H.M.S. ASTREA

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE 32 GUN BRITISH FRIGATE
WITH AN ACCOUNT OF HER LOSS ON THE ANEGADA REEFS
IN THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
ON MAY 23rd, 1808

TOGETHER WITH A SUMMARY OF THE COURT MARTIAL PROCEEDINGS
HELD ON BOARD H.M.S. RAMILLIES
IN CARISLE BAY, BARBADOS ON JUNE 11th, 1808

AND AN ACCOUNT OF THE SUBSEQUENT REDISCOVERY OF
THE WRECK SITE AND THE ENSUING SALVAGE OF PART OF THE WRECK IN 1967.

By
TAGE W. BLYTMANN,  ST. THOMAS, V.I.
Revised & Updated 1996, 2000.

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BRITISH VIRGIN ISLAND POSTAGE STAMP FEATURING H.M.S. ASTREA

When the British Admiralty decided to build eight new fifth-rate frigates in 1778, the question of selecting appropriate names for each of the vessels quite naturally presented itself. Reflecting the classical taste of contemporary England one of the frigates was named ASTREA (1) after the goddess of justice, the daughter of Zeus and the last divinity to leave earth when the Golden Age had passed away. Although several warships had been graced with a variety of Greek and Latin mythological names in earlier times, a large number of men-of-war were given classical names in the late eighteenth century. The fourth Earl of Sandwich, who was serving as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1778 for the third time since 1748, is commonly held responsible for this trend.

The ASTREA was to be a 32 gun frigate of 689.27 tons burden (2) with an overall length of 140 feet, the length of the lower deck being 126 feet, a beam of slightly more than 35 feet, and a draft of 17 feet forward and 17 and a half feet aft. She was built at East Cowes, Isle of Wright, and launched in 1781. After having been rigged and fitted out she was commissioned in Portsmouth on October 1st, 1781. A total of 220 men and officers made up her roster, and she was finally ready to do her duty in the Royal Navy.

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HULL PLAN OF THE H.M.S. ASTREA, DATED 1779

ASTREA had not been in commission long when she saw action for the first time. The American War of Independence was still lingering on and in its wake hostilities had broken out between Britain and the major powers on the continent. Faced with a war against practically half of the contemporary western powers, Britain found herself unable to allocate major detachments of her fleet for patrolling the Atlantic coast of the rebellious break-away American colonies. Several smaller units, however, continuously harassed the American shipping in that part of the world, and numerous prizes were taken in these waters at this time. In December 1782 the ASTREA was cruising in company with her sister ship HMS QUEBEC, and the somewhat larger HMS DIOMEDE, a fourth-rate vessel built the same year as ASTREA. On the twentieth of that month, the American 40 gun frigate SOUTH CAROLINA was sighted off Delaware, resulting in immediate pursuit by the small British fleet. An eighteen hour long chase ensued before the SOUTH CAROLINA finally came within reach of the British cannons. Two hours of fierce fighting followed before the American frigate struck her flag to the superior British force.

With the treaties of Paris and Versailles in 1783 an end was put to the war and for a period of ten years Britain was at relative peace. With the French invasion of the Netherlands early in 1793, however, Britain was once again drawn into war; and so was ASTREA. Although she had played only a relatively minor role in the capture of the SOUTH CAROLINA ten years earlier, she was to score her first real triumph on the eleventh of April, 1795 (3) when she captured the larger 42 gun French frigate LA GLORIE. At the time ASTREA was commanded by Captain Lord Henry Paulet and she carried a crew of 212 men, whereas LA GLORIE carried a crew of 280 men. The first gun was fired at sunset and only after a long and severe battle did the French frigate strike her colors just before midnight (4).

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H.M.S. ASTREA CAPTURES LA GLORIE, 1795

Two months later on the 22nd of June, while ASTREA was cruising with a fleet of 25 vessels commanded by Admiral Bridport on board the magnificent first-rate vessel ROYAL GEORGE, a French fleet consisting of 23 vessels was sighted. Due to light and variable winds the meeting was delayed until 24 hours later, at which time the fleets were off Ole de Groix. According to British sources the actual engagement lasted four to five hours and resulted in the capture of three French vessels carrying nearly 700 killed and wounded men, while the British claimed a loss of less than 150 men.

