It’s the stuff of legends.
Ships wrecked off the coast of Cayman, Royalty on board saved from certain death, and the King of England says: “Thanks Cayman, you’ll never have to pay taxes again.”
A bar tale surely. Embellished over many years and plenty of rum.
The type of urban myth that may sound ever so slightly believable, but when it comes down to brass tacks, it has to be wrong.
Or is it?
Local historian and author Sam Oakley has different ideas. She’s spent several years researching this old sea fable and has come up with new evidence, that certainly puts a different perspective on the story of the Ten Sail.
Ms. Oakley has discovered that there was indeed a member of royalty onboard one of the ten stricken vessels, and while there’s no new evidence to suggest King George III expressed his gratitude with ad infinitum tax breaks, all may not be as its seems.
“The inhabitants of Grand Cayman displayed considerable heroism in assisting the rescue of more than 400 survivors and thanks to their bravery, few lives were lost,” said Ms. Oakley.
“Legend has long persisted that a British prince was among those rescued and that King George granted the Cayman Islands its present tax advantageous status in gratitude.
“While most modern historians have refuted such a claim, my research has revealed that there was indeed a royal connection among the Convert’s passenger.”
That connection was in the shape of Lady Amelia Cooke, daughter of the Duke of Atholl and cousin of King George.
Ms. Oakley added: “The inhabitants of the Cayman Islands have long-believed they owe their envied tax-free status to the gratitude of King George III of Britain for the rescue of one of his sons following a shipwreck there at the end of the 18th century.
“The claim has been dismissed by modern historians but new evidence has now emerged that reveals there was a royal connection with what became the worst maritime disaster in the history of the Islands.”
It was February 1794 when ten ships, hence the name ten sails, were driven on to a reef on the eastern shore of Grand Cayman.
To mark the 200th anniversary of the disaster, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited the site and dedicated a memorial to those who lost their lives.
“It’s an amazing story,” added Ms. Oakley. “I’ve been fascinated by that period ever since reading Mutiny on the Bounty.
“And who knows, the story of the Wreck of the Ten Sail may one day become a movie.”
Ten facts about the Ten Sail
- The ships were part of a large convoy sailing from Jamaica to England.
- Ten ships, including the naval frigate HMS Convert, were driven on to a reef off East End.
- A subsequent court martial exonerated the captain and the crew of the Convert of any wrongdoing.
- A “strong current” was blamed for setting the ship off course.
- The 36-gun Convert had previously been a French ship, L’Inconstante captured by the British the year before.
- HMS Convert was escorting a total of 58 ships, most heading to Europe, carrying sugar, rum. Cotton, timber and other goods.
- The other ships wrecked were the merchant vessels Britannia, Nancy, Ludlow, Moorhall, Richard and the William & Elizabeth along with brigs Sally, Eagle and Fortune.
- Caymanians at the time were worried the seamen and women who had arrived would be such a burden on the Islands resources, eight leading islanders signed a petition demanding the immediate removal of the unwanted visitors.
- The Convert survivors camped out in make-shift tents along with shore of Gun Bay for 36 days attempting to salvage what they could from the wreck.
- The Captain of the Convert, John Lawford, remained in the navy for many years after the Ten Sail incident. He died at his home in London in 1841 at the age of 86.
The Wreck of the Ten Sail: A true story of Cayman’s past by Sam Oakley is published by the Polperro Heritage Press in a fully illustrated case bound edition, and available from book stores in Cayman.
To win a signed copy of the book just answer this simple question:
Off which district did the ships hit the reef?
a) West Bay
b) East End
c) Bodden Town
Email your answer to [email protected]