A View of Naval affairs in Charles the Second's Reign.
In those days, and for many years afterwards, the English were addicted to crowding their vessels with guns, and there can be no doubt that many, like the Mary Rose and others, were in consequence lost; especially as their lower-deck ports were often not more than three feet above the water. The Constant Warwick had afterwards many more guns placed in her, so that she ultimately rated as a 46-gun ship, when, from being an incomparable sailer, she became a slug. Mr Pepys remarks on this subject, in 1663 and 1664: “The Dutch and French built ships of two decks, which carried from 60 to 70 guns, and so contrived that they carried their lower guns four feet from the water, and could stow four months’ provisions—whereas our frigates from the Dunkirk build, which were narrower and sharper, carried their guns but little more than three feet from the water and but ten weeks provisions.”
Attempts were made to counteract this great defect, but without much success. For several years afterwards Mr Pepys still complained that frigates were unable to stow a sufficient quantity of provisions, or to carry their guns high enough out of the water to make them safe.
Up to the early part of the eighteenth century it was a general complaint that ships of war had more guns placed on board than they could carry—in consequence, that their lower batteries could not be opened when there was any sea on, and that they sailed and worked heavily. It is wonderful, indeed, how British seamen managed to keep them afloat, as it is worthy of note that those which fell into the hands of the enemy were nearly always lost under charge of their new masters. The English, it was said, employed the best materials and workmanship on their vessels, but the French greatly surpassed them in their models. The English were the first to abandon the flat form of the stern under the counter, and to introduce the curved instead, by which greater strength and lightness as well as beauty was obtained.
In 1748 a ship of 585 tons, to carry 28 guns, 9-pounders on the main-deck and 3-pounders on the quarter-deck, was built; and in 1757 five other vessels, also called frigates, to carry 28 guns, were constructed of fir instead of oak, of the same size; but one of them was captured by the French, and the others in about nine years were broken up as unserviceable.
The first ship which, according to our present ideas, could properly be considered a frigate, was the Southampton, built at Rotherhithe in the year 1757 by Mr Robert Inwood, according to a draft of Sir Thomas Slade, one of the surveyors of the navy. She measured 671 tons, and mounted 26 12-pounders on the main-deck, 4 6-pounders on the quarter-deck, and 2 6-pounders on the forecastle. She thus carried all her guns on a single whole deck, a quarter-deck and forecastle, the characteristic of the true frigate. She was considered a prime sailer and first-rate sea-boat, and lasted for fifty-six years, and possibly would have lasted longer had she not gone to pieces on the rocks.
Shortly after this several 36-gun frigates were built. Each was about fifty tons larger than the Southampton, and carried four guns more, which were placed on the quarter-deck.
Several French 36-gun frigates captured by the English were found to be considerably larger. One, the Dana, was of 941 tons; and three French 32-gun frigates averaged about 700 tons, though armed like the Southampton.
About 1779 five frigates of 38 guns, and averaging 946 tons, were launched. They were the Minerva, built at Woolwich, the Arethusa, Latona, Phaeton, and Thetis. They were first armed with 28 18-pounders on the main-deck and 10 6-pounders, 8 18-pound carronades and 14 swivels on the quarter-deck and forecastle, and with a complement of 270 men. Shortly afterwards the complement was increased to 280 men, 9-pounders were placed on board instead of the sixes, the swivels were omitted, and carronades substituted.
About the same time frigates of 880 tons, to carry 36 guns, 18 and 9-pounders, were built.