Cerberus Catastrophe

When William Cotgrave requested a transfer from HMS Cruizer to HMS Cerberus, he was no doubt looking for a bit of adventure.  He certainly found it.

Born in Chester to a large family of boys, all of whom had to be found jobs, William followed his father’s trade as a surgeon, and joined some of his brothers in seeking his fortune in the Royal Navy.  So as a young man in 1770 he joined the Cruizer as a surgeon’s mate.  It was obviously fairly boring hanging about the south coast of England when others were going to more exciting places – by now at least one of his brothers was in India and another in America.

His initial request was refused, and he was instead transferred to HMS Torbay, which meant more hanging about in Plymouth, Portsmouth and the Hamoaze, which sounds more exotic but is just a name for the Tamar estuary between Devon and Cornwall.

Then in October 1772, he finally got his wish, and as surgeon’s mate on board the Cerberus, for the next few years, he at least managed to travel further afield in British waters, at Inverkeith Bay in Scotland, Guernsey, Great Yarmouth, and the curiously named Jack-in-the-Basket on the Solent.

But it was in 1775, that the Cerberus really started its adventures.  On 25 May 1775, it dropped anchor in Boston Harbour, the first British warship to arrive in North America following the outbreak of the War of Independence.  She brought three important British Generals, and copies of the Parliamentary legislation that would inflame tensions. 

In 1776, she captured many American vessels, but in 1778, she was in danger of falling into enemy hands, and her Captain ran her aground, disembarked the crew and burned her to prevent this happening.  The site of Cerberus’ wreck at Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island is now protected by Federal law.

William Cotgrave was transferred to HMS Ardent and then to HMS Leviathan, not as a crew member but as a supernumerary to be transported home and he arrived at Plymouth on 30 November 1778, where he was discharged.

It is not clear what he did for the next few years, but by 1782, he was surgeon of HMS Exeter, and his desire for exiting travel was again fulfilled, but not for long.  On 7 April 1783, probably still no older than his late 30s, “Mr William Cotgrave late of HM Ship Exeter” was buried at Bombay.

British Library: IOR/N/3/3, p.96
History of Cerberus: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/08auvfest/background/history/history.html
The National Archives: ADM36/7805; ADM36/7683; ADM36/7728, 7729, 7730, 7732; ADM36/7825; ADM36/7936; ADM36/9443; ADM106/1185, no,77

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