HMS Donegal (1798)

HMS Donegal (1798)

The "Barra" was a "Téméraire" class 74-gun ship of the line of the French Navy. She was renamed "Pégase" in 1795, and "Hoche" in 1797. She was captured by the British on 12 October 1798 and recommissioned in the Royal Navy as HMS "Donegal".


As "Hoche", she took part in the French attempt to land in County Donegal to support the Irish Rebellion of 1798. She formed the flag ship of an expedition under Commodore Jean-Baptiste-François Bompart, consisting of the "Hoche" and eight frigates, and transporting 3,000 French troops. Aboard the "Hoche" was Wolfe Tone, the leading figure in the Society of United Irishmen. The ships were chased by a number of British frigates after they had left the port of Brest on 16 September. Despite throwing them off, they were then pursued by a fleet of larger ships under the command of Sir John Borlase Warren. Both sides were hampered by the heavy winds and gales they encountered off the west coast of Ireland, and "Hoche" lost all three of her topmasts and had her mizzensail shredded, causing her to fall behind. The French were finally brought to battle off Tory Island on 12 October 1798.

The battle started at 07:00 in the morning, with Warren giving the signal for HMS "Robust" to steer for the French line and attack "Hoche" directly. "Hoche" then came under fire from HMS "Magnanime". The next three British ships into action, the frigates HMS "Ethalion", "Melampus" and "Amelia", all raked the isolated "Hoche" as they passed before pressing on sail to pursue the French frigates, now sailing towards to the south-west. With the "Hoche" heavily damaged, Bompart finally surrendered at 10:50 with 270 of his crew and passengers killed or wounded. Wolfe Tone was later recognised and arrested.

In Royal Navy service

Off Cadiz

The captured "Hoche" was taken into service and renamed HMS "Donegal", after the action in which she had been captured. She spent 1800 in Plymouth, and in 1801 came under the command of Captain Sir Richard Strachan, with William Bissell as her First Lieutenant from 1801 until December 1805. "Donegal" was initially deployed in the English Channel, but following the outbreak of hostilities with Spain, she was assigned to watch the French squadron at Cadiz. Whilst on this station, she spotted and gave chase to the large 42-gun Spanish frigate "Amfitrite" in November 1804. After pursuing her for 46 hours, "Amfitrite" lost her mizzen-top-mast and was subsequently overhauled by the "Donegal".

A boat was dispatched from the "Donegal" and the Spanish captain was brought aboard. Sir Richard did not speak Spanish and the captain did not speak English, so it was with difficulty that Sir Richard attempted to inform him that his orders were to return the "Amfitrite" back to Cadiz. Sir Richard allowed the captain three minutes to decide whether he would comply with the order, but after waiting for six minutes without an answer, opened fire on the "Amfitrite". The engagement lasted only eight minutes, and resulted in a number of deaths, including the Spanish captain, who fell to a musket ball. The "Amfitrite" surrendered and after being searched, was found to be laden with stores and carrying dispatches from Cadiz to Tenerife and Havana. She was taken over and later commissioned into the Navy as HMS "Amfitrite". "Donegal" would later make another capture off Cadiz, taking a Spanish vessel carrying a cargo reputed to be worth 200,000 pounds.

In the Mediterranean and Atlantic

By 1805 "Donegal" was still off Cadiz, under the command of Captain Pulteney Malcom. She then accompanied Vice-admiral Nelson in his pursuit of the combined fleets across the Atlantic to the West Indies and back. She was not present at Trafalgar, but was able, on 23 October, to capture the partially dismasted Spanish first rate "Rayo" which had escaped Trafalgar, but had been ordered to sea again to attempt to recapture some of the British prizes.

"Donegal" was then part of a squadron off Cadiz under Vice-admiral John Duckworth, when news reached him that two French squadrons had sailed from Brest in December 1805. Duckworth took his squadron to Barbados to search for them, eventually sighting them off San Domingo on 6 February. Duckworth organised his ships into two lines, the weather line consisting of HMS "Superb", HMS "Northumberland" and HMS "Spencer", while the lee line consisted of HMS "Agamemnon", HMS "Canopus", HMS "Donegal" and HMS "Atlas". The lines moved to attack the French ships and the Battle of San Domingo broke out. "Donegal" initially engaged the "Brave" with several broadsides, forcing her to surrender after half an hour. Captain Malcom then moved his position to fire a few broadsides into the "Jupiter" before sending a boarding party aboard her. The crew of the "Jupiter" then surrendered her. Captain Malcom then directed the frigate HMS "Acasta" to take possession of the "Brave". After the battle, "Donegal" had lost her fore-yard and had 12 killed and 33 wounded. [ [ Donegal's history] ]

Off the French coast

She remained under the command of Pulteney Malcom, and was stationed off Finisterre throughout 1807. She then became the flag ship of Rear-admiral Eliab Harvey, and was later placed under the command of Rear-admiral Richard Keats in the Channel. "Donegal" was at Spithead in 1808 and over a period of five days from 1 August Captain Malcom oversaw the disembarkation of Sir Arthur Wellesley's army at Mondego Bay. "Donegal"’s first-lieutenant James Askey acted as the beach-master during the landings.

On 23 February 1809 "Donegal" was part of a squadron under Rear-admiral Stopford, when they chased three enemy frigates into the Sable d'Olonne. HMS "Defiance" was able to anchor within half a mile of them, whilst HMS "Donegal" and HMS "Caesar" had to anchor further out because of their deeper draughts. Their combined fire eventually forced two of the frigates to run ashore, whilst "Donegal" suffered one man killed and six wounded in the engagement. By April 1809 "Donegal" was sailing with Admiral James Gambier's fleet in the Basque Roads. During the Battle of the Basque Roads, "Donegal"’s first-lieutenant James Askey commanded the fire ship "Hercule" in the attack on the French fleet, with the assistance of midshipman Charles Falkiner, also of the "Donegal".

"Donegal" was commanded by acting-Captain Edward Pelham Brenton when she sailed for Cadiz on 24 July 1809, carrying the ambassador to the Junta at Seville, Marquess Richard Wellesley, brother of Sir Arthur Wellesley. She arrived on 1 August, shortly after the Battle of Talavera, and after the failure of Richard Wellesley's mission, returned him to Britain in November. On her arrival, Captain Malcom resumed command of the "Donegal".On 13 October 1810, the frigates HMS "Diana" and HMS "Niobe" attacked and drove two French frigates ashore near La Hogue. "Donegal" and HMS "Revenge" arrived the next day and together the four ships fired upon the French for as long as the tide would allow. "Donegal" had three men wounded in this action.

She spent most of 1811 off Cherbourg, before being reduced to ordinary at Portsmouth later that year. She was later moved and spent 1814 in ordinary at Chatham. "Donegal" was eventually broken up in 1845.


*Lavery, Brian (2003) "The Ship of the Line - Volume 1: The development of the battlefleet 1650-1850." Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-252-8.
* [ HMS Donegal's career]

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