H.M.S. Augusta, Philadelphia 1777


From Geoff Hunt’s spectacular series of prints depicting dramatic naval actions associated with the War of Independence and the War of 1812. British 64-gun ship under fire from Fort Mifflin and Pennsylvania State Navy gunboats. In October 1777 the British Royal Navy tried to force its way up the Delaware River to make contact with their army, then occupying Philadelphia. The State of Pennsylvania had organized a strong defense using underwater obstacles, shore forts, and a purpose-built gunboat navy. But on 23rd October it was misfortune that doomed the 64-gun battleship Augusta, which first ran aground off Fort Mifflin and then caught fire. During the morning this ship and the Merlin, similarly stranded, came under heavy attack from the shore batteries and from Commodore Hazlewood’s galley’s and guard boats. Despite frantic efforts to save her, the fire gained and the crew were forced to abandon ship, being rescued by ships including the 44-gun Roebuck (at left), which herself was badly damaged. At noon Augusta’s magazine exploded, destroying this valuable vessel – the largest British warship lost in action in the whole course of the Revolutionary War.

Though the Royal Navy subsequently reached Philadelphia, the protracted river fighting had so delayed British operations that the campaign of 1777 ground to a halt in winter. The delay would ultimately prove fatal to their cause, since the French entered the war before winter ended.

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