1770 - Fire in the Dockyard27th July. At about
The confusion that surrounded the fire and the events during the blaze was said to have prevented a timely inquiry. As to the cause no reasonable explanation was ever given; suspicion fell on emissaries from Spain. Agents of France were also viewed with suspicion. Circumstances seemed to support the opinion of it being the work of treacherous foreign incendiaries, this was fuelled by the fact that more foreigners than usual were seen in different parts of the town, and had now mysteriously disappeared. It was remarked at the time that French ships had been seen off the coast but now not one could be seen. So satisfied was the Admiralty that the fire was the work of foreign emissaries, that they offered a reward of £1000 for information leading to their arrest.
John Wesley who visited Portsmouth soon after recorded his impressions:
“I walk around the Dock, much larger than any in England. The late fire began in a place where no one comes, just at low water, at a time when all were fast asleep, so that none could doubt of it being done by design. It spread with amazing violence among tow and cordage and dry wood, that none could come near without the utmost danger, nor was anything expected but that the whole dock would be consumed if not the town, But God would not permit this.”
The material lost within the fire was said to be the equivalent of equipping 30 men-of-war. Yet within five years a writer described the Dockyard in 1775:
“It resembles a town in the number of its dwelling houses, offices, storehouses, lofts, and other edifices erected for the carrying on the various purposes of the yard. It contains amazing quantities of everything necessary for the Royal Navy. There are never less than 2000 men employed in it and in time of war upwards of 2500.”