Before The RFA
Before the RFA
Replenishment in the age of sail
Long before the Royal Fleet Auxiliary was thought of there was a vast navy, a navy of ships powered by the wind and this navy needed supplies just as their modern counterpart needed them. It is said that Henry VIII began what was to become the Royal Navy, building such famous ships as the ‘Mary Rose’, to support his navy, Henry hired merchant ships to follow the fleet carrying timber for masts and spars, canvas for sails, water, wine, salted meat (complete with worms), hard biscuits, powder and shot amongst many other things.
These ships were known as ‘Pinks’ in Elizabethan times and no doubt attracted other names over the centuries, however the job was roughly the same no matter what the century, Britain is an island nation, we were always at war with one of our neighbour’s at some time or another, so ships could never be certain of what reception they would get in foreign ports. In battle any damage needed to be repaired quickly and when food supplies ran low, they had to be quickly replenished with fresh or if that was not available, then with whatever the supply ship had on board or the Captain faced the real possibility of mutiny.
Since the time of Henry VIII there have been literally hundreds of supply ships employed by the crown, we have listed below, a small cross section complete with a brief description, just to prove a sort of RFA was in being hundreds of years ago.
Abundance – A storeship of 24,673 bm, measuring 140 feet x 32.5 feet. The ship was built at Buckler’s Hard and launched on the 30th August 1799; she was purchased by the Admiralty the same year. The ship was sold out of service on the 22nd May 1883.
Achille – A storeship of 14,420 bm, measuring 97 feet x 31 ft. The ship was purchased in 1780 and sold out of service in 1784.
Adviser – A ‘Pink’ that was in service in 1654, she was captured by privateers in 1655.
Alfred – An iron screw storeship of 617 bm, measuring 170 feet x 27.5 feet. Purchased on the 6th January 1855 she was renamed Abundance in February 1855 and sold the following year.
Anna – A storeship of 400 bm. The ship was hired in 1739 and purchased in 1740, she was scuttled off
Assistance – An iron screw storeship built by Green of Blackwall and launched on the 26th September 1874. She was a ship of 2,515 tons and measured 250 feet x 38 feet, she was sold in 1897.
Berwick - A storeship of 512 bm, measuring 110 feet x 33 feet. The ship was purchased in November 1781 and renamed Sirius in October 1786 and made into a 6th rate. The vessel was wrecked on the 18th March 1790 off
Bruiser – (ex Robert Stevenson, purchased on the stocks). An iron screw provision ship of 5,806 bm, measuring 183 feet x 25 feet. The vessel was built at
Cantebury – A storeship of 367 bm, measuring 96 feet x 29 feet purchased on the 7th September 1692, she foundered near
Cat – A ‘Pink’ that was in service in 1654 and captured by ‘Dunkirkers’ in 1656.
Diligence – A transport of 317 bm, measuring 104 feet x 26 feet. Built by Bailey of
Earl of Denbigh – A store hulk of 181 bm, measuring 73 feet x 24 feet. The ship was purchased in North America for use at
Endeavour – A Storeship Hoy of 18 bm, measuring 33 feet by 12 feet. The ship was purchased in 1694 and sold in July 1705.
Hayling – A Storeship Hoy of 126 bm, built by Portsmouth Dockyard in 1729. She became a Sloop in 1759 and was renamed ‘Goree’ and was broken up in 1763.
Howe – (ex East Indiaman Kaikusroo). A storeship of 1,048 bm, measuring 150 feet x 30 feet purchased in 1805 and renamed ‘Dromedary in 1806. She became a convict ship in August 1806 and was sold out of service at
Industry – An Iron Screw storeship of 638 bm, 1,100 tons built by More of Blackwall in 1854. The ship was purchased on the 19th April 1854 and after service as a storeship, became a Boom Defence Vessel in 1901. She was sold to Ward of Preston on the 10th October 1911.
Lion – A Transport of 151 bm, measuring 72 feet x 22 feet, built by Adam’s of Bucklers Hard in 1753. The vessel was hulked in 1775 and sold in 1786.
Dispatch – (ex Cornwallis) a Brig storeship of 172 bm, measuring 77 feet by 23 feet. She was transferred from the Transport Office around 1816. Hulked in 1826 and wrecked in December 1846 at
These are just a few of the hundreds of vessels that helped maintain the Royal Navy over the centuries, as you can see they were of various sizes and types, but they all did an important job, and can be honestly said to be the forerunner of the modern RFA.
It is interesting to note that most of these ships tonnage was measured as “bm”, and this type of measure was a common way of calculating displacement, it stood for ‘Builder’s Measurement’ and was the capacity measurement that was calculated by the number of barrels of wine a ship could carry, so 172 bm meant that the ship could carry 172 barrels of wine.