The books that make up this collection are bound in wood taken from the wreck of the Royal George.

The sinking of the Royal George, from An Account of the Loss of the 'Royal George' at Spithead, August, 1782, published by J. and F. Harwood, 2 February 1842. MSS ref: PBD2216, Repro ID: PU5962
The sinking of the Royal George, from An Account of the Loss of the 'Royal George' at Spithead, August, 1782, published by J. and F. Harwood, 2 February 1842. MSS ref: PBD2216, Repro ID: PU5962
The first-rate ship HMS Royal George was laid down as the Royal Anne but renamed in honour of the reigning monarch George II before her launch in 1756. The first warship to exceed 2,000 tons burden, Royal George was commissioned at the start of the Seven Years' War with France and joined the Western Squadron in blockading the port of Brest and Quiberon Bay. 

On 29 August 1782 whilst undergoing minor repair work at Spithead, the Royal George began to take on water. She capsized and sank very quickly with the loss of about 900 lives. The dead included Rear-Admiral Richard Kempenfelt and as many as 300 women and 60 children who were visiting the ship at the time, prior to their husbands and fathers departing Britain’s shores. It was reported that all of the children but one lost their lives; a single little boy surviving by clinging on to a sheep which had been on-board. 

The exact cause of the disaster is not known although it has been suggested that she was heeled too far and the water entered the lower tier of gunports. However, a subsequent court-martial acquitted the ship's officers and crew (most of whom were dead) of any wrongdoing, and blamed the accident on the 'general state of decay of her timbers'. This reflected badly on the Navy Board, who were responsible for the ship’s condition and suitability for use. 

One hundred and seventeen proposals for recovering the vessel were sent to the Lords of the Admiralty, and eventually they settled on one from a Portsea shipbroker called William Tracey. The plan involved securing the ship by means of various ropes and slings, and attaching it to a raft which would be buoyed up by empty barrels. The idea was that as the tide rose, the ship would rise with it. However, the Portsmouth Dockyard authorities and the Navy Board were unhelpful (perhaps worried at what evidence would be uncovered) and poor weather impeded the plan, which was eventually abandoned. The Royal George had, however, been moved 30 feet across the seabed. 

In 1834, the pioneering diver John Deane recovered 30 guns before his work was interrupted to investigate a nearby wreck that turned out to be Mary Rose. The remains of Royal George continued to pose a risk to ships passing through Portsmouth harbour until in 1839 Colonel Charles William Pasley successfully implemented the explosion of the remains. 

The 27 books that make up this collection are bound in wood taken from the wreck, and have recently been expertly restored by the NMM’s Paper Conservation Department. The Caird Library also holds in its rare book collection the Narrative of the loss of the 'Mary Rose' at Spithead, July 20 1545 which is bound in the wood of the Mary Rose. (PBD2216)

Tanya, Readers' Services Librarian

Search the Archive catalogue

Search the Library catalogue