BLAKE (74) Built in 1808, Deptford. Sold in 1816.
1808 Capt. Edward Codrington.
In 1809 she served under Sir Richard Strachan in the expedition to the Scheldt. In forcing the passage of the Scheldt on 13 August, the BLAKE, with the flag of Rear Admiral Lord Gardner, having no pilot, took the ground as she followed San Domingo in, and was engaged with the batteries at Flushing for two and three-quarter hours. She had two men killed, James Gatt, sergeant of marines, and John Lowry, seaman, and nine wounded. BLAKE’s gunboat No. 67, lost one killed and four wounded in the attack on Flushing between 8 and 15 August. Rear Admiral Strachan hoisted his flag in BLAKE on 13 December for a few days.
In 1810 BLAKE was employed in the defence of Cadiz and in August the rapid advance of the French army made it necessary to remove four Spanish line-of-battle ships from Cadiz and on the 5th. BLAKE and NORGE escorted them to Port Mahon. The ships were unseaworthy in every respect, had limited provisions and were loaded with high ranking passengers at the expense of working seamen. The passage to Minorca took 38 days. She later joined the fleet in the Mediterranean under Sir Charles Cotton and from April 1811 until April 1813 she was senior ship in a squadron co-operating with the Spanish patriots in Catalonia.
In May 1811 French forces besieged Tarragona. Although BLAKE, INVINCIBLE, CENTAUR and SPARROWHAWK with the WILLIAM transport brought reinforcements, 4,000 were landed on the night of 12 June, the French assault on 28 June broke through a breach in the walls. They met little opposition as the Spaniards fled in confusion. Some tried to swim out to the shipping while others slid down the face of the batteries on the Barcelona side and ran in a large body along the road where they were fired on by about 20 French soldiers who ran beside them a few yards off. They were brought to a halt when two field pieces opened up on them and after many were slaughtered some 3,000 of them were taken prisoner by 200 to 300 French. The assault had started and finished before the ships could get in close enough to fire on the enemy and all they could do was use their boats to rescue the people in the water or hiding among the rocks. Some five to six hundred, many of them badly wounded, were brought off. Capt. Codrington and the captains of the other ships spent most nights in their gigs working close in shore under heavy fire from muskets and field guns. BLAKE's barge was recovered after being swamped and overset, while bringing off 12 people, a woman and a child being killed by a shot which passed through both sides of the boat.
Two seamen were killed and Lieut. Ashworth and two men were wounded when Centaur's launch came to grief.
The Spanish governor, Gonzalez, with a handful of men, defended himself to the last until he was bayoneted to death. No one was spared in the rape and slaughter that followed before the city was set on fire. A few houses were saved only by the sudden departure of the French. Captain Codrington issued instructions that, since so many of the people had been brought on board the ships perfectly naked, they were to be clothed and provided with such provisions "as the humanity and liberality of our country will dictate. "
On 11 January 1812 BLAKE joined INVINCIBLE in Salou Bay, about 15 miles west of Tarragona, to learn that General Lacy and the Spanish leader of the Catalan army, Baron d'Eroles, planned to attack Tarragona before marching into Aragon.
On the morning of the 19th. Captain Codrington went to the Baron's camp at Reus, about 5 miles inland to discuss the attack to be made that evening. The talks were interrupted by the news that the French from Tortosa had arrived at Cambrils, only 3 miles from Salou, so the Spanish forces numbering between five and six thousand men were called to arms. Captain Codrington attempted to get back to Salou where he had ordered a boat to bring 20 barrels of gunpowder but he was chased back by a party of French cavalry who captured Captain’s Pringle and Flin, who were walking along the beach, and Lieut. Cattle from the BLAKE, who was waiting with the powder. He found that the Baron had put himself at the head of 20 cuirassiers to reconnoitre the enemy strength. Prisoners told them that the French General Lafond, accompanied by some dragoons, had reached Tarragona, leaving 800 infantry in the village of Villa Suca. The French were attacked from both sides and about 600 surrendered, the rest being left dead or dying on the field. The captured British officers were freed after being plundered of part of their clothes. Since the general still intended to attack Tarragona that night, the captains returned to their ships. SPARROWHAWK was stationed at the mole and MEROPE to the eastward to communicate with the army, while Blake commenced a bombardment of the town. This was maintained all night, despite gale force winds which prevented communication with the shore, but no attack took place and at daylight no Spanish troops could be seen. Captain Codrington maintained his position during the the following day until, with sails splitting and the barge sinking before they could get the carronade and ammunition out of her, he was forced to seek a sheltered anchorage.
