HMS Pickle

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"Make haste, little Pickle" the Admiral said "Go and tell England that Nelson is dead."

The battle was won and England was once again safe from the threat of the Spanish fleets as Nelson secured British naval superiority for the next one hundred years but the victory came at great cost. Admiral Lord Nelson, the nations saviour, had been killed.

The news of victory at the Battle of Trafalgar and of Nelson's heroic death could only be entrusted to the swiftest vessel in the fleet. That vessel was HMS Pickle.

Pickle's early years

HMS Pickle at Scarborough, North Yorkshire

The modern depiction of HMS Pickle

The topsail schooner later known as HMS Pickle was originally called Sting and was built in 1799 in Bermuda, where this type of vessel was known as a Bermuda sloop. She was purchased for £2500 (Present equivalent £10,390,000) by Vice-Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour, the commander in chief on the Jamaica Station in 1800.

Pickle was 127 tons, 73' long, 20' beam, gaff rigged with a square topsail on the foremast. She had a complement of around 40 and was armed with 8 twelve pounder cannonades.

Although one of the smaller ships of the Navy, Pickle had an illustrious, heroic career. She was involved in many actions some with other vessels and some solo.

In 1800 - Pickle with Garland recaptured the Schooner Hero, and then captured the Schooner Maria.

Later that year the Pickle captured the Schooner Jack, recaptured Schooner John, then in consort with Gipsy Captured Fidelle.

1803 saw Pickle with Diana capture the Brig Euphrosine then solo capture Prudent.

In 1804 she took two French Chasse Marees and then the following year in company with the Naiad they captured the Brig Argo and the Sloop Nelly, then solo the Brig Indefatigable.

Pickle's role at Trafalgar

The Battle of Trafalgar took place on 21 October 1805, gaining it's name from the location of the battle. It was fought west of Cape Trafalgar, Spain, between Cadiz and the Strait of Gibraltar.

HMS Pickle and the other similarly sized vessels were vunerable to the heavier guns of large ships and keptback from the main battle for this reason.

Nelson is shot on the quarterdeck, painted by Denis Dighton, c. 1825

Nelson is shot on the quarterdeck, painted by Denis Dighton, c. 1825

Pickle was stationed to the north-west of the weather line, where Nelson was leading HMS Victory into battle.

As the battle progress, Pickle and her sister ship Entreprenante, along with the boats of Prince and Swiftsure went to the rescue of the crew of the French ship, Achille, which caught fire and subsequently exploded. Together they rescued two women and somewhere between 100 and 200 men.

The prisoners from the battle, taken aboard Pickle outnumbered her own crew three to one and their constantly existed the threat of been taken over by the rescued souls.

Pickle was the first ship to bring the news of Nelson's victory to Great Britain, arriving at Falmouth on 4 November 1805, after a hard voyage in bad weather. Vice Admiral Collingwood, who had assumed command after the death of Nelson, chose her to carry his dispatches describing the battle and announcing Nelson's death.

Collingwood sent Pickle, captained by John Richards Lapenotière, back to Britain with the dispatches telling of the great victory. This was a signal honour for any junior officer as it almost guaranteed promotion.

After arriving in Falmouth, Lapenotière took a chaise to London to deliver the dispatches to the Admiralty, stopping 21 times to change horses.

The Admiralty duly promoted him to Commander for this service, and the Committee of the Lloyd's Patriotic Fund gave him a sword worth 100 guineas and £500 in cash. The route that Lapenotière travelled is now known as The Trafalgar Way.

HM Schooner Pickle after Trafalgar

Captain John Lapenotiere RN

Captain John Lapenotiere RN

After the excitement of Trafalgar, the vessel returned to normal admiralty service and on the 3rd January 1807, Pickle 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, the bottom was torn out of her on the reef at Chipiona.

John Lapenotiere continued his service on the Baltic blockade but then suffered a severe injury in an accidental explosion, he took up a desk job in Plymouth then died in 1834.

The journey of HMS Pickle and the bearing of the news from Trafalgar is still 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. 

It is thought that the term being "Pickled" meaning drunk, originates from Pickle night!

Today's HMS Pickle

Pickle with Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth in the background.

Pickle with Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth in the background.

1996 saw the present recreation of the original Schooner Pickle being built in St Petersburg by a Russian multi-millionaire to help commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Russian navy by Peter the Great.

She was launched as the schooner Alevtina Tuy along with her sister ship the Elena Maria Barbara. They were eventually bought by Robin James and the Alevtina Tuy was converted into a faithful replica of HM Schooner Pickle for the Trafalgar Bi-centennial celebrations.

She was kept in Wales originally and was used as a Tall Ship, eventually ending up in Gibraltar where unfortunately she suffered from exposure to the sun and heat. She has now owned by Mal Nicholson and has under gone extensive repairs to bring her back to life.

Pickle now lives on the Humber at Hull Marina and regularly visits ports along the North East coast and further afield.