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“Old Ironsides” Defeat of HMS Java

by Nov 17, 2019

“at 5 minutes past 3pm after an hours close and severe action with the American frigate Constitution in which she was so much disabled in her masts, sails and rigging by the enemy’s very superior force and weight of metal, that in the attempt to board, with every prospect of success, her foremast fell and she was rendered totally unmanageable.”

-from the original descriptive label.

The HMS Java was a French frigate, captured by the British in 1811 during the Battle of Tamatave off Madagascar during the Napoleonic Wars.

Shortly after Christmas, 1812, USS Constitution was sailing off the coast of Brazil when sails from two ships were sighted on the horizon. One of the ships turned toward the coast while the other, the HMS Java, set course toward “Old Ironsides”. Both frigates soon cleared their decks for action.

“Old Ironsides” subsequent defeat of the HMS Java, the second British frigate lost to the USS Constitution in six months, prompted the British Navy to restrict naval engagements with American frigates to British squadrons or ships-of-the-line. No longer would British frigates be permitted to engage American war ships alone during the War of 1812.

Aboard the HMS Java at the time of her defeat, were ship’s plans for construction of a British Leda-class frigate named Trincomalee, to be built of teak, at the British Dockyard at Bombay [now: Mumbai], India.

Because of the defeat of the HMS Java by “Old Ironsides”, the construction plans for Trincomalee were lost.

By the time new construction plans could be delivered to the dockyard in India, construction completed and her arrival in England, the Napoleonic Wars were over, her service no longer needed, and Trincomalee spent the next 28 years “in ordinary”, the British reserve fleet.

In a curious historic ship twist of fate , the HMS Trincomalee has survived to this day, now the oldest surviving British warship afloat in the world at THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE ROYAL NAVY HARTLEPOOL, while across the ocean in Boston Harbor, “Old Ironsides” still remains, the world's oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat.