18th century wrecks

Prize of Admiral Rodney 1772 or 1782

"In 1772, a French prize ship captured by Admiral Rodney in the West Indies went aground on the rocks at the base of Hillsborough" (Horridge 1986 plate 16 caption - hence the name of the Admiral Rodney Inn, now gone)

"...a large ship was ashore in 1782, said to have been one of the prizes of Lord Rodney" in Richard Larn's Devon Shipwrecks (Barrow 1998 p 14)

"The Nostra Seignora de Bon Successo of Lisbon, stranded at our harbours mouth and went to pieces" on 2nd October 1780, according to Richard Larn's Devon Shipwrecks (Barrow 1998 p 14)

Breylaventur 1796

"Admiralty Office February 27th 1796 -, Pursuant to an act of Parliament passed in the 26th year of the reign of his late Majesty this is to give notice to the concerned that the ship BREYLAVENTUR, ANTOINE Echardia, Master, laden with glass bottles, bale goods, and other goods, was stranded on her passage from Bristol to Bilboa on the 12th instant, at Ilfracombe in the county of Devon, and that the Master and crew were saved. Evan Nepean." (Sneltzler 1987 p 91)

London 1796

wreck the london 1796

"Admiralty Office Oct 22nd 1796 - Pursuant to an Act of Parliament passed in the 26th year of the reign of his late Majesty this is to give notice to the concerned, that information has been sent to this office that the Transport ship London, of London, whereof William Robinson was Master, bound from the Island of St Christopher's to Plymouth, was on the 9th instant, in tempestuous weather unfortunately wrecked at the entrance of the harbour of Ilfracombe in the county of Devon. Evan Nepean." (Sneltzler 1987 p 91)

The Ilfracombe Port Book, at Kew in London (ADM1/2894, log 76) gives the following account for 10th October 1796 "Last evening the London of London, a transport, William Robinson, master, from St Kitts with French prisoners aboard, was unfortunately driven on shore at the entrance of this harbour, upwards of 40 persons were drowned. The vessel was entirely lost" (Barrow 1998 p 115)

Photo of a painting of the Wreck of the London by J Walter(s) painted about 1850, which hangs in Ilfracombe Museum with the caption "The old slaver ‘London’ from St Lucia in the W Indies, whilst attempting to enter Ilfracombe harbour was driven ashore in Rapparee and wrecked. She had been attached to Admiral Rodney’s fleet in the West Indies and was bringing home valuables and 150 slaves. 46 people were drowned 6 of whom were Ilfracombe seamen who went to their rescue" (Barrow 1998 p 62). A detail of this, shown above, from Horridge 1986 plate 2, has the caption "This painting of harbour and town shows, on the far right, the wrecking of the transport ship London, which arrived off Ilfracombe from St Lucia during a storm on 9th October 1796. All attempts to secure the ship to the buoys failed and she drifted onto Rapparee rocks. Sixteen local men were drowned during the rescue and many black French prisoners trapped in the hold were also lost. A quantity of treasure was spilled into the sea.". There is a copy in Barrow 1998 plate 1.

"On enquiry, he learns that these yellow pebbles are strangers, and not natives of the place; that they are, in fact, the enduring records of a tragic event that occurred some 50 years ago. It was in the war with France, which ushered in the commencement of the present century, that two transports returning from the West Indies, with black prisoners from some of the French Islands, were driven on shore in this cove, while attempting to enter Ilfracombe in stress of weather. Most of the people escaped with their lives, but almost everything else on board was lost; and for years after the sad event, the people of the town used to find gold coins, and jewels, among the shingle at low tide. The vessels were ballasted with this yellow gravel, which though washed to and fro by the rolling surf, remains to bear witness of this shipwreck, and to identify the spot where it took place; a curious testimony, which will probably endure long after the event itself is lost in oblivion, and perhaps until the earth and all the works therein shall be burned up" (Gosse 1853 p 339-340)

