Background Information

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 Navy vessels.

Admiral Rainier
Admiral Rainier

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:-

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.
It 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 three transports."

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.

The National 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
Defence of the Centurion in Vizagapatam Road, Septr. 15th 1804,
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 40"

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 Centurion.

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