ASTREA was then dispatched to the West Indies with a large convoy in 1796 where she eventually participated in the capture of St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Grenada from the French. Shortly thereafter the greater part of the British fleet was withdrawn altogether from this part of the world, having left behind some 40,000 seamen and soldiers killed by disease, fever or in battle (5). No wonder the common seaman as well as many an officer were disillusioned, and the thoughts of one of the midshipmen on board ASTREA can well be imagined as he wrote the following: (6)

Ah! cursed be that fatal day,
When I from home was led astray,
in this damned place to dwell.
Oh! had I in the country stay'd
I might have learnt some useful trade,
and scorn'd the white lapelle.

When first on board the ship I went,
my belly full, my mind content, -
no sorrows touched my heart:
I viewed my coat, so flash and new,
My gay cockade, my hanger too,
and thought them wondrous smart.

But now, alas! my coat is rent,
My hanger's pawned, my money spent,
my former friends I've missed;
And when of hardships I complain,
My messmates swear 'tis all in vain,
and cry, "What made you 'list?"

Nelson had defeated the French navy at the mouth of the Nile in 1798 and turned the war in favor of the British. The French army, however, was still in Egypt when a combined British and Turkish fleet, including ASTREA, sailed for Egypt in 1801 with 16,000 troops under the command of General Abercromby. ASTREA and her commander, Peter Ribouleau, played an important role during this campaign which resulted in the capture of five vessels then lying in the Alexandria harbor.

In November 1806 ASTREA departed England for a cruise in Scandinavian waters under the command of Captain James Dunbar. This voyage, which proved nearly fatal, was succinctly described in a letter published in the Naval Chronicle of 1897 (7), excerpts of which read as follows:

"Elsineur, December 1, 1806.

After a tremendous passage, no description of which can give any adequate idea of its horrors, the Astrea frigate arrived here, I may say almost a total wreck. We had little to complain of, considering the season of the year, and the dreary region we were approaching, from the time we left the English coast, till Friday last, when we made the Naze of Norway, which is the southern part of that country. We had the shore upon the larboard hand, a good breeze of wind, and were going at the rate of ten knots; when, on a sudden, without the smallest indication whatever that such an evil was impending, one of the most terrible of gales of wind broke upon us, that the oldest seaman ever witnessed. The roar of its sudden burst is yet in my ears ...

For a time we apprehended that our fate was inevitable, and that the Astrea was destined to leave her ribs on the shoal of Norway; but we were reserved for new, and still more alarming dangers, though, thank God, ultimately for safety. We disengaged the vessel from the shore with infinite difficulty, and, pursuing our course, we had to encounter the risk of touching upon the Skaws, which are off the point of Jutland, and which are objects of terror to the best Pilots even in fine weather ... Our confidence was somewhat restored; and the piercing cold, and the furious gale that was blowing, were scarcely inconveniences, when we reflected upon what we had escaped. In this disposition, our spirits felt relieved, though there was not any material abatement of our caution; our Pilot did not seem to give us much cause for apprehension, and we were pursuing our course briskly, when, to our dismay, the ship struck!

We found ourselves upon a reef of rocks, perhaps those called the New Dangers, about three miles from the island of Anholt, and about nine miles, as well as I can guess, from any other shore. We immediately hoisted signals, and fired guns of distress - but in vain. Not a soul from the shore put off to assist us in any way. Several vessels passed us, indifferent spectators of our distress, and insensible to every indication we made to them of our dreadful situation: Their crews were as callous as the reef of rocks. All this time no effort was spared on board Astrea, that coolness and seamanship could devise. The mizzen and main-masts were cut away, the guns were thrown overboard, as well as the stores and provisions, to a considerable degree ...

