On this day…. Part four

“Cornish Lifeboat Tragedy”

11th April 1900

John S.Martin, James B. Old, Joseph Stevens, Sidney E. East, David Grubb, James Grubb, Edward Kane and John Bate.

[The above named men]”were drowned in Hell Bay, off Padstow, by the Capsizing of a steam lifeboat on it’s way to assist a Lowestoft fishing-boat.  The first named four were battened down in the engine room, and were either scalded to death or crushed by the machinery”


David Grubb.

The lifeboats James Stevens No 4 & Arab 1   went to the aid of the trawler PEACE & PLENTY  of LOWESTOFT  [WRECKED] in HELL BAY DISASTER with a LOSS OF ELEVEN LIVES

“Never, perhaps, within the memory of man, says the Western Morning News, have there been more appalling catastrophes on the North Cornish coast than those which visited it at Hell Bay, near Padstow on Wednesday night. Within the short space of two hours the trawler “Peace and Plenty” was completely wrecked, and three of her crew drowned. The Padstow steam lifeboat also became a wreck, and lost eight of her men; and the crew of the old Padstow lifeboat, the “Arab”, had a narrow escape of their lives. Thrilling stories are told by the survivors. Mr. Henry Catchpole, captain of the trawler, which was a fine, two masted vessel, of Lowestoft, states that in a strong gale blowing from the W.S.W. on Wednesday afternoon, he was fishing off the mouth of the camel, and determined to run under Stepper Point for shelter. There the wind was not felt, but a tremendous current was running, and big seas broke constantly over the deck. Once the mate and two of the crew were swept clean overboard; but were almost miraculously hauled up again with ropes. Then at about nine o’clock the anchor began to drag, and the vessel drifted towards a terrible reef to the south of Hell Bay, known locally as the Greenaways. Nothing could save her, and she grounded on the awful rocks in a boiling surf in less than an hour. The Trebetherick Rocket Brigade had in the meantime got down to the cliff, but from there could not reach the vessel with their line. All the apparatus was then perseveringly carried by the brigade over the dangerous rocks below. In doing so a great deal of gear was saturated, and the rocket lines would not  freely work. Six rockets were fired before one got over the wreck, and shortly after eleven four men, two of whom were the captain and his mate, William Brabyn, were rescued by the apparatus. One was a lad of not more than 15. He was almost lifeless. Efforts were promptly made to restore him, under the direction of Dr. Whitfield Perkins, the Admiralty surgeon at Port  Isaac, who had quickly journeyed over in response to telephone. One other man, putting on a cork jacket, sprang into the sea from the trawler, and after being severely buffeted was at last hurled up by a breaker beyond further harm. The feet of the men were much lacerated. The “Peace and Plenty” had been fishing near Padstow for a fortnight, and had already made two landings of mackerel. More terrible misfortunes still befell those on board the steam lifeboat, which directly it was known the trawler was in distress, had gone with the “Arab”,  a rowing lifeboat, to her assistance.  The “Arab” had gallantly striven to reach the spot where she was supposed to be, but eventually got into difficulty. She could neither effect a rescue nor make her way back in the teeth of the gale and the raging sea. Six of her men had been tossed from their seats and drawn back against the lines. Thus straitened she burned a red light for help. The steam lifeboat, now near Stepper Point, endeavouring to ascertain the where-about’s of the trawler, observing the signal, at once aimed for the spot, but in turning was caught by a tremendous sea on the quarter, which one of the survivors, Tippett, says seemed to lift her clean out of the water at the stern like a shell. It then broke on the bow, and in an instant she was keel upwards. Tippett seized a stanchion, but under the relentless  avalanche of water, everything gave way, and he found himself with the second coxswain, Orson French, in the trough of the sea. They were soon among the breakers, but watched by some of the onlookers ashore, were ultimately saved. So exhausted were they that they had to be carried on to a neighbouring farmhouse, where the family very kindly did all they could for their relief and comfort. This house also formed a refuge for the survivors of the trawler. All the beds were placed at the disposal of the men, in which most of them were lying until mid-day on Friday, with Dr. Perkins again in attendance. The lad, placed between two men for warmth, at last regained his circulation. When the steam lifeboat capsized the two engineers and two firemen were in the cramped space below, closed in, and had no chance whatever of escape. As the machinery continued in motion some minutes after the upset it is feared that the four unfortunate men thrown in amongst it must have had a terrible death from mutilation as well as suffocation and scalding steam. Besides Tippett and French only one other escaped. He managed providentially to reach the shore and climbed up the cliffs unhurt. The names of those lost are Mr. Martin, chief engineer ; S. Keast and H. Stephens, firemen ; J. Old, second engineer ;  David  Grubb, coxswain ; and D. Cane, J. Grubb, and J. Bate, boatman. The last six all belonged to Padstow, and Mr. Old to an old St.Merryn family. Most of the men are married with families. One leaves as many as five children. The shore on Thursday morning presented a most melancholy spectacle. Lying on the reef, with her sides entirely battered in, was the trawler. A hundred yards further up was the “Arab” lifeboat in an injured condition. The crew, unaided and unable to return, were obliged to leave her in the surf on the previous night and make for the shore in their cork jackets. A quarter of a mile from the trawler, in the direction of Polscatho was the steam lifeboat lying in a small gug bottom upwards. All around the jagged rocks showed their pointed heads, and looked indeed terrible engines of destruction. Steps are being taken to recover the bodies supposed to be in the lifeboat, but as she is made of steel this could not be quickly effected, and proper tools and apparatus had to be procured. Only one body had been found up to mid-day – that of David Cane. His head was beaten in. The severed leg of another body was also picked up. The survivors of the steam lifeboat state that the trawler had no lights, and there were no other means of finding where she was, as, though it was moon-light , the sky was overcast, and heavy surf must have been always beating over the vessel. The captain of the trawler confirmed this, stating he could keep no lights burning, and had no rockets or other signals for drawing attention. Could he have done so the lifeboat would speedily have reached her, rescued the crew, and averted all the loss of life that happened. The trawler was insured, and was half the property of the captain. The men were expected to able to proceed to their homes yesterday afternoon and evening. Among those who rendered valuable assistance ashore were Mr. Lillington, curate of St.Minver, and the sons of Mr. Geach Hawkey, of Treglines. The vicar of St.Minver was on the spot on Thursday rendering all the aid to his power .” – http://padstowmuseum.webplus.net/stories%20of%20rescue.html

A most interesting account, of a very sad incident, where these men undoubtedly knew the risks and yet they venture out into the surf anyway.




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