In his celebrated Voyage Round Great Britain...between 1813 and 1823, volume IV, 1822, William Daniell said of Yarmouth:
Besides fishing smacks, upwards of three hundred vessels belong to the port of Yarmouth; and its mariners are considered among the most able and expert navigators in the kingdom. During the late war the importance of Yarmouth was considerably increased, by its becoming a grand station for part of the British navy, the roads opposite the town offering a safe anchorage for a numerous fleet.
In this context, the 'late war' was, of course, the lengthy French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815; long before that however, Yarmouth had been a haven for ships of the Royal Navy cruising in the North or Baltic Seas and a port to which many a vessel would call to replenish its stores of food and water from the rich hinterland of East Anglia.
H.M.S. Surprize was one of the twenty-seven 'Enterprize' class frigates designed by Surveyor Williams in 1770, the orders for which were distributed around shipyards throughout the kingdom. Surprize herself was built at Woolwich where her keel was laid on 5th September 1771. Launched on 13th April 1774, she was measured as a sixth rate of 594 tons, was 121 feet in length and carried a main armament of 24-9pounder guns. During an active career which took in the entire American War of Independence, she participated in the blockade of Quebec in the spring of 1776, captured the U.S. privateer Wild Cat off Cape Spear, Newfoundland on 14th July 1779, and later the French privateer Duguay-Trouin on 29th January 1780. Surprize's last recorded action was at the battle of the Dogger Bank on 5th August 1781, when Vice-Admiral Hyde Parker engaged and put to flight a Dutch fleet, after which she was laid up until sold out of the service in April 1783.
The Yarmouth Tower, which dominates the present composition, was the most distinctive landmark along the coast at Yarmouth until a column was erected to Nelson at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The companion piece to this picture, entitled The Frigate Surprize at Anchor off Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, of the same dimensions, is in the Paul Mellon Centre, New Haven. In contrast to the present picture, the view is taken from the sea, with the town of Great Yarmouth in the distance.