In 1797, the worst marine disaster ever to occur in Halifax Harbour took place when H.M.S. Tribune ran aground off McNabs Island. The Tribune, a 44 gun frigate, had sailed from England in September, 1797, to escort a convoy bound for Newfoundland and Quebec. On October 19, she lost sight of her convoy and made for Halifax, arriving there on the 23rd of November. Rather than wait for the services of a local pilot, as was the normal practice, the ship's Captain decided to proceed into the harbour on his own.

At about noon, the vessel had approached so close to Thrumcap Shoal, at the southern tip of McNabs Island, that the ship's master became alarmed. Before proper action could be taken, however, the Tribune drove up onto the shoals. The Tribune's distress signals were quickly answered by several military boats, but her Captain would allow no one to abandon ship. Instead, he tried to free his stricken vessel by throwing many of the guns and other heavy articles overboard.

By nine o'clock that evening the Tribune was finally freed from the shoal just as gale force winds began lashing the harbour. With her rudder smashed, the Tribune drifted helplessly toward the treacherous shoals and high cliffs at Herring Cove. To make matters worse, the ship's hull had been so badly damaged that her pumps were unable to keep up with the incoming waters.

Shortly after 10:30 P.M., H.M.S. Tribune foundered off Herring Cove. Many of the men gained the shrouds and masts which protruded from the icy waters, but by morning most had perished. In all, over 200 drowned, including several women and children. The promontory near Herring Cove which overlooks the final resting spot of the Tribune is still referred to as Tribune Head.

Among those who perished were two men from McNabs Island. Shortly after the Tribune struck Thrumcap Shoal, Alex Hawthorne, another man by the name of Ray (possibly George Ray who was listed in the 1798-80 survey) and a third unidentified man, all from McNabs Island, boarded the ship to render assistance. Even after it became apparent that the ship was doomed, the Captain ordered the men to remain on board. Ray managed to get off by promising to bring help from shore, but Hawthorne and the third man were drowned.