Dan Snow's History Hit

The Tragedy of HMS Captain

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Episode notes

As a crew of over 500 boarded HMS Captain in the autumn of 1870, none of them knew their fate was sealed in the offices of the dockyard. The Captain was one of the Royal Navy’s first steam powered battleships- both innovative and formidable - three masts with wrought iron armour, but it was no match for the treacherous storm it came up against one September night in the Bay of Biscay.

As the Captain was battered and swallowed by the Atlantic, the men onboard suffered terribly: some washed overboard, some caught in steam explosions below and others trapped in the rigging and sails as she disappeared. Only 18 survived, by rowing scantily clad, barefoot and traumatised through the darkness until daybreak. The tragedy ripped through Victorian Britain and quickly questions started to be asked about how this could have happened and who was responsible.

Today, over 150 years later, Dr Howard Fuller from the University of Wolverhampton and his team have made a breakthrough in their search for the wreck off the coast of Spain. They're almost certain HMS Captain lies off Cape Finisterre and are working on a campaign to explore the wreck, to discover more about the ship and its sinking. Part of the project is to find out more about the last moments of the men on board, most of whom lost their lives, for their descendants and families who are still looking for answers. 

You can find out more and donate to the Find the Captain fundraiser project here: findthecaptain.co.uk 

Produced by Mariana Des Forges, sound design and mixing by Dougal Patmore.

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