Shipwreck sees new interest as it turns 300

Boon Island’s rocky groundPhoto Jeremy D'Entremont

By Susan Morse - Nashua Telegraph

The shipwreck of the Nottingham Galley on Boon Island, a tale of winter survival and cannibalism, is a story that still fascinates 300 years later.

Richard Bowen, program specialist for The Museums of Old York in York, and lighthouse expert Jeremy D’Entremont, of Portsmouth, will commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Nottingham Galley shipwreck at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, at Nubble Light, Sohier Park in York.

On a clear day, Boon Island can be seen from the York shoreline, six miles out to sea.

“I would place it in the top 10 New England shipwrecks,” said D’Entremont, author of “Great Shipwrecks of the Maine Coast.”

“How horrible it must have been out there, the misery of being shipwrecked and crawling up on rocks in a storm,” Bowen said. “If something like that happened today, people would be quickly rescued. Surviving hardship is a topic that fascinates.”

Stephen Erickson, of Portsmouth, recently published an article about the Nottingham Galley shipwreck in the New England Quarterly. “These sailors were particularly ill-equipped for the conditions they faced,” he said.

“They had no fire, they didn’t get off (the ship) with a single overcoat, there was almost no food. They picked up cheese found floating in the water and soon suffered hypothermia ... it was a particularly miserable set of circumstances.”

The Nottingham Galley was on its way from England to Ireland and then to Boston when it crashed into Boon Island during a sleet storm Dec. 11, 1710. All 14 men aboard survived the wreck, crawling up the slippery rocks onto the 300- by 700-foot rock that is Boon Island.

At only 14 feet above sea level, the men didn’t know that first night whether the entire island would soon be covered by water, according to D’Entremont.

As the first Boon Island lighthouse was built in the 1800s, there was no shelter.

The men made a makeshift tent out of sailcloth, where they slept on bare rock. First Mate Christopher Langman managed to kill a seagull, which was eaten raw because there was no wood for a fire.

The cook died on the second night. “People say they ate the cook ... they were not desperate enough at that point,” D’Entremont said.

When the ship’s carpenter died about two weeks later, the men were desperate. Capt. John Deane cut the flesh into thin slices and wrapped the pieces in seaweed. The man’s head, hands, feet and bowels were buried at sea, according to stories written by D’Entremont.

Two other men drowned at sea in an attempt to get to the mainland aboard a raft made out of wood from the ship.

Rescue for the remaining men came 24 days after the shipwreck, when people on the mainland discovered the raft and sent a search party looking for survivors. The men were taken to Portsmouth.


Nottingham Galley Boon Island Portsmouth Richard Bowen The Museums of Old York Jeremy D’Entremont