Water World as Another Home for the English Nation

: 4/11

Another fifty - year reappearance concerns the Nothumberland; she was lost on the Goodwind sands in 1703 in a storm, along with twelve other men of - war, but in 1753 seen again by the crew of an East Indiaman sailors were leaping in to the water from the stricken vessel though their shouts and screams could not be heard.

The Nothumberland was under the command of Sir Cloudesley Shovel, to whom is attached a further tale. Three years afterwards, the admirals flagship, the Association, was wrecked on the Gilstone Rock near the Scilly Isles. The fleet was homeward bound after a triumphant campaign against the French and some maintain that the crews were drunk. But the story which Scillonians believe to this day is that a sailor aboard the flagship warned that the fleet was dangerously near the islands, and that for this he was hanged at the yardarm for unsubordination, on the admirals orders. The man was granted a last request to read from the Bible, and turned to the 109 psalm: Let his days be few and another take his place. Let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. As he read the ship began to strike the rocks.

The admiral was a very stout man and his buoyancy was sufficient to carry him ashore alive, though very weak. However, official searches found him dead, stripped off his clothing and valuables, including a fine emerald ring. The body was taken to Westminster Abbey for interment, and his widow appealed in vain for the return of the ring. Many years later a St Marys islander confessed on the deathbed that she had found Sir Cloudesley and had squeezed the life out of him before taking his belongongs. The hue and cry had forced her to abandon the idea of selling the emerald, but she had felt unable to die in peace before revealing her crime.

A commemorative stone marks the place where the admirals body was temporarily buried in the shingle of Porth Hellick, on St Marys Island. No grass grows over the grave.


Many hundreds of shipwrecks have their own songs and stories. Although the Ramilies, for example, was wrecked well over 200 years ago, tradition perpetuates the event as clearly as if it had happened only yesterday. In February 1760 the majestic, ninety gun, triple decked ship was outward bound from Plymouth to Quiberon Bay when hurricane force winds blew up in the Channel and forced the captain to turn back and run for shelter. Sailing East , the master thought he had passed Looe Island, and had only to round Rame Head to reach the safety of Plymouth Sound. In fact the ship was a bay further on and the land sighted was Burgh Island, in Bigbury Bay. The Promontory was Bolt Tail with its four hundred foot cliffs, and beyond lay no safe harbour at all, but several miles of precipitous rocks. As soon as the sailing master realised his mistake the ship was hove to, but the wind was so violent that the masts immediately snapped and went overboard. The two anchores that were dropped held fast, but their cables fouled each other, and after hours of fierce friction, they parted and the ship was driven to destruction on the rocks.

Of more than seven hundred men on board only about two dozen reached safety. Led by Midshipman John Harrold, they scrambled up the cliffs, by pure luck choosing the one place where this was possible. Next day a certain William Locker travelled to the scene to try to find the body of his friend, one of the officers. Locker himself would have been aboard the Ramillies but his lieutenants commission had come from the admiralty too late, arriving just a few hours after she had sailed. He found the shores of Bigbury Bay strewn with hundreds of corpses, their clothing torn away by the seas pounding, their features unrecognisable. The village nearest to the scene of the wreck was Inner Hope, and some there still maintain that a Bigbury man aboard the Ramillies pleaded with the captain to alter course; but he was clapped in irons, and went down with the ship. They say that only one officer survived because others were prevented from leaving the stricken vessel.

Most of the bodies were washed ashore at Thurlestone, a few miles to the west. There used to be a depression in the village green which marked the place where many of the seamen had been buried in a mass grave; this has now been asphalted to make a carpark. Then in the mid 1960s a child digging in a sand dune found a bone. He showed it to a man on the beach who happened to be a doctor and identified it as human. Further digging revealed the skeletons of ten men, small in stature and buried in five foot intervals -- perhaps these had been washed up after the mass burial. No scrap of clothing or equipment was found, and finally the bones were thrown into a lorry and consigned to a rubbish tip. Even though two centuries have elapsed since their deaths, one feels that the men of the Ramillies deserved better. The ship still lies six fathoms down in the cove which which has borne her name since 1760, and Wises Spring on the cliffs is called after one of the seamen who scrambled ashore with the tiny band of survivors.

: 20/10/2006