On this day in history : 29th August 1782 – British battleship HMS Royal George sinks off of Spithead whilst repair work is carried out beneath its waterline…. Some 900 lives are lost….

HMS Royal George – by John Cleveley the Elder – Public domain

At the time of its launch, on the 18th of February 1756, HMS Royal George was the largest warship in the world, with 100 guns on 3 decks….

In August 1782 preparations were being made for the Royal George to sail to Gibraltar, as part of the fleet of Admiral Howe…. The fleet was anchored off of Spithead in order to take on supplies…. All shore leave had been cancelled, out of fear of desertion, so all 1,200 crew were onboard apart from a detachment of 60 men who had been sent ashore on errands…. Also on board were over 300 family members of the crew, mostly women and children, spending time with their loved ones before it was time to set sail…. A large group of workmen, working against the clock to get repairs done, were also present….

Around 7am the ship was ‘heeled over’, to enable easier access to the hull…. The process involved rolling the ship’s starboard guns to the centre of the ship to cause it to tilt over the port side, raising the starboard side up…. However, a large quantity of rum casks had been loaded onto the port side and the additional weight of these was overlooked…. As a result the ship rolled over too far….

Public domain

The captain gave the order to roll the guns back but it was too late….the ship had taken on too much water through the gun ports…. A sudden in-rush of water filled the ship and it sank…. Although 255 people were saved around 900 more were lost, including some 300 women and 60 children….

Many of the victims were washed ashore at Ryde on the Isle of Wight…. They were buried in a mass grave stretching along the beach….

Toll for the brave
The brave that are no more,
All sunk beneath the wave,
Fast by their native shore.
- The Loss of the Royal George, William Cawper, 1782

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