the Gulf Islands the Inside Passage

HMS Trincomalee: Discovering a Connection

Wednesday, February 11, 2015S.V. CAMBRIA

For us, cruising in the Pacific Northwest evokes feelings of exploration and adventure.  Wherever you go, you’re surrounded by the names of intrepid sailors who visited this coast hundreds of years ago:  Vancouver Island, Resolution Bay, Bligh Cove and Discovery Passage to name a few.

It’s all rather romantic.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. 

The story I want to tell actually begins in 2007 when D and I spent seven weeks in Northern England visiting his family and touring the historical sites in the area.  For one of our outings, Derek (David’s brother) and June (our sister-in-law) took us to Hartlepool, an industrial harbour located on the North Sea, to Hartlepool’s Maritime Experience where we toured an 18th century seaport village (complete with people dressed in period costumes) and a former British Navy frigate, the HMS Trincomalee.

Since then, we’ve travelled thousands of miles along the Inside Passage, many of those in Trincomali Channel in Canada’s Southern Gulf Islands.  And not once did we make the connection between the two – the historic frigate and the waterway.  It was only when I was researching some information for a blog post that I was writing did I learn they were the same.

Sure, we noticed the similarities between the two names, but we both distinctly remember reading information in Hartlepool stating that the HMS Trincomalee was commissioned during the Napoleonic Wars but, because it wasn’t completed until after the wars were over, was re-fitted and lived its life as a merchant vessel.  So, we shrugged it off as coincidence.

But the truth is far more interesting.

First, I need to start with a little background on the village of Hartlepool for no other reason than to offer some insight into the English and this wonderful, strange and quirky island my husband hails from:

During the Napoleonic Wars a French ship wrecked off the coast near Hartlepool.  Fearing invasion, local fisherman watched as the vessel was battered by the storm and sunk.  Among the wreckage: one survivor, the ship’s monkey dressed in a military uniform.

Concerned about being invaded by the French, legend has it the fisherman questioned the monkey and held a trial right there on the beach, finding the monkey guilty of espionage and sentencing it to death by hanging – a punishment they carried out immediately.  From then on, Hartlepudlians were known as “Monkey Hangers” and became the butt of northern English jokes (much like blondes or the Polish).

And it’s in Hartlepool that you’ll find the world’s second oldest floating warship – the HMS Trincomalee.

Plans for the vessel were drawn up in 1812 during the Napoleonic Wars but were lost at sea when the ship carrying them to Bombay, where it was to be built due to a shortage of oak in England, was attacked and sunk by the USS Constitution (the world’s oldest floating warship, coincidentally).  Further plans were sent successfully and construction began in 1816.  The HMS Trincomalee was launched in 1817, completed while afloat and sailed back to England, arriving in 1819, after the war had ended.

Trincomalee was placed in ordinary service, waiting to be called into active duty.  Then in 1845, she received her first commission – patrolling the West Indes and Eastern Canada – but was placed back into ordinary service in 1850. 

Her second commission began in 1852 under the command of Captain Wallace Houstoun.  Together, with a full complement of officers and crew, they were charged with the patrol of the Pacific Ocean and the west coast of North America

From 1854 to 1856, the Trincomalee was part of an Anglo-French fleet in Alaska assigned to destroy Russian frigates during the Crimean War.  And in 1856, after the war ended, she was moved to the Royal Navy Base in Esquimalt near the city of Victoria, BC where she returned to normal duties and began hydrographic surveys of the area, giving names to Trincomali Channel, Wallace Island and Houstoun Passage in the process.

A year later, the Trincomalee returned to England and was placed back into ordinary service.  In 1897, she was sold to a private citizen and was re-fitted as a training vessel for sailors.  When her owner died in 1932, his widow donated the ship to the Society for Nautical Research.  Supported by a trust, the Trincomalee (known at that time as the TS Foudroyant) was maintained and remained a training vessel until 1986.  Realizing her historic value she was brought to Hartlepool and restoration began in 1993.

Now a major tourist attraction, thousands of people each year visit the HMS Trincomalee.  Stepping aboard ourselves in 2007, the idea that we would be travelling the same waters as the historic ship wasn’t a possibility that occurred to us – nor would until very recently.  But it’s a connection we’re excited to have.  One that helps us feel even closer to this incredible place that we’ve come to love so much, as well as to David’s home and to his family. 

So, this season as we sail up Trincomali Channel and the Inside Passage to Alaska, following in her wake, you can be sure we’ll be thinking about our time aboard the HMS Trincomalee, an extraordinary ship that led an extraordinary life.

We doubt that many others can say the same. 

Specifications of the HMS Trincomalee

Type:        Fifth Rate Frigate 
Length:     Lower deck 150 feet
Width:      40 feet 
Weight:    1053 tons
Crew:       284

Side Note

HMS Trincomalee’s sister ship was the HMS Amphitrite, whose name marks the point off the entrance to Ucluelet on Vancouver Island’s West Coast.

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  1. Yep, that's her alright :) I used to work in the museum at one time.