The 100-gun First Rate Royal George was laid down in Woolwich Dockyard as the Royal Anne in January 1747 but renamed in January 1756, one month before she was launched on 18th February. Measured by her builder (J. Pownell) at 2,065 tons, she was 178 feet in length with a 52 foot beam, and mounted 28 guns on each of her three decks with a further 12 on her quarterdeck and 4 on her forecastle. With the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) in its opening stages, she was commissioned as soon as she was completed and in action almost immediately. Acting as flagship to Admiral Sir Edward Hawke, she led the fleet into the dangerous shoals of Quiberon Bay on 20th November 1759 where Hawke's daring was rewarded by a crushing defeat of the French in one of the most decisive naval battles of the eighteenth century. During the next war, she played a less prominent though still significant role at the engagement off Cape St. Vincent during the night of 16-17th January 1780 -- the so-called 'Moonlight Battle' -- when Admiral Lord Rodney soundly defeated the Spanish fleet, even though she was nearly lost in the severe storm which blew up later the same day.
Whilst the victory off Cape St. Vincent eased the Spanish blockade of Gibraltar, the siege nevertheless continued and, in the summer of 1782, the Admiralty decided to concentrate a fleet at Spithead from whence it would be despatched to relieve the fortress which had been without supplies since April 1781. It was whilst this relief expedition was being assembled that the Royal George assumed her place in history by spectacularly sinking on 29th August in full view of the entire Channel Fleet. Anchored and taking on stores prior to departure, a party of dockyard plumbers came aboard to fit a new water pump and requested that the ship be heeled over to allow a small hole to be bored in her side. Captain Waghorn agreed and various banks of the ship's cannon were moved to new positions in order to facilitate the manoeuvre. Suddenly and apparently without warning, water began pouring into the lower deck and, within minutes, the Royal George sank taking Rear-Admiral Kempenfelt, many of her crew and countless visitors, including women and children, with her; some estimates put the loss of life as high as 900 persons although the actual toll could never be verified. The subsequent Court Martial blamed rotten timbers giving way under the stress of the heel as the most likely cause of the disaster; whatever the truth, it remains one of the most embarrassing losses in the long annals of the Royal Navy.