The miraculous efforts made by the crew, with all the pumps, kept the water from wholly gaining upon us; and while we were in the midst of all this exertion, to our astonishment, and to our horror in some respects, the ship floated! Judge of our situation, lightened even to the loss of some of our ballast, with only the foremast standing, and the vessel so damaged in the bottom, as that it required all the pumps to prevent the water gaining to a fatal increase upon us! In an incredibly short time, jury, main, and mizzen-masts were rigged, though only a few could be spared from the pumps; and, as the wind was fair, we took a farewell of the reef that had been nearly so fatal to us; and at length, exhausted almost to death, we arrived here this day."

ASTREA was partially repaired and refitted in Copenhagen before making a voyage back to Sheerness in February or March. She subsequently returned to Copenhagen, but made sail for England again in November 1807 to receive her new orders. She was to proceed immediately to the West Indies where new hostilities made her presence necessary. Having taken stores and provisions on board, she departed England for what was to be the last time. After a short stop in Barbados in February, 1808, she continued to Montego Bay and Port Royal in Jamaica, where the departure of the PRINCE ERNEST packet in the end of April or early May necessitated an adequate armed escort.

Navigation in the West Indies had become increasingly difficult and dangerous, particularly for the lightly armed merchant vessels. The fear of being apprehended and taken by one of the numerous privateers or men-of-war was always foremost in the mind of any captain navigating those waters in time of war. The British convoys, which sometimes consisted of as many as two hundred vessels accompanied by seven or eight men-of-war (8), left the Caribbean up to four times a year for Europe. Following the occupation of the Danish Virgin Islands by the British at the time of the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 (9), St. Thomas was for years chosen as the most convenient place for the convoys to rendezvous. Merchant vessels from all the British islands in the Caribbean arrived there to make the homeward bound voyage under the protection of "His Majesty". This was not, however, generally the case as far as the mail packets were concerned. Communications with the mother country was essential and far too important to be confined to the infrequent departure and slow progress of the convoys. The mail packets required special attention and a frigate was usually detailed to escort them until a relatively safe position had been reached in the Atlantic Ocean.

On Monday the ninth of May, the PRINCE ERNEST packet left Watlands Island  in the Bahamas accompanied by the ASTREA. For a week the two vessels kept each other in close sight until the time had come to part company upon reaching a latitude of 26 (degrees) north at a point some 550 miles NNW of Puerto Rico. The packet was now left to her own resources until the shores of England were sighted, a voyage expected to take about four weeks, while the ASTREA headed south toward Mona Passage between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. Several days went by without anything of significance breaking the monotony of sea routine as the frigate made progress back toward the Caribbean.

Monday May 23rd was a beautiful clear day with the trade wind blowing a fresh breeze from the northeast. At noon the position was ascertained by the the officers (10) to be 19 00' north and 65 50' west, a distance of about 30 miles north of the eastern extremity of Puerto Rico. When Captain Heywood came on deck at two o'clock in the afternoon land was distinctly seen between WSW and SW by S although the sky had become somewhat cloudy toward that corner. After a short consultation with McLean, the Master, it was agreed that the land observed was Puerto Rico, since "it could be no other land" (11). ASTREA was now on a southwesterly course, it being the intention of the captain to continue until approximately fifteen miles off the coast, at which time this distance was to be maintained until daybreak when the vessel could bear up for Mona Passage in safety.

At half past seven in the evening, Captain Heywood, Mr. McLean, and Mr. Maxwell, the third mate, were all standing on the quarter deck when orders were given to heave-to on the starboard tack. The wind, which had shown signs of freshening further, was still from the northeast. ASTREA's course was altered first to west, then to northwest while the sailors were busying themselves shortening sails. A few minutes before eight o'clock, George Lovet, the gunner, came on deck to stand his watch on the forecastle. Leaning over the port rail, his eyes slowly getting accustomed to the dark evening, he suddenly saw a solid line of white breakers appearing dead ahead. His reaction was instantaneous and only seconds later the captains' command "helm hard a port" came loud and clear. Having fresh way on, the frigate started to respond to the wheel - but it was too late!

