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The coastline of north Devon presents a hazard to vessels using the Bristol Channel and until modern navigation aids, shipwrecks were common. The earliest recorded local shipwreck seems to have been in 1654, when ye John foundered at the mouth of Ilfracombe harbour and 9 were drowned. There were several other wrecks around Ilfracombe towards the end of the 17th century, including the 350 ton Arms of Bristol, with 16 drowned and a transport ship bringing troops home from Ireland, with over 150 drowned. In 1678 there was a strange sighting in the Bristol Channel of a "mair-man...his hair and face being like that of a man with long hair". (1)


Detail of painting by J Walters c1850 of 1796 wreck of London (Horridge 1986 plate 2)In 1796 the transport ship London, carrying prisoners from the West Indies, was wrecked off Rapparee Cove whilst trying to reach the harbour, as shown in this detail (below left) of a painting in Ilfracombe Museum. Some 40 prisoners were said to have drowned, as well as many local people trying to save them. Four chests of treasure were said to have been recovered but one was lost. In January 1978 the beach was particularly low after a storm and several 18th century gold coins were found by people digging in the sand. In 1991 the wall at the back of the beach was breached by the sea and in 1997 some human bones were found there. The story of their discovery and the subsequent 'media circus' and controversy regarding their origin, as prisoners or slaves (not yet fully resolved), is told in Pat Barrow's The Slaves of Rapparee. (2)


Marie Emilie 1886 (Ilfracombe Museum ILFCM 2948)

It was very dangerous, for sailing vessels, to risk the entrance to Ilfracombe harbour in a storm. In 1859 the Peter and Sarah was wrecked on the rocks off Hillsborough, with the loss of her captain, in 1886 the Marie Emilie was caught on rocks just off the pier (right) and in 1895 the Arabella was grounded on Britton Rock outside the harbour (below left), with the loss of her crew and two local men (David and Frederick Souch) who were trying to rescue them. (3)


Arabella 1895 (Ilfracombe Museum ILFCM 2960)Vessels may fare better riding out a storm. Phillip Gosse, the local naturalist, wrote of a terrible storm in 1849, which a square-rigged vessel, the Maid of Alicant, managed, against all expectations, to ride out on her anchor in Hele Bay. (3)


ACL 1894 (Ilfracombe Museum ILFCM 2986)

Many stricken vessels were brought in to Ilfracombe for salvage or repair. The ACL, a French brigantine, went aground off Woolacombe in 1894 and was taken to Ilfracombe (right). There is an amusing account of this in Ilfracombe Museum (cheekily suggesting that ACL stood for All Crew Legless), describing how local boatman Cooper, though recovering from a major injury, swam out to the ACL, but could not persuade the crew to leave. He almost drowned on the return journey, and had to be hauled to shore unconscious.  For his bravery he was awarded the Board of Trade Bronze Medal for Gallantry (what did you have to do to get a Gold?). (3)


Aberlemno 1897 (Bartlett 1995 p 18, Batten Photo, The Capstone, Ilfracome)In 1897 the Aberlemno was caught on Egg Rocks, outside Watermouth Cove, but managed to escape and was towed to Ilfracombe (left) for repairs. (3)


Moewe 1888 (Ilfracombe Museum ILFCM 7739)

Collisions were also relatively common. In 1897 the local boat Cruiser, built at Watermouth Cove, was sunk by collision with an unknown steamer and one of the crew, John Hicks, was drowned. The Moewe (right) and the Nikita (below left) were both salvaged in Ilfracombe harbour in the 1890's, after collisions at sea. The Salisbury split her bow in a collision in 1899 (below right) and was repaired in the harbour (3).


