HMS Java (1811)
HMS Java was a British Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 38-gun fifth-rate
In Britain's Royal Navy during the classic age of fighting sail, a fifth rate was the penultimate class of warships in a hierarchal system of six "ratings" based on size and firepower.-Rating:...

 frigate. She was originally launched in 1805 as the Renommée, described as a 40-gun Pallas-class French Navy
French Navy
The French Navy, officially the Marine nationale and often called La Royale is the maritime arm of the French military. It includes a full range of fighting vessels, from patrol boats to a nuclear powered aircraft carrier and 10 nuclear-powered submarines, four of which are capable of launching...

 frigate, but the vessel actually carried 46 guns. The British captured her in 1811 in a noteworthy action during the Battle of Tamatave
Battle of Tamatave
The Battle of Tamatave was fought off Tamatave in Madagascar between British and French frigate squadrons during the Napoleonic Wars...

, but she is most famous for her defeat on 29 December 1812 in a three-hour single-ship action
Single-ship action
A single ship action is a naval engagement fought between two warships of opposing sides, excluding submarine engagements; called so because there is a single ship on each side...

 against the . The Java had a crew of about 277 but during her engagement with Constitution her complement was 475.

French service

In May 1811, she was part of a three-sail squadron under François Roquebert, comprising Renommée, Clorinde
French frigate Clorinde (1808)
The Clorinde was a 40-gun Pallas-class frigate of the French Navy, designed by Sané.From June 1809, she was stationed with the 16-gun Milan and the 38-gun Renommée. In September, she sailed with Renommée, Loire and Seine to Guadeloupe...

 and Néréide
HMS Madagascar (1811)
The Néréide was a 38-gun frigate of the French Navy designed by Sané.In 1810, she sailed to Guadeloupe but was repelled by the blockade off Basse-Terre, and returned to Brest after a fight with HMS Rainbow and HMS Avon....

, and ferrying troops to Mauritius
Mauritius , officially the Republic of Mauritius is an island nation off the southeast coast of the African continent in the southwest Indian Ocean, about east of Madagascar...

. On 20 May, the French encountered a British squadron comprising Astraea
HMS Astraea (1810)
HMS Astraea was a Royal Navy 36-gun Fifth rate Apollo Class frigate, launched in 1810 at Northam. She participated in the Battle of Tamatave and in an inconclusive single-ship action with the French frigate Etoile...

, Phoebe
HMS Phoebe (1795)
HMS Phoebe was a 36-gun fifth rate of the British Royal Navy. She had a career of almost twenty years and fought in the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812...

, Galatea
HMS Galatea (1810)
HMS Galatea was an Apollo-class fifth rate of the Royal Navy. The frigate was built at Deptford Dockyard, London, England and launched on 31 August 1810. In 1811 she participated in the Battle of Tamatave, which battle confirmed British dominance of the seas east of the Cape of Good Hope for the...

, and Racehorse
HMS Racehorse (1806)
HMS Racehorse was a Royal Navy 18-gun Cruizer-class brig-sloop built by Hamilton & Breeds and launched in 1806 at Hastings. She served in the Channel, where she captured a small privateer, and in the East Indies, where she participated in the capture of Île de France and the operations around it...

. In the ensuing Battle of Tamatave
Battle of Tamatave
The Battle of Tamatave was fought off Tamatave in Madagascar between British and French frigate squadrons during the Napoleonic Wars...

, Renommée struck after her mainsail was set on fire. The British captured Néréide five days later at Tamatave, Madagascar
The Republic of Madagascar is an island country located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa...

. Clorinde escaped.

The British brought Renommée into service as Java and Néréide as Madagascar
HMS Madagascar (1811)
The Néréide was a 38-gun frigate of the French Navy designed by Sané.In 1810, she sailed to Guadeloupe but was repelled by the blockade off Basse-Terre, and returned to Brest after a fight with HMS Rainbow and HMS Avon....


Royal Navy service

In July Java was under Captain William Gordon, but had not yet been commissioned. She was commissioned in August under Captain Henry Lambert
Henry Lambert
Captain Henry Lambert RN was an officer of the British Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. During his career, Lambert served in numerous ships and several military actions with success, participating in the capture of Île Bonaparte in the Indian Ocean as second in...

