Originally the man-of-war was a sail-propelled, heavily-armed warship which first emerged during the 16th century. By the mid-17th century, the man-of-war had developed into the ship of the line, dominating the seas for the next 200 years before it was superseded by the ironclad warship during the latter half of the 19th century.
In common usage, the term man-of-war continued to refer generally to any large warship belonging to the navy of a recognised government.
During the conflict with Dahomey (see following bookmark), the French primarily employed gunboats, a type of military vessel designed specifically for the bombardment of coastal targets; though it was a French cruiser, the Seigneley, Conrad claimed to have witnessed shelling a native camp hidden in the jungle near Grand-Popo. This would have been part of the French blockade of the Kingdom of Dahomey that began on 4 April 1890.