100 men lost: HMS Boreas, 28 November 1807

James Saumarez' account of the loss of the 28-gun frigate Boreas, wrecked on the Hanois rocks on November 28th, 1807. This disaster was one of the major factors in the eventual decision to erect a lighthouse there. The number of men who died is uncertain; 77 were saved. Captain Robert Scott's wife is also said to have been drowned. From Cobbett's Political Register, Vol. 12, 1807, p. 928.

Sir—You will much oblige me by inserting in your paper, for the satisfaction of others, the following letter, which I have authority to say, is the truest account that has been received of the loss of the Boreas.1 The kind and mindful testimony of Sir James Saumarez to the character of my beloved and deeply lamented brother, so worthy of a British seaman, lays me under the most lasting obligations to that gallant and distinguished officer.—I am, &c. William Scott.—Serjeant's Inn, Dec. 7, 1807


Inconstant, in Guernsey Road, Nov. 29.

Sir; It is with the deepest regret I have to acquaint you, for the information of the lords commissioners of the Admiralty, that his Majesty's ship Boreas, in standing towards this island yesterday evening, about 6 o'clock, run upon the Hannois Rock,2 the wind at the time blowing very hard at N. E—I received information of this unfortunate event about 2 o'clock this morning, and immediately sent orders to the Brilliant and Jamaica; (which had arrived from Spithead the preceding day, with the Rebuff gun brig) the Britannia cutter, and one of the Government scouts, to proceed off the Hannois, and afford her every assistance; their Lordships will be very much concerned to be informed, that on the tide's flowing, the ship overset, and became a complete wreck, at about two o'clock; and I am truly grieved to be obliged to add, that Captain Scott, with the officers and men, except those mentioned in the enclosed list were lost with the ship; Lieut. Berwick (second lieut.), with Lieut. Wilson, of the Royal Marines, and 6 men, were sent off in the gig, and landed in the western part of the island; and about 30 others in the launch and large cutter, were also landed, and the boats returned to the ship, but have not been heard of, and there is every reason to fear were lost on nearing her—Through the great exertions of Lieut. Colonel Sir Thomas Saumarez, in collecting the pilots and boatmen in the vicinity of Rocquaine, about 30 seamen and marines were taken off the Rock of the Hannois at day light, which I fear are the whole that have been saved.—The greatest praise appears to be due to Captain Scott, and all his officers and men, for their steadiness and good conduct, under such perilous circumstances, in a dark and tempestuous night, in the midst of the most dangerous rocks that can be conceived; and I have most sincerely to lament the loss of so many brave officers and men who have perished on this most melancholy occasion.—Capt. Scott has been long upon this station, and has always shewn the greatest zeal and attachment for his Majesty’s service, and in him particularly, his country meets a great loss, being a most valuable and deserving officer. I am, Sir, &c. (Signed) Js. Saumarez.

—To the Hon. W. W, Pole, Secretary to the Admiralty.

1 The Boreas, a 6th-rate frigate launched in 1806,had only been in service one year, and was doing well under Captain Scott. The number of guns she had on board is given variously as 20, 22, and 28. On October 12th she had captured a French privateer and recaptured an American brig.

A rather lurid but still very moving account of her loss on the Hanois, which was slow and painful, was written by the Reverend W. Gilly, in his 1850 book Narratives of Shipwrecks of the Royal Navy, between 1793 and 1847, based upon the evidence heard in the Court-Martial held in Plymouth in December 1807. HSM Boreas had been sent out to rescue a Rocquaine pilot-boat, blown offshore by the wind. The pilot's crew came off very badly in the inquiry. They had been successfully roped to the frigate and were about to be towed back to shore when the Boreas struck the rocks. They climbed back into the cutter when they realised the Boreas had been holed, cut the rope, and made their own way back, abandoning the Boreas' crew, and failed to sound the alert. Were they Guernseymen? They did not return to Rocquaine, at least. The Boreas' own launch, intended by the Captain to be a rescue boat, was itself abandoned by its crew of privateers and pressed men, who as soon as they touched land declined to return to retrieve more of the crew and melted away into the night; the watch at Fort Pezeries refused to call out a rescue party, inquiring as to whether the ailing ship was French; upon hearing that it was in fact British, they apparently refused to budge because the weather was too bad. Gilly's account can be read in the Quarterly Review of the Guernsey Society, Winter 1951. Sources such as the Mariner's Chronicle of 1826 list the men who were saved, but not those lost. Scott's memorial is at Jesus Chapel, Peartree Green, near Southampton. See F B Tupper's History of Guernsey, 2nd Ed., p. 436.

2 As Sir James spelt it. The Hanois lighthouse was built in 1862. For an account of the wreck and the building of the lighthouse, see Dafter, R., Guernsey Wrecks, pp. 25-6, and p. 41, Matfield Books, 2001, and Guernsey Sentinel: The Remarkable Les Hanois Lighthouse, Matfield Books, 2003; and Hanois Lighthouse, notes by Captain Saumarez Brock, in the Library.

In 1835 the newly-formed Submarine Society of Guernsey divers examined the wreck and brought up a number of objects. In 1974 the Boreas was once again dived and artefacts were retrieved by Richard Keen and David Archer; a cannon from the ship is on the ramparts at Fort Grey. See Ovenden, J., and Shayer, D., Shipwrecks of the Channel Islands, 2002, pp. 25-29, for more about the 1974 dive. The National Maritime Museum holds a letter of February 1808 from James Saumarez requesting reimbursement of money used to provide twenty-one pairs of shoes for some of the survivors as well as coffins and burial expenses, which he is allowed.