HMS Audacious (1785)
Third Rate Ship-of-the-Line Warship
HMS Audacious served as a Third Rate Ship of the Line and participated at the pivotal Battle of the Nile.
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HMS Audacious was a three-masted sailing warship serving the English crown during the latter half of the 18th Century. Her keel was laid down in August of 1783 by builder Randall of Rotherhithe and the vessel launched to sea on July 23rd, 1785. She was an Arrogant-class "ship-of-the-line", her class numbering twelve similarly-designed and construction wooden vessels of the period led by HMS Arrogant herself. The class was based on the preceding Bellona-class appearing during the middle part of the century and itself numbering five ships. Well-armed but eventually deemed too small for their carried firepower, the Arrogant-class ships nonetheless played an important frontline role in British Naval actions heading into the next century.
Audacious displaced at 1,625 tons under load and featured a length of 168 feet with a beam of 46.8 feet and draught of 19.8 feet. Her sail plan was described as fully-rigged with her sole means of propulsion being her complex arrangement of sails across three main masts and several supporting structures about the ship. Her complete crew complement numbered about 550 and her range was only limited by onboard food stores and the condition of her hull and sailing equipment - the benefits of wind power during this period of naval warfare.
As a ship-of-the-line, she would be called to man a tactical position along the "line of battle", a tactic used consistently throughout the Age of Sail, calling for two approaching columns of opposing warships meeting and attempting to outmaneuver one another before displaying full broadsides. Additionally, Audacious carried the descriptor of "third rate" which loosely described the design as a two-gun-decked platform fielding between 64 and 80 total guns. The term was a rating system used to help better categorize these sailing fighting warships.
HMS Audacious managed a full stock of 74 guns amongst her various decks. Twenty-eight 32-pounder guns were featured on her primary gundeck and this was supplemented by twenty-eight 18-pounder guns along her upper gundeck. The quarterdeck was outfitted with fourteen 9-pounder guns while the forecastle featured an additional four 9-pounders. Collectively, Audacious could deliver considerable broadsides against an enemy ship or engage in offshore bombardment of enemy forces while in support of allied land units. Her class became well-known for their strong balance of firepower, speed, and maneuverability.
The British pressed their sailing ships hard during the peak of its empirical rule - its navy often times rated as one of the best in the world if not supplanted by the French or Spanish or some other power of the century. Audacious served well in the role of gunnery platform with her broad and large collection of guns and, as a result, she was expected to be featured during any major notable engagement due to her useful design attributes.
One of her most notable contributions was in support of British naval actions against the French during the Battle of the Nile from August 1st to August 3rd, 1798. The battle took place at Aboukir Bay, Egypt when still under rule by the Ottoman Empire and saw thirteen British ships-of-the-line aided by a single sloop against thirteen French ships-of-the-line and four supporting frigates. The action resulted in a decisive British naval victory as four of the French ships fell with nine being captured with the loss of as many as 5,000 and a over 3,000 taken prisoner. All this was against 218 British killed and 677 wounded in the fighting with no ships lost. The British contingent was led by none other than Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson and one of the surrendering French ships was Conquerant which was reconstituted by the Royal Navy as HMS Conqueror.
With a decorated ocean-going career behind her, HMS Audacious was finally held in reserve while being replaced by more capable fighting ships. She was broken up during August 1815, never to sail again under Royal Navy colors.