The loss of the RAMILLIES



Liverpool Mercury 1913

The loss of the RAMILLIES

Of 74 guns, in the Atlantic ocean, Sept 21st, 1782, with particular relative to other vessels which suffered in the same dreadful hurricane.

Admiral [afterwards Lord] GRAVES, having requested to return to England in 1782, was appointed by Lord RODNEY to command the convoy sent home with the numerous fleet of merchantmen from the West Indies in the month of July.

He accordingly hoisted his flag on board the RAMILLIES, of 74 guns, and sailed on the 25th from Blue Fields, having under his orders, the CANADA and CENTAUR, of 74 guns each, with the PALLAS frigate of 36 guns and the following French ships taken by Lord RODNEY and Sir Samuel HOOD, out of the armament commanded by the Count de GRASSE :- viz, the VILLE de PARIS of 110 guns, the ARDENT, CATON and JASON of 64 guns each. Those which had been British ships had been in so many actions and so long absent from England, as to have become extremely out of condition, while that of the prizes was still more deplorable and the following authentic account of the various disasters which attended this distressed convoy will be found equally melancholy and distressing.

Soon after the fleet had sailed the officers of the ARDENT, united in signing such a representation of her miserable plight as induced Admiral GRAVES to order her back to Port Royal, and the JASON, by not putting to sea with the convoy, for want of water, never joined him at all. The rest proceeded, and after those vessels that were bound for New York had separated, the whole convoy was reduced to 92 of three sail.

The afternoon of Sept 16th, showing indications of a gale and foul weather from the S. E. quarter, every preparation was made on board the flagship for such an event, not only on account of her own safety, but also by way of example to the rest of the fleet. The Admiral collected his ships about 6 o’ clock and brought-to under his mainsail on the larboard tack, having all his other sails furled, and his topgallant yards and masts lowered down.

The wind soon increased blowing strongly from E. S. E, with a very heavy sea and about 3am, on the morning of the 17th, flew suddenly round to the contrary point, blowing most tremendously, and accompanied with rain, thunder and lightening, the RAMILLIES was taken by the lee, her mainsail thrown aback, her mainmast went by the board, and the mizzenmast half way up, the foretopmast fell over the starboard bow, the foreyard broke in the slings, the tiller snapped in two, and the rudder was nearly torn off.

Thus was the capital ship from being in perfect order, reduced within a few minutes to a mere wreck, by the fury of the blast and the violence of the sea, which acted in opposition to each other. The ship was pooped, the cabin where the Admiral lay, was flooded, his cot-bed jerked down by the violence of the shock and the ships instantaneous revulsion, so that he was obliged to pull on his boots half-leg deep in water, without any stockings, to huddle on his wet clothes, and repair up on deck.

On his first coming thither he ordered the Lieutenants to examine into the state of affairs below, and to keep a sufficient number of people at the pumps, while he himself and the Captain kept the deck to encourage the men to clear away the wreck, which, by its constant swinging, backwards and forwards by every wave against the body of the ship, had beaten off much of the copper off the starboard side, and exposed the seams so much to the sea that the decayed oakum washed out, and the whole frame became at once extremely porous and leaky.

At dawn of day they perceived a large ship under their lee, lying upon her side, water-logged, her hands attempting to wear her by first cutting away the mizzenmast, and then her mainmast, hoisting her ensign, with the union downwards, in order to draw the attention of the fleet, but, to no purpose, for no succour could be given, and she very soon went down head foremost, the fly of her ensign being the last thing visible.

This was the DUTTON, formerly an East Indiaman, and then a storeship, commanded by a Lieutenant of the navy, who, in his agitation, leaped from the deck into the sea, but, as might be expected was very soon overwhelmed by its billows. 12/13 of the crew however, continued to slide off one of the boats, and running with the wind, first endeavoured to reach a large ship before them, which, not being able to fetch, and afraid of filling if they attempted to haul up for that purpose, they made up for another ship more to the leeward, who, fortunately descrying them, threw a number of ropes, by the help of which these desperate scrambled up her sides, and fortunately saved their lives.

Out of 94/95 sails seen on the day before, scarcely 20 could now be counted, of the ships of war, there were discerned the CANADA, half hull, down upon the lee quarter, having her maintopmast and mizzenmast gone, the maintop damaged, the mainyard aloft, and the mainsail furled.

