to exchange fire with the two British frigates until early evening, when the corvettes' masts fell. At that point many of the French crewmen abandoned their vessels and went ashore. Warren sent in the boats from both Flora and Arethusa, all under Pellew's command, with orders to set fire or otherwise destroy the two corvettes. Pellew went in and took possession of both, but determined that he could not extract the wounded. Pellew therefore left the vessels, which he determined were bilged and scuttled, with rocks having pierced their bottoms, and left with 52 prisoners. Pellew estimated that Alerte had suffered 20 to 30 men killed and wounded, and that Espion had lost more.[12]

Alerte was a total loss,[13] but the French Navy was able to refloat Espion, which had been under the command of lieutenant de vaisseau Magendie.[14][15][Note 1] She then spent time in the Brest roadstead before cruising in the Atlantic and returning to Brest.[16]

On 4 March 1795, the British frigate Lord Garlies, who was sick on shore, commanded Lively.[18]

Nine days later, Lively captured the French corvette Tourterelle, and two vessels that Tourterelle had been escorting, which had been prizes to Espion.[18]


As the Royal Navy by this time had another HMS Espion, the Navy took Espion into service on 20 May 1795 and renamed her Spy. She then was at Portsmouth fitting out until to November. She was recommissioned under J. Walton. In January 1796 Commander James Young assumed command for The Downs station. A year later Commander William Grosvenor replaced Young, and remained in command until December 1799.[2] In August 1797 Spy recaptured four vessels.[19] She appears to have spent her time escorting convoys in the Channel. For instance, on 5 March 1799 Spy passed Plymouth, escorting a convoy of coasters westward.[20]

Commander Charles Hay replaced Grosvenor.[2] On 14 August 1800, Spy left Plymouth with the London trader George and Francis, Hoskins, master, under convoy for London.[21]

The Principal Officers and Commissioners of His Majesty's Navy offered the "Spy 275 tons burthen" for sale at Plymouth on 7 September 1801.[22] She sold that day for £710.[2]

Mercantile service

The supplement to Lloyd's Register for 1802 shows Spy, with Vaughn, master, and "Swansea", as owner, having undergone a refit in 1802. Her trade was London-Africa. A database of slave voyages from London shows Spy, Robert Vaughn, master, and James Swanzy, owner, made one voyage in 1803 carrying slaves from the Gold Coast to British Guiana.[23]

The entry in Lloyd's Register for 1802 carried over to 1803, but an addendum to the entry in the 1803 Lloyd's Register noted that Spy had a new master, Clarke, and new owner, Hurry & Co. Her trade became the South Seas fisheries. Captain Welham Clarke received a letter of marque for Spy on 26 July 1803.[4] Spy sailed for the fisheries in September. she was at Rio de Janeiro in July 1804, and returned to London in October.[7]

Captain Edward Dyer received a letter of marque on 14 March 1805.[4] She was supposedly engaged in the fisheries between 1805 and 1807,[7] but the scale of her armament and the size of her crew was more consistent with privateering.

Lloyd's Register continues the entry from the 1803 addendum, including Clarke as master, unchanged until at least 1811. Apparently Spy did engage in whaling between 1810 and 1813.[7]

Citations and references

  1. ^ Quintin (p. 251) gives the name Espoir instead of Espion, apparently in error. A Hasard-class brig Espoir was in commission at the time, but she was not captured on 2–3 March 1795.
  1. ^ a b c d Winfield (2008), pp. 265.
  2. ^ a b c d e Winfield and Roberts (2015), p. 175.
  3. ^ Lloyd's Register (1803).
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Letter of Marque, 1793-1815; p.87.
  5. ^ Hepper (1794), p.77.
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 13757. p. 207. 3 March 1795.
  7. ^ a b c d Clayton (2014), p.226.
  8. ^ a b Britannic magazine; or entertaining repository of heroic adventures. Vol. 1-8, p.96.
  9. ^ , no. 5224 - accessed 1 September 2015.Lloyd's List
  10. ^ Schomberg (1802), p.111.
  11. ^ Hepper (1994), p.77.
  12. ^ The London Gazette: no. 13699. p. 888. 30 August 1794.
  13. ^ Fonds Marine, p. 84.
  14. ^ Roche, vol.1, p. 183
  15. ^ Quintin, p. 251
  16. ^ Fonds Marine, p. 74.
  17. ^ The London Gazette: no. 13757. p. 207. 3 March 1795.
  18. ^ a b James (1837), Vol. 1, pp.282-3.
  19. ^ The London Gazette: no. 14050. p. 951. 30 September 1797.
  20. ^ London Chronicle, 7–9 March 1799, Vol. 85, p. 210.
  21. ^ London Chronicle, 26–28 August 1800, Vol. 87, p. 206.
  22. ^ The London Gazette: no. 15401. p. 1049. 25 August 1801.
  23. ^ London Slave Ship Voyages Database.
  • Clayton, Jane M. (2014) Ships employed in the South Sea Whale Fishery from Britain: 1775-1815: An alphabetical list of ships. (Berforts Group). ISBN 978-1908616524
  • Hepper, David J. (1994). British Warship Losses in the Age of Sail, 1650-1859. Rotherfield: Jean Boudriot.  
  • Quintin, Danielle; Quintin, Bernard (2003). Dictionnaire des capitaines de Vaisseau de Napoléon (in French). S.P.M.  
  • Roche, Jean-Michel (2005). Dictionnaire des bâtiments de la flotte de guerre française de Colbert à nos jours 1. Group Retozel-Maury Millau. (1671-1870)  
  • Schomberg, Isaac (1802) Naval Chronology, Or an Historical Summary of Naval and Maritime Events from the Time of the Romans, to the Treaty of Peace 1802: With an Appendix, Volume 5. (London: T. Egerton).
  • Winfield, Rif (2008). British Warships in the Age of Sail 1793–1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth.  
  • Winfield, Rif & Stephen S Roberts (2015) French Warships in the Age of Sail 1786 - 1861: Design Construction, Careers and Fates. (Seaforth Publishing). ISBN 9781848322042
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