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The Loss of the Catharine, Venus, Piedmont, Thomas, Golden Grove and Ælous, 1795, on the Chesil Beach


NARRATIVE OF THE LOSS OF THE CATHARINE, VENUS, AND PIEDMONT TRANSPORTS AND THE THOMAS, GOLDEN GROVE, AND ÆOLUS MERCHANT SHIPS, NEAR WEYMOUTH, ON WEDNESDAY THE 18TH OF NOVEMBER LAST Drawn up from Information taken on the Spot,

BY CHARLOTTE SMITH,

And Published for the Benefit of an unfortunate Survivor from one of the wrecks and her infant Child

Una Eurufque, Notufque; ruunt, creberque procellis Africus, & vaftos volvunt ad littora fluctus. Infequiteur clamorquc ; virum ftridorque; rudentum Eripiunt fubito nubes coelumque diemque . ex oculis, ponto nox incubat atra. Intonuere poli, & crebris. micat ignibus aether Praefentemque viris intentant omnia mortem. …….Vagae ne parce malignus arenae Offibus & capiti inhumato Particulam dare

PRINTED AND SOLD BY SAMPSON LOW, BERWICK STREET SOHO; AND C. LAW, AVE-MARIA LANE. ALSO MAY BE HAD AT DELAMOTTS AND WOOD’S LIBRARIES WEYMOUTH

LIST OF SUBSCRIBERS

INDEX

NARRATIVE Etc

"Ah! Qui verfa des pleurs, tremble d’en voir couler"

UNDER the depression of sorrow that can end only with my life, and vainly contending against the weight of oppression, heavy is prolonged, I should not have entered upon so mournful a talk as this, had not some of the gentlemen, who have already so benevolently exerted themselves on behalf of the unfortunate person who escaped (with her life only) from the scene of destruction, believed, that a name, to which the public has shewed some partiality,' might be useful in promoting farther their humane intention and, that being accustomed to fictitious narrative, I might be enabled to arrange, for publication, the information with which they have for that purpose furnished me; and to connect, in one detail, several detached anecdotes of calamity, alas ! but too real!   Some also, among the respectable friends of those who perished 'on the fatal Eighteenth of November, have expressed their wishes that such an account of this catastrophe might be made public.  Affection for the memory of those they deplore naturally induces them to desire, that their country, to the service of which the days of these brave men were dedicated, should join in the tribute of just regret; and that to their private sorrows should be added, those of a Nation on so sad a conclusion to useful and honourable lives.

These motives, added to my wish to contribute all I have to give, my time, to assist the unfortunate person in question, have together induced me to suspend, for a few days, the labour. I am condemned to for the support of my own plundered family; and I shall receive great satisfaction, if the Public accepts my attempt with so much favour as to make it answer the purpose for which it is intended.

On the Fifteenth of November, 1795, the fleet, under convoy of Admiral Christian's squadron, sailed from St Helen’s. A more beautiful sight than it exhibited cannot be imagined, and those who had nothing to lament in leaving their native country, (some such, among great numbers, there must always be) enjoyed the spectacle as the most magnificent produced by the art of man, and as that which Englishmen have the greatest pride and pleasure in beholding. 

On the Sixteenth the wind continued favourable, and the fleet proceeded down Channel.   How dreadful the change that was to happen in eight-and-forty hours.

        "In gallant trim the gilded vessel goes,        "Regardless of the sweeping whirlwind's sway,        "That, hush’d in grim repose, expects its evening pray."
Gray

Sensations, however, not unlike presentiments of impending evil, hung upon the minds of some of the passengers.

As the Catherine Transport, on the Sixteenth, sailed within sight of the Isle of Purbeck, Lieutenant Jenner, destined so soon afterwards to share the same fate, pointed out to another person the rocks where the Halsewell, with her captain, his two daughters, several other young ladies, and all, but about seventy of her crew, perished -and he seemed greatly affected in relating the circumstances of their melancholy destiny.

"Ah! Wretched mortals, ever blind to fate!"

One may well exclaim, in learning tome particulars that occurred in regard to Lieutenant Jenner. It happened that he, together with Cornet Burns and another passenger, did not reach Southampton till the Catharine, in which they had determined to embark, had sailed to St. Helen's. They therefore hired a hoy* to follow her, and in a letter to his mother, written on board, Lieutenant Jenner expresses his satisfaction at having been so fortunate as to overtake the ship.

