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The Loss Of The Royal George






BY G. H. WALKER.


When the brave die in battle, the ardour which impels them to glory and
renders them insensible of their danger leaves a brilliance behind,
which mitigates, in a great degree, the grief of their relatives and
friends. But nothing can be more distressing than to behold a multitude
of gallant men in a moment of inactivity, perhaps in the midst of
amusements and the height of enjoyment, anchored on their own coast, and
riding in smooth water, overwhelmed in a moment in the liquid abyss, and
precipitated into an awful eternity. Such was the fate of the crew of
the Royal George.

The Royal George, one hundred and eight guns, the flag ship of Admiral
Kempenfeldt and one of the best ships in the navy, had just returned
from a cruise in which she had sprung a leak which demanded attention.
The carpenter and others, after a strict survey, finding that the leak
was not more than two feet below the water-mark, and supposing it to be
occasioned by the rubbing off the copper sheathing, it was resolved, in
order to save time, instead of sending her into dock to give her a
slight careen, or in the language of the seamen, "a parliament
heel"--that is, to lay her to a certain degree upon her side while her
defects were examined and repaired at Spithead. It was meanwhile
discovered that the pipe, for the occasional admission of water to
cleanse and sweeten the ship, was out of repair, and that it was
necessary to replace it with a new one. As the ship required to be
heeled very much for this purpose, the greater part of the guns were
removed from one side to the other; but the vessel heeling more than was
intended and the crew having neglected to stop the scuppers of the lower
decks, the water came in and for some time she stole down imperceptibly.
During this time many of the crew were at dinner; but as soon as they
discovered their dangerous condition they beat to arms to right the
ship. They were, however, too late, and all their efforts were in vain,
for in a few minutes the Royal George fell flat on one side, filled
with water, and the guns, shot, etc., falling to the under side, she
went to the bottom, August 29th, 1782, before any signal of distress
could be made.

At this fatal moment there were nearly twelve hundred persons on board,
including about two hundred and fifty women and several children,
chiefly belonging to the seamen, who had been permitted to go on board
when the ship cast anchor at Spithead and to remain there until the
order for sailing arrived. The people who were on watch upon deck, to
the number of two hundred and thirty, were mostly saved by the boats,
which were manned with the utmost expedition by the ships near the
Royal George when they observed that the vessel was going down. Their
assistance was, however, delayed for some time by the swell occasioned
by the sinking of such a large body, which produced a temporary
whirlpool in the water. About seventy others, who rose after the ship
disappeared, were also picked up; among these were four lieutenants,
eleven women, and the rest seamen.

One of the officers thus rescued was Lieutenant Durham, who fortunately
was the officer of the watch and upon deck when he observed the vessel
going down. He had just time to throw off his coat and scramble on the
beam from which, as the ship sank, he was soon washed and left floating
about among men and hammocks. A drowning marine caught him by the
waistcoat and held him fast, so that he was several times drawn under
water. It was in vain to reason with the man: he therefore clung with
his legs round a hammock, with one hand unbuttoned his waistcoat, and,
sloping his shoulders, committed it, together with the unfortunate
marine, to the waves. He then got to some of the top rigging; a boat
came to him, but he nobly declined the assistance offered by those on
board her, pointing out to them where Captain Waghorne was in great
danger, and desiring them to go to his relief, after which the gallant
youth was taken up and brought in safety to the shore.

Mr. Henry Bishop, a young man about nineteen years of age, experienced a
very extraordinary preservation. Being on the lower deck at the time of
the fatal accident, as the vessel filled the force of the water hurried
him almost insensibly up the hatchway, when at that instant he was met
by one of the guns which had fallen from the middle deck. Striking him
on his left hand it broke three of his fingers; he, however, found
himself a few seconds later floating on the surface of the water, where
he was ultimately taken up by a boat.

By this sudden and dreadful catastrophe nearly nine hundred persons
perished. Among the rest, the loss of Admiral Kempenfeldt, whose flag
was then flying on board the Royal George, was universally lamented.
He was the son of Lieutenant-colonel Kempenfeldt, a native of Sweden,
whose character is preserved in the Spectator, under the name of
Captain Sentry. He entered very early into the service of the navy, for
which profession he soon discovered uncommon talents. In the year 1757
he was appointed captain of the Elizabeth, and proceeded with
Commodore Stevens to the East Indies, where he distinguished himself in
three several actions against the French squadron, being always opposed
to a ship of superior force. His skill was of the utmost importance
during the blockade of Pondicherry as well as at the subsequent
reduction of Manilla by Admiral Cornish in 1761. After serving a
considerable time in the West Indies he obtained leave to return to
England. During the peace he constantly spent part of the year in
France, not in the pursuit of pleasure, but in search of professional
knowledge, in which, if he did not excel, he at least equalled any naval
officer in Europe. At the commencement of the American war he was
appointed to the Buckingham, and served as first captain under the
Admirals Hardy, Geary, and Darby; and his gallant conduct contributed in
no small degree to the capture of the convoy under M. Guichen. His
character in private life rendered his acquaintance an enviable
acquisition, and as an officer his death was a very severe loss to his
country.

The Lark sloop victualler, which was lying alongside the Royal
George, was swallowed up in the vortex occasioned by the sinking of the
vessel, and several of the people on board her perished.

The Royal George was the oldest first-rate in the service. She was
built at Woolwich; her keel was laid down in 1751 and she was hauled out
of the dock in July 1755, it being unusual, at that time, to build such
large ships on slips to launch. She was pierced for one hundred guns,
but having recently had two additional ports, including the carronades,
mounted one hundred and eight guns; she was rather short and high, like
all the old first-rates, but sailed so well that she had more flags on
board her than any vessel then in the service. Lord Anson, Admiral
Boscawen, Lord Hawke, Lord Rodney, Lord Howe, and several other
principal officers, repeatedly commanded in her. She carried the tallest
masts and squarest canvas of any English built ship in the navy, and
originally the heaviest metal--namely, fifty-two, forty, and
twenty-eight pounders--but they had been changed, on account of her age,
to forty, thirty-two and eighteen pounders.





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