19th Century wrecks

Caledonia 1843

In 1957 a small bottle was washed ashore between Babbacombe and Peppercombe, containing a letter dated 15th August 1843: "Dear Brother, Please e God i be with y against Michaelmas. Prepare y search Lundy for y Jenny ivories. Adiue William, Odessa". William was a seaman of the Caledonia which had loaded wheat at Odessa (where the letter was written) and was headed for Gloucester but struck rocks at Morwenstow on 7th September 1843. Only one crew member survived, Edward La Daine. The Jenny was a three masted schooner wrecked on Lundy (Jenny's Cove) on 20th February 1797. The ivory was recovered some few years later but the leather bags containing gold were never found. The bottle and letter are on display at the Portledge Hotel at Fairy Cross. (Smith 1991 pp 16-20)

Maid of Alicant c1849

c1849 - "Almost every little cove with which this iron-bound coast is indented has its legendary story of shipwreck, or marvellous escape from shipwreck. Our landlady's daughter is eloquent in her description of an incident of the latter character that occurred in this little cove [Hele Bay]. I will give it you as nearly as possible in her own words. 'There was a little vessel called the Maid of Alicant, a fruiterer. I don't know exactly whether she was a brig or a schooner, but she had two masts, and I remember she had what I call D-sails [square-rigged]. She was a beautiful little thing, just like a gentleman's yacht. Well sir, it was on the 6th of December, about 4-5 winters ago, that there was a report in Ilfracombe, about a vessel going on the rocks at Hele. Almost the whole town went out to see, and I went among the rest. O, it was such a dreadful sight! It was blowing a perfect storm, and the sea upon the rocks was rolling mountains high! The little vessel had dropped her anchor just within the cove; every body was expecting that every wave would loose her hold, and then there would have been no help, but she must have been immediately dashed to pieces on the rocks. We could see the crew standing up, and could hear their cries and screams for help. One gentleman wanted to strip and swim off to her, but the people held him back, because you know, sir, though he was a very good swimmer, he could not have given them any assistance. The hobblers (that's what we call the men that own little boats, and get their living partly by fishing, partly by piloting, and partly by letting out their boats for hire) wanted to try to go round to her from Ilfracombe, to bring the crew ashore, for there are no boats at Hele; but the hobblers' wives hung round them, and some even went down on their knees, beseeching them not to risk their lives; for it was blowing a most dreadful gale. So nobody went off, but the little anchor held on beautifully, and the vessel rode out the storm till the next day. Then the wind abated, so that she was able to come round to Ilfracombe harbour; and it was a very wonderful deliverance. She was repaired here and I have often seen her in the harbour since'" (Gosse 1853 p 130-132)

Peter & Sarah 1859

On 1st November 1859 the Peter and Sarah, built in Bideford in 1809, Captain Thomas Finney, was wrecked at the entrance to Ilfracombe harbour (Boyle & Payne 1952 pp 205-210)

"During John Travis's talk on Ilfracombe, he covered the wreck of the Peter & Sarah in the harbour entrance on 1st November 1859. This wreck was the subject of an evocative painting by society member Mark Myers some years ago. The following information on her, from my database of West of England Shipping, may be of interest. Peter & Sarah: Built as a 59 ton Sloop by Richard Chapman, at Cleeve Houses, Bideford, of the following dimensions 50' 9" x 17' 0.5" x 8' 7.5". Completed by him on 11/2/1809, she was registered as a British Vessel at the Bideford Custom House ten days later under Bideford No.2/1809. (Custom House Registration under the various Acts of Parliament were essentially registrations of title in the property of a vessel - proof of ownership and liability, while the registered tonnage was the basis of assessment of Harbour and Light dues). Typical of her era she was re-registered a number of times throughout her career for a variety of reasons......originally rigged as a sloop she was converted to a brigantine only a couple of years later - 1811. A very common practice at the time. Although not recorded as such in the Official Registers most authorities agree that she was a polacca brigantine....The Peter & Sarah played a key role in the development of shipbuilding on Prince Edward's Isle, being the vessel that shipped out the first team of shipwrights in 1818. From the records it would appear that John Eastridge was in command of her for that historic voyage. It would be interesting to learn whether the Thomas Burnard Chanter, Thomas Burnard's factor on the island, was related to the Thomas Chanter, one of the joint owners between 1810 and 1816" (Pawlyn 1992 pp 8-10)

Typewritten notes in Shipwreck box, Ilfracombe Museum. "The Wreck of the "Peter and Sarah", a schooner from Newquay in Cornwall. In November 1859, twas a fearful night the winds were raging like a million wild beasts let loose. Rain and hailstones came down in a deluge, and the lightening and thunder were awful to see and hear. As the day dawned the storm seemed to lull a little bit. The slates were lying about like leaves lying about like leaves in Autumn. The harbour was choke full of vessels., and they of vessels, and they were like mad things on the roaring water. The sea seemed driven completely mad under the lashing blasts - like a raving maniac flogged by a merciless keeper. On the top of Lantern Hill by the chapel, a knot of seamen and townsmen were gazing with wrapt and intense anxiety at an object out at sea. It was a little schooner - Called by sailors a polacca - trying for harbour: there it was like a cork by the mill wheel in a millstream - only it seemed with less chance of ever getting into quiet waters again - now she was on the crest of the foam, now down in the trough of the sea, now as if she must be engulfed by the mountain of water coming at her, now re-appearing, safe and sound, and always a little nearer the harbour mouth. At last she is about to make the critical dash to round Warphouse Point. The little ship is safely round the point - but alas, is not yet safe - she must be held to shore by the strong warp while she makes harbour, (her main-boom was broken and she could carry no and she could carry no sail aft), and there is no warp to be had. In the meantime the little schooner had begun to drift over towards the fatal Hillsborough Rocks -that bristle on the opposite shore - to leeward. In hopes of holding her the captain lets go his anchor. It drags and will not hold. There are three men aboard, The cry is "Save the men! let the vessel go!" Two boats had previously been in waiting held by their crews at the harbour mouth, as well as the heavy rollers would let them. They now made for the schooner. The schooner is rapidly drifting towards the breakers on the opposite shore. Will they reach her? One boat pauses, as if to consider the position, the crew are all old mariners, but the other manned by younger and more active men, press on, and happily reaches the schooners side. The men on board, though they may be strangers, evidently sees the hopelessness of their vessels position. One gets into the boat immediately it is near enough, the other makes a jump for his life into the sea, and is soon picked up and rescued. The captain stopped behind to secure his gold, silver and ships papers, in that moment he lost his chance of rescue. The people on Lantern Hill and the Quay watched as the vessel was driven towards the sharp rocks of Hillsborough. To the astonishment, of the watchers, the captain, with no one to help him, braced round the schooners fore-topsail and she swept clear of the rocks. The anchor which had been let go in the endeavour to save the vessel at first, now held in the jutting rocks, and so hastened her destruction. For a few moments she held off, but sea after sea struck her broadside and at last an immense rolling billow swept over the poor little craft, and swamped her for ever. The master, was never seen alive again. His son, who was one of the rescued, stood on Warphouse Point while his father and ship went down. The master of the "Peter and Sarah" was Captain William Clemens." (ILFRACOMBE CHRONICLE DECEMBER 5th 1873)

