[Illustration: Sinking of the Royal George.]
Just as the crew had finished breakfast, a vessel called the Lark came on the low side of the ship to unship a cargo of rum; the casks were put on board on that side, and this additional weight, together with that of the men employed in unloading, caused the ship to heel still more on one side; every wave of the sea now washed in at her port-holes, and thus she had soon so great a weight of water in her hold, that slowly and almost imperceptibly she sank still further down on her side. Twice, the carpenter, seeing the danger, went on board to ask the officer on duty to order the ship to be righted; and if he had not been a proud and angry man, who would not acknowledge himself to be in the wrong, all might yet have been well.
The plumbers had almost finished their work, when a sudden breeze blew on the raised side of the ship, forced her still further down, and the water began to pour into her lower port-holes. Instantly the danger became apparent; the men were ordered to right the ship: they ran to move the guns for this purpose, but it was too late.
In a minute or two more, she fell quite over on her side, with her masts nearly flat on the water, and the Royal George sank to the bottom, before one signal of distress could be given! By this dreadful accident, about nine hundred persons lost their lives; about two hundred and thirty were saved, some by running up the rigging, and being with others picked up by the boats which put off immediately from other vessels to their assistance. There were many visitors, women and little children on board at the time of the accident.
At the time when the dreadful event which I have just related to you occurred, the Lark sloop, which brought the cargo of rum, was lying alongside of the Royal George; in going down, the main-yard of the Royal George caught the boom of the Lark, and they sank together, but this made the position of the Royal George much more upright in the water than it would otherwise have been. There she lay at the bottom of the sea, just as you have seen small vessels when left by the tide on a bank. Cowper, when he heard the sad tale, thus wrote
“Her timbers yet are sound,
And she may float again,
Full charged with England’s thunder,
And plough the distant main.
“But Kempenfelt is gone,
His victories are o’er,
And he, and his eight hundred
Shall plough the wave no more.”
Admiral Kempenfelt was writing in his cabin when the ship sank; his first captain tried to inform him of their situation, but the heeling of the ship so jammed the cabin doors that he could not open them: thus the admiral perished with the rest. It seems Cowper thought the Royal George might be recovered; other people were of the same opinion.