“The Flash Frigate (La Pique)”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1907 (Firth)
Keywords: sailor hardtimes ship punishment


"I sing of a frigate, (a frigate of fame/La Pique was her name/do not mention her name), And in the West Indies she bore a great name," but she is a horrible place to serve; the crew is worked hard and punished severely. Listeners are urged to avoid her

Supplemental text

Flash Frigate, The (La Pique)
  Partial text(s)

          *** A ***

From Frank Shay, American Sea Songs and Chanteys, pp. 178-180.
Source not indicated.

I sing of a frigate, a frigate of fame,
And in the West Indies she bore a great name,
For cruel, hard treatment of every degree,
Like slaves in the galleys we ploughed the salt sea.

Now, all you hold seamen who plough the sallt sea,
Beware this frigate wherever she be,
For they'll beat you and bang you till you ain't worth a damn,
And send you an invalid to your own native land.

(stanzas 1, 9 of 9)


Many versions of this song, including Shay's, do not give the ship's name -- some, indeed, explicitly say the name is secret. But Shay says, without hesitation, that the song describes H. M. S. _La Pique_, described as a "blood ship" for its hard discipline.

The ship had a long career in the West Indies. According to Terrence Grocott's _Shipwrecks of the Revolutionary & Napoleonic Wars_, in 1798 she was captained by David Milne and helped capture _La Seine_ but ran aground in the process. Milne would later undergo a court-martial for losing _La Seine_ (which ship he had been given after the loss of his own), but was acquitted.

Milne's discipline may nonetheless have had some effect; he was in the vicinity of Portsmouth at the time of the Spithead mutiny, and in fact became a hostage of the delegates, but _La Pique_ is not listed as one of the mutinous ships in Appendix III of James Dugan's _The Great Mutiny_ (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1965), though on p. 190 Dugan quotes a letter saying there was a mutiny aboard.

For a seemingly fictional account of another "blood ship," plus information about the horrid case of the _Hermione_, see the notes to "Captain James (The Captain's Apprentice)."

A new British _Pique_, a 40-gun frigate captured by Charles Ross, was in service by 1805.

The final complaint, that working the ship leaves sailors invalids, is quite true; sailors' work was hard at the best of times, and often left men crippled; on a ship which ignored the human needs of the men, such injuries were naturally more common. - RBW

Cross references


  1. Shay-SeaSongs, pp. 178-180, "The Flash Frigate" (1 text, 1 tune, which nowhere mentions the ship's name)
  2. ADDITIONAL: C. H. Firth, _Publications of the Navy Records Society_ , 1907 (available on Google Books), p. 316,"The Fancy Frigate)
  3. ST ShaSS178 (Partial)
  4. Roud #2563
  5. BI, ShaSS178