Uncertainty. During Sunday afternoon 13th February 1881 for those who were watching at the Quay and Coastguard Station observed a small vessel beating across Mount's Bay, evidently uncertain as to her whereabouts, and there was strong S.S.W. gale blowing, with fall of thick, misty rain, which made it impossible to see more than a very short distance, considerable anxiety was shown to her fate. Once or twice only did the rain clear sufficiently to enable the ship to be seen, and it was then discovered that she was brigantine (a two-masted sailing vessel, square-rigged on the foremast and having a fore-and-aft mainsail with square upper sails), apparently a foreigner, was standing towards the Mount under reefed topsails. At half-past five she was seen within a quarter of a mile of the Gear; seeing which she almost immediately tacked and again stood away towards the eastern land, having added the mainsail to her former spread of canvas. At seven o'clock rockets were fired and blue-lights burnt on the Extension Pier, but as there was no response from seaward it was concluded, and hoped, that the stranger had discovered the perilous position she was in, and had managed to beat out of the Bay. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

At three o'clock messengers arrived at Penzance bringing the news that a vessel was ashore on Perran beach. Signal guns were fired and the lifeboat Richard Lewis was promptly manned and proceeded by road towards the scene of the wreck, proceeded by the Honorary Secretary of the local branch of the Institution, Mr. John Mathews. Her assistance, however, was not needed. Commander Shirley, the Inspecting officer of the Coastguard, and Mr. Blackmore, the chief officer, were almost immediately on the spot with the rocket apparatus from Prussia Cove. It was then found the brigatine was lying on the beach, broadside; her mainmast having been carried away, but the foremast still standing, and having foresail and foretopsail. A rocket was at once fired over the ship, and, in a very few moments, communication was established between ship and shore. The first landed was the captain's nephew, very young lad, who was dazed and bewildered by the effects of being pulled through the surf, he fell into hysterics and was taken to the house of Mr. Thomas Gundry and provided with clothes and food. One by one the crew of six were brought on shore, the captain being the last to leave the ship, some thirty-five minutes after the rocket had been fired over his craft. this time the rocket apparatus from Marazion had arrived on the spot, but its assistance was not now necessary, and at this time a messenger was sent off to meet the lifeboat and apprise her that her services would not be required. a very few minutes after the captain left his ship, the foremast fell and the sea broke violently over the brigantine, and the hope of saving her cargo, which had been previously expressed, was abandoned. It was then found that the unfortunate vessel was the Sylphide, of Nantes, 114 tons' register, bound from Audierne to Cardiff with a cargo of potatoes. She was commanded by Captain Digabel, who was also part owner, and left France on Saturday last, since when the same thick weather had been experienced and they had been unable sight any light. A sharp look-out was being kept during Sunday afternoon for the light either at the Wolf or the Longships, and Captain Digabel considered that he was well clear of the land until he found he was in a bay totally unknown to him. The Sylphide stranded at about 1.30, taking the ground end on, and her position was first discovered by Thomas Rowe, a Coastguardsman, who heard the crew's cries for assistance, and who roused Mr. Gundry and others in the neighbourhood, by whom a messenger was despatched to Prussia Cove and Penzance. The greatest praise is due to Mr. Murrow, the officer in charge at Prussia Cove, and his men for the prompt manner in which the rocket was brought to the scene of the wreck, and for the manner in which it was handled. The crew saved little more than the clothes they stood in, but were taken to the " Victoria lnn," close by, and their wants attended to, until the arrival of Mr. Edwin Mathews, the French Consul, who had them conveyed to Penzance, and provided them with clothes there.

As the morning advanced and the tide gradually left the ship dry, it was found that there was no hope of saving much of the cargo, a few tons only of potatoes being secured, and during the day the Sylphide completely broke up. She was only partly insured. Near The Westers Land. A rumour was now circulated that a ship was ashore at Lamorna and the lifeboat was taken to Lariggan, launched, and started, under sail, for that part of the coast. The facts turned out to be that the iron ship Macduff, 1235 tons register, belonging to, Mr. Mc. Millan, of Glasgow, bound to Cardiff from London in bellast, finding herself close to land and being uncertain to her whereabouts, had let go a couple of anchors and was lying about a mile and a half off the shore, between Kymiel Cliff and Lamorna, in comparative safety. She was heard to fire two guns about two o'clock in the morning by the Mousehole Coastguard, who discharged a rocket in reply to warn her that she was near land, and she was seen by them about five. The rocket apparatus, under the command of Mr. Thomas, chief officer, was taken along the coast, but the thick weather for a long time prevented her being seen, and it was thought that she had got off to sea. The Mousehole pilots, however, found and boarded her, and the lifeboat for some time lay alongside in case any accident happened. The West Cornwall Steamship Company's steamer Queen of the Bay also proceeded to offer her assistance, but the captain declined it, and, during the afternoon, the improvement in the weather enabled her to get up her anchors and come into Gwavas Lake.

The Macduff was towed to sea on Wednesday afternoon 16th February 1881, a tug having come to her for that purpose.

Loss of a Barque by Water and Fire.

During the evening information was received that a vessel was ashore on the Praa Sands, and Capt. Shirley, the Messrs. Mathews; and others started for the spot. The Prussia Cove men again came to the rescue, and were rewarded by being the means of rescuing the captain of the ship and the whole of his crew of nine men. This vessel was the T. R. Whiton, a fine barque of 547 tons register, of Searsport, Maine, U.S.A., bound from Victoria, Vancouver's. Island, to London, with a valuable mixed cargo of wool, oil, tinned fish, and was commanded by Captain Nickels. She left Vancouver's Island on the 22nd last September 1880 and experienced a great deal of heavy weather. Her loss, too, was caused by the thick weather, making it impossible for Captain Nickels to ascertain his position. lights were seen, and land was not thought to be so near until it was sighted at 7 o'clock. Captain Nickels, finding that he was rapidly drifting to shore, had attempted to anchor, but, to add to his misfortunes, the cable of one the anchors became foul and, with the consequent extra strain, the first also parted. The captain then saw his inability to get off the shore, so preferred to beach the ship on the sands, which could be seen ahead. Very soon the Prussia Cove rocket apparatus was on the spot (under Mr. Murrow,) which had only a few hours previously rescued the French crew of six at Perran, and, in a very short space of time, communication was established, and the crew of 10 were landed. The captain was the last to leave the ship, and both he and his men were taken to the " Coach and Horses" and provided with all necessary comforts. All those who saw the ship and the position in which she lay, were confident on Monday evening that, if not the vessel herself, at least the cargo, would be saved on the following day, and this expectation was heightened by the knowledge that the sea was going down and the wind considerably less. Captain Nickels came on to Penzance with Mr. John Mathews, but had arrived there only a very short time when word was brought to him that his ship was on fire ! The Coastguard in charge of her had noticed that smoke was issuing from the after part in considerable quantities, and this gradually increased, that it was deemed advisable at noon on Tuesday to send Penzance to request the assistance of the fire-brigade, and two engines were immediately despatched with Mr. Small, borough surveyor, and Supt. Olds in charge. The engines were unable to get to work that tide, but at 10 o'clock on Tuesday night some good streams of water were sent to the ship, and the brigade worked incessantly until the in-coming tide compelled them to desist, and they returned to Penzance about 6.30 on Wednesday morning. The fire had by then got an entire hold of the ship, and those who were in charge momentarily expected to see the flames break forth. Capt. Nickels attributes the cause of the outbreak to the spontaneous combustion of the wool. The binnacle lamp was burning when the ship was left, but it is not thought possible that this could have caused any fire. The T. F. Whiton was not insured, but it thought that the greater part of her cargo was. A considerable quantity of the boxes, containing pickled salmon, and many bales of wool had been saved. The whole cargo was worth over £20,000. That’s equivalent to £2,180,000 in todays money.
Last edited:
Top Bottom