Dorset Barges

Whilst making general enquiries to The Society for Sailing Barge Research I was told that they had a database of Thames Spritsail Barges that were “hulks” in the UK and that there was a section for Dorset.

It would appear that when the survey was done there were seven in Dorset including one in Weymouth, the map reference appears to put it in the harbour, the Dorset list is as follows:

The Society for Sailing Barge Research’ would welcome an update on any of these “hulks”. Does anyone have any information on the Bessier?

They also sent me copies of three of their Information Pamphlets, ‘Sailing Barge Organisations’, ‘Sailing Barge Ports Today’ and ‘Sailing Barge Bibliography’, copies available on request..

I have also recently bought :


‘Last Stronghold of Sail – The Story of the Essex Sailing-Smacks, Coasters and Barges’ by Harvey Benham.


‘Sailing Barges’ by F G G Carr, 1951 revised edition.


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The First 'Earl of Abergavenny'

Here follows a brief history of a fascinating ship which even has links to Ed’s ‘Abergavenny’ and Selwyn’s ‘Admiral Christian fleet’ hopefully one day it may become a small book!

Construction 1787 – 1789

On 5 December 1787 the East India Company gave leave to build a new ship on the bottom of the ‘Earl of Sandwich’ for William Dent, the Husband. The new ship which was to be called the ‘Earl of Abergavenny’  was built by Graham at Harwich. The keel was laid on 8 March 1788 and after 17 months was ready for launching in the summer of 1789. The launching was tried several times without success before the slipways were dismantled and a piece of rope found to be on one side and sand on the other preventing the ship from sliding down the slipways. She was finally launched on 24 August 1789. Gun ports were cut in the sides, 14 on the middle deck and 14 on the upper deck, on each side.

Service in the East India Company 1789 – 1795

The ship was chartered at 1160 tons, Husband William Dent and Captain John Wordsworth  (uncle of the John Wordsworth who died when the second Abergavenny sank in 1805) completed two voyages to China and back between January 1790 and September 1794. He also commanded the second ‘Earl of Abergavenny’ for its first two voyages. 

The First Voyage

Left for Bombay and China in January 1790.  They arrived in Bombay on 7 June 1790 and left for China on 8 August 1790.  3 October 1790 found them anchored safely in Whampoa after a 10 month passage. The ‘Earl of Abergavenny’ finally anchored in the River Thames on 19 August 1791 after a total voyage of over twenty months. 

The Second Voyage

Departure from Spithead on 22 May 1793 stopping on route at Manila before continuing on to China. She left the Boca Tigris, at the mouth of the Pearl River below Canton, on March 17th 1794, finally arriving back in Northfleet, Kent at the end of Sept. 1794. 

Service in His Majesty’s Royal Navy 1795 - 1807

The vessel was then sold to the Admiralty on 9 March 1795, renamed ‘HMS Abergavenny’ and was converted to a naval Fourth Rate warship of 54 guns by Thomas Pitched at his yard in Northfleet. In Naval Service the ship was manned by 324 men and carried 28 by 18 pounder guns on the gun deck with 26 by 32 pounder carronades, on the upper deck with 2 bow-chasers on the foc’sle.

1795 - Outward Bound to the West Indies

With Captain E.T. Smith, in June 1795 she was “to be under the Command of Captain Bowen of the ‘Canada’. She was sent to Cork to transport troops for the Santa Domingo part of Admiral Christian’s expedition. It is noted she boarded and pressed 5 men from the East Indiaman ‘Dutton’ on her way to Cork.

1796 – 1807 in the West Indies

She then operated as a “Guard Ship' and/or “Flagship” from Port Royal in Jamaica.


Captain John Crochet, May 1797, was posted into her by Sir Hyde Parker in the West Indies. He remained in her until June 1798 when he moved to ‘Thunderer’


Captain Samuel Peter Forster, September 1798, was promoted to her out of ‘Albicore’ as flag captain to Sir Peter Parker. Her launch captured the Genoese merchant ship ‘San Joseph’ in ballast, off Portland Point, Jamaica, on 18 November 1798.


She captured the schooner, ‘Louisa’, under Danish colours but carrying staves which were French property, in Cow Bay, Jamaica, on 14 February and the ‘Candelacia’, a Spanish merchant schooner laden with dollars, near Cow Bay on 9 March. Nine merchant ships were taken by ‘Abergavenny’s’ tender between 18 March & 27 July, two were laden with mules & one, the French schooner ‘Fortnee’, taken off St Jago de Cuba, had $24,000 on board.


Captain Charles Laroche, February 1800. He was promoted out of ‘Stork’. Guardship at Port Royal, Jamaica. Captain Robert Mends (post commission May 1800) who removed to Thunderer, in Sept. 1800.


Captain Henry Vansittart who was promoted out of ‘Bonetta’ and subsequently also commanded ‘Thunderer’ which returned to Europe with Sir Robert Calder. ‘HMS Abergavenny’ was reported by ‘Ambuscade’ to be at Port Royal in December 1801

HMS Abergavenny - The Final Years, 1801 - 1807

After December 1801 she does not appear in the Navy List. The vessel was sold out of the Navy in 1807 for break-up.

