On 30th May 1906 the HMS Montagu, a first class battleship of 14,000 tons, struck rocks to the north of Great Shutter Rock on Lundy in thick fog with no loss of any of the 750 crew. Built in 1901 at a cost of £1M it was one of six Hunter class vessels named after Admirals. Both propellers sheared off and several compartments were flooded. The heavy equipment was taken off so that she could be refloated but there was considerable disagreement between the Navy and civilian salvage contractors and one of the lighters loaded with four salvaged 6" guns sank at the Rattles. She was finally declared a total wreck and the contractors built a rope suspension bridge from the island and a path down the cliff to the bridge and concrete steps constructed still known as 'Montagu Steps'. In 1907 she was sold for salvage and operations continued off and on for the next 15 years. (Smith 1991 pp 101-102)
"The total loss of the battleship HMS Montagu when she was wrecked on Lundy on 30 May 1906 was a serious blow to the Royal Navy. Engaged in early wireless experiments out of Milford Haven, she became enveloped in dense fog whilst at anchor. Given the very real danger of collision with merchant vessels, she was moved closer inshore where she struck Shutter Rock and sank. A landing party scaled the cliffs and walked the full length of Lundy to the north lighthouse where an argument ensued with the keeper, the lieutenant from the ship insisting it was Hartland Point light! Despite every attempt by her crew to seal the holes and pump her dry, followed by every available assistance from the Navy Dockyard at Milford Haven, she was declared a total loss. Her four 12 inch main gun barrels were removed and towed back to the dockyard on lighters, after which Captain Young of the Liverpool Salvage Association recovered other guns, stores and fittings, then the Western Marine Salvage Company of Penzance broke up the wreck for scrap metal. After the first few days access to the wreck was gained by means of an overhead walkway supported by steel cables from the shore attached to the foremast, enabling the salvage workers to dispense with the need for boats. Literally hundreds of dockyard workers, in addition to her 750 man crew, were involved in attempting to salvage the 14,000 ton warship, which had been built at Devonport Dockyard in 1901. Failure to save the ship was due to the fact that Admiral Sir AK Wilson RN was put in charge, having no salvage experience, and by the time Captain Young was appointed in his place the underwater damage was too great for even this experienced salvage officer" (Larn & Larn 1999 p 30-31)
There are two pictures of the overhead walkway from the cliff to the wrecked Montagu 1906 in Larn & Larn 1999 p 31 & 32. One is from the side of the walkway (as above). The other is looking down the walkway.
1906 - 14,000 ton recently commissioned Battleship HMS Montagu went aground at Shutter Rock off Lundy. The Captain Adair and navigating officer Lieut. Dathan were Court Marshalled. (IMN 2000 p 14)
Caption to two photographs of the Gracieuse, one under full sail, the other under tow into Ilfracombe harbour shown above, "Wreck of French Schooner Gracieuse, Ilfracombe 7 Mar. 1908. The schooner Gracieuse of Granville in France had been abandoned in stormy weather off Bull Point and the crew of five taken aboard a steamer, one of the crew a lad of 19 died as he was hauled aboard. They were then transferred to Lifeboat Co-Operator No. 2 to be landed at Ilfracombe. The survivors had had no food, drink or sleep for the last two days of continuous storms and could hardly stand on landing" (Bartlett 1995 p 58). The photograph under tow, used above, has written on it "Wreck of French schooner at Ilfracombe, Phillip(se?) Photo? Mar 7 1908 No.1", reproduced by kind permission of Tom Bartlett Postcard Collection, Berrynarbor, Devon EX34 9SE.
