Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, February 13, 2022

First and Last

On the 24th of February, 1815, two days before Napoleon escaped from Elba, and four months before the Battle of Waterloo, a huge ship of the line rumbled down the slipway at Bombay. She was named HMS Wellesley in honour of Arthur Wellesley, who at that time had had a distinguished career, albeit was shortly to fight the battle he became famous for. She weighed in at 1745 tons, and was armed with seventy-four guns, in a variety of sizes ranging from 12-pounders all the way up to banks of 32-pounders. 

Now I know what you’re thinking, hang on David, this is a bit outside the date range for your usual fare? Yes, she is, but the HMS Wellesley had a service career that lasts 125 years, at which point she picked up several unique events.

The birth of the HMS Wellesley was somewhat difficult. She was ordered in September 1812 from the East India Company by the Royal Navy. The plans for her construction were dispatched to India aboard the ship HMS Java. But what else was going on in 1812? Yes, the war against the United States. HMS Java was captured en-route by the USS Constitution. To keep on schedule the shipyards in Bombay used the plans they already had on hand for a Vengeur class, and built the ship to those specifications. HMS Wellesley’s hull was laid down in May 1813. When she was completed, she cost a little over £55,000. 

Her first taste of warfare was at Karachi in 1839. Here the local rulers had refused to sign a treaty with the East India Company. The EIC accused the locals of conducting piracy out of the port. Thus, on the first of February 1839 HMS Wellesley arrived and anchored under the fort that guarded the entrance to the harbour. Two days later she opened fire on the fort that had first been erected in 1797 and deployed her boats carrying the men of the 40th Royal Marines. HMS Wellesley fired upon the fort, in return the fort fired a single shot back. Due to the number of ratings needed to crew the boats, the remaining Royal Marines were kept aboard to help man the guns. Landing to the west the marines stormed the fort. They found just four or five men, without any guns to defend themselves, so they quickly took control of the fort, and Karachi surrendered.

However, a new crisis was brewing in the Persian Gulf around Aden. The British Residency at Bushire was under siege from Persian troops. Arriving in March, HMS Wellesley once again deployed the Royal Marines while she stood off. There was a brief firefight during the landing when the British took three injuries, and the Persian troops fled. The Marines were then able to relieve the Residency and evacuate the staff. The Marines stayed in position until the 30th when all were evacuated. Later that year the Anglo-Persian treaty was signed.

HMS Wellesley took part in the first Opium War in later that year. During the capture of Chusan HMS Wellesley became engaged in a firefight with shore batteries. Upon returning from this action 27 cannon balls were dug out of her sides. The following year she took part in the second battle of Chuenpi, which is vastly more famous for the ironclad paddle steamer Nemesis slaughtering the entire Chinese fleet. Then she took part in silencing the forts and shore batteries during the Battle of the Bogue and Battle of First Bar. Finally, this rampage ended with a battle against the Chinese Flagship, weirdly called ‘Cambridge’. She was involved in several other actions during the course of the war.

After the Opium War she returned to the UK, where she became a guard ship at Chatham. HMS Wellesley was even mentioned in The Times at this point, and not in a flattering way:

‘It is reported here that Her Majesty has graciously signified her pleasure that the name of the leviathan line-of-battle ship Windsor Castle, 140, shall be changed to that of "The Duke of Wellington," in token of Her Majesty's high esteem for the memory of that lamented hero. This resolve on the part of the Queen will be universally applauded, as we have nothing bearing the name of the deceased but two wretched old 74's (the Wellington and Wellesley).’

Then in 1859 Sir George Henry Chambers approached the Royal Navy. In the mid-late 1800’s social philanthropy was quite common and seen as a moral duty. Sir Chambers had an idea to rescue young boys who might otherwise fall between the cracks and descend into crime. Sir Chambers idea was to set up training ships to instruct young boys in how to be sailors while keeping them out of trouble and installing some discipline. The Royal Navy agreed, providing that Sir Chambers would raise some £2,000 in capital first. He promptly did so, and the Royal Navy handed over HMS Cornwall to become the training ship (prefix was changed from ‘HMS’ to ‘TS’). Two more ships would follow, and eventually HMS Wellesley was handed over. This is where things become a little complicated. TS Cornwall was renamed TS Wellesley and sent to South Shields where she was used as an industrial school. Meanwhile, HMS Wellesley became TS Cornwall. All this happened in 1868, although for clarity I will keep calling her HMS Wellesley. 

Ships company aboard TS Cornwall/HMS Wellesley

Main cabin of the head master of TS Cornwall/HMS Wellesley. They also had a bedroom and dinning room.

HMS Wellesley remained in this role as a training ship for decades to come, although her location changed. In 1928 she was moved to Denton, and she remained there until the 24th of September 1940.
On that day the Germans had launched an air raid with some 200 bombers aimed at the heart of London. Setting off at around 0830, it was fought off by Fighter Command. About 1130 another 200 bombers formed up and headed for London. Fighter Command scrambled eighteen squadrons to intercept the formation. Only two made contact and the raid made it through. Wellesley was hit by a bomb. Lord Haw Haw is reported to have claimed the Luftwaffe sunk a battleship. Although that was put out, she later settled onto the riverbed, and was officially classed as ‘sunk’. This means she was the last ship of the line to be sunk by enemy action in the world, and the first to be sunk by air attack! 

HMS Wellesley sunk by the Germans.


HMS Wellesley was raised in 1948, and beached at Tilbury Ness, where she was broken up. Much to everyone’s surprise a great many of her timbers were found to still be sound. These were used in repairs to the London Law Courts. 

HMS Wellesley during salvage and breaking up.