October 22, 1707: Navigation errors led to the sinking of four ships. In 1707, the War of Spanish Succession was in play and the British, Austrian, and Dutch forces under the command of Prince Eugene of Savoy besieged the French port of Toulon, trying to take control. The campaign was fought from July 29 to August 21 and the British sent a fleet of ships to help. Although the ships were able to inflict damages on the enemy, the overall effect was negligible. The British fleet was ordered to return home. There were 15 ships under the command of Sir Cloudesley Shovell.
They left Gibraltar on September 29. There was horrible weather during the voyage home with squalls and storms a near constant. The fleet sailed out to the Atlantic and then passed the Bay of Biscay, heading for England. The weather only worsened and the ships were thrown off course. On this day, the ships finally were able to enter the English Channel. The navigators believed they were positioned west of Ushant. Because of the bad weather, the accuracy of the longitudinal calculation was off. Instead of a position of safety, the ships were sailing towards the Isles of Scilly, and archipelago off the coast off the southwestern tip of the Cornish peninsula.
Before their course could be corrected, four ships were lost on the rocks of the islands. The flagship HMS Association was a 90-gun ship under the command of Captain Edmund Loades and with Admiral Shovell aboard. The ship struck the Western Rocks at 8 PM and sank, drowning the entire crew of about 800 men. Directly behind Association was HMS St George, which also struck the rocks but was able to escape. HMS Eagle, a 70-gun ship commanded by Captain Robert Hancock struck the Crim Rocks and sank in 130 feet of water with all hands. The HMS Romney, a 50-gun ship commanded by Captain William Coney, hit Bishop Rock and went down with only one crewman surviving. The last to sink was HMS Firebrand, a fire ship commanded by Captain Francis Percy. This struck the Outer Gilstone Rock but was able to float free for a while. She sunk close to Menglow Rock and lost 28 of her 40 man crew.
The exact number of men who died in the disaster is unknown. Various records give differing numbers between 1,400 and 2,000 officers, sailors, and marines killed. This is the greatest maritime disaster in British history. For days after the sinkings, bodies continued to wash ashore along with wreckage and personal items. Myths surround the sinking, including Admiral Shovell’s unwillingness to listen to a sailor’s report they were off course. Shovell did not survive the disaster and the legend of his murder after washing ashore barely alive is unsubstantiated.
A young sailor boy came to see me today. It pleases me to have these lads seek me on their return from their first voyage, and tell me how much they have learned about navigation. – Maria Mitchell
The rules of navigation never navigated a ship. The rules of architecture never built a house. – Thomas Reid
We were suddenly faced with the necessity of training a lot of young men in the art of navigation. – Clyde Tombaugh
We have always been taught that navigation is the result of civilization, but modern archeology has demonstrated very clearly that this is not so. – Thor Heyerdahl
Also on this day: When the World Was New – In 4004 BC, the world was created – according to the math.
Where Is He? – In 1844, Jesus Christ did not return to Earth.
Pretty Boy – In 1934, Charles Floyd was killed.
No, Thanks – In 1964, Jean-Paul Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize.