One of the shipwrecks that took place on a May 11, was the Confederate ironclad Virgina, which only two months before had fought to a draw the United States ironclad Monitor in the world’s first clash between ironclads. Some of the other wrecks of this day resulted in large losses of life and even a case of cannibalism.
compiled and edited by Dr. E. Lee Spence
1766: Captain Richard Redman, who was sent from London by some merchants with the news of the resolution of Parliament to bring in a bill for the repeal of the Stamp Act, lost his vessel, the brigantine Speedwell, on No Man’s Land, Charleston Bar, South Carolina, on May 11, 1766. Nothing was saved except the people and the letters. A public call was made to raise money for the captain and the crew. Captain Redman was given 50 guineas, his mate 10 guineas, and each sailor 2 1/2 guineas.
1840: The ship Elijah N. Train, of Boston, was totally lost on Orange Keys, Bahamas on May 11, 1840. Her crew was saved.
1842: The British steamer Medina, Captain Burney, bound from Liverpool, was totally lost on the north end of Grand Key, Turks Island during the night of May 11, 1842.
1859: The Armorial, bound from Liverpool to Havana, saw a ship on shore on the Gingerbread Ground in the Bahamas on May 11, 1859.
1860: The ship Switzerland, Captain Trask, was totally consumed by fire at the East Pass Anchorage near Savannah, Georgia, on May 11, 1860. She had been loading cotton for Liverpool when the accident took place.
This was probably the ship Switzerland, 1139 tons, shown in “American Lloyd’s” of 1858. That ship was built at New York in 1854 of oak and locust wood, fastened with copper and iron. She drew 20′ of water. She was described as a sharp model ship with a deck cabin and three decks. She was metalled in 1856. She was owned at New York by B. Trask and was classed A-1 for insurance purposes.
1862: The CSS Virginia was run ashore near Craney Island, Virginia, and set on fire by the Confederates to prevent her from falling into the hands of the Federal forces. She blew up at 4:58 a.m. on May 11, 1862.
This was the old United States frigate Merrimack, which had been seized by the Confederates in 1861 and converted into an ironclad and renamed Virginia.
As the frigate Merrimack, she was 3,200 tons, 275′ in length, 38’6″ in breadth, and 27’6″ in depth of hold. Those figures would have changed with her conversion. Her battery was the same before and after conversion and consisted of two 7-inch rifle pivots, two 6-inch rifles and six 9-inch Dalhgrens in broadside, and two 12-pounder howitzers on deck. She had four Martin type boilers with an average steam pressure of 18 pounds.
She is best known for her March 8, 1862 battle with the United States ironclad Monitor. It was the first battle between ironclad warships in history and was fought to a virtual draw, with neither ship sinking the other. (Note: Although she fought as the CSS Virginia, this naval engagement is usually referred to as “The Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack.”)
1864: On May 11, 1864 the Australian sailing ship Invercauld, 1,100 tons, Captain George Dalgarno, bound from Melbourne, Australia to Callao, Peru in ballast, wrecked on the Auckland Islands, where she broke up and was totally destroyed in a short amount of time. Six of her crew drowned, but the remaining sixteen managed to get ashore in a nearby cove. All were hurt and shoeless. The survivors spent the night onshore and then at daybreak investigated the scene of the wreck and came away with only some few pounds of ships biscuits and salted pork. That was the beginning of an over one year ordeal in which the crew fights among themselves, and without strong leadership, splits up and even resorts to cannibalism; with all but the captain and two others ultimately dying of starvation and exposure.
1869: The Japanese Imperial Navy warship Choyo, commanded by Nakamuta Kuranosuke, suffered a huge explosion and sank after being hit by a shell from the Japanese rebel warship Banryu on May 11, 1869 during the Naval Battle of Hakodate.
The Choyo‘s captain survived, but seventy-three sailors died. The Banryu was heavily damaged in the fighting and sank later on the same day.
The Choyo was built in the Netherlands under the name Jedo and was handed over to the Japanese navy at Nagasaki and received its new name on November 8, 1858.
