H.M.S. Ajax was the nameship of a small class of "74's" ordered in April 1795 but which, in the event, was limited to just two vessels. The order to build her went to John Randall & Co. at Rotherhithe and her keel was laid in their Thames-side yard in September the same year. Launched on 3rd March 1798, she was completed at Woolwich that July at a total cost of £57,556 (including fittings). Measured by her builder at 1,953 tons, she was 183 feet in length with a 50 foot beam and carried a main armament of 28-32pounders on her principal gundeck.
Commissioned in June 1798 under Captain John Holloway, she served first in the Channel and then, in January 1801, was sent to join the Mediterranean fleet where she remained for the rest of her career apart from a lengthy stay at Portsmouth for an extensive "Middling Repair" between December 1802 and August 1804. Returning to sea that summer, the following year saw her in Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Calder's squadron which indecisively engaged a Franco-Spanish fleet off Ferrol on 22nd July 1805 and for which Calder was later unceremoniously court-martialled "for failing to do his utmost to defeat the enemy". Soon afterwards joining the main fleet off Cadiz, Ajax was then present at Trafalgar where, under Lieutenant John Pilford [temporarily in command due to Captain Brown's absence in England attending Calder's court-martial], she fought in the Weather Column and acquitted herself well despite sustaining heavy damage albeit with light casualties. Returning to the Mediterranean in January 1806, Ajax subsequently joined Sir John Duckworth's squadron in the Dardanelles but caught fire during the evening of 13th February 1807 whilst off the Aegean island of Tenedos. The blaze spread very rapidly and prevented the launch of the ship's boats with the result that most of those aboard were forced to jump overboard to await rescue. After burning furiously for eight hours, Ajax - by then aground on Tenedos - blew up with a tremendous explosion at 5.00am. the next morning and about 250 of her crew were lost.
The Royal Navy's cutter Frisk was one of the many ancillaries hired by the Admiralty to supplement its own flotillas of small craft. Owned by J. King and measured at 99 tons, Frisk (originally called Fox but renamed in 1804) was taken into naval service on 21st June 1803 and armed with 8-4pdrs. With a crew of 30 men, she operated mostly in the Mediterranean until released back to her civilian owner on 5th September 1806.
Born of a family of sporting artists (the best known being his father John Nost Sartorius), Francis became interested in marine painting early on in his career. He was just beginning to establish himself in this field, exhibiting at the R.A. from 1799-1808, but died shortly afterwards at the young age of twenty-seven.