There is a copy of a painting of the Peter & Sarah, 1979, by Mark Myers in Ilfracombe Museum (Ship box, ILFCM 9384)

Kate 1874 (Not wrecked)

June 1874 "SAD DEATH OF A CAPTAIN BY DROWNING IN HELE BAY. A sad case of drowning which threw a gloom over the whole of the sailors, and we may say most of the inhabitants of the town as well, occurred to Capt. Richards, of the Kate, about midnight on Monday. The deceased's father owns two vessels, the Hope and the Kate and the latter, with the deceased and two other men, named Brooksand Pine on board, went outside the harbour on Monday evening and anchored. intending to go up channel to Aberthaw, where they were bound, with the first of the flood tide, as there was not much wind. It was sometime between eleven and twelve o'clock when they weighed anchor; they had made two or three short tacks, and were about half-way up Hele Bay, when the anchor having in some way got foul, Captain Richards got over the bows -it is said- to reeve the stopper through the shackle, and stood on the claws of the anchor for that purpose. The chain, presumably with the additional weight put upon it, slipped round the windlass, and jerked Captain Richards into the water, He was seen immediately afterwards paddling in the water, and when the men on board called to him, he ejaculated " Ah ! " and was seen no more. The boat was lowered, but was rendered useless by getting half-filled with water on reaching the waves, and when it was righted it was too late to save the captain, and as the spars were all lashed down, nothing could be thrown over. It was quite dark and the men on board the Kate, when they found that Capt. Richards was surely drowned, put about and returned to Ilfracombe 'to communicate the sad intelligence to his friends. Since the occurrence nothing has been seen of the body; we hear that a reward of £5 has been offered for its recovery: but great doubts are expressed as to its ever being found. Deceased was an only son, about 32 years of age, and had only been married seven or eight months. He was very much respected, and all sympathise deeply in the distress caused by the melancholy circumstances of his death. The affliction of the poor wife is greater from the fact that her brother was lying dead at the same time. It seems probable that Captain Richards was seized with cramp, or something of the kind, as he is stated to have been a very good swimmer." (Ilfracombe Chronicle June 20th 1874)

Marie Emilie 1886

"Spectators crowd the pierhead at Ilfracombe to watch salvage operations being carried out on the Barnstaple registered ketch Marie Emilie. Carrying coal from Newport to Barnstaple, she got on the rocks on 18th October 1886. Her crew of two managed to reach the shore safely, but after being refloated the wooden vessel was found to be damaged beyond repair and was broken up at Ilfracombe" (Larn & Larn 1999 p25)

wreck marie emilie 1886

This picture of the Marie Emille on the rocks outside the harbour in 1886, shown above, is from Ilfracombe Museum (shipwreck box ILFCM 2948). Has handwritten "Marie Emille, 37 ton French-built ketch, bound to Barnstaple with coal, wrecked 18/10/86"

Monarch 1887

wreck monarch 1887

1887 - "WRECK THAT LEAD TO LICENSING. We are approaching the centenary of one of north Devon's worst disasters. On Friday, Aug 26th 1887, The Monarch, a ten ton yacht, set sail from Ilfracombe harbour on a pleasure trip. On board were 24 passengers, mainly tourists, and two local boatmen - Captain William Rumson and Charles Buckingham, an ex-naval man. The sea was smooth and the party cheerful but as the boat sailed past the Tunnels bathing Beach a ‘puff of wind’ hit it and blew a boat-hook overboard. Captain Rumson decided to retrieve this and immediately began tacking back. It was then that another ‘puff of wind’ hit and ‘the boat heeled over and shipped water at the stern.’ At the same time the passengers were all tumbled together and their weight concentrated at one end sent the boat diving rapidly to its doom. What followed was a scene of horror where ‘the screams and shrieks of the unfortunate people were heartrending’. Many could not swim and the suddenness of the event saw them entangled in rigging or encumbered with heavy coats. One young man, Harold Baker, went down with the boat yet managed to surface briefly before being dragged down again by desperate hands. It took frantic efforts to free himself and cling to floating wreckage. The disaster had, however, been witnessed from the beach and local boats pushed off with haste. Many bodies, living and the dead, were brought ashore at the pier being ‘taken up the steps on stretchers or on the shoulders of stalwart men’. The rescuers were soon forced back by high waves that followed the first squalls. Medical men on holiday in Ilfracombe helped in resuscitation attempts. In one case ‘a medical coil (for electrical stimulation) was used for over an hour, and ether was injected’ but in vain. Amidst all this confusion it took some time before any casualty figures could be finalised - by the end of the day, however, it was known that 14 had drowned, including 3 women. At the inquest soon afterwards the coroner talked of ‘an occurrence which had cast a gloom over the whole of the town, and had plunged several families into a state of great distress.’ He then went on to take identification of the 5 bodies so far recovered and hear evidence from Captain Rumson, who had survived. The Jury gave as their verdict ‘accidental death’. A reward of £3 for each of the nine missing bodies was offered and many local fishermen ‘have been out with lines grappling for bodies, and a long line with hooks on has been laid, in the hope of hitching the clothes of any bodies that may be washed along the bottom by the tides.’ At the same time a subscription was opened for the widow and children of Charles Buckingham, the second boatman, who went down with the yacht. Within a week two more bodies had been recovered and another inquest followed - a pattern repeated once more when another two bodies came ashore. One of these latter corpses was of Buckingham being identified by ‘ a blue jersey with the word Monarch in large letters on the breast’. By this time the subscription to his family had reached £382 - a tremendous sum in those days. Such a disaster called for serious investigation and within 2 weeks a Board of Trade enquiry was opened at Bristol. It heard much evidence but put most weight on that from John Pollard an Ilfracombe shipwright. Some time earlier he had lengthened the Monarch by 8’ amidships to increase its length to 36’. The ballast loading, however, was left unchanged. The newly enlarged boat was checked by Ilfracombe Police who freely admitted they had no expert knowledge. Perhaps more attention should have been paid to local coastguard, Leiut. Dyke Acland, who had announced that he would no longer sail in the Monarch after its change as he regarded it as unsafe. The enquiry inspector absolved Rumson from blame but did suggest he should have had his mainsail fastened when he tried to tack. In addition he called strongly for the Ilfracombe Local Board - the council - to introduce proper licensing and be more stringent over inspecting pleasure boats. As a contemporary remarked, however, it was a great pity that it took 14 deaths to bring about such an obvious change." (Christie 1995 p 137-8, also NDJ 19th June 1986 - sources for this, NDJ 1st Sept 1887 2a & 8c-d, 8th Sept 1887 3b & 8d, 15th Sept 3c & 8c,e-f, 22nd Sept 3b, 29th Sept 5f)

