The History of H.M.S. Fly

HMS Fly was a Swan-class ship-rigged sloop of the Royal Navy and was launched in 1776. She performed mainly convoy escort duties during the French Revolutionary Wars, though she did capture three privateers. She foundered and was lost with all hands early in 1801.

Her Design

Between 1766 to 1780 the Admiralty had 25 vessels of her class built to a design by John Williams. On 1 August 1775 the Admiralty ordered her built at Sheerness Dockyard, and she was the sixth one ordered. Her keel was laid in January 1776. She was launched on 14 September 1776 and completed on 19 October 1776.

The Swan class sloops were unusually attractive for the class of vessel. Not only did they have sleek hull lines but they also carried an unusual amount of decoration for their size. They were built just before the Admiralty issued orders that all vessels (especially lesser rates and un rated vessels) have minimal decoration and carvings to save on costs, due to the seemingly ever-continuing war with France and other nations.

Her Service

In June 1794, five days after the capture of Port-au-Prince she came under the command of Richard Hussey Moubray, previously first lieutenant of Magicienne, who had assisted in the landing of troops. Moubray then took Captain Rowley and Lieutenant Colonel Whitelocke, who were carrying the dispatches, to England.

In December 1794 H.M.S. Fly escorted the Duke of York from Helvoetsluys to Harwich. Later, she took part in the seizure of Dutch ships in Plymouth Sound: two line-of-battle ships, one frigate, two sloops-of-war, nine East Indiamen and about sixty other vessels. Afterwards, H.M.S. Fly escorted merchant vessels in the Channel and between Britain and Gibraltar.

On 22 August 1796 H.M.S. Fly captured the French privateer Furet some seven leagues off Portland. Furet was a small privateer armed only with five swivels and carrying a crew of 27 men.

In January 1796 Commander Henry S. Butt took command, followed in May 1797 by Commander William Cumberland, and in November 1798 by Commander Zachary Mudge. On 4 February 1799 H.M.S. Fly pursued and captured the French privateer cutter Gleneur off Portland. Gleneur carried six 4-pounder guns and 32 men and was under the command of Emanuel Tone. She had sailed from Cherbourg the night before, where British frigates had chased two days earlier. [1] On her previous cruise the Gleneur had successfully cut out of Torbay the Anna of Hull, the Hopwell of Lisbon and the Lucy of Whitehaven. The Hopewell was later recaptured.

On 21 May 1800 H.M.S. Fly arrived at Portsmouth from Halifax with dispatches from the Duke of Kent. She made the crossing in three weeks, having narrowly escaped hitting an immense island of ice on the edge of the Newfoundland Banks. Fly had been sailing in a thick fog at dusk when lookouts suddenly spotted the iceberg about 120 yards ("a cable's length") in front of her. H.M.S. Fly was moving at about nine knots but a swift turn of the helm enabled her to clear the south end of the iceberg by half a cable's length.

The H.M.S. Fly sailed on 28 June 1800 and returned to Portsmouth on 7 July together with Harpy. They brought with them a Prussian vessel carrying a cargo of salt. H.M.S. Fly then sailed again, returning on 26 July from a cruise off Cherbourg. Two days later she set off again for Cherbourg.

Gales forced her to quit Cherbourg. She cleared La Hogue with difficulty but nevertheless captured the French privateer cutter Trompeur there. Trompeur had been out two days and taken nothing.

In November 1800 Fly came under the command of Commander Thomas Duvall. She sailed from Portsmouth on 7 January 1801 with a convoy of 13 vessels for the coast of Africa. On the way they encountered a French squadron of five sail of the line and two frigates, leading H.M.S. Fly to order the convoy to scatter. On 19 March a letter arrived in Plymouth from Fly reporting that ten of the vessels had made it safely to Africa. (The Naval Chronicle reported that the three others had aborted their voyage, returning safely to Britain. H.M.S. Fly herself returned on 20 August.

Five days later, Mr William McLeod, H.M.S. Fly's purser faced a court martial on board Gladiator in Portsmouth Harbour. The charges were drunkenness, neglect of duty and failure to supply H.M.S. Fly with stores. The court martial board found McLeod guilty and ordered him dismissed from the Navy.

What happened to her?

On 17 September H.M.S. Fly left Portsmouth as escort to a convoy for Newfoundland. She foundered and was lost with all hands off Cape Flattery, Newfoundland in January 1802.

Today we can still her in kit form only. The original plans of the H.M.S. Fly still exist. Victory Models, Euromodels and Amati all offer 1:64 scale historically accurate wooden model kits based upon the plans.

Career (United Kingdom)




1 August 1775


Sheerness Dockyard



Laid down:

January 1776


14 September 1776


July 1776

In service:



Foundered off Newfoundland, 1802

General characteristics

Class and type:

Swan-class sloop

Tons burthen:

300 (bm)


96ft 7in (gundeck), 78ft 11.5in (keel)


26ft 10in

Depth of hold:

12ft 10in




14 guns + 16 swivel guns (from 1780, 16 guns)