* a small vessel, usually rigged as a sloop, carrying passengers and goods esp. for short distances. COD

On Tuesday the Seventeenth, the fleet was off Portland, standing to the Westward, but the wind shifting, and blowing a strong gale at SSWest, the Admiral, doubting whether they could clear the Channel, threw out the signal for putting into Torbay - of which some of the Transports were within sight. They could not, however, make the Bay,. the gale increased. and a thick fog came on:  the Admiral therefore thought it expedient to alter his course, and, about five o'clock in the afternoon, made the signal for standing out to sea. 

The six ships, of which some account is intended to be given. the Piedmont, Catharine, and Venus Transports, the Golden Grove, Thomas and Eolus merchant ships, beaten back to the Eastward, attempted to return to St. Helen's, or to reach some intermediate port, where they might be in safety till the fury of the wind, which now became every moment more and more violent, would allow them to proceed on their voyage. 

But the fog now gathered more heavily around them, mingling the sea with the sky in drear confusion.- They could distinguish nothing through the impenetrable gloom they could hear nothing but the roaring of the wind; yet, imagining they had searoom enough, they were not aware of the extreme peril they were in, and that, instead of having cleared the Isle of Portland, they had driven to the Westward of it, and were rapidly approaching the tremendous breakers that, driven by a South-West wind, thunder with resistless violence against that fatal bank, of stones, which beginning at the village of Chisle, on the prefqu' (sic) Isle of Portland, connects it with the coast of Dorset. 

This extraordinary bank of stones reaches to a place called Burton Cliff, a distance of above sixteen miles, with a singular variation in regard to the pebbles that compose it. At Chisle, in the Isle of Portland, they are as large as eggs, and gradually diminish from that size till, at Becksington, they are not bigger than peas; and, between a place called Swyre and Burton Clift, they decline insensibly into a fine soft sand.. 

Underneath the pebbles is a firm black clay, which appears when a strong South-East wind blows; the bank is then swept from one end to the other of the stones, and remains only of clay, till such time as a South-West wind blows, when the sea throws them up, and covers the bank again."   So says the account of it in the great map of Dorsetshire, published by Isaac Taylor in 1765.

I have not had this fact ascertained by any eye-witness, and to whoever has seen this immense mass of stones, as it generally appears, this account seems incredible. if, however, such, or any thing like it, be the power of the sea, when raised by a South-West wind, some idea may be formed of its fatal force over the ships that are unhappily driven by such winds against this destructive embankment *.

* Drayton in his Polyolbion, (second song) thus describes the bank:

        Not sever’d from the shore, aloft where Chesill lifts
        Her ridged snake-like sands, in wrecks and smouldering drifts
        Which by the South raged, are heaved on little hills………………..        ……………………… Which running on the Isle of Portland pointeth out

It is supposed that the Isle of Portland was once quite divided from the neighbouring Coast, and that this barrier has been gradually formed by the sea. However that may have been, it has been infamous beyond the memory of man, the notice of records, or for the wrecks that have happened on it; and none perhaps have ever occasioned a severer loss to the country, or have been the cause of more aching hearts among individuals than those which are the subjects of the present narrative. 

In listening to the Tempest that raged during the night of the Seventeenth, those who reflected on the situation of Admiral Christian's Fleet, which had been seen the evening before, entertained the greatest apprehensions for its safety. 

Early in the morning. of the Eighteenth several Pilots, and other persons, were assembled on the Look-out *; from whence they saw too evidently the distress and danger of many of the Transports. 

* The look-out is a promontory, of which one side forms the harbour of Weymouth – Pilots wait there to observe signals from vessels.
Soon after ten o'clock, a Lieutenant of the Navy, residing at Weymouth, applied to the Major of the South Gloucester Militia, desiring that a guard might be sent to the Chisell Bank, as a large Ship, supposed to be a Frigate, was on shore there, near the, Passage-house. The Major immediately ordered a Captain's guard to march thither, and went himself with them. 

One of the Gentlemen of the South Gloucester, who was afterwards among the most active in the offices of humanity necessary to the living, and the mournful duties demanded by the dead, has related to me, that such was the fury of the wind when the party of men, which he, accompanied, reached the summit of the hill above Sandfoot Castle, that it was with the utmost difficulty they could resist it when they reached the Ferry, they distinctly perceived the three masts of the supposed frigate appearing over the stony ridge; but which were in fact the mast of the Aeolus Merchant Ship, laden with timber on account of Government. 

There perished Lieutenant Mason of the Navy, (who was also an Agent for Transports) and his Brother a Midshipman. A number of men were also drowned, which it is supposed would not have happened, had these unfortunate people understood the signals made by the men of Portland who now crowded down to the scene of desolation, and meant to express by signs, and by throwing small pebbles at them (for to make them hear was impossible), that they should remain on board; because they foresaw, what actually happened, that the ship would drive so high on the bank, that they would soon be able to leave her with less hazard-those who continued on board were saved, though many were dreadfully bruised. 