"On Saturday morning last, boatmen and others on the look-out, observed 4 or5 miles in the offing, bearing NW from capstone hill, a large outward bound steamer manoeuvring about in the vicinity of a small sailing craft, and it was apparent to the accustomed eye that something was wrong. Coxswain Comer, of the lifeboat, was communicated with, and a telephone message from Bull Point Lighthouse indicated that the steamboat had taken off the crew from a disabled sailing vessel. The signal for the launch of the lifeboat was fired about 8 am, and with as little delay as possible was soon speeding her way to the steamboat, which soon pointed her head eastward, at an angle where the lifeboat could more easily be intercepted. Meanwhile the powerful tug Hercules, which had been sheltering in the harbour, cast off her ropes and proceeded to the abandoned craft. She soon reached the wreck and took her in tow, but it was seen from the shore that the tug had some difficulty, and it was surmised that the tow rope parted several times, this proved to be correct. As the vessel was being brought nearer, the practised sailor could see that it was a typical top-gallant yard French Schooner, with her top sail and other sails blown to ribbons, and a great part of her starboard bulwarks amidships were gone, her decks were all awash, and a distress flag was flying in her larboard main rigging. By this time, the lifeboat was on her return journey and rapidly nearing the harbour. It was observed that a red flag was showing half way up on the lug sail halyards. With this ominous sign, the word went round that a doctor or a stretcher would be wanted. As the boat came near the pier it was seen that the captain and three of his crew were safe, while a dead companion was lying enshrouded on the thwarts. The schooner proved to be the Gracieuse, of Granville, from Plymouth, bound to Swansea with a cargo of south Devon fire-bricks, and for several days had been battling with gales of wind and mountainous seas. The dead man had succumbed to exposure just previous to the rescue by the steamer Glenmoren of Newcastle. The dead crew member was Edward Lebel, 19 years of age. Other members of the crew viz, Captain Le Rouge, A. Nicole, A Le Villey, T Le Minter, who appeared to be much exhausted, were taken care of by Mr Rudd, local secretary of the Ship-wrecked Mariners society" (March 1908, typed notes, probably copied form IC or IO, in shipwrecks box, Ilfracombe Museum)
September 20th 1913 - The ketch ‘Olive and Mary’ belonging to Messrs. Irwin & Son of Combe Martin, with coal from Newport for Ilfracombe, caught in gale off Rillage where her sails were torn to pieces, she made it to Combe Martin but got stuck on a rock in the Cove. Helped by other boatmen to the beach (IC Sept 20th 1913 P5 C6)
There is a picture of the Olive & Mary taken in 1908 in Watermouth Cove, in Ilfracombe Museum (shipwreck box, ILFCM 25173Q)
"Olive and Mary. Owned by James Irwin, Combe Martin. Built at Rye in 1877. Registered at Gloucester - later at Barnstaple. Net tonnage 37, was still trading in 1927" (handwritten notes in Ships box, Ilfracombe Museum)
"The Olive & Mary was an ex-Brixham trawler which had bilge keels added when she was bought by the Irwin family. She was actually built at Rye, Sussex, in 1877 by James Collins Hoad and was 61 feet long, 17 feet 2 inches beam, just over 41 tons and ketch rigged. She was bought on the 11th October 1899 by a consortium of five members of the Irwin family, being then re-registered at Barnstaple. Like many of these little coastal vessels, Olive & Mary had an eventful life. In 1905 she was involved in a collision in the River Avon near Bristol and was towed home by the Snowflake. Then, on the morning of Sunday 14th September 1914, whilst making her way down Channel under full sail, she was caught by a squall which tore her sails off, leaving her under bare masts. The skipper managed to get her round and made for Combe Martin, where a heavy sea was running. She struck the rocks below the Jubilee Parade and one of the crew blew a whistle, which fortunately was heard by several boatmen, out hauling their boats up because of the bad weather. They immediately went to the Olive & Mary's aid and, by fastening ropes to some of the mooring posts managed, with great difficulty, to get her off the rocks and tied up. After repairs she continued to trade for many years, being sold in 1924 to the Combe Martin based coal merchant William Laramy." (Archive, the quarterly journal for British Industrial and Transport History, Lightmoor Press, issue 7 1995 p 15)
