HMS Pickle, courier of joy and woe


HMS Pickle – schooner – in 1805 carried news to England of victory at the Battle of Trafalgar and of the death of Lord Nelson

c. 43 x 36 cm (17 x 14 inches)

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HMS Pickle was built in Bermuda in 1799.  A Bermuda sloop,  she was originally named Sting .  The so-called “Quasi-War” between France and the United States, had occupied both navies along the US East coast and in the Caribbean for 2 years.  It was ended by the Convention of 1880 on 30 September.  This still left a number of marauding French privateers active in the region that the Royal Navy and the US Navy jointly sought to reduce . Vice-Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour, C-in-C Jamaica Station, purchased Sting, an excellent sailer, in December 1800 for £2,500, having leased her at £10 per day  (in defiance of orders not to purchase vessels) – as part of the campaign against the French privateers.
Faced with a fait accompli, the Admiralty ordered her name changed to Pickle in February 1801 (although it was some time before the name-change was recognised throughout the Navy).  In the Western Atlantic, during the French Revolutionary War, she is known to have jointly taken 4 French prizes before ironically being listed as carrying the body of Vice Admiral Seymour home to England in September 1801.
By 1805 she was carefully maintained by the Admiralty.  Her officers and crew were handpicked, her fore-and-aft rig repaired, and her copper hull cleaned at least once a year.  Along with most RN ships of the Royal Navy by this time, she was copper-bottomed: her below-water wooden hull sheathed in copper plate or copper alloy (Mountz, an amalgam of copper, zinc and iron) to discourage marine growth and prevent an accumulation of weed that caused significant drag to sailing vessels with exposed wooden hulls.   These preparations prepared Pickle to sail with a speed advantage over other ships.
Closer to home, during the Napoleonic War, she attended the Battle of Trafalgar  off the SW coast of Spain (21st October 1805).  Although too small to take part in the fighting, she participated afterwards in the rescue of (in her case, mainly French) sailors.  She was then detached by Admiral Collingwood (who had assumed command of the fleet aboard Royal Sovereign on Nelson’s death aboard Victory, whose print we have here) to bring the news of Nelson’s victory (and of his death) to England.

captain lapenotiere
A copy of the portrait in the collection at The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich,  England believed to depict Lapenotière  after he had been promoted to post-Captain in 1811.

For this important mission she was commanded by Lieutenant John Lapenotière, a descendant of a military Huguenot family who had arrived in England with William of Orange in 1688.   Pickle  arrived at Falmouth on 4th November 1805 from whence Lapenotière travelled by carriage and horseback to London to report to the Admiralty.  He took 37 hours to cover the 271-mile journey, changing horses 21 times.  At a cost of £46 19s 1d, he arrived at the Admiralty just after midnight on 6th November. An image of Lapenotière is shown here after he had become a Captain.

old admiralty building
The Old Admiralty Building facing Horseguard’s Parade, London, where Lapenotière  arrived just after 01:00 in the morning on  6th November 1805. (This is where the Sovereign takes the Trooping of The Colour each year).

The route he took is today known as The Trafalgar Way.  The Old Admiralty, where he was received, is shown here.  It faces onto Whitehall whilst the side you see here faces onto Horseguards Parade where the Sovereign takes the Trooping of the Colour each year.
This famous journey gave rise to the tradition of “Pickle Night”: an annual naval celebration traditionally enjoyed by Petty Officers (NCO equivalents) that commemorates that epic journey and what it represented to a nation threatened with invasion. The tradition continues to this day.
Pickle also participated in a notable single-ship action when she captured the French privateer, Favorite, in 1807 under the command of Lieutenant Daniel Calloway. Pickle was wrecked on 26 July 1808 on the Chipiola Shoal a few miles north of Cadiz, but without loss of life.

Additional information

Weight 0.022 kg
Dimensions 43.1 × 35.6 cm