The CENTAUR was far too windward, without masts, bowsprit, or rudder, and the GLORIEUX without foremast, bowsprit, or maintopmast. Of these the two latter perished with all their crews, excepting the Captain of the CENTAUR and a few of his people, who continued to slip off her stern into one of the ships unnoticed, and thus escaped the fate of the rest.

The day having been spent in baling and pumping, without materially gaining on the water, the Captain, in the name of the officers, represented to the admiral the necessity of parting with the guns for the relief of the ship, but he objected that there would then be no protection for the convoy, at length, after great difficulty, he consented to their disposing of the forecastle and aftermost quarter-deck guns, together with some of the shot, and other articles of very great weight.

The ensuing night was employed in baling and endeavouring to make the pumps useful, for the ballast, by getting into the well, had choked and rendered them useless, and the chains had broken as often as they were repaired. The water had risen to 7 ft in the hold. The wind from the westward drove a vast sea before it, and the ship being old strained most violently.

On the morning of the 18th nothing could be seen of the CANADA, she having pushed on at her greatest speed for England. The frame of the RAMILLIES having opened during the night, the admiral was prevailed upon, by the renewed and pressing remonstrance’s of his officers, although with great reluctance, to let six of the forwardmost, and four of the aftermost guns of the maindeck to be thrown overboard, together with the remainder of those on the quarter deck, and the ship still continuing to open very much, he ordered tarred canvas and hides to be nailed fore and aft from under the sills of the ports on the maindeck under the 5th plank above, or within the waterways, and the crew without orders, did the same on the lower deck.

Her increasing complaints required still more to be done, the admiral directed all the guns on the upper deck, the shot, both on that and the lower deck, and various heavy store, to be thrown overboard, a leakage in the light-room of the grand magazine having almost filled the ship forward, and there being 8 ft of water in the magazine, every gentleman was compelled to take his turn at the whips of handling the buckets. The ship was besides frapped from the foremast to the mainmast.

Notwithstanding their utmost efforts the water still gained on them the succeeding night, the wind blowing very hard, with extremely heavy squalls, a part of the orlop-deck fell into the hold, the ship herself seemed to work excessively, and to settle forward.

On the morning of the 19th under these very alarming circumstances, the admiral commended both the bower anchors to be cut away, all the junk to be flung overboard, one sheet and one bower cable to be reduced to junk and served the same way, together with every remaining ponderous store that could be got at, and all the powder in the grand magazine, [it being damaged], the cutter and pinnace to be broken up and tossed overboard, the skids, having already worked off the sides, every soul on board now employed in baling.

One of the pumps was got up, but to no purpose, for the shot-lockers being broken down, some of the shot, as well as the ballast, had fallen in the well, and as the weather moderated a little, everything was made ready for having the lower-deck guns into the sea, the admiral being anxious to leave nothing undone for the relief of the ship.

When evening came there being 20 merchant ships in sight, the officers united to beseech him to go into one of them, but this he positively refused to do, deeming it, as he declared, unpardonable in a commander-in-chief to desert his garrison in distress, that his living a few days longer has of very little consequence, but that, by leaving his ship at such time, he would discourage and slacken the exertions of the people by setting them a bad example. The wind lulling somewhat during the night, all hands baled the water, which at this time was 6 ft, fore and aft.

On the morning of the 20th the admiral ordered the spare and steam anchors to be cut away, and within the course of the day all the lower-deck guns to be thrown overboard. When evening came the spirits of the people in general, and even of the most courageous, began to fail, and they openly expressed the utmost despair, together with the most ernest desire to quitting the ship, lest they should founder in her. The admiral hereupon advanced and told them that he, and their officers had equal regard for their own lives, that the officers had no intention of deserting either them or the ship, that for his part, that he was determined to try one more night with her, he, therefore, hoped and entreated they would do too, for there was still room to imagine one fair day, with a moderate sea, might enable them, by united exertion, to clear and secure the well against the encroaching ballast which washed into it, that if this could be done, they might be able to restore the chains to the pumps, and use them, and that then hands enough might be spared to raise jury-masts, with which they might carry the ship to Ireland.

This temperate speech had the desired effect, the firmness and confidence with which he spoke, and their reliance on his seamanship and judgement, as well as his constant presence and attention to every accident, had a wonderful effect on them, they became pacified returning to their duty and their labours. Since the first disaster the admiral had, in fact, scarcely ever quitted the decks, this they had all observed together with his diligence in personally inspecting every circumstance of distress, knowing his skill and experience, they placed great confidence in them, and he instantly made, according to his promise, a signal for all the merchant men.