Caption to photograph of boats in Combe Martin "Combe Martin harbour in all its glory, showing the ketch Olive & Mary unloading into waiting carts. The stakes behind acted as mooring posts, with similar ones positioned further up the beach so vessels could be secured fore and aft. Note this ship was equipped with underwater stabilisers, which also came in handy at beach harbours like this. The name on the other ketch has faded too much to be able to identify her. This centuries old way of life largely came to an end in the 1940s, after shipping activities in the Bristol Channel were curtailed due to it having been mined. By the time the war ended, the lorry had finally taken over, although a handful of of sailing vessels and steam coasters managed to eke out a living for another decade. Combe Martin Museum" (Archive, the quarterly journal for British Industrial and Transport History, Lightmoor Press, issue 7 1995)
"Jane, built as a smack of 31 tons at Swansea in 1851, was the oldest of the vessels featured in these pictures. She was twice lengthened, bringing her up to 54 feet and of 50 tons and, by 1902, was owned by Irwin. In 1911 she was caught by a sudden squall two miles off Combe Martin, which tore her sails to ribbons and dismasted her. She was saved and repaired but, because her stern post was too narrow, she could not have a motor installed and she thus became the last vessel to trade out of Combe Martin under sail alone. In January 1914, Jane left Ilfracombe in ballast for Neath, with a crew consisting of James Irwin, Master (and son of owner George Irwin Sen.), his young son George, a boy called Norman and a Combe Martin lime merchant, Harry Jewell, on a business trip. Dense fog was encountered crossing the Channel, so they dropped anchor in Swansea Bay but the cable broke and the vessel was driven onto Sandy Bay, near Port Talbot. In the early hours of the morning, Captain Irwin and the crew took to the boat and, after rowing for several hours, managed to make it to Swansea. They were drenched to the skin and the boy was put to bed at the Sailor's Home. In the meantime, the ketch had been seen in the surf at Port Talbot and several men on horseback had managed to reach her. Later in the day the crew left Swansea and recovered the vessel. It was to prove a fairly brief respite for the Jane. On a Thursday evening in September 1915, she left Lynmouth for Newport in the charge of Captain George Irwin (Junior) but struck a rock near the Nash Light and foundered. The ship's boat sank but fortunately the crew were saved by ropes thrown from the rocks." (Archive, the quarterly journal for British Industrial and Transport History, Lightmoor Press, issue 7 1995 p 15)
1915 - "The SS Bengrove of Liverpool, en route to France loaded with coal from Barry dock, was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine 5 miles north of Combe Martin. The crew of 33 were saved, taken off by another steamer, transferred to the Ilfracombe Lifeboat and landed at Ilfracombe pier as the Bengrove sank stern first.
(IMN 2000 p 15)
The HMS Spanker was built 27th February 1889, was converted to a minesweeper in 1908, sold for scrap 1920. (website www.battleships-cruisers.co.uk ) which has a picture c1918 with the caption "HMS Spanker c1918, sister to the Sharpshooter class gunboat HMS Speedwell"
The HMS Speedwell was built 15th March 1889, sold for scrap in 1920. ( www.battleships-cruisers.co.uk ) which has a picture c1908 with the caption "HMS Speedwell c1908"
"Royal naval torpedo gunboats of the Sharpshooter class. Ships in the Sharpshooter class: HMS Assaye, HMS Gleaner, HMS Gossamer, HMS Plassey, HMS Salamander, HMS Seagull, HMS Sheldrake, HMS Skipjack, HMS Spanker, HMS Speedwell, HMS Boomerang and HMS Karakatta. HMS Gossamer, launched 9th January 1890, converted to a minesweeper in 1908. Sold for scrap in 1920" ( www.battleships-cruisers.co.uk )
The Gossamer, Spanker, Speedwell were all Gunboats: First Class, in the Index of British Ships 1919 they are all listed as ex-torpedo gunboats on the disposal list at web site www.pbenyon.plus.com/janes-1919 (unfortunately this link seems to be not working at the moment)
"Destroyers at Ilfracombe. To be broken up. Thousands of pounds for local labour. At a meeting of the Harbour Committee of the Ilfracombe UDC, held on Friday last, it was reported that three torpedo boat destroyers would be broken up at Ilfracombe, and that this would necessitate the expenditure of thousands of pounds in local labour. The Gossamer is now in process of being broken up by the Cornish Salvage Company. The machinery, boilers, and interior fittings of the Gossamer are being removed, and when this is done the hull will be taken to Watermouth Cove, in order that room may be made for two other destroyers of a similar size that are to be brought over from Ireland, the boats having been sold out of the service for the purpose of being broken up. The Chairman of the Committee (Mr J Woodward) reported the results of an interview