ASTREA struck the reef hard and immediately began to take in water. The pumps were manned and with great difficulty a kedge was laid out in the event that a favorable change of weather would permit a try at refloating her. The wind, however, was still freshening and being on a lee shore each swell forced the vessel against the reef with a sickening crash. When after a short while the frigate showed signs of capsizing, orders were given to cut away both the main and the mizzen masts. Following this desperate action many of the cannons were thrown overboard in a last attempt to lighten the ship. This only made things worse and the frigate was now forced further into the frothing reef. The men at the pumps were fighting a loosing battle which was only given up when the carpenter reported the keel had broken in two. Having no hope of saving the ship, the object of attention now focused on saving the crew. Shortly after ASTREA had struck the reef several small boats had been sighted on the lee side of the reef but the heavy swell and surf prevented any of the boats from approaching or even coming close. Land was apparently nearby - but where?

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CHART SHOWING EXACT LOCATION WHERE ASTREA WAS WRECKED
ON MAY 23rd, 1808.

ASTREA was now hard on the reef and although water constantly washed over her main deck, the danger of her capsizing or sinking had subsided somewhat. To abandon ship and face the breaking surf on an unknown reef was an extremely hazardous undertaking which could be considered only as a last resort. The captain decided to stay on the frigate until the next morning. Early dawn revealed the long low shoreline of Anegada Island (12) less than a mile away to the west-northwest. No time was lost in launching several large rafts that had been laboriously constructed during the night from pieces of wood hastily broken off the wreck. With great difficulty men and officers defied the breaking surf and inhospitable reef by slowly bringing the greater part of the crew to safety on Anegada. By the time they reached shore, four seamen had lost their lives and everyone was in a state of complete exhaustion. One boat containing an officer and about seventy men made it safely to the nearby island of Virgin Gorda. Mr. McLean and a small number of men remained on the wreck attempting to save some of the stores and gear.

On Wednesday the 25th, two days after the wreck, the HMS ST. CHRISTOPHER anchored in the lee of Anegada to take the shipwrecked sailors and officers onboard. Having anchored off Virgin Gorda the night before they lost no time in coming to the assistance of the ASTREA after having learned of the wreck. All of the men were soon transferred to the ST CHRISTOPHER, but when the turn came for a George Wright  to leave, he positively refused to go on board the ST. CHRISTOPHER. He had been among the first to abandon ship and in the confusion managed to steal the captain's coat which he subsequently had sold to a native Anegadian for two guineas. George Wright now proceeded to call the captain a "damned rascal" (13), accusing him and the other officers of having run the ship ashore through neglect, and finally boasting that had it not been for the presence of the other members of the crew, "he would have took his sord from the captain and give him the contens of it" (14). He was finally apprehended by the sergeant of the marines and the purser's steward and dragged through the water into the waiting boat.

On Friday the 27th the ST. CHRISTOPHER was joined by His Majesty's ships JASON and GALATEA. The JASON subsequently took most of the shipwrecked men on board and proceeded to Barbados where the inquiry and court martial proceedings were to be held. The GALATEA stayed with the wreck until the 2nd of June attempting to save various sundry articles from the nearly submerged wreck. Early on that date she left for Puerto Rico, leaving a crew of 12 men behind, only to return again on the 12th to resume the salvage operations (15). Only a few articles, however, had been salvaged when the wreck was abandoned two weeks later, on June 24, 1808.

Captain Heywood wrote a brief three page account (16) of the events leading up to the wreck, while en route to Barbados on board the JASON. When the court martial convened on board the HMS RAMILLIES in Carisle Bay, Barbados on June 11th, 1808, this statement together with the official log book (17), charts, and a log kept by Captain Heywood, made up the physical evidence.

Upon commencement of the proceedings a complaint was filed by Captain Heywood against "a man called George Wright" whom he charged with "riotous and mutinous conduct and language", while under his command. Regarding the loss of the four seamen, Captain Heywood simply stated that all the men were taken off the wreck "excepting four who I am sorry to say, lost their lives". The officers were questioned one by one, all giving virtually the same statement to the effect that "the strictest attention was paid to the ship's reckoning by all the commissioned officers, each working their own daily work separately". Mr. McLean contended that there "being no other way left to account for the consequences, but through effects of unknown (easterly!) currents" (18). This statement was quickly embraced by all the other officers.

