The Great Ship-Swallower
I recently decided to run a quick little experiment for a presentation to demonstrate the ebb and flow of wrecks on the Goodwin Sands. I chose the years 1760-1780 since every issue of Lloyd’s List survives for this period, giving me reasonable confidence that every major wreck on the Sands will have been recorded and that all the wrecks therein will have come from the same source.
Undoubtedly, as I have observed before, in the 18th century wreck reports in the press were biased towards major ships with losses of little fishing vessels and other minor craft not usually being recorded unless the circumstances were exceptional. 1767, 1770 and 1778 happily saw no losses on the Sands but at least two or three wrecks a year were usual.
There is a significant spike in 1775 with 9 losses. The weather was, naturally, often to blame: the Cranbrook in 1775 was ‘very deeply laden’ and the Kentish Gazette reported that it was ‘blowing hard at NW’ when she was lost. Sometimes, however, other factors were at play. A little salvage vessel was lost in November while going out to a recent wreck – which would clearly not have been out had it not been for other vessels lost a few days earlier, the Charming Sally, the Elizabeth, and an unknown vessel.
Sometimes, the dynamism of the sands was a notable factor. The Nederlandsche Jahrboeken for 1761 prints the inquiry into the loss of the Meermin Dutch warship on the Sands in some detail. The currents were blamed, and the depths as plumbed by the line ‘appearing to be in the fairway’ were found to be misleading. How many of the wrecks on the Goodwin Sands were lost not to the weather, per se, but changes brought about by previous storms, leading to the alteration of safe channels and encroachment of the sands?