with the Directors of the Cornish Salvage Co. To his (the speaker's) mind, and he believed the Chairman of the council shared that view, the Cornish salvage Company had made them a very reasonable offer. They had agreed to pay the sum of £220 for the wharfage, export duty, etc., in respect of the three boats to be broken up. £40 to be paid as each vessel entered the harbour, and the balance within 12 months. It was reckoned that it would cost from £1,800 to £2,000 in labour to break up each boat, and with the exception of what would be paid to a few experts, the whole of the money would be spent in local labour. He did not think there would be any cause for alarm as to an annoyance or nuisance being created. The work would be commenced at 8 o'clock, finishing at 5 o'clock. Mr Smith "Will it interfere with other boats?" The Chairman said there would be nothing to fear from that quarter. Mr Woodward also mentioned that the Company had generously offered the privilege to the public of inspecting the boats at suitable hours. The Council could use the proceeds of a small charge as they thought fit. he suggested that the proceeds should be shared by the Tyrell Cottage Hospital and the Ilfracombe advertising Committee. All the Council would have to do would be to put someone to collect the money. Mr Ratten moved that the offer of the Cornish Salvage Company be accepted. Mr Andrew seconded, and the motion was unanimously agreed to." (IC Sat May 8th 1920)
"Old Warships at Ilfracombe. Visitors to Ilfracombe, says a Bristol paper, recently have had their attention drawn, immediately on leaving the pier, to a warship moored in the harbour alongside the quay. On the opposite side of the harbour were the remains of another vessel of the same type, which was being broken up. The ship lying near the roadside was the Spanker, which, with one or two other obsolete ships, was acquired by the Cornish Salvage Company for breaking up. The part played by the Silent Navy during the recent war has naturally invested our war craft of all descriptions with unusual interest, and very few came to 'Combe who did not pause a moment to have a look at the Spanker. The ship was on service all through the war, and still wears her drab active service colours, which, however, are now much weather-worn. Her fittings and gear, too, were rusty, and the ship looked a typical old veteran, which fact possibly gave her an added interest to the longshoremen, while the youngsters never missed an opportunity to roam around the vessel. Now the Spanker has moved across to the other side of the harbour, alongside all that remains of a sister ship, and soon she, too, will be reduced to a mass of broken and twisted metal, which may, possibly, some day, help in building another vessel. It is interesting to note that the Spanker has seen over 30 years' service, having been launched in 1889. She was then a first-class torpedo gunboat, with a speed of 20 knots, and was under the orders of the Admiral Commanding the Coastguard and Reserves." (IC Sat July 10 1920)
This picture, shown above, is of the Spanker in Ilfracombe harbour (A Galliver). There is another copy in Ilfracombe Museum.
The Destroyer HMS Speedwell was beached in Samson’s Bay in 1929, she sprang a leak after repairs, on her way for scrap at Barry (CMLHG 1989 p 19)
"About 4 o clock on Saturday morning the ketch Sarah Jane, 80 tons, belonging to the Devon Trading Co, ran ashore at Beacon Point, below Hillsborough Hill, Ilfracombe. She was loaded with cement, which was being taken from Penarth to Bideford. The motor broke down when off Hillsborough and the skipper decided to put into Ilfracombe for repairs. In rounding Beacon point the vessel missed stays, and the wind veering suddenly to the north-east, she was carried on the rocks; the anchor had been dropped, but did not hold. The ketch was noticed to be in difficulties from the harbour and a boat put out to her assistance. In the meantime, captain Rickard and the crew of 2 men (Fowler and Rees) took to their small boat and rowed into Ilfracombe harbour. The ketch is tightly wedged between two rocks and was completely submerged at high tide. The vessel is now a total wreck" (Ilfracombe Chronicle April 19th 1924)
"The Recent Wreck at Ilfracombe. Sale of the vessel. The hull, spars and fittings of the Sarah Jane - which was recently wrecked under Hillsborough - were sold by auction by Messrs J and J H Irwin, auctioneers, Church Road, Ilfracombe, at the Devon Trading Company's yard, Broad Street, on Saturday. The purchaser was Capt. John Irwin, the figure reached being £15." (Ilfracombe Chronicle May 3rd 1924)
This picture of the wreck, a detail of which is shown above, from Ilfracombe Museum (shipwreck box, ILFCM 7000) shows the Sarah-Jane before the sails have gone.