After two days of questioning the court martial was adjourned on Monday, June 13th, resulting in the following decision by the judges: "... having heard the narrative thereof by Captain Edmund Heywood, together with explanations given by himself and also by Mr. Allan McLean, the master of the said ship, and having fully completed the inquiry, and maturely and deliberately weighed and considered the whole thereof, the court is of opinion that the loss was occasioned by an extraordinary weather current having set the ship nearly two degrees to the eastwards of the reckoning of all the officers on board ... and that no blame is attributable to Captain Heywood, his officers, and ships company ... except to George Wright, a seaman ... and the court having heard the evidence thereon, as well as what the prisoner had to allege in his defense ... is of the opinion that the charges have been proved against the said George Wright, and doth adjudge him to suffer death by being hanged by the neck until he is dead, at the yard arm of one of His Majesty's ships ..."

IMPORTANT:  PLEASE REFERENCE THE NOTES AT THE END OF THIS ARTICLE.

 


REDISCOVERY OF THE HMS ASTREA WRECK

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THE H.M.S.  ASTREA DIVING TEAM
(from left to right) Dr. Orlin Rice, Dr. David Berglund, Capt. Ralph Gresens, Capt. Bert Kilbride


About 160 years after the wreck of the HMS ASTREA, I became acquainted with Bert Kilbride who had settled on Mosquito Island in Virgin Island Sound. He renamed the island Drakes Anchorage and established a successful diving operation there which he operated for many years. Bert and I were both extremely interested in the many shipwrecks to be found on the reefs surrounding nearby Anegada Island. I was living on my boat KULING at the time in Yachthaven on St. Thomas and he would come down to St. Thomas from Virgin Gorda for supplies on a regular basis and we would often meet either in one of the many waterfront bars that existed back then, or around Yachthaven to discuss wrecks and wreck sites and the possibility of actually locating and diving on a wreck of some historical significance.

Bert had been in contact with Dr. David Berglund and Dr. Orlin Rice both of whom lived in the States. They had expressed an interest in financing a serious attempt to locate the British fifth rate frigate H.M.S. ASTREA which had wrecked near Anegada in 1808. From contemporary 19th century English maps and charts we knew the approximate whereabouts of the wreck. But to attempt a dive, we we needed a more precise location.

At the time, I was working for the US Virgin Islands Department of Museums and Libraries in St. Thomas where I had unlimited access to the considerable research material which was housed in the main library's Old Records Room. The problem was that most of the information and most of the records found there were secondary sources; we needed a primary source - actual contemporary records such as log books, etc. It so happened that my brother, Finn Blytmann, was living in London at the time and we were lucky enough to enlist his assistance to research the records at the Public Records Office (P.R.O.) in Chancery Lane. He proved to be an absolute wizard when it came to locating pertinent records. I myself had done research at the Public Records Office three years earlier while I was living in London, so I knew just how much work was involved in coming up with all the details concerning the wreck of the ASTREA.

Little by little we pieced the ASTREA puzzle together. Using coordinates to the ASTREA wreck and to known points on Anegada Island from three different vessels which were present during the days right after the wreck, I was able to pinpoint the exact location of the wreck site within 250 feet. Good enough for us!

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SURVEYING THE WRECK OF THE H.M.S. ASTREA

In October, 1967 a diving team consisting of Captain Bert Kilbride, Dr. David Berglund, Dr. Orlin Rice and Captain Ralph Gresens, all experienced diving veterans, set off for Anegada Island. Unfortunately, business matters had necessitated my return to the States so I myself did not take part in this exciting "expedition". To make a long story short, a wreck site believed to be that of ASTREA was located almost immediately. Shortly thereafter I could confirm that the site was that of ASTREA based on the following factors: The markings on the numerous cannon found on the wreck site corresponded to the official British markings of the 1780's and due to the great number of carronades and cannon balls found on the site the wreck was obviously that of a warship, not that of a privateer. No other wreck site was found within 150 feet on either side of the ASTREA and no other warship was known to have been wrecked in this area off Pelican Point on Anegada.

The diving team provided a description of the site, parts of which read:

ANCHORS: Bow anchor - round shank 15 feet long. Span across bills 8 feet, 8 inches; rocker style arms with spade flukes. Round ring approximately 22 inches in diameter. Other three anchors - Square shank 15 feet long. Span across bills 9 feet. Arms set at acute angle with triangular flukes. All but one have round rings, approximately 24 inches in diameter. Certain the ring was there but lost.

