Earl of Abergavenny (1796 EIC ship)

The Earl of Abergavenny East Indiaman, off Southsea, 1801, by Thomas Luny

United Kingdom

Name: Earl of Abergavenny
Namesake: Henry Nevill, 2nd Earl of Abergavenny
Owner: William Dent
Builder: Pitcher, Northfleet
Launched: 15 December 1796[1]
Fate: Wrecked Weymouth Bay, February 1805
General characteristics
Tons burthen: 1,460 1794,[1] or 1,498 (bm)
Length: 176 ft 11 in (53.92 m) (overall), 143 ft 11 12 in (43.879 m) (keel)
Beam: 43 ft 8 in (13.31 m)
Depth of hold: 17 ft 6 in (5.33 m)
Sail plan: Full rigged ship
  • Voyages #1-3: 110 men
  • Voyages #4 & 5:140 men
  • 1st Letter of Marque: 32 × 12 & 9-pounder guns
  • 2nd Letter of Marque: 32 × 18 & 9 & 6-pounder guns
  • 3rd Letter of Marque: 32 × 18 & 12 & 9-pounder guns

The Earl of Abergavenny was an East Indiaman launched in 1796 that was wrecked in Weymouth Bay, England in 1805. She was one of the largest ever built. The English poet William Wordsworth's brother John was her captain during her last two successful voyages to China. He was also her captain on her fifth voyage and lost his life when she wrecked. Earl of Abergavenny was built in Northfleet, Kent to carry cargo for the British East India Company (EIC). In 1804 she was one of the vessels at the Battle of Pulo Aura, though she did not participate in the action. She sank, with great loss of life, within days of leaving Portsmouth on the outward leg of her fifth voyage.


East Indiamen traveled in convoys as much as they could. Frequently vessels of the British Royal Navy escorted these convoys, though generally not past India, or before on the return leg. Even so, the Indiamen were heavily armed so that they could dissuade pirates and even large privateers.

Like many other East Indiamen during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, Earl of Abergavenny sailed under letters of marque.[2] These authorized her to take prizes should the opportunity arise.


Voyage #1 (1797-98)

Earl of Abergavenny's first letter of marque was issued on 26 January 1797.[2] Under the command of Captain John Wordsworth, Snr., she left Portsmouth on 18 March and reached Bombay on 5 July. By 17 November she was at Malacca and she arrived at Whampoa on 8 January 1798. On her return leg she crossed the Second Bar on 2 March and reached St Helena on 5 August. She arrived at the Downs on 18 October.[3]

Voyage #2 (1799-1800)

Earl of Abergavenny, under the command of Captain John Wordsworth, Snr., left Portsmouth on 13 June 1799, reached Penang on 28 October, and Whampoa on 16 January 1800. On her return trip she crossed the Second Bar on 28 March and reached St Helena on 15 July. She then entered the Downs on 23 September.[3]

Voyage #3 (1801-02)

Earl of Abergavenny's second letter of marque was issued on 5 March 1801.[2] She then left Portsmouth on 19 May 1801 under the command of Captain John Wordsworth, Jnr. nephew to her previous captain. She reached Santa Cruz on 31 July, Penang on 31 October, Malacca on 24 November, and Whampoa on 30 January 1802. On her return she crossed the Second Bar on 11 March and reached St Helena on 10 July. She arrived in the Downs on 5 September.[3]

Voyage #4 (1803-04)

Earl of Abergavenny's third letter of marque was issued on 20 June 1803, after she had already left on her fourth voyage.[2] When she left Britain, the Peace of Amiens was still in effect; war broke out on 18 May, almost two weeks after she left the Downs on 6 May 1803, again under the command of Captain John Wordsworth, Jnr.

She reached Whampoa on 8 September. For her return voyage she crossed the Second Bar on 13 November.

Main article: Battle of Pulo Aura

The battle of Pulo Aura was a minor naval engagement fought on 14 February 1804, in which a fleet of East Indiamen, including Earl of Abergavenny, intimidated, drove off, and chased a powerful French naval squadron, although the French squadron was much stronger than they. Commodore Nathaniel Dance's aggressive tactics persuaded Contre-Admiral Charles-Alexandre Durand Linois to retire after only a brief exchange of shot. Dance, in Warley, together with several of the other vessels, then chased the French warships until his convoy was out of danger. The British lost only one man killed.[4] Earl of Abergavenny did not actually take part in the exchange of fire.

Earl of Abergavenny reached Malacca five days later, on 19 February 1804 and Penang on 1 March. She arrived at St Helena on 9 June and the Downs on 8 August.[3]

Voyage #5 (1805-wreck)

"Part of the Crew of the Abergavenny East Indiaman, delivered", Thomas Tegg, 1808, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Earl of Abergavanney left on her fifth voyage, this one to Bengal and China, under the command of Captain John Wordsworth, Jnr. She sailed with four other Indiamen from Portsmouth on 1 February 1805. On 5 February she struck on the Shambles off the Isle of Portland and then sank in Weymouth Bay with the loss of 263 lives, including Wordsworth, out of 402 people on board. Her complement for this voyage consisted of 160 officers and crew. She also carried 159 troops, both British Army and East India Company. Forty passengers were listed as being at the Captain's table, while 11 were listed as being at the Third Mate's table. In addition, there were 32 Chinese passengers.[5]

Her loss was due to the pilot's incompetence. After she struck on the Shambles she was got off, but sank as Wordsworth attempted to sail her onto the beach. Wordsworth stayed at his post and went down with his ship.[1]


Earl of Abergavenny lies in 16 m (50 ft) of water and less than 3 km (1.9 mi) from the beach at Weymouth. There are several rows of wooden posts sticking out of the sand. Visibility is rarely more than 5 m (16 ft). The temperature ranges from 6 to 22 °C depending on the season.

In 2005 the Weymouth LUNAR Society received the Nautical Archaeology Society's Adopt-a-Wreck award for their underwater archaeology work in surveying, monitoring and interpreting this shipwreck.

The ship featured in the Channel 4 series Wreck Detectives.

See also



    1. 1 2 3 Hackman (2001), p.99.
    2. 1 2 3 4 "Register of Letters of Marque against France 1793-1815". - accessed 11 June 2011.
    3. 1 2 3 4 National Archives: Earl of Abergavenny (2), - accessed 18 November 2014.
    4. The London Gazette: no. 15726. pp. 955–956. 7 August 1804.
    5. Matlak (2003), p.165.
    Secondary sources

    External links

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