Isle Of Wight Shipwrecks: Clarendon

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The Clarendon

One of the most infamous shipwrecks of the Island's shore was that of the Clarendon. The Clarendon was a three-masted, 345 ton West Indiaman with a crew of 16 and 10 passengers, including 5 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 Channel, the storms increased, preventing the ship from entering the shelter of Plymouth Sound, forcing her towards Portsmouth.

Late on the 10th October, the gale increased to hurricane force. By dusk of the 11th 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. John Wheeler tied a rope around his waist when the ship crashed into Blackgang Chine, jumped into the sea, and rescued a man who jumped off the ship. The tide washed them back to sea. Wheeler dashed into the sea again, grabbing another man, and took him safely back to shore.

The fourth wave to strike the Clarendon completely destroyed the ship, all that remained were splinters of wood spread out among the coast. A third man was rescued. The bodies of the thirteen sailors and ten passengers, including the 5 young girls and two women, were later swept, clothes ripped off by the force of the storm, and broken, to the shore. All but one of the bodies came ashore at Chale, where they were buried. One, though, that of 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 from occurring. A tribute to her story can be found at the Blackgang Chine theme park1.


In January 1843, a single storm wrecked 6 ships on the coast around the Island, including the brig George. Although the Captain and Mate died, the remaining 11 men onboard were rescued by the Rocket. On 18th January 1847, before the lifeboat, seven men died in the 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 the Llanrumney came ashore at Atherfield. Two fishermen attempted to rescue the 15 crew onboard, but both were drowned. Lieutenant Bulley organised another rescue attempt and rescued all the crew.

On August 9th 1858 a fully rigged American vessel loaded with rice was wrecked a mile east of Freshwater Bay, although the crew was saved. In November 1859 the Lelia was cast ashore on Rocken End, with the loss of one man. On the 5th December 1859 two more ships came ashore on the Island, the Mirabita, a Maltese barque loaded with oats with a crew of 16 was swept onto Brighstone Ledge.

Despite attempts to rescue the crew, only 5 survived, and 11 drowned. On the same night, the Sentinel came ashore near Brook, with two onboard already drowned. Later, the remaining four men were saved from the wreckage. The last shipwreck in 1859 was the schooner Jane, which was wrecked at Blackgang on Christmas Day, with the loss of no lives.

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 lifeboat 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 the 2nd April 1862, the 308 ton barque 16 day old 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 onboard, 191 convicts and 43 overseers and crew. All were brought ashore safely. On October 20th 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 2 of the 14 crew surviving.

Another wreck in the 1860s was the P.S. 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 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 the barque Cassandra, travelling to London from Madras. On the 15th November 1871, she was driven ashore at Brook Ledge. All 21 onboard were saved by the Brook lifeboat.

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

The First Wrecked Steamer

On February 2nd 1873, the first steamer to be wrecked on the Island, the 640 ton Woodham, grounded at Chilton Chine at 2am. She was a Norwegian ship travelling from Newcastle to New York with a crew of 22m whose propeller shaft had been broken. Although a steamer from Liverpool had her in tow, in a dense storm she was parted, and 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, bringing the Woodham into danger once again. By this time it was impossible to re-launch the lifeboat, forcing the lifeboat crew to carry the lifeboat a mile, carrying saws to cut the fences etc. in their way. After a few attempts, the lifeboat was launched, and soon rescued the two Norwegians left onboard the Woodham.

Isle Of Wight Shipwrecks

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

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