Humphrey Grey’s Letter to his cousin re the ‘Letitia’ shipwreck.



Humphrey Grey wrote this letter to his cousin while on board the US Ship “Hesperus’ between St Jago and Rio de Janiero in September 1828.


Dear John,


I expect you will have heard, ere this reaches you of our shipwreck. We are, thank God, all safe, though with an entire loss of property, except for a few torn rags that we got on the shore, next day. On the 15th of August, we came to anchor in Porto Prayo Island, off St. Jago, to take in water as what we had on board was bad. It came on to blow, which occasioned a swell and the ship rolled much. It was deemed advisable to let go the ;second anchor, which the Captain had neglected.



We were then in 8 fathoms of water with less than 30 fathoms of chain, and about 3 o’clock on the evening of the 19th she parted from the anchor, the chain breaking. Then, too late, the second anchor was let go, but did not hold.

You can imagine what a situation we were in, leaving the boat and getting most of the passengers ashore. A signal was made, which brought a boat alongside. We instantly got all the Ladies and Children in her and sent them ashore. Shortly after 4 o’clock, she struck on the rocks, in a fearful surf.


She soon began to fill, and the masts to roll, which made it dangerous to stay near her. I remained. till her lower deck was forced up to the upper one. I am sorry to say that no exertion was made to save the ship or cargo. The wind abated before the anchor broke. I wanted Clements to let the kedge anchor be rung from the ship, but he would take no notice of what anyone said.

We can never give sufficient thanks to the Almighty, for, had it happened at night, I think not even five would have been saved.


Owing to the great heat of the weather, the Ladies had on only a gown, no coat, and the gentlemen, jacket and trousers, and in that state, we are now obliged to remain, for want of others to change them. I have seen some shipwrecks, but anything to equal this, I have never witnessed. She was actually torn to pieces! We have experienced much kindness from Mr Goodwin, the British ConsuI, who provided us with provisions and lodgings during our stay, and a passage for as many as wished to go to Rio de Janeiro.


We left some of our passengers on the Island of St. Jago, who intended to return to Ireland by America, viz, Mr. Page, (son to Page, a stockbroker in Dublin) Mr. Bell, Mr. Roberts, and Dr. Clerk, -of Shiliness, Mrs. Weston and child (of Cork) who went on in the Mary of London the next day. She did not save a stitch of clothing nor a shilling of money. Mr. Murphy, of Dublin, also went in the Mary.

Now we have on board  Captain Allen, Master, bound to Rio, Mr. Moore of Dublin, his wife, four children and servants, Mr. Pentland, Captain Moriarty, his wife, and children and two friends of nis, Mr. L. W. Clerk and Mr. Popham from Bandon.


There are also some steerage passengers and part of our former crew. I must give you an account of our proceedings since we left Cork Harbour. We went to sea with the worst crew that ever was shipped. They could hardly work out of the harbour. Harris, the Customs House Officer, on taking leave of Captain Moriarty’s child, said, “My dear, I hope you may arrive in New South Wales, but I foresee it will not be in the Letitia!”


We found we had only five hands on board that knew any thing about seamanship, and three of them were as great villains as could be met with. They were picked up in Cove. Repeatedly, these fellows said the ship would be lost for want of hands to work her. Clements said he would put into Madeira and ship three or four more hands. Instead of doing so, he went into the harbour, and finding the Port charges would be about £6, he stood out to sea putting us at the mercy of the waves, with a promise to put into Pernambuco for fresh water and provisions. Our water was bad four days after we left Cork as the casks that contained it were dirty and bad.


Almost every day there was a row between the Captain, passengers and crew. We were blessed with a fair wind from two days after we sailed, until we anchored at Porta Prayo.


Your affectionate cousin, Humphrey


P.S. We arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, Oct. 5th., after a passage of 39 days from St. Jago, and came to lodge at Hotel de Lempire on Oct., 8th., 1828.



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