AN INQUEST WHICH TOOK PLACE ONBOARD HMS GANGES IN 1822 WHICH LED TO A FAMOUS GEORGIAN/REGENCY AND THEN VICTORIAN POEM

Rarely do we hear stories of HMS Ganges before 1866, the time she took on a role of teaching naval boys at the then Naval Port of Falmouth Cornwall.  However, in 1822, an incident took place off Spithead, outside Portsmouth Harbour the outcome of which stirred the romantic soul of the population and which went on to become a famous poem called "Fragment". HMS Ganges is mentioned in the last lines of verse two of the poem below, which I have highlighted in red for clarity. The poem, composed by LYÆUS can be found by browsing for "The Poetry of The Bucks Chronicle 1823" and then choosing the poem shown on pages 100/101.

The poem was vogue from 1822 right through to 1871 or thereabouts, holding its own against the forty nine years of Rudyard Kipling's poem "IF"  which was not written for any ship [naval or mercantile, afloat or shore stone-wall-frigate] but only associated with a boys naval shore training establishment from 1927 until 1976. The association with "IF" was/is also famed, this time internationally and therefore more prolific than at parochial Shotley, where it adorns the entrance to Centre Court at Wimbledon, there to inspire the players and the crowds supporting them.  In this case, the poem 'Fragment' is expressly although implicitly, written about HMS Ganges and her attempt to conduct a SAR operation.

 The story starts with a father, T. Jenkins Esq of Catherine Court, Trinity Square, London, by all accounts a man of means, who, with his daughter Sarah Hoy Jenkins, were out boating in the Solent at Spithead, Portsmouth on the 12th October 1822 when a sudden squall upturned their boat and cast them into the sea. Quite nearby was HMS Ganges, a ship of the line who witnessed this calamity, and dispatched a sea-boat to rescue the occupants of the boat which took about twenty minutes from first sighting. What follows comes from the Admiralty records of the event:

 "   Lately, T. Jenkins, Esq., of Catherine-Court, Trinity Square, London, and his daughter, Miss Sarah Hoy Jenkins, a fine accomplished young lady, about 18 years of age, were going to the Isle of Wight, in a wherry [a light rowboat for use in racing or for transporting goods and passengers in inland waters and harbours]; the boat upset whilst in stays, owing to the sheet of the sail becoming entangled, and the father, daughter, and the watermen [wherry crew] were drifted away from the boat, and remained in the water about twenty minutes before a boat from His Majesty's <King George IV> Ship - H.M.S. 'Ganges' could arrive at the spot to take them up.  Mr Jenkins sustained and cheered his daughter during the whole of the time, and when the young lady was taken into the boat, she grasped hold of it, and ardently kissed her father and preserver; but on being conveyed into HMS 'Ganges' proper a little later on, it was discovered that the vital spark had departed its fair and graceful abode, and the agonised parent could only embrace the inanimate lifeless frame of his tenderly and much beloved child. His distress of mind, on the unavailing result of all the efforts so promptly used to resuscitate, is indescribable.  " The inquest was conducted in HMS Ganges the same day as the tragedy, details of which can be found in the National Archives files under the Collection :-

"Records for High Court of Admiralty and Colonial Vice-Admiralty Courts File Reference HCA 1/103/37 of 12th October 1822". Use HCA 1/103/37 as your search data input

Shortly after the Inquest this poem was circulated, which really makes HMS Ganges unique, remaining as a very popular but lamentable poem. We have to remember the tastes, especially those relating to death of the people of those times. The poetry is heavy and at first difficult to scan, but after subsequent reads it is easy to understand what is going on given the introduction and Admiralty witness shown above.

Behold yon skiff, how gallantly along
The stormy surface of the deep she scuds!
The Albatros skims the Atlantic wave
Not more majestically! Now half hid
In Ocean's liquid furrows; - cresting now,
Its ridge of foam; like playful Dolphin, onwards,
She wends her way! High o'er her milk-white sail
Drives the dense spray, as cleaves her sable prow
The swelling surge! By turns the yellow sun-beams
Flash round her path! By turns the frowning tempest
Her yielding cordage strains! By heavens! tis fearful!
Yet still her crew laugh at the winds that lay
Her gunnel to the wave; and joyously
Ascends the sea-boy's carol I...............
.......but who is she -
That more than Nereid from emerald cave
Of Amphitrite, or the pearly bed
Of Ocean's deity - it bears along
The heavenly harmony - the sphere-like music -
That breathes in every feature; - the warm flush
Of maiden beauty ere its ripening bloom
Has sober'd into womanhood; - the looks
Of angel loveliness, that to the soul
Shoot lightnings - yet all tenderness themselves!
But ill accord with scene so rude as this; -
No sea-nymph she, but one of mortal mould,
Who, on a father's manly arm reclining
Reflects the mild composure of his soul.
Fondly he gazes on her; she, perchance,
The solitary comfort of his age!
Oh! who shall say what parents feels, when thus
Hope's earliest visions are embodied, and
The sweet, the rapturous solicitudes, that first
Betray affection, are by seasons ripened
To such a bright maturity?..............
...........................................But mark
The bark is gone!  - Oh, God! the greedy waves
Have drowned the scream of agony! - Her keel
Is uppermost! and few appear the struggles
Of her faint crew! - Not so the sire! one arm
Is twined around his child; - the other cleaves,
With giant-strength, the wilderness of waters;
Half breathless with the toil he cheers her still,
And beats the surge more manfully, as on
The half expiring victim rest his eyes;
But see! there's succour near - a friendly sail
Advances rapidly! - one effort more - [Ganges sea boat arrives]
They are onboard! [onboard HMS Ganges]- convulsively she grasps
Her parent's hand in gratitude; one kiss.
One kiss, she presses on it, and, Madona-like,
Expires!.............................................................
.........................................................................

As a juxtaposed event of around that time [four years later]  involving HMS Ganges, this short article comes from Admiralty Files and from the Monday 30th January 1826 edition of the Hampshire Telegraph. The published article said " Yesterday, William Holten, a Private Marine onboard HMS Ganges was tried by court martial onboard HMS Victory, for having quitted his post as a sentinel and breaking open the Slop Rooms from which he stole tea, and sundry slops to a considerable amount.  The charge being fully proved, he was sentenced to receive 50 lashes onboard his own ship, and to be imprisoned in the Marshalsea Prison for one year.  Signed Captain P. Campbell C.B. President . Note See this URL http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshalsea for details of the prison and where it was.