A photograph of the Monarch, coming into Ilfracombe harbour is shown in Pullen & Harding 2003 p 53 with the caption "The craft with the prominent sail was the pleasure yacht the Monarch, which set sail in August 1887 with twenty-two on board. When level with the Tunnels, she was caught in an unexpected storm, swamped and sank with heavy loss of life".

A photograph of the Monarch, shown above, in Ilfracombe Museum (ILFCM 2997)

1887 - "The Monarch, a 10 ton pleasure yacht, has sunk near the Tunnels Beach and 14 drowned. As a result the licensing and stringent checking of such boats is introduced" (IMN 2000 p 12)

Moewe 1888

wreck moewe 1888

"The 339 ton German barque Moewe sank following collision with the full-rigged ship Celtic Chief, of Liverpool, off Bull Point near Morthoe on 19th June 1888. The Moewe was later raised and taken into Ilfracombe harbour, and the photograph shows her being broken up" (Larn & Larn 1999 p 23)

A photograph of the Moewe in Ilfracombe Museum, shown above (shipwrecks box, ILFCM 7739) has the following written on the back "Nichol Barbeary tells Mr Dendle today, 29 August 1946, that she was a Norwegian barque called the Moewe loaded with pit-props which had been in collision in the channel. She was copper bottomed and the hulk was bought by a man named Hurley. She was brought into the harbour by the Clarissa. Nichol's father worked on breaking her up. Nichol himself as a very small boy is one of the small boys standing with his father in front of the rowing boat, and remembers gathering chips to take home to burn"

Photocopy of newspaper article, Shipwrecks box, Ilfracombe Museum, has Jan 1888 handwritten on it "THE DERELICT VESSEL IN ILFRACOMBE HARBOUR. The barque, Moewe further particulars of which will be found in another page, now lies well within the Ilfracombe harbour. Up to Wednesday she had hardly passed the Pier head, but during the high tide on Thursday morning she was towed several yards further in. On Saturday she was stripped of her sails, and a quantity of ropes and spars, and portions of her cargo, which was washed out of her now lies on the Pier. On Thursday morning, at low tide as the vessel lay on her starboard side the extent of the damage done by the Celtic Chief could be well seen. A large hole had been knocked in her side extending down to below the water mark. The deck was cut into, and the timber cargo lying where the hole was cut, was smashed and splintered. The barque must have gone down instantly had it not been for the nature of her cargo. Several have sketched the wreck as she lay in the water in the mouth of the harbour, and on Thursday when her damaged side was lying bare she was photographed by Mr. J. S. Catford. Efforts to bring the barque further in were made again on Thursday evening, and Friday morning, but little progress was made."

Photocopy of newspaper article, Shipwrecks box, Ilfracombe Museum, "DERELICT VESSEL TOWED INTO ILFRACOMBE. The tug-steamer Refuge early on Friday morning, reported that a barque, with no crew on board, was drifting about in the Channel about five miles to the north. As the Refuge was engaged to tow another vessel, the master of the Clarissa tug, on being Informed of what had occurred steamed to the spot, and having secured the barque towed her as far as the entrance to the harbour, where she remained until the following day. It was ascertained she was a North German barque named the Moewe, Captain Peter Abrens, laden with timber. She must have been in collision, as there was a large smash on her port side. Her lower mast, and portions of the topmasts were standing with the yards attached, but the others were carried away half way down. Several sails were still set, and there were two boats amongst the wreckage. For a considerable time grave fears were entertained as to the safety of the crew, by some it was thought probable there were some dead bodies in the cabin. As no intelligence came to hand up to mid-day on Saturday, the owner of the Clarissa then engaged a dozen boat-men for stripping. the barque of her gear. This occupied the greater part of the afternoon. The vessel having been dismantled of her sails, spars, and. top hammer, righted at high water, and on Sunday with the assistance of the tug boat Flying Fox she was brought a little further in. During the afternoon further documents were found in the cabin, from which it transpired that the Moewe belonged to Rostock, Germany, and was bound from Riga to Gloucester. No bodies were, however, discovered on board. On Sunday morning Mr J R Beatt, HM Customs Officer, stationed at Ilfracombe, received a telegram from a Ship-broker at Newport, stating that Captain Abrens hoped to be at Ilfracombe on the following day. Captain Abrens arrived in Ilfracombe on Monday evening, accompanied by Captain Joss, of Newport. Captain Abrens reports that when off Bull Point, about six o'clock on Thursday evening, he saw the lights of a tug ahead, and, thought that she, seeing the red lights, would clear him. He, however, suddenly noticed the green light, and shortly afterwards the vessel struck his barque on. the port side, causing her to keel over. His gear overlapped the other vessel, which enabled the crew to climb on to the deck of the vessel, which proved to be the Celtic Chief, 1750 tons register, of Liverpool, bound for Melbourne, The crew of the disabled barque (nine all told) were transferred to the tug Givecock[?], and landed at Newport. The shipping gazette gives the following:- Celtic Chief-London, Jan. 28.- The owners of the Celtic Chief received a .letter 21st Inst. from the master, dated 19th Inst. off Bull Point, Bristol Channel in which he states that the vessel collided with the German barque Moewe loaded with timber, striking her between the fore and main rigging, and cutting into her so much that she rapidly filled and turned over. After being foul for about 16 minutes, the Celtic Chief got clear from the wreck, having received no serious damage and proceeded on the voyage. The Celtic Chief was in tow at the time. It appears all the crew of the barque Moewe abandoned her immediately and were landed at Newport. Falmouth, Jan 28, 125 pm - Arrived Jan 28 - The Celtic Chief, Tupman, Newport for Albany (West Australia) (railway Iron), with bow plates damaged through collision with German barque Moewe, on 19th Inst., off Bull Point, Bristol Channel" (Ilfracombe Chronicle 1888 Jan 24th p5 c1)

Alexandra 1893

"A Steamer ashore at Ilfracombe. Much excitement was caused in Ilfracombe and neighbourhood on Thursday evening when it became known that the saloon steamer Alexandra, with about 300 passengers on boards, was ashore near Watermouth castle, the exact spot being Sampson's Beach. The Alexandra, having arrived at Ilfracombe during the morning with passengers from Swansea, embarked about 300 persons, a large number being ladies, for a trip to the Mumbles. All went well until Ilfracombe was being reached when a sudden fog sprang up. The fog was most dense, and the captain ordered the engines to 'slow down'. Just after 7 o'clock, an alarm was raised that the steamer was going on the rocks. Immediate steps were taken to avert a catastrophe. The Alexandra, however, struck, her bow being smashed in. Naturally much alarm was caused amongst the passengers, and as the steamer was so close to the shore, a plank was put out and those who desired it were allowed to land. Many seized the opportunity, and surprise was expressed that the vessel was so close to Ilfracombe, as by the road just above the rocks, people were enabled to walk into town. In a few minutes the steamer backed out, and made for Ilfracombe, the harbour being reached just before 8 o'clock. Although damaged, the Alexandra did not leak, thus proving how thoroughly strong she is built. All the passengers spoke in the highest terms of Lieut. Thompson, Coastguard officer at Ilfracombe, who was on board, and who did his best to allay the fears of the excursionists." (Ilfracombe Observer August 22 1893 p 7 c 2)

"Alexandra. Built in 1863 by Caird of Greenock for the London-Brighton and South Coast railway. The Railway sold her in 1883 and she ran under several owners until 1891 when James Jones and company bought her. Jones & Co. (Swansea) ran her in the Bristol Channel until 1894, then sold her to South Coast owners" (Typed notes, Ilfracombe Museum, shipwrecks box)

"It was in this cove [Sampson's] that the steamship Alexandra ran ashore two years ago. The passengers, were, of course, much alarmed, but the danger proved practically nil. For the cliffs fall so sheer to the water, that a ladder placed against them from the steamer's deck enabled those on board to make an easy ascent to terra firma. And the vessel was so little injured that many did not even avail themselves of this mode of escape, but remained on board, and were eventually landed at Ilfracombe." (Page 1895 p 79-80)

ACL 1894

wreck ACL 1894

This photograph of the ACL, 1894, shown above, is from Ilfracombe Museum (shipwreck box ILFCM 2986). A copy of this has handwritten underneath "The French Brigantine 'A.C.L' (No. 713) went ashore at Vention, Woolacombe Sands in Jan 1894, crew saved" (Duncan Laramy)