Nikita 1894 (Ilfracombe Museum ILFCM 25492B)

A local shipwreck to make the National headlines, in 1887, was that of the luxury yacht the Monarch, who sunk in fine weather off Tunnels Beach, with 14 drowned. A subsequent investigation found that she had been lengthened by 8’, without changing her ballast and suggested that Ilfracombe adopt more stringent licensing laws in the future. In 1893 the paddle steamer Alexandra grounded on rocks at Samson's Bay, with 300 passengers on board. Many disembarked safely, with the aid of a plank or ladder, but within the hour the Alexandra had freed herself and reached the harbour virtually undamaged. (3)


Montagu 1906 (Larn, R & B 1999 p 31)Another wreck to make the national news was the battleship HMS Montagu, of 14,000 tons, built in 1901. Whilst on exercises in May 1906, she grounded on Shutter Rock, off Lundy (right), in dense fog. The Captain and Chief Navigator were both subsequently court-marshalled and the salvage operation was said to have been bungled by the Navy who called in a civilian expert too late. To facilitate salvage, a spectacular ropeway was erected from the deck to the top of the cliffs. (4)


Gracieuse 1908 (Bartlett 1995 p 58, Tom Bartlett Postcard Collection EX34 9SE)In 1908 the French Schooner Gracieuse was abandoned off Bull Point after its crew had suffered two days of storms. This photograph (left) shows her being towed into Ilfracombe. In 1913 the ketch Olive and Mary, belonging to the Irwin's of Combe Martin, was caught in gale off Rillage where her sails were torn to pieces. She made it to Combe Martin and got stuck on a rock but was helped by other boatmen to the beach. Another boat owned by the Irwin's, the Jane, was demasted in 1911, slipped her moorings in 1914 and was wrecked off Lynmouth in 1915. The same year the steamship Bengrove, taking coal to France, was torpedoed about 5 miles north of Combe Martin, she sank but the crew of 33 were saved and taken to Ilfracombe. (4)



Spanker in Ilfracombe c1920 (A Gallievr)After WW1, Captain George Chanhells, for The Cornish Salvage Company, obtained permission to break up three decommissioned destroyers in Ilfracombe harbour. It seems that the HMS Gossamer, a torpedo gunboat launched in 1890, was dismantled first, in April 1920, and it was planned to take her hull to Watermouth Cove, to make room for the others, the HMS Spanker and HMS Speedwell, both torpedo gunboats built in 1889. It is said that whilst the Spanker was being towed to Ilfracombe by the Falcon, the tow broke, killing a William Leary, aged 30, from Cardiff, who had only been standing in for someone else. This photograph (right) shows the Spanker in Ilfracombe harbour, alongside the quay. There are the remains of one of these destroyers in Samson's Bay and at low tide, parts of the keel , the rudder and several hull panels can still be seen on the beach. It is said that it was beached there to let the sea take it to pieces, the cost of acetylene being so high; but it may be that the Gossamer simply never made it to Watermouth. It is said that the parquet floor in Lewis' Cafe was salvaged from the Spanker, or from the Montagu. (4)

Sarah Jane 1924 (Ilfracombe Museum ILFCM 7000)

In 1924 the Sarah Jane, loaded with 80 tons of cement, went ashore off Beacon Point. Several hardened sacks of cement and a timber beam, about 30' long, probably the keel, can still be seen at low tide, near where she was wrecked (left).  In 1926 the paddle steamer Cambria was grounded off Rillage Point in thick fog; all 500 passengers were safely removed by the Ilfracombe lifeboat, although it took many trips! She was refloated undamaged on the next tide. In 1929 the Greek Maria Kyriakides was wrecked off Lundy and later scrapped. In 1931 another Greek steamship, the Taxiaris was wrecked on Lundy, she was recovered in 1933 and towed to Ilfracombe (below right) by Mr G. Chanhells.  (4)


Taxiarchis 1933 (Ilfracombe Museum ILFCM 257858)The foreshore around Hele still has evidence of the keel of the Sarah Jane off Beacon Point and a destroyer's hull, possibly the Gossamer, on Samson's Beach. There are some pieces of cannon, and gun-mounting rails below Beacon Point, from the Volunteer Artillery gun battery. There is also a car engine, just below Donkey Island next to the old sewer outfall, that is said to be from a Mini driven off the cliffs by a suicide in the1980's. (5)


< Two World Wars        Modern >


(1) 17th century wrecks

October 1654 "Part of a ships company called ‘ye John’ drowned at the harbour’s mouth. Seven Englishmen and two Frenchmen were lost in the wreck and a tenth man died later in the town" (IMN 2000 p 4)


