Loss of the Zeelelye (Sea Lily) on the Western Rocks, 1795, by Todd Stevens


Looking out over the wreck site [ts]

Zeelelye 1795

The 54 gun Dutch East India ship Zeelelye (latterly mispelt as- Zeelilie) was sailing from Batavia to Amsterdam, in company with 7 other ships- the Houghley; the Alblaffexdam; the Dortrecht; the mermin; the Agatha; the Mentor and the Surcheance. The Zeelelye, however, was on only her second voyage, whereas all the others in this fleet were either old or in a very lamentable condition. This small Dutch fleet were captured off St Helena on the 13th June 1795, by Captain Essington in the Sceptre, a British Man of War. Taken as prizes to St Helena, they were checked over there for faults and the captains were question as to their ships condition. All but the Zeelelye were found to be in a poor state. After some hasty repairs were made they sailed for England on the 2nd of July under the protection of Captain Essington. The Times states that: In the course of the voyage, in consequence of stormy weather, the Houghly made so much water that they were obliged to take as much of the property out of her as they could, and afterwards burnt her. The Surcheance foundered at sea, although all her crew were saved except, ironically, the Prize Master. The Zeelelye and the remaining prize ships arrived in safety in Ireland in the river Shannon on the 14th september 1795. Here they were once again surveyed for faults by: men of skill and their report was, that none of them at that time of the year, was fit to carry their cargoes to England except the Zeeleye, which sailed for England in October and was lost on the rocks of Scilly. She was declared a total loss.

The exact date she left Ireland is yet unknown but it was reported to be on a friday and lost at Scilly at 3,o'clock. 24 men were lost and 45 saved. The Zeelelye (sea lily) was 1500 tons and either built (or registered) to the town of Middleburg in Holland.

It is highly possible that this ship struck a rock called: the Wee, as numerous guns are to be found around the northern side of this rock; two even leaning up against it. Fragments of Chinese Porcelain also litters the area. A few small guns are also to be found between the Wee and the Little Crebawethen. A further two guns are lying on the south side of the Wee, one of which is a large lower deck gun in very shallow water that can be seen at low spring tides the other an upper deck gun. Of all the guns I have seen they number no more than 20 at most. Were they salvaged or do the rest lie elsewhere?

Packed within her cargo of tea, the Zeelelye is supposed to have carried aboard the largest cargo of Chinese pottery ever carried; a refuted 2.4 million seperate pieces of Ching Dynasty, (Chien Lung 1736-1796), blue and white kaolin porcelain. The cargo was valued, at the time of loss as being worth 140,000. Quite a lot of this exact Dynasty porcelain can be found in fragmentary condition within the Crebwethen horseshoe, in a pool between the Wee and the Great Crebawethen. It is possible that quite a lot of this cargo, if not salvaged at the time, could also lay in much deeper water and possibly washed out around to the south and west of the Wee. Maybe this is where the rest of her guns lie too- I'll let you know!