North Street, Newry, County Down

North Street, Newry, County Down
North Street, Newry, County Down

Wednesday 28 December 2016

Thomas Biddulph and the sinking of the ROYAL GEORGE, 1782

 Toll for the brave
The Brave that are no more,
All sunk beneath the wave,
Fast by their native shore.
William Cowper, The Loss of the Royal George, 1782

In 1782 Thomas Biddulph was in an army camp near Gosport overlooking the Solent at Portsmouth. He is believed to be the son of Michael Biddulph and Penelope Dandridge, and was born in 1759 in Hereford.
 “That [Gosport] and Portsmouth are in every respect the basest places in England,’ he wrote in a letter to his uncle,  ‘besides being excessively dirty, and full of sailors, who are always at variance with the Military.’ Of the camp itself he said ‘We are close upon the shore, and have a full view of the Isle of Wight, Spithead etc.’
From this viewpoint he witnessed the sinking of the ROYAL GEORGE. In a letter, now held by the Herefordshire Archive and Records Centre,  he wrote on September 21st 1782. ‘The ROYAL GEORGE sank full before us, and we now see a considerable part of her masts above water. I find it is determined to raise her if possible, for that seems to be a matter of doubt.’
Chillingly, he makes no mention of the hundreds who drowned, but continued. ‘I was on board the VICTORY, and saw every part of her; she is a most noble ship, and seems to be as much the boast of our Navy as the VILLE DE PARIS was of the French.’

He was unaware that another Thomas Biddulph was on board the ill-fated ROYAL GEORGE. This Thomas Biddulph [1761-1782] was the eldest son of Nicholas Biddulph and Elizabeth Dempsey of Glenkeen, also known as Glankeen, near Borrisoleigh, County Tipperary, in Ireland.  Borrisoleigh is a small town in County Tipperary. The town is part of the civil parish of Glenkeen in the historic barony of Kilnamanagh Upper.  Nicholas Biddulph is listed as a distiller in Irish Provincial Directories, 1788, by Richard Lucas.
Thomas was born in Dublin in 1761 and baptized in the Church of Ireland church of Saint Peter and Saint Kevin on the 3rd of April. His family claimed descent, like the family of Thomas of Hereford, from the Norman, Ormus le Guidon.

According to Burke’s Irish Family Records, 1976, Thomas Biddulph of Borrisoleigh was a member of the Royal Navy, a Midshipman, and died in the sinking of the ROYAL GEORGE in Southampton in 1788. This date is inaccurate. The ROYAL GEORGE sank in 1782, not 1788, which was the launch date of the new replacement ship.
In 1782 the ROYAL GEORGE was in Southampton having repair work done. A miscalculation when work was being carried out on her hull is thought to have caused her to capsize. She sank on the 29th August 1782. It is not known exactly how many lost their lives, but they numbered in the hundreds, reports suggest as many as 800. Not only were the ship’s crew on board, but also wives and families, local merchants and tradesmen. Many bodies, unidentified, were buried under the Ryde on the Isle of Wight and a more recent memorial commemorates the tragedy. It seems likely that Thomas Biddulph was buried here, if his body was ever found.

IN MEMORY of the many Officers and men of the Royal Navy & Royal Marines who lost their lives when the ROYAL GEORGE sank at Spithead on the 29th August 1782 and who lie buried  along this seafront
And here by friends
unknown, unmarked
unwept, they rest
31st AUGUST 1965

In1832 29 cannon were recovered from the site of the sinking. These were melted down and used in the construction of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square which celebrates the triumph of the ROYAL GEORGE's sister ship HMS VICTORY.