Pelican (privateer)

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Pelican was a private man of war commissioned by a Liverpool merchant for offensive operations against French commerce following the outbreak of the French Revolutionary War in February 1793. Pelican sank in bad weather on March 20th, 1793.


The ship was a small brig craft fitted with a number of cannon designed to capture French merchant shipping for a profit under a letter of marque from the British government. She was crewed and outfitted in the Mersey, and on 20 March 1793 was taking her owners and their families and friends on a pleasure and working up cruise in the mouth of the river. On board were 94 sailors and approximately 40 civilians, including several women.

Worsening weather[edit]

During the brief journey, the weather took a sudden turn for the worse and the ship began to rock violently, causing many of those aboard to go below decks, worsening the impending tragedy.

Pitching and rolling[edit]

Suddenly and without warning, at about two in the afternoon, with the ship at the height of her pitch, several cannon, which had been improperly tied down, broke free. These became iron missiles which rolled across the deck and punched huge holes in the ship's opposite side, causing water to flood into the Pelican, which rapidly filled and sank. The location of the wreck was so shallow that her mast tops remained above the water, visible after the storm had died down. Unfortunately, because all unnecessary personnel had been ushered below and because the hatches were battened down during the storm, no one was able to escape the lower decks.

Just 32 people survived the disaster, 102 drowning in the sunken ship. The survivors were mainly men who had remained on deck and were able to launch boats, or those who were rescued from the masts some time later by rescue craft from the nearby shoreline. The disaster was reported in The Times three days later.


  • Grocott, Terence (2002). Shipwrecks of the Revolutionary & Napoleonic Eras. Great Britain: Caxton Editions. ISBN 1-84067-164-5. 
  • Williams, Gomer (2011). History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque: With an Account of the Liverpool Slave Trade. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781108026277.