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
According to Wheeler's Log, in 1784 two British troop ships were lost in the waters around the Isle of Wight. One of them was the 720-ton Earl of Cornwallis, lost on Rocken End. Its crew saved a chest containing 7,000 silver dollars.
In 1785 several ships were sunk, including three large American traders, among them the 800-ton Marchent.
Wheeler records 22 shipwrecks between 1785 and 1793. The largest was on 9 December 1786. During a violent south-easterly storm, the 900-ton Juno, a Dutch 36-gun frigate, was wrecked at Sudmore point, with the loss of six lives.
In 1793 war broke out with France, at a time when blockades threatened to destroy all European trade. In 1795 a large Irish ship carrying oats was wrecked: its cargo was a boon for the locals.
In 1798 the East Indiaman Henry Addington ran onto Bembridge Ledge in thick fog, and a heavy ground-swell destroyed the ship and drowned 14 of the crew.
In January 1799 the West Indiaman Three Sisters was caught in a storm. She went aground on the rocks of Puckaster Cove, drowning three of the crew.
In 1808 a military transport was lost off St Catherine's, with the loss of nine lives.
On 11 October, 1811, HMS Pomone, a 5th Rate1 38-gun 1,076-ton frigate with a crew of 284, was lost near the Needles. She had been built in 1805 and had fought successfully against the French in the Mediterranean under Captain Robert Barrie. Her greatest success was at the Battle of Sagone Bay, where Pomone led three frigates into the Corsican harbour, fighting two French frigates, an armed merchantman, and a barrage of fort and shore artillery. By nightfall the three French ships were burnt wrecks, and the fort had been silenced.
In 1811 Barrie was ordered home to repair the battle-scarred frigate; in addition, he was carrying intelligence from Sardinia which needed to be taken to Westminster as soon as possible. Also on board Pomone were the British Ambassador to Persia, Sir Harford Jones, who was retiring, and some Arab stallions which were a present from the Shah of Persia to King George III.
Trinity House had built three lighthouses around the Island's shores in 1785. One was at the Needles, on the cliff 500 feet above Scratchells Bay; one was at St Catherine's near the Pepper Pot2; and one at Hurst Castle.
Pomone set course through the narrow Needles Passage, with the ship's Master, James Sturrock, at the helm. It was a misty day, and Sturrock mistook the light at the Needles for the light at Hurst Castle. Barrie, at the front of the ship, was able to see Hurst Lighthouse, and realised Sturrock's mistake. The wheel was spun, but too late. Two minutes later, Pomone struck. The crew approached Captain Barrie and asked permission to cover the figurehead in black cloth, and Barrie accepted that his ship was a wreck.
Luckily the sea was calm, and the crew was saved. Over the next three days the ship's cannon, masts, cargo and valuables were all salvaged, with the Shah's horses manhandled out through the gun ports. The Court Martial severely reprimanded Sturrock, and Barrie was relieved of all responsibility.
In 1969 the remains of Pomone were discovered by Derek Williams, and the ship is now a Protected Wreck Site. Objects recovered from the ship by the Isle of Wight County Archaeological Centre can be found on display at the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth, at Bembridge Maritime Museum, and at Fort Victoria, Yarmouth.
Carn Brae Castle
After the war with France ended in 1815, trade resumed and the seas around the Island were busy with ships, with the number of shipwrecks also increasing.
In 1827 Happy Return, laden with tin, foundered on Warden Ledge near Colwell Bay. She had been adrift from Yarmouth, where the Captain had put into port to find a doctor for a sick female passenger on board. Although the crew were rescued, the woman drowned.
On 5 July, 1829, the East Indiaman Carn Brae Castle, bound for Bengal, was driven ashore. A freak summer storm split her hull on Brook Ledge, and the crew removed her masts. The storm continued through to the next day, when the Coastguard cutter under the command of Coastguard Lieutenant Dornford managed to reach the ship and rescue the passengers. Captain Barber chose to stay on board. In 1836 Dornford was accused of being in collusion with smugglers when he ignored signals for reinforcements during a battle between the coastguard and smugglers in Totland Bay. Despite being guilty, he was acquitted on account of his heroism during the Carn Brae Castle rescue.
A small boat attempted to help in the rescue attempt, and anchored nearby. It was swamped, and the ship's sailmaker drowned. When the gale eased, the ship was a total wreck.
In 1836 the remains of Carn Brae Castle were the first to be explored by the Deane Brothers' newly invented diving suits.
Bainsbridge and Dennett's Rocket
Some of the most beneficial tools for inshore sea rescue are those capable of sending a rope to a ship in danger. The first practical rope-firing device was created in 1812 by Captain Manby, who invented a rope-firing mortar.
In the late 1820s, however, John Dennett, a Carisbrooke antiquarian, decided to create a similar but more powerful rope-firing device, using a rocket.
Dennett's prototype, an 8ft cylinder capable of carrying rope up to 250 yards, was stationed with the Coastguards at Atherfield. On 8 October, 1832, the 430-ton Bainsbridge was wrecked on the shore of the Atherfield Ledge, and began to break up. Due to the storm it was impossible to launch a boat, and Manby's mortar was tried. Four times it was launched into the gale, but each time the gale was too strong, and it was blown away.
Dennett's rocket was then tried, reaching the wreck with the first shot. A line was attached to Bainsbridge, allowing the coastguard's galley, with two officers aboard, to be hauled to Bainsbridge to rescue the passengers. In two trips all 19 men were rescued.
By 1834 the Board of Customs adopted Dennett's Rocket, with four of them stationed on the Island.