The coast of North Devon is well known for its history of shipwrecks, however the one that took place on the 11th February 1799 had a massive impact on the local area, when the H.M.S Weazle was shipwrecked and over 100 people lost their lives in tragic circumstances.
H.M.S Weazle was a fourteen gun brig Sloop built at Sandwich in 1783. Vessels of this type were often used for coastal protection and anti smuggling duties, which was indeed what H.M.S Weazle was assigned to do, she would spend two years as a patrol vessel along the North Devon coast protecting the local coasters against foreign pirates and preventing smuggling.
Following various assignments H.M.S Weazle eventually called Appledore, home, with many of those on board the ship being from the local community, having signed up for a life at sea. The sloop-of-war had lain, for an unusual time at Barnstaple Bay, and the officers and crew established an extensive acquaintance with the inhabitants of Barnstaple, Bideford, Instow and Appledore. One report suggests that a series of entertainment was given by leading people in the district before on the 11th February a grand ball was held in Appledore on the eve of the ships eventual departure. Other reports suggest that she had been travelling from Falmouth following work that that had been carried out on her, and she was on her way back to Appledore.
The night was dark and threating, but their free and daring spirit would brook no delay and they sailed.The Weazle got safely to Westward Ho!, but the storm had increased in its fury and dashed her onto Baggy Leap, where it would be shipwrecked, 105 people drowned.
The greater part of the wreck came to Croyde Bay, many of the bodies washed ashore at Woolacombe Sands, among them Lieutenant Butler who was identified by the uniform buttons, the jacket and the initials on the stockings. The rest of the bodies were picked up at Croyde Bay and Baggy. The first account of the incident was a letter written after the disaster by Lieutenant Webber:
“On the tenth instant off Morte Bay guns of distress were heard from a ship, which ceased at one o’clock. At five in the morn a wreck was discovered on the sands which proved to be the sloop Weazle. People we judge every soul is lost”