Historical Pictures from North Devon
SHIPPING INCIDENTS OFF THE NORTH DEVON COAST
19 September 1757 - the collier Marie wrecked at Lundy with the loss of all hands.
In 1796 The London sank off Ilfracombe with its cargo of ivory, doubloons and jewels - and a number of black prisoners from the West Indies. The London
On 10 February 1799 HMS Weazle, a sloop of war, (Commander the Hon. Henry Grey) was at Appledore, Devon, waiting to go out anti-privateering along the Cornish coast. Leaving port that evening she cleared Bideford Bar only to hit severe weather conditions in the Bristol Channel. The commander decided to shelter under Baggy Point near Braunton, Devon. The weather worsened and the sloop was driven aground just short of the Point with the loss of all 106 officers and crew. A memorial service was held at Northam Church, Devon.
On 10 January 1843 The Brothers of St.Ives, Cornwall, was returning home from Cardiff with coal when she disappeared off Hartland Point, Devon in a severe storm. There were no survivors.
On January 1843 the John Lilley of Liverpool (barque) (Captain Townes) was on her way from Liverpool to Old Calabar, West Africa, when she was blown off course across the entrance to the Bristol Channel and onto the Welsh coast, and then back across the Channel onto the North Devon coast a few miles north-east of Bideford Bar, where she was seen by Captain Williams on the brig The Shepherdess of Appledore. Captain Williams took his boat alongside the John Lilley despite the severe conditions but was unable to transfer the crew of the latter ship partly because of the weather conditions and partly because many of the crew of the John Lilley were drunk (perhaps not surprising as the ship's cargo was rum and the crew must have thought they were not going to survive). A couple of hours later the ship was driven onto Saunton Sands, near Braunton Lighthouse, Devon. The Master and crew were saved by the lighthouse keeper, the appropriately named Mr. Lamping, the Appledore Customs Officer, Mr. John Bowden and another local man. When the John Lilley went aground her cargo consisting partly of rum and tobacco went overboard and ended up on the beach. The Customs Officers, Excise Officers and Coastguards were fully employed in trying to prevent the local population from making off with the cargo. Not very successfully it would appear as the Customs Collector at Barnstaple had to admit that much of the cargo had disappeared and despite searches in the surrounding area little had been found.
7 September 1843 - Caledonia - 200 ton brig from Arbroath, Scotland (Captain Peter) - On journey from Constantinople to Bristol - driven onto the rocks at Vicarage Cliffs, Morwenstow, Devon. The crew were washed overboard and only one, Edward La Daine from the Channel Islands, survived. He was taken to the Rectory where the Rev R.S.Hawker made sure that he was cared for and nursed back to health. The bodies of the drowned seamen were eventually washed up on the beach and buried in Morwenstow Churchyard. The figurehead of the brig is preserved in the churchyard and, remarkably, a message in a bottle from one of the seamen, thrown overboard before the final wreck of the brig, was washed up at Portledge where it, too, is preserved in the Portledge Hotel just outside Bideford. The Rev Hawker erected a little hut on the cliffs immediately above the place where the wreck occurred and this is maintained by the National Trust.
On 9 November 1851 the French barque Pollux, 4,000 tons (Captain Lindstrom), left Dublin for Alexandria but in the Irish Sea found herself in a very severe storm, the ballast shifted, and she heeled over to such an extent that the masts were close to horizontal, preventing her from getting upright. The master decided to cut away the main and mizzen masts in an effort to right her and this it did, but the vessel was now drifting out of control in the storm and was driven into the entrance to the Bristol Channel. She was sighted by two pilot cutters off the North Devon coast. The cutters pulled alongside and offered to tow the ship into Ilfracombe, at which the crew of the Pollux decided to abandon ship. The cutters managed to get her into Clovelly Roads and next morning the crew, excluding the captain, returned to the ship. The captain excused himself saying that he had pressing business elsewhere. The pilots, with help from local fishermen, tried to get the ship to Bideford but the ship's crew were not prepared to co-operate and the job was left entirely to the "rescuers". She grounded twice during these efforts and the Lloyds Agent now ordered a tug. However, for some unknown reason the Finnish crew cut the tow rope leaving the ship again drifting, finally grounding again on the beach at Clovelly. The Customs Officer declared that she could not be considered a wreck, and all the cargo was removed and placed in his custody. On the next tide the ship was refloated and towed off shore, anchored and left over night. The next morning, now without her ballast and cargo she was so light that the storm caused her anchor cables to break and she finally smashed to pieces on the shore.
