A LETTER FROM CAPTAIN ASHBY UTTING TO THE ADMIRALTY REPORTING THE LOSS OF THE HMS LOO

Transcribed from
The Last Cruise of the H.M.S. Loo
By Mendel L. Peterson
(Footnotes at bottom)

                                                                 Port Royall
                                                 15th February, 1744

I am extremely sorry this should be the messenger of such disagreeable news as the loss of H.M.S. Loo.

Will you please acquaint their Lordships that on the 4th day of February I was cruising on the station 8 leagues from the Cape of Florida when about 8 in the morning I saw a sail which I gave chase to and about noon spoke with her, she being an English "Snow" 1 from Havannah and Missippy, but sailed by Frenchmen and two Spaniards, one that had been lately taken from the English and carried into Havannah. I having two men on board which was taken in her and the master having no copy of the condemnation and nothing to show for the sale but a common receipt. I seized her for the proprietors and was designed  to send her into Charlestown but at the same time an Irish gentleman, a merchant that I had sent for on board, heaved a large packet overboard, which my boat took up and when opened found it full of French and Spanish papers, I then determined to see her in myself and also took her in tow. By the time I made sail it was 6 in the evening at which time the Pan of Mattances 2 bore S b E, the wind being SE. I steered NE b N till 12 at night by which time I was well assured I was got to the northward of the double Head Shott,3 then hauled up NE. Till this time I was on deck myself and whenthought I was passed all danger went and sat down in the cabin (as Doe assure you I did not go to bed one night in six of the time I was cruising here).

At a past one in the morning, the officer of the watch sent down to let me know he was in the middle of brakers and must Doe him the justice to say he behaved like an exceedingly good officer for before I was got upon deck which could not be ten moments, he had put the helm a Lee and the ship was at stays,4 just as we hauled the main top sail the ship struck abaft but she pay'd off so far as to haul the head sails,5 when the Captain 6 came and told me the tiller was broke short off the ship, continued striking, I ordered all the boats out as far as possible. Immediately after he came and told me the rudder was gone and that she made some water in the hold but not much, we set all the pumps to work as you must believe on this occasion, and rather gained on her. By this time we was getting the long boat out when there came three or four severe seas and bulged 7 her immediately and had 5 foot water in the hold; I ordered the master and gunner to come and save what bread and powder they could before the water was over all, which they did and saved 20 bags of bread and 6 barrels of powder 8 which was all we could save.

By this time the "Snow" which shared the same fate, was on her broad side, the ship striking much and tareing all to pieces, and having no prospect of getting her off, ordered the masts to be cut away and all the upper deck guns and anchors to be thrown overboard, that she might lay quiet and by that means save the men which by good fortune she did, though all this time thought I was got on the double head Shott Bank when at daylight to my great surprise we was getting on a small sandy key about 1./1/2 cables 9 length long and ./1/2 broad which lay on the edge of the Bank of the Martiers 3 leagues 10 without them and lies from Cape Florida WSW 7 or 8 leagues is quite steep too, we having no ground at 50 fathom right up and down not 10 minutes before the ship was ashore and is the only dangerous place on the Florida shore and Doe assure you that from the day I got on that station, I always had the Drapsy 11 Line going every 1/2 hour from 6 at night till daylight in the morn, the only reason I can give for finding myself on the Florida shore when I expected I was on the double Shott Bank which lies from each other SE b E and NN b N at least 16 leagues, must be occasioned by a very extraordinary and very uncommon new current; as soon as was daylight I landed all the men (but those that was employed to scuttle the decks 12 and get what water and what provisions we could, but could get but 2 butts out the whole day); at 10 o'clock this morning being Sunday we saw a small sloop when I immediately man'd and armed all the boats and sent them with orders to board her at all events and bring her here as she would be the means of carrying us off this dismal place, which I plainly saw that any common sea beat all over it and would certainly wash us all off, it being so low and dare not venture upon the main for the Indians which on this part of Florida are savages and innumerable, the next morning being Monday the boats to our great joy brought the sloop to us, the Spaniards having all deserted her, she being about 25 or 30 tuns (at most) this day was employed in getting what provisions and water we could out of the ship with what men I could get to work which was but a few,though it was for all their good but all frightened and wanted to be gone for fear of the Indians and was very rebellious and mutinous dividing into parties and growling amongst themselves that they was all on a footing then; and they was as good as anybody and that everything was free. I thought it was best not to take any notice but prepared for our going as soon as possible. Here I found the service of the Marines whereof which was under command and did their duty extremely well and Centenells being obliged to mount 25 Marines and 25 seamen every night, though the place so small the Indians having numbers of canoes.

