Heroes of the Goodwin Sands
by Thomas Stanley Treanor
HEROES OF THE GOODWIN SANDS
THE REV. THOMAS STANLEY TREANOR, M.A.
Chaplain, Missions to Seamen, Deal and the Downs
Author of The Log of a Sky Pilot, The Cry from the Sea and the
Answer from the Shore.
With Coloured and Other Illustrations
[Frontispiece: A Perilous Escape]
[Illustration: Title page]
London The Religious Tract Society 4 Bouverie Street &65 St. Paul's
CHAPTER I. THE
CHAPTER II. THE
CHAPTER III. THE
CHAPTER IV. THE
CHAPTER V. THE
CHAPTER VI. THE
CHAPTER VII. THE
CHAPTER IX. THE
CHAPTER X. THE
CHAPTER XI. THE
CHAPTER XII. THE
For twenty-six years, as Missions to Seamen Chaplain for the Downs,
the writer of the following chapters has seen much of the Deal boatmen,
both ashore and in their daily perilous life afloat. For twenty-three
years he has also been the Honorary Secretary of the Royal National
Lifeboat Institution for the Goodwin Sands and Downs Branch; he has
sometimes been afloat in the lifeboats at night and in storm, and he
has come into official contact with the boatmen in their lifeboat work,
in the three lifeboats stationed right opposite the Goodwin Sands, at
Deal, Walmer, and Kingsdown. With these opportunities of observation,
he has written accurate accounts of a few of the splendid rescues
effected on those out-lying and dangerous sands by the boatmen he knows
Each case is authenticated by names and dates; the position of the
wrecked vessel is given with exactness, and the handling and
manoeuvring of the lifeboat described, from a sailor's point of view,
with accuracy, even in details.
The descriptions of the seaof Nature in some of her most
tremendous aspects, of the breakers on the Goodwinsand of the
stubborn courage of the men who man our lifeboats are far below the
reality. Each incident occurred as it is related, and is absolutely
The Deal boatmen are almost as mute as the fishes of the sea
respecting their own deeds of daring and of mercy on the Goodwin Sands.
It is but justice to those humble heroes of the Kentish coast that an
attempt should be made to tell some parts of their wondrous story.
T. S. T.
[Illustration: The Launch of the Lifeboat. From a photograph by W.
CHAPTER I. THE GOODWIN SANDS
'Would'st thou,' so the helmsman answered,
'Learn the secrets of the sea?
Only those who brave its dangers
Comprehend its mystery.'
The Goodwin Sands are a great sandbank, eight miles long and about
four miles wide, rising out of deep water four miles off Deal at their
nearest point to the mainland. They run lengthwise from north to south,
and their breadth is measured from east to west. Counting from the
farthest points of shallow water around the Goodwins, their dimensions
might be reckoned a little more, but the above is sufficiently
Between them and Deal lies thus a stretch of four miles of deep
water, in which there is a great anchorage for shipping. This
anchorage, of historic interest, is called the Downspossibly from the
French les Dunes, or 'the Sands,' a derivation which, so far as
I know, was first suggested by myselfand is sheltered from the
easterly gales to some extent by the Goodwins.
The Downs are open to the north and south, and through this
anchorage of the Downs runs the outward and homeward bound stream of
shipping of all nations, to and from London and the northern ports of
England, Holland, Germany, and the Baltic.
A very large proportion of the stream of shipping bound to London
passes inside the Goodwins or through the Downs, especially when the
wind is south-west, inasmuch as if they went in west winds outside the
Goodwins, they would find themselves a long way to leeward of the Gull
The passage here, between the Gull buoy and the Goodwin Sands, is
not more than two miles wide; and again I venture to suggest that the
Gull stream is derived from the French la Gueule.
Though there are four miles of deep water between the Goodwin Sands
and the mainland, this deep water has rocky shallows and dangerous
patches in it, but I shall not attempt to describe them, merely
endeavouring to concentrate the reader's attention on the Goodwin
Sands. Inside the Goodwins and in this comparatively sheltered
anchorage of deep water, the outward bound shipping bring up, waiting
sometimes for weeks for fair wind; hence Gay's lines are strictly
All in the Downs the fleet was moored.
