The Royal George was built at Woolwich Dockyard and was launched on the 18th February 1756. She was a 100 gun first rate ship of the line. She was present at the battle of Quiberon Bay and the 1780 Battle of Cape St Vincent under Admiral Rodney (known as the ‘Moonlight battle’).
In August 1782, she was the flagship of Rear-Admiral Richard Kempenfelt and her Captain was Martin Waghorn. On the 29th August, she was laying off Spithead Anchorage, near Portsmouth, awaiting stores. At seven o’clock in the morning, stores tenders arrived, also carrying dockyard plumbers and shipwrights who were coming to begin work on a cistern pipe to provide water for the washing decks. To do this, a hole needed to be bored into the side. The carpenter requested for the ship to be heeled (leant slightly to one side) and orders were given for the lower deck larboard guns to be run out and the starboard guns pulled back to the combings. Unfortunately, this did got give a sufficient heel, so the upper deck and three of the middle deck guns were run across and shot rolled to larboard to give enough list for the work to take place.
After breakfast, Captain Waghorn was on the upper deck when the carpenter announced that the ship appeared to be settling into the water. The guns were ordered to be run in and the weather side guns were run out in order to right the ship. Drummers were ordered to beat to quarters. Minutes later, the ship sank with no warning, not heeling over at all.
No accurate number is available for the amount of people who were drowned in the disaster because of all the extra dockyard workers and visitors to the ship, such as women and children visiting the men. It is claimed that over 300 people survived, but figures for those lost range from 900 - 1200. Admiral Kempenfelt was among those lost, although Captain Waghorn was among those rescued.
At the court-martial regarding the loss of the ship, a survey of the ship revealed that several beams and timbers were rotten and it was given that the most likely cause of the sinking was that part of the frame of the ship gave way under the stress of the heel.
Some parts of the ship was salvaged later, including the bell which hung in the cupola of the church in Portsmouth Dockyard (now St Anns).
© Royal Naval Museum Library, 2000
The information contained in this fact sheet is correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for a bibliography of further reading materials, if available.