"In the Parish Church we find this amongst the burials '1635 Oct. 31st Bryant Tooker and two French men, parte of a shipps Companie called ye John, were drowned at our harbours mouth'" (Boyle & Payne 1952 p 203)


"Barnstaple October 23 1670 - The great storms which still continue, have done much harm upon these coasts, and ‘tis feared much more in other places. Two Dutch ships and one vessel belonging to Mindhead are cast away in Bewde bay, but all the men, only one excepted, are happily saved. Several pieces of ships with some trunks and chests of some other wrecks are driven on shore about Ilford-comb" (Sneltzer 1987 p 5)


"Barnstaple March 26th 1675 - Tuesday night last, was cast away near Ilford-combe the Arms of Bristol, of 350 tuns, Captain Templeman, Commander, bound for Barbadoes; 16 passengers and seamen were drowned, the rest, which were 40, saved themselves" (Sneltzer 1987 p 89)


"Swanzey September 30th 1678 - We have had for these 14 days last past very stormy weather , which hath had effects on some small vessels on these coast. The Master of a small vessel of Coombe, coming over here to load coals a day or two before the bad weather began, did confidently report, that he and his company, upon their crossing the Severne saw a mair-man appear pretty whole above water, his hair and face being like that of a man with long hair" (Sneltzer 1987 p 89)


"Barnstaple April 2 1686 - On Wednesday last sailed from hence nine ships bound for Newfoundland. The late bad weather we fear has caused many shipwrecks. About Ilfrod-comb, abundance of Almonds is cast ashore; and the masters of some vessels that came from Ireland report, that they saw in the channel a great many casks floating on the sea, but the weather was so tempestuous that they could not put out their boats to take them up" (Sneltzer 1987 p 5)


"Barnstaple December 29th 1691 - On Sunday last came into Ilford combe the Transport ship with Colonel Earle’s Regiment from Ireland. Five other ships are come over the Bar with soldiers from Corke, and about 30 more, having on board several other Regiments are gone up for Minehead and Bristol. The 27th in the evening was cast away near Ilford combe, a transport ship bound from Corke to Brest with about 160 Irish of whom only 3 escaped, the rest being drowned, together with all the ships crew, except the Master and 2 more" (Snetzler 1987 p 89)


(2) 18th century wrecks


Prize of Admiral Rodney 1772 or 1782

"In 1772, a French prize ship captured by Admiral Rodney in the West Indies went aground on the rocks at the base of Hillsborough" (Horridge 1986 plate 16 caption - hence the name of the Admiral Rodney Inn, now gone)


"...a large ship was ashore in 1782, said to have been one of the prizes of Lord Rodney" in Richard Larn's Devon Shipwrecks (Barrow 1998 p 14)


"The Nostra Seignora de Bon Successo of Lisbon, stranded at our harbours mouth and went to pieces" on 2nd October 1780, according to Richard Larn's Devon Shipwrecks (Barrow 1998 p 14)


Breylaventur 1796

"Admiralty Office February 27th 1796 -, Pursuant to an act of Parliament passed in the 26th year of the reign of his late Majesty this is to give notice to the concerned that the ship BREYLAVENTUR, ANTOINE Echardia, Master, laden with glass bottles, bale goods, and other goods, was stranded on her passage from Bristol to Bilboa on the 12th instant, at Ilfracombe in the county of Devon, and that the Master and crew were saved. Evan Nepean" (Sneltzler 1987 p 91)


London 1796

"Admiralty Office Oct 22nd 1796 - Pursuant to an Act of Parliament passed in the 26th year of the reign of his late Majesty this is to give notice to the concerned, that information has been sent to this office that the Transport ship London, of London, whereof William Robinson was Master, bound from the Island of St Christopher's to Plymouth, was on the 9th instant, in tempestuous weather unfortunately wrecked at the entrance of the harbour of Ilfracombe in the county of Devon. Evan Nepean" (Sneltzler 1987 p 91)


The Ilfracombe Port Book, at Kew in London (ADM1/2894, log 76) gives the following account for 10th October 1796 "Last evening the London of London, a transport, William Robinson, master, from St Kitts with French prisoners aboard, was unfortunately driven on shore at the entrance of this harbour, upwards of 40 persons were drowned. The vessel was entirely lost" (Barrow 1998 p 115)