A short message from General Lacy on 23 January induced him to make for Mataro but the following day BLAKE was struck by a N. E. gale off Barcelona. The sea started all the timbers and rail of the head, carried away the round house and head door and filled the main deck with water so that the officers were up to their knees in the wardroom. He bore up to shelter in Vilanova with SPARROWHAWK and MEROPE. When the latter weighed and opened fire on the road to the westward, the other two joined her and dispersed a party of troops who left three wagons abandoned. A few miles further west near Calafell, a party of some 1,000 men with cavalry and artillery was forced to flee inland when the ships approached. The guns were given the greatest elevation and two or three broadsides discharged at the enemy before dark. They did not return to the coast road.
On the 29 January, while watering at Arenys, Captain Codrington learnt that a French force of some 7,000 men was about to move along the coast from Barcelona towards Mataro. He ordered MEROPE there to consult with the governor, Col. O'Ryan, and, while CURAÇAO and RAINBOW opened fire on the enemy troops on the coast road at Vilassar, BLAKE and PAPILLON aimed their fire at the French soldiers plundering the houses in parts of Mataro. He had hopes that their efforts, combined with the Spanish guerillas in the mountains behind, would induce the enemy to quit, but they returned during the night giving each part of the army a turn at plunder. The ships, to conserve ammunition, had to restrict their firing, while still keeping the enemy in a constant state of alarm. Captain Codrington despatched 11,500 cartridges to the Spaniards to maintain them in their positions behind the town.
The French started to pull out of Mataro before dawn on 2 February, going through the vineyards at the back of the town to keep out of range of the guns. Here they had to run the gauntlet of the guerillas and did not reach Arenys, only 10 miles to the eastward, until 3 o'clock to find BLAKE and PAPILLON waiting for them. The boats were ordered to scour the street running down to the sea to stop them plundering the houses during the night.
BLAKE and FRANCHISE left their anchorage in Salou Bay after dark on 26 September 1812 and sailed for Tarragona to meet Baron D'Eroles who had marched from Reus at the same time. The boats of the two ships opened fire on the port taking the enemy so completely by surprise that it was some time before they returned a shot. The governor, General Bartoletti, was reported to have mounted his horse barefooted. Two hundred grenadiers came rushing out of the town to be ambushed by the Baron's Spaniards who had installed themselves in the Capuchin Convent. The survivors were driven back by a bayonet charge. The enemy guns in the fortress were diverted by a series of false attacks while the boats went into the mole and brought out a bombard, a lugger and three feluccas. FRANCHISE was placed close to the mole and, to provide additional cover, BLAKE was taken close in and although she was a good target in the moonlight she was only hit once with a shot through the main-top-sail.
The loss to the enemy was considerable. The Spaniards lost 3 killed and 8 wounded and retired to Reus. The officers and crews of the ships requested that the proceeds from the sale of the prizes should go to the Spaniards.
BLAKE returned home in April 1813 to receive many letters of commendation from the Spanish government in Cadiz.
1814 (as a prison-ship) Lieut. George Forbes, Portsmouth.
On Wednesday 18 September 1816 BLAKE, along with CUBA, SQUIRRELL, PLUTO and SPEEDY, all lying at Portsmouth, was put up for auction at the Navy Office in Somerset Place The commissioners valued her at 4,500 pounds and, although the reserve was reduced to 3,500 pounds, she remained unsold. Only three out of twenty vessels offered for sale that day at various ports were actually sold: RAVEN, OISEAU and BLOODHOUND.
Taken from Michael Philip's Ships of the Old Navy.