The loss of HMS Determinee

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This article by Denys Richardson was first published in the 1938 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

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Admiralty records

Extracts from the Admiralty records relating to the adventures of two of HM ships which are portrayed in two fine engravings, one of which is in the possession of La Société Jersiaise.

The first is entitled "The Loss of HMS Determinee," and is a full account of the enquiry. The Court Martial proceedings were only a repetition of the same facts. The other picture is entitled "The position of HMS Ambuscade on the evening of November 15th 1779". Relevant extracts are given from the Captain's Log.

A Becher HMS Aurora - Jersey Roads,
30 March 1803 - to Sir Evan Napeau
Sir,
"I write for their Lordships information, that on Saturday evening last about half past 4 o'clock his Majesty's Ship La Determinee then under my command, while in stays in working into this Harbour, struck with her broad side on a sunken rock, by which she was instantly bilged and in the course of fifteen minutes nearly under water on her beam ends.
"Owing to the attention of Captain Malbon and Hill (v faint) of the Aurora and Camilla and the exertions made by the officer and seamen in their boats (for which we must ever feel grateful) the lives of nearly all on board were saved. But it is with extreme concern I have to state the loss of a Midshipman and one seaman belonging to the ship, and 10 soldiers, 2 women and 3 children of the 81st regiment and a woman and child of the Invalids. Enclos'd I transuit a narative of the proceedings of the Ship from the time of her leaving Spithead, and have the honor to remain Sir
Your most obedient, humble servant,
A Becher

Narrative

"In pursuance of orders received at Spithead from Admiral Milbanke dated March 23rd 'to receive on board a detachment of the 81st regiment and proceed without loss of time to Jersey'. The Determinee being in all respects ready for the Sea I sent an officer on shore on the morning of the 25th to Commissioner Sir Charles Laxton to request his assistance towards obtaining a Pilot, but his not being able to send one occasioned me to make application to the Flag Ship where I was equally unsuccessful.

"The Troops being all embarked by 3 o'clock in the afternoon of that day, the Determinee sailed in company with the Aurora for Jersey and as the Ships were going through the Needles passage I had hopes of getting a pilot either at Cowes or Yarmouth. Being nearly abreast of Cowes in the evening I made the signal with a gun for a pilot and about 7.45 pm both ships anchored at Cowes.
"In the Morning at day light I repeated the signal with 2 guns but no pilot appeared and at 5 o'clock the Ship weigh'd anchor and followed the Aurora for the Needles.
"Falling little wind as we approached Yarmouth I sent an officer on shore at that place to endeavour to get a pilot and at the same time repeated the signal with guns for that pierport, but those efforts proving as ineffectual as the former we sailed through the Needles and no chance was left to obtain one but at Guernsey or on the Jersey coast.
"The Ships went through the passage of the great Russell the next day about 2 o'clock pm the signal for a pilot was constantly abroad and many guns were fired.
"Unable to obtain a Pilot I resolved to follow in the Aurora's wake, the weather was fine and moderate and it appeared to me that a strict attention to that Ship's motions would render it far from being unsafe, to adopt a measure for which a general signal is established.
"The Master acquiessing with me in this proposal Orders were given to keep immediately in the Aurora's wake.
"About a quarter past 4 being close upon a Wind and nearing the Harbour the Aurora was observed to be in stays, everything was of course prepared and in momentary readiness for that purpose in about 5 minutes after judging the Determinee as near the place as possible I ordered the helm a lee. The Ship came instantly to the Wind and the After yeard were hauled about. The Main brace was scarcely belayed when she struck on the rock and in less than 3 minutes the water inside of the Ship was of equal heighth with the surface of the Sea.
"Being apprehensive that the Ship might fall into deep water from the strength of the tide I ordered both Anchors to be let go, which was done and the Cables bitted and stopperd.
"The Panic which prevailed over the Women and Children threw the Ship into a scene of confusion hardly to be described in spite of every effort to suppres it.
"Notwithstanding the Sails were clued up and top gallant sails handed and then on the top sail yards in the act of furling the top sails, but thinking their weight aloft might tend to upset the Ship I called them down to get the Boats out. The large Cutter was soon out, but the hurry and fear of the people who craned into her plainly foretold their fate. In vain I remonstrated on the impropriety and folly of their quitting the Ship, and solicited them to let the Women and children only go into the Boat, but both reason and persuasion had lost its influence, and in this moment the Ship fell on her broad side.
"Myself with many others were by this change thrown into the Sea and it was not without difficulty after being nearly 10 minutes in the Water that I regained a dry situation, but at last having reached the Mizen top I had once more an opportunity of advising towards saving the lives of those left with me on the Wreck, tho' still unable to prevent many from jumping into the Sea.
"Too much praise cannot be given to all the Officers and then assisting upon this importunate event, who by their exertions in the course of three hours and a half in a tide running near 6 knots had taken every Man from the Wreck which when I had seen dine I went with my Officers on board the Aurora.