A very little while after another mast appeared obliquely over the stony barrier – it was that of the Golden Grove Merchant Ship, which was stranded. In her, Dr Stevens, of St. Kitt's, and a Mr. Burrows, were lost; Lieutenant Colonel Ross escaped to the shore. 

These ships were stranded on a part of the bank not far from the Passage-House, almost in the very same spot where the Zenobia, a French frigate, went to pieces in the year 1763. 

But, however dreadful this scene was, that which passed four miles to the Westward was infinitely more terrible. 

For there, nearly opposite to the Village of Fleet and Chickerell, the Piedmont, Venus, and Catharine Transports were driven on the Bank; and very soon after the Thomas, a Merchant Ship bound for Lisbon, shared the same fate. 

On board the Piedmont were one hundred and thirty eight soldiers of the 63rd regiment, under the command of Captain Barcroft: Lieutenant Ash, and MrKelly, surgeon of the same regiment, were also onboard. Of all these only Serjeant  Richardson, 11 private soldiers, and four Seamen, reached the shore alive - the rest perished. 

Captain Barcroft was a Gentleman of a most amiable and excellent character. His life had been passed in the service of his country, even from his early youth to the deplored period, when he thus lost that valuable life, at the age of thirty-six. 

While yet a very young man he served in America, and in the course of the disastrous war between England and the Colonies he was taken prisoner, and very severely treated. 

On the commencement of the present war he raised a company, in the County of which he was a native, and served with it on the Continent during, the campaign of 1794. His company was the last, and Captain Barcroft himself one of the very last men that passed on a single plank, knee deep in water, in the retreat from Nimuguen, under a heavy fire from the enemy. 

After the general retreat in the winter of 1794, of which the circumstances are too well known to be here insisted upon, Captain Barcroft returned to England, and in a few months afterwards was ordered to West Indies. 

The cruel catastrophe which awaited him on his way thither has occasioned to his family the most poignant and lasting affliction. He appears to have possessed in private life all those ingenious qualities that usually belong, to the noble minded Soldier - and deeply and deservedly is his loss lamented by his immediate connections, as well as by all who were acquainted with his worth, either as an officer or a man. 

Of the few who reached the shore with life, from the Piedmont Transport; there was hardly one who was not dreadfully bruised; and some had their limbs broken. One more wretched even than the rest, a Veteran of the 63rd regiment, had his leg dreadfully fractured, but had resolution enough to creep for shelter under a fishing boat, which lay inverted on the farther side of the stony bank where his groans were unheard, till a young gentleman passenger in the Thomas Merchant Ship, who, wrecked himself, and wandering along the inhospitable shore under all the terrors that must have been felt at such a time, forgot his own calamitous situation, in attempting to succour this unhappy Soldier, but without success (as will be hereafter be related) and the poor creature died in that deplorable condition; far, happier than he would have been, if he had perished in the sea, rather than, thus to have endured more exquisite, and prolonged suffering on the shore. 

Nor can the fate of a Fifer of the same regiment be heard without great concern – this poor fellow, whose name was Ensor, found himself unhurt on the land, and passing the high bank of stones, he met on the other side some of his comrades; they congratulated each other on their preservation, when Ensor, seeming suddenly to recollect himself, exclaimed, "Oh, my poor wife!" then starting :away. from his companions, he returned towards the raging element from which he had so lately escaped, and was never seen again ; it is probable, that in trying to save either this poor woman or some other he saw struggling amidst the waves, he himself was overwhelmed and drowned. 

On board the Venus were Major Ker, appointed Military Commander of Hospitals in the Leeward Islands - his son, Lieutenant James Ker, of the 40th regiment Lieutenant James Sutherland, of Colonel Whyte's West India regiment - Cornet Benjamin Graydon of the 3rd West India Regiment - Lieutenant B. Chadwick, of Colonel Whyte's West India regiment - Mr. Kidd. the Master, his wife, three other women, seventy-four soldiers and twelve seamen. Of all these, (ninety-six persons) only Mr. John Darley, of the Hospital Staff, Serjeant-Major Hearne, twelve soldiers, and four seamen and a boy, were saved.  Mr. Darley escaped by throwing himself from the wreck, at a moment when she drifted high on the stones: he reached them without broken limbs, but the furious sea overtook him, and carried him back, not, however, so far but that he regained the ground; and notwithstanding the weight of his clothes, and his exhausted state, he reached the top of the bank, but there the power of farther exertion failed him, and he fell. While he lay in this situation, trying to recover breath and strength a great .many people from the neighbouring villages passed him - they had crossed the Fleet water in the hopes of sharing what the lower inhabitants of this coast are too much accustomed to consider as their right, the plunder of the ships wrecked on their shore and, in the gratification of their avarice, they are too apt to forget humanity. Scenes like these call forth the most honourable, and discover the most degrading qualities of the human heart.

