Elizabeth (East Indiaman)

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Career
Name: Elizabeth
Fate: Wrecked, 28 December 1810
General characteristics
Type: Cargo ship
Tons burthen: 650 tons bm
Sail plan: Full-rigged ship
Capacity: General cargo and up to 400 persons on board

The Elizabeth was a 650-ton cargo ship chartered by private merchants (and thus not technically an East Indiaman) to sail to Madras and Bengal with a cargo of metals, beer glass and trade goods as well as a substantial number of passengers and lascars. On 28 December 1810, she was wrecked on the Dunkirk brake.

Loss[edit]

The ship had departed London, aiming to meet up with the annual East India fleet on 26 October, but had met with such strong gales during the passage down the English Channel, that she was forced to stay in Cork Harbour for almost a month. Upon leaving the Irish city, she was again caught by a gale and dragged right back up the Channel, before managing to anchor on 27 December off South Foreland.

Unfortunately, under the strain of the wind and the constant exertion of the past two months, the cables broke, causing the ship to drift towards the French coast, unable to hold her movement. She fired off numerous guns and flares, but those watching on the French shore were powerless to assist due to the powerful waves and wind which would have doomed any rescue attempt. Near Calais she lost her rudder on a rock, and sprang several leaks, leaving her totally at the whim of the sea, which dragged the ship further down the coastline, before crashing her into the outer banks of the Dunkirk brake, where her masts tumbled overboard, smashing the boats, leaving only three, one of which was swamped within moments of launching. Two other boats brought 22 survivors to shore, but there was no chance of a return mission, as the sea had become even more formidable. During the ensuing storm, the ship broke into pieces and was scattered all along the coastline, along with its entire remaining crew, who were killed.

There was no consensus about the numbers of dead, as the ship's records were either lost in the wreck or incomplete, especially with regards to the lascars. It is known that at least 380 persons were aboard upon leaving Cork, and it is thought that the number may have been as high as 400, including at least eight women, all of whom perished. Amongst the survivors were six Britons and 15 lascars, including two of the ships crew. France later exchanged these men for French prisoners in accordance with the custom of the time.

References[edit]

  • Grocott, Terence, Shipwrecks of the Revolutionary & Napoleonic Eras, Caxton Editions, Great Britain: 2002. ISBN 1-84067-164-5.