HMS Tonnant was built at Toulon in 1791 and taken from the French at
the Battle of the Nile, where she was dismasted in a fight with HMS Majestic
and, being unable to escape, had no option but to surrender. Taken into
British service she represented the largest type of two decker then in
service, and was the only 80 gun ship in Nelson’s fleet at Trafalgar.
In 1803, Tonnant joined the British squadron blockading the port of
Ferrol, and in the battle formed part of Admiral Collingwood’s column
being fourth in line. As she broke through the line of the combined French
and Spanish fleet Tonnant discharged a full broadside into the stem of
the Spanish Monarca (74 guns) doing dreadful damage. Monarca dropped
away and struck her colours but Tonnant was unable to take possession,
and Monarca re-hoisted them, for which she paid dearly when engaged by
HMS Bellerophon. Captain Tyler then headed for the Algesiras (74 guns),
which was the flagship of the French Admiral Magan. The two ships collided
and the battle was fought at such close quarters, that the Tonnant’s
crew played fire hoses on the side of the Algesiras to prevent flame
from her guns setting alight to her planking. The Tonnant’s crew suffered
severely on deck from sharpshooters stationed on the masts of the Algesiras,
but the masts were brought down throwing the French crewmen overboard.
Algesiras’s crew endeavored to board Tonnant but were beaten back, and
she in turn was taken by boarding and surrendered at 2.15. She had taken
169 casualties compared to Tonnant’s 76.
The Tonnant continued the battle and engaged the Spanish San Juan Nepomuceno
(74 guns), which surrendered at 2.30, but the prize party sent to take
possession were swamped in their boat, and the opportunity was lost.
In the storm that followed the battle the crew of the Algesiras retook
their ship and managed to reach Cadiz, but, being badly damaged, she
was never able to leave port again. Tonnant reached Gibraltar on the
28th October, and after returning to England for further repairs rejoined