'Sir Cloudesly Shovel in the Association with the Eagle, Rumney and the Firebrand, Lost on the Rocks of Scilly, October 22, 1707'

Print. In autumn 1707 Sir Cloudesley Shovell, the Admiral of the Fleet (the Navy's senior serving officer at the time) returned from a successful commission in the Mediterranean with a squadron comprising 15 ships of the line, five frigates and a yacht. Several days of poor weather prevented navigational sights being taken and their position was estimated as further south than it was when, during the night of 22 October, his flagship 'Association' ran onto the Gilstone Ledges of the Isles of Scilly and rapidly sank. The 'Eagle', 'Firebrand' and 'Romney' all also struck and sank nearby. Over 1300 men were lost, including Shovell, and only 26 were reported to have survived. In this print - which is the only contemporary illustration of the disaster - the 'Association' (flying the royal standard) is in the left foreground. Part of the ship remained on the rocks for some time and in 1709 there was an official salvage operation to recover the considerable treasure she was carrying as prize of war, and her guns. The site was then forgotten until rediscovered by Royal Navy divers in 1967 after which there was considerable competition to do more salvage. Several French bronze guns - also prizes - were raised with other artefacts, including valuable coin: these were sold under salvage law as it stood at that time but the controversy engendered by this and similar activities in Scilly and elsewhere contributed to the passing of the 1973 Act for the Protection of Historic Wrecks around the United Kingdom. While the disaster is often said to have encouraged the passing in 1714 of the first Longitude Act, under which monetary rewards were offered for reliable means of determining longitude at sea, there is no hard evidence for this assertion. The exact cause of the loss of Shovell's ships also remains the subject of debate, with navigational practice, unsewaorthy compasses and weather all cited as possible factors. Thirty years later a local woman confessed on her deathbed to have found Shovell washed up, barely alive, and finished him off for the sake of an emerald ring he was wearing - though there are reasons for doubting this story. His body was certainly recovered and buried in Westminster Abbey where there is a monument to him. Though carved by Grinling Gibbons it also proved controversial and today looks very strange, as well expressed by the 18th-century writer Joseph Addison: 'Sir Cloudesley Shovel's monument has very often given me great offence: instead of the plain rough English Admiral which was the distinguishing character of that plain gallant man, he is represented on his tomb by the figure of a beau, dressed in a long periwig, and reposing himself upon velvet cushions under a canopy of state. The inscription is answerable to the monument; for instead of celebrating the many remarkable actions he had performed in the service of his country, it acquaints us only with the manner of his death, in which it is impossible for him to reap any honour.' One of the French bronze guns (recovered in 1970) was purchased by the Tresco Estate, Scilly, for the figureheaad 'Valhalla' there, which in turn became part of the NMM collection in 1979: see KTP1326.

Object Details

ID: PAH0710
Collection: Fine art
Type: Print
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Unknown
Events: Scilly Naval Disaster of 1707
Vessels: Association (1696); Firebrand 1694 (HMS) Romney (1694) Eagle (1679)
Date made: circa 1708; circa 1710
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Sheet: 371 x 480 mm; Mount: 481 mm x 634 mm

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