Book Talk: Separating fact from fiction


29 April 2022

book cover

The tale of the Wreck of the Ten Sail is one that has persevered in the memories of Caymanians over the years since the night of 8 February 1794, when 10 ships that were part of a convoy on its way from Jamaica to the United States and Britain wrecked on the reef off East End. Cayman's early residents braved the rough seas and set out in catboats to rescue the ships’ crews and passengers. Only six people from the convoy died.

As often happens with an event of this magnitude, the Wreck of the Ten Sail eventually took on a bit of a mythical quality and for many generations the story persisted that it was the bravery of the Caymanians that had caused King George III to reward our islands by decreeing that the people of the Cayman Islands would thereafter be free from war conscription and taxes. There was also the rumour that a member of the royal family had been aboard one of the ships, which had encouraged the king in his gratitude. There is no proof of any of this, but no matter – the tale continues to be passed along with pride, often to tourists.

"The Wreck of the Ten Sail: A true story from Cayman’s past" — available at Next Chapter — by Sam Oakley is a painstakingly researched and detailed account of the events that actually took place on that night and the subsequent recovery efforts.
Oakley includes numerous historical documents along with the illustrations to bring into focus all that transpired. Readers who have a love of the sea and maritime history, and of course the Cayman Islands, will enjoy the book.

One of the little-known facts revealed in the book is that only four months prior to the Wreck of the Ten Sail, Grand Cayman had been devastated by a hurricane, washing away homes and possessions. Residents were already in dire straits, awaiting relief and supplies from Jamaica, when they were suddenly faced with having to provide food and shelter for the survivors of the convoy.

There is a monument to the Wreck of the Ten Sail in East End, just off the main road, along a winding path to the sea. One star-filled night many years ago, a friend of mine and I walked the path to the cliff and looked out at the reef so far away. We tried to imagine what it must have been like for the early East End residents to see those 10 ships foundering in rough seas at night and then to choose to put their lives at risk by getting into small boats in order to rescue those on the ships. Urban legend might have embellished some aspects of this story, but the bravery of the rescuers cannot be refuted.

This article first appeared in the April 2022 print edition of Camana Bay Times.

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