Scilly Naval Disaster – 2000 Drown
Most of the naval disasters in our history not down to enemy action concern individual ships – the loss of The White Ship ; the sinking of The Mary Rose ; and the wrecking of HMS Minotaur for example. In the first decade of the 18th century two multiple-ship disasters occurred: the first when a great storm hit the Channel in 1703 ; and the second on October 22 1707 when navigational error was at fault.
In the latter event, a fleet of 21 vessels returning from action in the Mediterranean was under the command of the wonderfully-named Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell. Its navigators believed they were rounding Ushant. The imprecision of navigation techniques at that time meant that determining longitude (east-west position) had to be effected by dead reckoning, i.e. calculating according to speeds and direction from previous findings. Shovell’s fleet had been buffeted by bad weather, rendering such calculations even more inaccurate than normal. They were in fact about to hit rocks off the Scilly Isles.
Four of the ships under Shovell’s command were sunk in the disaster, including his flagship HMS Association. The Admiral’s drowned body was washed ashore at Porthellick Cove; it is thought perhaps 2000 others died with him. After the huge losses in the great storm four years previously this was another bitter blow for national pride.
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