Sea Stories

The Loss Of His Majesty's Ship Queen Charlotte

The Queen Charlotte was, perhaps, one of the finest ships in the British navy. She was launched in 1790, and her first cruise was with the fleet fitted out against Spain, in consequence of the dispute respecting Nootka Sound. Lord Howe, who was

the commander and chief of the fleet, was then on board of her; and she also bore his lordship's flag on the first of June. After which she was sent to the Mediterranean, and was the flag-ship of the commander in chief on that station. In March, 1800, she was despatched by that nobleman to reconnoitre the island of Cabrera, about thirty leagues from Leghorn, then in the possession of the French, and which it was his lordship's intention to attack. On the morning of the 17th the ship was discovered to be on fire, at the distance of three or four leagues from Leghorn. Every assistance was promptly forwarded from the shore, but a number of boats, it appears, were deterred from approaching the wreck, in consequence of the guns, which were shotted, and which, when heated by the fire, discharged their contents in every direction. The only consolation that presents itself under the pressure of so calamitous a disaster is, that it was not the effect either of treachery or wilful neglect, as will appear by the following official statement of the carpenter:-- "Mr. John Braid, carpenter of the Queen Charlotte, reports, that twenty minutes after 6 o'clock in the morning, as he was dressing himself he heard throughout the ship a general cry of 'fire.' On which he immediately ran up the after-ladder to get upon deck, and found the whole half-deck, the front bulk-head of the admiral's cabin, the main-mast's coat, and boat's covering on the booms, all in flames; which, from every report and probability, he apprehends was occasioned by some hay, which was lying under the half-deck, having been set on fire by a match in a tub, which was usually kept there for signal guns.--The main-sail at this time was set, and almost entirely caught fire; the people not being able to come to the clue garnets on account of the flames. "He immediately went to the fore-castle, and found Lieut. Dundas and the boatswain encouraging the people to get water to extinguish the fire. He applied to Mr. Dundas, seeing no other officer in the fore-part of the ship (and being unable to see any on the quarter-deck, from the flames and smoke between them) to give him assistance to drown the lower-decks, and secure the hatches, to prevent the fire falling down. Lieut. Dundas accordingly went down himself, with as many people as he could prevail upon to follow him: and the lower-deck ports were opened, the scuppers plugged, the main and fore-hatches secured, the cocks turned, and water drawn in at the ports, and the pumps kept going by the people who came down, as long as they could stand at them. "He thinks that by these exertions the lower-deck was kept free from fire, and the magazines preserved for a long time from danger; nor did Lieut. Dundas, or he, quit this station, but remained there with all the people who could be prevailed upon to stay, till several of the middle-deck guns came through that deck. "About nine o'clock Lieut. Dundas and he, finding it impossible to remain any longer below, went out at the fore-mast lower deck port, and got upon the fore-castle; on which he apprehends there were then about one hundred and fifty of the people drawing water, and throwing it as far aft as possible upon the fire. "He continued about an hour on the fore-castle; and finding all efforts to extinguish the flames unavailing, he jumped from the jib-boom, and swam to an American boat approaching the ship, by which he was picked up and put into a Tartan then in the charge of Lieut. Stewart, who had come off to the assistance of the ship. (Signed) "JOHN BRAID." Leghorn, March 18, 1800. Capt. Todd remained upon deck, with his First Lieutenant, to the last moment, giving orders for saving the crew, without thinking of his own safety. Before he fell a sacrifice to the flames, he had time and courage to write down the particulars of this melancholy event, for the information of Lord Keith, of which he gave copies to different sailors, entreating them, that whoever should escape might deliver it to the admiral. Thus fell victims to perhaps a too severe duty, the captain and his first lieutenant, at a time when they still had it in their power to save themselves; but self-preservation is never a matter of consideration in the exalted mind of a British naval officer, when the safety of his crew is at stake. Lord Keith and some of the officers were providentially on shore, at Leghorn, when the dreadful accident occurred. Twenty commissioned and warrant officers, two servants and 142 seamen, are the whole of the crew that escaped destruction out of nearly 900 souls on board, that for nearly four hours exerted every nerve to avoid that dreadful termination which too surely awaited them.

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