Typed notes in Shipwrecks box, Ilfracombe Museum "The A.C.L - All Crew Legless? The recent, kind donation of a rare photograph to the Ilfracombe and District Community Archive, by local historian Mr Bill Stevens, has unravelled a yarn of adventure, heroism and pure farce. The photograph is of a French brig, the A.C.L. of Nantes, in Ilfracombe harbour. Our research into why this vessel was tethered to the quay took us back to January 1894. January 1894, Victoria was Queen, Gladstone Prime Minister of a Liberal Government and we were not officially at war with anyone. On January 6th 1894, the Ilfracombe Chronicle and North Devon News reported that the Channel Tunnel company were vying with the Channel Bridge and Railway Company, to get the nod from Parliament to Begin work on linking Dover with our Gallic neighbours. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the A.C.L. story, but isn't it comforting to know that some things never change? At 5am on Thursday 25th January 1894, the A.C.L. of Nantes was bound for Cardiff with sand ballast when the weather turned a shade foggy. Now France has never been noted as a nautical nation, and the crew of the A.C.L. showed why. They managed to navigate themselves onto Woolacombe Sands, a short distance from the Burrows, close to the Woolacombe Hotel. It was not long before the French equivalent of 'Help!' was overheard, and according to the Ilfracombe Chronicle, 27tn January. Just before 8 o'clock signalman Yeo of the Ilfracombe and Mortehoe branch of the Lifeboat Institute received a message that a vessel was ashore between Mortehoe and Bull Point. The news was sent from the Coastguard Station where a telephonic message had been received from Bull Point'. As per usual the valiant men of the lifeboat, Co-operator No2, were quickly into action. On this occasion though, they were perhaps a little over enthusiastic. Disaster struck before they'd even got their wellies wet. One of the massive sliding doors to their new boathouse, weighing about half a ton, was thrust open with such force, as to fly out of its track and fall onto Lifeboatman John Pollard. While the unfortunate Mr Pollard was being rushed to the Tyrrell Cottage Hospital in a condition described at the time as 'precarious with internal ruptures,, the undaunted lifeboatmen paddled off to search for the A.C.L., between Morte Stone and Bull Point. Their quest proved to be fruitless, because, as we all know, the brig was beached at Woolacombe. Meanwhile at Woolacombe. as reported by the Ilfracombe Chronicle.... 'The local skilful salvage corps were soon in attendance, with the rocket apparatus in the charge of commissioned boatman Cooper and coastguard Thomas Jewson. A couple of rockets were sent off, but meeting with no response and fearing that the Captain and crew did not understand the meaning of the rockets,' (most probably didn't meet with the 1894 version of EEC regulations). 'Cooper gallantly volunteered to swim to the brig. Cooper, a native of Aberdeen, aged 'about 40', had led a far from mundane life. In 1879 while serving aboard the Thunderer, in the Mediterrenean, he had been declared dead after an explosion, and placed under canvas ready for burial Only a last minute examination noticed the faint sign of life that saved him from an early watery grave. Now here he was, only recently recovered from a serious illness, which for some time had resulted in him losing the use of his legs, plunging into the surf with a lifeline tied around his waist. Watched by an excited crowd, the intrepid Cooper battled his way through the storm, only to encounter a rather stroppy froggy. The Ilfracombe Chronicle's account of the incident was .... 'The Captain refused to let his men leave the vessel and no persuasions of Cooper were effectual in altering his decision. The commissioned boatman then started to swim back to the shore but the waves overpowered him and he had to be dragged in, in an unconscious condition. A doctor was summoned and restoratives were applied, but for some hours he lay unconscious'. Back on board the A.C.L., the eight man crew pointed out to their Captain, who's name was Fournier, that being courageous was not included in their contract of employment. So reluctantly he let them go ashore, which they did by means of the rocket apparatus. As soon as they were safely on the sand, they swiftly repaired to the Woolacombe Bay Hotel, where no doubt, A. C. L. soon stood for All Crew Legless. Not surprisingly, the plucky ships company gave a unanimous 'Non' when asked to return to the brig when the sea ebbed, so consequently a salvage party was put on board. The good Captain Fournier then decided that he was already well above and beyond his call of duty, so he set off to join his lads at the hotel. The following day, commissioned boatman Cooper awoke to find himself a hero. All the major national newspapers covered his story. The Daily Chronicle wrote.... 'His attempt to establish communication with the unfortunate vessel was heroic. It shows gratifyingly that the noble spirit of daring and self-sacrifice is not wanting when the cause of humanity calls for its manifestation'. In the Ilfracombe Chronicle, a weekly gossip column was written by a self-styled sage and voice of the people, called 'Auditor'. On 27th January, he was sympathizing with the disgruntled lifeboatmen, who were, quite naturally, extremely peeved at being sent to the wrong location to aid the A.C.L. He urged the operators of the new telephone communication to be more accurate. He then mused that although telephones were quicker, mistakes were not made when mounted messengers conveyed the intelligence. On 17th February, Auditor confidently proclaimed that....'Hopes of saving the A.C.L. are now abandoned, the vessel having been driven further ashore and on to the rocks by the heavy seas of the night of Thursday last'. On 3rd March, a red-faced Auditor was announcing.... 'Very few people imagined that the French brig that went ashore at Woolacombe more than a month ago, would have again been floated, especially considering the heavy storms which nave been raging since the wreck occurred. But in these days of scientific engineering it is unsafe to prophesy failure.' Many attempts had been made to re-float the A.C.L. and it was a Bristol firm of salvagers who were finally successful, on the evening of 22nd February. On the following morning she was sailed into Ilfracombe harbour, where she was visited by crowds of people. Later that day she left for Cardiff to be repaired. As yet we are uncertain of the fate of Lifeboatman John Pollard. On 3rd February, the Ilfracombe Chronicle noted that he was progressing favourably, and that the Lifeboat Institution had given instructions for him to be paid a weekly sum until ' he was out of hospital'. On the same day the Ilfracombe Observer stated that he had not, as first thought, any serious internal injuries. So hopefully Mr Pollard, a shipbuilder, who lived in Broad ,Street, made a complete recovery. As for commissioned boatman Cooper, he was awarded the Board of Trade Bronze Medal for Gallantry. He was also promoted to Chief Boatswain and transferred to Weymouth, (Weymouth !l hadn't he suffered enough?). Before he left, the residents of Mortehoe had a collection, and presented him with the then princely sum of £11, plus a framed address containing the names of those who subscribed. At the presentation, Chief Boatswain Cooper claimed that his six years at Mortehoe had been the happiest of his life. Here's a sobering note to finish on. On 29th May 1894, two inches of snow fell on Mortehoe."

Photocopy of page from book "The picturesque French brig A.C.L., registered at Nantes, ran ashore in dense fog on Woolacombe Sands on 25 January 1894 while bound from Bordeaux to Cardiff in ballast. Her crew of six were brought safely ashore by the breeches buoy of the Woolacombe Life Saving Apparatus Brigade. Fortunately, the A.C.L. was refloated several days later and towed round to Ilfracombe. She is pictured beached in the harbour with her broken mainmast bearing testimony to her recent ordeal. Her painted ports are a reminder of the days when merchant ships carried cannon for their own defence. Built at Nantes by J. Sevestre in 1875, she had a gross tonnage of 242, a length of 96 ft, a beam of 24 ft and a depth of 12 ft. Her owners were the Cie Nationale d'Armement."

