The Loss Of The Royal George


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 e
joyment, 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


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.