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Ferdinand Propsting and the Battle of the Nile

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: 1792 to 1806
Location: Europemap
Surnames/tags: Propsting Zealous
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In the 1841 England census Frederick Propsting was described as being born of ‘Foreign parts’, those parts believed to be the Low Countries at the lower reaches of the Rhine.

Flanders Campaign

Ferdinand, or Frederick, as he came to be known, could have been involved in the Flanders campaign of 1792 to 1795 when he would have been in his mid-twenties. This campaign against the French Revolutionary Wars was a combined army of Anglo-Hanoverian, Dutch, Hessian, Imperial Austrian, and Prussian troops. After some early victories the allies were forced to withdraw due to French counter-offensives. They established a new front to the south of Netherlands and Germany, but lacked supplies. Forced to retreat, the French transformed the Dutch Republic to the Batavian Republic, and the Austrian Netherlands and Belgium were annexed by the French Republic. The British had retreated northwards to the port of Bremen and were eventually evacuated to Britain with the remnants of Austrian, Dutch and German troops. This may have been Frederick Propsting’s route to England. From there he may have joined the British navy.


Sailors generally went to sea as boys and by the time they were 16 years of age they could be rated as seamen. They generally served for another ten years before settling on shore or to a local sailing position. A small percentage of seamen remained at sea to rise to the position of naval petty officers and merchant shipmasters. Women also went to sea, in large numbers. They were usually mature women, the wives of petty officers. Their extended roles were such as providing medical treatment and handling ammunition. The Able or Ordinary Seamen were an elite group. They were headed by the topmen who spent much of their day in the spars aloft, in the spacious areas beyond the reach of officers and the deck bound seamen, and forming their own mess of six to ten men who cooked and ate together. To advertise their clique the topmen wore unique and colourful clothes, hairstyles, personal jewellery and were marked with tattoos. On shore their behaviour was riotous with carefree expenditure.

Professional sailors were resourceful men, skilled and daring. Although their shore behaviour brought scorn from local inhabitants, the state knew their worth. It was these men that gave Britain command of the sea.


During wartime the Royal Navy would press professional seamen from the merchant service; and others, ‘landlubbers’ and foreign sailors, could be attracted by pay and opportunity. A significant portion of British crews were made up of foreign sailors.


The extended family believes that Frederick Propsting served under Captain Hood on the ‘Zealous’ in the Battle of the Nile which was fought on 1 to 3 August 1798 under the command of the British Rear Admiral Horatio Nelson at Abu Qir Bay. ‘Zealous’ engaged the French ship ‘Guerrier’ in this battle, helping to force the surrender of ‘Guerrier’. The British had about 900 casualties, the French 9000; and the French lost eleven ships. This resounding victory isolated Napoleon’s army in Egypt, brought prestige to the British and secured their control of the Mediterranean. In 1801 ‘Zealous’ was cruising off Cadiz then missed the Battle of Trafalgar as she was being resupplied at Gibraltar. Still continuing with the blockade of Cadiz, ‘Zealous’ assisted the fleet to detain ‘Nemesis’ on 25 November 1805. ‘Nemesis’ was sailing with a cargo of spice, indigo dye, and other goods to Leghorn, Italy.

Nemesis Prize Money

‘Zealous’, under the command of John Oakes Hardy, Esquire, shared the ‘Nemesis’ prize money with ten other British warships, and this was advertised in the ‘London Gazette’ on 24 April 1810 (Issue 16364, p. 617): "London, April 26, 1810. Notice is hereby given to the Officers and Ships’ Companies who were actually on board the undermentioned Ships at the Capture of the Nemesis by his Majesty’s Ship Thunderer, on the 24th November 1805, that they will be paid their respective Proportions of the Proceeds of the said Prize, on Tuesday the 15th Day of May, at No. 70, Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury; where the unclaimed Shares will be recalled every subsequent Tuesday and Friday for Three Months, pursuant to Act of Parliament."


Perhaps, if he was a crew member of 'Zealous', it was in the expectation of this prize money that Ferdinand married on 17 Jun 1806 at Saint Leonards Shoreditch to Ann Mary Bispham and settled at Hadley to grow his business and family. But note that he was signed on to HMS Acasta on 16 April 1797 - so probably not in this battle after all.

See list of vessels in Battle of the Nile here


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