Mr. Darley seems to have been so far from meeting with immediate assistance among here who were plundering the dead, without thinking of the living, (otherwise than to make some advantage of them also) that though he saw many boats passing and repassing the fleet water, he found great difficulty in procuring a passage over for himself and two or three of his fellow sufferers, who had by this time joined him: having, however, at length passed it, he soon met with Mr Bryer, Surgeon of Weymouth, to whose active humanity all the unhappy sufferers were greatly indebted; on his reaching Weymouth, the gentlemen of the South Gloucester sent him every supply of necessaries that his situation required - and all the soldiers and sailors were taken care of by Mr. Warne, Agent to the Commissioners for the Sick and Hurt'

Of the circumstances that attended the loss of the Catharine, a more particular account shall be given, which, perhaps, cannot be done more expressively than by quoting the words of the survivor, who relates it nearly thus :

The evening of the Seventeenth was boisterous and threatening; the Master said he was afraid we should have some bad weather, and when I was desired to go upon deck, and look at the appearance of the. sky, I observed that it was scumbled and red, with great heavy clouds flying in all directions, and there was a sort of dull mist round the moon. On repeating this to the other passengers, (two of whom had been at sea before) they said we certainly should have a stormy night; and indeed it proved to very tempestuous, that no rest was to be obtained. Nobody, however, seemed to think there was any danger, though the fog was so thick that the Master could see nothing by which to direct his course; he thought, however, that he had sea-room enough. 

The fatigue I had suffered from the tossing of the ship, and the violence with which it continued to roll, had kept me in bed.. It was about ten o'clock in the morning of the Eighteenth when the Mate looked down into the cabin, and cried – "Save yourselves, if you can." 

The consternation and terror of that moment cannot be described I had a loose dressing-gown on, and wrapping it round me, I went up, not quite on the deck, but to the top of the stairs, from whence I saw the sea break mountains high against the shore, while the passengers and soldiers seemed thunderstruck by the sense of immediate and inevitable danger; and the seamen, too conscious of the hopelessness of any exertion, stood in speechless agony, certain that in a few minutes they must meet the destruction which menaced them. While I thus stood surveying, in that kind of dread that no words can convey an idea of, the scene around me, Mr. Burns, who was near me, and had come up in his shirt, called to Mr. Jenner and Mr. Stains for his cloak - nobody, however, could attend to anything, in such a moment, but their own preservation.

Mr. Jenner, Mr. Stains, and Mr. Dodd, the Surgeon, now passed me their countenances sufficiently expressed their sense of the situation we were all in - Mr. Burns spoke cheerfully to me; he bade me take courage - and Mr. Jenner observed there was a good shore near, and all would do well. 

The gentlemen then went to the side of the ship with the intention, as I believe, of seeing if it was possible to get on shore The Master of the ship alone remained near the companion, when suddenly a tremendous wave broke over the ship, and struck me with such violence, that I was for a moment stunned and, before I could recover myself, the ship struck with a force so great as to throw me from the stairs into the cabin, the Master of the vessel being thrown down near me. At the same moment the cabin, with a dreadful crash, broke in upon us and beams and planks threatened to bury us in ruins.  The Master, however, soon recovered himself; he left me to go again upon deck, and I saw him no more.

A sense of my condition lent me strength to disengage myself from the boards and fragments that surrounded me, and I once more got up the stairs I hardly know how; but what a scene did I behold!    The masts were all lying across the shattered remains of the deck, and no living creature appeared on it - all were gone! I knew not then that they were gone for ever!  I looked forward to the shore; but there I could see nothing except the dreadful surf that broke against it, while behind the ship immense black waves rose like tremendous ruins; I knew that they must overwhelm it, and thought that there could be no escape for me. 

