Arniston (ship)

Arniston (ship)

The "Arniston" was an East Indiaman ship that was wrecked on 30 May 1815 during a storm at Waenhuiskrans, near Cape Agulhas, South Africa with the loss of 372 lives and only 6 survivors. She had been requisitioned as troopship and was underway from Ceylon to England on a journey to repatriate wounded soldiers.

Controversially, the ship did not have a marine chronometer onboard, a comparatively new, but expensive navigational instrument that would have enabled her to determine her longitude accurately. Instead, she was forced to navigate through the heavy storm and strong currents using older, less reliable navigational aids such as dead reckoning. Navigational difficulties and a lack of headway led to an incorrect assumption that Cape Agulhas was Cape Point. Consequently, the ship was wrecked when the captain headed north for St Helena with the incorrect belief the ship had already passed Cape Point.


East Indiaman operated under charter or licence to the Honourable East India Company, which held a monopoly granted by Queen Elizabeth I of England for all English trade between the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn. The "Arniston" was owned by Messrs Borradailes of London, and managed by John Wedderburn (1794 to 1808) then Robert Hudson (1809 to 1813).

She had been built at the Barnard yard at Deptford on the Thames and launched in 1794.Mitchell 2007, tertiary sources.

The "Arniston" was heavily armed, with her fifty eight guns making her the equivalent of a Royal Navy fourth-rate ship of the line. A classification of "ship of the line" - a class of ship that later evolved into the battleship - meant that a ship was powerful enough to stand in a line of battle and explained why these ships of commerce were sometimes mistaken for men-o-war. The armament was necessary for the ship to protect itself and its valuable cargo from pirates and commerce raiders of other nations during long voyages between Europe and the Far East.

She had three decks, a length of Convert|176|ft|m, a keel of Convert|143|ft|m and a breadth of Convert|43|ft|m. She displaced 1468 tons, so like other East Indiamen, was slow and unmanoeuvrable, but able to carry a large quantity of cargo.Port Cities UK, secondary sources]

Voyages (1794–1812)

The "Arniston" sailed from Great Britain to the Far East eight times before her last voyage.BL 1812, primary sources. On one of her homeward journeys from China, she struck an uncharted rock at coord|5|46|8|S|105|16|43|E|type:isle|name=Oomowoomang|display=inline, near the island of "Pulo Goondy" (modern day "Pulau Legundi"), located just south of Sumatra. She did not suffer any ill effects as a result of this incident however, which is mentioned in journals of the time only for its noteworthyness as a navigation hazard to other shipping. [The date of the incident is not documented. Murray "et al", primary sources]

A more significant event occurred during her third voyage to the Far East however. On 27 June 1800, the "Arniston" had just anchored at Benkulen when the 26-gun French privateer "Confiance" attacked her. The "Arniston" cut her anchor and gave chase, firing several broadsides into the other ship. The faster French ship was able to make an escape however.Lindsay 1874, primary sources. On 9 October 1800, another East Indiaman, the "Kent", would be less fortunate, being captured after a two hour battle with the same raider.James, 1837, primary sources.

Apart from these two incidents, the "Arniston's" first eight voyages were otherwise uneventful.

; (1794/1795) St Helena, Madras, and ChinaCaptain Campbell Marjoribanks: Portsmouth 3 April 1795 – 14 April Tenerife – 2 June St Helena 2 July – 9 August Cape – 27 September Madras – 14 November Penang – 3 December Malacca – 11 March 1796 Whampoa – 23 April Second Bar – 29 June Macau – 20 November St Helena – 1 March 1797 Deptford

; (1796/1797) ChinaCaptain William Macnamara: Portsmouth 5 June 1797 – 29 August Cape – 9 December Whampoa – 14 February 1798 Second Bar – 26 March Macau – 5 August St Helena – 23 October Long Reach

; (1799/1800) St Helena, Benkulen, and ChinaCaptain Campbell Marjoribanks: Portsmouth 7 January 1800 – 4 April St Helena – 27 June Benkulen – 29 July Penang – 27 August Malacca – 21 September Whampoa – 29 November Second Bar – 18 January 1801 Macau – 15 April St Helena – 17 June Long Reach

; (1801/1802) St Helena, Benkulen, and ChinaCaptain Campbell Marjoribanks: Downs 31 December 1801 – 9 March 1802 St Helena – 10 June Benkulen – 12 July Penang – 31 August Whampoa – 24 October Second Bar – 11 February 1803 – St Helena – 26 April Long Reach