On 10 January 1866 the Hannah Moore of 1,129 tons on a voyage from Chile to Queenstown, Ireland was blown off course and took shelter in Lundy Roads. However her sails were torn by the wind and she dragged her anchor. The next morning the crew were seen clinging to the rigging. Two Bideford men, Thomas Saunders and Samuel Jarmon took a punt out in an attempt to get a line to the ship, but in twenty minutes the ship had been lifted onto Rat Island off Lundy and broken up. Only six crew managed to keep from being washed overboard from a part of the wreck. These were eventually rescued by the punt. The other 19 crew were drowned.
On 29 March 1866 the wooden paddle steamer Queen (Captain Granville Spray) left Ilfracombe at 10.30 pm. In a thick fog the little paddler struck the Tings Rocks off Hartland Point, Devon. However, the master managed to get her off the rocks and made back towards Ilfracombe. She was badly holed, though, and was shipping water rapidly, and, as a result, the master ran her intentionally onto the beach at Clovelly. The 37 passengers on board and the crew were ferried ashore and over the next two days the cargo was removed. Very soon after the cargo had been removed the boat broke her back and was finally wrecked. The captain, who was the son of the previous captain, John Spray, was subsequently found guilty of neglecting to measure the depth of water near the coast.
On the morning of 28 December 1868 there was a strong gale blowing onshore at Appledore, Devon, An Austrian ship Pace, bound from Glasgow to Fiume with pig iron, was seen to be in difficulties in Bideford Bay, and the the cox of the Appledore Lifeboat, Joseph Cox, with his son Joseph as second cox, called out the rest of the lifeboat crew and, with the lifeboat Hope on a horse drawn carriage, the crew followed the movement of the ship across the bay until she grounded on the sands. The lifeboat was then launched and with great difficulty due to the huge waves, made her way to the grounded vessel, threw a grapnel into the rigging and shouted to the crew. However there was no reply. A little later a boy appeared on deck and jumped into the lifeboat, and then eight men dashed to the side of the ship and dived into the sea, where they were picked up by the lifeboat, although in the process the Hope was dashed against the stern of the Pace, trapping the cox. Fortunately his cork lifejacket saved him from death, but the Hope lost her rudder. The lifeboatmen continued to shout to the remainder of the ship's crew to abandon ship, but they did not know that the crew had been instructed by the captain not to abandon the ship nor even to throw a line to the lifeboat, as he believed that she could be refloated on the next tide. With the lifeboat rudderless the cox had to give up and try to get back to the shore, which he did with severe difficulty. On reaching the shore the cox called for more volunteers to go back out with him to try to save the remaining crew. Despite attempts to persuade him otherwise he found sufficient men prepared to join him and he and his son and John Kelly from the original crew with the new volunteers went out in the lifeboat, still without its rudder, Joseph Cox junior steering with an oar. As they got close to the Pace, Joseph Cox junior was thrown into the sea and the boat thus lost its steering and capsized, all the crew being thrown overboard. However, the boat righted itself and the crew managed to get back aboard but had lost all but three oars. Joseph Cox senior was now injured and only semi-conscious, and the lifeboat again returned to the shore. The Braunton lifeboatmen had been unable to get their boat across the bay but walked to Appledore and would have taken the Hope out again but it was decided that it would be too risky and with the tide falling the Pace was unlikely to face further danger. Later, when the tide had receded a number of Appledore men waded out to the Pace and rescued the three remaining crewmen, two having fallen from the rigging and been killed. The captain was the last to be rescued.
Meanwhile another ship, the Leopard, returning to Gloucester from the West Indies, was also driven aground in Bideford Bay, near Westward Ho! Here David Johns, one of the crew of the Hope on its first attempt to rescue the crew of the Pace, volunteered to swim out to the grounded boat with a line, since it had proved impossible to get a line to the ship by rocket from Westward Ho! This he did and tried three times to board the Leopard, but was finally struck on the head by some wreckage and sadly drowned. Another Appledore man subsequently managed to get a line to the ship and all the crew were rescued.