Believing then my death immediate and unavoidable, my idea was to regain my bed in the cabin and there, retaining myself to the will of God, await the moment that was approaching. I could not, however. reach my bed ; and was awhile insensible; then the violent striking, and breaking up of the wreck roused me again to recollection found myself near the cabin window, but the water was rising round me. It increased rapidly, and the horrors of drowning were present to me - yet I remember seeing the furniture of the cabin floating about. I sat almost inclosed by pieces of the wreck, and the water now reached my breast. The bruises I had received made every exertion extremely difficult, and my loose gown was so entangled among the beams and pieces of the ship, that I could not disengage it. Still the desire of life, the hope of being welcomed on shore, whither I thought my friends had escaped, and the remembrance of my child, all united to give me courage to attempt saving myself: I again tried to loosen my gown, but found it impossible; and the wreck continued to strike so violently, and the ruins to close so much more around me, that I now expected to be crushed to death. The water, as the ship drifted higher on the stones, rather levelled as the waves went back, but, on their return, continued to cover me and I once or twice lost my, breath, and, for a moment my recollection. When I had power to think, the principle of self-preservation still urged me to exertion. The cabin now broke more and more; through a large breach I saw the shore very near me ; and, amidst the tumult of the raging waves that dashed upon it, I had, glimpse of the people who were gathering up what the sea drove towards them; but I thought they could not see me, and from them I despaired of assistance; I therefore determined to make one effort to preserve my life; I disengaged my arms from my dressing gown, and finding myself able to move, I quitted the wreck, and felt myself on the ground; I attempted to run, but was too feeble to save myself from a raging wave that overtook and overwhelmed me:  then I believed myself gone, yet, half-suffocated as I was, I struggled very much, and I remember I thought I was very long dying!  The wave left me - I breathed again, and made another attempt to get higher upon the bank; but then, quite exhausted, I fell down, and my senses forsook me! 

By this time some of the people on the bank saw me, and two men came to my assistance. They lifted me up; I once more recovered some faint recollection as they bore me along, one of them said the sea would overtake its; that he must let me go, and take care of his own life *. I only remember clinging to the other, and imploring him not to leave me to the merciless waves. But 1 have a very confused idea of what passed, till I saw the boat which I was to be put into, to cross the fleet water. I had then only strength to say "For God's sake do not take me to sea again." 

* This man it is believed, saw, at that moment, a quantity of goods driven on shore which he wished to share and therefore would have left the poor sufferer to her fate.

I believe the apprehension of it, added to my other sufferings, helped to deprive me of all further sensibility, for I have not the least recollection of any thing afterwards, till I was roused by the remedies applied to restore me in the farm-house, whither I was carried, and heard round me a number of women, who asked me a great many questions, which I was unable to answer. I remember hearing one say I was a French woman - another that I was a Negro and I was so bruised, and in such a disfigured condition, that the conjectures of these people were not surprising. 

When I recovered some degree of confused recollection, and was able to speak, I begged they would let me go to a bed. I did not ask this, however, with any expectation of life, for I was now in such a state of suffering that my only wish was to be allowed to lie down in peace and die. Nothing could exceed the humanity of Mr. Abbot*, the inhabitant of Fleet Farm House, nor the compassionate attention of his sister, Miss Abbot, who not only afforded me immediate assistance, but continued for some days after I got to Weymouth to attend me with such kindness and humanity as I shall always remember with the sincerest gratitude.. 

When in contrast to the humanity exercised by Mr and Miss Abbot, the eager desire of plunder, so general on the Western coast, is recollected, and one cannot help wishing that on this fatal part of it some such establishment was possible, as that which has been founded at Bamborough Castle, in Northumberland, by Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham : the account of this place is given by Mr Bowles, in a note to the admirable Sonnet written on the spot, which I cannot resist copying. 

When in contrast to the humanity exercised by Mr and Miss Abbot, the eager desire of plunder, so general on the Western coast, is recollected, and one cannot help wishing that on this fatal part of it some such establishment was possible, as that which has been founded at Bamborough Castle, in Northumberland, by Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham : the account of this place is given by Mr Bowles, in a note to the admirable Sonnet written on the spot, which I cannot resist copying.

SONNET, 'WRITTEN AT BAMBOROUGH CASTLE
YE holy towers that shade the 'wave-worn steep, 
Long may you rear your aged brows sublime; 
Though, hurrying silent by, relentless Time 
Assail you, and the wintry whirlwind's sweep!
For, far from blazing grandeur's crowded halls, 
Here Charity, hath fix'd her chosen feat,


Many Readers may be ignorant that this very ancient Castle, with its extensive domains, heretofore the property of the family of Forsters, whose heiress married Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham, is appropriated by the will of that pious prelate to many benevolent purposes, particularly of ministering instant relief to such shipwrecked Mariners as may happen to be cast on this dangerous coast; for whose preservation and that of their vessels, every possible assistance is contrived, and is at all times ready. The whole estate is vested in the hands of Trustees; one of whom, Dr. Sharp, Archdeacon of Northumberland, with an active zeal well suited to the nature of the humane institution, makes this Castle his chief residence, attending with unwearied diligence to the proper application of the Charity."

