Frigate "Washington"

An Introduction

In Lloyds List - The Marine List from 14 May 1802, a ship is listed as lost on the coast of Norway. "The Washington, Aars, from Calcutta, (left from the Isles of France) to Copenhagen, is lost on the Coast of Norway. Part of the Cargo will be saved". The ship was not to be found in any wreck register or lists and a search for its history started.

The Ship Design

"Washington" was built in 1791 in Amsterdam. It is frigate built which is no accurate type of ship. The Certificate of Tonnage made in Bergen, Norway 22 May 1799 show here to be 145 feet 8 inches long, 38 feet 7 inches wide, 16 feet deep and 17 feet 8 inches in aft. Draught is about 13 to 15 feet. The ship is calculated to be 498 Læster and 321,5 Commercial Læst. (1100 ton) . The design is typical for the time and most likely had about 32 cannons and 120 crew.  

Washington 1791 to 1797

From its launch in 1791 and until 1797 the ship was owned by VOC, and did at least two documented trips to China in that period. It is possible the ship made a third trip, since no documentation is found from May 1795 until March 1797, where she is found documented in Bergen with Chinese goods on board. Coninck & Co procure the ship trough an auction in Bergen 29 December 1798 by Coninck representative Captain Aars. The ship leaves Bergen 01 December 1799 after repairs and new crew is on board.   

To Batavia

The ship is now heading for Batavia to load Sugar, coffee, indigo, Camper, Turmeric, cotton balls and pepper among other things. It is likely that the ship had stone as ballast going to Batavia, but had loaded 75 000 pound of Tin and 52 000 pounds of Tapan wood on the return. On the return from Batavia, Washington had to stop at Isle de France for repairs in the period July 1801 and November 1801. They left Isle de France 02 December heading for Copenhagen.

The Foundering

08 March 1802 Washington the ship founders south of Verøy in Sundfjord after battling a storm west of the Orkey islands. All crew is saved abandoning the ship and climbing on to Verøya. Captain Aars writes a letter to the local police authorities 12 March 1802 asking for help to salvage as much as possible of the cargo.


Some of the cargo is salvaged and transported to Bergen during May 1802 and moved to Copenhagen to be sold on an auction 27 September 1802. The ship itself is auctioned of with ballast on 23 August 1802 on the location of its foundering. No record of the auction is found and it is unclear how much of a ship would be auctioned off.


The ship went on ground just south of Verøy, close to some dry grounds. The ship was visited several months later and had sea water up to its cargo room, so it was most likely grounded on a 5 meter deep ground. There are some artifacts found close by, rudder metal and wood, identified from early 1800. Because of salvage,  the location and weather conditions, it is unlikely to find anything of historical value in the area today.

Exact location: Verøya, in Sundfjord, close to Bremanger 155 km north of Bergen.

  Paper in Norwegian on the history of Washington.

Download the document here.  Download (8.36 MB)


Wiggo Eriksen