The RNLI awarded Joseph Cox senior two clasps to his medal which he had originally been awarded in 1801. Both Joseph Cox junior and John Kelly were awarded silver medals, and another 25 men also received lesser awards.
Later the Emperor of Austria awarded silver crosses of merit to both Joseph senior and junior and to John Kelly.
February 1877 - Steamer Ethel wrecked on the Black Rock off Lundy. 19 lost only the mate survived.
The ketch Arabella of Gloucester was wrecked on Brittons Rock in Ilfracombe on October 2nd 1895. The crew of four and two local 'Hobblers' - Richard Souch and his son - were drowned during the rescue attempt.
15 October 1886: The S.S. Castleton, built in 1879 in Newcastle, England, by Schlesinger, Davis & Co. was an iron screw steamer registered in and belonging to the port of Cardiff, Wales. She was named after a village between Cardiff and Newport of the same name. Her owner, Matthew Cope (1843 - 1933), a coal merchant, lived in Bute Crescent, Cardiff. She had a gross registered tonnage of 1,752, a length of 279.5 feet (ca. 95 metres), a breadth of 34 feet (ca. 12 metres), a depth of 23 feet (ca. 8 metres), and 200hp.
The ship's Master, William Henry, was a 38 year old native Welshman, born in Porthcawl, near Cardiff, in 1848, who obtained his Certificate of Competency in Bristol in 1875.
As usual, he signed on a crew for the voyage, loaded her cargo and prepared for departure. This is confirmed by the newspaper Western Mail, in Cardiff, listing Castleton on 14 October 1886, under the heading "Shipping Intelligence" noting "Cleared (outwards) - Oct. 13...St. Lucia, Castleton, B, 1,500 coal". And, indeed, Castleton departed Penarth (Cardiff), on Thursday morning, 14 October 1886, with a crew of 23, and a cargo of coal, destined for St. Lucia in the West Indies. But this would be their last voyage - and it ended hardly a day after it began.
Reports from Lloyd's List between 18-30 October 1886 indicate that a heavy gale had sprung up off the Devon Coast on the 15 October and had claimed many ships. The Western Mail, in a headline report, stated on the 16 October 1886, "A terrific storm, with heavy rain, prevailed in the South and West of England yesterday. Great damage was done to shipping, many wrecks being reported....the extent of damage sustained cannot yet be correctly estimated" followed later by "Strong squalls of wind and heavy rain commenced at a very early hour, each gust seeming to come with redoubled force, until by daylight a perfect hurricane was raging....".
On Tuesday, 19 October, a Western Mail headline stated "Fearful Disasters in Bideford Bay. Wreckage of six vessels washed ashore" and within the underlying article, "Reports from Bideford Bay state that a large amount of wreckage has been washed ashore there, and portions have been identified as belonging to various vessels. It is said that, amongst others, portions have been picked up belonging to the....Castleton, about 1,500 tons...."
Almost a week passed before the next article appeared in the Western Mail. On the 25 October, the following report appears, "The Steamship Castleton. Respecting the apprehensions that have been felt by some as to the safety of the steamship Castleton... the opinion of those best able to judge is that the vessel has passed safely through the gale. The name-board washed ashore was hung aft near the wheel, and has been washed overboard on previous voyages when the weather was not half so bad as that experienced on the 15th and the 16th; the other wreckage washed ashore was simply washed off the deck, and would not imperil the navigation of the ship."
Newspapers around Bideford Bay, in Devon, also published many reports in the months of October and November 1886 regarding wreckage belonging to various ships.
On 21 October the North Devon Journal reported, "GREAT GALE AND FLOODS - A very heavy gale blew on Friday over nearly the whole Kingdom. In the early morning the centre of the disturbance had reached Ireland and at eight o'clock the wind had attained the force of a gale in most parts of England, as well as Ireland and France. The direction of the wind in the front of the storm's path was from south west, south, and south east, whilst in the rear, on the west coast of Ireland, the wind had already veered to the northward. Very heavy rain was experienced in the front segment of the advancing storm, and owing to the slow rate at which the whole storm area travelled [sic], the time that the rain lasted was considerably prolonged. In the course of the day the storm area passed slowly across the Irish Channel, and at two o'clock in the afternoon its centre was not far from Manchester, and the direction of its progress at this time was due east....It is a long time since so severe a storm has been experienced in England....