Nikita 1894

"Following an offshore collision in the Bristol Channel with another sailing vessel, the wooden schooner Nikita, shown on her beam ends on the left of this photograph, managed to reach Ilfracombe harbour in September 1894 before sinking" (Larn & Larn 1999 p26)

wreck nikita 1894

This photograph of the Nakita in the harbour, shown above, is from Ilfracombe Museum (shipwreck box, ILFCM 25492B)

Arabella 1895

wreck arabella

This photograph, shown above, of the Arabella stuck on Britton Rock 1895 (Ilfracombe Museum, shipwreck box ILFCM 2960)

"The wooden ketch Arabella, of Gloucester, built in the River Severn at the village of Saul in 1864, was left perched high and dry on Britton Rock, at the southern entrance of Ilfracombe harbour and became a total wreck on 2 October 1895. Her crew of 4 and 2 local men on board at the time were all drowned. The high cliffs surrounding the harbour frequently caused sailing vessels to go ashore" (Larn & Larn 1999 p25) Has two pictures of Arabella in Ilfracombe harbour (Larn & Larn 1999 p24, not copied)

"The wreck of the ARABELLA. The bright summer weather for which the September of 1895 will long be remembered, was broken almost at the moment that October took the place of the previous month. For at mid - night on the 1st inst: with little or no warning, a heavy gale from the North West sprung up, accompanied by blinding rain storms., and was attended on the West coast of England with considerable loss of life and great. destruction of shipping, the extent of which cannot yet be estimated. Along the North Devon coast the force of the storm was severely felt, and the most serious disasters yet reported occurred in the neighbourhood of ILFRACOMBE, about a dozen lives being lost in the sudden - and brief - gale. On Wednesday morning, about 4.30, the firing of signals calling the crew of the 1lfracombe life-boat. the Co-operator No. 2. together informed those inhabitants who were aroused by them, that something serious had happened. Quickly the Pier and Quay, with adjoining prominences, became all animation. Within about eight minutes the boat was launched, and the circumstances which called for this action soon became known. On the rock immediately opposite the Pier and between LARKSTONE BEACH and RAPPAREE BATHING COVE - known as BRITTON'S ROCK - was lying the ketch ARABELLA wedged in, with not a soul on board, and with no signs of the two men who had just previously put off to pilot the ketch into the harbour. The fears that at least half a dozen lives had thus been sacrificed were only too well grounded. The ARABELLA was, as far as we can gather, owned by CAPTAIN CAMM of SAUL, GLOUCESTER, who also commanded her. She carried a mate, whose name was WILLIAMS of the same place, and in all probability another man and boy. She was bound from PADSTOW TO SWANSEA with ballast. These facts we learn from CAPTAIN EVERETT, of the SS MERTHYR - who knew the ARABELLA and her captain and mate well, and who left her at PADSTOW. CAPTAIN EVERETT in consequence of the gale made for ILFRACOMBE HARBOUR, having had his decks completely swept near the FORELAND and losing his ships boat. The ARABELLA seems to have been sighted at ILFRACOMBE at 3.45 am. on Wednesday - or there-abouts - and RICHARD SOUCH with his son FREDERICK put off in their gig to pilot her in. What happened is mere conjecture. Mr S. DAVIE a local boatman, recites the circumstances up to that time - and we give his story told in his own language - but no one is left to tell the tale of what followed. It is supposed that the whole of the ARABELLA'S crew jumped into SOUCH'S boat and swamped it, with the result that all hands found a watery grave. The gig was subsequently picked up on the rocks under HILLSBOROUGH. SAMUAL DAVIE, boatman, residing in HIERNS LANE, ILFRACOMBE made the following. statement to our reporter:- " I turned out about quarter to four this Wednesday morning, I went to the Jetty, and saw, an object coming towards the harbour. I did not see any lights. I went in my punt, the SELENA and pulled out beyond the quay, not knowing there was anybody else out in a boat. All at once SOUGH & HIS SON pulled by me in their little white boat called the RACER. This was near to the jetty, and we saw a vessel close to. SOUGH, the old man, said to me, ''There's two of us in our boat, and only one in yours; I'll pull to the vessel and be able to put my son on board". SOUCH then called to the man in charge of the vessel " drop your anchor", which he did immediately I then saw that the vessel was dragging, a gale of wind blowing her into the harbour. I believe that the anchor chain was fouled. Then she brought up and canted with her bow off shore, pointing north by west. SOUCH then picked up the vessel's rope, which was thrown overboard, and ran it ashore to the jetty. He then shouted out to me, I being close to them all at the time, "Sam, you go and moor your boat and go down to the jetty, and I'll take you in, as we shall want two hands in my boat while my son jumps aboard the vessel". I said, "All right, Richard." I pulled in around the harbour to make fast my punt. Having made her fast, after being away not a minute and a half, of which I am positive, I ran down over the jetty and sang out at the top of my voice; "DICK SOUGH". Receiving no reply, I went down further, thinking my voice would be heard better. I called out, "SOUGH", still no answer. I immediately ran towards the Quay, where I found COASTGUARD TAYLOR AND P.C. EVANTS. I said to them. "There's a vessel in harbour, I believed every man is drowned Let us make an alarm " We all ran down to the PIER and holloaed at once. No answer came I ran for the coxswain (COMER) of the life-boat; the coastguard went for the chief officer; the policeman being left on the pier in case anything turned up whilest they were launching, the life-boat, I went out again in my punt and got across the bows of the vessel, and called out with all my might, but receiving no reply. When the life-boat came out, not knowing I was there in my boat, they mistook me for one of the crew and fired a rocket towards me. I believe the ARABELLA, which I have often seen in ILFRACOMBE HARBOUR windbound, mostly carried coals from Wales. I expect her crew could be three men and a boy. A westerly gale brought her on the rocks. When the coxswain of the life-boat raised the alarm the boat was soon launched. From Mr W. COLE.. hon sec to the ILFRACOMBE AND MORTEHOE BRANCH OF THE LIFE BOAT INSTITUTION, we gleaned the following:- "About half past four this morning I heard the signals were sent up, calling the crew of the life-boat CO-OPERATOR N0 2 together. The boat was launched in seven minutes, and we proceeded at once to the HILLSBOROUGH side. There was a heavy gale at the time, the wind was blowing WEST - NORTH - WEST mostly west. There was a heavy sea running. We got alongside the rocks, and all the crew shouted, but could get no answer. 'A searchlight was then struck, and we saw the vessel on the rock was the ARABELLA of GLOUCESTER. The BOARD OF TRADE rocket apparatus, in charge of the coastguard, had been sent round to RAPPAREE COVE, the vessel being on the rocks between LARKSTONE BEACH and RAPPAREE. A rocket was fired over the vessel, and it was seen that no one was on board. We waited about half an hour to see if SOUGH'S boat or even the ship's boat would turn up. NICHOLAS BARBEARY accompanied us in a gig. We next proceeded to SWALLOW'S SWALLOW's HOLE, searching the coast all the way. On HILLSBOROUGH ROCKS near SWALLOW'S HOLE, we came across SOUGH'S boat. It was stove in, and not a soul was to be seen. After being out a couple of hours, we came, to the conclusion that all the men had been drowned, and we returned to shore. CAPTAIN EVERETT, of the ketch MERTHYR said, "In consequence of the gale I made for ILFRACOMBE HARBOUR about 1.30 this morning. I knew the ARABELLA well. Her owner is CAPT. CAMM, of SAUL near STONEHOUSE, GLOUCESTER, who also commanded her. The mates name is WILLIAMS he also belongs to SAUL. The last trip of the ARABELLA was from NEWPORT to PADSTOW with coal, and she was returning from PADSTOW to SWANSEA The body found this morning I fail to identify. It is not the captain nor the mate. As to the gale in the BRISTOL CHANNEL this morning it was the worst I ever experienced. It did not last more than five minutes, but the sea was like a wall a mile long, and as it came towards my vessel off the FORELAND it swept the decks. I have lost a boat, and most of the things on board are smashed. Before the gale came on there was a light south-east wind. It was the most sudden gale I remember. The rocket apparatus was taken over to RAPPAREE near the scene of the wreck, by the coastguards, and rockets fired., but with no result. All this time the excitement on the Quay was increasing in intensity. On the return of the life-boat, several of the local boatmen commenced searching for dead bodies. At about 10 o'clock., the body of one of the crew of the ARRABELLA was picked up by JOHN SOUCH & ALBERT RUDD, and taken to the mortuary. He could not be identified at that time, and nothing was found on him to assist the police. An hour or two afterwards the body of RICHARD SOUCH was recovered. SOUCH, who was an ex-lifeboatman, and resided in RODNEY LANE, was a married man with a large family. His son, FREDERICK who was drowned with him, was 24 years of age, and was one of the life-boat crew. Both were well known in the neighbourhood for the courage and promptitude in assisting in works of rescue. Great sympathy is felt for SOUCH'S FAMILY and the loss of the father and son is regarded with unusually pathetic interest. SOUCH SENIOR was a man of high Christian principles and the voice of the storm was always to him a call to what he considered his duty, and he would in the most terrific weather watch the channel with a view to assisting the distressed or calling the life-boat. Several times he has been conspicuous for his bravery; a few years ago he was the means of saving four lives from a vessel which went ashore on almost the same spot as did the ARRABELLA on Wednesday morning. His loss to the community is not to be lightly estimated. The ketch ARRABELLA has been swept off the rocks on which she foundered, and is fast breaking up. Rapparee Cove is being strewn with wreckage." (copied from typed notes in Shipwreck box, Ilfracombe Museum, said to be from the Ilfracombe Chronicle October 5th 1895)