Photograph of the wreck of the Sarah Jane. Has written on front "No. 10 WRECK - ‘SARAH JANE’ ILFRACOMBE APRIL 12 1924". The sails have all gone (Swift 2001 plate 42, credited to Phillipse)
The Paddle steamer Cambria was launched on 10th April 1895 by H McIntyre at Alloa Engines : Compound diagonal 37 and 67 in x 66 in by Hutson Dimensions : 225 ft x 26.1 ft 420 Gross Registered Tonnes
Put straight on to the Cardiff - Ilfracombe service in the 1895 season Involved in a fatal accident with a small boat in the Avon on 30th May 1896 Stationed on the South Coast between 1897 and 1902 and again in 1908 Received new paddle floats in 1898 to increase her speed Lower saloon windows damaged in a storm off Hartland Point in 1908, leading to the plating of windows on all Campbell vessels Reboilered in 1912 and 1935. New larger funnel fitted in 1936 Requisitioned in World War I as HMS Cambridge, serving at Grimsby and on the Tyne Grounded at Rillage Point near Ilfracombe on July 12th 1926, but floated undamaged on the following tide In World War II, as HMS Plinlimmon, she was converted to a minesweeper and based at Granton on the Firth of Forth Went to Dunkirk, served on the Tyne and later went to Harwich as an accommodation ship. Found to be beyond economic repair after her war service and scrapped at Grays (website http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/tramways/PACampbell.htm )
A picture of the Cambria on Rillage 1926 (Bartlett 1995 p 76) has the caption "On 12th July 1926 the pleasure paddle steamer Cambria with about 500 persons on board went aground off Rilledge [sic, Rillage] in dense fog. Fortunately it was possible for the Ilfracombe lifeboat Richard Crawley seen in the picture by the stern of the Cambria to join the many local boats in taking off the passengers. Fortunately it was flat calm and at high tide it was possible for the Cambria to float off with virtually no damage." Another copy of the same picture, credited to Ilfracombe Museum (Smith 1991 p 61) is accompanied by the following text from p 62 "In July 1926 the Cambria, a paddle steamer, went aground at Hele Bay near Ilfracombe in dense fog. Luckily enough the sea was quite calm and the Ilfracombe lifeboat, the Richard Crowley, managed to get all 500 passengers off without a single mishap, although it took a fair number of journeys to achieve! The vessel was refloated on the next tide"
Another picture of the Cambria, with a second steamer nearby, shown above, is in Ilfracombe Museum (ILFCM 25191C)
Caption to picture of Cambria 1913 "Passengers aboard PS Cambria in June 1913, with a Scotsman among them as though to emphasise the Scottish ownership of the steamer. The Cambria, like most of the Campbell fleet, made trips to Clovelly, Lundy, Lynmouth, Cardiff, Swansea, Clevedon and Bristol" (Lamplugh 1996 p 103). A similar picture of the Cambria is in Barlett 1995 p55 with the caption "The paddle steamer Cambria was run by P & A Campbell and had been built by McIntyre & Co. Alloa in 1895, length 233ft. breadth 26ft and depth 17ft. The Cambria survived service in both world wars but sadly caught fire just before plans for her to be reconditioned after the last war."
The Greek steamship Maria Kyriakides went aground at the Quarries on the east of Lundy in March 1929. All 18 crew were saved. About 18 months later she was refloated and towed to Ilfracombe (Smith 1991 p 102)
Photocopy of page from book in Shipwreck box, Ilfracombe museum "The photographer has travelled from the mainland by boat to take this unusual view [not copied] of the Greek steamship Maria Kyriakides, aground on Lundy Island. She ran ashore in dense fog at the Quarries, on the eastern side of the island, on 24 March 1929. Her crew of fourteen were saved. Although seriously holed, she was successfully refloated in the following year and towed to Ilfracombe, where her cargo of coal was discharged. It was not thought worthwhile repairing the damage, so she was later towed to Newport to be broken up by Cashmores. The Maria Kyriakides had been built in 1921 as the Pilton for the Tatem Steam Navigation Co of Cardiff, with a registered tonnage of 1,848. She had been aground once before, on 27 December 1924 near Sully Island, Glamorgan. She was ashore there for four months before being refloated and towed to Barry for repairs."
