The Wreck of the Endymion – 28 August 1790
The Endymion 44 had been launched in 1779 and had seen service in the West Indies during the American War of Revolution under the command of Captains Philip Carteret and Edward Tyrrell Smith, being present under the latter officer at the Battle of the Saintes on 12 April 1782. Not long afterwards her disappointing sailing qualities had prevented her from assisting the Magicienne 36, Captain Thomas Graves, in a pursuit of the French frigate Sybille 32 and the brig Railleur 14. Thereafter, bar four months in commission over the winter of 1787-88, she had remained in mothballs until February 1789, when she was recommissioned by the Admiralty at Portsmouth for the Transport Service.
As the Endymion was to be armed en-flute in her new employment she automatically lost her rating as a post ship and was placed under the command of a lieutenant. The officer entrusted with her command was 34 year-old Daniel Woodriff, a man who had been born to the sea, and who by the age of five had already been shipwrecked once in addition to completing a circumnavigation of the world with his father. His lieutenant’s commission was dated 1 April 1783.
In recommissioning the Endymion the Admiralty’s original intention was for her to carry troops out to the West Indies, amongst who would be a corps of ordnance artificers who would assist in the repair of defences at Barbados, Antigua and St. Kitts. Throughout the spring of 1789 she continued her recommissioning, and in early May it was reported that the troops destined for the West Indies had been ordered to begin their march to Portsmouth for embarkation on the Endymion and her sister ships, the Actaeon 44, and Chichester 44. Shortly afterwards the Admiralty’s plans changed, for in early June the Endymion arrived at Monkstown , County Cork where she embarked the 24th Regiment for transportation to Quebec. Upon returning from this service to Portsmouth on 12 September in company with the Chichester and Actaeon, and having brought the 33rd and 42nd Regiments home from North America, she entered port for a refit.
Early in February 1790 it was rumoured that the Endymion was to sail for New South Wales in place of the Gorgon 44, Lieutenant William Harvey, which had gone aground on a sandbank near Spithead. A few days later, and no doubt to the relief of her crew, she instead received orders to sail for Cork with the Actaeon where she would embark troops and stores for the West Indies. On her subsequent voyage down to the Caribbean she visited New York and the Bahamas.
Remaining in the Caribbean throughout the summer, the Endymion convoyed two vessels, the Lord Hood and the Wheadon, through the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola, and was making her way in a north-easterly direction towards Turks Island to deliver stores when in heavy seas and a fresh breeze at about 8 a.m. on 28 August, and at a speed of about six knots, she suddenly struck hitherto un-charted rocks some seven miles to the south west of Sand Cay. These rocks were seven or eight in number, and the highest was no more than three and a half feet above the water. An attempt was made to keep the Endymion afloat by cutting away her foremast and lightening ship, but as she had been fatally damaged up forward this proved unsuccessful.
Not untypically in the case of a shipwreck a number of seamen broke into the liquor store as soon as the Endymion’s demise was confirmed, and refusing all orders from their officers they began drinking themselves into oblivion on the captain’s wine and spirit stock. But all was not lost, as in the vicinity was an American schooner, the New Hope from Philadelphia, and with plenty of hours of daylight in hand she was able to help rescue the Endymion’s entire crew bar one man. Mr Woodriff remained on deck and directed the evacuation of all on board before, with the water filling the ship as far aft as the capstan, he made his own escape.
The Endymion’s crew were taken ashore from where the pilot, two officers and thirty seamen were conveyed to Kingston, Jamaica by the New Hope. Lieutenant Woodriff and his remaining crew did the best they could to salvage stores from the wreck over the following three days before she finally sank. Being largely unoccupied thereafter, Woodriff took the opportunity to draw a number of coastal profiles, including one of the view from the rocks on which his ship struck.
On 6 October at Kingston Lieutenant Woodriff and the pilot faced the usual court-martial into the loss of their ship, and unsurprisingly they were honourably acquitted of any blame. Not long afterwards the lieutenant sailed for England with his wife and family aboard the Liverpool-bound Eliza. Apart from making two voyages to Australia Woodriff was to remain fairly anonymous until September 1805, when he heroically sacrificed his command, the Calcutta 54, in a stout defence against a superior French squadron of five sail of the line and three frigates off the Scilly Isles, thereby allowing his attendant convoy to escape. A period of imprisonment followed at Verdun, and after returning to England he saw no further active service.
As for the wrecked Endymion, she was re-discovered in her watery grave some two hundred years after her loss, and she is now a popular diving site for visitors to the Turks and Caicos Islands.