The Loss of the Catharine, Venus, Piedmont, Thomas, Golden Grove and Ælous, 1795, on the Chesil Beach|
NARRATIVE OF THE LOSS OF THE CATHARINE, VENUS, AND PIEDMONT TRANSPORTS AND THE THOMAS, GOLDEN GROVE, AND ÆOLUS MERCHANT SHIPS, NEAR WEYMOUTH, ON WEDNESDAY THE 18TH OF NOVEMBER LAST Drawn up from Information taken on the Spot,
BY CHARLOTTE SMITH,
And Published for the Benefit of an unfortunate Survivor
from one of the wrecks and her infant Child
Una Eurufque, Notufque; ruunt, creberque procellis
Africus, & vaftos volvunt ad littora fluctus. Infequiteur clamorquc ; virum ftridorque; rudentum Eripiunt fubito nubes coelumque diemque . ex oculis, ponto nox incubat atra. Intonuere poli, & crebris. micat ignibus aether Praefentemque viris intentant omnia mortem. …….Vagae ne parce malignus arenae Offibus & capiti inhumato Particulam dare
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LIST OF SUBSCRIBERS
"Ah! Qui verfa des pleurs, tremble d’en voir couler"
UNDER the depression of sorrow that can end only with my life, and vainly
contending against the weight of oppression, heavy is prolonged, I should
not have entered upon so mournful a talk as this, had not some of the gentlemen,
who have already so benevolently exerted themselves on behalf of the unfortunate
person who escaped (with her life only) from the scene of destruction,
believed, that a name, to which the public has shewed some partiality,'
might be useful in promoting farther their humane intention and, that being
accustomed to fictitious narrative, I might be enabled to arrange, for
publication, the information with which they have for that purpose furnished
me; and to connect, in one detail, several detached anecdotes of calamity,
alas ! but too real! Some also, among the respectable friends
of those who perished 'on the fatal Eighteenth of November, have expressed
their wishes that such an account of this catastrophe might be made public.
Affection for the memory of those they deplore naturally induces them to
desire, that their country, to the service of which the days of these brave
men were dedicated, should join in the tribute of just regret; and that
to their private sorrows should be added, those of a Nation on so sad a
conclusion to useful and honourable lives.
These motives, added to my wish to contribute all I have to give, my
time, to assist the unfortunate person in question, have together induced
me to suspend, for a few days, the labour. I am condemned to for the support
of my own plundered family; and I shall receive great satisfaction, if
the Public accepts my attempt with so much favour as to make it answer
the purpose for which it is intended.
On the Fifteenth of November, 1795, the fleet, under convoy of Admiral Christian's squadron, sailed from St Helen’s. A more beautiful sight than it exhibited cannot be imagined, and those who had nothing to lament in leaving their
native country, (some such, among great numbers, there must always be)
enjoyed the spectacle as the most magnificent produced by the art of man,
and as that which Englishmen have the greatest pride and pleasure in beholding.
On the Sixteenth the wind continued favourable, and the fleet proceeded
down Channel. How dreadful the change that was to happen in
"In gallant trim the gilded vessel goes,
"Regardless of the sweeping whirlwind's sway,
"That, hush’d in grim repose, expects its evening pray."
Sensations, however, not unlike presentiments of impending
evil, hung upon the minds of some of the passengers.
As the Catherine Transport, on the Sixteenth, sailed within sight of
the Isle of Purbeck, Lieutenant Jenner, destined
so soon afterwards to share the same fate, pointed out to another person
the rocks where the Halsewell, with her captain,
his two daughters, several other young ladies, and all, but about seventy
of her crew, perished -and he seemed greatly affected in relating the circumstances
of their melancholy destiny.
"Ah! Wretched mortals, ever blind to fate!"
One may well exclaim, in learning tome particulars that occurred in regard
to Lieutenant Jenner. It happened that he, together with Cornet Burns
and another passenger, did not reach Southampton till the Catharine, in
which they had determined to embark, had sailed to St. Helen's. They therefore
hired a hoy* to follow her, and in a letter to his mother, written on board,
Lieutenant Jenner expresses his satisfaction at having been so fortunate
as to overtake the ship.
* a small vessel, usually rigged as a sloop, carrying
passengers and goods esp. for short distances. COD
On Tuesday the Seventeenth, the fleet was off Portland, standing to
the Westward, but the wind shifting, and blowing a strong gale at SSWest,
the Admiral, doubting whether they could clear the Channel, threw out the
signal for putting into Torbay - of which some of the Transports were within
sight. They could not, however, make the Bay,. the gale increased. and
a thick fog came on: the Admiral therefore thought it expedient to
alter his course, and, about five o'clock in the afternoon, made the signal
for standing out to sea.