A photograph of the Maria Kyriakides at Lundy, shown above, is in Ilfracombe Museum, says 25/3/29 on the back (shipwreck box, ILFCM 25785A)
Two pictures showing the Taxiarchis coming into Ilfracombe in 1933 are in Ilfracombe Museum. One is a close up, shown above (shipwreck box, ILFCM 257858) and the other shows the tug in front (ILFCM 25785C), and has 1933 on the back with the information that the Eastleigh was astern and the Westleigh in front.
"ASHORE ON LUNDY. On Saturday evening, about 8.15, in thick weather a steamer was reported to be ashore in the neighbourhood of Bull Point. Coxswain Craner, who received the telephone message decided to launch the Appledore lifeboat immediately, and face the 15 miles' journey in the rough -weather. By telephone Rev Muller learned that the Clovelly lifeboat had been launched at 9.25 p.m. in response to an urgent call from Lundy Island, where a Greek steamer, believed to be the Paxiarchias was reported to be in difficulties. Later, a call for the Appledore lifeboat to go to Lundy Island was received from Ilfracombe coastguards. In the meantime Coxswain Craner having failed to find a ship at Bull Point. proceeded to Ilfracombe to make enquiries, arriving there at 11.10 pm - a creditable performance for the boat had to cover over 20 miles in about 2.5 hours, with a gale blowing from the south east and a nasty sea in the Channel. The lifeboat left immediately for Lundy after reporting her whereabouts to Appledore. The weather became worse, and it was realised it would take two hours to reach Lundy. At 1.30 the following morning the Vicar received a message from the district Coastguard Officer at Bude stating that the Greek steamer was in no immediate danger. At 4.30 another message stated that the life-boat was standing by. At dawn no definite news was to hand, but at 8.30 am. the little party waiting at Appledore had a message via Hartland that the motor lifeboat had left for home an hour before, towing the Clovelly boat. After leaving the Clovelly boat - which later returned home - the Appledore lifeboat reached home about half in hour after noon, having been 16 hours afloat in terrific weather. Dr. Valentine, Chairman of the Lifeboat Committee met the crew, and later the Vicar visited each man's home this being greatly appreciated. The latest news of the Greek steamer was that a tug was standing by, and the crew would be able to get ashore if necessary. It transpired that the Appledore boat could not approach the steamer owing to the presence of rocks and the Clovelly boat, which drew less water, managed to get closer, but could do nothing owing to the heavy seas. The motor boat Lerina in charge of Capt. Dark, also went out from Instow in response to a wireless message from Lundy at 1.15 am on Sunday, returning later after heavy buffeting" (IC 26th July 1933)
"THRILL FOR VISITORS. Wrecked Greek Steamer Towed Into Harbour. Fine Seamanship. Nearly three years ago the Greek steamer Taxiarchis went ashore off Lundy Island and many circumstances then seemed to indicate that all attempts at salving her would meet with failure. The Ilfracombe Coal and Salvage Co., however, did not think so, and bought the salvage rights. Their venture, which seemed to suggest a gamble was justified and after a magnificent piece of seamanship the ship was salved, and on Wednesday evening was towed into Ilfracombe harbour by the Bristol tug, "Eastleigh." Thousands of visitors and residents have flocked to the harbour during the last two days to see this steamer, whose battered, discoloured condition tells a story of the whims of the sea. Salvage Operations. Interviewed by a Chronicle representative Mr. G. Chenhalls, of the Ilfracombe Coal and Salvage Co., gave a practical account of the salvage operations, which, although starting two years ago, were carried on vigorously until the early part of this year. Divers found that the rocks had dealt so severely with the ship's bottom that, to use Mr Chenhall's phrase, - there was enough room in some parts for a Ford car. Repair work consisted of the strengthening of the ship's bottom with 20 tons of concrete and the application of wood patches. Then came a glorious opportunity for a complete salvage - a fine day of July with hardly a boisterous swell on the sea. The "Taxiarchis" was fixed by ropes and wires to the tug, Eastleigh, manned by Mr. G. Chenhalls, Capt. Thomas, Mate Williams and many helpers, and towed after manoeuvring to Ilfracombe harbour. When the steamer went ashore off Lundy originally there were 6,000 tons of coal, coke and anthracite on board. Most of this has been salved and sold during the past two years with the result that only about100 tons remain. Questioned upon the Ilfracombe Coal. and Salvage Co.'s course of action in the future Chenhalls replied that no decision had yet been reached, although there is a possibility that the steamer may be broken up and sold as scrap." (IC 26th July 1933)
