Wreck of the Lion 1776
By Todd Stevens


The tale of two captains escaping a shipwreck at Scilly, Captain William Pawlett War, Hero of the American conflict & Richard Boyman Esq., Captain of the Port of London.

Of the wounded men of the 59th Regiment returning home from the battles of Lexington; Concord and Bunker Hill was one Captain Pawlett. Pawlett (see image) had two tours of active duty in America; distinguishing himself well during both. It was noted that Pawlett: ‘served with great reputation, on many occasions with great gallantry and address’ he even gained the notice of King George III. However, the Captains army career ended rather ignominiously. One day, after a very disturbed night in Boston, while trying to ignore the thunder of constant fire emanating from both sides, Pawlett sat down to breakfast. As he did so, his leg was completely blown off by Cannon fire. An eighteen pound shot entered the building traversed across the room at low level to make an invalid of Pawlett while sat at the table. In the Diary of Captain Barker, under date 23rd September 1775, he states:

“Captain Pawlett of the 59th Regt. Had his leg shot off as he was sitting down to breakfast at Boston Lines” A Timothy Newel also wrote of the same incident after seeing the army ‘taking down houses at Boston neck, at the south end of town, in order to build a new line of works’, (trenches/barricades) -“a good deal of cannonading on both sides of the lines for many days past. Several shots came through houses at the south. Captain Pawlett lost his leg”.

Of all the regiments involved in the bitter fighting with the American rebels, the British 59th Regiment were amongst the hardest hit; suffering heavy casualties; especially at the battle of Bunker Hill. As a consequence, General Howes orders were issued by army Head Quarters in Boston on 2nd December 1775:

“The invalids of the different regiments are to go to England, to embark on board the ‘Lion’ transport; they will be attended on the passage by a surgeon of the 59th Regiment, and are to be subsisted by their respective corps to the 24th December. Lieut. Col. Hamilton to appoint non-commissioned officers, of the 59th Regiment, to take charge of them to London.”  

The ship itself was to be under the command of 31 year old Richard Boyman Esq, a Captain of the Port of London. Boyman was also present at the battle of Bunkers Hill, as a volunteer. Boyman, while under heavy enemy fire had ‘steered his own Pinnace (The Brilliant) to the shore, having in tow a long boat laden with troops’ He then brought the wounded back to Boston where he was given Command of the Lion, transport, to return the wounded back to England. A Captain Herbert was then placed in command of the wounded while they were aboard the Lion for the voyage home. The only list of those to be placed aboard the various transports was of the officers only, no names of the regular troops on board any ship was recorded. However, being the rank of Captain, William Pawlett, was therefore placed on the list and he is recorded as being on board the Lion transport with Boyman. Howes Orders for Herbert and the regiments transportation continues: “The ‘Lion’ transport will be ordered to London, and upon their arrival there, the officers commanding (Herbert) will send in return to the Secretary of War, (2nd Viscount William Barrington) specifying the time the invalids are subsisted to, and the number of days they have been victualled on board ship after the 24th December. If the ship puts into any other port by stress of weather, he will take that opportunity of reporting his arrival to the Secretary of War.” Howe was clearly thinking forward but not expecting a disaster to befall the transport ship, Lion, on her way home to England. Ironically, Howe originally ordered the Lion to sail for London on the 5th December but detained the voyage until the 16th. If he had let the ships go on that earlier date, then the Lion may never have ended up being wrecked at Scilly at all.

On the 10th December it was recorded that the women and children of the wounded, and also the recruiting parties, were also to be dispersed among the 6 transports in the small fleet. The ‘Lion’ and these 5 other ships were to be accompanied home to London by the Frigate TarTar of 40 guns. (The recruiting parties were returning to gather more men for the War.)