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ASTREA's BOW ANCHOR

BALLAST BARS:  All are rectangular iron bars. Sizes vary somewhat. A few of the bars measure approximately 4" x 4" x 18". Some measure 5" x 5" x 18". The majority measure 6" x 6" x 20-24"...

CANNON:  All are massive, sturdy cannon. Almost all measure 8 feet in length. Just a few may be shorter but were unable to measure. All have the "handle" above the cascabel. All have trunnions set below the center. All that were examined bear the \!/ mark near the vent ... and ornate ... with large flowery G R or E R and the \!/ mark. Five exposed trunnions were cleared of coral encrustation and yielded these imprints: "H&Co"; "89"; "W Co."; "126"; "Booth & Co."; and "N-121".

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ONE OF THE NUMEROUS CANNON FOUND ON THE H.M.S. ASTREA WRECK SITE

CANNON BALL AND CANISTER:  Two distinct piles of ball tightly cemented together toward the stern of the wreck itself. Ball loosely scattered all over with majority of loose ball astern of wreck lightly cemented to bottom. One canister found loose in this area...

BOTTOM SHEATHING:  Pieces were in evidence everywhere. Thin copper. A hoard of copper nails was evident.

MUSKET BALL:  Heavily concentrated in pot holes in troughs on bottom. Nails, spikes, drift pins, brass, lead pieces scattered everywhere, especially in troughs between ridges. Most were lightly cemented in place. 

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ITEMS RECOVERED FROM THE WRECK OF ASTREA

A number of smaller articles was salvaged from the wreck, however, no attempt was made to salvage any of the larger items such as anchors or cannon. The wreck site itself is extremely exposed and subsequent diving attempts were either cancelled on account of weather or cancelled because of the local diving conditions. The divers complained of being unable to take underwater impressions of markings on account of the ever present surge on the reef. Their efforts were also greatly hampered due to sand and tiny air bubbles in the water from the breaking surf.

Tage Blytmann
Poulsbo, Washington 98370                         CONTACT ME REGARDING ASTREA

USA


 NOTES:

(1)    The names of the other seven vessels were: ACTIVE, CERBERUS, CERES, FOX, DADALUS, MERMAID, and QUEBECK.

(2)    Based on one set of surviving drawings. According to THE KING'S SHIPS, Volume I. H. Sterling Lecky, 1913, page 130; the ASTREA was of 703 tons.

(3)    Public Records Office, Chancery Lane, London. Ref. Adm. 51/1150.

(4)    LA GLOIRE was added to the British navy and served as the H.M.S. GLOIRE up until 1802 when she was sold. Changing her name to GLORY had not been possible since a second-rate vessel bore that name between 1788 and 1825.

(5)    A SHORTENED HISTORY OF ENGLAND. G.E. Trevelyan, page 402.

(6)    THE KING'S SHIPS, Vol. I, page 131. These verses were attributed to the youngest midshipman on board ASTREA.

(7)    THE NAVAL CHRONICLE, 1807, Volume 17, pp: 42/44.

(8)    REMINISCENCES OF A 46 YEAR RESIDENCE IN THE ISLAND OF ST. THOMAS. Johan Peter Nissen, Pennsylvania, 1838.

(9)    The British left the Danish Islands the following year, but reoccupied the islands again from 1807 to 1815.

(10)  The commissioned officers were: Edward Heywood, Captain; Allan McLean, Master; George B. Maxwell, 2nd Lieutenant; and Richard Pawle, 3rd Lieutenant.

(11)  P.R.O., Adm. 1/5387.

(12)  The island of Anegada is the northeastern-most of the Virgin Islands. It is very low, being for the most part only thirty feet high and with a length of nine miles and a width of two miles at its widest point. Except for a small strip near the western end, Anegada is completely surrounded by coral reefs, rocks and submerged obstructions, bordered on its northern side by a barrier reef which extends seaward some eight miles towards the southwest. From this point detached coral heads and shallow ledges continue in a southerly direction for another four miles. From the quarterdeck of an 18th or 19th century vessel, Anegada may be seen in clear weather at a distance of only 7-8 miles, hence it is possible for a ship to be right on the reef without ever seeing the island.