Tuesday was employed getting what water we could out of the ship and putting the boats and sloop in order. Raised the long boat a strack 13 which enabled her to carry 60 men. On   Wednesday being the 8th about noon I embarked all the men (which with the "Snow" included, was 274) viz 60 in the long boat, 20 in the barge,14 10 in the yaul115 and 184 in the little sloop not 30 tuns; sent the sloop, long boat and yaul to 3 or 4 miles from the shore. After they were gone I went on board the wreck with what barrels of powder we had saved (except a little we took in each boat) and laid in proper places on the Starboard side the gun deck, that side being out the water by her heelding off to Port and proper Fewell16 in every place we could when all being laid, about 2 in the afternoon, I set her on fire and rowed off to the boats we kept in sight of her till sunset and she having blown up in several places and was in flames fore and aft but am much afraid the guns and anchors will fall into the hands of the Spaniards as they have frequent correspondence and trade with the Indians, and it is my opinion the people which left the sloop we took, were over to Cuba in a launch directly to give them intelligence. This is the fatal end of H.M.S. Loo exactly as it happened. I sent in the long boat Mr. Randall and Mr. Lloyd, my first and third Lieuts., the Master in the barge and a mate in the yaul, myself and 2 Sevts. being in the sloop which when the hold was as full of men as could possibly be stowed, the deck was the same and much in danger of oversetting if any wind. I ordered them to follow me and in case of separation to make the best of their way over to the Bahama Bank for Providence.

I carried a light for them all night but as they all outsailed me they kept so far ahead that I lost sight of them by 12 at night when I was obliged to tack and stand to the northward, which did after making the proper signal but at daylight could see nothing of them, and it blowing fresh and the sloop top heavy with men could not carry sail, so obliged to bear away and take my fate through the Gulph of Florida for any part of Carolina even for St. Augustine (if I could fetch nowhere else) rather than all be drownded which Doe assure you had very little other prospect but thank God met with exceeding good weather and arrived at Port Royall on the 13th February at night and don't in the least doubt but the boats are got safe to Providence long before this.

I had two of the best pilots on board for the Gulph of Florida in all America who insist on it there could not be a better course steered and I have been numbers of times through the Gulph and am better acquainted with that and the coast of Carolina than any part of the world and had I had the honour to have command 20 sail and steering through for all our lives, should have steered the same course or rather more northerly, which as I observed before I cannot account for but by some uncommon and very extraordinary current; as fast as I can get my officers together shall send home their depositions. Some of them seem inclinable to go to the West Indies and some to the Merchant Service and some home.

I have sent home the Mate of the Watch with the Log Book and my Second Lieut. was on board the Snow when cast away but I should have been very happy to have found Captain Hardy 17 not sailed that I might have come home directly but as I can't be now and there being a great many chances against my coming home in a merchant ship, without being carried to Spain,18 has determined me to stay here till some opportunity offers to come home in a Man-of- War or if I could possibly be indulged with a court martial in America, I shall think it the greatest favour and if found by the Court, which I hope I shall, that I have done my duty as an officer on this unforseen unhappy affair, to me as well as to his Majesty's Service, beg their Lordships will be pleased to give me leave to rely on their goodness for my being employed again on His Majesty's service. I have enclosed the deposition of Mr. Wm. Lyford, one of my pilots who has sailed the Gulph of Florida for many years and beg their Lordships will be pleased to let somebody enquire of General Oglethorpe for his corretor .19

                                                 I am your most humble servant,
                                                       Ashby Utting.

Port Royall
15th February 1743/4.

FOOTNOTES

1 A brig having a small try sail mast set astern of the mainmast. The trysail was a fore and aft sail with a gaff and, in some cases, a boom.
2 A high, flat-topped hill lying inland from Matansas Bay on the northern coast of Cuba, a point on which mariners take bearings in setting a course up the Florida Straits.
3 A group of keys lying in the eastern end of the Salt Key Bank which extends to the center of the southern end of the Florida Channel (New Bahama Channel) .
4 A vessel is said to be " at stays" when heading into the wind in tacking.
5 Swung off from the wind so far that the head sails were caught across the wind pushing the bow of the ship around toward the reef.
6 The sailing master.
7 "Bilged"-stove in her planks at or below the waterline of the ship.
8 A ship of 44 guns on foreign service normally carried 163 barrels of gunpowder in 1781 (Montaine, Will, The Practical Sea Gunners Companion, p. 73, London, 1781).
9 The cable was 200 yards or one-tenth of a nautical mile.
10 The English and American marine league is equal to 3 nautical miles.
11 Utting was speaking of the dipsey line, which is the deep-sea lead line.
12 To cut openings in the decks.
13 The addition of planks to the gunwhales of the boat increasing her capacity.
14 The commanding officers boat.
15 A heavy double-ended row boat.
16 Fuel, combustibles. .
17 Of the Rye, which ship had been ordered to England as convoy to merchant ships going from the Carolina colonies.
18 The risk of capture of unprotected merchant ships was very great.
19 Recommendation of Lyford.

The following deposition made by Captain William Lyford Sr., one of the Loo's two pilots, was made in Beaufort, SC upon the arrival of survivors of the loss of the Loo.

LyfordDep.jpg (201242 bytes)

A special thanks to Florida Keys historian Gail Swanson for alerting me of my 6th great-grandfather's presence as a pilot aboard the HMS Loo when she ran aground February 5th, 1744 on a half-sumberged Florida key that has been called Looe Key ever sice.

A special thanks also to Ann Higham, a Lyford researcher in England, who obtained a copy of the Captain William Lyford's deposition from the British National Archives and mailed it to the creator of this page in the USA.

J. G. (Jerry) Braddock Sr.        jbraddock1@woodenshipsironmen.com