. Javas captain was a senior commander who had seen combat on a number of occasions in His Majesty's service.

Java sailed from Portsmouth on 12 November for Bombay to deliver the appointed Governor, Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Hislop
Sir Thomas Hislop, 1st Baronet
Sir Thomas Hislop, 1st Baronet, GCB was a senior British Army officer of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Serving exclusively in colonial campaigns, Hislop fought in the West Indies between 1796 and 1810 and subsequently in India, where he was a senior commander during the Third...

, and his staff with their baggage, and naval stores (including copper plates for Cornwallis
HMS Cornwallis (1813)
HMS Cornwallis was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched on 12 May 1813 at Bombay. She was built of teak. The capture of Java by USS Constitution delayed the completion of Cornwallis as Java had been bringing her copper sheathing from England.On 27 April 1815, Cornwallis...

, then under construction at Bomba, and plans for a new ship, the Trincomalee
HMS Trincomalee
HMS Trincomalee is a Royal Navy Leda-class sailing frigate built shortly following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. She is now restored as a museum ship in Hartlepool, UK.-History:...

, whose construction was thus delayed). She was carrying additional personnel for other ships at the time and included another Royal Navy commander in transit.

Engagement with USS Constitution

Captain Lambert of the Java was a well-qualified officer, having seen much combat during his service. Java had more than a full crew, having been rounded out while in Portsmouth
Portsmouth is the second largest city in the ceremonial county of Hampshire on the south coast of England. Portsmouth is notable for being the United Kingdom's only island city; it is located mainly on Portsea Island...

; however many were landsmen still raw to service at sea, and even more damning to her cause, they had only practiced gunnery once without shot loaded in the guns. Still, Java was well supplied and manned, and would prove to be well handled and well fought. Constitution had an experienced crew manning a heavy frigate rated at 44 guns and carrying 54 guns: 24 long 24-pounders and 30 32-pounder carronade
The carronade was a short smoothbore, cast iron cannon, developed for the Royal Navy by the Carron Company, an ironworks in Falkirk, Scotland, UK. It was used from the 1770s to the 1850s. Its main function was to serve as a powerful, short-range anti-ship and anti-crew weapon...

s, plus two 18-pounder bow chasers
Chase gun
The chase guns, usually distinguished as bow chasers and stern chasers were cannons mounted in the bow or stern of a sailing ship...


On 13 December 1812, sailing from Boston by way of Cape Verde
Cape Verde
The Republic of Cape Verde is an island country, spanning an archipelago of 10 islands located in the central Atlantic Ocean, 570 kilometres off the coast of Western Africa...

 the USS Constitution, under the command of Captain William Bainbridge
William Bainbridge
William Bainbridge was a Commodore in the United States Navy, notable for his victory over HMS Java during the War of 1812.-Early life:...

, accompanied by USS Hornet, commanded by James Lawrence
James Lawrence
James Lawrence was an American naval officer. During the War of 1812, he commanded the USS Chesapeake in a single-ship action against HMS Shannon...

, arrived off the coast of Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

 at St. Salvador
Salvador, Bahia
Salvador is the largest city on the northeast coast of Brazil and the capital of the Northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. Salvador is also known as Brazil's capital of happiness due to its easygoing population and countless popular outdoor parties, including its street carnival. The first...

. On the 26th the Hornet was sent to its port to communicate with the American consul stationed there. On the 29th at 9:00 AM still out at high sea in search of prizes crewmen aloft the Constitution sighted strange sails on the distant horizon. Bainbridge initially was unsure of the disposition of the ships, but hours later as they drew closer he was able to discern that the approaching vessels were large and now assumed them to be British. To ascertain the disposition of the unidentified ships the Constitution hoisted private signals (flags) at 11:30 AM, while the assumed British vessel also hoisted its signals, but neither ship made the correct counter-signal.

