An additional interest belongs to the fate of this vessel, when we bear in mind that her crew, whilst serving under Lord Duncan, in 1797, remained untainted during the celebrated mutiny at the Nore. She also bore a conspicuous part in Lord Duncan’s action with the Dutch fleet, in October of the same year, engaging the Vryheid, the flag-ship of the Dutch admiral.
The account of this great battle, however, is too well recorded in the page of history to need repetition. It is sufficient to add, that the Vryheid, after a noble resistance, was ultimately obliged to strike, under the destructive fire of the Venerable, Triumph, Ardent, and Director.
In the afternoon of the 7th of January, 1805, His Majesty’s ship Sheerness, of 44 guns, was lying at anchor in the Colombo Roads, Ceylon.
It was one of those days of extreme stillness which often precede the frightful hurricanes that sweep the eastern seas. Not a breath of air stirred, not a cloud was to be seen; the ship lay motionless on the calm and glassy water. The ensign drooped in heavy folds from the stern, and many of the crew lay stretched on the decks in listless apathy, little anticipating the terrible convulsion of the elements which was so soon to arouse them in fear. The monotony on board was broken for a moment by the voice of the captain, Lord George Stuart, who ordered his gig to be manned that he might go on shore with his first lieutenant, Mr. Swan, and some other officers, whom he had invited to dine with him under a tent. The bustle of their departure from the ship was soon over, and again all was still. The captain and officers had scarcely landed and seated themselves at table, when a roaring sound was heard, at first distant, but becoming louder and louder every moment, and before they could conjecture the cause, the canvass of the tent was almost torn from its fastenings by the sudden violence of the wind.
Every one thought first of the Sheerness, and rushing from the tent a scene presented itself to their gaze little calculated to diminish their alarm for the ship.
The sea, which a few minutes before had been smooth as a polished mirror, now displayed a picture of terrific grandeur; the waves, crested with foam, rolled and tossed over one another in wild confusion, whilst the roaring of the winds, and the torrents of rain, added to the awful sublimity of the scene. Lord George, though aware of the imminent danger to which he exposed himself, determined at all risks to get on board his ship. Without a moment’s delay he collected the crew of the gig, and pushed from the shore towards the vessel—himself steering the boat, whilst Lieutenant Swan pulled the bow oar. The wind had now increased to such a hurricane as is only known in tropical climates, and the waves threatened every instant to engulf the frail bark. As they advanced, the danger became more and more urgent; the sea broke over them continually; nevertheless, they persevered, and strained every nerve to effect their object.