Tuesday, August 9, 2016

"An Arbitrary Action, Contrary to Law, Inconsistent with Liberty": H.M.S. Maidstone Heads for North America (Part II)

H.M.S. Maidstone (1758), 28 gun Sixth Rate Ship
She was built at Chatham dockyard between October, 1756 and April, 1758 by Thomas Steward of Rochester, one of the Royal Navy's first batch of "Coventry" class frigates.  H.M.S. Maidstone was a sixth rate square rigged ship, and could throw a modest 117 pound broadside weight of metal from the two dozen 9 pound cannons on each side of her 118', 4"gun deck, with another meager 6 pounds from the four 3 pounders on her quarterdeck and a dozen swivels.  She was no ship of the line, but at 593 tons burthen was still among the larger ships of her class and as a post-ship she rated a post-captain as commander.

The Battle of Quiberon Bay by Nicholas Pocock (1812)
Maidstone had a full compliment of about 19 officers (commissioned and warrant, quarterdeck and standing) , 200 men and about 24 marines.  She was commissioned during the Seven Years War under Captain Dudley Diggs and had early success that year in single ship actions along the Normandy Coast.  She also participated in support of larger fleet actions, including serving as one of 5 frigates with the 21 ships of the line under Admiral Hawke at Battle of Quiberon Bay in November, 1759.  Her next commander, Captain Weston Vargo, continued on station in the Channel and along with H.M.S. Rochester and Renommee took the 26-gun frigate La Guirlande in August, 1762.

Maidstone returned to Portsmouth in March, 1763 and paid off her crew.  Her next voyage would have a very different character, no longer a ship at war but an extension of royal authority providing seaborne enforcement of customs regulations in the North American colonies.  Her commander for this commission was Captain Charles Antrobus (1726-1769).  Not much is known about his origins, though he evidently had a brother in Ireland who helped settle his ship's accounts in 1766.  Captain Antrobus made the post-captain's list on February 17, 1758.  His first ship at this rank had been H.M.S. Surprise in 1759 (an older sixth rate launched in 1746), followed by the 5th-rate H.M.S. Southampton (launched in 1757) which he commanded from 1760-1763.  He was given H.M.S. Maidstone as his next ship.

Cuthbert Baines
Maidstone's other commissioned officers under Captain Antrobus were 1st Lieutenant Cuthbert Baines (1743-1810) and 2nd Lieutenant Jenkins. Cuthbert Baines was born in Suffolk, the fifth son of John and Elizabeth Baines.  He first went to sea in the merchant service at the age of 12 but soon joined the navy as Captain's apprentice and a seaman. He was rated midshipman in 1758 and commissioned as Lieutenant on March 11, 1761.  He was appointed First Lieutenant of Maidstone on April 19th, 1763 while at Gibraltar. 

2nd Lieutenant Jenkins was William Jenkins, who according to the Navy List was commissioned lieutenant on August 6th, 1762.  Lieutenant Jenkins would play a significant part in the events that lead to rioting in Newport over customs seizures and naval impressment in 1765 but vanishes from the known record thereafter.  I have a theory about what happened to him that I'll discuss in a subsequent post.

Ship model, Admiralty Dockyard model, HMS "Maidstone", 
wood / ivory, made by Stephen Bingle,
Royal Naval Dockyard, Chatham, Kent, England, c. 1756

Although H.M.S.  Maidstone's logs and muster books survive from this period in the British National Archives at Kew, I have not had access to them. The only other named men that I have discovered are the purser (one W. Mortimer) and his clerk John Bell, Jr.  There would have been other warrant officers (the Master and Surgeon), along with perhaps four Midshipmen, a Marine Lieutenant, and other specialists, including the bosun, gunner, carpenter, sailmaker and their mates, a cook and the Captain's clerk. The rest of the ship's 190 or so seamen were rated able, ordinary or landsmen according to their experience and ability.  Many, perhaps half of the ship's company would have been pressed into service when they joined the navy, and a few deserted while Maidstone was refitting in Portsmouth prior to sailing for America in the summer of 1763.

H.M.S. Maidstone would be joining The North American squadron under Rear Admiral of the White Alexander Lord Colville, a Scottish peer who was charged with patrolling the American coast between Nova Scotia and Florida with his headquarters at the naval base in Halifax.  All of the 21 ships in Colville's squadron were dispatched from various ports in England in the summer of 1763, replacing those previously on station.  Their primary task was to enforce trade and navigation laws, but also to discourage the French from any ideas of regaining a hold in Canadian waters.

Captain Antrobus sailed from Spithead with H.M.S. Maidstone on July 3, 1763.   It must have been a rough crossing, for another ship brought news to Halifax on September 30th that "the Maidstone, Captain Antrobus has sprung her formast and has put in to Louisberg [Nova Scotia]."  Still, the ship was in much better shape than her sister Frigate H.M.S. Mermaid, which was completed dismasted during her voyage from England and lost her bowsprit as well.  Both Maidstone and Mermaid also required a replacement ships boat while under repair in Nova Scotia, which the Admiral ordered from Boston in February, 1764.

There are few indications of Maidstone's activity before she arrived and took up station in Newport, Rhode Island in December, 1764.  A Boston diarist noted her arrival at Nantasket Roads on September 23, 1764, but that is about all that can be determined without examining the Admiralty records.  She left a much more extensive record of her activities in Rhode Island.  We will discuss her customs enforcement and naval manning activities in Rhode Island waters in 1765 and the reactions they prompted in Newport in the next post in this series.

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