Minster’s churchyard headstones history uncovered

Royal George

Royal George - Credit: Archant


The Minster churchyard contains the remains of former Yarmouth citizens, several of whom lived interesting lives. Many of their exploits are forgotten today.

In the Mercury of March 1930, Harry Johnson, the Mercury Corner Man, wrote that on North Quay there was a tavern named after the ill-fated man-of-war the Royal George, and in the churchyard lies Thomas Bowles (aged 84), the last survivor of the crew of that vessel, which was wrecked off Spithead.

He lies next to the graves of Harriet Candler (murdered in 1844) and Matthew Champion (Yarmouth’s oldest man at 111 years of age). T

he graves lie about 30 yards to the east of the Minster. Of the three, only Champion’s is now recognisable.

The first-rater HMS Royal George had long been the pride of the Navy. She had the tallest masts and the squarest canvas; in fact she was considered the embodiment of naval glory. Admirals, including Anson, Rodney and Howe, had successfully commanded this fine craft, which was the envy of the French.

It was on 28th August 1782 that the Royal George returned from a cruise to Spithead, where Lord Howe’s fleet of nearly 40 sail of the line and about 250 merchant ships were riding at anchor. As companions were the Victory, the Barfleur, the Ocean and the Union; all three-deckers.

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As the Royal George lay at anchor, the ship’s carpenter discovered a fault with a pipe, which admitted water for cleaning the ship. As its opening was three feet below the surface of the water it was decided to heel the ship slightly over, so the pipe might be examined.

The guns on the larbord side were run-out of the portholes, whilst the guns of the starboard side were moved inwards to the middle of the decks. This brought the portholes on the lower side almost level with the water. However, the larboard cannons’ weight on the ship’s central frame caused rotten timbers to break and water began to enter the ship by the portholes.

Warnings were given to the lieutenant of the watch, but he made light of any danger and refused to halt the process.

And then a sudden breeze gave the vessel a further list and water rushed into the portholes causing the vessel to fall over broadside. Many people were trapped.

Of the 1,200 persons aboard, including 250 women and children (relations and friends of the seamen), nearly 900 perished.

I wonder how many other stories lie buried in the churchyard.