This is an old print which I bought in Jamaica dated 1806 of Kingston Harbour which shows three hulks, one of which might be the ‘Abergavenny’. Our very knowledgeable friend Captain Roger Abbott from Hawick suggests that the left hand one appears to be frigate-like with a  single decked stern but could have been a two decked warship, the centre one is fairly small and estimated at 200-300 tons at most while the right hand one could be an East Indiaman from the arrangement of ports with the stern, no lower deck guns and having a roundhouse but it is difficult to tell if there are upper deck ports for guns!


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The First 'Earl of Abergavenny'

The Shark Papers Incident

In 1799 the Jamaica Court of Vice-Admiralty heard a case filed by the Advocate-General George Crawford Ricketts, on behalf of Hugh Whylie, Commander of the "Sparrow," against a vessel called the "Nancy" and her crew. At the time Britain was at war with France, the Netherlands and Spain and the Caribbean was teeming with conflict. This story began in July of 1799 when the "Nancy" set sail from Baltimore, Maryland, for the Dutch West Indian island of Curacao for a firm that traded regularly between Baltimore, Curacao and Haiti. She carried her usual cargo of German goods and was scheduled to stop in at Haiti on the homeward leg to pick up coffee.

Captained by Thomas Briggs, an American, the voyage went well until changes in wind and current caused him to put in at Aruba. Many ships often used bad weather as an excuse to veer off course and in neutral ports such as Aruba, ships could clear cargo intended for prohibited ports and find anything from arms to false papers. En route for Port-au-Prince, Briggs was again the victim of bad weather and was forced to put in at Ile-a-Vache, a small island south of Haiti, to refit his damaged main topmast.

The "Nancy" was never to reach Haiti, as soon after on 28th August she was sighted by Commander Whylie of the British cutter the "Sparrow," who, suspicious that the ship was carrying contraband, immediately called a warning and gave chase. Knowing the "Nancy" was no match for the speed of the "Sparrow," Briggs hove to, the ship was sealed, his papers collected and all were remanded to Port Royal.

In September, Commander, Whylie, brought suit against Briggs and Briggs replied in kind, filing a claim for dismissal with costs. Briggs seemed to have the upper hand and was clearly on the way to being acquitted as no evidence existed to convict him for smuggling, when suddenly, just before the final decision was taken, the cutter from “HMS Abergavenny”, a vessel known as the "Ferret" arrived in Kingston with important information pertaining to the case.

Lieutenant Michael Fitton from HMS Abergavenny and Commander Whylie had met on the high seas, near Tacmel, Haiti, while both were seeking to earn their share of prizes using warships to capture goods from enemy vessels. On August 30th, (2 days after Whylie had captured Briggs and the "Nancy"), while waiting for Whylie to join him aboard the "Ferret" for breakfast, a strange object still being eaten by sharks was seen floating by. It turned out to be a dead bullock and Fitton, hoping to catch an unusually large shark seen swimming near it, ordered the bullock to be taken in tow alongside his ship. Fitton managed to catch the shark and while cleaning it the crew came across a bundle of papers tied with string. Fitton glanced through them and recognized a paper with a recent date from Curacao for a ship called the "Nancy"­.

Fitton ordered the papers separated and left to dry while he returned to his breakfast with Commander Whylie. During their conversation he learned of Whylie's good fortune in capturing the "Nancy" a few days earlier, Fitton declared that he thought he had the papers and was proved correct, the papers Briggs had given Whylie were false. These "shark" papers, taken to Kingston were lodged by Fitton with the Surrogates of the Court, contained information that proved to be the deciding factor in the case. The "Nancy" and her cargo were deemed a fair and lawful prize on the high seas.  

The "Shark Papers" and the shark’s jaws are on display at the Institute of Jamaica. A photograph of the jaws is being sent to me from Jamaica.


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Database of Weymouth Boat Builders

With thanks to Maureen Attwool, we have been able to borrow one of only two copies in existence (the other is in the Reserved Collection at the Library) of the definite list of “Ships Built at Weymouth” from 18th century onwards. Meticulously researched over many years by the late AE Cocksedge these records are handwritten and exist largely as a photocopy of his card index system in alphabetical order by vessel’s name. After talking to Maureen and Nicola Brown, who has taken over the Local History Collection in the Library and “keeper” of the original document, I have offered to put the 426 boats into an ‘MS Access’ database using his fields of Name; Type; Builder; Date and Place; Dimensions; Tonnage; Port of Registration; Custom Surveyor; Owners; Captain or Masters and Remarks. Nicola welcomed this initiative to make this important element of Weymouth’s nautical history more accessible. Yet another winter project, volunteer data entry clerks welcomed. A E Cocksedge also did similar research for boats built in Lyme and Bridport, these are available in Dorchester Museum Library.

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