Ref Number: 0052
Ref Number: 0052
The Royal George, a 100-gun first-rate ship of the line constructed at Woolwich Dockyard in 1756, was at anchorage at Spithead on the morning of August 29, 1782, in need of minor repairs to a deck pump intake but with no time to dry dock.
How It’s Done
Captain Waghorn ordered a heel of seven degrees to get to the deck pump inlet, which was three feet below the water line.
Heeling Over ( or Careening)
It is usual technique to utilise a second ship as a lever, with lines (halyard) tied between the deck of the supporting ship and the topmast of the ship that has to be careened or heeled in order to do maintenance or repairs at sea. The wires may be cut and the ship would correct itself if it was urgently needed. Despite the obvious instability of the ship, Captain Waghorn ordered the larboard (port) cannons to be run out and the starboard guns to be relocated into the middle of the ship so that they could be repaired more quickly.
Over the top!
When the supply ship Lark came alongside to transfer more goods, the ship heeled even farther to one side, allowing water to creep in via the lower gun ports, which had already been half submerged. The ship’s carpenter saw the issue and informed the watch officer, but his worries were dismissed. But quickly the water rate into the hold accelerated greatly. Already in a precarious position, the ship was pushed even farther over by a sudden breeze, which ended up being so strong that it left no time to send up a distress signal.
Approximately 300 women and 60 children, all on their way to see relatives, were among the 900 people whose fates were suddenly in jeopardy. In their haste to get off the ship, some passengers climbed the rigging and fell to their deaths in the icy waters below. Unfortunately, many people were stuck inside as she sunk, unable to find their way out; even Commander Rear-Admiral Richard Kempenfelt, who was claimed to have been writing in his bedroom when the accident happened, died with the ship when the doors to his chamber jammed and he was unable to escape.
Court martial that followed failed to find culpability and instead exonerated the admiral and the captain and his officers and crew (of whom many were murdered) by blaming the calamity to the ‘general condition of decay of her timbers.’ This was widely viewed as a cover-up.
What Happened Next
The Lords of the Admiralty considered a total of 117 proposals for the ship’s salvage, ultimately settling on one put out by a shipbroker from Portsea called William Tracey. A series of ropes and slings would be used to secure the ship, and the raft would be supported by empty barrels. The goal would be to get off the sinking ship alive. If all went according to plan, the ship would rise with the tide. However, it was difficult to put the plan into action due to poor weather and the uncooperative attitudes of officials at Portsmouth Dockyard and the Navy Board. Therefore, it was abandoned in the end. Despite this, a distance of 30 feet was used to drive the Royal George over the side.
In 1834, John Deane, a pioneering diver, recovered thirty cannons before stopping to investigate a nearby wreck, which turned out to be Mary Rose. The ship that went down in the English Channel was called the Mary Rose. Before Colonel Charles William Pasley successfully destroyed the debris with dynamite in 1839, the remains of the Royal George were a hazard for ships entering and leaving the Portsmouth harbour.
The bodies that washed ashore on Ryde’s shores were largely interred in mass graves. Two lovely memorials to one of the worst maritime disasters in UK military history now stand where so many people lost their lives.