Reports which have come to hand from various parts of Devon and Cornwall tend to fully confirm the belief previously entertained that the gale of Friday and Saturday last was most disastrous in its effects and that the loss of life has been very great. A correspondent writing from Braunton states that the North Devon coast is strewn with wreckage, and that along the Saunton sands for a distance of about five miles the wreckage consists for the most part of cabin fittings, pieces of cork, masts, and figureheads. Among other things picked up on Saturday were a lifebuoy with the words "Nerbudda, London", painted on it, a piece of wreck bearing the name "Juanita", and the hinder part of a boat marked "Malleny, Liverpool". There is reason to suppose that several vessels have foundered just outside the bay, and there is very little doubt that the loss of life has been very great, although up to last night no bodies had been washed ashore."
The Western Mail offers the most insight into the fears of the people of Cardiff, initially speculating on Castleton's possible survival, later reporting, however, apparent unequivocal evidence that she had foundered after all. There are many articles over several weeks concerning a great number of ships and the vast damage done by the storms.
On Tuesday, 26 October, the Western Mail added to speculation that Castleton may have perhaps survived the gale, but one can almost detect a hint of doubt in the writer's belief in what he was reporting, "It is interesting to note that the screw steamer Alacrity, of Cardiff, left the Roath Basin, Cardiff, with a load of coal on the 14th inst. for Gibraltar, and arrived there on Friday last all well; also that the Alaska, of Cardiff, left the Roath Basin on the same date with a cargo of coal for Genoa, and arrived at that port on Thursday last, all well. Both vessels left by the same tide as the Castleton, and successfully weathered the gale, and it may, therefore, be reasonably hoped that that vessel will be heard of in due course as having safely arrived at her port of destination in the West Indies."
However, by the following Saturday, all hope of her survival had been dashed as further wreckage from Castleton had washed ashore, confirming worst fears. The ship's owner, Matthew Cope, sent his Marine Superintendent, a certain Mr. J. Plews, and the ship's previous Chief Officer, a Mr. Watson, to survey Bideford Bay in an attempt to clarify the situation. On 30 October, the Western Mail reported their findings, thus: "The Steamship Castleton. Hope as to her safety abandoned. Identification of wreckage", followed by "....This vessel was bound from Penarth to St. Lucia with a cargo of coal, and when the gales subsided small portions of wreckage were washed ashore on the Devonshire Coast. As the quantity was not large the owners did not attach much importance to the circumstances. But subsequently, in order to clear up matters, they judged it expedient to send their marine superintendent, Mr. J. Plews, and Mr. Watson, late chief officer of the ship, down to the place for the purpose of identifying the wreckage. These gentlemen accordingly left Cardiff a few days ago in a tug for Bideford Bay. They landed at Appledore, crossed the river to the Instow side, went over the Burrows to the lifeboat house, and came back again to what is called the Pebble Ridge. In the course of their investigation they had to go several miles inland, where they found numerous articles belonging to the ship, which had been removed by the inhabitants. Amongst the wreckage which they identified were the engine-room and cabin skylight, cabin fittings, several of the hatches of the upper and 'tween decks, and "fore and afters," shifting boards easily recognised, having 7in. figures in red painted on them, a pitch pine boom, the poop ladder, sheer legs of the pole compass, the large after steering wheel, portions of the life and other boats, also some of the bottom boards, and 70ft. of the main rail. From the appearance of the rail it is the general opinion of nautical men that the steamer must have been in collision with some vessel or vessels and then foundered. The outside of the rail for some distance is crushed, as if a heavy body had been forced against it....Thus the whole of the evidence collected seems to place beyond all doubt the fact that the Castleton must be numbered among those ill-fated vessels which foundered during the late storm." The last sentence in the newspaper report notes, "Some of the wreckage has been brought back to Cardiff on Friday."
It was then that newspapers began reporting bodies washed up on the beaches. The Bideford Gazette wrote, "THE LATE GALES. BODIES FROM THE SEA - During the past week several more bodies have been washed up at different spots around the coast of Bideford Bay. They were all doubtless bodies of unfortunate seamen who met their death by drowning during the recent severe gale. In every case decomposition was so far advanced as to render identification by the features absolutely impossible. They were therefore, buried directly the coroner's inquests could be held. The following particulars, however, which have been gathered at much trouble by one or two friends interested in the discovery of the bodies, may be of much interest to those who are also looking anxiously for signs of identification of the bodies of relatives or friends they have lost.
