The loss of the Hanover

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Postal Service appointment Book, 1737-1969, Post Office Archive

Wednesday May 1st 1765

Ordered that Mrs Statira Sherburne, Widow of Joseph Sherburne late Commander of His Majesty’s Packet Boat the Hanover unfortunately lost in December 1763 be allowed a Pension of Twelve Pounds a year out of the Sick and Hurt Money in the Hands of the Secretary to commence with the Quarter included in which she lost her Husband.

Behind this sad little entry in the Postal Service Appointment Books of 1765 for the grant of a pension for Statira Sherburne is the story of the loss of a husband, a father and the packet ship Hanover, operating out of Falmouth. In December 1763 the ship sank off the North coast of Cornwall in a severe storm. All but three of the ship’s complement of crew and passengers were also lost as was the cargo which included a bullion chest containing 20,000 Portuguese moidares worth approximately £27,000.

Joseph Sherburne, Commander, was born in London in 1721. He was first appointed to the Post Office Packet Service in 1749 as Captain of the Swallow on the Falmouth to Corunna run. He was then appointed as Captain of the Hanover on the Falmouth to Lisbon service. He lived with his second wife, Statira, whom he married in 1749, and their children in Falmouth.

The Packet Service was of course part of the General Post Office providing domestic and international mail links by sea. In 1688 a service was first established from Falmouth to Corunna and by 1704 to Barbados, Jamaica and North America and then Lisbon. 

This Hanover was the third packet ship of that name, a two-masted brigantine built at Shoreham in 1757 and stationed in Falmouth from 1758. Captain Sherburne had commanded her predecessor and was appointed to the new ship as a senior Commander in the Service.   

On December 8th, 1763, England was hit by a furious storm of wind and rain. His Majesty’s Packet Hanover was in the western approaches to the English Channel returning from Lisbon to Falmouth. On board was the crew of twenty seven, including Captain Sherburne, thirty three passengers and the valuable cargo. The gale swept the Hanover past Land’s End and by December 9th the Packet was off the North coast of Cornwall near Cligga Head, St Agnes. During the night the ship was driven ashore and smashed to pieces on the jagged rocks of an isolated cove known as Vugga Hayle between St Agnes and Perranporth. Only three of those on board survived. 

The rest were lost including Captain Sherburne whose body when discovered was described by the London Evening Post of 20th December 1763 as ‘cut quite asunder and so disfigured as rendered it impossible to know him except by some part of his apparel.’ He was buried in Falmouth on 1st January 1764. The cove is now known as Hanover Cove. The bullion chest was not found at the time of the wreck but later and led to a legal case as did the locating of the wreck in 1994 but that is another story.

The bell of the Hanover can be seen in the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.

With thanks to Volunteer Linda Batchelor