A ship of the Royal Navy, HMS Lutine has had a tumultuous history. Seized from the French in 1793, she rallied against the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte in the siege of Toulon and was finally lost at sea in 1799, carrying with her £1,200,000 in gold bullion and coin (£81,176,969 by 2007 indexes); only 10% of which has been successfully salvaged. Her total loss was of such consequence to the London insurance market that her bell still stands in the rostrum of the Underwriting Room of the Lloyd’s Building, witness to the magnitude of financial risk at stake. HMS Lutine is a testament to the Lloyd’s of London market reputation which in over 300 years of turbulent history and more than 200 years since her total loss, still continues to pay all valid claims, no matter the sum.
On 27 September 1793, with a task force under the leadership of Vice Admiral Lord Hood, French counterrevolutionaries surrendered the city of Toulon, together with its dockyards, arsenal and the French Mediterranean fleet, these included:
...seventeen ships of the line (one 120, one 80 and fifteen 74s), five frigates and eleven corvettes. In various stages of refitting in the New Basin were four ships of the line (one 120, one 80, and two 74s) and a frigate. Mainly in the Old Basin and, for the most part, awaiting middling or large repair, were eight ships of the line (one 80 and seven 74s), five frigates and two corvettes (Ireland, 2005).
One of these eight ships of the line, from the Old Basin, was the Lutine. Requisitioned by the British navy and converted into a bomb vessel, it assisted in the siege of Toulon, firing mortar bombardments against the French artillery batteries. Following the failure to capture the besieged city, the Royal Navy fled on 19 December taking the Lutine with them which, from that point onwards, became known as the newly commissioned HMS Lutine. Called into service to fight the Napoleonic fleet, she would become embroiled in one of the most significant total losses to affect the London insurance market.
HMS Lutine 1799 by Frank Mason, presented to Lloyd’s by James Dixon 1906
During the Second Coalition of the French Revolutionary Wars in October 1799, chartered as an escort and pilot vessel for the coalition navies sailing off of Holland, HMS Lutine was employed to assist in the safe recovery of the Hamburg banking societies, helping to prevent a stock market crash and to provide funds for the hire of prospective troops in force in Northern Holland. The purported value of material funds on board was in excess of £1,200,000 (£81,176,969 by 2007 indexes) in gold and silver bullion and coin. However, on the evening of 9 October 1799, caught on a sandbank off the island of Terschelling near Texel, the HMS Lutine succumbed to the gale which stranded her. All passengers and members of the crew but one were lost to the sea, claiming as many as 269 lives including her captain, Captain Lancelot Skynner. Her total loss was reported to the Admiralty on 10 October by the Commander of the Squadron, Captain Nathaniel Portlock:
Sir, It is with extreme pain that I have to state to you the melancholy fate of H.M.S. Lutine, which ship ran on to the outer bank of the Fly [an anglicisation of 'Vlie'] Island passage on the night of the 9th inst. in a heavy gale of wind from the NNW, and I am much afraid the crew with the exception of one man, who was saved on a part of the wreck, have perished. This man, when taken up, was almost exhausted. He is at present tolerably recovered, and relates that the Lutine left Yarmouth Roads on the morning of the 9th inst. bound for the Texel, and that she had on board a considerable quantity of money. The wind blowing strong from the NNW, and the lee tide coming on, rendered it impossible with Schowts [probably schuits, local fishing vessels] or other boats to go out to aid her until daylight in the morning, and at that time nothing was to be seen but parts of the wreck. I shall use every endeavour to save what I can from the wreck, but from the situation she is lying in, I am afraid little will be recovered.
Catastrophic in both human and financial terms, the wreck of the HMS Lutine prevented the economic recovery of Hamburg, the sole proviso for her voyage. It was nothing, however, to the effect she would have on the London insurance market.
Amazingly, without a single flicker of hesitation, the Lloyd’s syndicates, under the leadership of John Julius Angerstein, paid the entire claim in full, barely 2 weeks after the total loss was reported. The actions of Lloyd’s syndicate members of paying in full and in prompt time helped cement the reputation that has come to define the Lloyd’s and London insurance market as the world’s leading specialist insurance market. HMS Lutine and her salvaged bell demonstrate to the world at large that despite losses of almost insurmountable magnitude, a valid claim will be paid and paid in full. In more than 300 years the Lloyd’s reputation remains untarnished and ever thriving.
Bernard Ireland, The Fall of Toulon: The Last Opportunity to Defeat for the French Revolution (Ireland B., 2005), p. 301. Copyright © 2005 Bernard Ireland.
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