Sherborne Mercury 6/2/1786:

Extract of a Letter from Weymouth, January 27th: “Last night was driven on shore, on Portland Beach, the ship Polly, of Stockton, in Durham, burthen 500 tons, George King master, from New Providence bound for London. Her cargo consists of mahogany, brizileto, fustick, logwood, boxwood, etc.. Soon after she struck, she went to pieces. The whole crew, being 13 in number, and 4 passengers, were saved, as was part of the cargo.”

AN ACCOUNT BY MRS. REBECCA WATSON HARRIS, NEE PROLE, OF THE SHIPWRECK OF HER GRANDPARENTS WILLIAM AND REBECCA WATSON. Transcribed from notes written by Effie Gripper about her Grandmother’s (Rebecca Watson Harris) recollections. Rosemary Madgett 4th February 2002

“William Watson of Bucklands, near Hawick, N.B., [1] was one of 11 children but they all, with the exception of William, died early. He, when young, went to E. Florida, where he accumulated a large fortune. When the Floridas were ceded to the Spaniards (c.1783), and the English had the Bahamas, my grandfather came to London to report the loss he had sustained by the exchange & also that of other Gentlemen. Our Government said that Mr. Watson was the most intelligent & perfect gentleman they had met with on the business, & owing to the report he gave many got some of their rights through him.

When this business was settled he, with my Grandmother, settled in the Bahamas but finding it not healthy, the yellow fever raging, he said he would sell all his property and return to England. They were 3 weeks tying their money into bags, then packing them in iron-bound cases. He would not insure as he said if the money was lost they should be also & they had no children or any near relatives to leave it to. Accordingly they sailed for England but they had not been long on board before my Grandfather discovered that the Captain was a bad man. He had been abroad many years & could not make up his account with his owners, so he kept a strict watch over him.

They encountered a severe gale of wind for 9 days, expecting every minute to perish. Nothing could be cooked on board & the Captain had laid in no stock of useful things, not even lights for the binnacle. The Steward was a nice man and he told my Grandfather how matters were, so my Grandfather said he had a large stock of wax candles & he should have them.

At last they got near England & the Steward came to them one evening & said “Please Sir give me a few more candles. I trust we shall be in Falmouth tomorrow for we are going up channel with a fair wind.” “Thank God” replied Mr. Watson, “You may take all”, and they went to bed with more composure than they had done at all, & lay talking about the morrow, Mr. Watson saying he should have everything out of the ship for he was sure the Captain would lose her before he got to London, and he would post it from Falmouth. Whilst they were talking, about 12 o’clock, they heard an alarm on deck & the poor ship’s dog came running down the cabin stairs. My Grandfather sprang out of bed & went on deck, when he found the Captain had ordered the man at the helm to change the vessel’s course & they did not know where they were, just on some fearful rocks. He rushed down, telling my Grandmother to get up at once, then all at once a tremendous crash was heard, the vessel had struck on the rocks & the water poured into the cabin. My Grandmother had no time to dress, my Grandfather wrapped her in one of his coats and got her on deck.

The sea was mountains high. He then took a rope & fastened round her waist, and gave one in each hand. Wishing each other farewell she had to climb up the side of the ship and jump into the sea, my Grandfather holding the ropes. Two of the sailors were swimming to catch her, which they did and swam with her to the shore. My Grandfather also swam on shore & all on board were saved. They were wrecked on Portland beach, a very pebbly shore near Weymouth. [2]

They went to the village Inn [3] where, after seeing his wife in bed, my Grandfather thought he would see if anything could be saved. The Landlord carried the lantern, his sailors accompanying them. When he saw the Landlord turn his lantern to the wind 3 times to put out the light he returned to the Inn thinking he should be murdered. The next day the Mayor of Weymouth, hearing there was a wreck and that a Gentleman & lady were at the Village Inn, came out to offer assistance. His name was Seymour. [4] My Grandfather related the above circumstances to him & he said “Mrs. Watson you may thank God Mr. Watson’s life is preserved for that man would have thought nothing more of knocking him on the head & throwing him into the sea if he had claimed anything than he would of drowning a dog.” Their great iron-bound trunks came in whole but the wreckers smashed them in and one snatched one thing and another the other, so they saved nothing.”

Notes & Commentary by Paul Madgett relevant to this wreck story (22/10/2010)

1 – Effie’s document clearly says “Hawick, N.B.”, thus implying “New Brunswick” – but, firstly this was part of Nova Scotia during William’s time; secondly we can find no evidence of a community called “Hawick” in New Brunswick / Nova Scotia; thirdly we have discovered evidence that William’s parents were from near Hawick, Scotland, and that he was born there, his mother being from a long line living there. It is possible, however, that William did emigrate first to Nova Scotia, then moving to East Florida. However, William Watson is a common name, and there is room for confusion of individuals in the North American records.

2 – This would seem to describe the NW end of the Isle of Portland? – where Chesil Beach abuts the cliffs of the Isle of Portland.

3 – This Inn may be The Cove Inn, at Chiswell?

4 – Staff at the Weymouth Museum cannot find a “Seymour” among the list of Mayors of Weymouth they hold there. Possibly he was Mayor of some nearby place, such as Portland or Chickerell? – or possibly he was not a Mayor, but had some other official position?


It is a most interesting story which fortunately is now backed up by the Sherbourne Mercury reference and a manuscript which came up for auction in 2006 viz:

Auction Location: United Kingdom – 2006

Lot 302 : [ Historical Memorabilia On Paper ] Shipwreck interesting manuscript document signed by William Watson, stating that he was shipwrecked in the Polly

Detail; [ Historical Memorabilia On Paper ] Shipwreck interesting manuscript document signed by William Watson, stating that he was shipwrecked in the Polly Captain King on Portland Beach during his passage from Nassau to London on January 26th 1786 and that all his books, papers and vouchers relating to his mercantile transactions in America were lost, and that all his accounts in America were liquidated and he owes no one any money. The purpose of the document is to prevent his son from paying any claims from anyone in America. An unusual document to say the least.


Sherbourne Mercury 06/02/1786 from M. Attwooll Archive.

Madgett, private communications.


Brazileto – Hardwood from Mexico.

Fustick – Yellow Dye Wood.

William and Rebecca Watson were common ancestors of Terry Evans, writer of above email detailing the Auction, Lot 302,, and of Rosemary Madgett (great-grand-daughter of Effie Harris) in whose possession are the original notes by Effie Harris, concerning her Great-Great Grandparent’s shipwreck.

Day of Loss: 0

Month of Loss: 0

Year of Loss: 1786



Approximate Depth: