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Isle of Wight

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Crown Colony

Map of the Isle of Wight. 1837.
Isle of Wight, England.
1837. Thomas Moule.

As the largest of England's islands, the location of the Isle of Wight has made it particularly vulnerable to invasion. The island's earliest inhabitants lived here from around 1900 BC. Known as the Beaker people because of the pottery they left behind, they called their home "Wiht," which can be translated as "what rises over the sea."

The Romans went on to call it "Vectis," Evidence of Roman life on the Isle of Wight includes the villa at Brading, which was once part of a wealthy farming estate.

By the reign of Henry VIII, the Isle of Wight had gained strategic importance, with a new naval base being set up at nearby Portsmouth. New fortifications were built at Yarmouth, East and West Cowes, and Sandown. In 1545, French attacks were successfully repulsed. However, the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 did little to assuage fears that the Isle of Wight was vulnerable to future Spanish attack, and the island's defences were further strengthened.


The Isle of Wight achieved particular notoriety during the English Civil War. Charles attempted to force a new prayer book on the country, which ended his personal rule. He was forced to call parliament to obtain funds to fight the Scots. In November 1641, tensions were raised even further with disagreements over who should command an army to suppress an uprising in Ireland. Charles attempted to have five members of parliament arrested and in August 1642, raised the royal standard at Nottingham. Civil war began.

Carisbrook Castle, Isle of Wight

Carisbrook Castle.

The Royalists were defeated in 1645-1646 by a combination of parliament's alliance with the Scots and the formation of the New Model Army. In 1646, Charles surrendered to the Scots, who handed him over to parliament. He escaped to the Isle of Wight in 1647 and encouraged discontented Scots to invade. This "Second Civil War" was over within a year with another royalist defeat by Parliamentarian general Oliver Cromwell. After several unsuccessful attempts from Carisbrooke, the king was taken to Newport, before returning to London. Convinced that there would never be peace while the king lived, radical MPs, including Cromwell, put him on trial for treason. He was found guilty and executed on 30 January 1649 outside the Banqueting House on Whitehall, London.

H.M. Frigate Galatea.

H. M. Frigate Galatea.

38 Guns off the Isle of Wight
(Built 1810; Hulk in 1836). Thomas Whitcombe.

In 1829, under Captain Charles Napier, Galetea was part of the Channel Squadron. On March 11, 1830, Galatea left Spithead to go to the assistance of Wolfe which had gone on shore on the Isle of Wight. In 1831, she was out of commission at Portsmouth.

With the arrival of the railway age, the Isle of Wight became much more accessible. For Queen Victoria, that meant being able to spend more time at Osborne House, which she used first as a retreat and then as a royal residence. Her association with the island meant that fishing villages such as Ryde, Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor soon metamorphosed into fashionable resorts, visited by European royalty.

The Isle of Wight also became famous during this period for launching the world's first radio station, which Marconi set up on the western tip.

February 5, 1867, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, USA

The Ocean Yacht Race.
The Yachts in Cowes Harbor -- Honors to the Yachtmen -- Log of the Fleetwing

[Correspondence of the London Telegraph.]

Yacht Henrietta, Friday, December 28th.

This is not the Fourth of July. The negative information would be necessary to any person who might find himself today in the situation of a Rip Van Winkle, waking up in ignorance of the calendar, and in sight of the town of West Cowes.

East Cowes Castle, Isle of Wight.
The Regatta with the Royal Yacht Squadron
Joseph William Turner

Regatta with the Royal Yacht Squadron. Joseph William Turner.

For the town of West Cowes is brightened by a sunshine as genial as that of Summer, and all its principal buildings are flaunting the American flag. The town of West Cowes, by modest confession of a pictorial guidebook illustrative of the local scenery, "has nothing in itself particularly to attract a stranger's attention;" yet I have already heard from several "strangers" the remark that the view of this tiny point bears a certain resemblance to Staten Island, the likeness being perhaps assisted in their ardent imaginations by the conspicuous presence of the stars and stripes. In the gloaming of these short Winter days, when, the objects on shore begin to lose their distinctness, and lights twinkle out one by one, there is more of the look of James river and of the coast scenery nigh unto Richmond, about this part of the pretty Isle of Wight; and the light Summer-house looking buildings that rise one above the other from the beach, help out the picturesque comparison.

Isle of Wight Races. Vesta off the Needles
James E. Butterworth (1817-1894)

Isle of Wight Races. Vesta off the Needles.

The three yachts are lying off the Customhouse pier at Cowes, some little way out. The Fleetwing is nearest, then comes the winning yacht, on board which this letter is written, and at a distance of five or ten minutes pull beyond us is the Vesta. As the English public have already been apprised, the registered tonnage of all three vessels is very nearly the same. It is more nearly the same, indeed, than it has been stated to be; for instead of 212 tons, American measurement, the Fleetwing is registered at 204 tons only, the burden of the Henrietta being 203 and of the Vesta 201 tons. In shape, also, the competing yachts, which have made their adventurous voyage within so short a time and so nearly together, are much of a muchness, differing essentially from the ordinary lines of English boats, the most distinctive peculiarity, and the first to strike an observer, is the dip of the deck amidships for the instinctive genius of the savage, who builds his canoe with a high "sheer" both fore and aft, has been adopted by our cousins across the Atlantic as a sound natural principle of ship architecture. To an unaccustomed eye this hollow scoop or "bend in the back" is not so pleasing or so suggestive of speed as the arrow straightness of our English yachts; but an objection of the kind gives way before the proverbial wisdom which declares the proof of the pudding to be not in the shape but in the flavor. To have crossed the Atlantic ocean in fourteen days is of itself a sufficient warranty of the effective construction of a sailing ship. But there are differences not so apparent as that which I have indicated, between the American and English type of yacht building.

"In addition to the hollow lines which characterise alike the Henrietta, the Vesta and the Fleetwing, there are peculiarities in the form of the hull, especially below the water line. The idea of the American builders seem to consist in a reliance on beam, rather than on depth of ballast, for good sailing qualities; and this is an idea which concerts well with the American sailing master's belief that he can trim his sails flatter and go better to the wind than can the yachtsman of the old country. In general configuration the Yankee yacht differs farther from our model, and draws more water aft and less lore. Indeed, the draught of water near the bows of any of these American boats is next to nothing, they being cut away like a wherry. Having indicated the leading features in respect of which these yachts differ in common from our own, I may now observe that they also differ, though very slightly, among themselves, the chief point being that the Vesta has a " center board," while the Fleetwing and Henrietta are both keel boats.

The Great Ocean Yacht Race between the
Henrietta, Fleetwing and Vesta

Great Ocean Yacht Race.

The yachts have been visited, both yesterday and to day, by a great many persons; and the gentlemen representing the owners have, together with the Captains and officers, received polite attention from inhabitants of the neighborhood as well as from the members of the Yacht Club here. A dinner was given at the Club House yesterday evening, under the Presidency of the Earl of Wilton, and several gentlemen who are members of the New York Yacht Club were guests, the most noteworthy being James Gordon Bennett, Jr., owner of the winning yacht Henrietta, and William Vickar, Commodore of the New York Club squadron.

It was a matter of some disappointment that the officers by whom the three yachts were not in the list of those gentlemen who received the hospitality of the Club whose headquarters are at West Cowes. To Captain Samuels, who commanded the Henrietta; to her sailing-master, Captain Martin J. Lyons; to Captain Johnson of the Vesta, who was also assisted in the navigation of his yacht by a sailing-master, whose name I have net learned, and to Captain Thomas, who dispensed with any aid in the sailing of the Fleetwing, and was, besides, his own pilot on entering the Channel, every one who admires the skill as well as the pluck with which all three vessels were bandied, must be desirous of paying honor.

The simple reason of these brave and able sailors being excluded from participating in last evening's festivity was that they are not members of the New York Yacht Club; but it is only justice to our countrymen at Cowes to say that the distinction was not of their raising. There appears to have been some mistake somewhere; perhaps in the too punctilious regard for an etiquette which might very well have been disregarded on this occasion. Indeed, it is no secret that the Commodore of the New York Club interpreted the invitation in a more limited sense than was intended. No possibility of a mistake of this kind can occur tonight at the county ball, which is to be held at Southampton, and to which all the officers are bidden. At the time of this letter being written the Queen has passed through Cowes, I believe on her way to the Royal Yacht Club House, and a visit is expected from the Prince and Princess Christian, though a fresh breeze which has sprung up within the past hour or two may cause their Royal Highnesses to postpone the trip.

The Parade and Club-House, West Cowes

Parade and Club House, West Cowes.

Near as was each arrival in its turn, it would seem that the three yachts might have come in even more closely together bad not certain unlooked for accidents interfered with their progress. The Fleetwing's lamentable misfortune, no doubt, tended very much to retard her voyage. She is a noble yacht, and with some accomplished judges here appears to be the favorite, as she undoubtedly was on the other side of the Atlantic. I have boarded her this morning and find her interior as sumptuous as her outward look is imposing. The cockpit from which the unfortunate men were washed is a mere sunken oval space in the after deck, a foot or two deep, with a shallow seat running round it. The wheel is placed here, and not, as in the other two yachts, on the level of the deck, they having no cockpits. The Fleetwing belongs to G. Osgood son-in-law of Vanderbilt; and it is said that her owner had bet very heavily upon her winning. Captain Thomas, by whom she was commanded, is Captain of steamer City of New York, and is well known as a most experienced officer.

On board the Vesta came Colonel Baird Taylor and George Lorillard, brother of Pierre Lorillard, her owner. The untoward circumstance of her pilot's mistaking her lights may fairly be considered as a drawback of some hours in the account of time which she occupied in her voyage. Of the Henrietta I have only time at present to say half of what might be said. The saloon in which I write was a modeled figure of Christmas, bearing the emblematic evergreen tree with its toy fruit as a conspicuous ornament over the handsome mantel piece. The state cabin adjoining takes up a good slice of room below, from which fact it would not be wrong to infer that the owner has had serious purpose of passing much of his time on board. Indeed, young Bennett is a thorough sailor, and was in the service during the war, this very yacht having been fourth in line when the fleet was sent to Florida. Her armament then consisted of a pivot and two broadside guns, which she was thoroughly prepared to use had the expected need arisen. It is some qualification of that idea of extreme hardship which everybody entertains on the subject of the late exciting race that the furniture, or let us boldly and appropriately, say the "fixins" of all these yachts are so very comfortable, nay luxurious.

Ladies are very apt to moderate their admiration and applause when they see how "jolly" everything looks below. In one bookcase I observed that the gilt letters on the callbacks of the volumes denoted an appreciation of English nautical literature. There were Captain G. Marryat's novelsCaptain G. Marryats Novels. in long and handsome array; and there were James Hannay's "Ultramarine," "Sand and Shells," and "Singleton Fontenoy."

Bennett was most happy in his choice of Captain Samuels for commander of the yacht. This experienced mariner, now Captain of the mail steamer Fulton, had previously made the quickest passage on record with the clipper ship Dreadnought, from New York to Liverpool, the time under canvas being thirteen days and eight hours. He has made seventy voyages across the Atlantic in the space of ten years. The voyage of the Henrietta to Cowes was performed an hour and a quarter within the limit of fourteen days, and a heavy bet has been won on this event by Bennett, from a gentleman who had backed the Henrietta to win the race, but who had no confidence in the power of the yachts to run the distance in so short a space of time. The Henrietta went no more than eleven miles out of a straight course, and reefed only five times, carrying nearly full sail the whole way. She had a crew of sixteen men (exclusive to a sailmaker, a carpenter, two cooks, two stewards and a valet). Accompanying Bennett were Melville Knapp, son of a New York banker; Lawrence Jerome, and Fisk, one of the editors of the New York Herald.

Loss of the Fleetwing Crew.

The ocean yacht race continued to attract much comment, and in general the remarks of the press were of a highly complimentary nature. The banquet at Cowes, in honor of the American yachtmen, was to take place on the evening of the 29th, the day the Persia left Liverpool.

