HMS PRINCE REGENT, General Beresford, Netley

Type of Wreck: War Ship, Schooner
Location of Wreck: N44.13.88 W76.27.13

Albany Gazette of July 23. #

By Yesterday’s Afternoon’s Mail. – Action Upon Lake Ontario
On Sunday the 19th at 9 A. M. the Royal George, the Prince Regent, and two brigs entered Sacket’s Harbor, came within one and a half-mile of the town and commenced an attack-and continued the cannonade for about one hour, during which time one ball only (a 32-pounder) reached the shore.

The brig Oneida lay inshore, all her guns were unshipped and with two nine’s mounted upon a redoubt thrown up on Friday and Saturday preceding by order of Maj. Gen. Van Rensselaer.

Two shots from the nine’s hulled the Royal George – and one shot carried way the foretop gallant mast of the Prince Regent when the British squadron bore away. The British squadron had captured a revenue cutter, and sent the men ashore, with a message that unless the brig which had been taken by Capt. Woolsey was immediately restored they would burn the town.

York’s Man of War Found at the Foot of the Lake Schooner Days CCXVII (217) #

NOT to prolong identification agony unduly—the wreck of the warrior of 1812, uncovered in Navy Bay at Kingston by this month’s low water, appears to be that of a vessel Toronto should feel a particular interest in, the only sailing fighting ship ever built in this port.

This was the war-schooner known at different times as the Prince Regent, General Beresford, and the Netley. She has launched one hundred and twenty-three years ago last spring from the government shipyard which was on the bay shore here, just across the present Front street from the Royal York. The Union Station now covers the old launching ways and the water to which they led.

Until we began turning out minesweepers for the Great War at the foot of Sherbourne street this vessel marked the beginning and end of building battleships in this port. True, the sloop-of-war Sir Isaac Brock was begun in the same shipyard the winter after the Prince Regent was launched. But she never reached the water. She was set on fire to prevent her capture by the Americans when they took Toronto on the 27th of April, 1813. They had been so sure of getting her that they had brought along carpenters and caulkers from Sacket’s Harbor, to complete the work. They were so disappointed that they threatened to burn the town, and did burn the Parliament Buildings and plundered the place.

The Prince Regent was schooner-rigged with two masts, and carried ten short-range 12-pounder carronades, five on either side; and two long-range 6-pounder guns, one in the bow and the other in the stern. Later she got long nines and short eighteens, and still later a long thirty-two or twenty-four. She was a prickly porcupine for any dog of war to attack, from any angle, though her armament was too light to match the American, brig Oneida built the year before, which had sixteen 24-pounders. But she could sail rings around the Oneida, going to windward. The remains found in Navy Bay have a very clean sharp run and are those of a vessel that would cleave and leave the water easily.

Brock celebrated the Twelfth of July, 1812, by writing: –“The Prince Regent made her first voyage this morning, and I propose sending her to Kingston to bring such articles as are absolutely necessary which we know have arrived from Quebec. I trust she will outsail the Oneida.” She did.

The Prince Regent served throughout the War of 1812, but not under her original name. She was renamed General Beresford, to make way for a much larger man-of-war, a two-decker, which won the royal title. She was again re-named the Netley, after that Hampshire village near the great naval depot of Portsmouth. The Netley was one of the few vessels remaining in commission after the war was over.

Lieut. John Tucker Williams, a grandfather of Gen. Victor Williams, commanded her from 1814 onwards. But not for long. Lieut. Williams was transferred to the schooner Surprise, on the Penetanguishene station, in 1817, and the Netley was laid up. She may have been the first vessel mentioned in an advertisement of naval stores to be sold at Kingston Navy Yard, nineteen years later, in 1836: “One old schooner and four old ships of war, lying aground on the mud in the harbor.”

“Aground on the mud in the harbor” she has lain ever since, neglected, forlorn, forgotten for a hundred years. Reason for thinking that this wreck uncovered by the recent low water is that of the Prince Regent, built at York so long ago, is this: the dimensions of the wreck correspond with the known dimensions of the Prince Regent and all the other war vessels of 1812 were too large, or can be accounted for. We know where the St. Lawrence lies, the biggest of them all; Canada, second Prince Regent, Princess Charlotte, Wolfe, and Royal George were all more than a hundred feet long on the keel. This wreck is only 78 feet from end to end. Of all the vessels of the old naval establishment whose dimensions are known and which were; laid up at Kingston, the choice narrows down to one of these three:

  • Brig Earl of Moira. 70 feet keel, 23 feet inches beam.
  • Brig Lord Melville. 72 feet l6, inches keel, 24 feet 3 inches
  • Schooner Prince Regent. 71 feet 9 inches keel, 21 feet beam.

The keel of this wreck is buried in the mud, but it will tape 72 feet within a few inches; perhaps exactly. The greatest breadth of the wreck which can be measured is 19 feet 5 inches, but she has been so mauled by ice and decay that this is not accurate for her original width; it is, however, an indication in favor of a vessel of 21 feet beam rather than one of 23 feet or 24. It is not possible to prove from the wreck the original draught of water, but from the position of the gudgeon strap discovered on the sternpost, and other dimensions, a draught of 11 feet would be consistent. The three vessels mentioned were each 9 feet deep in the hold and of 11 feet draught, with slight variations.

If the wreck is not that of the Prince Regent the next probability is the brig-of-war Earl of Moira, built at Kingston in 1805. Lord Melville is the third choice. But unless someone can prove that the Prince Regent – Beresford – Netley lies elsewhere, we may feel reasonably certain that this wreck in Navy Bay is all that is left of her.

As for raising and restoring her, or preserving her as she lies, someone else will have to worry about that. It would be a good thing to do, and not expensive. Later on, if you will, we may have what she and the Moira and the Melville did in the war which once ripped up the lakes with a cannon shot.

There is, perhaps, little for the uninitiated to see inside this old shell of a once-proud ship, as she lies freezing over in Navy Bay, even when the water is clear; and nothing at all if it is muddied by tramping feet, or the scourge of a strong wind, stirring up short, snappy waves or covered with ice. Yet by sight and faith and feel the one who has given some time to these things can find a great deal.

That ragged piece of timber, twelve feet long, at the bow. It looks to have been afoot square before the ice and the sun started to chew it up. It was a strong-back, or timber reinforcing the keelson against the thrust of the stem. The great round holes in it now, through which you could thrust your arm, almost, are where the bolts were driven to fasten it. Here is one of them—around iron bar, three feet long and over an inch in diameter. The iron stands, the wood gives; and after the iron has been standing and the wood has been giving for a century, with the strains of winds, waves, heat, frost, and ice in motion, the hard face of the iron bar wears a hole many times its own diameter.

And these funny black oval rings, a couple of inches across, grooved on the outside?

They are cringles, something like big eyelets, in the corners of the hempen sails that once made this dead hulk a flying bird. The groove was to take the bolt roping, of tarred rope, which bound the sails’ edges.

And these triangles of lead?

Probably the liners which took up the offset of the planks where the strong eighth-inch planks could not draw the whole face snug against the timbers.

This square mortice, in the fourteen-inch keelson that runs within the wreck like an inner spine?

That was where the Samson-post stood, supporting a principal deck-beam against the weight and recoil of the cannon – perhaps the “Old Sow,” as a 32-pounder intended for this ship was called.

And this bigger mortice?

A mast-step, where the heel of one of the masts was slotted into the keelson.

These wide planks, some of them of pine, inside the ribs of the ship?

Those are ceiling planks, lining her with a complete wooden inner shell, as carefully caulked and fastened as the outer one which kept out the water.

Those round plugs in this loose piece of outside planking—are they shot-plugs, driven to repair damages in battle?

No, they are treenails — “trunnels” ship-carpenters call them — wooden pins used in fastening to get around the difficulty mentioned of the iron standing and the wood giving until the hole is so large the fastening no longer holds. These treenails form part of the plank itself and will hold as long as it does. In this case the ribs into which they were driven, twenty-four inches apart, have decayed and fallen away from the fastenings, but the treenails remain.

Her ironwork is a credit to the sturdy blacksmiths who hammered it out — on the waterfront of the future Toronto one hundred and twenty-odd years ago. In those days you couldn’t order nails by the keg at the nearest hardware store, and nails weren’t lengths of wire, snipped off, pointed, and headed by machines at the rate of a million a minute. Every spike that went into the fastening of this ship was forged by the blacksmith as carefully as a horseshoe. Several tons of iron were used up in the bolts, spikes, and nails which bound this wooden hull together. Many of the bolts are three feet long. Thousands of spikes were beaten out on the anvil, with hammer and tongs. Hundreds of them, eight inches long, are as straight and sharp-edged as the day they were finished.


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