A SAILOR'S DAUGHTER. ILFRACOMBE, OCTOBER 5th, 1895." (typed notes in Shipwrecks box, Ilfracombe Museum)



Cruiser 1897

Handwritten notes in Shipwreck box, Ilfracombe Museum "The Loss of the Cruiser 1897. On October 27th 1897 the Cruiser on passage from South Wales to Combe Martin with a cargo of culm, was run down and sunk by an unknown steamer bound down channel. The owner, Capt. Claude Irwin of Combe Martin and crew man William Hicks were saved by the crew of the Cardiff Steam Tug Salvor - Capt. John Rayer - The Salvor had a large vessel under tow at the time of the collision, Capt. Rayer slipped the tow and steamed to the spot where the collision occurred. The third member of the crew of the Cruiser, John Hicks a nephew of William was drowned and the body never recovered. Taken from the Ilfracombe Observer and Gazette 1897 account of the sinking - October 30th 1897; account of Combe Martins thanks to Capt Rayer and crew, December 4th 1897"

Handwritten notes in Shipwreck box, Ilfracombe Museum "Cruiser. Owned by Rev Arthur Crawforth Bassett - Watermouth. Built at Watermouth in 1866 by Symonds. Registered at Barnstaple, net tonnage 32. Originally sloop-rigged - was lengthened by Westacott of Barnstaple in 1881 and rerigged as a ketch. Sank in channel in 1897, ran down by an unknown steamer"

Typewritten notes in Shipwreck box, Ilfracombe Museum "Extract from Ilfracombe Chronicle and North Devon News of Saturday, October 30 1897. COLLISION OFF ILFRACOMBE. Ketch Run Down. A Combemartin Man Drowned. At about 10.30 on Wednesday night, the Ketch belonging to the port of Barnstaple, Claude Irwin, master, was run into by a steamer bound up channel, when about four miles off the Hangman. The crew attempted to launch the Cruiser's boat, but failed and they were all plunged into the water, the ketch sinking within a few minutes. The Cardiff tug boat Salvor (John Rayer, master) came to their assistance and rescued Irwin and one of the crew, John Hicks, but no trace of their poor fellow, William Hicks, could be found. Shortly afterwards the tug boat landed the rescued at llfracombe. The night of Wednesday was a starlit one, and it is said that the lights were clearly visible. From an interview we learn that the Salvor was towing an outward bound vessel down channel on Wednesday night, and at about half-past ten was about four miles off Hangman Hill, which is just beyond Combemartin. 'Whilst in this position the Captain saw two lights belonging to a small craft which was distant from him about a mile, and was evidently crossing the channel making for Combemartin. At the same time he also Observed the lights of a steamer making up channel, and his suspicions were aroused that the two were dangerously near each other. Consequently he put his glasses in position with the object of watching whether the steamer was able to pass the vessel all right. She didn't, but appeared to strike the vessel, which transpired to be the in the bows. The lights of the steamer went up channel. Capt Rayer watched intently, and in a few moments saw the lights of the ketch disappear. He then slipped the vessel he was towing, and made with full speed to the spot. Throwing flash-lights all around, he made the discovery that two men were swimming in the water. These proved to be Claude Irwin, master of the Cruiser, and John Hicks, an elderly man, one of the crew. They were promptly taken on board. Irwin being a powerful swimmer appeared little the worse for his immersion in the water, but Hicks was in a very exhausted state. On being told that one of the crew was still missing, Capt. Rayer still continued throwing out lights and made a thorough search in the hope of effecting a further rescue. But in spite of all attempts, no trace of him could be seen and the tug made for Ilfracombe Harbour with Irwin and Hicks on board. After he had been landed Irwin was taken into the Rodney Inn and Hicks into Mrs. Bryant's house, close by, where they were provided with food and warmth. Chief petty officer Cutler, and Coastguards Harris and Smale, who were at hand, promptly sent for medical help, and Drs. J.T. and E.F. Gardner were soon on the spot, and did all that was necessary for the two men. Hicks was subsequently removed to the Tyrrell Cottage hospital, where he remains suffering from the effects of the shock. Immediately Capt. Irwin realised that his ketch had been run into he ordered the boat to be launched, but it seems she caught in the rigging and went down with the ketch. All three of the crew belong to Combemartin. William Hicks the unfortunate young fellow who was drowned, is nephew to John Hicks. The Cruiser was bound from Swansea to Combemartin with culm. It was impossible to assign any reason for the accident; nor is the name of the up-bound steamer known. Later information which we have obtained shows that the Cruiser, which was well-known in the Bristol Channel as a first-class boat, was valued at about £900 and owned by Capt. Claude Irwin, the master, and uninsured. She was bringing the culm to Mr. Huxtable. lime burner, of Combemartin. William Hicks was about 40 years of age and unmarried. His uncle, who is married, and has a large family at Combemartin, is rapidly recovering from his shock. The steamer which ran into the ketch was bound down-channel, not, as before stated, up-channel. She appeared to be heavily laden. When Capt. Irwin saw that a collision was inevitable, he heard a man on board the steamer call out "starboard" in very good English, and he therefore assumes that she was an English steamer. It was evident that the steamer did not port her helm in time, and instead of going under the stern of the ketch she struck into her bows. When the collision occurred the ketch commenced to sink, and Irwin shouted out to the man on the steamer "We are sinking", but to his surprise she continued on her journey. As the ketch was going down the crew made an effort to launch the boat, but she was caught in the rigging. At this stage William Hicks was in the boat, but was knocked out of her into the sea and not seen again. Capt. Irwin and John Hicks were thrown into the sea, and a rope entangling the leg of the former carried him down to a good depth, but the rope released itself. When he came up, he looked for and shouted to the Hicks's. Receiving no reply to his calls, he swam further out and observed a dark object, and on proceeding to it found that it was his boat bottom upward and John Hicks holding on to her. He was thoroughly exhausted and would undoubtedly have let go had not Irwin remained by his side, urging him to hold on as a boat was coming to their assistance. Capt. Rayer soon had them on board and he and his crew were exceedingly kind to the unfortunate mariners. Undoubtedly both Irwin and Hicks owes their lives to Capt. Rayer and the crew of the Salvor, who spared no trouble on their behalf. for which they are deeply thankful. They landed at Ilfracombe at 1.30 a.m. on Thursday morning."

Aberlemno 1897

"The iron barque Aberlemno of Swansea, bound from Berry Port to Rio de Janeiro with 1400 tons of coal, got off course in a snowstorm and went ashore on Egg Rock, near Watermouth Cove, on 2nd April 1897. The Ilfracombe lifeboat went to her assistance in dreadful weather conditions, and with the help of men from Combe Martin who had managed to get on board, laid out a kedge anchor by which means she was refloated using only the ship’s windlass. She was then taken into Ilfracombe and allowed to dry out in the harbour so that several small leaks could be cured, after which she continued her voyage. Built at Dumbarton in 1876, she was finally broken up in 1924 when under the Swedish flag" (Larn & Larn 1999 p 26)

There is a photograph of the Aberlemno 1897, in the dry harbour, bow on, with the caption "This photo taken by Batten of Ilfracombe on the 2nd April 1897 shows the 750 tons Swansea registered barque Aberlemno which had been towed into the harbour by the Ilfracombe Lifeboat assisted by a rowing boat from Combe Martin. The Lifeboat had been called out at 3.40am and after a great deal of searching found the barque caught up on Egg Rocks near Broadsands Beach and Watermouth. John Birmingham was Captain and bound from Glasgow to Rio de Janeiro with 1400 tons of coal. He had already had to put into Penarth after having his sails blown out in an Atlantic gale. Proceeding from Penarth with a crew of 15 down the Bristol Channel when, off Combe Martin he was caught in a heavy snow squall and driven onto Egg Rocks. Captain Birmingham, a respected inhabitant of Ilfracombe whose son and later grandson, Tom Birmingham, were for many years the agents for Messrs Campbell's Steamers in Ilfracombe. The card addressed to Capt. & Mrs F. Tippett, Cardiff." (Batten Photo, The Capstone Ilfracome, postmarked 1906, Bartlett 1995 p 18)

wreck aberlemno

A photograph of the Aberlemno being towed into Ilfracombe harbour 1897, shown above, is in Ilfracombe Museum (shipwreck box, ILFCM 17026) with the caption "Swansea barque Aberlemno 771 tons, built at Dumbarton in 1876 for Glasgow owners. Bought by Tutton's of Swansea c1889. On occasion of photograph had been ashore (2/4/1897) on Egg Rock in snowstorm. Was saved by crew of Ilfracombe life-boat and later towed to 'Combe' and beached. At low tide she was patched and later went back to Swansea. Was coal-laden from Barry. G.E.F."

Salisbury 1899

wreck salisbury

This photograph, shown above, from Ilfracombe Museum (shipwreck box ILFCM 2972), has handwritten on the back that it is the Salisbury in Ilfracombe harbour in January 1899, her bow split by a collision.

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