Oft listening tearful, when the wild winds beat
With hollow bodings round your ancient walls!
And Pity, at the dark and stormy hour
Of midnight, when the moon is hid on high,
Keeps her lone watch upon the topmast tower,
And turns her ear to each expiring cry;
Blest, if her aid some fainting wretch might save,
And snatch him cold and speechless from the wave.


It cannot fail of being consolatory to the humane and reflecting mind to be enabled by this note to turn to such an example as that of the worthy and respectable Clergyman, who is thus the Minister of Mercy at Bamborough Castle. In the course of collecting the materials for this little narrative, I have been compelled to remark a character altogether different. One who seems to watch the Chisell Bank in the time of tempest, with views very unlike those of the venerable Dr. Sharp; and far from teaching like a good shepherd, humanity to his flock, he seems to encourage, by his example, their Cruel rapacity, and to repeat with them in listening to the rising tempest:
Blaw wind, rize zay,
Zhip azhore afore day.

The unfortunate sufferer who gives this account was attended with great humanity by Mr. Bryer, while a wound in her foot, and the dangerous bruises she had received, prevented her quitting the shelter she first found, under the roof of Mr Abbot, at Fleet. As soon as she was in a condition to be removed to Weymouth, Mr. Bryer received her into his own house, where Mrs. Bryer assisted in administering to her recovery, by such humane offices of consolation, as her deplorable situation admitted. In the mean time the Gentlemen of the South Battalion of the Gloucester Militia, who had done all that was possible towards the preservation of the unhappy sufferers in this dreadful tempest, were now contributing with the greatest liberality to the alleviation of the pecuniary distresses of the survivors - among whom none seemed to have so forcible a claim on their pity as the forlorn and helpless stranger, whole miraculous escape has just been related. 

No other person was saved from the Catharine Transport but a Ship-boy, about fifteen, who seems to have been washed off, by one of the heavy seas that swept her deck; for he said, that he found himself, he knew not how, on shore, and saw from thence the vessel go to pieces. 

The persons that perished of the crew and passengers in this vessel, were: 

Twenty-two soldiers of the 26th Light Dragoons. 
Two soldiers wives 
-and Twelve seamen. 
There were also the horses belonging to the soldiers on board. 
The officers were, 
Lieutenant Stains, of Keppel's West-India Regiment 
Mr. Dodd, of the Hospital Staff. 
Lieutenant Jenner. 
Cornet Burns.

Of the two latter Gentlemen, Lieutenant Jenner was the representative of an ancient and much respected family in Gloucestershire. He had been many years a Lieutenant of Marines, but had engaged in Colonel Whitelock's Regiment on the promise of a company, which his long services entitled hint to; he possessed all those engaging and manly qualities which belong to the Gentleman, the Soldier, and the Friend; and it may with truth be laid, that he was esteemed by all who knew him, and by none more than the officers of the South Gloucester Regiment, with whom he was particularly intimate, and who bewailed the sad necessity of following their lamented friend (thus untimely cut off at the age of thirty-one) to the grave. They found his mangled body on the dreary beach two days after the shipwreck, and buried it with military honours. 

Cornet Burns was the son of an American Loyalist of considerable property, who was deprived of every thing for his adherence to the British Government. This young man, who had no dependence but upon the recompense promised by Government to those who had so suffered, after many years of difficulty and distress, obtained a Cornetcy in the 26th Dragoons, in going to serve with which, in the West Indies, he was thus lost in his twenty-fourth year. 

"There is a tide in the affairs of men," says Shakespeare; and I am afraid it is too true, that some families experience no Spring tide of prosperity, but that their fortune is always either at a low ebb, or they are exposed to such storms and tempests as finally wreck and overwhelm them. Such seems to have been the perverse destiny of this very unfortunate young officer. The Predestinarian will consider it as a proof of the truth of those opinions to which he adheres, when it is related, that Cornet Burns had intended embarking in the Fowler Transport, and had actually sent his horse on board, when, finding the Catharine more commodious, he gave the latter the preference. The Fowler put back in safety to Spithead. 

In the Thomas, of London, a Merchant Ship bound to Oporto, the Master, Mr. Brown, his Son, and all the Crew, except the Mate, three Seamen, and one Passenger, .were lost: this Passenger was a young Gentleman, about the age of fifteen, of the name of Smith, who was going to Lisbon. He too was probably preserved by remaining on board after all the rest had left the Ship, or had been washed from it by the waves. It had then drifted high on the bank, and he leaped from it to the ground.

