On this day in history….10th November 1847

On this day in history : 10th November 1847 – A passenger ship is wrecked off the coast of Southern Ireland, killing 92 out of the 110 onboard – it prompts the construction of the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse….img_4503

The ‘Stephen Whitney’, a 1,034 ton ship, was built in New York around 1840; it was a fully rigged, wooden vessel and was part of Robert Kermit’s Red Star Line…. It had been named after an investor in Kermit’s Company, Stephen Whitney, one of the wealthiest merchants in New York City….

Stephen Whitney – Magazine of American History, 1890 – Google Books – Public domain

The ship left New York on the 18th of October bound for Liverpool, with a stop scheduled for Cork…. As well as the 76 passengers onboard it also carried a cargo which included 10,000 bushels of corn, 600 boxes of cheese, 1,000 barrels of flour, 1,000 bales of raw cotton and 20 boxes of clocks…. The voyage across the Atlantic was uneventful but it was as they approached the Irish coast on Wednesday the 10th of November that the weather became hazy making visibility difficult – and then it turned to thick fog…. Captain Charles W. Popham, originally from Cork, mistook Crookhaven Lighthouse for one at the Old Head of Kinsale – which is situated a little further around the coast to the east….

Rock Island and Crookhaven Lighthouse

Around 10pm the ship struck the western tip of West Calf Island (between Cape Clear and Skull in Co. Cork) and ran aground…. Within ten minutes the ship had completely broken up….92 out of the 110 passengers and crew onboard perished…. The maritime community had long complained about the positioning of the main lighthouse on Cape Clear – the loss of the Stephen Whitney prompted the replacement of the lighthouse with one on the Fastnet Rock….

Construction of the first lighthouse began in 1853 and it went into operation on the 1st of January 1854…. Built from cast iron with an inner lining of brick, at a cost of £17,390, it was designed by George Halpin…. The tower was 19.43m high with an 8.43m high lantern housing on top – making a total structure of approx. 28m high…. The oil burning lamp put out 38 kilocandelas of light; the average modern lighthouse puts out 1,300 kilocandelas as a comparison….

Fastnet Rock Lighthouse C.1900 – National Library of Ireland on The Commons – no restrictions

It didn’t take long for it to be realised that the structure was too weak…. In high winds the tower would shake – to the extent that crockery would sometimes fly off of tables…. Various attempts were made to strengthen it – such as putting a cast around the lower section and filling it with stone….

In 1891 it was decided that it was time to replace it…. The new lighthouse was designed by William Douglass and constructed from stone, as cast iron was now deemed unsatisfactory – although the lower half of the original lighthouse was left standing and was used as an oil store….

The second Lighthouse – the base of the previous (used as an oil store) can be seen to the right, on top of the Rock – Image : Anthony Patterson from Cork, Ireland CC BY 2.0

Construction began in 1897 and the new lighthouse entered service on the 27th of June 1904; it had cost £90,000 to build…. The tower stands some 45m high and at the base is 16m in diameter…. The original paraffin lamp was replaced by electric on the 10th of May 1969 – and at the end of March 1989 it was converted to an automatically operated lighthouse….The lamp has power of 2,500 kilocandelas and can be seen from a distance of 27 nautical miles….

Image : Odd Wellies via Flickr

On the 16th of October 2017 downgraded Hurricane Ophelia hit Ireland; a gust of 191 kph was recorded at the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse…. Had it not of been automated, I wonder if the crockery would have stayed on the tables….

On this day in history….19th December 1981

On this day in history : 19th December 1981 – The eight volunteer crew of the Penlee Lifeboat lose their lives attempting to rescue those onboard the Union Star, off the coast of Cornwall…. In all sixteen people perish….

Memorial garden at Penlee – Image credit : Chris Wood – own work CC BY-SA 4.0

The MV Union Star had been launched a few days before in Denmark…. It was a mini-bulk carrier, registered in Ireland and was making its maiden voyage having collected a cargo of fertiliser from Holland to be delivered to Arklow, Ireland…. Onboard were five crew and the wife and two teenage daughters of Captain Henry Morton….

As the Union Star reached the south coast of Cornwall, approximately 8 miles east of Wolf Rock, the ship’s engines failed…. The crew attempted to restart them but unsuccessfully – a salvage tug offered assistance but this was refused as the crew believed at the time that the issue could be sorted….

However, the weather deteriorated and soon force 12 winds were whipping up 60ft waves – and the Union Star was being pushed towards the rocks of Boscawen Point close to Lamorna Cove…. A Sea King helicopter was scrambled by the coastguard – but on arriving it was unable to get a line to the Union Star…. There was no alternative but to call out the lifeboat….

Original Penlee Lifeboat Station, where Solomon Browne was launched from – Image credit : Geof Sheppard – own work CC BY-SA 4.0

It was the Penlee (near to Mousehole) Lifeboat that responded…. The Solomon Browne was a 47ft wooden Watson Class motorised lifeboat, which had been built in 1960…. It was launched to embark on its rescue mission at 8.12pm and once it reached the Union Star was successful in managing to take 4 people off the stricken ship…. It then made a further attempt to go back alongside to rescue those still onboard – but at that point all radio contact with the two vessels was lost…. It is unclear exactly what happened next – but ten minutes later the lights of the lifeboat had disappeared….

Wreckage from the lifeboat was later found along the shore and the Union Star lay capsized on the rocks west of the Tater Du Lighthouse…. There were no survivors and only some of the sixteen bodies were ever recovered….

