H.M.S. The Royal George Model Cannon, 1840
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Length: 19cm (7.5ins)
Bronze on wooden carriage. Model of the all bronze (instead of the usual cast iron) armament carried aboard the former flagship of the Royal Navy’s Western Squadron, and veteran of the Battles of Quiberon Bay (1759) and the Moonlight Battle (1779). The barrel inscribed ‘Relic of the / ROYAL GEORGE, / Sunk 1782. / Raised 1840.’
At 9am on 29 August 1782 the triple decker 100-gun H.M.S. The Royal George was provisioning at Spithead. She was the flagship to a fleet of some 50 warships and 300 merchantmen and under orders to relieve the long besieged British garrison at Gibraltar. Aboard The Royal George were the highly regarded fleet commander and tactician Rear Admiral Richard Kempenfeldt and his first captain, Captain Martin Waghorn. Below decks the ship was overcrowded with crew members, hordes of prostitutes, wives of seamen and their children, craftsmen from Portsmouth dockyard, tourists and traders of many types, in all well over a thousand souls.
A minor repair to a water cock below the water line was needed. The method ordered by Waghorn was to move the cannon from one side of the ship to the other, causing the ship to heel and allow access to the faulty water cock. The lower gun ports, normally closed when a ship was being heeled, on Waghorn’s orders remained open. This was to allow supplies to be loaded through them, rather than having to be hauled up to the deck. A cutter arrived alongside and began unloading rum through the gun ports, which were only one foot above the water. The ship’s carpenter, seeing the danger, tried to warn the officer of the watch, Lieutenant Holingbery, but was disregarded. The weight of the rum soon began to take the gunsills below the water line, and at 9.18am the ship began to capsize.
Frantic efforts were made to right the ship by returning the guns to their proper positions, but the slope of the deck was too great. Only 255 of the 1200 on board survived, with many of the dead being trapped below decks and others being later ghoulishly displayed in the rigging at the change of tide. Admiral Kempenfeldt and the carpenter drowned; Captain Waghorn survived, to be exonerated at court-martial and retired on half-pay; Lieutenant Holingbery survived and was later promoted to captain.