The 7 ships sailed on the 16th December. Below decks of the Lion were crowded with wounded soldiers; some severely like the now one legged hero Captain Pawlett. The men needed desperate care and attention, and although the surgeon aboard would have no doubt done his best for them all, conditions aboard the transport would have been little better than horrendous. They would have been fairly tightly packed in together inside the small damp ship. Damp was not the word as one record below states that: ‘the sea poured in upon us shockingly’ There were no toilets aboard an 18th century transport; there was very basic food and not the cleanest of drinking water either. Some men would have been in terrible pain and discomfort from their wounds. This was made far worse by a very rough passage back across the Atlantic Ocean in mid winter; they being stuck in a ship being tossed about on huge waves for 3 weeks. Such conditions were clearly not a good recipe for the recovery of wounded soldiers. Even the likes of Captain Pawlett would be very lucky to make it home alive. Some men did indeed died during the 21 day crossing. A dispatch by Captain Herbert was recorded, giving us a little insight into the voyage and showing that the inevitable losses among the passengers had indeed occurred aboard the Lion. The letter was written just before the ship was wrecked at Scilly: “the transport Lion, homeward bound with British wounded, struck foul weather. An officer aboard (Herbert) wrote -‘the invalids growing very sickly, ten of them died on the passage, and I do imagine that some of them would have shared the same fate, had we not been so lucky as to get in here. Scilly Islands.” Their nightmare voyage was not over yet and was in fact about to get a whole lot worse. After a terrible journey across the Atlantic, the Lion had parted from the small fleet and Boyman made his way to Scilly. Here, day after day went by as she lay at anchor during continual bad weather. The Northampton Mercury reported on the situation: ‘The Lion, transport, Boyman, for England, by stress of weather was obliged to put into the Scilly Islands’ Here at Scilly she sat at anchor for a full three weeks waiting for a lull in the stormy weather. When it came the respite was very short lived; giving them all false hopes of a get away. Boyman tried to set sail at this time but it was not to be. The weather was very soon to worsen again and he put back to anchor again. It blew a perfect hurricane Taking information from a letter written by a soldier on board the ship Lion to his wife, we see how his first hand account describes the drama of what happened next:

Derby Mercury Friday 23rd February 1776:

We have been favoured with the following extract from a letter from a soldier in the 59th regiment, to his wife in Derby, dated, St Mary’s Isles of Scilly Feb. 9. 1776.

“In September last, orders arrived for our regiment, (which was then in Boston) to be drafted, and the officers, & co. to return to England to recruit; but Gen Howe detained us till the 16th of December, as he expected Boston would be formed by the provincials. We have, consequently, had a winters passage and were accompanied by 5 other transports and the Tartar frigate, in which were recruiting party’s from every chore in Boston, and about 100 invalids or wounded men. On Christmas eve, by stress of weather, we parted company. It was a very great storm, and the sea poured in upon us shockingly. However, we made the island of Scilly in about 21 days from Boston, when after staying a short time to refresh ourselves, repair the rigging, & co. we were on the point of departing for the English coast, (being all on board on the 3rd February) a storm arose, and that night we carried away our large anchor, which weighed 20cwt. But having a new cable to our small one, we rode it out, tho, it blew a perfect hurricane. On the 4th we strove to weigh anchor again, but the wind freshened, which prevented our putting to sea that night. About two o’clock in the morning of the 5th, our last anchor gave way. It now happened; our sailors did all they could to save the ship, (which was a fine vessel and named ‘ the Lion’) but to no purpose, she was quite ungovernable, having no time to use the proper sails to work her. I had now dressed myself and was making for the quarter deck, where I met some undrest, and others with half their cloathes on, crying and ringing their hands most bitterly. By this time our ship was standing in for a dreadful rock about 15 yards in height, but suddenly struck upon a hidden one, about 50 yards from the above, which turned her half round. Thus did providence, by this unseen rock, save our lives, as the general opinion was we had not half a minute to live. We got out our boats, but they were soon dashed against the rock and broke to pieces; yet thank god we all got safe on shore. We have sent an express to Lord Barrington, to acquaint him with our situation, but expect it will be April before we arrive in England.”

The exact position of this disaster was on the north side of Taylors Island as described by J.C. Tonkin, in his book, Guide to the Isles of Scilly written in 1887. In describing Taylors Island, on page 23, Tonkin wrote: "On the north side, in 1777, a transport ship with wounded soldiers from Boston, was driven from the roadstead where she was lying at anchor. The ship became a total wreck, but no lives were lost"  The fates of Captain Pawlett and of Boyman are recorded. All the men wrecked in the Lion were transferred to St Marys and later on to another ship as their arrival in London is reported in the Hampshire Chronicle in March 1776: The John, Transport, Capt Hunter, from Scilly, is arrived here with the troops that were wrecked in the Lion Transport. Pawlett was reported as arriving in London by the Northampton Mercury on March 4th 1776: ‘On Sunday evening arrived in town, from Boston, Captain Pawlett, of the 59th Regiment, who lost one of his legs at the Boston lines by an eighteen pounder’ The report goes on to try to dispel the story of him having been injured whilst sitting down to breakfast. It states that his injury occurred: ‘when Commanding a working party of 100 men, and not as he sat down to breakfast at Boston, as was mentioned in a former paper’ Pawlett had made it home safely from Scilly but how he lost his leg then became enveloped in propaganda. Both sides in any war naturally have an agenda. The facts are that all previous reports contradict the one immediately above and the former were taken from the diary’s of two different British soldiers, and thus are most probably the correct record of events. The Americans were happy with the original ‘breakfast’ story but it was only the British media that tried to change the story of Pawletts misfortune after he had returned home to England. I leave it to the reader to look at all the evidence presented above in order to come to a conclusion regarding how Pawlett lost his leg.

