The Primrose Sloop Of War

Gun wallows on the shore

And baulk heads collide

The bodies hug the surf line

All save the emerald child

He crouches on the cliff top

And strains to hear some word

But ne’er a word is spoken

And ne’er a word is heard

No hide nor hair is spotted

Of adder, chough or hare

On this island of black mourners

The crows alone declare

Such a hefty weight to carry

On shoulders not long grown

And the last man here still standing

Will always stand alone

© Chris Bond — 2 December 2003

On the stormy grey early morning of the 22nd of January 1809 the Royal Navy brig-sloop HMS Primrose was rounding the Meneage peninsula in Cornwall on its journey from Portsmouth, via Falmouth, to La Coruña when she was wrecked on the notorious rocks known as the Manacles, about a mile from the coast. The 384-ton ship, originally built in nearby Fowey, was part of a convoy of Royal Navy vessels on its way to Spain to fight in the Peninsula Wars. In hurricane force winds she struck the Minstrel rocks at 5am that morning and, though she remained upright for nigh on seven hours, by noon she had succumbed to the storm.

Locals tried to save the unfortunate company, whose cries could be clearly heard from the shore, but in vain. Only one soul of the 125 aboard had survived: a 17 year old Irish drummer boy named John Meaghen. He had tied himself to the stump of the mast and was rescued by a group of fishermen from Porthoustock. The rest of the crew had been washed away, and both men and horses continued to wash ashore throughout the day. That same night the Dispatch, a transport vessel containing a detachment of the 7th Hussars on its way back from Iberia, was wrecked on Black Head, about a mile or so to the south, with the loss of all but seven lives. The Manacles have claimed well over a hundred ships over the centuries and are among the most deadly coastal rocks in the British Isles.