HMS Rattlesnake (1822)

HMS Rattlesnake was an Atholl-class 28-gun sixth-rate corvette of the Royal Navy launched in 1822. She made a historic voyage of discovery to the Cape York and Torres Strait areas of northern Australia.

Rattlesnake, painted by Sir Oswald Walters Brierly, 1853
United Kingdom
Name: HMS Rattlesnake
Ordered: 30 April 1818
Builder: Chatham Dockyard
Laid down: August 1819
Launched: 26 March 1822
Commissioned: 8 May 1824[1]
  • Troopship 1839
  • Survey vessel in 1845
Fate: Broken up at Chatham in January 1860
General characteristics
Class and type: Atholl-class 28-gun sixth-rate corvette
Tons burthen: 499 91/94 bm
  • 113 ft 8 in (34.6 m) (gundeck)
  • 94 ft 8 34 in (28.9 m) (keel)
Beam: 31 ft 6 in (9.6 m)
Depth of hold: 8 ft 9 in (2.67 m)
Sail plan: Full-rigged ship
Complement: 175


Launched at Chatham Dockyard on 26 March 1822, Rattlesnake was 114 feet (34.7 m) long and 32 feet (9.7 m) abeam. She carried twenty 32-pounder carronades, six 18-pounder carronades and two 9-pounder long guns.[1]

Service in the Greek War of Independence

For most of the years 1827 to 1829 Rattlesnake was cruising off the coasts of Greece, under the command of Captain the Hon. Charles Orlando Bridgeman. During that period her log was kept by Midshipman Talavera Vernon Anson and survives in a collection at the New York Public Library.[2] Both men went on to become admirals.[3] On 31 January 1828, Rattlesnake was part of a force of five British and two French ships that attacked the Greek island of Gramvousa, used as a base for piracy. While most of the pirate's ships were destroyed by the Anglo-French force, the British frigate Cambrian ran aground after a collision with Isis and sunk.[4]

Sometime between 14 and 16 May 1830, Rattlesnake was driven ashore and damaged at Algiers in Ottoman Algeria.[5] She was repaired and returned to service.

Service in the East Indies and China Station

William Hobson was appointed captain in December 1834. Rattlesnake served in the Far East squadron, which was commanded by Admiral Sir Thomas Bladen Capel. In 1836, the Rattlesnake was ordered to Australia, arriving at Hobart on 5 August 1836 and at Sydney 18 days later. On 26 May 1837, the Rattlesnake sailed to the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, in response to a request for help from James Busby, the British Resident, who felt threatened by fighting between Māori tribes.[6] In 1838 the Rattlesnake returned to England.

Service in the First Anglo-Chinese War

Rattlesnake took part in the First Anglo-Chinese War (1839–42), known popularly as the First Opium War, taking part in the Capture of Chusan on 5–6 July 1840.[7] During the period 1841–42 she was involved in actions off Canton in the fleet commanded by Sir William Parker in the First Anglo-Chinese War (1839–42),[8] including the Battle of Chinhai on 10 October 1841[9] and the Yangtze river campaign in June–August 1842.[10]

Survey ship

She was converted to a survey ship in 1845.[1]

Australia and New Guinea

The captain on the voyage to northern Australia and New Guinea from 1846-1850 was Owen Stanley. Also aboard were John Thomson as Surgeon, Thomas Henry Huxley as Assistant Surgeon ("surgeon's mate", but in practice marine naturalist), John MacGillivray as botanist and Oswald Walters Brierly as artist. T. H. Huxley established his scientific reputation by the papers he wrote on this voyage, leading to his election as fellow of the Royal Society in 1851.[11]

Rattlesnake was the ship that rescued Barbara Crawford Thompson, who had been shipwrecked on Prince of Wales Island, North Queensland, aged 13 in November 1844 and spent the next five years living with the local Kaurareg people.[12]


She was broken up at Chatham in January 1860.[1]

See also


  1. Winfield (2004) p.113
  2. H.M.S. Rattlesnake logbook 1827-1829 at, accessed 15 August 2015
  3. 'Anson, Talavera Vernon Anson', and 'Bridgeman, The Honourable Charles Orlando', in William Richard O'Byrne, A Naval Biographical Dictionary, vol. 1 (London: John Murray, 1849), p. 16 and p. 123
  4. Clowes (1901), pp. 261–262
  5. "(untitled)". The Times (14246). London. 7 June 1830. col E, p. 2.
  6. Ballara, Angela (1 September 2010). "Pomare II - Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 12 December 2011.
  7. Clowes (1901), pp. 282–283
  8. "HMS RATTLESNAKE (Anglo-Chinese war 1842)". Archived from the original on 13 April 2013. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
  9. Clowes (1901), p. 295
  10. Clowes (1901), p. 300
  11. Fellow details, Royal Society, retrieved 5 September 2012
  12. "Survival of Barbara Crawford". seamuseum. Retrieved 26 November 2019.

Further reading

  • Huxley, T.H. (1935), Huxley, Julian (ed.), Diary of the Voyage of HMS Rattlesnake, London: Chatto and Windus
  • Goodman, Jordan (2006), The Rattlesnake: A Voyage of Discovery to the Coral Sea, London: Faber & Faber, ISBN 978-0-571-21078-7
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