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Earl of Abergavenny

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Three 'East Indiamen' were lost on Dorset's coast between 1786 and 1815: two were outward bound and had been at sea only days - the Halsewell, wrecked at Worth Matravers in 1786, and the Earl of Abergavenny off Weymouth in 1805 and the Alexander, was almost home from Bengal when she came to grief on Chesil Beach in 1815.

The Earl of Abergavenny, a ship of 1,200-tons, left Gravesend at the end of January, 1805, for Bengal and China carrying some 51 passengers and 159 troops calling in at Portsmouth en route. As she approached Portland Bill on 5 February, 1805, the weather started to deteriorate and Captain Wordsworth, brother of William Wordsworth, decided to wait in Portland Roads rather than rounding Portland Bill and cross Lyme Bay, with the risk becoming embayed and ending up on the Chesil Bank.

However, shortly after taking on the pilot the vessel struck the Shambles Sandbank, where she lay from some hours, being pounded by the sea, and suffering serious damage to her bottom. When the tide had risen sufficient to float her off an attempt was made to sail for Weymouth sands, but the ship sank 2 miles from her destination leaving the tops of her masts showing. Of the 402 passengers and crew some 260 souls lost their lives, being unable to cope with the severe cold of winter : bad weather, it is said, preventing rescuers coming close to the wreck until daylight.

It has been suggested on a recent TV programme, that during a refit both iron and copper bolts had been used to make repairs : a cheap, but dangerous option, as it was well recognised by this time that a chemical reaction would eventually cause the iron bolts to fail. The bumping on the Shambles, along with the heavy cargo she was carrying, may also have caused the bolts to fail.

There well may be good reason for not attempting it, but I can't understand why an attempt wasn't made to beach the ship on shore adjacent to Portland Roads rather than attempt the longer passage to Weymouth - unless wind and tide conspired to prevent this, or the fear of Portland wreckers, taking into account her supposedly valuable cargo, ruled this option out of court ; or the seriousness of the situation wasn't appreciated ?