"Greek ship was talk of the town. MORE light has been shed on a daring tale of cliff climbing and boat boarding. The family of a risk taker who had a bag-full of tales had appealed in last weeks Journal for information on a boat that had allegedly rested in Ilfracombe and which Alfred "Dick" Spring had visited. Dick's son-in-law, Ian Davenport, revealed how the former sailor had taken a piece of paper from the boat to prove he had been aboard and told the story to his children and grandchildren for years after. Now an Ilfracombe resident of over 20 years and the RNLI have given the daring tale the factual background it needed after seeing the appeal in the Journal. Joseph Ball, the president of Appledore lifeboat station, has recounted the story of the Taxiarchis getting into trouble off Lundy. The date was March 28, 1931, a storm was blowing hard and the Greek ship, carrying 400 tons of coal and coke, had run into difficulties off Lundy. Search. Joseph said: "The Appledore lifeboat the VCS, was called out to search for a boat aground near Bull Point. They went off, but of course they had not been out an hour when it was found to be the wrong information. But with radio being in its infancy they did not have a radio on board. The Clovelly lifeboat, which was a sail and rowing boat, was then sent out to Lundy instead. When they arrived, the crew would not leave the Taxiarchis because the Clovelly boat looked so small in comparison. By this time the VCS, which was the first motorised RNLI boat, had gone to Ilfracombe, heard the right information and set off to Lundy. The Taxiarchis crew was lifted by breeches buoy by the Lundy brigade, and the Clovelly boat was towed back to Clovelly by the VCS 17 hours after setting out." Joseph also once spoke to a former member of the Clovelly crew, the well known Billy Badcock who died only recently. He told Joseph: "We half sailed, half rowed, and were half submerged all the way to Lundy." Joseph believes the Taxiarchis was then floated to Ilfracombe by a salvage company to be repaired. A long time resident of the town takes up the turbulent story of the Greek ship. Ken Webber, 78, clearly recalls the Taxiarchis laying in llfracombe's harbour for a number of months during 1931. He was only 10 or 11 years old then, but he said the boat was the talking point of the town at the time. He said: "We used to walk and talk about this boat, and I even mitched off school so I could watch it come in. The Taxiarchis was towed in to Ilfracombe by a tug after hitting rocks at Lundy. And I remember it nearly tipping over as it rounded Capstone Point, and it also hit the Quay Head." According to Ken, Ilfracombe was then a refuge port and also had a salvage works in the harbour area, but the boat still attracted a lot of attention. He added: "She then laid in the cove for about six to seven months, and they put canvas sheets around the outside of the boat. They were tied on with ropes to stop the water getting in through the sides." After its time laid up, the Taxiarchis must have been repaired enough for another voyage, as the last Ken can remember of the Greek boat was of it being towed away again up the channel towards Bristol. The full account of the Taxiarchis rescue can be read in The History of the Appledore Lifeboat Station 1824-2000, available for £4 by contacting Mike Bowden on 01237-470505 or the boathouse on 01237-473969." (By James Bulpett, North Devon Journal February 22nd 2001)
12th November 1949 the Spanish steamship Monte Gurugu, built in 1921 of 3,554 tons and 37 crew left Newport with some 5,000 tons of coal for Bilbao. The following day, off Hartland Point, a series of waves broke her rudder and she developed a leak in her forward hold. One lifeboat and its men were lost abandoning ship. The Clovelly, Appledore and Ilfracombe lifeboats were all launched and the remaining 23 survivors were saved. The Spanish Lifeboat Society awarded its silver prize medal to each lifeboat coxswain on 30th June 1950 (Smith 1991 pp 49-53).