The Wreck of His Majestys Sloop Brazen
On 9 December 1798 HMS Boadicea captured 'the French Ship Privateer L'Invincible Buonaparte of 22 guns and 116 men', arriving at Spithead nine days later. It was agreed by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that the French ship should be purchased and registered 'upon the list of the Royal Navy as a Sloop by the name of the Brazen' established with '16 carronades of 24 pounds and 2 guns of 6 pounds' and a complement of 120 men.
The Brazen was to be fitted for Channel Service 'victualled with three months of stores except beer, of which she is to have as much as she can conveniently stow and to be supplied with Wine or Spirits in lieu of the Remainder'. Captain James Hanson was commissioned as captain of the Brazen on 19 October 1799 and wrote on Christmas Day that 'His Majestys Sloop under my Command is ready for sea whenever their Lordships may think proper to order her to be manned.'
Two weeks later, Captain Andrew Sproule, Commander of the Brighton Sea Fencibles wrote to Captain Henry Cromwell about a pressing problem. '…last night two Privateers … chased two light colliers from Little Hampton … one of the Privateers made several attempts to board her.. . The number of Privateers who have lately appear'd near this coast have so entirely prevented the Fisherman from going to sea that many of them are almost in a starving condition.' A week later Admiral Milbanke told the Admiralty in London that 'the Brazen Sloop sailed this morning under orders to cruize 'till further notice for the protection of the Trade and annoyance of the enemy between Beachy Head and Dunmose.'
Sadly, this brave attempt to protect the fishermen ended on the morning of 26 January 1800 when Brazen was wrecked under high cliffs west of Newhaven. Captain Sproule wrote that he rode as fast as possible to Newhaven 'follow'd by 20 of the stoutest Sea Fencibles in Post Chaises' but the Brazen was already broken on the rocks. 'One man was drawn upon the cliff by an Engine….One or two are now alive upon the Wreck but from the Violence of the Gale I fear there is little hope of them, all the rest are certainly drowned.
During the following month Sproule and a small group of Sea Fencibles (who were paid 2d per day) rescued what they could from the Brazen as articles were washed ashore. The wreck itself could only be reached at low water on Spring tides. Along with the remains of the Brazen came the bodies of the drowned seamen.
Sproule was directed to dispose of what materials he could at auction except for 'any of the copper marked with a broad arrow as it would be a cloak for future Embezzlement.' The copper turned out to be French so was sold, the difficulties of removing it to Portsmouth making it more economic to sell.
As the bodies of the crew were washed ashore they were put in 'Shells' and eventually buried in the churchyard of St Michael's in Newhaven where a monument now stands to the men of HMS Brazen.
The people of Newhaven were so shocked by these events that a committee was set up to investigate how a similar disaster could be avoided and in 1803 a lifeboat came to Newhaven over twenty years before the RNLI was formed.
There is more information about the story of the Brazen at the Local and Maritime Museum in Avis Road, Newhaven and the history of the Newhaven lifeboat can be found at the Lifeboat Station on West Quay.