How the British War Ships Were Rated

There was much controversy during the War of 1812 about how the American and British ships compared, some of the British papers insisting that the American ships carried more armament than they were built for.  One of the clearest explanations of how the British ships were rated comes from the Philadelphia Gazette, as reprinted by the Baltimore Patriot, of April 1, 1813.

The British still continue to rate their ships of war according to the rule which formerly prevailed before carronades were used in their frigates.  Of late years, they have reduced the number of long guns on board the frigates, and have added a greater number of short guns, called carronades.–  Thus, formerly, a frigate rated at 40 guns, carried 40 long guns; but now such a vessel carries only 28 long 18 pounders, and the rest are carronades (I believe 24 pounders)—No frigate in the British navy has long 24 pounders; and no ship of any size has more than 32 pounders.  a 74 gun ship has 74 long cannon, and 10 or 12 carronades on the poop.  All ships of the line have (or used to have) carronades on their poops:  but these are not reckoned in the rate of a ship.  Carronades are destructive at close quarters, but cannot hit a distant object at sea.  They are heated by a few quick discharges, and then become almost unmanageable.

A. B.

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About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden