May 27, 2020

“Breakers ahead! Close to us!” Cayman’s most famous shipwreck disaster


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Director of the National Museum, Dr. Peggy Leshikar-Denton, was the speaker for the Museum’s first Speaker Series lecture of the year on Tuesday, 18 February 2020. Leshikar-Denton presented on Cayman’s most famous shipwreck disaster – the Wreck of the Ten Sail, and its importance to Cayman’s rich maritime heritage. The Speaker Series Programme is where academic experts, along with members of the entire community, gather to share their knowledge of Cayman’s History and Culture.

During the night, six or seven of the merchantmen sailed against orders ahead of Convert and wrecked on the jagged reefs of East End. At 3 a.m. on 8 February 1794, their distress signal was heard by Convert’s crew. “Breakers ahead! Close to us!” cried a sailor from a topsail yard. John Lawford,Convert’s captain, fired a warning shot to the rest of the convoy. While trying to steer clear, Convert was struck by another vessel, causing her to run onto the reef. Morning light revealed ten wrecked ships: William & ElizabethMoorhall, Ludlow, Britannia, Richard, Nancy, Eagle, Sally, and Fortune, along with Convert. Caymanians provided all assistance possible, saving many lives.

Leshikar-Denton first visited Grand Cayman in 1980 while on an archaeological research expedition with Texas A&M University students to survey shipwreck sites in the Cayman Islands at the request of the Cayman Islands Government. It was then that her love and passion for the Wreck of the Ten Sail began, which eventually became her PhD. Dissertation (©1993).

“From the day we arrived in Grand Cayman, we were in the water almost every day – snorkeling or diving along the fringing reef or investigating shipwrecks that Marshall Watler and other local experts knew. We focused for a month on East End, but also surveyed all around Grand Cayman and on Cayman Brac & Little Cayman. We always talked to the local people and often tape recorded their stories, which are today preserved in the National Archive. Our survey work became the basis of an inventory that later grew under auspices of the National Museum from 1990 to the present” explained Dr. Peggy Leshikar-Denton.

Attendees engaged in discussions on shipwrecks in the Cayman Islands, and inquired on the measures in place to protect these important wreckage sites. All historical ships wrecked in the Cayman Islands are protected under the Abandoned Wreck Law as part of our maritime heritage.

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Photo captions:

[IMG_2088-Pano2] Dr. Peggy Leshikar-Denton presents on the Wreck of the Ten Sail to guests in a packed audiovisual theatre at the National Museum.

[IMG_2119] A full house at the National Museum’s Speaker Series lecture.

[IMG_2097] Dr. Peggy Leshikar-Denton – author of Cayman’s 1794 Wreck of the Ten Sail.

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