Tragedy at sea

Some years ago, I came across the following newspaper article from 1778 and was intrigued as the name Saumarez coupled with Guernsey sounded familiar, so I decided to investigate:

London Gazette 17 Jun 1778

Until the later part of the eighteenth century, any travel to or from the Channel Islands was only possibly by sea.  The most popular type of ship for general transport was a sloop: a wooden hulled, usually single-masted sailing vessel with fore-and-aft rigging, and several sails which would be set to maximise speed.  These ships were comparatively fast, agile, and required a relatively small crew, so were favoured by merchants for carrying trade, post, and passengers.  However, the journey by sail was still slow as technological advances brought about by the Industrial Revolution had not yet impacted, and it would be another 50 years before steam power would reduce the journey time to and from England to hours rather than days[i].

Throughout the 1770s, Captain Nicholas Mourant undertook voyages every couple of weeks in his sailing sloop ‘Providence’ connecting Guernsey and the other Channel Islands with ports including Southampton, Poole and Weymouth, on the South Coast of England[ii].  

Sadly, on Sunday 28 March 1778 at around 3pm, the ‘Providence’, enroute from Guernsey to Weymouth, was caught in a storm and wrecked close to St Aldhem’s Head, off the coast of Dorset.[iii]  On board that afternoon were fifteen people, including eleven passengers and four crew, but at least eight passengers and the captain were drowned when the ship was ‘beaten to pieces, and little if anything was saved’.[iv]  Another report stated the ship was on ‘a passage from Guernsey to Weymouth, the vessel having been upset in a squall near Portland, and only one saved, a boy’[v]

A coroner’s inquest was held into the deaths of six of the victims: Mary Linnington of Sandwich, John Rampston of Studland, Nicholas Morant [sic], Doctor Summery [sic], John Morant and Mrs Cary [sic]. Unfortunately, the inquest report has not survived, but the two coroners were each granted £7 5s 6d (around £700 in today’s money) for their trouble, plus unspecified travelling expenses. 

Dorset, England, Quarter Sessions Order Books, 1625-1905 (c)

Nicholas Morant was buried on 3 Apr 1778 in Swanage, and Mathew Saumeres [sic] was apparently buried over a month later on 6 May 1778 in the same churchyard.[vi]  John Morant was buried on 3 Apr 1778 in Worth-Matravers.[vii]

The following piece then appeared in the Hampshire Chronicle on Monday 15 June 1778 (and several other newspapers): ‘Southampton, Saturday June 13.  A few days since was found in the hollow of a rock near Swanage, in the isle of Purbeck, the body of Dr Saumarez, one of the unhappy persons lost about three months ago, by the melancholy wreck of the Guernsey Packet.  His watch, money and clothes, were found to be exactly the same as when he went on board.  His body is also entire, and not at all defaced.  A few days after the above distressing accident happened, a corpse was found, very much disfigured, on the sea shore, and being taken for Dr Saumarez, was interred as his remains.’

Dr Matthew Saumarez , a former Royal Navy surgeon, was 60 years old at the time of the accident and was survived by one daughter from his first marriage, Susannah Saumarez, plus at least six children from his second marriage. 

Disappointingly, I’ve not (yet) been able to discover the how this situation was resolved, who the other gentleman was, where the ‘real’ Dr Saumarez is buried, and whether the gentleman interred in his place in Swanage was left in peace or removed to another place of rest. 

By coincidence, amongst the other victims of the tragedy were Thomas Carey who was buried on 21 Mar 1778 at Shrewsbury, St Mary’s in Shropshire[viii], and his wife, Elizabeth, who I presume was buried in Dorset as she was listed among the victims in the Swanage inquest.  The Careys were returning from a visit to Guernsey to introduce Elizabeth to her new relatives following their marriage some five months earlier.  They were both originally from Guernsey, although Thomas had been residing in Laverstock, Wiltshire, where they were married by licence[ix].  Although there does not seem to be any connection at the time, Matthew Saumarez was grandfather to my ancestor Thomas Brock (1777-1850) via his daughter Susanna Saumarez, and Thomas Carey was uncle to Mary Carey (1779-1864), who would become Thomas Brock’s wife.

[i] Annals of Some of the British Norman Isles Constituting the Bailiwick of Guernsey by John Jacob last accessed 21 Jan 2022

[ii] Hampshire Chronicle various dates 1772-1778 © The British Library Board via

[iii] Hampshire Chronicle 06 April 1778 © The British Library Board via

[iv] ibid

[v] Annals of Some of the British Norman Isles Constituting the Bailiwick of Guernsey by John Jacob last accessed 21 Jan 2022

[vi] Dorset, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812: Dorset History Centre; Dorset Parish Registers; Reference: PE/SW:RE3

[vii] England, Select Dorset Church of England Parish Registers, 1538-1999 [database on-line]

[viii] Shropshire, England, Extracted Church of England Parish Records, 1538-1812 [database on-line]

[ix] Wiltshire, England, Marriages, 1538-1837 [database on-line]