; (1803/1804) ChinaCaptain James Jameson: Portsmouth 9 June 1804 – 17 August Rio de Janeiro – 14 January 1805 Whampoa – 14 February Second Bar – 21 March Malacca – 30 June St Helena – 15 September Long Reach. This journey included a passage through the Bass Strait in order to improve an earlier nautical chart of the route.Lee 2003 (Primary sources)]

; (1805/1806) ChinaCaptain Peter Wedderburn: Portsmouth 14 May 1806 – 7 August Cape – 10 October Penang – 21 January 1807 Whampoa – 4 May off Lintin – 1 July Penang – 17 July Acheh – 19 September Cape – 13 October St Helena – 6 January 1808 Lower Hope

; (1809/1810) Bombay and ChinaCaptain Samuel Landon: Portsmouth 21 January 1810 – 9 April Cape – 26 May Bombay – 1 September Penang – 12 October Whampoa – 29 December Second Bar – 28 May 1811 St Helena – 13 August Long Reach

; (1811/1812) Bombay and ChinaCaptain Walter Campbell: Torbay 4 January 1812 – 5 April Johanna – 7 May Bombay – 11 September Whampoa – 4 January 1813 Macau – 27 March St Helena – 7 June Long Reach

Wreck (1815)

Location map+|South Africa|caption=South Africa|width=200|places=The "Arniston" was requisitioned by the Royal Navy in 1814 as a troop transport to bring wounded soldiers of the 73rd Regiment back to England from Ceylon. Critically, the ship did not have a chronometer for this voyage, a comparatively new and expensive navigational instrument at the time. Captain George Simpson could not afford the 60-100 guineas for one,Hall 1820, primary sources. and his bosses were also unwilling to purchase one, even threatening to replace him with another captain if he refused to set sail without one.Hall 1833, primary sources.

The "Arniston" sailed from Port de Galle on 4 April 1815 in a convoy of six other East Indiamen, under the escort of HMS "Africaine". Among her 378 passengers were many invalid soldiers and sailors, plus 14 women and 25 children.

During the passage from Ceylon, at one o'clock every day, the ships signaled each other their longitude that they calculated using their chronometers. In this way, the ships were able to compare their respective instruments, and the master of the "Arniston" was enable to learn his longitude too, as long as he remained in the convoy.

On 26 May, while rounding the southern tip of Africa, the "Arniston" was separated from the convoy in bad weather after her sails were damaged. Without accurate daily longitudinal information from the other ships, the "Arniston" had to rely instead on older, less accurate navigation methods. Navigation via dead reckoning proved particularly difficult as there were strong ocean currents combined with inclement weather that prevented a fix being obtained for several days via celestial navigation.

On 29 May, land was sighted to the north at 7am in the morning, and given the dead reckoning estimates, was presumed to be the Cape of Good Hope. The ship sailed west until 4:30pm on 29 May, then turned north to head for St Helena. However the land sighted had in fact been Cape Agulhas (then known as "Cape Lagullas") and the ship had also not made good headway against the current since this sighting. Compounding these navigational errors, the master had not taken any depth soundings (which would have confirmed his location over the Agulhas Bank), before heading north. Consequently, instead of being convert|100|mi|km West of the Cape of Good Hope as presumed, the ship was closing on the reef at Waenhuiskrans near Cape Agulhas. The anchors were unable to hold the heavy ship in the storm, so on 30 May near 4pm, Lieutenant Brice advised Captain Simpson to ground the ship in order to save the lives of those aboard. However in the evening about 8pm, the ship hit rocks half a mile offshore and was immediately smashed up in the waves.AJ 1816, primary sources.

Only 6 men of the 378 people on board survived. The ship and her passengers had been lost for the price of a chronometer, or as an officer from the same convoy later wrote:


The six survivors buried the bodies found on the beach, then travelled East along the beach, expecting to reach Cape Town, however after a few days they eventually realised their error and returned to the site of the wreck. They stayed there six more days and were discovered on 14 June by a farmer's sonThe farmer's son probably had the Afrikaans name "Jan Zwartz" or perhaps "Jan Swart". The earliest report consulted gave him for a "John Swastry" (AJ 1816:34), but this seems an Anglicisation or phonetic corruption of an oral account. A later report name him "Jan Zwartz" (George Thompson, 1827, [ "Travels and Adventures in Southern Africa"] , 2nd edition, Vol. 2, p. 405, quoting the account of survivor C. S. Scott in a version slightly different from AJ 1816:34). Later again, we have him as "young Schwartz" (Raikes 1846:527). who was out hunting. [cite book|url=|pages=p. 527|last=sc|R|aikes|first=Henry|publisher=Hatchet & Son|title=Memoir of the Life and Services of Vice-admiral Sir Jahleel Brenton|date=1846]

* Among the victims were: Captain George Simpson, Lieutenant Brice, Lord and Lady Molesworth.
* The six survivors were: Dr. Gunter (boatswain), John Barrett (carpenter), Charles Stewart Scott (carpenter's mate), William Grung (second class), Gibbs (third class), Robinson (fourth class).

