The Crown of London sank at Deerness, Orkney Islands, Scotland at 10:00 P.M.
on December 10, 1679. There were at least 5 Wylies among the prisoners on board and,
according to "A Cloud of Witnesses", at least 1 may have survived. By most accounts about 50 of the prisoners survived and most
of them were recaptured.
The five known Wylies aboard the "Crown":
The following is one account of the sinking of The Crown of London and the events leading
up to the tragedy from The Orcadian, Thursday, October 6, 1988.
The Sinking of The Crown of London
It was a wild and stormy
night off the north coast of Deerness. A blizzard was blowing and
the white horses riding the crests of the waves were buffeting
the sides of the heaving ship, flinging the 257 prisoners too and
fro across the crammed hold of their wretched gaol, the merchant
since the troops of Charles II had defeated their rabble army
five months previously, the Covenanters had known the meaning of
true hardship. However, they had survived the months of
confinement without shelter at Greyfriars Churchyard in Edinburgh
finding that they would escape death only to be transported to
the new colonies in America where they would be sold as
Now they were more in fear for their lives than they had ever been before,
as it seemed at any moment the groaning vessel might be smashed
onto the Scarvataing rocks protruding through the foamy sea only
a few hundred yards away.
prisoners begged the captain to let them ashore, where they would
gladly stay in any prison of his choice, no matter how miserable,
just to get them off the ship until calmer weather. The captain,
who had already neglected to take local advice and shelter
farther down the coast, similarly spurned the prisoners desperate
request. Instead of freeing them from the confines of the ship he
locked and chained the hatches, showing them they shared the fate
of the ship.
At 10 p.m. the inevitable happened. The straining anchor
chain snapped conclusively, allowing the ship to be carried
unprotestingly on to the treacherous saw-tooth rocks, sending the
majority of the screaming prisoners to watery
This tale is no work of fiction, though it would be at home in any
"Boy's Own" annual. It is merely a recreation,
using the facts, of what the wreck of the 'Crown' must
have been like when the tragedy happened over 300 years ago on
December 10, 1679.
Though the Orkney coastline has been responsible for many
shipwrecks in its time, this one is relevant today as recently
the pillar built to commemorate the disaster celebrated its
centenary, the Covenanters Memorial having been inaugurated on
August 22nd. 1888.
The Covenanting movement was a Scottish one. It was formed in the
early seventeenth century to oppose the attempts of Charles I to
force the beaurocratically dominated ways of the Episcopalian
Church of England upon the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and
drew its name from a national petition begun in 1638 which
carried the signatures of all who pledged resistance to the
change. Covenanters were relentlessly persecuted and everything
came to a head in 1679 when an armed coup resulted in a minor
victory at the Battle of Drumclog.
A small army of about 6000 was assembling at
Lanarkshire with whatever weapons they could find. The King
ordered the threat to be eradicated immediately and a large
government force was dispatched, resulting in the adversaries
confronting each other on opposing banks of the River Clyde.
Unfortunately, Robert Hamilton, the man they had chosen
to lead their crusade, was not even at the battle, being content
to let God lead them into the foray. While he was busily
organising gallows from which to hang the prisoners he was sure
victory would bring, his "army" was being routed by the
superior numbers and discipline of the 15,000 government troops
as they eventually crossed the Bothwell Bridge virtually
Thus those on the ship were amongst the 1,200 captured
on June 22nd, and in the following months either watched their
compatriots sentenced to death or swear an oath of allegiance to
the King. There should have been two ships to take them to the
colonies but bad weather delayed one and rumours of a planned
attempt to forcibly release the prisoners led to a hasty dispatch
for the 'Crown'. One survivor tells of how there was
barely enough room for 100 men, let alone 257 in the compartment,
and that the men had to stand continually to let the sick and
dying lie down.
There is speculation that the captain of the
'Crown' cared little about the fate of the men as he was
a "papist" and had insured his ship for a greater value
than it was worth. Whatever, the entire crew escaped alive by
cutting down the mast and using it as a bridge to shore, although
reports say that when prisoners attempted a similar crossing they
were beaten back and forced into the water. At most only 50 of
them survived by floating ashore on pieces of wood, the remaining
bodies being washed up over a three mile stretch of coast in the
following days. Those who did survive were recaptured and ended
their days as slaves in Jamaica and New
Exactly why the memorial was left until 200 years after
the tragedy is unclear, though the key may be provided by John
Tudor's book "The Orkneys and Shetland", published in
1883, which says, "If a plain grey granite cross should be
considered too superstitious an emblem for pious God-fearing
Scotland in the 19th century, a simple monolith of the samematerial could be open to no
This comment may have instigated the
public appeal fund, for which donations came largely from south,
that paid for the forty-feet-high monument to be built by three
masons in the remarkably short space of only a few weeks. With
the money left over, a smaller marble obelisk was placed in front
of the Cathedral at the top end of the kirk green in 1891, where
it still stands today in the shade of an old sycamore
At the inauguration ceremony a bottle
containing, amongst other things, copies of the local papers and
a Bible was entered into a special hollow, then sealed with a
granite slab bearing the following
"For Christ, His Crown and Covenant.
Erected by public subscription to the memory of 200 Covenanters
who were taken prisoners at Bothwell Bridge and sentenced to
transportation for life, but who perished by shipwreck near this
spot, December 10th, 1679".
The monument, which stands on an elevated
piece of ground 300 yards from the position of the wreck, can
easily be reached even in its remote position. The route to it is
well signposted once the turn off before the Deerness shop is
reached. Given its excellent condition, it seems certain that it
will be there for many centuries to
- - - - -
Read more about the Battle of Bothwell Bridge which led to
the events on The Crown.
References Used and Discovered:
Source: The Orcadian, October 6,1988
Source: Carslaw, W.H. Exiles of the Covenant, Helensburgh 1908
Source: A Cloud of Witnesses for the Royal Prerogatives of Jesus Christ; or, The Last Speeches and Testimonies of Those Who Have Suffered for the Truth in Scotland, Since the Year 1680 Edinburgh, .:
An example of the heroic stories of the Scottish Covenanters and their religious persecution in the seventeenth century.
Originally published 1714, with editorial notes by John H. Thomson, 1871 [noted in backets with "--ED."]. It does NOT include the list of those banished or exiled before this time, except noting a precious few after 1661. This list is also absenting the few thousand enslaved and banished by Oliver Cromwell, being mainly a mix of resolutioner Presbyterians and highland malignants who fought against Cromwell for James II - the malignants fighting out of royalism, the Presbyterians because James swore the Solemn League and Covenant.
(Source of Ship's name "The Crown of London": Dobson, David
The Original Scots Colonists of Early America, 1612-1783, 1989
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