The Wreck of The Crown

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In 1679, after the Scottish Covenanters' uprising was quashed at the Battle of Bothwell Brig, 1184 prisoners were captured after the battle, some were tortured and executed ("…to be hanged on a gibbet till they be dead, and their bodies be hung up on chains in the said place till they rot…"), but most were discharged on August 14th with the Act of Indemnity proclamation while some were executed and others died of illness, or wounds. However, an earlier order had been made on July 4th by the Privy Council for all "Ministers, Heritors, and Ringleaders" who were to be prosecuted and banished to the plantations as white slaves.

William Paterson was the merchant in Edinburgh that contracted with Provost Milns, Laird of Barnton, for the job of transportation.

The prisoners were held in the Greyfriar’s Churchyard, Cannongate and Edinburgh Tollbooths (prisons) and Heriot’s Hospital. On November 15th the 30 prisoners held at Edinburgh Tollbooth were moved to Leith by Captain John Ballfour to board the Crown of London which was commanded by Captain Thomas Teddico (described by the Reverend Blackadder as a "…profane, cruel wretch, and used them barbarously…") and sailed for either Barbados or Virginia on November 27th with 257 prisoners. (Another source states the ship was under comand of Captain Patterson.)

So, in November 1679, these unfortunates were lead on to a ship, the Crown of London, in Leith, where they were to be transported to English plantations in America to become slaves.

The Crown of London set sail in December 1679.

The captain's planned course is unknown, but the ship’s first port of call was Orkney where, on December 10, 1679, she sheltered from a storm off Scarvataing, a headland in the parish of Deerness, a mile or two from the sheltered bay of Deer Sound.

In gales typical of the season, the ship was driven on to rocks after her anchor chain snapped. The captain and crew escaped the doomed vessel by hacking down the ship's mast and clambering across it to reach land.

The prisoners, however, were not so fortunate.

They had been confined to the hold and the hatches battened down under the captain’s orders. The reasoning behind this act was simple - the captain would be paid for the number of slaves on board the vessel and recompensed for those who died on the voyage. He would receive nothing for an escaped prisoner.

So, when the ship left port, Patterson took steps to make sure none did.

One member of crew did attempt a rescue by breaking through the deck with an axe. His valiant efforts meant that around 50 prisoners escaped and made it to the Deerness shore.

The remainder perished as the ship broke up and sank. It is said that over the following days, bodies washed up over three miles of the Deerness coastline.

Of the 47 or so prisoners who escaped to shore, most were recaptured and shipped to slavery in Jamaica, or New Jersey.

The people of Orkney were told that the prisoners were rebels fleeing from justice, but some are said to have escaped capture. Tradition has it that some survivors made it to Stromness, where they found passage on a ship to Holland. Local tradition also dictates that some were permitted to settle in Orkney. The 46 known survivors were possibly reshipped to Barbados, Jamaica or New Jersey as slaves. However, some were reported to have escaped to Ulster, Ireland. Additionally, the families of Muir and Delday, on Orkney, claim to be descended from survivors.

It has also been suggested that the ship, filled with prisoners, was never meant to make it to the colonies. A fully-laden vessel, travelling the northern routes at that time of the year was bound to run into trouble, especially when it had no provisions adequate for such a major voyage.

At the time the Colonial ports in America were open only to ships from England - a fact that makes it highly doubtful that a ship bearing cargo from Scotland would have been permitted to land.

Was there a darker motive behind the voyage of the Crown of London?

A monument for the Covenanters was erected in Deerness in 1888, three hundred yards from the spot where the ship went down.

A further monument takes the form of a red and grey Aberdeenshire granite drinking fountain almost immediately in front of St Magnus Cathedral. Put up in 1890, it was not universally loved: 'an absurdity in polished granite, utterly out of keeping with its surroundings.' The design is by James Hutcheon of Aberdeen, but he is unlikely to have been the designer of the Deerness Memorial. This fountain is on the site of the Old Town Hall.

Among those 'Covenanter martyrs' who drowned were John Douglas, of Kirkmichael, Ayrshire and Samuel Douglas, of Cavers, Teviotdale..

Covenanters Section
  • The Killing Times
  • Battle of Bothwell Brig
  • The Wreck of The Crown
  • Henry & Francis
  • Jamie Douglas - poem
  • Incident at Martyrs Moss
  • Col James Douglas
  • Battle of Airds Moss
  • Battle of Bothwell Brig
  • Battle of Drumclog
  • List of Covenanters
  • Rev. Thomas Douglas
  • Capt. Thomas Douglas
  • Col Richard Douglas's Regt
  • Sir James Douglas of Mouswald’s Regiment of Foot
  • Colonel Robert Douglas’ Regiment of Foot
  • Colonel William Douglas of Kilhead’s Regiment of Horse
  • The storm of Dundee
  • Sir William Douglas’ Regiment of Foot
  • Sir William Douglas’ Troop of Horse

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    Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024