Navigating the Lower Saint Lawrence in the 19th Century.
Wreck of
HMS Penelope
at Pointe-à-la-Frégate, 1841
Part one of three.

           Before getting to the wreck of the HMS Penelope at Pointe-à-la-Frégate in May, 1815, I'd like to take a moment to review some of her history as a fighting force. In Michael Phillips' papers from the "Plymouth Maritime History and Naval Heritage", we are furnished with perhaps the best "potted" history currently available on the Penelope:
     Penelope, 36. (1798 Burlesdon. wrecked 1815.) Captain H. Blackwood 11/98; Mediterranean. On 26 January 18OO, he captured the Spanish xebec corvette Carmen off Malaga. She mounted sixteen 4-pounders and four swivels and the crew of 13O men was commanded by Don Estevanno Barcello. Penelope formed part of the squadron under Lord Nelson blockading Malta and watching the Guillaume Tell, 86, the flagship of Rear Admiral Decres, who had escaped from the battle of the Nile and was sheltering in Valetta harbour. The French ship was spotted by Captain Blackwood, who was stationed close in shore, when she ventured out in a strong southerly gale during the dark night of 3O March 18OO.
     He sent Minorca to apprise Captain Dixon in Lion, gave chase and, in less than an hour, was able to repeatedly rake the enemy ship within musket-shot range while receiving only an occasional shot from her stern guns. By the following morning the Frenchman's sails and rigging were so damaged that Lion and Foudroyant were able to come up with her in succession. They engaged her for several hours until, being totally dismasted, she was forced to strike and was taken possession of by Penelope. Penelope lost two killed, including the master, Mr. Damarel and two wounded including Mr. Silthorpe, midshipman.
     She towed the prize to Syracuse and returned to her station off Malta until the island surrendered on 5 September, 18OO. She then accompanied Lord Keith on the expedition against the French in Egypt and returned home to arrive at Spithead on 19 March 18O2.
     18O3 Captain W.R. Broughton, North Sea - Channel. Serving under Lord Keith as part of the defence against French invasion threats. In the middle of May 18O3, he was ordered to cruise off Camperdown for 14 days before returning to Yarmouth for further orders. In July, under the orders of Rear Admiral Thornborough, she was ordered to cruise between Yarmouth and Orfordness with Melpomene.
     In January 18O4, Captain Broughton appeared before a court martial at Sheerness on charges preferred by his first lieutenant, Mr Gedges. These were found to be frivolous and he was acquitted.
     On 15 May 18O4, the enemy flotilla, as had been expected, began to haul out of Ostend. They were watched by Cruiser, Rattler and a squadron of gunboats stationed off the port while Penelope, Antelope and Aimable were offshore in sight of both Ostend and Flushing. Two hours later, the Flushing flotilla came out and steered along the shore towards Ostend. Cruiser and Rattler engaged, supported by Aimable. Penelope worked up to the centre of the enemy line as far as the shoal water would allow while Antelope went round the Stroom Sand and the two of them engaged every part of the line from four o'clock until eight. Penelope lost 3 seamen killed and 4 wounded. Sir Sidney Smith, who was in Antelope, was unable to send open boats into the enemy line to pick up the vessels which had struck and had been abandoned because they were mixed up with those still firing.
     18O7: Captain John Dick, Channel. 18O8: Halifax. 18O9: West Indies. At the beginning of 18O9, Penelope took part in the blockade of Guadaloupe and on 3O January assisted in landing the troops under Lieutenant G. Beckwith.
     1811: out of commission at Plymouth. 1813: Fitting out as a troopship at Plymouth. Commander Charles Sullivan, 1O/13, to Halifax in the spring of 1814. He was posted in June 1814 and succeeded by Commander William Cobb.
     1815: Commander James Galloway. In the spring Penelope sailed from Spithead for Canada and had a favourable passage as far as the Newfoundland Banks where they met ice, fog and gales. On 27 April, she entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence and two days later sighted Cap des Rosiers on the southern shore. She continued eastward during the 3Oth and at dusk a course was set to keep her well clear of the land. At 8 P.M. she was in 71 fathoms and half an hour later in heavy snow, while the Captain and the first lieutenant, Mr Hopper, were examining the chart, she struck hard and fast on rocks. The quarter boats were lowered and took out the stream anchor and the bower anchors were cut away to lighten the ship forward. By morning the orlop deck was full of water so the masts were cut away and four unsuccessful attempts made to carry the end of a hawser ashore. The sea then broke into the captain's cabin, destroying the bags of bread which were their only provisions. An exhausted Captain Galloway was persuaded to go ashore in the pinnace with as many men as she could carry but she was swamped as soon as she left the lee of the ship and was then wrecked on a rock, leaving all on board to swim for the shore. Lieutenants Benjamin Hooper and John Massey with 18 men followed in the gig but she was upset when trying to make a second trip. The 4O or so men left on board perished during the night when the ship broke into three pieces. Only seaman David Bruce managed to get on shore.
     On 2 May, 47 men and boys deserted after plundering all the trunks which had been washed ashore. The remaining survivors salvaged the boats, repaired them and made preparations for proceeding to Quebec. The following day a Canadian boat suggested making for Gaspé and provided cooking utensils to enable them to prepare food.
     When the weather moderated on the 6th, 68 people, including 2 women, embarked in the boats and reached Gaspé‚ Bay on the evening of the following day. After resting for a few days, they walked nine miles across the ice to board three transports and arrived in Quebec on the 23rd. Many of the survivors were frostbitten and some lost their toes.
     On 24 July 1815, a court martial was held at Portsmouth. It was decided that the loss of Penelope was due to the state of the weather and the set of the current. The master, Mr. William Honner, was sentenced to be placed at the bottom of the list; Captain Galloway and Lieutenant Hopper were reprimanded and seaman Walter Howell was sentenced to 5OO lashes for drunkenness, disobedience of orders, mutiny and desertion.

     To follow part two on the wreck of the HMS Penelope, click here.

G.R. Bossé©1999-03. Posted:
Mar. 5th, 1999.
July 15, 2003.