This reference book covers the last half-century in which sailing ships dominated the Royal Navy, a period of increasingly rapid change that also saw the introduction of steam power and the appearance of the first ironclad warships.
The book covers all sailing ships in service in 1817, those built or ordered between 1817 and 1863 including those with steam engines, with a postscript on the earliest ironclads, including the revolutionary HMS Warrior. The individual histories cover the entire life of each ship, so in some cases cover a very long period - HMS Victory is the most obvious example of this, launched in 1765, commissioned in 1778, in use until 1830 and still surviving, but this also includes many of the famous ships of the line of the Napoleonic Wars (even if many of them were serving in secondary roles by 1817). This makes the book a stand-alone volume, not requiring the earlier entries in the series to get a full history of the life of each ship.
This is very much a reference work rather than a book to read from cover to cover, although the class descriptions do provide a readable thread. For each ship we get dimensions, crew, engine power if fitted, armament and changes in armament and a compact service history. The major naval battles and campaigns of the period are detailed at the start of the book to provide some context for the lists. The service histories include location, battles, many minor actions, repairs and refits, changes of captain and use as a flagship.
This period includes perhaps the oddest looking warships to modern eyes (or at least to mine anyway), 3-decked fully rigged ships of the line, with a broadside of muzzle loading cannon that wouldn't have looked out of place in any of Nelson's battles, but with a steam engine, retractable smoke stacks and screw propulsion.
The period didn’t see any really major fleet actions, but it does include the Crimean War, which had naval elements around the world, and the long campaign against the slave trade.
The text is very well illustrated, especially with plans and builder's drafts for the ships, some focusing on the hull shape, and others on the interior layout.
This is an absolutely splendid reference work, and an essential volume for anyone interested in the history of the Royal Navy during the first part of the period of British naval supremacy.
1 - First Rates of 104 guns and above
2 - Second Rates of 80 to 101 guns
3 - Third Rates
4 - Fourth Rates (largely frigates)
5 - Fifth Rates (frigates)
6 - Sixth Rates (later corvettes)
Unrated Vessels - Pure Sailing Craft
7 - Ship Sloops
8 - Brig Sloops (and other brigs)
9 - Cutters and Schooners
10 - Miscellaneous Sailing Vessels
Unrated Vessels- Steam Assisted
11 - Steam Paddle Vessels
12 - Screw Sloops
13 - Screw Gunvessels and Gunboats
14 - Miscellaneous Screw Vessels
Postcript - The First Ironclads
A - The Wooden Steam Battlefleet
B - Principal Officers of the Navy
C - Annual Expenditure on the Navy and Manning Levels
D - Dockyard Launchings 1817 to 1869
Author: Rif Winfield