Isle of Wight Shipwrecks: 'Clarendon' Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Isle of Wight Shipwrecks: 'Clarendon'

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Isle of Wight Shipwrecks
Ancient and Roman | Medieval | The Hundred Years War | Mary Rose | The Spanish Armada | Treasure, and Hazardous | Sir Robert Holmes | The Frigate Assurance and HMS Invincible | Royal George | HMS Pomone and Carn Brae Castle | Clarendon | HMS Eurydice | Sirenia and Irex | SS Eider and Alcester | HMS Gladiator and the Submarine A1 | The First World War | Between the Wars | The Second World War | SS Virginia and HMS Alliance | Pacific Glory | Höegh Osaka

One of the most infamous shipwrecks of the Island's shore was that of Clarendon. She was a three-masted, 345-ton West Indiaman with a crew of 16, and 10 passengers including five young girls. In August 1836 she set sail from the West Indies, and was soon battered by strong Atlantic gales. When the Clarendon entered the English Channel the storms increased, preventing the ship from entering the shelter of Plymouth Sound, and forcing her towards Portsmouth.

Late on 10 October the gale increased to hurricane force. By dusk on 11 October the ship was embayed, with the storm force winds driving the ship towards the Island's southern shore.

John Wheeler and local fishermen, watching the ship's fate, sprinted to Blackgang Chine to offer their help. When the ship crashed into Blackgang Chine, John Wheeler tied a rope around his waist, jumped into the sea, and rescued a man who jumped off the ship. The tide washed them back out to sea. Wheeler dashed into the sea again, grabbing another man, and took him safely back to shore.

The fourth wave to strike Clarendon completely destroyed the ship: all that remained were splinters of wood spread out along the coast. A third man was rescued. The broken bodies of the thirteen sailors and ten passengers (including the five young girls and two women), clothes ripped off by the force of the storm, were later swept to shore. All but one of the bodies came ashore at Chale, where they were buried. The remaining body, that of a Miss Gourley of Portsmouth, was carried by the water and came to rest at Southsea, at the foot of her father's garden.

As a result of the disaster Trinity House was swamped with demands for a lighthouse to be built at St Catherine's Point to help prevent further disasters. A tribute to her story can be found at the Blackgang Chine Theme Park1.

1843 - 1859

In January 1843 a single storm wrecked six ships on the coast around the Island, including the brig George. Although the Captain and Mate died, the remaining 11 men on board were rescued by the Rocket. On 18 January, 1847, before the lifeboat, seven men died in Scourge in an attempt to rescue the crew of the Man-o'-War Sphynx. The Hampshire Independent reported that the shore was strewn with gun carriages, masts and broken boats in every direction.

In 1848 Llanrumney came ashore at Atherfield. Two fishermen attempted to rescue the 15 crew on board, but both were drowned. Lieutenant Bulley organised another rescue attempt, and rescued all the crew.

On 9 August, 1858, a fully rigged American vessel loaded with rice was wrecked one mile east of Freshwater Bay, although the crew were saved. In November 1859 Lelia was cast ashore on Rocken End, with the loss of one man.

On 5 December, 1859, two more ships came ashore on the Island. Mirabita, a Maltese barque loaded with oats, with a crew of 16, was swept onto Brighstone Ledge. Despite attempts to rescue the crew only five survived and 11 drowned. On the same night Sentinel came ashore near Brook, with two on board already drowned. Later the remaining four men were saved from the wreckage.

The last shipwreck in 1859 was that of the schooner Jane, which was wrecked at Blackgang on Christmas Day, with no loss of life.

The 1860s

On New Year's Day, 1861, the 110-ton schooner John Wesley was dangerously anchored in Compton Bay. At 7am the lifeboats were launched to rescue the crew, but the Captain refused help. The lifeboats returned to shore, only to return later, when again the Captain refused help. By 2.30pm the ship ran aground by the cliff, with two coastguards mounting a rescue down the cliff. One of the coastguards died in the attempt.

On 2 April, 1862, when it was only 16 days old, the 308-ton barque Cedrene from Bermuda mistook the Island for a black cloud in a thick fog. Unsurprisingly, it soon found itself stranded on Ship Ledge. There were 234 people on board: 191 convicts and 43 overseers and crew. All were brought ashore safely.

On 20 October, 1862, a terrible gale struck the shores of the Island. The first wreck was the barque Helen Horsfall, with no casualties. The second was the East Indiaman Lotus, which was driven ashore just before midnight. In a matter of minutes the ship was demolished, with only two of the 14 crew surviving.

Another wreck in the 1860s was PS Chancellor, which was wrecked while attempting to visit Ventnor Pier.

The 1870s

The first wreck of the 1870s was the full rigger 900-ton Underlay, which came ashore in September 1871 while bound for Melbourne with 30 passengers. The wind forced her onto the rocks near Bonchurch, where all the crew went ashore safely (except the Steward, who drowned attempting to rescue his canary).

The next wreck was that of the barque Cassandra, travelling to London from Madras. On 15 November, 1871, she was driven ashore at Brook Ledge. All 21 on board were saved by the Brook lifeboat.

The next wreck was the brigantine Hope, which in December 1872 was forced into Freshwater Bay and struck the bay's reef with such force that she broke up immediately. No one on board survived.

The First Wrecked Steamer

On 2 February, 1873, the first steamer to be wrecked on the Island, the 640-ton Woodham, grounded at Chilton Chine at 2am. Travelling from Newcastle to New York with a crew of 22, she was a Norwegian ship whose propeller shaft had been broken. Although a steamer from Liverpool had her in tow, they were parted in a dense storm, and she drifted to the Island. The Island's coastguard rescued 20 of the crew, with the Captain and Mate refusing to leave the ship.

The lifeboat returned. Later that night the tide rose, putting Woodham in danger once again. By this time it was impossible to re-launch the lifeboat, and the lifeboat crew had to carry the lifeboat a mile, carrying saws to cut fences and other obstacles in their path. After a few attempts the lifeboat was launched, and soon rescued the two Norwegians left on board Woodham.

1Britain's oldest theme park, opened in 1843. It is still owned by the Dabell family.

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