Maritime Art

Prizes Taken at the First Battle of Finisterre, May 1847 and the Glorioso

By J. Mynd after R. Short

Two hugely important battles were fought in 1747, both off Cape Finisterre. The First battle of Finisterre was fought on 14 May and the Second five months later in October. Both were overwhelming victories for the Royal Navy against French warships protecting valuable merchant convoys.

This line engraving shows two of the thirteen vessels capture at the First battle, four of which were ships of the line, two were frigates and seven merchantmen. The French vessels shown here are the 40-gun Gloire and 50-gun Jason on the left. The impact of this battle and its subsequent sister convinced the French of the overwhelming superiority of the British and they stopped attempting to force Atlantic convoys travelling in either direction through the British blockade. Peace negotiations followed soon after.

The larger vessel to the right is the Spanish 70-gun Glorioso, captured later in the year. This was an interesting story: Glorioso was a Spanish treasure ship carrying four million silver dollars from the Americas that was tracked and attacked by two British ships but was able to evade capture and successfully land her valuable cargo in Spain. She was subsequently captured on her way to Cadiz but was so badly damaged from both actions that she was subsequently broken up. Although an impressive-looking vessel in this engraving, therefore, in reality she represented a performance by the Royal Navy that was considered unacceptable and several British officers were swiftly court-martialled and expelled from the navy.

The Society has published in the Mariner’s Mirror Journal a number of important works on this period including:

Sir Jacob Acworth and Experimental Ship Design during the Period of the Establishments. Acworth’s career quickly progressed, hindered only in its success due to suspension for negligence, after which he was quickly reinstated. Acworth had unprecedented control over ship design as Master Shipwright. His contributions included designing light and simple ‘snug ships’. The ‘new manner’ of shipbuilding based on Newtonian theory was embraced by Acworth with mixed, but generally good, results. Conservatism, a point of criticism in his later years, was common among senior sea officers, and threats from Spain and France were sufficiently responded to. Acworth became increasingly marginalised and moved to the Navy Board, where he remained until his death in 1749.

Sea Power and the Jacobite Rising of 1745‘ in which the relevance of English sea control to the outcome of the Jacobite rising of 1745 is challenged. It is argued that it did not prevent the advance to Derby, nor hamper the retreat to the Highlands. The planned French invasion from Calais and Boulogne was undermined by lack of support from the Ministers of War and Marine before being abandoned after news of the retreat. Though the supply lines of Prince Charles Edward were vulnerable, analysis shows that the majority of French ships despatched in his support got through and returned to France with mission accomplished.

The First English Frigates‘.There has been debate among historians for some time as to which ships should be regarded as the first English frigates. This paper examines the influence on changes taking place in small cruiser design in the mid-18th century in England of captured French privateers and national frigates. The author concludes that the privateers influenced subsequent Royal Navy builds to a greater extent than the national frigates and provides explanations from strategic and tactical perspectives. The intelligent discrimination shown as to which features of French design to copy, the author suggests, is evidence that English shipbuilding was not as backward or unscientific as is often claimed.

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