On this day in history : 8th July 1822 – The death of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley – who drowned in a sudden storm whilst sailing his schooner in Italy….

Portrait of Shelley by Alfred Clint – Public domain

The small schooner, ‘Don Juan’, was an open boat that had been custom built for Shelley in Genoa…. He was sailing from Livorno and was returning home to Lerici, when whilst in the Gulf of La Spezla, 10 miles from shore, a sudden violent storm struck – and the boat sank….

Although there was some suggestion that the boat had possibly been rammed, by a larger vessel, the accident was put down to the severe weather and the poor seamanship of the three men onboard…. As well as Shelley ‘Don Juan’ had been carrying retired naval officer Edward Elleker Williams and boat-boy Charles Vivien….

However, there were those who believed the sinking of ‘Don Juan’ was not an accident – and the stories began to circulate…. They ranged from Shelley having committed suicide on account of suffering from depression to the more fanciful idea of having been attacked by pirates…. It is said an Italian fisherman later confessed on his deathbed to having rammed the boat in order to rob it….

Shelley was having financial difficulties at the time; he owed a substantial sum after leaving his former home in wales without paying any rent – as well as having other debts – so he certainly had his enemies…. There was also a theory, which had some supporting evidence, that he may have been murdered by one of his enemies – some think by an intelligence agent who strongly disagreed with Shelley’s political views…. He had indeed been attacked by such a person in the past….and the supposed ramming of his boat fuelled the speculation….

Shelley’s body washed ashore a few days later – and would have already been in a state of decomposition…. As in keeping with quarantine regulations he was cremated on the beach near to Viareggio…. He had died just a month before his 30th birthday….

The funeral of Shelley by Louis Edouard Fournier (1889) – Public domain

His ashes were interred in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome – with the Latin inscription ‘Cor Cordium’ – meaning ‘Heart of Hearts’…. And then followed with a few lines from Aerial’s song from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’…. Eventually a memorial to Shelley was created at Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey….

Photo credit : RubyEmpress – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

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