The six ships, of which some account is intended to be given. the Piedmont,
Catharine, and Venus Transports, the Golden Grove, Thomas and Eolus merchant
ships, beaten back to the Eastward, attempted to return to St. Helen's,
or to reach some intermediate port, where they might be in safety till
the fury of the wind, which now became every moment more and more violent,
would allow them to proceed on their voyage.
But the fog now gathered more heavily around them, mingling the sea
with the sky in drear confusion.- They could distinguish nothing through
the impenetrable gloom they could hear nothing but the roaring of the wind;
yet, imagining they had searoom enough, they were not aware of the extreme
peril they were in, and that, instead of having cleared the Isle of Portland,
they had driven to the Westward of it, and were rapidly approaching the
tremendous breakers that, driven by a South-West wind, thunder with resistless
violence against that fatal bank, of stones, which beginning at the village
of Chisle, on the prefqu' (sic) Isle of Portland, connects it with the
coast of Dorset.
This extraordinary bank of stones reaches to a place called Burton Cliff,
a distance of above sixteen miles, with a singular variation in regard
to the pebbles that compose it. At Chisle, in the Isle of Portland, they
are as large as eggs, and gradually diminish from that size till, at Becksington,
they are not bigger than peas; and, between a place called Swyre and Burton
Clift, they decline insensibly into a fine soft sand..
Underneath the pebbles is a firm black clay, which appears when a strong
South-East wind blows; the bank is then swept from one end to the other
of the stones, and remains only of clay, till such time as a South-West
wind blows, when the sea throws them up, and covers the bank again."
So says the account of it in the great map of Dorsetshire, published by
Isaac Taylor in 1765.
I have not had this fact ascertained by any eye-witness, and to whoever
has seen this immense mass of stones, as it generally appears, this account
seems incredible. if, however, such, or any thing like it, be the power
of the sea, when raised by a South-West wind, some idea may be formed of
its fatal force over the ships that are unhappily driven by such winds
against this destructive embankment *.
* Drayton in his Polyolbion, (second song) thus describes
Not sever’d from the shore, aloft where Chesill lifts
Her ridged snake-like sands, in wrecks and smouldering drifts
Which by the South raged, are heaved on little hills………………..
……………………… Which running on the Isle of Portland pointeth
It is supposed that the Isle of Portland was once quite divided from the
neighbouring Coast, and that this barrier has been gradually formed by
the sea. However that may have been, it has been infamous beyond the memory
of man, the notice of records, or for the wrecks that have happened on
it; and none perhaps have ever occasioned a severer loss to the country,
or have been the cause of more aching hearts among individuals than those
which are the subjects of the present narrative.
In listening to the Tempest that raged during the night of the Seventeenth,
those who reflected on the situation of Admiral Christian's Fleet, which
had been seen the evening before, entertained the greatest apprehensions
for its safety.
Early in the morning. of the Eighteenth several Pilots, and other persons,
were assembled on the Look-out *; from whence they saw too evidently the
distress and danger of many of the Transports.
* The look-out is a promontory, of which one side forms
the harbour of Weymouth – Pilots wait there to observe signals from vessels.
Soon after ten o'clock, a Lieutenant of the Navy, residing at Weymouth,
applied to the Major of the South Gloucester Militia, desiring that a guard
might be sent to the Chisell Bank, as a large Ship, supposed to be a Frigate,
was on shore there, near the, Passage-house. The Major immediately ordered
a Captain's guard to march thither, and went himself with them.
One of the Gentlemen of the South Gloucester, who was afterwards among
the most active in the offices of humanity necessary to the living, and
the mournful duties demanded by the dead, has related to me, that such
was the fury of the wind when the party of men, which he, accompanied,
reached the summit of the hill above Sandfoot Castle, that it was with
the utmost difficulty they could resist it when they reached the Ferry,
they distinctly perceived the three masts of the supposed frigate appearing
over the stony ridge; but which were in fact the mast of the Aeolus Merchant
Ship, laden with timber on account of Government.
There perished Lieutenant Mason of the Navy,
(who was also an Agent for Transports) and his Brother a Midshipman. A
number of men were also drowned, which it is supposed would not have happened,
had these unfortunate people understood the signals made by the men of
Portland who now crowded down to the scene of desolation, and meant to
express by signs, and by throwing small pebbles at them (for to make them
hear was impossible), that they should remain on board; because they foresaw,
what actually happened, that the ship would drive so high on the bank,
that they would soon be able to leave her with less hazard-those who continued
on board were saved, though many were dreadfully bruised.
