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The Royal Navy schooner HMS Widgeon was one of many Cuckoo Class 2-masted schooners built by contract in English shipyards during the Napoleonic War (1803 to 1815). The Cuckoo Class schooners evolved from the earlier Bermuda-designed and built Ballahoo Class schooners, in particular HMS Haddock. Several different shipbuilders built them, with all of the ships being launched in 1806.
Like many of her class and the earlier Ballahoo Class they were not good sea-going ships and HMS Widgeon succumbed to the perils of the sea less than 1-year after her commissioning.
HMS Widgeon was sailing off the Scottish coast working to assemble a convoy designated for America when she received orders to sail to Banff in order to notify the ships waiting in the Moray Firth that the convoy was soon to depart. She anchored off Banff on 18th April 1808 and the next day sent a small boat into Banff Harbour. HMS Widgeon then remained four to five miles offshore waiting for her small boat to return.
20th April 1808, a bad snowstorm arose and at 2:30am HMS Widgeon was driven towards the shore and ran aground two miles due northwest of Banff at Blackpots. In an attempt to save the ship her crew threw the heavy shot overboard. They also fired their guns as a signal of distress. Within 10 minutes she was filled with water, and the crew bilged her, but they then decided to man her boats and make for the safety of the shore, all hands were saved.
The investigation into the loss of the ship found that Lieutenant George Elliot had left pilot Alexander Layell in charge and ordered him to keep the ship at least four miles from shore throughout the night. Layell had other ideas and left the Bosun's mate in charge and gone below. The Bosun's mate let HMS Widgeon drift towards the shore in the storm and subsequently be wrecked. Alexander Layell was subject to a court martial regarding her loss and was ultimately found responsible and he was sentenced to six months incarceration in the Marshalsea Prison, London and to be fined all pay due to him.
Similar HMS Haddock Ballahoo Class schooner body plan (1805).
Ship Name: HMS Widgeon.
Builder: William Wheaton, Brixham.
Date Built: Ordered 11th December 1805, laid down March 1806, launched 19th June 1806, completed 24th May 1807 at Plymouth Dockyard. Commissioned in 1807 under Lieutenant William Morgan for the North Sea. In 1808 she came under the command of Lieutenant George Elliot.
Ship Type: Cuckoo Class, Schooner.
Owners: Royal Navy / Admiralty.
Length: 56ft 3in (17.1m) overall, 42ft 41⁄4in (12.9m) keel.
Beam: 18ft 6in (5.6m).
Draft: Unladen: 4ft 0in (1.2m), laden: 7ft 9in (2.4m).
Gross Tonnage: 75.
Armament: 4 x 12-pounder carronades.
Other information: Depth of Hold = 8ft 6in (2.6m).
Fate: She ran aground at Blackpots, Whitehills, 2 miles west of Banff, on 20th April 1808.
research compiled by Stanley Bruce BSc; I.MarEng; MIMarEST