The Wreck of the Racehorse


 Written by Brian King

How a nineteenth-century sloop of war was lost – and found.

Racehorse was therefore under sail, in the dark, in an increasingly heavy sea, under the control of a Pilot who didn’t know where he was, how far away the land was, or what the lights he could see on shore meant.” 

The Wreck of the Racehorse, page 8

ISBN: 978-1-908060-37-2 Categories: , , ,

Occasionally a book comes along which matters. We'd like to think that most of the books we publish are interesting, even educational in a modest way, but only one or two of them really make a difference. This is one of them.

Racehorse was an eighteen-gun sailing ship, a sloop of war, in the early nineteenth century. On 14 December 1822, on what should have been a routine visit Racehorse wrecked on a rocky reef off the southern coast of the Isle of Man.

The efforts of the Manxmen of Castletown to save those on board proved to be a catalyst in the founding of what became Royal National Lifeboat Institute, the RNLI.

One hundred and fifty years later a group of volunteer divers from the Isle of Man rediscovered the wreck and began the slow process of underwater excavation.

Written by one of the divers who found the wreck, and including documents such as the captain's report to the admiralty, and the minutes of the crew's court martial, this book offers an unrivalled view of an unparalleled event in maritime history.

Pieced together from evidence in contemporary documents and backed up by artefacts found on the seabed The Wreck of the Racehorse tells the story of how HMS Racehorse was lost and found.

From the Publisher

We did something for this book which we've never done before. We commissioned a painting.

Historically, Racehorse is a very important ship, particularly for the Isle of Man. Her fate and that of Vigilant (for more details, see the book) prompted William Hillary to found what became the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, the RNLI.

However, for the British government, the wrecking of Racehorse was a PR disaster as she was the second British ship to be wrecked in Manx waters within two months and, furthermore, had been sent to escort the first casualty, Vigilant, home. The Royal Navy wanted to draw a veil over the sorry episode, so there are no clear contemporary paintings of Racehorse, either in her prime or gallantly fighting the encompassing sea.

But we needed a picture of the ship for the cover.

We'd already come across Manx artist Anthea Radcliffe both from her work with an earlier Loaghtan Books publication I Never Wanted a Pub, and because she'd designed some particularly attractive Manx stamps. So we got in touch.

The result is the picture on the front cover of The Wreck of the Racehorse. Anthea listened carefully to the story of the heroism of the men from Castletown, and made that the subject of her painting. We hadn't expected that. We'd expected the sailing ship to feature more largely. But Anthea was right and we were wrong. The volunteers struggling to propel their little rescue boat, and the expressions on their faces, emphasise the human drama of the wreck, which the ship alone could not.

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