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200 colliers lost at sea, 1692

Daniel Defoe describes a terrible disaster when 200 sailing colliers were lost off the east coast of England in 1692.

About the year 1692, (I think it was that year) there was a melancholy example of what I have said of this place; a fleet of 200 sail of light colliers (so they call the ships bound northward empty to fetch coals from Newcastle to London) went out of Yarmouth Roads with a fair wind, to pursue their voyage, and were taken short with a storm of wind at N.E, after they were past Winterton Ness, a few leagues; some of them, whose masters were a little more wary than the rest, or perhaps, who made a better judgment of things, or who were not so far out as the rest, tack’d, and put back in time, and got safe into the roads; but the rest pushing on, in hopes to keep out to sea, and weather it, were by the violence of the storm driven back, when they were too far embay’d to weather Winterton Ness, as above; and so were forc’d to run west, every one shifting for themselves, as well as they could; some run away for Lyn Deeps but few of them, (the night being so dark) cou’d find their way in there; some but very few rid it out, at a distance; the rest being above 140 sail were all driven on shore, and dash’d to pieces, and very few of the people on board were sav’d:

At the very same unhappy juncture, a fleet of loaden ships were coming from the north, and being just crossing the same bay, were forcibly driven into it, not able to weather the Ness, and so were involved in the same ruin as the light fleet was; also some coasting vessels loaden with corn from Lyn, and Wells, and bound for Holland, were with the same unhappy luck just come out, to begin their voyage, and some of them lay at anchor; these also met with the same misfortune, so that in the whole, above 200 sail of ships, and above a thousand people perished in the disaster of that one miserable night, very few escaping.

Daniel Defoe, A tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies Letter 1 part 3: Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, 1727 (London: JM Dent and Co, 1927)

Vision of Britain: Daniel Defoe