Anegada has been the scene of many a shipwreck. A map published in 1813, based on Lockwood's survey of 1811, lists the names and particulars of 16 vessels wrecked on the island. A better and more detailed chart was published in March, 1825, by order of the British House of Commons to substantiate certain papers relating to captured slaves and wrecked slave vessels. This chart contains notes on 29 different wrecks. When Robert H. Schromburgk re-surveyed the island and surrounding reefs in 1831, he drew up a list of 53 vessels known to have been wrecked on the reefs within memory of the Anegadians. Common for these charts is the fact that they only partly reflect the actual number of wrecks having occurred up until the respective dates of the charts. Research by this author has so far made it possible to verify a total of approximately 150 wrecks between 1654 and 1899. (See also Anegada Shipwrecks). In addition, it must be supposed that a significant number went down during stormy nights without ever being detected by the inhabitants of Anegada and officially recorded as "lost at sea".

To the relative few families living on the Island the wrecking of ships always meant an extra source of income, building materials, food, etc. After R.H. Schromburgk surveyed Anegada he gave the following telling description of a shipwreck in a speech delivered in Berlin on June 25th, 1832: "... the indolence of the inhabitants (of Anegada) is only thoroughly roused by the cry of "A Vessel on the Reef". Then all roused to activity, scarcely is the news announced than boats of every description, shallops and sailing vessels, are pushed off with all haste toward the scene of action. Arms which have been idle for weeks are brought into exercise; and both skill and intrepidity are tasked to the uttermost to get first on board. The scene indeed baffles description; and it is to be feared that only few are attracted by motives of humanity ...". The situation had hardly changed by the middle of the century when the following succinct dispatch was to be found in the Sanct Thomas Tidende of June 28th, 1851: "... she (the schooner Vigilant of Bermuda) struck the reef and was immediately boarded by the ever watchful Anegadians, who soon stripped her from truck to keelson ...".

Much to the disgust of seamen, and presumably to the delight of the Anegadians, there never has been a lighthouse on Anegada, although countless petitions were submitted to the Admiralty at various times. Looking out for American shipping interests, the New York Chamber of Commerce submitted a petition to the President of the United States in the fall of 1859 "with a view to apply to the appropriate governments to erect a lighthouse (on Anegada)". Also this attempt was doomed to failure. Today modern mariners are guided through Anegada Passage by GPS and the Sombrero Light located some fifty miles due east of Anegada.

(13)  P.R.O., Adm. 1/5387.

(14)  ibid

(15)  The salvaged articles consisted of: Fore and main topsail yards; parts of the lower rigging; 30 hammocks; several boats belonging to ASTREA; some stores, including barrels of salted beef; several coils of rope; one cable and anchor; one carronade; and various pieces of hardware.

(16)  This document, as well as most of the materials concerning the actual court martial, are found in the P.R.O., Adm 1/5387. All quotes extracted from these files appear in the text by permission of the controller of the H.M. Stationery Office.

(17)  The log appears to be lost. At any rate it is not to be found in the P.R.O.

(18)  A steady easterly current at this latitude is not possible! Based on regular observations made during the last 125 years, the United States Pilot Chart covering the Atlantic Ocean reveals a constant westward movement of water through the region in question at the rate of 0.5 knot throughout the year. The only perceptive change occurs close inshore were the current may increase to 0.6 knot in places and far offshore where it has been recorded at the rate of only 0.4 knot during certain parts of the year. If we assume that ASTREA's dead reckoning was accurately kept since leaving the PRINCE ERNEST packet a week earlier, we arrive at the conclusion that the frigate was driven eastward at the average rate of nearly 0.5 knot during the entire week - which is not possible!

CONTACT US REGARDING ASTREA

.  TAGE BLYTMANN, Poulsbo, Washington 98370, USA.  TELEFAX (1) (360) 697-6253.

COPYRIGHT, Tage Blytmann 1996 - 2003