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The Britannia 1826: The Story

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The Wreck: Artefacts II Contact & Display Info II Sea Tales

Old sailing shipThe Britannia, a 460 ton ship captained by William Bouchier, set sail from England on 30 July 1826, en route to India via Madeira, Table Bay and Mauritius. In addition to a cargo of copper, stone china crockery, pickled fish, cloth, preserves, ale and cognac, she loaded wine upon reaching Madeira.

Excerpts from the Cape Town Gazette and SA Commercial Advertiser:
Ref: Cape Town Gazette 27 October 1826: Quote:

The day previous to her reaching the Bay, when in the act of reefing in a gale of wind, a seaman fell overboard from the yard, who succeeded in reaching a hen-coop which was thrown from the ship to his assistance. A boat was lowered and the Chief Mate with four men volunteered to rescue him from the perilous situation and in which they succeeded; but melancholy to relate, in returning to the ship a heavy sea struck the boat, it swamped and all hands perished.

Britannia Bay painting by Susan KempAfter the ship struck, Captain Bouchier immediately put her about and made all sail for the land, where he succeeded in running her ashore in St Helena Bay. The passengers were all landed in safety, but did not save their baggage and we fear the Mails will be lost. We understand that the poop and quarter deck are above water and every effort will be made to save as much of the cargo as possible for which purpose the schooner Ann, with boats and every requisite assistance was dispatched yesterday evening.

We are happy to be able to state that Mrs Colebrooke (the Lady of Commissioner Colebrooke) and the rest of the passengers are well and are expected to reach Cape Town this evening, being Friday 27 October. The passengers are:- Mrs Colebrooke, Mrs Rutledge, Miss Hotch, 2 Misses Bouchier, Dr Rutledge, 55th Regiment's Lieut. Cambell, Ensign Lucey, 3rd Buffs's Dr Rook, 2 Messrs Ravenscroft, Mr Turner, Mr Stevenson, mr Major, Mr Clarke and Mr Alpin. (16 passengers). The Britannia left England on the 30th July and arrived at Madeira on the 12th August. Unquote.

Ref.: SA Commercial Advertiser 11/11/1826
plate and cup from the wreckA public sale will be held on the beach, at St Helena Bay, near the Fishery, on Wednesday morning the 22nd instant, of the Wreck of the Ship Britannia, as she now lies stranded on the Beach, with whatever Cargo may remain on board at the time of the sale; also her Masts, Yards, Blocks, Sails, Standing and running Rigging, Water Casks, excellent Oak Timber, Fir Planks, adapted for Building, &c. &c. This vessel was thoroughly Copper-fastened and Coppered only five months since.
J.R Thomson
Agent for wrecked ship Britannia.

More than a century later the site of the Britannia was relocated by Aqua Exploration.
Next: the discovery, salvage operation and artefacts.

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Information and photos by Anet McLeod and Anton Kriel