Weakened as he was, and encumbered with his wet clothes, he got on the other side of the stony bank, and seems to have possessed equal presence of mind and humanity. On looking around him over the dreary beach, his first idea was, that he was thrown on an uninhabited coast. At length he law a fishing boat, and approaching it, heard the groans of the unhappy old Soldier, mentioned in the beginning of this narrative, whom he attempted to relieve ' but he could do nothing alone, and he was long before he saw any assistance near; till at length he perceived a man at some distance, to whom he hastened, and enquired eagerly if a Surgeon could be procured for a poor creature with a broken limb, who lay under the boat. 

The man probably shewed no great alacrity, for Master Smith found it necessary to purchase his good offices by giving him half a guinea, which he imagined would engage him to seek for a surgeon. The man Pocketed the half guinea with the greatest composure, then, saying he was a King's Officer, and must see what bales of goods were driven on shore, he hastened away without giving himself any farther trouble, than telling Master Smith that there was a ferry about four miles off, by which he might get to Weymouth. Of what happened on board the Thomas, previous to her total destruction, Master Smith related one striking circumstance:  Mr. Brown, the Master of the vessel, was carried away by an immense wave, just as he was stripping to endeavour to save himself, his son exclaiming " 0h, my father! my poor father!" instantly followed him. They seem to have been worthy people, and are spoken of with great regard by this young man. The bodies of there two unhappy people, father and sun, were believed, by the description of them, to be among those that were afterwards interred at Wyke.

Before the whole extent of this dreadful calamity was known at Weymouth the officers of the South Gloucester were considering, how they might best succour the survivors, and perform the last sad duties towards those who were no more. 

On the morning of the Nineteenth of November, an officer of the South Gloucester Militia, together with Mr. Bryer of Weymouth, rode to the villages where those who had escaped from the various wrecks had found a temporary shelter;  with them went Mr. Darley, who earnestly wished to know what had been the fate of Major Ker, and to find his body if he had perished, which could not yet be known.

In a house at Chickerell these Gentlemen found Serjeant Richardson, and eleven privates of the 63d regiment. Two of there poor men had fractured limbs, and almost all the rest had wounds and bruises In other cottages, in the same villages, others of the ship wrecked sufferers had been received, and were as comfortably accommodated as circumstances allowed. 

The gentlemen leaving their horses at the Fleet farm-house, crossed the Fleet water, to the beach, and there, whatever idea had been formed of the scene they were now to witness, infinitely exceeded in horror by the spectacle before them. No celebrated field of carnage, where the heroes among mankind have gathered their bloodiest laurels, ever presented, in proportion to its size, a more fearful fight than the Chissel-bank now exhibited. It was strewn for two miles with the dead bodies of men and animals, with pieces of wreck and piles of plundered goods, which groups of people were at work to carry away, regardless of the sight of the drowned bodies that filled the newly-arrived spectators with grief and amazement. 

On the poor remains of these unfortunate victims death appeared in all its hideous forms and indeed the particulars cannot be given either the sea or the people who had first gone down to the shore, had stripped of every article of clothes, those who had probably ventured, or had been thrown by the shocks into the water with their clothes on, as some of the officers certainly were clothed at the fatal moment. The remains of a military stock or the wristbands and collars of the shirt, or a piece of blue pantaloons, were all of their clothes that were left: and when the rites of sepulchre were to be performed, the Lieutenant of the South Gloucester, who superintended the performance of this melancholy duty, had no other means of distinguishing some of the officers than by the different appearance of their hands from those of men who had been accustomed to hard labour; but others were known by the description given of their persons by their friends, by persons that escaped who were in the ships with them; and the Lieutenant of the South Gloucester has convinced himself, and all who were interested in the enquiry, that the bodies of the gentlemen whose names have been particularly mentioned, were found, and buried in the churchyard. 

The remains of that gallant officer, Captain Barcroft was known by the honourable scars that witnessed the wounds he had received in the service of his country. His mourning friends have, from that circumstance, the sad satisfaction of knowing that his body was rescued from the sea, and buried with military honours. 

Early in the morning of the Twentieth, the Lieutenant, who has before been mentioned, with a party of forty men, prepared to go to the scene of death, to begin the melancholy office of internment; but it was then found that they could not remove or bury the bodies without the authority of a magistrate; and these preliminaries took up so much time, that only twenty-five bodies were buried that day. The bodies of Captain Barcroft, of Lieutenant Sutherland, Cornet Graydon, and Lieutenant Ker, and two women, were then selected to be put into coffins: and on the Twenty-first the bodies of Lieutenant Jenner and Cornet Burns were found, and distinguished in like manner. 

