Isle Of Wight Shipwrecks: Pomone, Carn Brae Castle

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According to Wheeler's log, 2 British troop ships were lost in Isle of Wight waters in 1784, one of which, the 720 ton Earl of Cornwallis, was lost on Rocken End. The crew saved a chest containing 7,000 silver dollars. In 1785 several ships were sunk, including 3 large American traders, including the 800 ton Marchent. Wheeler records 22 shipwrecks between 1785 and 1793, the largest was on the 9th 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 6 lives.

In 1793 war broke out with France, at a time where blockades threatened to destroy all European trade. In 1795 a large Irish ship carrying oats was wrecked, its cargo a boon for the locals.

In 1798 the East Indiaman the Henry Addington ran onto Bembridge Ledge in a thick fog, where a heavy groundswell destroyed the ship and drowned 14 of the crew. In January 1799 the West Indiaman Three Sisters was caught in a storm. went aground on the rocks of Puckaster Cove, drowning 3 of the crew. In 1808, a military transport was lost off St. Catherine's, with the loss of 9 lives.

HMS Pomone

On the 11th October 1811, HMS Pomone, a 5th Rate1, 38-gun 1,076 ton frigate with a crew of 284, was lost by 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 the Pomone led three frigates into the Corsican harbour, fighting two French frigates, an armed merchantmen and a 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-scared frigate as well as carrying intelligence from Sardinia which needed to be taken to Westminster as soon as possible. Also onboard the Pomone was 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.

The 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 Castle2. 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, the Pomone struck. The crew approached Captain Barrie and asked 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 ships cannon, masts, cargo and valuables were all salvaged, with the Shah's horses manhandled out the gunports. The Court Martial severely reprimanded Sturrock, and Barrie was relieved of all responsibility.

In 1969, the remains of the 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 Fort Victoria, Yarmouth.

The 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 the 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 onboard. Although the crew were rescued, the woman drowned.

On the 5th July 1829 the East Indiaman Carn Brae Castle, bound for Begal, 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 Dornford3 managed to reach the ship and rescued the passengers. Captain Barber chose to stay onboard.

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 the Carn Brae Castle were the first to be explored by the Deane Brothers newly invented diving suits.

The Bainsbridge & Dennett's Rocket

One of the most beneficial tools in the realm of 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 8 foot cylinder capable of carrying rope up to 250 yards, was stationed with the Coastguards at Atherfield.
On October 8th 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. The line was attacked to the Bainsbridge, and using it the coastguard's galley, with two officers aboard, was hauled to the 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 stationed on the Island.

Isle Of Wight Shipwrecks

1Before 1816 the rating system defined a 3th Rate as a ship with 36-50 guns.2Trinity House had built three lighthouses around the Island's shores in 1785, one at the Needles, on the cliff 500 feet above Scratchells Bay, one at St. Catherine's near the Pepper Pot, where, after costing £7,000 work was abandoned when it was realised that St. Catherine's Down was almost continuously buried in cloud, and one at Hurst Castle.3 Who, in 1836, 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 because of his heroism during the Carn Brae Castle rescue.

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