It's Christmas Eve which is a pretty big deal for many people across the world. So, in that tradition, I thought I would launch a new feature here at Triple P: ships. I got some positive feedback on my post about the old Mayflower and that made me realize how many famous and fascinating ships there really were. To start the show, I offer you the handsome schooner reconstructed above. HMS Pickle.
Pickle was built in Plymouth, England as a two masted schooner, 73 feet in length and 20 feet across her beam. Originally intended for the role of mail carrier, she was purchased by the Admiralty in 1800 and tweaked a bit. She was put to sea the same year as a scout and dispatch packet of 8, 12 pound guns. She held a complement of forty men.
By 1803, Pickle was in the middle of the Napoleonic wars. She worked the blockades of Brest and Rochefort not only delivering messages but also doing reconnaissance of the French shore. Her small size - she displaced 127 tons - made her perfect for this kind of covert operation. While busy doing surveillance in March of 1804, Pickle rescued 650 men from the man-of-war HMS Magnificent which was foundering on a French shoal. Where she managed to put all those sailors, even for a short time, is a mystery to me.
By 1805 the climactic sea battle at Trafalgar was in the offing and Pickle, commanded by Lieutenant John Lapenotiere, was part of Vice Admiral Lord Nelson's squadron. Before the battle she captured a Portuguese setee off Cadiz from whom Lapenotiere learned of 33 line of battle ships lying in wait for Nelson. He reported this to the Admiral directly, and his career was guaranteed.
After Trafalgar, with the French defeated but Nelson dead, it was Pickle that was chosen to hurry home to England and impart the news to the Admiralty, the Prime Minister and the King. She left the fleet on October 26 and arrived at Falmouth harbor on November 4. From there, Lapenotiere famously took a post-chaise to London which flew a Union Jack over a torn and scorched Tricolour on a broomstick. Though the chaise route usually took a week, Lapenotiere's coachman made it to London in 37 hours (with the help of some 19 changes of horse).
Lapenotiere was awarded the rank of Post-Captain for his efforts and returned to the command of Pickle. She went on with her dispatch work and also captured more than one foreign privateer before she was wrecked on a shoal - ironically in Cadiz harbor - in 1808.
The legacy of HMS Pickle lives on in the Royal Navy as the celebration of Pickle Night - November 5. This is the festivity set aside for warrant officers (Master, surgeon, purser, bosun, gunner, carpenter, etc.) and is similar to Trafalgar Night which is celebrated by commissioned officers. The rebuilt HMS Pickle also has her own website, if you'd like to know more.
But I don't get it, Pauline, I hear you saying. Where's the tie-in to Christmas? Well, it may be a bit of a stretch, but there is the old German tradition of hanging a pickle ornament on the Yule tree. It's said to bring prosperity into the house.