The Boyne’s guns, being loaded, went off as they became heated, and much injury would have been done to the shipping and those on board, had not the Port-Admiral, Sir William Parker, made signals for the vessels most in danger to get under weigh. As it was, two men were killed, and one wounded on board the Queen Charlotte.
About half-past one in the afternoon, the burning ship parted from her cables, and blew up with a dreadful explosion. At the time of the accident, Admiral Peyton and Captain Grey were attending a court martial in Portsmouth Harbour.
The next catastrophe which we have to describe, was of a far more appalling nature, and one which long threw a gloom over the inhabitants of Plymouth and the neighbourhood.
The Amphion frigate had been obliged to put into Plymouth for repairs, and, on the 22nd Sept., 1796, was lying alongside of a sheer-hulk taking in her bowsprit, within a few yards of the dockyard jetty. The ship, being on the eve of sailing, was crowded with more than an hundred men, women, and children, above her usual complement. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon that a violent shock, like an earthquake, was felt at Stonehouse and Plymouth. The sky towards the dock appeared red, as if from fire, and in a moment the streets were crowded with the inhabitants, each asking his neighbour what had occurred. When the confusion had somewhat abated, it was announced that the Amphion had blown up, and then every one hastened to the dock, where a most heartrending scene presented itself. Strewed in all directions were pieces of broken timber, spars, and rigging, whilst the deck of the hulk, to which the frigate had been lashed was red with blood, and covered with mangled limbs and lifeless trunks, all blackened with powder. The frigate had been originally manned from Plymouth; and as the mutilated forms were collected together and carried to the hospital, fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters flocked to the gates, in their anxiety to discover if their relatives were numbered amongst the dying or the dead.
From the suddenness of the catastrophe, no accurate account can of course be given; but the following particulars were collected from the survivors.
The captain, Israel Pellew, was at dinner in his cabin, with Captain Swaffield of the Overyssel, a Dutch 64, and the first lieutenant of the Amphion, when in an instant they were all violently thrown against the carlings of the upper deck. Captain Pellew had sufficient presence of mind to rush to the cabin window before a second explosion followed, by which he was blown into the water; he was soon, however, picked up by a boat, and was found to have sustained but little injury.
The first lieutenant, who followed his example, escaped in a similar manner. Unfortunately, Captain Swaffield perished, in all probability having been stunned either by the first blow he received against the carlings, or by coming in contact with some part of the hulk. His body was found a month afterwards, with the skull fractured, apparently crushed between the sides of the two vessels.