"THE RAPPAREE COVE - In answer to your correspondent ‘V’ [a letter regarding the Earl of Rone legend] it is well known by many old men now living that about 60 years ago a vessel manned by blacks, ran ashore, and that the then best families in the town (being nothing but wreckers and smugglers) murdered the crew and buried the bodies on the beach, and then plundered the vessel of a very valuable cargo, consisting of ivory, doubloons, jewels and etc. This having caused some disturbance, put an end to the system; otherwise, in bad weather, a common custom was to affix lanterns to horses tails, and lead them about the cliffs, to decoy vessels. Many near descendents of the actual wreckers of the before-named vessel still reside here, and rank amongst the most respectable of the inhabitants. The people here still retain the name of ‘combe sharks’ which appellation was bestowed upon them by the surrounding neighbourhood about a century ago-N.V, Ilfracombe" in reply, 28th Feb 1856 "before calling in the evidence of the ‘many old men now living’ who the wicked wretch who wrote the paragraph says are well acquainted with the slanderous tale, we may express some surprise at the stupidity, carelessness or worse, of the editor of a paper hithertoo thought to be respectable, who could admit into his column such manifest lies and glaring absurdities as are contained in that paragraph. The first witness we shall call is the ‘Annual Register’ for the year 1796, the year in which the dreadful wreck occurred. Under date of October 16th we find this entry:- ‘This evening a very melancholy accident occurred at Ilfracombe. A ship, called the London, from St Kitts, having on board a considerable number of blacks (French prisoners) was driven on the rocks near to the entrance of the pier during a violent gale of wind, by which about 50 of the prisoners were drowned. Those who got on shore exhibited a most wretched spectacle, and the scene altogether was too shocking for description." (North Devon Journal 28th Feb 1856, Barrow 1998 p 33)

"This Raparee Cove was the scene of the dismal wreck, nearly a century since, of a Bristol ship, with slaves on board. Their corpses were denied Christian burial, and their skulls are even now at times turned up in the neighbouring fields. Tradition says that many of them were drowned with iron fetters on their legs" (Slade-King 1879 TDA p 167)

The Ilfracombe Parish Magazine October 1904 has an article on the wreck of the London referring to several letters from the Illustrated London News of 1856. One is from a correspondent of the North Devon Journal, 28th February 1856. This refers to the Annual Register for 1796 as having the following entry for October 16th "this evening a very melancholy accident occurred at Ilfracombe. A ship, called the London, from S. Kitts, having on board a considerable number of blacks (French prisoners) was driven on the rocks near the entrance of the pier during a violent gale of wind, by which about 50 of the prisoners were drowned" (Barrow 1998 p33) "...as well as can now be ascertained, the valuables on board were contained in five boxes - there were specie, in doubloons, dollars, etc. - one of which was lost in transit from the ship, and was no doubt broken up at the bottom of the sea, as dollars and doubloons continued to be found in the sand years after the ship was lost" (Barrow 1998 p 118)

January 15th 1978 - Rapparee Cove Sunday gold rush. Followed a Westward Diary TV report that 2 school-boys had found a gold coin from 1725 in Rapparee Cove. "We arrived at the cove in the morning to find 22 people digging furiously for gold" (Barrow 1998 p 16)

1978 - "Eight C18th Portuguese gold coins have been found at Rapparee beach" (IMN 2000 p 21)

In around 1991 the wall at the back of Rapparee Cove was breached (it is now mostly gone) and in 1997 a quantity of human bone fragments were found in the bank behind the wall, including what may have been iron fetters. The possibility that those buried there may have been slaves caused a media frenzy. (Barrow 1998)

"On October 9th 1796 the 600 ton troop ship London was wrecked near Rapparee Cove on the rocks below Hillsborough. She was carrying French prisoners of war as well as 150 black prisoners of war, troops, gold and silver. Thirty prisoners who were in the hold drowned but other prisoners, troops, passengers and crew were saved. Tragically 16 local men were also drowned attempting the rescue." (IMN 2000 p 6)

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