The following, in reference to the loss of the six men of the Fleetwing's crew, is furnished by our special correspondent at Cowes:

I was anxious properly to understand the circumstances of the terrible casualty which, on the 19th, in mid-ocean, deprived her of two sub-officers and four seamen. Of course these accidents occur to the largest vessels, and we may yet learn that the same dreadful storm deposited many a score of gallant lives in the ocean caves. A more experienced and intelligent officer than Captain Thomas it would have been difficult to find, and to his great experience and intelligence the owners are indebted that the Fleetwing was not strewed about in spars on the 19th of December, considering her frailty and the terrible nature of the storm. Still, I must say something more about this cockpit. I believe that several experienced mariners in New York looked upon the open box in the stern of the vessel as her ark of safety. Such, however, was not Captain Thomas's opinion; he had again and again urged the owners to have it filled up before he had consented to take charge of the vessel. After he had done so there was no time for the alteration.

The Henrietta and the Vesta owe their good fortune to the fact that they could batten down everything, and that the heavy seas might roll off as quickly as they rolled on, but this basin in the stern of the Fleetwing held tons of water. The men on watch, who had got into it far safety, went out with the waves into the ocean when she rode the next sea; and were probably half a mile from the yacht before the loss was known. Ten minutes before, the Captain himself was in the cockpit. His loss would have been the certain loss of vessel and all, so that there is great cause for thankfulness that it was no worse. The cockpit in so small a vessel is a terrible blunder, and it certainly was not proved in this instance to be a harbor of refuge.

I need scarcely tell you that the terrible accident threw a gloom over Captain Thomas and the remainder of his crew; the men were badly frightened and dispirited. It was of course necessary that they should work all the harder, but it was with great difficulty they could be kept to their duty at all. The Fleetwing of course lost six hours in heaving to, in the faint hope that some of the lost hands might be rescued; but Old Neptune had very surely secured his prey. All must admit as I observed yesterday that this accident and the previous one on the 13th, which carried away the "jib stay band" from the stern and prevented her carrying sail, will account for the fact that the Fleetwing only beat the Vesta by a few hours.

Edward Webb, the pilot of Cutter No. 35, has addressed the following letter to the owner of the yacht Vesta:

Cowes, December 26th.

The great yacht race having caused, so much excitement in the country, and the character of each yacht being at stake, I beg to say that I boarded the Vesta, at 8:50 p. m., ten miles W. SW. from the Needles, as I suppled, but, owing to the misty weather, I mistook the St. Catherine Light for the Needles Light, and thereby caused the Vesta to be the last instead of the second, as I could have been at the Needles at 9:50 P.M., the 25th, instead of 12:40 A.M., the 20th, Wednesday.

Edward Webb, Pilot, Cutter No. 35.


Cowes (December 28th) correspondence. London Dally News.

The officers of the American yachts, including J. Gordon Bennett, Jr., owner of the Henrietta, were entertained at a banquet by members of the Royal Yacht Club last evening. It took place at the Club-house, and there were ten guests present, but the proceedings were entirely of a social character. The banquet to be given by the citizens of Cowes to the officers of the yachts takes place at the Gloster Hotel to-morrow evening, when the member for the Isle of Wight, Sir John Simeon, will preside. The yachts were visited during yesterday by large numbers of persons, and the greatest interest appears to he manifested by the people of Cowes, both in the vessels and their crews. The crews have been ashore and are very smart looking fellows.

The Isle of Wight, 1875 Berthe Morisot

Isle of Wight. 1875.

One of the yachts is to anchor in Southampton water, another is going to Cherbourg, and the third is, it is said, to remain at Cowes. The official Custom-house papers of yachts have been lodged with the United States consular authorities, and the Captain of the Fleetwing has to furnish the names of the men who were drowned on the passage, with the particulars of their deaths, to the authorities, for the information of the United States Government. Eight men were, it appears, washed overboard; two were got on board again, and the other six were drowned.