Tater Du Lighthouse – Image credit : Tom Corser CC BY-SA 3.0

An inquiry determined that the Union Star’s engines had failed due to contamination of the fuel by sea water…. The severity of the storm had made the rescue operation intensely difficult and had resulted in the loss of the Solomon Browne…. Tribute was paid to the crew….

“In consequence of the persistent and heroic endeavours by the coxswain and his crew to save the lives of all from the Union Star. Such heroism enhances the highest traditions by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in whose service they gave their lives”….

Coxswain William Trevelyan Richards was posthumously awarded the RNLI’s gold medal and the remainder of the crew – Stephen Madron, Nigel Brockham, John Blewitt, Charlie Greenhaugh, Kevin Smith, Barrie Torrie and Gary Wallis – were each awarded the bronze medal….

Within a day of the disaster there were enough volunteers from Mousehole to form a new lifeboat crew….

Penlee Lifeboat Memorial – Image credit : Tony Atkin CC BY-SA 2.0

On this day in history….19th November 1911

On this day in history : 19th November 1911 – Two ships are lost in one day on the notorious sandbank Doom Bar, in the Camel Estuary, Cornwall….

Doom Bar at high water – Image credit : Worm That Turned – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

Doom Bar, previously known as Dunbar Sands – or Dune-bar – lies at the mouth of the River Camel Estuary where it meets the Celtic Sea off the north coast of Cornwall…. During storms the sands are prone to dramatic shifting, making the narrow channel between Doom Bar and the cliffs at Stepper Point very difficult for ships to navigate…. Until the 20th century this was the only access available to Padstow Harbour…. The channel is regularly dredged by the Padstow Harbour Commission – but despite being made safer the RNLI still has to deal with incidents at Doom Bar….

Tractor and trailer dredging – Image credit : Paul Harvey – CC BY-SA 2.0

Since records began in the early 19th century there have been over 600 reported wrecks, capsizings and beachings…. The largest is believed to have been the 1118 ton barque Antoinette – which sank on New Year’s Day 1895; thankfully all onboard were rescued…. The only warship ever lost on the sands was HMS Whiting, a 12-gun schooner which had been captured from the French in 1812…. The ship had been involved in the pursuit of smugglers when it hit the sandbank…. Following the incident the captain lost a year of his seniority – and three crewmen who deserted after the sinking were later caught and each received 50 lashes….

The two ships to be lost on the 19th of November 1911 were The Island Maid, all of her crew were rescued – and The Angele, who lost her entire crew, except for the captain….

Doom Bar at low tide, river channel on far side – Image credit : Andy F – CC BY-SA 2.0

On this day in history….29th August 1782

On this day in history : 29th August 1782 – British battleship HMS Royal George sinks off of Spithead whilst repair work is carried out beneath its waterline…. Some 900 lives are lost….

HMS Royal George – by John Cleveley the Elder – Public domain

At the time of its launch, on the 18th of February 1756, HMS Royal George was the largest warship in the world, with 100 guns on 3 decks….

In August 1782 preparations were being made for the Royal George to sail to Gibraltar, as part of the fleet of Admiral Howe…. The fleet was anchored off of Spithead in order to take on supplies…. All shore leave had been cancelled, out of fear of desertion, so all 1,200 crew were onboard apart from a detachment of 60 men who had been sent ashore on errands…. Also on board were over 300 family members of the crew, mostly women and children, spending time with their loved ones before it was time to set sail…. A large group of workmen, working against the clock to get repairs done, were also present….

Around 7am the ship was ‘heeled over’, to enable easier access to the hull…. The process involved rolling the ship’s starboard guns to the centre of the ship to cause it to tilt over the port side, raising the starboard side up…. However, a large quantity of rum casks had been loaded onto the port side and the additional weight of these was overlooked…. As a result the ship rolled over too far….

Public domain

The captain gave the order to roll the guns back but it was too late….the ship had taken on too much water through the gun ports…. A sudden in-rush of water filled the ship and it sank…. Although 255 people were saved around 900 more were lost, including some 300 women and 60 children….

Many of the victims were washed ashore at Ryde on the Isle of Wight…. They were buried in a mass grave stretching along the beach….

Toll for the brave
The brave that are no more,
All sunk beneath the wave,
Fast by their native shore.
- The Loss of the Royal George, William Cawper, 1782

On this day in history….5th June 1916

On this day in history : 5th June 1916 – Whilst on its way to Russia, carrying Lord Kitchener on a diplomatic mission, HMS Hampshire hits a mine off of the Orkney Islands…. 737 lives are lost, including that of Lord Kitchener….

HMS Hampshire – Public domain

HMS Hampshire had been ordered to carry Kitchener from Scapa Flow to Russia – where he was to meet with Tsar Nicholas II for face to face talks about munitions shortages….

Due to gale force winds Admiral Sir John Jellicoe altered the route that Hampshire had been due to take – despite there having been reports of U-boat sightings in the area….

Just after 7.30pm, in a force 9 gale, the ship struck a mine – which had been laid a week before approximately one and a half miles off of mainland Orkney, by U-boat U75, commanded by Kurt Beitzen…. Within 20 minutes HMS Hampshire had sunk….

Kitchener was last seen standing on the quarterdeck – his body was never recovered…. All 10 of his entourage perished – altogether 737 lost their lives, only 12 members of the crew survived….

Portrait of Field-Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener – Public domain

The shock was felt all over the British Empire…. Many wondered how on earth the war could be won without Kitchener…. King George V wrote in his diary “It is indeed a heavy blow to me and a great loss to the nation and the allies” …. He ordered that all army officers were to wear black armbands for a week….