The first body of which we have had intelligence was picked up at South Hole, between Clovelly and Hartland. It was that of a man five feet ten inches in height, tattooed on the right arm with a woman holding a flag. When picked up the body had no clothes on whatever. The man had had dark hair.
The next was recovered from the sea at Hartland Quay, and was the body of a shorter man, 5ft 1in, with fair hair; tattooed on the left arm with the emblems of faith, hope, and charity. The clothes were of common description. The boots, for instance, were fastened with strings.
On Friday night or Saturday morning a body was picked up at Braunton. Height, 5ft. 10in.; no clothes and no marks recorded.
On Saturday evening a body was picked up at Bucks, which was evidently that of an officer - possibly that of a captain of a small ship. Both arms were tattoed [sic], the right with a sailor and a cross, and the left of a woman and an anchor. Height, 5ft. 7in.; hair black. Dressed in black coat and waistcoat and blue serge trousers; oilskin over. Underclothing, good lambswool and apparently new. There was a gold chain, with small locket (empty) attached; silver watch, No. 14673, bearing the name of the maker, "W.M. Gothrie, Wellington Quay." This description will, of course, be quite sufficient for identification, if it should reach deceased's relatives."
A list of Castleton's crew was also printed in the country's papers, even as far north as Newcastle. I have attempted to verify it's accuracy using other sources, and have included additional information which I came across in the process. Using Castleton's Crew Agreement for her final voyage, and the Index to Marine Deaths 1886-90, held by the Family Records Centre in London, the following list of the 23 people who perished on S.S. Castleton on the 15 October 1886 can be established:
Name Age Capacity Cert. of Comp. Born
William HENRY 38 Master No. 92277 Porthcawl
Daniel KENNY 27 1st Mate No. 12680 Youghal
George HOWARD 44 2nd mate No. 11155 Preston
James PRESCOTT 29 Carpenter Porthcawl
Maurice MORETTI 34 Steward Venice
Gurge MANUEL 27 Cook Lisbon
George GAMBLING 52 Boatswain Fareham
John George BREW 36 1st Engineer No. 12854 Woolwich
Robert A. McCONOCHIE 25 2nd Engineer No. 20505 St. Petersburg
Walter WILLIAMS 28 3rd Engineer Cardiff
Agust OLSSON 26 Donkey-man Föhrenburg
William FARRELL 29 Fireman Galway
August NIETZIOL 27 Fireman Hamburg
D. DREIER 25 Fireman Bremerhaven
John HAMILTON 23 Fireman Edinburgh
Henry BEVAN 28 Fireman Bristol
C. HOLM 29 Seaman Söderham
Laurence LACY 38 Seaman Wexford
F. SMITH 29 Seaman Bridgewater
William BURNETT 34 Seaman ?, Sweden
Michael BURKE 33 Seaman Kilross
Andrew MALLAR 20 Seaman Dundee
Francis PALMER 17 Engineer's Steward Bristol
On 11 November 1886, the North Devon Journal wrote, "LAST WEEK'S WRECKS - Shipwrecks reported last week rose to 42 compared with the previous week, making the total for the present year 1235. British owned vessels numbered 21, including two steamers...."
Because she was never found intact, Castleton wasn't officially listed as missing until 5 January 1887. She was a relatively new ship, under 8 years old when lost. The Board of Trade Casualty Returns for 1886 has an entry for Castleton which concludes, "Not heard of since being left by pilot off Breaksea Point on October 14, 1886".
John George Brew's Death Certificate indicates his cause of death as "supposed drowned", his date of death as "supposed lost 15.10.86", and the place of death is left blank. His body was never recovered nor positively identified among those washed ashore.
John George left a young, pregnant widow and 2 children under 15 years of age at home in Gateshead, near Newcastle, in the north of England. Their 7th child (their 1st, 2nd, 4th and 6th had already died) was born 20 weeks after he perished.
March 1887 - SS City of Exeter lost off Lundy. 16 lost out of total crew of 19.
In December 1890 the Uppingham, on a voyage from Cardiff to China, struck rocks at Long Peak near Hartland Point, Devon, and 18 of the 28 crew died.
February 1892 - The French ship Tunisie went ashore on Lundy in severe gale, snow storm and heavy seas. The Lighthouse keeper and seven others saved all 21 crew.
