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Great Gale
 
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The 'Great Gale' of 1824
         
Great Gale of 1824
  Those who lived in Dorset's coastal towns and villages were well used to severe storms which threw up on their shores wrecked ships, spilled cargoes and drowned men. Nothing, though, prepared them for the terrifying night of 22nd/23rd November 1824 when a gale which had been blowing all day rose in the darkness of the early hours to become a hurricane of such destructive violence that it has gone down in the county's history as the 'Great Gale'.
         

The storm ripped across the south-west of England leaving devastation in its wake. Buildings were torn apart, trees uprooted and livestock drowned as rivers rose and overflowed their banks. Sea walls were breached, piers and quays were swept away as tides reached unheard of heights. Wrecked vessels littered the coasts of Hampshire, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. At Portland there were scenes of destruction and misery as huge seas swept over Chesil Beach and crashed down on the village of Chesil, demolishing more than thirty houses and damaging a hundred others so badly that they were uninhabitable. Twenty five Portlanders drowned in the deluge, some buried under their homes, others swept away by the sea. The ferry between Portland and the mainland was washed away, as were the boats and nets (and consequently the livelihoods) of the local fishermen. In the days which followed, not only were the Portlanders burying their own dead, but also the bodies of shipwreck victims cast up by the waves.

Seventeen drowned when the West Indiaman 'Colville', outward bound from London, foundered. At least this vessel's fate was known. Another ship went down off Portland in that terrible storm - 'a large vessel of 500 ton burthen, name unknown, went down and the whole crew perished' - and it is likely that those waiting at home never knew the fate of the men who failed to return from the sea.

One 80-ton sloop, the 'Ebenezer', on voyage from Plymouth to Portsmouth with government stores, was flung so high up on Chesil Beach that it proved easier to haul her to the top and down the other side for relaunching once repairs were carried out. Although her Captain lost his life in the gale the rest of the crew survived.

At Fleet, enormous seas practically engulfed the tiny village, knocking down its church and several cottages. Here, the 'Carvalho' laden with rum and cotton, was lost with all hands. A little to the west a Danish brig, cargo fruit, was driven ashore. Four of the five man crew were rescued.

         

Weymouth residents awoke to find the harbour pier much damaged by the seas which had demolished much of the fine Esplanade and filled basements of seafront terraces with sand and water. Boats had been floated down the town's main streets, sunk or swept out to sea. Stone posts linked with chains once marked the line of the Esplanade and one of these has been preserved and inscribed with the date of the 'Great Gale'. It is mounted in the wall of one of the raised flowerbeds at the southern end of the promenade. Two smacks were lost and a Dutch galliott broke from her moorings near Sandsfoot Castle and drove ashore.

At Lyme Regis the Cobb was breached and there were more shipwrecks, culminating in the daring rescue of those on board the 'Unity', driven ashore under the cliffs between Lyme and Charmouth. Others were less fortunate.

The bad weather continued and a week after the Great Gale another shipping tragedy was played out on Chesil Beach when the Dutch vessel 'Leonora' went ashore between Wyke and Portland. Her crew and cargo shared the same fate - 'Nothing whatever has been saved'.

 
'Great Gale' Stone, Weymouth Esplanade
 
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