Royal Naval Museum




HMS Pickle and the Trafalgar Dispatch


This schooner was formerly known as Sting. She was purchased by the Admiralty early in the nineteenth century and it was renamed HMS Pickle.  She was fitted out with 10 guns.

In 1803, the Pickle was attached to the Admiral Cornwallis’ Inshore Squadron and was used for the close reconnaissance of the enemy harbours during the blockade of Brest, Rochefort and L’Orient. Pickle captured a small coaster and was able to supply valuable information on enemy warships at L’Orient. On 25 March 1804, with three other British ships of the Squadron, the Pickle, commanded by Lieutenant John Lapenotiere, went to the assistance of HMS Magnificent which had struck a shoal off the Black Rocks and rescued the 650 strong crew.

On October 9th 1805, the Pickle with HMS Weazle was sent to assist Captain Blackwood in the monitoring of the enemy coastline off Cadiz, and provide information for the British fleet. During this period prior to the Battle of Trafalgar, the Pickle was able to capture a Portuguese settee from Tangier which was carrying fresh meat. This cargo was used to replenish the British fleet. She also managed to sail close enough to the coast to report an exact count of enemy warships – 33 in Cadiz harbour.

During the battle, the small vessels, such as the Pickle, were kept well back from the fighting. The Pickle herself was stationed to the north-west of the weather line, where Nelson was leading HMS Victory into battle. In the latter stages of the battle, Pickle and three other vessels went to the rescue of the crew of the French ship, Achille, which was ablaze. One of the survivors picked up in the Pickle was a Frenchwoman, wife of one of the crew, found clinging to an oar.

After the battle and death of the Commander in Chief, it fell to Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood to write the dispatch for the Admiralty. He selected the schooner, Pickle, one of the fast advice boats, to take the news back to Britain. John Lapenotiere had been in command of the vessel in 1802 and had previously served with Admiral John Jervis. The schooner set off on the 26 October and took 9 days to reach Britain, enduring a gale off Cape Finisterre. The vessel was blown off course and Lapenotiere ordered that 4 carronades to be cast overboard to lighten the load.

At 9.45am on November 4, the Pickle anchored in Falmouth Bay. By midday, Lapenotiere was on his way to London in a hired post-chaise coach, displaying a Union Flag and a tattered Tricolour on a broomstick as a flagpole. The normal journey took a week, but within 37 hours, after 19 horse changes, Lapenotiere arrived at the Admiralty at 1am on 6 November. He was shown through to the First Secretary of the Admiralty, Mr Marsden. Lord Barham, First Lord of the Admiralty was raised from his sleep to receive the news. The Prime Minister, William Pitt received the news at 3am and King George III and Queen Charlotte heard at 7am. As the news was being broadcast across the city with saluting guns from the Tower of London, the news was also received by an hysterical Emma Hamilton. Lapenotiere was later given an audience with the King and Queen and was presented with a silver cruet, the first thing the King could find to hand. He was also promoted to Commander.

After the excitement of the battle, the vessel returned to normal service and on 3rd  January 1807, she captured a French privateer of 18 guns off the Lizard. Eighteen months later, on 28th July 1808, the Pickle was grounded on a shoal as she entered Cadiz harbour, carrying Lieutenant Moses Cannadey bearing dispatches and was wrecked.

John Lapenotiere continued his service on the Baltic blockade. After suffering a severe injury from an accidental explosion, he took up a desk job in Plymouth. He died in 1834.

The journey of HMS Pickle and the bearing of the news from Trafalgar is commemorated by Warrant Officers of the Royal Navy on November 5th, known as Pickle Night, in a similar celebration to that of Trafalgar Night celebrated by Commissioned Officers.

© Royal Naval Museum Library, 2002

The information contained in this information sheet is correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for a bibliography of further reading materials, if available

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