Pawlett only lived for a further five years. The Norfolk Chronicle December 8th 1781 reports:

‘Last Sunday died, after a few hours illness, at Kenninghall Palace, in this County, William Pawlett, Esq. late Captain in the Army; much respected in the service, much lamented by his wife and family, and much esteemed by his acquaintance and the neighbourhood in which he resided-as an agreeable companion and a worthy man. He served in the last with great reputation, and after being again called into service, after behaving on many occasions with great gallantry and address, lost a leg by a cannonball shot from the American lines, Roxborough Hill, whilst on duty in the trenches at Boston Neck. On his return to England he was shipwrecked on the isles of Scilly, and preserved with great difficulty. His Majesty, in consideration of his eminent services, appointed him to a company of invalids in the island of Jersey, which he enjoyed to his death.’

Pawlett died aged 50, and has a memorial in the Church at Kenninghall, Norfolk. It Reads: For William Pawlett, Esq, Late Captain in the 59th Regiment who died December 2nd 1781.

A compressed record of the life story of Captain Boyman, of the Lion Transport, was recorded in his obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1837. He had an eventful life and even this short record is well worth a read:

"Richard Boyman Esq. Died at Camberwell in his 92nd year. Captain of the Port of London. He was descended from an old Kentish family, and was born at Ramsgate in the year 1745. Before attaining the age of eleven years, he had traded as cabin boy in a merchantman to Boston, Virginia, and Maryland. In crossing the Atlantic in the beginning of the war in 1756, and when only of the above immature age, he was taken by the French privateer, ’La Devine’ and carried it into Boyonne; where, after suffering imprisonment for fifteen months, he was liberated by an exchange, and, being landed at Plymouth, begged his way to London, accompanied by a mess-mate named William Staines, who was afterwards Lord Mayor of that City. Remaining a while with his master at Ramsgate, he was subsequently shipped off for Maryland, whither he made three voyages prior to the peace of 1762. First commanding a ship in 1766, he traded for a series of years to the Mediterranean and to St Petersburgh. In 1775 he was a volunteer at the battle of Bunkers Hill, and steered his own Pinnace to the shore, having in tow the long boat laden with troops. He was also employed in carrying over the wounded to Boston and afterwards took on board his vessel part of the 63rd and of other regiments, being the last of the troops which covered the retreat of the British at the evacuation of the city. (After being wrecked at Scilly)- He thence proceeded to Halifax, where, after lying until the ensuing spring, he sailed for New York (under convoy of Admiral Graves fleet) and was at its capture, (november16th 1776) and on shore there when it was in flames. Back to England, he was again dispatched to America, as storeship, and was at the evacuation of Philadelphia. Again returning, he sailed from Spithead on Christmas day, 1779, taking out the 42nd highlanders to Gibraltar, when he participated in the relief of that place by Admiral Romney. From thence he went to Tetuan Bay on a foraging party, for the garrison, under convoy of the ‘Pegasus’ sloop; and revisiting Gibraltar and England, loaded naval stores for Ro Romney’s fleet, at the island of St Lucie; in returning whence, in August, 1780, he was (together with the West India fleet, and five sail of Indiamen) taken prisoner by the combined forces of France and Spain, carried into Cadiz, and inured of Cordova two years. He was then exchanged, and re-arriving in England, sailed for the Baltic, where he lost his ship, and nearly his life, upon a sunken rock. After this incident, Captain Boyman was well known as an Antigua trader, and it was an coming from the latter island, in the year 1794, that he was captured by ‘Le Pelletier’, of 74 guns and from the latter vessel immediately afterwards joining the French fleet, prior to its conflict with Lord Howe. Captain Boyman was fated, from the windows of the frenchmans stern gallery, to view as an amateur that memorable sea fight. ‘Le Pelletier’ having escaped into Brest, Captain Boyman found himself a prisoner under the triumvir Robespierre; who, however, speedily perished, though our countrymen did not escape to England until after experiencing many hardships and a very protracted imprisonment. With the year 1798, when he relinquished the sea, our narrative ends.

Captain Boyman was of middle size, fair complexion, and possessing handsome features. Nature never framed a man with a better, stouter, heart. Nor one who more conscientiously discharged all the relations of life. He was formally an occasional frequenter of the Captains rooms of Lloyd’s coffee house, and some individuals yet remain who will yet peruse this sketch with a melancholy interest; yet one who died- as the deceased did, “so full of years,” may be said to have left no real contemporary. Captain Boyman sat at the board of committee of the London Friendly Shipping Assurance, for upwards of twenty years, and it was there that the writer of this article (who had the honour of being its secretary) received the eventual data here recorded, from the nonagenarians own lips."

Ryehope, Durham. December 26. 1837.

Page update 10/12/2014