The COLEBROOKE was a British East-India Company owned ship that was built in 1770 by Perry of London. She had a tonnage of 723 and was armed with 26 guns (cannons). On the 28th of April 1778 she sailed from Spithead, being part of a small fleet en route to India (Bombay those years - now Mumbai). Her cargo consisted mainly of lead and copper ingots and some recruits for the British Army in India.
After almost 4 months of sailing down the African west coast, the fleet arrived off Cape Point on the morning of the 24th of August. Rounding Cape Point on their way to Simons Bay, she struck a submerged and un-chartered reef at roughly 11:30 am, grinding to a halt with her hull ripped open. They managed to back her off and made an attempt to reach Simons Bay but at 4pm she was finally run aground 300 yards offshore at a beach on the opposite side of False Bay. With high seas and gale force winds, she became a total loss, but only a few fatalities occurred when a shore party's boat capsized.
Over the years her hull, largely intact, was covered in 15ft of sand and although a salvage attempt was made in 1984, the cost of keeping the sand at bay in a very strong current did not justify the value of the small amount of copper and lead that was recovered. In getting to the copper and lead, a number of ebony and red sanders (aka red sandalwood and the biblical algum/almug) logs were dragged aside. In 1988 a local diver discovered that these had become temporarily exposed and managed to winch some ashore before the shifting sand again swallowed up the rest.
A friend of mine put me in touch with the diver and he was only too pleased to accept my offer as they were of no use to him. The ebony logs, although riddled on the outside with sea worm holes, are in excellent condition. Surface cracking also took place but some of the logs have a solid and un-damaged diameter of 10 to 12 inches, weighing up to 60lbs each. The Red Sanders has its own chemical deterrent against wood boring insects and these logs only show the smoothing effect that shifting sands caused during the 210 years of submersion. One log, which was obviously protected from the shifting sands, actually has the ax marks, as it was trimmed down to a taper, still clearly visible. This is a very beautiful wood, being light red/orange in colour with black grain. Unfortunately the colour pigments are affected by either light or air as the wood starts darkening fairly fast and after a year it will be dark red, like a good full bodied red wine.
I have never been able to establish what the ebony and red sanders, both Indian woods, were doing on board on a ship going to India. I can only assume that the logs were loaded on board during one of her two previous voyages to India and, for some or other reason, had just remained in her cargo hold.
The bobbins I turn from this ebony are available as pairs only. They are registered against the buyer's name and address and a more detailed letter of the events of 24 August 1778 and the pair number accompanies each pair. At present there are 435 registered pairs and only 500 pairs will be made.The background image is from one of the last pages of the ship's log and is produced here with the kind consent of the British Library, London.
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