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 The Earl of Abergavenny

Memorial to the loss of life on the Earl of Abergavenny in Weymouth Harbour 2005


The Loss of the Indiaman, Earl of Abergavenny

The Earl of Abergavenny, Capt. John Wordsworth, the brother of the poet, was about 1200 tons burthen. She was nine years old, having been built in Pincher's Yard at Northfleet, Kent, in 1796 for the East India Co. The captain's family had invested 20,000 L in goods on board the ship.

    On the morning of Thursday 4 February 1805, an officer who was one of the fortunate number to have been saved from the wreck, brought the sad news to India House.
The following is taken from his account and that of Mr John Clark, the 5th Mate.
    She sailed from Portsmouth, on Friday 1 February 1805, in company with the Royal George, Henry Addington, Wexford and Bombay Castle, for the East Indies under Convoy of the Weymouth,36, Frigate (an ex-Indiaman), and was destined for Bengal and China. ...The weather proved very unfavourable after their sailing, and the wind being strongly adverse, west south-west, induced them to make the best of their way for Portland Roads, having the main-top-gallant-mast struck and the fore and mizen ditto on deck. ... While crossing the east end of the Shambles Bank off Portland Bill, about two miles from the shore, the wind suddenly died away, and a strong tide setting the ship to the westward, drifted her into the breakers; and a sea striking her on the larboard quarter, broached her to with her head to the northward, when she instantly struck. It being about 5 o'clock. They let out all reefs and hoisted the top-sails, in hopes to shoot the ship across. 

    ...Then the Carpenter announced that a considerable leak was discovered near the bottom of the chain-pumps, which it was not in his power to stop, the water gushing in so fast. The pumps being all in readiness, were set a-going and part of the crew endeavoured to bail her at the fore hatch, but all their attempts to keep the water under were in vain.

...The dreadful crisis was now approaching - every one on board seemed assured of his fate; some gave themselves up to despair, while others employed the few minutes they had left in imploring the mercy of their Creator. At 10 o'clock the ship was nearly full of water, and as she began gradually to sink, confusion commenced on board. A number of sailors begged ardently for more liquor, and when it was refused, they attacked the spirit room, but they were repulsed by their Officers, who continued to conduct themselves with the utmost fortitude. One was stationed at the spirit room door, with a brace of pistols, to guard against surprise, and remained there even while the ship was sinking. About two minutes before the ship went down, Mr Baggot, Chief Mate, was heard to say to Capt. Wordsworth, "We have done all we can, Sir, she will sink in a moment." The captain replied, "It cannot be helped - God's will be done."

... When the ship sunk, she did not go down in the usual way that vessels do, by falling first upon her beam ends; This deviation was supposed to have arisen from her being laden with treasure and Porcelain ware. She had nearly 70,000 L sterling in specie on board, and about 400 persons. The crew consisted of 160 men, and there were between 50 and 60 passengers; the rest were 100 recruits for his Majesty's and 59 soldiers of the East India Co., and 100 of the King's soldiers about 30 Chinamen were also on board. The total number drowned is estimated at 300.

..The whole value of the cargo is estimated at 200,000 L. Nothing was saved except the dispatches and some valuable prints being sent out to General Lake. As she went down Capt. Wordsworth was seen clinging to the ropes. Mr Gilpin, one of the mates, used every persuasion to induce him to try and save his life, but he did not seem desirous to survive the loss of his ship. Mr Baggot, the Chief Mate, was of the same cool and temperate disposition, and made no attempt to save his own life, but met the fate of his captain with the same composure..

   ... The salvage work on Abergavenny was carried out by John Braithwaite in Endeavour and continued until the end of March 1806 when, having recovered all the chests of specie and the rest of the cargo, the wreck was blown up.

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See also the memorial to the Earl of Abergavenny

  abridged from  http://www.cronab.demon.co.uk/aber.htm