Photo of a painting of the Wreck of the London by J Walter(s) painted about 1850, which hangs in Ilfracombe Museum with the caption "The old slaver ‘London’ from St Lucia in the W Indies, whilst attempting to enter Ilfracombe harbour was driven ashore in Rapparee and wrecked. She had been attached to Admiral Rodney’s fleet in the West Indies and was bringing home valuables and 150 slaves. 46 people were drowned 6 of whom were Ilfracombe seamen who went to their rescue" (Barrow 1998 p 62). A detail of this, shown above, from Horridge 1986 plate 2, has the caption "This painting of harbour and town shows, on the far right, the wrecking of the transport ship London, which arrived off Ilfracombe from St Lucia during a storm on 9th October 1796. All attempts to secure the ship to the buoys failed and she drifted onto Rapparee rocks. Sixteen local men were drowned during the rescue and many black French prisoners trapped in the hold were also lost. A quantity of treasure was spilled into the sea.". There is a copy in Barrow 1998 plate 1.


"On enquiry, he learns that these yellow pebbles are strangers, and not natives of the place; that they are, in fact, the enduring records of a tragic event that occurred some 50 years ago. It was in the war with France, which ushered in the commencement of the present century, that two transports returning from the West Indies, with black prisoners from some of the French Islands, were driven on shore in this cove, while attempting to enter Ilfracombe in stress of weather. Most of the people escaped with their lives, but almost everything else on board was lost; and for years after the sad event, the people of the town used to find gold coins, and jewels, among the shingle at low tide. The vessels were ballasted with this yellow gravel, which though washed to and fro by the rolling surf, remains to bear witness of this shipwreck, and to identify the spot where it took place; a curious testimony, which will probably endure long after the event itself is lost in oblivion, and perhaps until the earth and all the works therein shall be burned up" (Gosse 1853 p 339-340)


"THE RAPPAREE COVE - In answer to your correspondent ‘V’ [a letter regarding the Earl of Rone legend] it is well known by many old men now living that about 60 years ago a vessel manned by blacks, ran ashore, and that the then best families in the town (being nothing but wreckers and smugglers) murdered the crew and buried the bodies on the beach, and then plundered the vessel of a very valuable cargo, consisting of ivory, doubloons, jewels and etc. This having caused some disturbance, put an end to the system; otherwise, in bad weather, a common custom was to affix lanterns to horses tails, and lead them about the cliffs, to decoy vessels. Many near descendents of the actual wreckers of the before-named vessel still reside here, and rank amongst the most respectable of the inhabitants. The people here still retain the name of ‘combe sharks’ which appellation was bestowed upon them by the surrounding neighbourhood about a century ago-N.V, Ilfracombe" in reply, 28th Feb 1856 "before calling in the evidence of the ‘many old men now living’ who the wicked wretch who wrote the paragraph says are well acquainted with the slanderous tale, we may express some surprise at the stupidity, carelessness or worse, of the editor of a paper hithertoo thought to be respectable, who could admit into his column such manifest lies and glaring absurdities as are contained in that paragraph. The first witness we shall call is the ‘Annual Register’ for the year 1796, the year in which the dreadful wreck occurred. Under date of October 16th we find this entry:- ‘This evening a very melancholy accident occurred at Ilfracombe. A ship, called the London, from St Kitts, having on board a considerable number of blacks (French prisoners) was driven on the rocks near to the entrance of the pier during a violent gale of wind, by which about 50 of the prisoners were drowned. Those who got on shore exhibited a most wretched spectacle, and the scene altogether was too shocking for description." (North Devon Journal 28th Feb 1856, Barrow 1998 p 33)


"This Raparee Cove was the scene of the dismal wreck, nearly a century since, of a Bristol ship, with slaves on board. Their corpses were denied Christian burial, and their skulls are even now at times turned up in the neighbouring fields. Tradition says that many of them were drowned with iron fetters on their legs" (Slade-King 1879 TDA p 167)


