Royal George

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One of the best-known examples of the capsizing of a ship. A first-rate warship with 100 guns, on 29 August 1782 she was lying at Spithead with almost her entire crew and a large number of wives and other women and children on board. She was being given a Parliament heel to expose part of her side for repairs. While she was heeled, she filled with water through her gunports, and sank very quickly, with the loss of about 900 lives, including that of Rear Admiral Richard Kempenfelt (1718–82). The capsizing of so notable a ship was commemorated in the poem by William Cowper with its well-known opening line ‘Toll for the brave, the brave that are no more’. Cowper, however, was no seaman and when he attributed the disaster to ‘a land breeze [which] shook the shrouds’, he was very far off beam.

Several attempts were made to raise the hull but all were unsuccessful. Finally, in 1848, it was removed by the engineer Sir George Pasley, partly by being blown up with explosives and partly by being lifted. It was on this occasion that Augustus Siebe was able to demonstrate the efficiency of his newly invented diving dress, receiving as a result a contract from the British Admiralty to supply this equipment to the navy.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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