Shipwrecks: Past & Present

Shipwrecks of May 11

Posted by:

Shipwrecks of May 11

One of the shipwrecks that took place on a May 11th 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. If you are reading this in a post, go to to learn more about some of the many shipwrecks that have occurred on this day over the years.

Today’s Shipwrecks™

May 11

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.

1774: The Swedish vessel Anna Maria, bound from Stockholm, Sweden, to London, England, ran aground on May 11, 1774, and sank on the Lynn Sand, in The Wash. No lives were lost. Note: The Wash is the square-mouthed bay and estuary at the north-west corner of East Anglia on the East coast of England, where Norfolk meets Lincolnshire. 

1790: The Irish ships Alarm and Blessing were driven ashore and wrecked in Cádiz Bay, Cádiz, Spain, on May 11, 1790. Both ships were bound from Cork, Ireland, to Gibraltar.

1833: The British brig Lady of the Lake, which was carrying immigrants, was sunk by ice off Cape St. Francis, Newfoundland, with the loss of between 170 and 265 lives. About 30 survivors were rescued by the British vessel Amazon.

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. The Medina was described as “entangled with the N.E. Rocks” off Turk’s Island and as “wrecked on the N.E., reefs of Turks Island,” and it was noted that “not a life has been lost, nor has any serious injury been received by the passengers or crew. The baggage has in a great portion been recovered by the exertion of the crew of the Medina, as well as by the activity and rapid assistance of Captain Reaterick, of the contract West India schooner Larne, in receiving all of the baggage on board when conveyed to his vessel. To the shore boats, under the judicious conduct of Mr. Missick, of Turk’s Island, we are much indebted, not only as far as concerned the baggage, but in the immediate and rapid removal of the women and children from the wreck, when the uncertainty existed as to the vessel keeping her position when apprehensions were entertained of her capsizing. ••• When this vessel settled down and got firmly embedded across the reef which run at right angles with her keel, and which could be perceived by the whole frame of the heavy steam machinery being forced up about seven or eight inches, that the mercy of Providence was clearly shewn; and that there was a prospect of the loss of life being very trifling in comparison to what would have been the result, had she lain in an oblique position on the said reef, or parallel to it, in which case she might have capsized by the heaving of the sea. And as heavy articles of every description were loose about the deck, amongst the rest, 229 iron jars of quicksilver (mercury), each weighing from 90 to 100 pounds, were to have been disembarked at the first, owing to their great value, as well as chains, spars, &c., almost all loose, the cabin doors broken open, and opening and shutting with the greatest violence every time the sea struck her, had she capsized, 179 persons (150 men, 15 women, and 14 children), would in all probability have been drowned or crushed to death, the water being deep on all sides of the reef. ••• The detachment of the 2nd West India Regiment, stationed at Turk’s Island, under command of Lieutenant Howell, were most active and useful •••.”

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.

wash drawing of CSS Virginia by Clary Ray 1898

CSS Virginia
1898 wash drawing by Clary Ray

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.

1886 chromolithograph of "The Monitor and Merrimac: The First Fight Between Ironclads"

“The Monitor and Merrimac: The First Fight Between Ironclads”
1886 chromolithograph of the Battle of Hampton Roads, produced by Louis Prang & Co., Boston

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.

Sinking of the Choyo by the Banryu 1869 painting

Sinking of the Choyo by the Banryu
1869 painting

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.

Japanese warship Choyo

Japanese warship Choyo
1868 painting

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.

Japanese rebel warship Banryu

Japanese rebel warship Banryu


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.

1942: After surviving the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Cimarron-class fleet oiler USS Neosho (AO-23) operated in the South Pacific. During the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Neosho was the victim of seven direct hits and a suicide dive by one of the bombers — on fire aft and in danger of breaking in two. She had shot down at least three of the attackers. Superb seamanship and skilled damage control work kept Neosho afloat for the next four days. The sorely stricken ship was first located by a Royal Australian Air Force aircraft, then an American PBY Catalina flying boat. At 13:00 on May 11, 1942, the U.S. destroyer Henley arrived, rescued the 123 survivors and sunk by gunfire the ship they had so valiantly kept afloat against impossible odds. One of Neosho’s crewmen, Oscar V. Peterson, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts to save the ship in spite of his severe injuries suffered in the attack.

USS Neosho burning, 7 May 1942.

USS Neosho burning in of May 1942.

USS Neosho was built by Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, Kearny, New Jersey. She was launched April 29, 1939, and was commissioned on August 7, 1939. A fleet oiler, she displaced 7,590 tons when light and 25,230 tons with a full load. She was 553 feet in length and 75 feet in breadth. She could make 18 knots and had a complement of 304 men. She was armed with four 5-inch (130 mm)/38 caliber dual purpose guns and four 0.79 inch (20 mm) anti-aircraft guns.  

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.

Naval Ensign of the Bahamas, as flown by the Flamingo

Naval Ensign of the Bahamas

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.

• • •

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.

Click here to check out Dr. E. Lee Spence’s Facebook page on shipwrecks and treasure.

© 2013, 2017 by Dr. E. Lee Spence for composition, content and compilation.


Add a Comment