A very little while after another mast appeared obliquely over the stony
barrier – it was that of the Golden Grove Merchant Ship, which was stranded.
In her, Dr Stevens, of St. Kitt's, and a Mr. Burrows, were lost; Lieutenant Colonel Ross escaped to the
These ships were stranded on a part of the bank not far from the Passage-House,
almost in the very same spot where the Zenobia, a French frigate, went
to pieces in the year 1763.
But, however dreadful this scene was, that which passed four miles to
the Westward was infinitely more terrible.
For there, nearly opposite to the Village of Fleet and Chickerell, the
Piedmont, Venus, and Catharine Transports were driven on the Bank; and
very soon after the Thomas, a Merchant Ship bound for Lisbon, shared the
On board the Piedmont were one hundred and thirty eight soldiers of
the 63rd regiment, under the command of Captain Barcroft:
Lieutenant Ash, and MrKelly,
surgeon of the same regiment, were also onboard. Of all these only Serjeant
Richardson, 11 private soldiers, and four Seamen, reached the shore alive - the rest perished.
Captain Barcroft was a Gentleman of a most amiable and excellent character.
His life had been passed in the service of his country, even from his early
youth to the deplored period, when he thus lost that valuable life, at
the age of thirty-six.
While yet a very young man he served in America, and in the course of
the disastrous war between England and the Colonies he was taken prisoner,
and very severely treated.
On the commencement of the present war he raised a company, in the County
of which he was a native, and served with it on the Continent during, the
campaign of 1794. His company was the last, and Captain Barcroft himself
one of the very last men that passed on a single plank, knee deep in water,
in the retreat from Nimuguen, under a heavy fire from the enemy.
After the general retreat in the winter of 1794, of which the circumstances
are too well known to be here insisted upon, Captain Barcroft returned
to England, and in a few months afterwards was ordered to West Indies.
The cruel catastrophe which awaited him on his way thither has occasioned
to his family the most poignant and lasting affliction. He appears to have
possessed in private life all those ingenious qualities that usually belong,
to the noble minded Soldier - and deeply and deservedly is his loss lamented
by his immediate connections, as well as by all who were acquainted with
his worth, either as an officer or a man.
Of the few who reached the shore with life, from the Piedmont Transport;
there was hardly one who was not dreadfully bruised; and some had their
limbs broken. One more wretched even than the rest, a Veteran of the 63rd
regiment, had his leg dreadfully fractured, but had resolution enough to
creep for shelter under a fishing boat, which lay inverted on the farther
side of the stony bank where his groans were unheard, till a young gentleman
passenger in the Thomas Merchant Ship, who, wrecked himself, and wandering
along the inhospitable shore under all the terrors that must have been
felt at such a time, forgot his own calamitous situation, in attempting
to succour this unhappy Soldier, but without success (as will be hereafter
be related) and the poor creature died in that deplorable condition; far,
happier than he would have been, if he had perished in the sea, rather
than, thus to have endured more exquisite, and prolonged suffering on the
Nor can the fate of a Fifer of the same regiment be heard without great
concern – this poor fellow, whose name was Ensor,
found himself unhurt on the land, and passing the high bank of stones,
he met on the other side some of his comrades; they congratulated each
other on their preservation, when Ensor, seeming
suddenly to recollect himself, exclaimed, "Oh, my poor wife!" then starting
:away. from his companions, he returned towards the raging element from
which he had so lately escaped, and was never seen again ; it is probable,
that in trying to save either this poor woman or some other he saw struggling
amidst the waves, he himself was overwhelmed and drowned.
On board the Venus were Major Ker, appointed
Military Commander of Hospitals in the Leeward Islands - his son, Lieutenant
James Ker, of the 40th regiment Lieutenant James Sutherland,
of Colonel Whyte's West India regiment - Cornet Benjamin Graydon
of the 3rd West India Regiment - Lieutenant B. Chadwick,
of Colonel Whyte's West India regiment - Mr. Kidd.
the Master, his wife, three other women, seventy-four soldiers and twelve
seamen. Of all these, (ninety-six persons) only Mr. John Darley,
of the Hospital Staff, Serjeant-Major Hearne,
twelve soldiers, and four seamen and a boy, were saved. Mr. Darley
escaped by throwing himself from the wreck, at a moment when she drifted
high on the stones: he reached them without broken limbs, but the furious
sea overtook him, and carried him back, not, however, so far but that he
regained the ground; and notwithstanding the weight of his clothes, and
his exhausted state, he reached the top of the bank, but there the power
of farther exertion failed him, and he fell. While he lay in this situation,
trying to recover breath and strength a great .many people from the neighbouring
villages passed him - they had crossed the Fleet water in the hopes of
sharing what the lower inhabitants of this coast are too much accustomed
to consider as their right, the plunder of the ships wrecked on their shore
and, in the gratification of their avarice, they are too apt to forget
humanity. Scenes like these call forth the most honourable, and discover
the most degrading qualities of the human heart.