The Banryu was originally built in England as a schooner, where she had been named Emperor. She was 370 tons and was just over 137 feet in length. She was armed with six 12-pounder bronze cannons.
1884: The ship Syria, bound from Calcutta, India to Fiji with 497 passengers, ran aground on the Nasilai Reef four miles from the Fiji shore on May 11, 1884. Five of her six lifeboats were destroyed by the heavy seas so the sixth, with four crew members was sent for assistance. It reached Nasilai village at dawn but their inability to communicate with the natives caused confusion and delays. By the time the first rescue boats reached the scene, the ship lay on her port side, her masts were all broken into fragments, and her sails, ropes, and debris of all kinds were mixed up and thrown about in the breakers in wild confusion. The majority of the passengers were in the water on the reef, trying to get to land as best they could, but a considerable number, chiefly women and children, were still in the wrecked vessel. The survivors were carried by boats and Fijian canoes to Nasilai village. Fifty-six passengers and three crew members died in the wreck but a further eleven died in the next fortnight due to complications resulting from their experience. This was the worst maritime disaster in the history of Fiji.
The Syria was built in 1868 by William Pile of Sunderland for the Nourse Line, and was named after the Syria River in Karnataka, India. She was an iron sailing ship of 1,010 tons, and was 207.7 feet in length, 34.1 feet in breadth and 20.8 feet in depth of hull. She was primarily used for the transportation of Indian indentured laborers to the colonies.
1918: The French auxillary cruiser/troopship Sant’ Anna, bound to Salonika with 2,000 troops, was torpedoed and sunk by the German Type UC II minelaying submarine UC-54, on May 11, 1918, in the Mediterranean Sea south of the island of Pantelleria, Italy and 26 miles east of Cap Bon, Tunisia. Between 607 and 638 lives were lost
The Sant’ Anna was built as a passenger liner by Forges & Chantiers de la Méditerranée at La Seyne in 1910 and, at the time of her loss, was owned by Companie Française de Navigation à Vapeur. She was 9,350 tons.
1943: The Type IXC German submarine U-528 was “destroyed” by depth charges on May 11, 1943. Her position was given as “southwest of Ireland.” The depth charges were dropped from a Handley Page Halifax of the RAF’s 58 Squadron and the British sloop HMS Fleetwood. There were 45 survivors, but 11 men went down with the submarine.
1980: HMBS Flamingo, Commander Amos Rolle, was straffed by Cuban MIGS and sunk 40 miles south of Ragged Island, Bahamas, on May 11, 1980, with the loss of four men.
The Flamingo, a Royal Bahamian Defense Force patrol boat with marines aboard, had been on routine patrol when it spotted a pair of Cuban fishing boats off Cay Santo Domingo, a deserted Bahamian atoll just 35 miles from the Cuban coast.
The Cuban boats tried to make a run for it but stopped after warning shots were fired. Eventually, the Bahamians were able to board the boats and found 3,000 pounds of fish, lobster, conch and stone crab that had been illegally poached in Bahamian waters. But before a final search could be made and a decision on what to do, two Cuban MiG jet fighters arrived and began strafing the patrol boat, which was quickly abandoned in a sinking state. The jets continued strafing the Flamingo even as it sank. Four of her 19 crew and officers were lost, the rest made it to one of the fishing boats.
The Cuban government initially tried to shift blame, but eventually accepted full responsibility for the attack and agreed to pay $10,000,000 in reparations for the sinking of the Flamingo and the deaths of the four marines. The Cuban fishermen were convicted of poaching and paid $90,000 in fines. But why something like this was allowed to happen, has never been explained.
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NOTE: This is by no means meant to be a complete list of the vessels lost on May 11, as there have been thousands of ships lost for every day of the year. All of the above entries have been edited (shortened) and come from various editions of Spence’s List™. The original lists usually give additional data and sources. Those lists are being updated and are or will be made available for a fee elsewhere on this site.
© 2014 by Dr. E. Lee Spence for composition, content and compilation.Share