One of the worst maritime disasters to strike Great Britain and the Royal Navy in home waters occurred off Portsmouth on August 28, 1782. The HMS Royal George, a 100 gun ship of the line, had just returned from North American waters and was preparing to accompany HMS Victory to Gibraltar when it capsized just off the entrance of Portsmouth harbor. Compounding the disaster was the fact that more than hundreds of women and children had boarded the vessel to visit with friends and family. The Royal George had been careened on its side for maintenance and the sea quickly engulfed the vessel through open gun ports. More than 900 died in the tragic accident including 360 women and children.
For nearly 50 years the ship lay intact in shallow waters near the entrance until two enterprising divers contrived a plan to remove the ship’s remains which were now a hazard to navigation. From 1834 to 1836, the divers, brothers Charles and John Deane, attempted unsuccessfully to salvage the vessel. Although failing, the brothers did discover the wreck of the Mary Rose which would later be successfully raised and preserved in the early 1980s. Several years later, from 1839-1844, the Royal Engineers performed salvage efforts on the vessel and raised many of her bronze cannon and other items. These cannon were later melted down and used to craft part of Nelson’s Column in London’s Trafalgar Square. As a final exclamation mark in the story of the Royal George, the Royal Engineers detonated a massive controlled explosion that shattered windows ashore as far as two to three miles away from the wreck site.