Mr. Darley seems to have been so far from meeting with immediate assistance
among here who were plundering the dead, without thinking of the living,
(otherwise than to make some advantage of them also) that though he saw
many boats passing and repassing the fleet water, he found great difficulty
in procuring a passage over for himself and two or three of his fellow
sufferers, who had by this time joined him: having, however, at length
passed it, he soon met with Mr Bryer, Surgeon
of Weymouth, to whose active humanity all the unhappy sufferers were greatly
indebted; on his reaching Weymouth, the gentlemen of the South Gloucester
sent him every supply of necessaries that his situation required - and
all the soldiers and sailors were taken care of by Mr. Warne,
Agent to the Commissioners for the Sick and Hurt'
Of the circumstances that attended the loss of the Catharine, a more
particular account shall be given, which, perhaps, cannot be done more
expressively than by quoting the words of the survivor, who relates it
nearly thus :
The evening of the Seventeenth was boisterous and threatening; the Master
said he was afraid we should have some bad weather, and when I was desired
to go upon deck, and look at the appearance of the. sky, I observed that
it was scumbled and red, with great heavy clouds flying in all directions,
and there was a sort of dull mist round the moon. On repeating this to
the other passengers, (two of whom had been at sea before) they said we
certainly should have a stormy night; and indeed it proved to very tempestuous,
that no rest was to be obtained. Nobody, however, seemed to think there
was any danger, though the fog was so thick that the Master could see nothing
by which to direct his course; he thought, however, that he had sea-room
The fatigue I had suffered from the tossing of the ship, and the violence
with which it continued to roll, had kept me in bed.. It was about ten
o'clock in the morning of the Eighteenth when the Mate looked down into
the cabin, and cried – "Save yourselves, if you can."
The consternation and terror of that moment cannot be described I had
a loose dressing-gown on, and wrapping it round me, I went up, not quite
on the deck, but to the top of the stairs, from whence I saw the sea break
mountains high against the shore, while the passengers and soldiers seemed
thunderstruck by the sense of immediate and inevitable danger; and the
seamen, too conscious of the hopelessness of any exertion, stood in speechless
agony, certain that in a few minutes they must meet the destruction which
menaced them. While I thus stood surveying, in that kind of dread that
no words can convey an idea of, the scene around me, Mr. Burns, who was
near me, and had come up in his shirt, called to Mr. Jenner and Mr. Stains
for his cloak - nobody, however, could attend to anything, in such a moment,
but their own preservation.
Mr. Jenner, Mr. Stains,
and Mr. Dodd, the Surgeon, now passed me their
countenances sufficiently expressed their sense of the situation we were
all in - Mr. Burns spoke cheerfully to me; he bade me take courage - and
Mr. Jenner observed there was a good shore near, and all would do well.
The gentlemen then went to the side of the ship with the intention,
as I believe, of seeing if it was possible to get on shore The Master of
the ship alone remained near the companion, when suddenly a tremendous
wave broke over the ship, and struck me with such violence, that I was
for a moment stunned and, before I could recover myself, the ship struck
with a force so great as to throw me from the stairs into the cabin, the
Master of the vessel being thrown down near me. At the same moment the
cabin, with a dreadful crash, broke in upon us and beams and planks threatened
to bury us in ruins. The Master, however, soon recovered himself;
he left me to go again upon deck, and I saw him no more.
A sense of my condition lent me strength to disengage myself from the
boards and fragments that surrounded me, and I once more got up the stairs
I hardly know how; but what a scene did I behold! The
masts were all lying across the shattered remains of the deck, and no living
creature appeared on it - all were gone! I knew not then that they were
gone for ever! I looked forward to the shore; but there I could see
nothing except the dreadful surf that broke against it, while behind the
ship immense black waves rose like tremendous ruins; I knew that they must
overwhelm it, and thought that there could be no escape for me.