2 October 1895 - Llanisley, schooner, foundered in a storm off Lundy. Crew of four took to the ship's boat and made for Ilfracombe but the boat capsized and all were lost.
On the evening of 12 January 1899 the Rev Hockley, secretary of the Lynmouth Lifeboat (Louisa), received a telegram from the owner of the Anchor Hotel at Porlock, Somerset, reporting that there was a large sailing vessel in the bay that seemed to be in difficulties. There was a very savage storm underway, with very heavy seas lashing the coast. The Lynmouth cox, Jack Crocombe, and his crew decided that they could not launch from Lynmouth and would have to take the lifeboat to Porlock, a distance of 12 miles over very difficult terrain, to launch it. Anyone knowing Lynmouth and Porlock would realise that this was going to entail hauling the boat up the very steep hill out of Lynmouth, along the cliffs, and then down the one in four gradient into Porlock. The weight of the boat was around three and a half tons, and the weather conditions were terrible. Sixteen horses were provided to pull the carriage and men had to go out ahead to dig out the banks on the roadside to enable the carriage to pass. The journey started at about 8pm and most of the residents of Lynmouth joined in helping to get the boat on its carriage up Lynmouth Hill. At the top of the hill one of the carriage wheels came off and had to be replaced. The weather was now so bad that most of the helpers, other than the crew, turned back once the hill top had been reached. Further along they had to remove a section of stone wall which was hindering the passage of the carriage. At County Gates the boat had to be removed from the carriage and placed on skids as the carriage was too wide to go through the lane, whilst the carriage was taken across fields to meet the lifeboat further on. From there the men needed all their remaining strength to hold back the carriage descending Porlock Hill. On arrival at Porlock they found that the sea wall had been washed away and they had to take a detour to get to the beach. They finally reached the sea at about 6am on the 13 January. Refusing to stop to eat they immediately set about launching the boat. The 8 oared lifeboat was then rowed into the gale to reach the struggling Forrest Hall (Captain James Aliss), a 1,900 ton Liverpool barque on its way from Belfast home. She had been under tow but the line had parted and the rudder had been taken off in the storm. She had dropped anchor in the hope of riding out the storm but had sent out distress signals as a precaution. The Captain was advised by the Lifeboat cox to wait until daylight when it was hoped to get a line to the ship. At dawn the tug John Joliffe from Liverpool arrived. The lifeboat crew got a line from the tug on board the Forrest Hall and the tug started for Barry Docks, with the Lifeboat in attendance in case it was needed. The Forrest Hall began to drift towards Nash Sands but fortunately another Liverpool tug, the Sarah Joliffe, was at hand and the two tugs took her into Barry at 6pm on 13 January. The Lifeboat also landed at Barry where they were royally received at a hotel and tended by the Shipwrecked Mariners Society. The following day the Lifeboat returned to Lynmouth.
In 1900 the Welbury from Cardiff struck the rocks at Long Peak near Hartland, Devon. The second officer had been one of the survivors from the wreck of the Uppingham on the same rocks in 1890.
On 2 February 1901 the schooner Goonlaze, of Hayle, Cornwall, left Bristol. She is thought to have tried to shelter from the weather in Barnstaple Bay, but was presumably driven onto the rocks. The wreck was not discovered until some days later when, as a result of finding the body of a seaman in a field near Peppercombe, the Coastguards made a search of the area and found the wreckage under the cliffs. Three bodies were eventually recovered.
On 30 May 1906 HMS Montagu, a Hunter Class Battleship (14000 tons) struck Great Shutter Rock off Lundy in a thick fog. She was badly holed and listing to starboard and had lost her propellors. The Admiralty immediately sent four battleships and a cruiser and two Liverpool salvage tugs to try to save the ship. Work started on removing equipment in order to lighten the ship in the hope of re-floating her. However this was to little avail and by August she was still stuck and was finally written off as a total wreck. In 1907 she was sold for salvage but it took a further 15 years to remove her completely during which she was a regularly visited attraction for the pleasure steamers of the Bristol Channel.
The Captain and Navigating Officer of the Montagu were court-martialed and severely reprimanded and dismissed their vessel.
