The Incident of the
Forester - 1833
By Todd Stevens
During researching Admiralty pattern anchors lost in St Mary’s Roads (as we have found and are trying to identify one such item) I came across this letter about a sixth rate warship, Forester, that must have been anchored within the immediate vicinity of the large anchor we raised from south of Nut Rock, last October, and not anchored near Crow Bar as has been previously reported. A newspaper of the time stating: ‘On the 13th inst. in a violent gale from the West, His Majesty’s ship Forester, from Plymouth to the coast of Africa, (for suppression of the slave trade) Parted her chains and drove out of St Mary’s Roads but was brought up by striking Crow Bar’ The letter below was written from ‘Watch House’ on St Martins Island. Sadly, being only a sixth rate warship (Brig), the Foresters anchors would be too small to have been our find; and, being from 1833 quite probably of a slightly differing style to ours too. However, the letter referring to the Forester incident is well worth a read. It was written by a midshipman named Wake, whom was then in charge of the ship; as the Commander, Lieut. W. H. Quin, was reported at the time to have been:-‘on shore procuring an anchor and cable, in lieu of the one lost on the previous day’. When realising the Forester was again dragging, Lieutenant Quin tried desperately to get back on board by taking a pilot boat back to his ship. Unfortunately, the boat was reported to have become swamped: ‘from the tremendous hurricane then raging, and was driven past the ship’ As a result, Quin, never made it back on board until after the Forester went aground. As a consequence, Midshipman Wake was left in command, and, as you will read in the letter, he literally went overboard in his efforts to save the ship and crew. Not only does Wakes letter give the real facts surrounding this saga, it also gives one an insight into what those on board were thinking, feeling and going through, whilst trying to ride out a ‘perfect hurricane’ at Scilly.
Letter by Mr. Wake, an officer on board HMS Forester, to his father Dr Wake.
To- Dr Wake. Blake Street. York.
From- Watch House, St Martins, Scilly. February 15. 4 o’clock, AM.
"My Dear Father,
I have a short but dismal tale to tell you which perhaps you will be in some degree prepared for, by previous reports of the heavy westerly gales, which, after much buffeting, have at last wrecked the little Forester on this Island. Since we left England, we have had scarcely anything but gales; after being out about two days our chronometer was broke, and we put back to Falmouth, sailed the next day, and in the Bay of Biscay encountered a heavy south wester, which obliged us to lat too for a week, in which the crew suffered a good deal from cold and wet. We were at last enabled to bear up for a port, and anchored at St Mary’s (Scilly), about ten days ago. Three days ago, we parted our best bower, for the second time within a week. On the 13th, a heavy westerly gale came on. We dined at two, in the gun room, and the whole conversation was, what would happen if the ship went adrift (scarcely, however, thinking our fate was so near) After dinner I relieved the deck, and reported a heavy squall coming on. Miller, a midshipman,, and a great friend of mine, was just saying to me, ‘I wish the sheet was down.’ The Sheet and Stream anchors (our last hopes) were very smartly let go, and we had the happiness to see them bring the ship up (i.e. hold her). You may fancy our anxiety, having no pilot on board. We made signals of distress, but before any assistance could reach us, our sheet parted, and away we went, we scarcely knew where. About six, we began to touch the bottom, and, to our joy, the commander of the coast guard and lieutenant Pike (a passenger on board the Forester) came on board; our hopes soon vanished when the former told us, he had no hopes of getting us to sea. He left us to our fate, telling us, our only chance was to run the ship on shore at the best place we could, and to hoist the boats out, and try to save the ship’s company. Our state was then very bad,- the wind blowing a perfect hurricane,- the ship, bump, bump, bumping, on the ground,- the spray flying over her, the rain pouring, and the lightening flashing,- and, what was most dreadful of all, the ships company in a desperate state; some of the best sailors had prepared themselves for their graves in beastly drunkenness, the rest with the exception of all the officers, two or three fine fellows, and some of the marines) were in a state of utter helplessness, partly from fear, partly from awkwardness, and partly from bruises. The Cutter was suspended in her tackles, and ready for lowering in the water, but only one hand was in her to cut the tackles; I jumped into her bows, and we cut the tackles; the boat had scarcely touched the water when she was dashed against the ship and sunk; by the mercy of providence I got hold of a rope, and raised myself high enough to allow them to haul me on board. My poor companion had not the same good fortune; for, just as I got safe, the ship, having cleared the ground, again flew ahead and the poor fellow quitted his hold. I ran down to my cabin, thanked God for my escape, shifted my clothes, put my pistols, primed and loaded, into my pocket, (in case of mutiny) my *honorary medallion, and a lock of dear Charlotte’s hair, kissed all your pictures, and went upon deck in very good spirits. The ship was running we knew to her destruction, and the only thing we could do was, to get her as near the shore as possible. Between six and seven she grounded on a sand bank, and hung ‘til nearly high water, when she again flew ahead. In a short time we saw lights on a rocky point, which we steered for, and ran the ship on the shore within twenty yards of the rocks; the swinging boom was then rigged out and just touched the rocks. The gunner put the end of the line round his neck, and attempted to take it on shore; he reached the shore, but was obliged to let go the line, and got a good deal bruised. I made the next attempt, and was fortunate enough to succeed. When I got near the end of the boom the ship gave two rolls, and soused me under water, but I held on the line between my teeth and scrambled up the rocks, and got safe without a scratch. Having learnt the situation of the ship, I was anxious to get on board again, to desire them to secure the ship in her present situation; my bridge, however, broke in pieces before I could attempt it. A hawser was then hauled on shore, by which about sixteen people came on shore,- the foremast then fell and carried away the hawser. I then hailed the ship to tell them then they were safe, and not to attempt sending any more people on shore. In a few hours the tide left the ship dry upon the rocks.
P.S. The above was written in my sleeping hours; the hands are now turned up, and I must go to duty.
"February 16.- At high water we are going to attempt to get the vessel off the rocks; as her bottom is full of holes, it is doubtful if we shall succeed in getting her round to the sandy beach. Nearly every thing is saved from her (thanks to the Scilly men). Our own people are mostly in a bad state of health; but they work pretty well now. We shall get round to Plymouth, perhaps in a fortnights time. Or, perhaps, less. Don’t be uneasy, the dangers are all past. A Large Indiaman lying at the same anchorage is wrecked; having been saved. I must now conclude, and believe me ever your affectionate son, B.A. Wake".
“I dare say the date of this letter, Watch House, will rather surprise you.”
That same night a large free trader ‘Providence’, of 700 tons was also driven from the anchorage to Crow Bar, and nearly all the pilot boats belonging to the different islands were also reported as having been wrecked in that fearful storm. On Thursday the 28th, The Forester, was reported as towed back to England by the steamer Rhadamanthus. She was then taken to dry dock for inspection and: ‘found to have knocked off her keel from stem to stern-post and to have injured some planks and timbers in her bilge’
*The Honorary medallion mentioned in the letter, was given to Mr. Wake by the Humane Society, for his intrepidity in preserving the lives of two men from drowning in a separate and previous incident elsewhere.
Naval Chronicle. Yorkshire Gazzette February 1833.
The United Service Magazine Vol. 11
The Nautical Magazine Vol. 2.