Believing then my death immediate and unavoidable, my idea was to regain
my bed in the cabin and there, retaining myself to the will of God, await
the moment that was approaching. I could not, however. reach my bed ; and
was awhile insensible; then the violent striking, and breaking up of the
wreck roused me again to recollection found myself near the cabin window,
but the water was rising round me. It increased rapidly, and the horrors
of drowning were present to me - yet I remember seeing the furniture of
the cabin floating about. I sat almost inclosed by pieces of the wreck,
and the water now reached my breast. The bruises I had received made every
exertion extremely difficult, and my loose gown was so entangled among
the beams and pieces of the ship, that I could not disengage it. Still
the desire of life, the hope of being welcomed on shore, whither I thought
my friends had escaped, and the remembrance of my child, all united to
give me courage to attempt saving myself: I again tried to loosen my gown,
but found it impossible; and the wreck continued to strike so violently,
and the ruins to close so much more around me, that I now expected to be
crushed to death. The water, as the ship drifted higher on the stones,
rather levelled as the waves went back, but, on their return, continued
to cover me and I once or twice lost my, breath, and, for a moment my recollection.
When I had power to think, the principle of self-preservation still urged
me to exertion. The cabin now broke more and more; through a large breach
I saw the shore very near me ; and, amidst the tumult of the raging waves
that dashed upon it, I had, glimpse of the people who were gathering up
what the sea drove towards them; but I thought they could not see me, and
from them I despaired of assistance; I therefore determined to make one
effort to preserve my life; I disengaged my arms from my dressing gown,
and finding myself able to move, I quitted the wreck, and felt myself on
the ground; I attempted to run, but was too feeble to save myself from
a raging wave that overtook and overwhelmed me: then I believed myself
gone, yet, half-suffocated as I was, I struggled very much, and I remember
I thought I was very long dying! The wave left me - I breathed again,
and made another attempt to get higher upon the bank; but then, quite exhausted,
I fell down, and my senses forsook me!
By this time some of the people on the bank saw me, and two men came
to my assistance. They lifted me up; I once more recovered some faint recollection
as they bore me along, one of them said the sea would overtake its; that
he must let me go, and take care of his own life *. I only remember clinging
to the other, and imploring him not to leave me to the merciless waves.
But 1 have a very confused idea of what passed, till I saw the boat which
I was to be put into, to cross the fleet water. I had then only strength
to say "For God's sake do not take me to sea again."
* This man it is believed, saw, at that moment, a quantity
of goods driven on shore which he wished to share and therefore would have
left the poor sufferer to her fate.
I believe the apprehension of it, added to my other sufferings, helped
to deprive me of all further sensibility, for I have not the least recollection
of any thing afterwards, till I was roused by the remedies applied to restore
me in the farm-house, whither I was carried, and heard round me a number
of women, who asked me a great many questions, which I was unable to answer.
I remember hearing one say I was a French woman - another that I was a
Negro and I was so bruised, and in such a disfigured condition, that the
conjectures of these people were not surprising.
When I recovered some degree of confused recollection, and was able
to speak, I begged they would let me go to a bed. I did not ask this, however,
with any expectation of life, for I was now in such a state of suffering
that my only wish was to be allowed to lie down in peace and die. Nothing
could exceed the humanity of Mr. Abbot*, the inhabitant
of Fleet Farm House, nor the compassionate attention of his sister, Miss
Abbot, who not only afforded me immediate assistance, but continued for
some days after I got to Weymouth to attend me with such kindness and humanity
as I shall always remember with the sincerest gratitude..
When in contrast to the humanity exercised by Mr and Miss Abbot, the
eager desire of plunder, so general on the Western coast, is recollected,
and one cannot help wishing that on this fatal part of it some such establishment
was possible, as that which has been founded at Bamborough Castle, in Northumberland,
by Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham : the account of this place is given by
Mr Bowles, in a note to the admirable Sonnet
written on the spot, which I cannot resist copying.
When in contrast to the humanity exercised by Mr and Miss Abbot,
the eager desire of plunder, so general on the Western coast, is recollected,
and one cannot help wishing that on this fatal part of it some such establishment
was possible, as that which has been founded at Bamborough Castle, in Northumberland,
by Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham : the account of this place is given by
Mr Bowles, in a note to the admirable Sonnet written on the spot, which
I cannot resist copying.
Blaw wind, rize zay,
SONNET, 'WRITTEN AT BAMBOROUGH CASTLE
YE holy towers that shade the 'wave-worn steep,
Long may you rear your aged brows sublime;
Though, hurrying silent by, relentless Time
Assail you, and the wintry whirlwind's sweep!
For, far from blazing grandeur's crowded halls,
Here Charity, hath fix'd her chosen feat,
Many Readers may be ignorant that this very ancient Castle,
with its extensive domains, heretofore the property of the family of Forsters,
whose heiress married Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham, is appropriated by
the will of that pious prelate to many benevolent purposes, particularly
of ministering instant relief to such shipwrecked Mariners as may happen
to be cast on this dangerous coast; for whose preservation and that of
their vessels, every possible assistance is contrived, and is at all times
ready. The whole estate is vested in the hands of Trustees; one of whom,
Dr. Sharp, Archdeacon of Northumberland, with an active zeal well suited
to the nature of the humane institution, makes this Castle his chief residence,
attending with unwearied diligence to the proper application of the Charity."