At 9pm on 29 August 1908 the Verajean (Captain Ritchie) , built Dumbarton, Scotland, 1891 (1,933 tons, 3 masted all-steel sailing ship) carrying 3,000 tons of patent fuel for Chile left the Roath Dock, Cardiff in charge of the tugs Lady Morgan and Salvor. The weather had not been good when the ship left the dock, but the wind now increased to force 8 to 9 and the Captain decided to wait in Barry Roads until morning. The following morning the ship set off down the Bristol Channel still in charge of the two tugs. It took until the following day to reach Lundy Island where the tugs left her. (There was later a dispute about whether the tugs should have left her at Lundy). Because the weather was worsening the Captain decided to make back up Channel to Barry Roads. The ship got to the entrance to the Roads but the depth of water was misjudged and the anchors which were dropped with the expectation of hitting the seabed did not do so and the ship was left at the mercy of the storm which continued to worsen. The Captain then gave the order to abandon ship and within minutes of the crew leaving the ship she hit the rocks at Rhoose Point and settled about 200 yards off the coast. The Captain and all crew were saved. The storm which had caused the ship to be abandoned was "The Great Hurricane of 1908" which caused severe damage all along the South Wales coast. The Verajean was eventually towed to Barry Docks but was so badly damaged that she was scrapped.
There was a Board of Trade Enquiry in November 1908 which exonerated the Captain and the two tug masters.
July 1926 - The paddle steamer Cambria went aground at Hele Bay near Ilfracombe in thick fog. All 500 passengers were rescued by the Ilfracombe Lifeboat (the Richard Crowley). The Cambria was successfully refloated on the next tide.
March 1929 - Greek steamship Maria Kyriakides went aground near Lundy but all 18 crew were saved and the ship was re-floated 18 months later.
October 1942 - Dutch motor cruiser Atlas stranded near Lundy. Only the mate survived out of a crew of nine.
On 13 November 1949 the Spanish steamer Monte Gurugu (Captain Luis Numalrz) on a voyage from Newport, Mon. to Bilbao, Spain, with coal, on approaching Hartland Point, Devon was hit by a series of severe waves which broke her rudder adrift, and the ship started to leak severely. An SOS was sent and then the order to Abandon Ship was given. The ship's two boats were lowered but one was severely damaged in the process and the 12 men on board thrown into the sea. Two crew members also managed to get into a dinghy, but the Captain, being the last to leave had to jump into the sea, where he was picked up by the ship's lifeboat. Quickly after the ship was abandoned one of her boilers blew up and she broke in two and sank. The SOS sent by the ship was picked up by a tanker, the Lady Frederica, but she was unable to assist without putting her crew in danger, and by the Coastguards who alerted the Appledore, Clovelly and Ilfracombe Lifeboat Stations. The Clovelly Lifeboat, the William Cantrell Ashley, went out in search of survivors near Hartland Point, but the wreck had taken place further away, The Appledore Lifeboat, Violet Armstrong, found five bodies and the remains of the ship's boat which had been damaged during launch, the they found one man only just alive and headed for Ilfracombe to enable him to receive urgent medical attention. The Ilfracombe Lifeboat, Richard Silver Oliver, under cox Cecil Irwin, was launched despite very severe weather conditions and headed for Woolacombe Bay in the hope of picking up any boat that was driven that way by the weather. They did indeed find the remaining ship's boat full of survivors in great difficulties. A grapnel was eventually secured and the boat towed into deeper water in order to get the survivors aboard the Ilfracombe Lifeboat. Twenty-three crew were saved. The dinghy, which had carried the radio operator and another man was washed up on Woolacombe Sands, and the radioman survived but the other man died. The Ilfracombe Lifeboat went out again to search for more survivors but none were found. Despite a further search the next day by the Lifeboats and aircraft from RAF Chivenor the remaining six men were never found.
The Spanish Lifeboat Society awarded its Silver Medal to each of the three coxs and all lifeboat crewmembers were awarded a diploma. All awards were presented at a ceremony on Ilfracombe Pier on 30 June 1950. The coxs of the Appledore and Ilfracombe boats also received a bronze and silver medal respectively from the RNLI.
