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HMS Java was a 38-gun fifth rate frigate of the Royal Navy, originally launched in 1805 as the Renommée, a 38-gun Pallas-class frigate of the French Navy. The British captured her in 1811 in a noteworthy action, the Battle of Tamatave, but she is most famous for her defeat on 29 December 1812 in a three-hour single-ship action against the .

French service

In May 1811, she was part of a three-sail squadron under François Roquebert, comprising Renommée, Clorinde and Néréide, and ferrying troops to Mauritiusmarker. On 20 May, the French encountered a British squadron comprising HMS Astraea, Phoebe, Galatea, and Racehorse.In the ensuing Battle of Tamatave, Renommée struck after her mainsail was set on fire. The British captured Néréide five days later at Tamatavemarker, Madagascarmarker. Clorinde escaped.

The British brought Renommée into service as HMS Java.

Royal Navy service

She was under the command of Captain Henry Lambert during the War of 1812. She sailed from Portsmouth in transit to Bombay delivering the appointed Governor Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Hislip and staff and carrying naval stores as well as the baggage of the large staff. Java s captain was a senior commander who had seen combat on a number of occasions in His Majesty's service. She was carrying additional personnel for other ships at the time and included another Royal Navy commander in transit.

Engagement with USS Constitution

"Another Victory for Old Ironsides" by Bruce Von Stetina

USS Constitution, under the command of Captain William Bainbridge, sighted two sails in the Atlantic Oceanmarker off the coast of Brazilmarker on 29 December 1812 at 0800 hours and wore about to intercept. Both Java and Constitution made private signals to identify the other; neither ship having the correct counter-signal, Constitution made sail away from Portuguese territorial waters at 1130 hours, with Java giving chase.

Captain Lambert 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; however many were landsmen still raw to service at sea, and even more damning to her cause, they had only practiced gunnery once with blank cartridges. Still, Java was well supplied and manned, and proved 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 carronades, plus two 18-pounder chasers. Java started the battle badly out-matched both in terms of the experience of her crew and the weight of her broadside.

Being French-built, Java was comparatively light for a frigate and was consequently faster and more manoeuvrable than Constitution. Java had the weather gauge and used it to attempt to rake USS Constitution. Bainbridge 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 1400 both ships were heading southeast. The opening phase of the action comprised both ships attempting to rake the other, with little success. Bainbridge wore 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.

A broadside from Java carried away Constitution s wheel, disabling her rudder and leaving Bainbridge bleeding from both thighs; however, Bainbridge would not sit down until after the battle. Both ships began firing broadsides but Java had a mast falling over her starboard side that prevented most of her guns from firing.

Constitution s accuracy of fire and the greater weight of her broadside put the much smaller Java at a large disadvantage. Within one hour, all of Java s masts came down. Lambert had been mortally wounded by a sharpshooter in Constitution s tops. Lieutenant Chads took over command assisted by the captain in transit to his ship. However clearing the masts had hardly begun when the Constitution returned from a short break to repair her damage. She took a raking position from which Java could not reply and Chads had no choice but to surrender Java.


Java had proved to be a tougher opponent for the Constitution than Guerrieremarker had been. Despite the desire to take Java as a prize and the value of her stores, the Americans decided that she could not be saved. She was deemed unfit for repair and subsequently burned. Prior to her being set on fire, Marines from Constitution boarded Java to remove her wheel, which Bainbridge used to repair Constitution's steering gear. Java was burned on 1 January 1813. To this day, the still-commissioned Constitution (anchored in Boston Harbor) sports the wheel that Bainbridge salvaged from Java.

On 23 April 1813, Gladiator was the venue for the court martial of the officers and men of Java for the loss of their ship. The court honourably acquitted Lieut. Henry Ducie Chads and the other surviving officers and men of Java.

In popular fiction

There is a fictional, but well-researched and historically accurate, account of this incident in Patrick O'Brian's novel The Fortune of War (1979).


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