The whole number of dead found on the beach was two hundred and thirty-four; so that, not withstanding the party employed was changed every day, so heavy and fatiguing was the duty, that it was not till the morning of the Twenty-third that all the soldiers and sailors (two hundred and eight) were deposited, as decently as could be done under such circumstances, in graves dug on the Fleet side of the stony beach, beyond the reach of sea, with a pile of stones raised on each to mark where they lay. 

Mr. Warne, the Agent for the Sick and Hurt Office, who has before been mentioned, sent twelve coffins to receive the bodies of the women - nine only were found - the other coffins were added therefore to those that were destined for the dead, who were supposed to be officers. 

The remains of Lieutenant Ker were delivered to his friends, who came down for the purpose of attending his funeral. 

On the Twenty-third two wagons were sent to the side of the Fleet water to receive the coffins, in which the shrouded bodies of Seventeen officers and nine women had been placed. They were conveyed to a part of the hill near the church of Wyke, and left under a guard for that night. On the morning of the Twenty-fourth the officers and soldiers of the South Gloucester attended to be present at the funeral and thus to pay the last tribute of respect to those whose fate had impressed them with deepest concern A party of the Gloucester, consisting of a Captain, subaltern, and fifty men preceded the seventeen coffins; Master Smith appeared as chief mourner. The body of Lieutenant Ker, attended by his friends, made part of the mournful procession, which was closed by the soldiers and officers of the South Gloucester, following as is usual in military funerals. In a large grave, close to the North side of the tower of Wyke church, the officers were interred with military honours. Lieutenant Ker in a grave on the other side of the tower, near which, at the Southwest corner, were committed to the earth, the remains of the nine women, whose coffins had been deposited in the church during the preceding ceremony. 

Over the grave of the officers a stone has been erected at the expense of the friends of Captain Barcroft and Lieutenant Jenner, on which is the following inscription:

To the Memory

Of CAPTAIN AMBROSE WILLIAM
BARCROFT
LIEUTENANT HARRY ASH,* &
MR. KELLY, SURGEON
of the 63d Regiment of Infantry;
Of LIEUTENANT STEPHEN JENNER,
of the 6th West-India Regiment;
LIEUTENANT STAINS, 
of the 2nd West-India Regiment; 
LIEUTENANT JAMES SUTHERLAND,
of Col. Whyte's West-India Regiment;
LIEUTENANT B. CHADWICK,
of Col. Whyte's West-India Regiment;
CORNET WM. STUKELEY BURNS,
of the 26th Light Dragoons;
CORNET BENJAMIN GRAYDON, 
Of the 3rd West-India Regiment; 
Two Hundred and Fifteen SOLDIERS and
SEAMEN, and Nine Women who perished by Shipwreck on 
PORTLAND BEACH,
Opposite the Villages of LANGTON, FLEET,
and CHICKERELL, on Wednesday the
Eighteenth Day, of November, 1795 **

Notes and Queries for 6 Nov 1862 reflects the following changes:

* Harry Ash should read Lovett Ashe
** The following should be inserted at the end of the inscription "Erected by the friends of Capt. Bancroft and Lieut. Jenner"

A stone has also been erected over the grave of Lieutenant Ker, bearing the following inscription

Sacred to the Memory
Of MAJOR JOHN CHARLES KER,
Military Commandant of Hospitals in the
LEEWARD ISLANDS
And to that Of his SON,
LIEUTENANT JAMES KER
of the 40th Regiment of Foot,
Who both departed this Life on the Eighteenth of November, I795
The first aged 40, and the latter 14 Years.

"The fate of both was truly deplorable; and is a melancholy example of the uncertainty of human affairs. "They were embarked in the Venus Transport, and left Portsmouth the 15th of the above-mentioned month, with a fleet full of troops, destined on an expedition to the West-Indies, under the command of General Sir Ralph Abercromby. "A storm having arisen on the 17th, Which lasted till the next day, many of the ships were lost, and the Venus wrecked on Portland Beach; Major Ker and his Son were both unfortunately drowned, with the greater part of the soldiers and crew. "The Major's body could not be found, although it is possible that it may have been among the many others which were driven ashore, and buried in this churchyard. "His son's corpse was ascertained, and lies interred under this stone, which is raised at the expense of John William Ker, Esq. brother of the Major, in commemoration of the affection he bore him."

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