Oft listening tearful, when the wild winds beat
With hollow bodings round your ancient walls!
And Pity, at the dark and stormy hour
Of midnight, when the moon is hid on high,
Keeps her lone watch upon the topmast tower,
And turns her ear to each expiring cry;
Blest, if her aid some fainting wretch might save,
And snatch him cold and speechless from the wave.
It cannot fail of being consolatory to the humane and reflecting
mind to be enabled by this note to turn to such an example as that of the
worthy and respectable Clergyman, who is thus the Minister of Mercy at
Bamborough Castle. In the course of collecting the materials for this little
narrative, I have been compelled to remark a character altogether different.
One who seems to watch the Chisell Bank in the time of tempest, with views
very unlike those of the venerable Dr. Sharp; and far from teaching like
a good shepherd, humanity to his flock, he seems to encourage, by his example,
their Cruel rapacity, and to repeat with them in listening to the rising
Zhip azhore afore day.
The unfortunate sufferer who gives this account was attended with great humanity by Mr. Bryer, while a wound in her foot, and the dangerous bruises she had received, prevented her quitting the shelter she first found, under the roof of Mr Abbot, at Fleet.
As soon as she was in a condition to be removed to Weymouth, Mr. Bryer received her into his own house, where Mrs. Bryer assisted in administering to her recovery, by such humane offices of consolation, as her deplorable situation admitted. In the mean time the Gentlemen of
the South Battalion of the Gloucester Militia, who had done all that was possible towards the preservation of the unhappy sufferers in this dreadful tempest, were now contributing with the greatest liberality to the alleviation of the pecuniary distresses of the survivors - among whom none seemed to have so forcible a claim on their pity as the forlorn and helpless stranger, whole miraculous escape has just been related.
No other person was saved from the Catharine Transport but a Ship-boy,
about fifteen, who seems to have been washed off, by one of the heavy seas
that swept her deck; for he said, that he found himself, he knew not how,
on shore, and saw from thence the vessel go to pieces.
The persons that perished of the crew and passengers in this vessel,
Twenty-two soldiers of the 26th Light Dragoons.
Two soldiers wives
-and Twelve seamen.
There were also the horses belonging to the soldiers on board.
The officers were,
Lieutenant Stains, of Keppel's West-India Regiment
Mr. Dodd, of the Hospital Staff.
Of the two latter Gentlemen, Lieutenant Jenner was the representative
of an ancient and much respected family in Gloucestershire. He had been
many years a Lieutenant of Marines, but had engaged in Colonel Whitelock's
Regiment on the promise of a company, which his long services entitled
hint to; he possessed all those engaging and manly qualities which belong
to the Gentleman, the Soldier, and the Friend; and it may with truth be
laid, that he was esteemed by all who knew him, and by none more than the
officers of the South Gloucester Regiment, with whom he was particularly
intimate, and who bewailed the sad necessity of following their lamented
friend (thus untimely cut off at the age of thirty-one) to the grave. They
found his mangled body on the dreary beach two days after the shipwreck,
and buried it with military honours.
Cornet Burns was the son of an American Loyalist of considerable property,
who was deprived of every thing for his adherence to the British Government.
This young man, who had no dependence but upon the recompense promised
by Government to those who had so suffered, after many years of difficulty
and distress, obtained a Cornetcy in the 26th Dragoons, in going to serve
with which, in the West Indies, he was thus lost in his twenty-fourth year.
"There is a tide in the affairs of men," says Shakespeare; and I am
afraid it is too true, that some families experience no Spring tide of
prosperity, but that their fortune is always either at a low ebb, or they
are exposed to such storms and tempests as finally wreck and overwhelm
them. Such seems to have been the perverse destiny of this very unfortunate
young officer. The Predestinarian will consider it as a proof of the truth
of those opinions to which he adheres, when it is related, that Cornet
Burns had intended embarking in the Fowler Transport, and had actually
sent his horse on board, when, finding the Catharine more commodious, he
gave the latter the preference. The Fowler put back in safety to Spithead.
In the Thomas, of London, a Merchant Ship bound to Oporto, the Master,
Mr. Brown, his Son, and all the Crew, except the
Mate, three Seamen, and one Passenger, .were lost: this Passenger was a
young Gentleman, about the age of fifteen, of the name of Smith,
who was going to Lisbon. He too was probably preserved by remaining on
board after all the rest had left the Ship, or had been washed from it
by the waves. It had then drifted high on the bank, and he leaped from
it to the ground.
