The wreck of the Arniston
In 1814 the East India ship Arniston was chartered as a British Government transport. The ship sailed from Portsmouth in June and made for Ceylon, via Madeira and the Cape of Good Hope, arriving at Colombo in January 1815.
The old lighthouse, flagstaff, and gun battery at Colombo from John Ferguson, Ceylon in 1893 (London, 1893) British Library shelfmark: Digital Store 010057.e.2
The Arniston sailed on its return voyage from Ceylon on 4 April 1815 in a convoy with two Royal Navy ships and six East Indiamen. Squally weather and heavy seas drove the ship away from the convoy. All the sails were blown away or bent. On 30 May 1815 the ship heeled and broke apart near Cape Lagullas or Aguilhas at the southern tip of Africa.
Only six of the crew managed to reach the shore and survive: Charles Stewart Scott, Philip Shea, William Drummond, William Fish, Thomas Mansfield, and John Lewis . They tried to walk to safety but feared they were lost, so returned to the wreck and subsisted mainly on a cask of oatmeal which had come ashore. On 14 June they were discovered by a farmer’s son who was out shooting. The men stayed with the farmer for a week and then set off for Cape Town, arriving there on 26 June to tell their tragic tale.
Report of the wreck of the Arniston, naming the survivors and dead - Mirror of the Times 28 October 1815 British Newspaper Archive
About 345 men, women, and children drowned. There were British Army invalids, and about 100 seamen from British warships in India. The named fatalities included Lord Molesworth, Lt Col in the 2nd Ceylon Regiment, and his wife Frances; Lt Gilbert Brice, Royal Navy Agent for Transports; and Anna Twisleton, 12-year-old daughter of the Archdeacon of Colombo.
In September 1815 reports of the wreck began to appear in British newspapers. Death notices were placed by the families of some of the victims, including one for seventeen-year-old Samuel Nugent Legh Richmond., eldest son of Reverend Legh Richmond of Turvey in Bedfordshire. His father had planned for Nugent, as he was known, to follow him into the priesthood, and was very disappointed when the young man decided that he wanted to go to sea. Nugent was found a place in a merchant vessel sailing to Ceylon – the Arniston. In June 1814 Reverend Richmond said goodbye to his son at Portsmouth, giving him a Bible.
The family received letters from Nugent written on the outward voyage, expressing his regret for his past conduct and his hope that one day he would be a consolation to his parents. Then his father saw reports of the loss of the Arniston. Nugent was not listed amongst the survivors and his family was plunged into mourning.
But in the winter, a letter from Nugent arrived. He had not embarked for the return voyage of the Arniston and seemed unaware of what had happened to the ship. He was then third officer of the brig Kandian.
Nugent stayed in Asia, working in different merchant ships. In 1824 he was shipwrecked, losing his private investment in the voyage and nearly all his personal belongings except for a small trunk containing his Bible, a copy of Annals of the Poor, two suits of clothes, and his watch. A subscription of 100 guineas was raised by Reverend Thomas Thomason to help him.
Having postponed marrying his fiancée in Calcutta until he had made money on another voyage, Nugent returned to discover that she had died in his absence. Nugent then decided to go to his family in England, but died of fever on the way.
Lead Curator, East India Company Records
Asiatic Journal 2 (1816) pp.32-34 - wreck of the Arniston
Thomas Shuttleworth Grimshawe, A Memoir of the Rev. Legh Richmond (5th edition, 1829)
Thomas Fry, Domestic portraiture… (London, 1835)