HMS Leopard (ship)

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HMS Leopard was a 50-gun ship involved in a serious peacetime incident with the USN Chesapeake in 1807.

The Leopard was launched in 1790. As a 50 gun ship, she was already nearly obsolete, being too small to stand in the line of battle and unsuitable as a cruising ship.

A notable event in her service occurred in early 1807. She was patrolling near the American coast when she encountered the Chesapeake (Commodore Barron; Captain Gordon) which was six hours out from the Virginia Capes en route to Europe with her decks in a state of clutter. Acting on the orders of his Commander in Chief, Vice Admiral Berkeley, in an attempt to recover British deserters, Captain Salisbury Pryce Humphreys of the "Leopard" sent a boat on board the Chesapeake and requested permission to search it. Commodore James Barron, refused and began to clear for action. The Leopard opened fire, killing a number of men and wounding others including the Commodore. The Chesapeake surrendered, and Humphreys boarded to search for deserters. Three Americans and a British sailor were removed to the "Leopard" and the British sailor was later hanged at Halifax. The British Government disavowed Vice Admiral Berkeley's actions. The affair was part of the build-up to the War of 1812. It strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Britain.

In 1811, the Leopard was converted to a troopship. On June 28, 1814, she was en route from England to Quebec when she grounded on Anticosti Island in heavy fog. The ship was lost but the troops and crew were saved.

SPOILER WARNING:  Plot or ending details for "Desolation Island, The Fortune of War and Letter of Marque"  follow.

In the Canon

Leopard - "the horrible old Leopard" - first appears in The Mauritius Command, where (as in real life) she takes a minor part in the campaign. Later, in Desolation Island, Jack Aubrey commands her on a voyage to Australia. By the end of the voyage in The Fortune of War she is in very poor condition having survived near shipwreck. She underwent makeshift repairs on Desolation Island but, as Aubrey puts it in The Surgeon's Mate, "the ice had given her frame such a wrench that she could not carry any piece of metal -- no good to man or beast: only fit for a transport." The ship's actual history also causes significant difficulties when negotiating with American whalers for assistance in repairing the rudder.

Later in The Letter of Marque, Stephen Maturin takes passage to Sweden aboard the Leopard, now converted to a transport. Again the voyage is eventful with a grounding necessitating the repair of the rudder. However, Maturin is recognised as an old Leopard and treated with respect for the second half of the voyage.

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