The crew of the Fleetwing were not the regular hands who sailed in her before the race, but strangers, who were not used to the size and rig of the yacht. She had scarcely any bulwarks, and she was unfortunately broached to when a heavy sea struck her, and it was a wonder that all on deck were not drowned. If the yachts had had ordinary bulwarks they could never have crossed the Atlantic, on account of the vast quantities of water that was continually coming on deck. The three racing yachts resemble very much in appearance the famous yacht America, which I came here a few years ago, but they are much I larger. The Alarm is almost the only yacht which, for size and speed, would be a fit match for the Henrietta. It is understood that the owners of the American yachts will not care to compete with English yachts for less than an ocean race, such as round the Western Islands and back. The Southampton and Isle of Wight Mail Steam Packet Company have issued the following notice: "By the kindness of the owners, the celebrated schooners Henrietta, Fleetwing and Vesta may be inspected during the present week. Steamers leave the Royal pier for Cowes daily, at 8:50 and 10:45 a. m., and 1:45 and 4:30 p.m."

January 15, 1902, Los Angeles Herald , Los Angeles, California, USA

British Steamer Goes Ashore

COWES, Isle of Wight, January 14. The British steamer Braemer Castle, of the Castle Mail Packet Company, which sailed from Cape Town December 26 for Southampton, stranded early this morning on Gurnard ledge, Isle of Wight, and remains fast. She is not leaking. The eighty-five passengers on board the steamer were landed by a tender.

July 26, 1902, San Francisco Call , San Francisco, California, USA

Rehearsal Is Had of the Royal Procession From Palace to Abbey.

LONDON. July 25. This was the first brilliant day since King Edward's arrival at Cowes, Isle of Wight, and his Majesty enjoyed the sunshine on deck. At 12:50 p. m. the royal yacht left her moorings and cruised westward. All reports from the yacht agree that the King is steadily improving. The King had a smooth cruise round the Isle of Wight, returning to Cowes this evening.

Algernon Charles Swinburne

Will Be Burled on Isle of Wight

Algernon Charles Swinburne.

April 12, 1909, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

LONDON, April 12. According to the Times, Swinburne's body will be burled Thursday at Bouchourch, Isle of Wight, where other members of the Swinburne family have been laid to rest. The English newspapers pay the highest tribute to Swinburne, as, with the exception of Meredith, the last of the great names of the Victorian period and a force in English poetry second only to Shakespeare and the other great poets.

Poetry. Algernon Charles Swinburne.

England, queen of the waves, whose green inviolate girdle enrings thee round,
Mother fair as the morning, where is now the place of thy foemen found?
Still the sea that salutes us free proclaims them stricken, acclaims thee crowned.
Time may change, and the skies grow strange with signs of treason, and fraud, and fear:
Foes in union of strange communion may rise against thee from far and near:
Sloth and greed on thy strength may feed as cankers waxing from year to year.

Yet, though treason and fierce unreason should league and lie and defame and smite,
We that know thee, how far below thee the hatred burns of the sons of night,
We that love thee, behold above thee the witness written of life in light.

Life that shines from thee shows forth signs that none may read not by eyeless foes:
Hate, born blind, in his abject mind grows hopeful now but as madness grows:
Love, born wise, with exultant eyes adores thy glory, beholds and glows. Truth is in thee, and none may win thee to lie, forsaking the face of truth:
Freedom lives by the grace she gives thee, born again from thy deathless youth: Faith should fail, and the world turn pale, wert thou the prey of the serpent's tooth.

Greed and fraud, unabashed, unawed, may strive to sting thee at heel in vain;
Craft and fear and mistrust may leer and mourn and murmur and plead and plain:
Thou art thou: and thy sunbright brow is hers that blasted the strength of Spain.

Mother, mother beloved, none other could claim in place of thee England's place:
Earth bears none that beholds the sun so pure of record, so clothed with grace:
Dear our mother, nor son nor brother is thine, as strong or as fair of face, How shalt thou be abased? or how shalt fear take hold of thy heart? of thine,
England, maiden immortal, laden with charge of life and with hopes divine?
Earth shall wither, when eyes turned hither behold not light in her darkness shine.

England, none that is born thy son, and lives by grace of thy glory, free,
Lives and yearns not at heart and burns with hope to serve as he worships thee;
None may sing thee: the sea-wind's wing beats down our songs as it hails the sea.

Algernon Charles Swinburne

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

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