Weakened as he was, and encumbered with his wet clothes, he got on the
other side of the stony bank, and seems to have possessed equal presence
of mind and humanity. On looking around him over the dreary beach, his
first idea was, that he was thrown on an uninhabited coast. At length he
law a fishing boat, and approaching it, heard the groans of the unhappy
old Soldier, mentioned in the beginning of this narrative, whom he attempted
to relieve ' but he could do nothing alone, and he was long before he saw
any assistance near; till at length he perceived a man at some distance,
to whom he hastened, and enquired eagerly if a Surgeon could be procured
for a poor creature with a broken limb, who lay under the boat.
The man probably shewed no great alacrity, for Master Smith
found it necessary to purchase his good offices by giving him half a guinea,
which he imagined would engage him to seek for a surgeon. The man Pocketed
the half guinea with the greatest composure, then, saying he was a King's
Officer, and must see what bales of goods were driven on shore, he hastened
away without giving himself any farther trouble, than telling Master Smith
that there was a ferry about four miles off, by which he might get to Weymouth.
Of what happened on board the Thomas, previous to her total destruction,
Master Smith related one striking circumstance: Mr. Brown, the Master
of the vessel, was carried away by an immense wave, just as he was stripping
to endeavour to save himself, his son exclaiming " 0h, my father! my poor
father!" instantly followed him. They seem to have been worthy people,
and are spoken of with great regard by this young man. The bodies of there
two unhappy people, father and sun, were believed, by the description of
them, to be among those that were afterwards interred at Wyke.
Before the whole extent of this dreadful calamity was known at Weymouth
the officers of the South Gloucester were considering, how they might best
succour the survivors, and perform the last sad duties towards those who
were no more.
On the morning of the Nineteenth of November, an officer of the South
Gloucester Militia, together with Mr. Bryer of Weymouth, rode to the villages
where those who had escaped from the various wrecks had found a temporary
shelter; with them went Mr. Darley, who earnestly wished to know
what had been the fate of Major Ker, and to find his body if he had perished,
which could not yet be known.
In a house at Chickerell these Gentlemen found Serjeant Richardson,
and eleven privates of the 63d regiment. Two of there poor men had fractured
limbs, and almost all the rest had wounds and bruises In other cottages,
in the same villages, others of the ship wrecked sufferers had been received,
and were as comfortably accommodated as circumstances allowed.
The gentlemen leaving their horses at the Fleet farm-house, crossed
the Fleet water, to the beach, and there, whatever idea had been formed
of the scene they were now to witness, infinitely exceeded in horror by
the spectacle before them. No celebrated field of carnage, where the heroes
among mankind have gathered their bloodiest laurels, ever presented, in
proportion to its size, a more fearful fight than the Chissel-bank now
exhibited. It was strewn for two miles with the dead bodies of men and
animals, with pieces of wreck and piles of plundered goods, which groups
of people were at work to carry away, regardless of the sight of the drowned
bodies that filled the newly-arrived spectators with grief and amazement.
On the poor remains of these unfortunate victims death appeared in all
its hideous forms and indeed the particulars cannot be given either the
sea or the people who had first gone down to the shore, had stripped of
every article of clothes, those who had probably ventured, or had been
thrown by the shocks into the water with their clothes on, as some of the
officers certainly were clothed at the fatal moment. The remains of a military
stock or the wristbands and collars of the shirt, or a piece of blue pantaloons,
were all of their clothes that were left: and when the rites of sepulchre
were to be performed, the Lieutenant of the South Gloucester, who superintended
the performance of this melancholy duty, had no other means of distinguishing
some of the officers than by the different appearance of their hands from
those of men who had been accustomed to hard labour; but others were known
by the description given of their persons by their friends, by persons
that escaped who were in the ships with them; and the Lieutenant of the
South Gloucester has convinced himself, and all who were interested in
the enquiry, that the bodies of the gentlemen whose names have been particularly
mentioned, were found, and buried in the churchyard.
The remains of that gallant officer, Captain Barcroft was known by the
honourable scars that witnessed the wounds he had received in the service
of his country. His mourning friends have, from that circumstance, the
sad satisfaction of knowing that his body was rescued from the sea, and
buried with military honours.