A memorial, a replica of which can be seen today, was erected on the beach by the wife of Colonel Giels, whose four children were lost in the tragedy on their homeward journey, having visited him in Ceylon. The memorial bears the following inscription:Note the incorrect date on the memorial, which should be 30 May

Over time, the seaside village of Waenhuiskrans has become so associated with the wreck, that it too is now known as Arniston. The nearby town of Bredasdorp has a museum dedicated to the wreck. The wreck had a direct influence on the decision to build a lighthouse at Cape Agulhas in 1847-1848.Proposals for a Lighthouse at L'Agulhas, secondary sources.

Thirty seven years later, the 73rd Regiment of Foot suffered hundreds of casualties on this coast once again when HMS "Birkenhead" was wrecked only Convert|50|mi|km away at Gansbaai.

The wreck, which lies in about convert|30|ft|m of water, was excavated by an archaeological team from the University of Cape Town in 1982. [cite book|url=|title=International Handbook of Underwater Archaeology|author=Carol Ruppé, Jan Barstad|date=2002|publisher=Springer|isbn=0306463458|accessdate=2008-07-28]



; Primary sources consulted

* Cite journal
author = AJ
date = 1816
title = Nautical Notices: Loss of the Arniston, Cape Lagullas.
format = via Google Books
journal = The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register
volume = Ser. 1, Vol. 2
issue = No. 7, July 1816
pages = pp. 32–34
location = London
publisher = Black, Parbury, & Wm. H. Allen
oclc = 34504904
url =
accessdate = 2007-11-12

* Cite web
author = BL
date = 1812
title = Ship's Journals: Arniston
work = India Office Records: Marine Department Records
publisher = British Library
url =
accessdate = 2007-11-09
archiveurl =
archivedate = 2007-11-09

* Cite journal
author = sc|H|all, Basil
date = 1820
title = On the Proper Method of laying down a Ship's Track on Sea Charts
format = via Google Books
journal = The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal
volume = 2
issue = 4, April 1820
pages = pp. 281–282 (from 276–282)
location = Edinburgh
publisher = Archibald Constable for Royal Society of Edinburgh
oclc = 1567491
url =
accessdate = 2007-11-12
– The Arniston cautionary tale (concluding an exposé of dead reckoning with a map p. 276).
* Cite book
author = sc|H|all, Basil
year = 1833 1862
chapter = Chapter XIV. Doubling the cape.
title = The Lieutenant and Commander
location = London
publisher = Bell and Daldy (via
oclc = 9305276
url =
accessdate = 2007-11-09
– Chapter reprinted from his "Fragments of Voyages and Travels", 3rd series (1833).
* Cite book
author=sc|L|ee, Ida
title=Early Explorers in Australia
publisher=Project Gutenberg

* Cite book
author = sc|L|indsay, William Schaw
year = 1874
chapter =
title = History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce
location = London
publisher = S. Low, Marston, Low, and Searle
oclc =
url =
accessdate = 2008-01-16

* Cite book
author = sc|J|ames, William
year = 1835
chapter = Light Squadrons and Single Ships: Kent and Confiance
title = The Naval History of Great Britain From the Declaration of War by France in 1793, to the Accession of George IV
location = London
publisher = Richard Bentley
oclc =
url =
accessdate = 2008-01-16

*Cite book
title=An Historical and Descriptive Account of China
author=Hugh Murray, John Crawford, Peter Gordon, Captain Thomas Lynn, William Wallace, Gilbert Burnet
publisher=Oliver & Boyd, Tweeddale Court, Simpkin, Marshal & Co

; Secondary sources consulted
* (A partnership of websites with material from the heritage organisations of the five key maritime cities in the UK – Bristol, Hartlepool, Liverpool, London and Southampton)

; Tertiary sources consulted

* Cite web
author = sc|M|itchell, Peter
date = 2007 online
title = Special South Africa: Arniston
work = Scuba diving reports and wreck histories
publisher =
url =
archiveurl =
archivedate = 2007-11-09
– Citing [] : Wexham, Brian. "Shipwrecks of the Western Cape". And: Turner, Malcolm. "Shipwrecks and Salvage in South Africa".

External links

* [ on.php The "Arniston" story] at – Model of the "Arniston", photographs of the memorial and beach.

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