J E Conants journal is easy to
read and for a journal describing voyages over a period of 2 years it is
remarkably consistent in the way it is written. In a small ship whilst at sea
you would expect a different appearance to the journal from one entry to
another. The journal appears to have been written in one or two session, during
a short period of time.
Whilst making web searches for
some of the places mentioned in the journal I discovered that the text and
pictures from both voyages had been printed in the Gentleman's Magazine for
1806. The voyages were in 1795/96, so it seems as if the journal was written up
to 10 years after the time spent by Midshipman Conant on the Indian Ocean and
in the East Indies. The text in the journal matches the printed material
exactly so it is possible the journal was written with the intention of
offering it for publication.
In the second voyage there
is reference to both Admiral Rainier and Captain Rainer.
The last few lines
of the journal are :-
"lastly we arrived at Madrass, here Captn. Rainier
was promoted from the Swift into the Centurion and I removed with him, shortly
afterwards the Swift was dispatched again to China seas where she foundered in
a hurricane and every soul is supposed to have been lost."
It is difficult to make
sense of this as Admiral Rainer is the well documented officer in charge of the
Royal Navy ships in the area, he certainly wasn't promoted from the Swift to
the Centurion - he was in overall command of both, as well as all the other
Searches of "Commissioned Sea
Officers of the Royal Navy 1660-1815" showed there was Admiral Peter Rainier as
well as John Sprat Rainier, who was made a Lieutenant on May 11th 1794 and then
a Captain on 22nd December 1796. The dates for J S Rainier's promotions fit the
dates in the journal, so it seems there were two Rainiers in the fleet who
were, in fact, uncle and nephew.
Swift and Centurion
The Swift was a "sloop of war" -
"a sailing vessel mounting from 10 to 32 guns" also "a small war vessel, having
guns mounted on one deck only" From another article on the web the Swift had 16
guns as listed in the next paragraph:-
"MALACCA AND THE SPICE ISLANDS
At the close of the year a force was organized at Malacca against
Amboyna and other possessions of Amboyna, the Dutch in the Eastern Seas.
sailed from Malacca on 6th January 1796 under Rear Admiral Rainier. The
Squadron consisted of H. M. Ships Suffolk 74, Centurion 50, Resistance 44,
Orpheus 32, Swift 16 guns, ; one or two of the East India Company's ships ; and
The move, after the above action,
for both J E Conant and J S Rainier, his captain, from the Swift to the
Centurion would be a big change.
Maritime Museum have a model of the Centurion
Centurion is well documented in
the National Maritime Museum web site:-
"The Centurion was built at
Woolwich by Barnard & Co. and designed by Sir T. Slade. It measured 146
feet along the gun deck by 40 feet in the beam. Between 1775 and 1780, it
served in the Caribbean taking part in the Battle of Martinique (1780). It then
returned home and had its hull coppered, a relatively new technique employed to
protect the underwater hull from the attack of marine boring worms, molluscs
and weed growth. Between 1795 and 1805 the Centurion served in the East Indies
taking part in the Capture of Ceylon (1795) and was involved in Red Sea
operations around Suez (1799-1800). It was broken up at Halifax, Nova Scotia,
in 1825 having been a receiving ship there since 1809."
Defence of the Centurion in Vizagapatam Road, Septr. 15th
Engraving by Thomas Sutherland after a painting by Sir James Lind
From "Ships of the Old Navy"
Captain Rainier took over the Centurion in December 1797. Midshipman Conant,
according to his journal, went with Captain Rainier. This is confirmed in
"O'Byrne's Naval Biographical Dictionary Of 1849" , which states that J E
Conant "became successively attached, as Midshipman, to the Swift 16, and
Centurion 50, both commanded by Capt. John Sprat Rainier, in the former of
which he received a severe contusion at the reduction of the Moluccas. Having
returned to England, he was next, in Aug. 1798, received on board the BEAULIEU
On 11th October 1797 the Beaulieu
was involved in the Battle of Camperdown against the Dutch fleet. Presumably
Beaulieu returned to England after this engagement as J E Conant joined the
ship in August 1798 and under Captain Fras. Fayerman and served in the
Mediterranean until November 1800.
The Naval Biographical Dictionary
says:- "He then came home - joined the ROYAL WILLIAM, and VILLE DE PARIS,
flag-ships of Sir Peter Parker and Earl St. Vincent - and on his promotion to
the rank of Lieutenant, 18 July, 1801, was appointed to the PRINCESS ROYAL 98,
bearing the flag of Sir Erasmus Gower. Commander Conant, who invalided in Jan.
1802, and has not since been afloat, became a Retired Commander on the Junior
list 13 July, 1831, and on the Senior 10 March, 1846.
Thanks to Alan Cohen for
information about Admiral Rainier and his nephew and the Admirals initial
journey to India in 1794. Alan is writing a biography of Admiral Sir Nesbit
Josiah Willoughby (1777-1849) who was active as a Captain in the Indian Ocean
at about the same time as Midshipman Conant was sailing in Swift and