An exciting new book about the Wreck of the Ten Sail sheds fresh light on one of our most cherished parts of history.
Local author Sam Oakley revisits the evidence for the legendary ship from 1794 and comes up with some surprising new discoveries in a new fully illustrated account of the incident that may have shaped the future of the Cayman Islands as we know them today.
“You can’t live in Cayman and not have heard about the wreck of the Ten Sail,” says Oakley. “Before I started to write this book, I found that my knowledge about the subject was more or less limited to: A shipwreck on the reef at East End involving one ship with ten sails.
“I’d also heard stories of hapless sailors being lured onto the reef by Caymanians waving lanterns, but as you’ll see once you’ve read my book, neither is true! The real story is, in fact, far more interesting.”
The inhabitants of the Cayman Islands have long believed they owe their envied tax-free status to the gratitude of King George III of Britain, supposedly for the rescue of one of his sons following a shipwreck at the end of the 18th century.
The claim has been dismissed by modern historians, but new evidence has emerged that reveals there was a royal connection with what became the worst maritime disaster in the history of the Cayman Islands.
Known as “the wreck of the Ten Sail,” ten ships of a large convoy sailing from Jamaica to England – including the accompanying naval frigate, HMS Convert – were driven onto a reef on the eastern shore of Grand Cayman in February 1794. The story is told in this new book.
“Thanks to the heroic efforts of the islanders at the time, almost everyone aboard the stricken vessels was saved, among them, someone with a link to King George III,” says Oakley. “Legend has it that it was a royal prince who was saved. Historians have ruled that out, but my research shows there was indeed someone on board with close links to the British monarchy.
“The inhabitants of Grand Cayman displayed considerable heroism in assisting the rescue of more than 400 survivors, and thanks to their bravery, few lives were lost,” says Oakley.
The subsequent court martial exonerated the captain and crew of the Convert, blaming “a strong current setting the ship very considerably northward” of the convoy’s intended course in the Caribbean.
In 1994, the 200th anniversary of the incident was marked by a visit to the site by Queen Elizabeth II, who dedicated a memorial to the six victims of the shipwreck.
“I have always been intrigued by naval history, real stories brought to life,” says Oakley. “It doesn’t need to be dull; look at the story of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty.’ It’s a page-turner, and several great movies came out of that true story.
“Who knows? Maybe one day we might even see a film about the wreck of the Ten Sail! What a story line that would be.”
About the author
Oakley is best known for her television presenting work with credits that include BBC TV. She also presented her own radio show for many years. Originally from Buckinghamshire in the U.K., Oakley has lived in Paris and London. She is well used to island living, having spent many years living in Guernsey in the Channel Islands before making the move to Cayman with her husband Nick and two children, Harriet and George.
‘The Wreck of the Ten Sail: a true story from Cayman’s past’ by Sam Oakley is published by the Polperro Heritage Press (ISBN 978-0957646179) in a fully illustrated, case-bound edition. It will be on sale from Sept. 22 at Books & Books and The Book Nook.