The Ilfracombe Parish Magazine October 1904 has an article on the wreck of the London referring to several letters from the Illustrated London News of 1856. One is from a correspondent of the North Devon Journal, 28th February 1856. This refers to the Annual Register for 1796 as having the following entry for October 16th "this evening a very melancholy accident occurred at Ilfracombe. A ship, called the London, from S. Kitts, having on board a considerable number of blacks (French prisoners) was driven on the rocks near the entrance of the pier during a violent gale of wind, by which about 50 of the prisoners were drowned" (Barrow 1998 p33) " well as can now be ascertained, the valuables on board were contained in five boxes - there were specie, in doubloons, dollars, etc. - one of which was lost in transit from the ship, and was no doubt broken up at the bottom of the sea, as dollars and doubloons continued to be found in the sand years after the ship was lost" (Barrow 1998 p 118)


January 15th 1978 - Rapparee Cove Sunday gold rush. Followed a Westward Diary TV report that 2 school-boys had found a gold coin from 1725 in Rapparee Cove. "We arrived at the cove in the morning to find 22 people digging furiously for gold" (Barrow 1998 p 16)


1978 - "Eight C18th Portuguese gold coins have been found at Rapparee beach" (IMN 2000 p 21)


In around 1991 the wall at the back of Rapparee Cove was breached (it is now mostly gone) and in 1997 a quantity of human bone fragments were found in the bank behind the wall, including what may have been iron fetters. The possibility that those buried there may have been slaves caused a media frenzy. (Barrow 1998)


"On October 9th 1796 the 600 ton troop ship London was wrecked near Rapparee Cove on the rocks below Hillsborough. She was carrying French prisoners of war as well as 150 black prisoners of war, troops, gold and silver. Thirty prisoners who were in the hold drowned but other prisoners, troops, passengers and crew were saved. Tragically 16 local men were also drowned attempting the rescue" (IMN 2000 p 6)


(3) 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)


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 c1895 (Ilfracombe Museum ILFCM 2997) Monarch 1887

This photograph of the Monarch is from Ilfracombe Museum (ILFCM 2997). Another 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".


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)


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

"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

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)


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


Arabella 1895

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 SOUCH & 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 SOUCH". 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 HOLE, searching the coast all the way. On HILLSBOROUGH ROCKS near SWALLOW'S HOLE, we came across SOUCH'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 ARABELLA 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)


    HOW THOSE BRAVE SAILORS LIVED AND DIED." (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)


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 (Ilfracombe Museum ILFCM 2972)Salisbury 1899

This photograph 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.


(4) 20th century wrecks


Montagu 1906

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)


Gracieuse 1908

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)


Olive & Mary 1913

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 1915

"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)


Bengrove 1915

Caption to photo of Bengrove survivors landing at Ilfracombe "This relatively rare postcard shows the crew being helped onto the pier from the Ilfracombe Lifeboat Co-Operator No. 2. The steamship Bengrove, of Liverpool en route to France loaded with coal from Barry dock was torpedoed about 5 miles north of 'Combe. The entire crew of 33 were taken off by another steamer and transferred to the Ilfracombe Lifeboat for landing as the Bengrove sank stern first."


1915 - "The SS Bengrove of Liverpool was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine 5 miles north of Combe Martin. The crew of 33 were saved and landed at Ilfracombe pier" (IMN 2000 p 15)


Spanker, Speedwell, Gossamer 1920

The HMS Spanker was built 27th February 1889, was converted to a minesweeper in 1908, sold for scrap 1920. (website ) 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. (website ) 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" (website )


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 (website )


"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)


The 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)


Sarah Jane 1924

"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)


Cambria 1926 (Ilfracombe Museum ILFCM 25191C)Cambria 1926

This picture of the Cambria, with a second steamer nearby is in Ilfracombe Museum (ILFCM 25191C)


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 )


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".


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."


Maria Kyriakides at Lundy c1929 (Ilfracombe Museum ILFCM 25785A)Maria Kyriakides 1929

This photograph of the Maria Kyriakides at Lundy is in Ilfracombe Museum, says 25/3/29 on the back (shipwreck box, ILFCM 25785A)


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".


Taxiarchis 1931

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)


Monte Gurugu 1949

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)


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