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    A Longitude Shipwreck in 1815
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2007 May 14, 02:48 -0400

    The story of the shipwreck of the Arniston came up indirectly on the list
    about four years ago (mentioned by Jan Kalivoda incidentally). Basil Hall
    was part of the convoy that was sailing from India to England when the
    Arniston was lost due to a terrible error in longitude in May of 1815.
    Here's his story:
    "I have often enough been close to wars and rumours of wars, but was never
    in a regular sea-fight; and though I have also witnessed a few shipwrecks
    and disasters, I never was myself in much danger of what might be honestly
    called a lee shore; neither is it my good fortune to be able to recount,
    from personal knowledge, any scenes of hardship or suffering from hunger,
    cold, or any other misery. My whole professional life, in short, has been
    one of such comparative ease and security, that I cannot now remember ever
    going far beyond twenty-four hours without a good bellyful. Still I have
    often been forced to take a high degree of interest in formidable adventures
    of this kind, from their happening in fleets of which my own ship formed a
    part, or from these incidents including among the sufferers persons to whom
    I was attached.
    "In the year 1815, I accompanied a convoy of homeward-bound Indiamen from
    Ceylon, and a right merry part of the voyage it was while we ran down a
    couple of thousand miles of the south-east trade-wind; for these hospitable
    floating nabobs, the East India captains, seldom let a day pass without
    feasting one another; and we, their naval protectors, came in for no small
    share of the good things, for which we could make but a poor return. Along
    with our fleet, there sailed from Ceylon a large ship, hired as a transport
    by Government to bring home invalid soldiers. There were about 500 souls in
    her; of these a hundred were women, and more than a hundred children. I was
    accidentally led to take a particular interest in this ill-fated vessel,
    from the circumstance of there being four fine boys on board, sons of a
    military friend of mine at Point de Galle. I had become so well acquainted
    with the parents of these poor little fellows during my frequent visits to
    Ceylon, that one day, before sailing, I playfully offered to take a couple
    of the boys in my brig, the Victor, an eighteen-gun sloop of war; but as I
    could not accommodate the whole family, the parents, who were obliged to
    remain abroad, felt unwilling to separate the children, alas! and my offer
    was declined.
    "Off we all sailed, and reached the neighbourhood of the Cape without
    encountering anything in the way of an adventure; there, however, commenced
    the the disasters of the unfortunate Arniston, as this transport was called.
    She had no chronometer on board; a most culpable and preposterous omission
    in the outfit of a ship destined for such a voyage. The master told me that
    he himself was not in circumstances to purchase so expensive an instrument,
    the cost of a good chronometer being at least fifty or sixty guineas, and
    that the owners considered the expense needless. He also stated that on his
    remonstrating still more, and urging upon these gentlemen that their
    property would be ten times more secure if he were furnished with the most
    approved means of taking good care of it, he was given to understand, that,
    if he did not choose to take the ship to sea without a chronometer, another
    captain could easily be found who would make no such new-fangled scruples.
    The poor master shrugged his shoulders, and said he would do his best; but
    having often rounded the Cape, he knew the difficulties of the navigation,
    when there was nothing but the dead reckoning to trust to. During our
    passage from Ceylon, it was the practice every day, at one o'clock, for the
    Indiamen, as well as the men-of-war, to make signals showing the longitude
    of each ship by chronometer. Thus we had all an opportunity of comparing the
    going of our respective time-keepers, and thus, too, the master of the
    Arniston was enabled to learn his place so accurately, that if he had only
    kept company with his friends the Indiamen, each of whom was provided with
    at least four or five chronometers, the deficiency in his equipment might
    never have led to the dreadful catastrophe which speedily followed the loss
    of this assistance.
    "It was late in the month of May when we reached the tempestuous regions of
    the Cape; and we were not long there before a furious gale of wind from the
    westward dispersed the fleet, and set every one adrift upon his own
    resources. The poor Arniston was seen at sunset, on the day the gale
    commenced, with most of her sails split, but not otherwise in danger, for
    she had a good offing,  and the wind was not blowing on shore. Three heavy
    gales followed in such quick succession during the next week, that not only
    the ordinary course, but the velocity of the current was changed, and
    instead of running, as it almost always does, to the westward, it set, on
    the days in question, to the south-eastward. According to the most moderate
    allowance for the current, all circumstances being taken into consideration,
    any navigator might fairly have supposed that, in the five days which
    elapsed from the 24th of May to the 28th inclusive, his ship would have been
    drifted to the westward by the current at least a hundred miles. Our
    chronometers, however, distinctly showed us that we had been carried, not,
    as usual, to the westward, but actually to the eastward, a distance of more
    than a hundred miles; so that, in less than a week, there occurred upwards
    of two hundred miles of error in the dead reckoning.
    "The master of the Arniston, doubtless, after making every allowance,
    according to the best authorities, and working by the most exact rules of
    navigation of which he could avail himself, naturally inferred that his ship
    was more than a hundred miles to the westward of the Cape, and he probably
    considered himself justified in bearing up before a south-easterly gale, and
    steering, as he had so much reason to suppose he was doing, straight for St.
    "It is very important to remark, in passing, to professional men, that no
    ship off the Cape, and under any circumstances, ought ever to bear up,
    without first heaving the deep sea-lead. If soundings are obtained on the
    Bank, it is a sure symptom that the ship is not sufficiently advanced to the
    westward to enable her to steer with safety to the north-north-westward for
    St. Helena. It is clear the ship in question must have omitted this
    "All that is known of this fatal shipwreck is simply that the Arniston, with
    a flowing sheet, and going nine knots, ran among the breakers in Struy's
    Bay, nearly a hundred miles to the eastward of the Cape. The masts went
    instantly by the board, and the sea, which broke completely over all, tore
    the ship to pieces in a few minutes; and out of her whole crew, passengers,
    women, and children, only half-a-dozen seamen reached the coast alive. All
    these could tell was, that they bore up and made all sail for St. Helena,
    judging themselves well round the Cape. This scanty information, however,
    was quite enough to establish the important fact that this valuable ship,
    and all the lives on board of her, were actually sacrificed to a piece of
    short-sighted economy.
    "That they might have been saved, had she been supplied with the worst
    chronometer that was ever sent to sea, is also quite obvious. I am sure
    practical men will agree with me, that, in assuming sixty seconds a-day as
    the limit of the uncertainty of a watch's rate, I have taken a quantity four
    or five times greater than there was need for. Surely no time-keeper that
    was ever sold as such by any respectable watchmaker for more than thirty or
    forty guineas, has been found to go so outrageously ill as not to be
    depended upon for one week, within less than ten or fifteen seconds a-day.
    And as I have shown that a chronometer whose rate was uncertain, even to an
    extent five or six times as great as this, would have saved the Arniston,
    any further comment on such precious economy is needless."
    I have nothing to add here. It's just another interesting navigation story
    from the pen of Basil Hall [taken from the gutenberg.org edition of "The
    Lieutenant and Commander"]. Incidenally, the small town at the head of the
    bay in South Africa is known to this day as 'Arniston'.
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