The 1866 Yarmouth Life-boat tragedy
Occasionally, when looking through the old newspapers, one is struck by the fantastic courage and sacrifice of ordinary people. This 'melancholy catastrophe' that befell the Gorleston lifeboat team was, sadly, not unique, and one would like to know if the nine widows and families were properly provided for in the subsequent public subscription.
Beccles & Bungay Weekly News 23 January 1866
Page 4, column 4
Appaling [sic] Life-Boat Accident.
Twelve Lives Lost.
At noon on Saturday, the 13th January, a most terrible and melancholy catastrophe occurred at Gorleston, which has resulted in the loss of no fewer than twelve brave and experienced boatmen.
The facts are as follows: - In the forenoon, a vessel with a signal of distress in her maintopmast rigging was observed to be running northward through the roads, and at once the lifeboats "Rescuer" and "Friend of All Nations" were fully manned and proceeded out of the harbour in order to render assistance.
The wind at the same time was blowing a gale from the S.S.W. The sea was rather rough, and there was an exceedingly nasty swell on the bar. Both lifeboats were under reefed sails, the "Rescuer" just ahead, and on the port side of the "Friend of All Nations." As they passed over the bar, the "Rescuer" touched the ground, in consequence of which her rudder became unshipped.
At this moment a heavy sea struck her and she caught the ground, and immediately turned over bottom upwards, the crew, numbering 16, being underneath.
Two of these, named Robert WARNER, sen., and George PALMER, managed to get from under her sides, and were rescued by means of boat-hooks by the crew of the other lifeboat, which had immediately been brought to anchor.
The "Friend of All Nations" was then at once veered round and proceeded after the "Rescuer," which in the mean time had beaten over the North Sand bottom upwards with two of her crew---Edward WESTWOOD, jun., and William AUSTRIN---who had succeeded in getting on to her keel.
The "Friend of All Nations" came up with her after she had drifted about three quarters of a mile, and managed to take off the two above-named men, who were in a very exhausted state. Every effort was made by the "Friend of All Nations" to recover the rest of the unfortunate men, but without success, as not a man of them was to be seen.
The following is a correct list of the boatmen saved and lost: -
Edward WESTWOOD, William AUSTRIN, Robert WARNER, and George PALMER.
James WOODS, jun., aged 30, leaves a widow. Charles WOODS, 26, not married. Edward WOODS, sen., 56, leaves a widow and three children, aged 21, 17, 15. Edward WELTON, 28, widow and infant. Abel NEWSON, 27, widow (enceinte) [pregnant] and two children, aged three years and two years. Christopher WHILEY, 52, widow, and six children, aged 19, 17, 14, 12, 8, 4. Christopher PARKER, 64, widow. William DAWKINS, 35, widow and five children, aged 9, 7, 5, 3, and infant. William MANTHORPE, 21, unmarried. James FLEMING, 24, unmarried. Benjamin HARRIS, 34, leaves a widow.
The crew of the "Rescuer" were all experienced boatmen, and were under the command of Robert SPILLINGS, the coxswain, in whom they reposed the greatest confidence as a man of long experience and steadiness. That the accident resulted from no want of skill there can be no doubt, but from the insufficient depth of water and the state of the wind and tide at the time.
The "Rescuer" came ashore subsequently near the Wellington Pier. She was a boat in the buoyancy and seaworthy qualities of which the men had the utmost confidence, having been out with her in the heaviest gales. She belonged to the Ranger Company, for whom she was built in 1856 by Messrs BEECHING, the father of whom won the Northumberland prize of 100 Pounds for the best lifeboat.
It ought to be stated that the crew at the time of the accident were not protected by life-belts, and wore their ordinary clothing, consisting of guernsey frocks, oily jackets, and heavy sea-boots. A catastrophe so appaling [sic] has not occurred in this district for many years, and has spread gloom not only over the hamlet of Gorleston and Southtown, but over the whole of Yarmouth.
The list comprises nine widows, and 22 children, who we believe are most of them, if not all, unprovided for.
In addition to the above: -
Beccles & Bungay Weekly News 30 January 1866
Page 4, column 5
Robert WARNER, one of the four boatmen rescued by the crew of the "Friend of All Nations," died on Thursday [25th January] morning. Hopes had at first been entertained of his recovery, but being a man of advanced years the shock received by the system was too much for him. This makes the number of deaths 15. The other three men have perfectly recovered from the effects of the accident.
A meeting was convened by the Mayor, at the Corn-hall, on Monday, for the purpose of providing for the widows and orphans of the drowned men, and also of establishing a permanent fund for similar calamities on future occasions. The attendance was large and influential. Among the speakers were the Mayor, the Rev Mr NEVILL, minister of the parish; Mr HAMMOND, Mr PRESTON, Mr T. BRIGHTWEN, and Mr CHAMBERLIN [sic], and resolutions were unanimously carried in accordance with the object of the meeting. It was stated that subscriptions amounting to between 60 and 70 pounds had already been received by the Mayor and other gentlemen from various quarters, in consequence of the reports of the calamity which had appeared in the daily papers. Before the meeting terminated the subscriptions amounted to 250 Pounds.
The boat which capsized and caused the accident on the 13th January, is in no way connected with the National Lifeboat Institution, nor is the boat a self-righting one. There are four of these large salvage boats on the coasts of Norfolk and Suffolk, and one at Margate. They belong to the boatmen themselves, and are constantly engaged in saving property. Two of them have recently capsized. Nearly all the 153 boats of the National Lifeboat Institution are self-righting boats, and are specially used in saving life in cases of shipwreck.