In 1962 the Green Ranger, a 3,000 ton Fleet Auxiliary tanker being towed to Cardiff by the tug Caswell for a refit became detached from the tug when the cable parted in heavy seas. She had only a skeleton crew of seven aboard and was driven towards Hartland. An RAF helicopter from Chivenor was unable to rescue the crew because of the severe winds, Hartland Lifesaving Company could not get a line to her by rocket in the wind, and the Clovelly Lifeboat was unable to reach her in the heavy seas, but Appledore Lifeboat (Louisa Anne Hawker) under cox Sydney Camm did get to her but found no sign of the crew. Later it was found that the crew had been rescued from the shore. Three volunteers from the Hartland Lifesaving Company had climbed down the cliff face in terrible conditions in order to be able to get close enough to the ship to get a rocket on board. This they did and the crew were hauled to safety by line. The Hartland Lifesaving Company were awarded the Wreck Service Shield for their bravery. Cox Camm of the Appledore Lifeboat received the RNLI Silver Medal and the lifeboat crew received the thanks of the RNLI on vellum.
10 June 2001, Our Unity
OPERATION PLUTO - PIPELINE UNDER THE OCEAN
The supply of petrol to the advancing Allied armies following the D-Day landings was of the highest priority. The idea of an undersea pipeline to pump fuel across the channel was one innovative option.
The Combined Ops Experimental Establishment (COXE pronounced coxy) was involved in many top-secret projects. These included such diverse tasks as waterproofing vehicles, removing underwater obstacles, testing landing craft under a variety of sea and beach conditions and supplying petrol to France using an underwater pipeline. There were many other projects and most, if not all had one aspect in common - they were borne out of thinking offensively not defensively. This was a remit Churchill himself had set for Roger Keyes, The Director of Combined Operations, and his successors.
As early as May 1942 supplying petrol to Allied tanks and other vehicles, in the early stages of an invasion of mainland Europe, was a major concern. Total reliance on conventional tankers and ship to shore pipelines was in danger of cluttering up the beaches and obstructing the movement of men and materials.
Geoffrey Lloyd M.P., who was in charge of the UK's fuel policy, met with the Chief of Combined Operations and others. As a result a "petrol cable" was laid across the Medway and fuel pumped successfully at a pressure of 750 lbs. per square inch. However such were the complexities it was clear that only highly trained men with specialised equipment could achieve success on a commercial scale. The cable laying ship London was taken into service as HMS Holdfast.
To test the concept, a pipeline was run between the Queens Dock in Swansea to Watermouth, near Ilfracombe, some 45 miles away. Two specially fitted LCTs ran 2,000 yards of pipeline from each shore. The one at Swansea connected to a pumping station and the other to receiving tanks at Watermouth. The free ends were buoyed and a few days later on December 27th 1942 the Holdfast recovered the Swansea end, joined it up to the main pipeline on board (flexible pipes coiled on large drums), and steamed at 4 to 5 knots towards Watermouth laying the pipeline as she went. A number of set backs followed. It took much longer than expected to effect a good joint and the pipeline was damaged. Later a tanker dragged her anchor and severed the line. It was 100 days before pumping began at a rate of 1,500 gallons per hour. It was a modest beginning but would eventually lead to 1,000,000 gallons per day being pumped across the channel. Further planning, development work, procurement of additional vessels, recruitment and training took place in the 18 month run up to the Normandy Landings in June of 1944.
The capture of Port-en-Bessin signalled the beginning of the British part of PLUTO. It must be said that there were many who regarded PLUTO as a wild fantasy of COHQ. Their concerns no doubt alleviated by the concurrent use "Tombola" a conventional tanker ship to shore storage system at Port-en-Bessin and at Ste. Honorine two miles further west.
The main PLUTO operation in support of the Normandy landings was based on Cherbourg. The delays in the Bristol Channel were revisited upon the men and by the time pumping began 41 days later, the armies were well on their way into Belgium. Because of ongoing problems and the then disposition of the Allied armies a new pipeline was laid between Dungeness and Ambleteuse near Boulogne. In January 1945 it delivered a disappointing 300 tons but by March this had increased to 3,000 tons and later still to 4,000 tons. PLUTO's petrol continued to supply the Allies well after they had crossed the Rhine into Germany. An HQ ship, several cable ships, tugs, trawlers and barges undertook all this specialised work - a total of 34 vessels with 600 men and officers under Captain J.F.Hutchings.
In recognition of the work of Combined Operations, of which PLUTO was a part, Churchill and his distinguished company sent a Signal to Mountbatten following a visit they made to the Normandy beaches on June 12.