Constitution tacking the wind made her way from the neutral Portuguese territorial waters with Java giving chase. The following day at 12:30 PM Java hoisted her colors and ensign with Constitution hoisting her colors in reply with. With the dispositions of each ship confirmed Java with the weather gauge to her advantage came about to position herself to rake the Constitution Being French-built, she was comparatively light for a frigate and was consequently faster and more maneuverable than Constitution. In reply Constitution fired a shot across her bow with Java returning fire with a full broadside.

Java started the battle badly out-matched both in terms of the experience of her crew and the weight of her broadside. Constitution with her experienced commander and crew countered by not shortening sail as was standard (this reduced strain on the masts thus making it less likely to lose a mast under fire). By 2 PM both ships were heading southeast. The opening phase of the action comprised both ships turning to and from attempting to get the better position for which to fire upon and rake the other, but with little success. Bainbridge now wore
A jibe or gybe is a sailing maneuver where a sailing vessel turns its stern through the wind, such that the wind direction changes from one side of the boat to the other...

 Constitution to a matching course and opened fire with a broadside at half a mile. This broadside accomplished nothing and forced Bainbridge to risk raking to close Java. Another broadside from Java carried away Constitutions helm, disabling her rudder and leaving Bainbridge severely wounded, however he still maintained command refusing to sit out the battle. Again both ships began firing broadsides but by now Java had a mast and sail falling over her starboard side that prevented most of her guns on that side from firing, which also prevented her from laying alongside Constitution. The guns that attempted to fire only managed to set the fallen sail and rigging ablaze from the fiery blasts of those guns.

Constitutions accuracy of fire and the greater weight of her broadside put the much smaller Java at a large disadvantage. Within one hour, after several close close encounters involving the various rigging of each ship getting entangled with the other Javas masts collapsed. During this encounter a sharpshooter aloft in Constitutions mortally wounded Lambert. Lieutenant Chads now took over command, assisted by the captain in transit to his ship. Bainbridge used this opportunity to distance the Constitution so as to make immediately needed repairs, taking approximately an hour's time. However clearing the masts and fallen rigging aboard Java had hardly begun when the Constitution returned from repairing her damage and immediately took a raking position from which Java could not defend herself and Lieutenant Chads had no choice but to strike colors and surrender Java. The Constitution hoisted out a boat sending First Lieutenant Parker to take possession of the prize.

In the battle, Java suffered 22 men killed, including Lambert, and 102 wounded. Constitution lost nine dead initially and 57 wounded, including Bainbridge. Some four or five wounded died later of their wounds.

In the course of battle the Java was rendered a dismasted hulk that was not fit to be taken as a whole prize. Instead Bainbridge removed her helm and installed it on the Constitution, replacing the one that had been shot away. On New Year's day 1813, two days after the engagement Bainbridge gave the order to set the stricken vessel ablaze where it subsequently blew up.

Upon learning of the death of Captain Lambert. Commodore Bainbridge expressed deep sorrow for a commander he credited to be brave and noble.

Although claims exist that the still-commissioned Constitution (anchored in Boston Harbor) sports the wheel that Bainbridge salvaged from Java, the evidence is that the US Navy replaced the wheel from Java in a subsequent refurbishment. On 23 April 1813, Lieutenant Chads and the other surviving officers and men of the Java faced the customary court martial aboard Gladiator
HMS Gladiator (1783)
HMS Gladiator was a 44-gun fifth-rate Roebuck-class ship of the Royal Navy. She was launched on 20 January 1783 by Henry Adams of Bucklers Hard. She spent her entire career on harbour service, never putting to sea. Even so, her crew earned prize money for the seizure of two Russian and five...

  for the loss of their ship. They were honourably acquitted.

See also

  • Glossary of nautical terms
    Glossary of nautical terms
    This is a glossary of nautical terms; some remain current, many date from the 17th-19th century. See also Wiktionary's nautical terms, :Category:Nautical terms, and Nautical metaphors in English.- A :...

  • Naval tactics in the Age of Sail
    Naval tactics in the Age of Sail
    Naval tactics in the Age of Sail were used from the early 17th century onward when sailing ships replaced oared galleys. These were used until the 1860s when steam-powered ironclad warships rendered sailing line of battle ships obsolete.-Early history:...

  • List of ships captured in the 19th century
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