Early in the morning of the Twentieth, the Lieutenant, who has before
been mentioned, with a party of forty men, prepared to go to the scene
of death, to begin the melancholy office of internment; but it was then
found that they could not remove or bury the bodies without the authority
of a magistrate; and these preliminaries took up so much time, that only
twenty-five bodies were buried that day. The bodies of Captain Barcroft,
of Lieutenant Sutherland, Cornet Graydon, and Lieutenant Ker, and two women,
were then selected to be put into coffins: and on the Twenty-first the
bodies of Lieutenant Jenner and Cornet Burns were found, and distinguished
in like manner.
The whole number of dead found on the beach was two hundred and thirty-four;
so that, not withstanding the party employed was changed every day, so
heavy and fatiguing was the duty, that it was not till the morning of the
Twenty-third that all the soldiers and sailors (two hundred and eight)
were deposited, as decently as could be done under such circumstances,
in graves dug on the Fleet side of the stony beach, beyond the reach of
sea, with a pile of stones raised on each to mark where they lay.
Mr. Warne, the Agent for the Sick and Hurt Office, who has before been
mentioned, sent twelve coffins to receive the bodies of the women - nine
only were found - the other coffins were added therefore to those that
were destined for the dead, who were supposed to be officers.
The remains of Lieutenant Ker were delivered to his friends, who came
down for the purpose of attending his funeral.
On the Twenty-third two wagons were sent to the side of the Fleet water
to receive the coffins, in which the shrouded bodies of Seventeen officers
and nine women had been placed. They were conveyed to a part of the hill
near the church of Wyke, and left under a guard for that night. On the
morning of the Twenty-fourth the officers and soldiers of the South Gloucester
attended to be present at the funeral and thus to pay the last tribute
of respect to those whose fate had impressed them with deepest concern
A party of the Gloucester, consisting of a Captain, subaltern, and fifty
men preceded the seventeen coffins; Master Smith appeared as chief mourner.
The body of Lieutenant Ker, attended by his friends, made part of the mournful
procession, which was closed by the soldiers and officers of the South
Gloucester, following as is usual in military funerals. In a large grave,
close to the North side of the tower of Wyke church, the officers were
interred with military honours. Lieutenant Ker in a grave on the other
side of the tower, near which, at the Southwest corner, were committed
to the earth, the remains of the nine women, whose coffins had been deposited
in the church during the preceding ceremony.
Over the grave of the officers a stone has been erected at the expense
of the friends of Captain Barcroft and Lieutenant Jenner, on which is the
To the Memory
Of CAPTAIN AMBROSE WILLIAM
LIEUTENANT HARRY ASH,* &
MR. KELLY, SURGEON
of the 63d Regiment of Infantry;
Of LIEUTENANT STEPHEN JENNER,
of the 6th West-India Regiment;
of the 2nd West-India Regiment;
LIEUTENANT JAMES SUTHERLAND,
of Col. Whyte's West-India Regiment;
LIEUTENANT B. CHADWICK,
of Col. Whyte's West-India Regiment;
CORNET WM. STUKELEY BURNS,
of the 26th Light Dragoons;
CORNET BENJAMIN GRAYDON,
Of the 3rd West-India Regiment;
Two Hundred and Fifteen SOLDIERS and
SEAMEN, and Nine Women who perished by Shipwreck on
Opposite the Villages of LANGTON, FLEET,
and CHICKERELL, on Wednesday the
Eighteenth Day, of November, 1795 **
Notes and Queries for 6 Nov 1862 reflects the following changes:
* Harry Ash should read Lovett Ashe
** The following should be inserted at the end of the inscription
"Erected by the friends of Capt. Bancroft and Lieut. Jenner"
A stone has also been erected over the grave of Lieutenant Ker, bearing the following inscription
Sacred to the Memory
Of MAJOR JOHN CHARLES KER,
Military Commandant of Hospitals in the
And to that Of his SON,
LIEUTENANT JAMES KER
of the 40th Regiment of Foot,
Who both departed this Life on the Eighteenth of November, I795
The first aged 40, and the latter 14 Years.
"The fate of both was truly deplorable; and is
a melancholy example of the uncertainty of human affairs.
"They were embarked in the Venus Transport, and left Portsmouth
the 15th of the above-mentioned month, with a fleet full of troops, destined
on an expedition to the West-Indies, under the command of General Sir Ralph Abercromby.
"A storm having arisen on the 17th, Which lasted till
the next day, many of the ships were lost, and the Venus wrecked on Portland
Beach; Major Ker and his Son were both unfortunately drowned, with the
greater part of the soldiers and crew.
"The Major's body could not be found, although it is possible
that it may have been among the many others which were driven ashore, and
buried in this churchyard.
"His son's corpse was ascertained, and lies interred under
this stone, which is raised at the expense of John William Ker, Esq. brother
of the Major, in commemoration of the affection he bore him."
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