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….4th November 1987

On this day in history : 4th November 1987 – Multi-millionaire English entrepreneur Peter de Savary buys Land’s End, Cornwall….

Image credit : Louis Segal – own work CC BY-SA 3.0

During the 1980s de Savary had been in the process of building up his property portfolio…. As well as purchasing Land’s End he also bought John O’Groats and Skibo Castle in the Scottish Highlands….

Land’s End, part of the village of Sennen and located eight miles west of Penzance, at the end of the A30, has attracted tourists for over 300 years…. It was owned by a Cornish family until 1982, who then sold it to David Goldstone…. He then sold it to de Savary for almost £7m, who bought it after outbidding the National Trust, who also wanted to buy it and who own the cliffs to the east and west of Land’s End….

Image credit : Jakemete – own work – CC BY 3.0

De Savary built two new buildings and began work on the theme park that is now there before selling it on, along with John O’Groats, to businessman Graham Ferguson in 1991…. A company named Heritage Attractions Ltd was formed….

Nowadays the Land’s End tourist complex includes a visitor centre and indoor attractions such as an air-sea rescue motion theatre, galleries, shops, restaurants and cafes…. It has an RSPB wildlife discovery club and a farm…. Its hotel is a hugely popular wedding venue….

Image credit : David Jones via Flickr CC BY 2.0