Names of the persons missing

  • Mr Rooke (Mid)
  • Edwd Franklin (Ord), Determinee
  • Pat Cantweel
  • John Purcell
  • James Trotter
  • Michl Haley
  • Saml Dorriss, 81st Regiment
  • James Gormbey
  • Thos Tulley
  • Mrs Thompson
  • Ter Murphy
  • Mich Keavenough
  • Mrs Lloyd and child
  • Mrs Dane Morau and child
  • Mrs Belford’s child
  • A woman and a girl – invalids
  • Total 19

A Becher

Court Martial

Adm 1/5363

HMS Determinee

Summing up of Court Martial on Captain Alexander Becher for loss of HMS Determinee

"The Court was cleared and agreed that the Loss of His Majesty's Ship Determinee was caused on her striking on a Sunken Rock when working into Jersey Harbour there not being a Pilot on board her at the time. That no blame was imputable to Captain Alexander Becher her Commander, his Officers or Ship's Company for their Conduct on the Occasion, but that he used every Means in his Power to obtain a Pilot for Jersey both before he sailed from Spithead, and during the Voyage without Effect, that he was actuated by commendable Zeal for the Service in attempting to enter the Harbour by endeavouring to follow the Aurora's track, and that his cool and officerlike Conduct after she struck was highly meritorious, especially in ordering the Anchors to be let go, to prevent her drifting into deep water, by which Means many lives were, in all probability, saved, and did therefore adjudge the said Captain Alexander Becher his Officers and Ship's Company to be acquitted.

The Court was again opened, Audience admitted and Sentence passed accordingly.

Mr Greetham Jnr

Judge Advocate for the time being

Ambuscade log

Refce No: Admy 51/36.

HMS Ambuscade

Capt Hout Chas Phipps

Capt's Log

Monday, 15 November 1779

"Hard Gales and Squally with Rain at times - at 6 pm Sounded and had 50 fathoms water Yellow and White Shells - at 3 am sounded 33 fathom Small stones an broken shells - at 6 am saw the land on our Starboard bow at 11 very heavy squalls - found the Land to prove the Island of Jersey employed working into the Anchoring place - fired several guns a Signal for Pilot - Split the Maintopsail and all the Courses.

Tuesday, 16 November 1779

"Hard Gales and Squally Wr with Rain at 3 pm came too with the Best Br in 10 fathom Water and veered away two Cables at ½pt 4 parted the Best Bower, Cut away all the Masts and let go the Small Bower and veered a whole Cable which brought the Ship up, fired a Great many guns as Signals for pilots at 8 am came on board a Pilot and Several boats from the Shore our people employed in preparing Jury Masts at 8 came out two Brigs one Lugger and a Cutter and took us in Tow lost our Stream Anchor, at Noon the said Vessels employed Towing us into the Anchoring place in St Aubin's Road.

(From 16 November they remained anchored in St Aubin's Bay unable to sail owing to stormy weather, but on Monday 6 December they sailed and at noon were off the Corbiere).

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