At 3am on the fourth night, the well being quite broken in the casks, ballast and the remaining shot rushed together and destroyed the cylinders of the pumps, the frame and carcass of the ship began to give way in every part, and the whole crew exclaimed that it was impossible to keep her any longer above water.

In this extremity the admiral resolved within himself not to lose a moment in removing the people whenever daylight should arrive, but told the Captain not to communicate any more of this design than that he intended to remove the sick and lame at daybreak, and for this purpose he should call on board all the boats of the merchant men.

Accordingly, at dawn the signal was made for the boats of the merchant men, but nobody expected what was to follow, until the bread was entirely removed and the sick gone. About 6am the rest of the crew were permitted to go off, and between 9 and 10 there being nothing farther to direct and regulate, the admiral himself, after shaking hands with every officer, and leaving his barge for the better accommodation and transport, quitted for ever the RAMILLIES, which had then 9ft of water in her hold. He went into a small leaky boat, loaded with bread, out of which both himself and the surgeon who accompanied him were obliged to bale out water all the way. He was in his boats, with his surtout over his uniform, and his countenance as calm and composed as ever.

The admiral rowed for the BELLE, Capt FORSTER, being the first of the trade that had borne up to the RAMILLIES, the preceeding night in her imminent distress, and by his anxious humanity set such an example of his brother traders as had a powerful influence on them -–an influence which was generally followed by 16 others.

By 3 0’ clock most of the crew were taken out, at which time the RAMILLIES had 18ft of water in the hold, and was evidently foundering in every part.

At 4.30 the Captain, 1st and 3rd Lieut’s, left her, with every soul excepting the 4th Lieut, who stayed behind only to execute the Captains orders for setting fire to her wreck when finally deserted. The carcass burned rapidly, and the flame quickly reached the powder , which was filled in the after magazine, and had been lodged very high, in 35 mins the decks and upper works blew up with a horrid explosion and cloud of smoke, while the lower part of the hull was precipitated to the bottom of the ocean.

At this time the admiral in the BELLE, stood for the wreck to see his last orders executed, as well as to succour any boats that might be too full of men, the sea being prodigious, although the weather had been moderate ever since noon of the foregoing day. There were however at intervals some squalls, with threats of the weather soon becoming violent. It was not long before they were realised, for within 2hrs of the last of the crew being put on board their respective ships, the wind rose to a great height and so continued, with intermission for 6/7 consecutive days, so that no boat could, during that time, have lived in the water. Oh such a small interval depended on the salvation of more than 600 lives.

Upon the separation taking place, the officers, who were distributed with portions of the crew among the Jamaicamen, had order respectively to deliver them to the first man-of-war or tender, they could meet with, and to aquaint the Secretary of the Admiralty by the earliest opportunity of their proceedings. A pendant was hoisted on board the BELLE, by way of distinction, that she might, if possible, lead the rest. Some of the trade kept with her, and others made the best of their way, apprehensive lest they should soon fall short of provisions, as they had so many more to feed.

The SILVER EEL transport, which had sailed from Bluefields with the invalids of Sir George RODNEY’S fleet and was under the command of a Lieut of the navy, had been ordered to keep near the RAMILLIES, That she accordingly was at hand on the 21st of September, the day after the destruction, and in consequence of several deaths on the passage had room enough for the reception of all who were ailing or maimed and was therefore charged with them being properly fitted for their accommodation.

The SILVER EEL parted from the admiral in lat 42. 48, N, long 45. 19, W, after seeing the RAMILLIES demolished and being ordered to make for the first port, ran into Falmouth on the 6th of October, on the afternoon of which day one of the trade ships, with the midshipman and 16 crew of the RAMILLIES reached Plymouth Sounds, another of the same convoy, having on board another portion of the crew, with the Captain and 1st Lieut, anchored in the same place before daylight the next morning. The CANADA however having exerted her utmost speed, had, prior to all these on the 4th of the same month got to Portsmouth, where she spread the news of the dispersion of this miserable fleet, which being convoyed to France her privateers immediately put to sea in hopes of making prize of them. Some of the Jasmaicamen, with part of the crew of the RAMILLIES fell in consequence in their hands, two of the Westindiamen were captured in sight of the BELLE, but she herself, with the Captain and 33 of his crew, arrived safe, though singly, on the 10th October in Cork Harbour, where was the MYRMIDOM frigate.


Copyright 2002 / To date