Tuesday 24 March 2009

Palestine number crunching + strange shipwreck

Number crunching. As President Obama tries to pretend his Middle East policy is somehow different from George Bush’s, some interesting figures. 80 - number of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem Israel planned to demolish prompting half-hearted protests from the US. 73,000 - number of illegal homes Israel plans to build on land stolen from the Palestinians about which the US has not uttered a peep.

On this day.....131 years ago, HMS Eurydice, a Royal Navy training ship, was off the Isle of Wight almost at the end of her transatlantic crossing from Bermuda. The coastguard said she was “moving fast under plain sail.” Then off Sandown, she was hit by a blizzard, and sank within five minutes.

A quarter of an hour later, the squall had passed, and it was a lovely sunny day. Only two men survived from the crew of 366, and Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a poem about the shipwreck. For the full story, see A Disastrous History of Britain.


  1. Great story, John, and having been born on the Isle of Wight, then living until school-leaving age in Portsmouth, I probably looked out on The Solent more than any landscape since.

    Like most stretches of sheltered water, it has its moments of pure shocking nastiness and even when in a state of placid repose strange things happen.

    We used to go occasionally to a maritime art gallery on Sunday afternoons, Cumberland House in Southsea, and the picture that I remember most vividly showed a massive warship of the 1780s, The Royal George, in fine clear weather, just about to capsize and sink with a huge loss of life. This was the result of a catastrophic combination of bad decisions; the ship was being 'leaned' to replace a stop-cock, guns were shifted and the men to oversee this properly were ashore in Pompey...

    Apparently, the Solent, being a fairly narrow channel, even on a windless day, can produce quite a choppy sea, and water was splashing into the open gun-ports.

    Apart from the death toll of about a thousand, and the massive cover-ups to protect the Senior Ranks – The Navy Board, often tainted with corruption, was the scapegoat then – it's sobering to reflect on the amount of wood it took to build a battleship then; over 3,000 trees (!) at a cost of over £300,000. In Georgian pounds, too.

    My dad told me they found skeletons when excavating Ryde canoe lake about a hundred years later.

    I don't know why I'm writing this; you've probably got it much better documented in one of your books. Actually disasters caused by bungs, backhanders, shoddy practice and greed would be a timely tome.

  2. Right as ever JB - I wrote about the Royal George in A Disastrous History of Britain, but you've added some v interesting details. Of course, the Royal George found its bard too. The Eurydice had GM Hopkins, the George got William Cowper:"It was not in the battle/No tempest gave the shock/She sprang no fatal leak/She ran upon no rock" etc One of the unusual elements of this disaster was that the ship was packed with visitors when it went down.