The anchorage of the Downs is sheltered from west winds by the
mainland and from east winds by the dreaded Goodwins. They thus form a
natural and useful breakwater towards the east, creating the anchorage
of the Downs.
In an easterly gale, notwithstanding the protection of the Goodwins,
there is a very heavy and even tremendous sea in the Downs, for the
Goodwin Sands lie low in the water, and when they are covered by the
tideas they always are at high waterthe protection they afford is
The 'sheltered' anchorage of the Downs is thus a relative term. Even
in this shelter vessels are sometimes blown away from their anchors
both by easterly and westerly winds.
In 1703 thirteen men-of-war were lost in the Downs in the same gale
in which Winstanley perished in the Eddystone Lighthouse of his own
construction, and I have seen vessels in winds both from east and west
driven to destruction from the Downs. Even of late years I have seen
450 vessels at anchor in the Downs, reaching away to the north and
south for nearly eight miles.
Their appearance is most imposing, as may be judged from the
engraving on page 95, in which, however, only twenty-five ships are
visible in the moonlight. Almost all the ships in the engraving are
outward bound, and some, it may be, are on their last voyage.
Outside, and to the cast of this great fleet of vessels, lies the
great 'shippe-swallower,' the Goodwin Sands. The sands are very
irregular in shape, and are not unlike a great lobster, with his back
to the cast, and with his claws, legs, and feelers extended westwards
towards Deal and the shipping in the Downs. Far from the main body of
the sands run all manner of spits and promontories and jaws of sand,
and through and across the Goodwins in several directions are numbers
of 'swatches,' or passages of water varying in depth from feet to
No one knows, or can know, all the swatches, which vary very much
month by month according to the prevalence of gales or fair weather. I
shall never forget the sensation of striking bottom in one of those
swatches where I expected to find, and had found recently before in the
same state of the tide, a depth of six feet. The noise of broken water
on each side of us, and the ominous grating thump of our boat's keel
against the Goodwins, while the stumps of lost vessels grinned close
by, gave us a keen sense of the nearness of real peril. We were bound
to the East Goodwin lightship, and in the path of duty, but we were
glad to feel the roll of deep water under our boat's keel outside the
No one therefore knows, or can know, by reason of the perpetual
shifting of the sands, all the passages or swatches, either as to
direction or depth, of the Goodwins; but two or three main swatches are
tolerably well known to the Deal and Ramsgate lifeboatmen.
There is a broad bay called Trinity Bay in the heart of the
Goodwins, out of which leads due north-east the chief swatch or passage
through the Sands. It is four or five fathoms deep at low water, and
from about three-quarters to a quarter of a mile wide, and it is called
the Ramsgate Man's Bight. Close to the outer entrance of this great
passage rides, about twelve feet out of water, the huge north-east
Whistle buoy of the Goodwins, which ever moans forth in calmest weather
its most mournful note.
Sometimes when outside the Goodwins on my way from the North Goodwin
to the East Goodwin lightship, we have passed so close to this great
buoy that we could touch it with a boat-hook, and have heard its giant
breathing like that of some leviathan asleep on the surface of the sea,
which was dead calm at the time. I have also heard its boom at a
distance of eight miles.
I have said this great swatch leads north-east through the
Goodwinsbut north-east from what, and how is the point of departure
to be found on a dark night? If you ask the coxswain of the Deal
lifeboat, who probably knows more, or at least as much about the Sands
and their secrets as any other living man, he will tell you to 'stand
on till you bring such a lightship to bear so and so, and then run due
north-east; only look out for the breakers on either side of you.' It
is one thing to go through this swatch in fair weather and broad
daylight, and another thing in the dark or even by moonlight, 'the sea
and waves roaring' their mighty accompaniment to the storm.
There are other swatches, one more to the southward than the
preceding, and also running north-east, through which the Deal men once
brought a ship named the Mandalay into safety after protracted efforts.
Another swatch too exists, opposite the East Goodwin buoy, being
that in which we struck the dangerous bottom. And yet another, just
north of the south-east buoy, leads right across the tail of the
monster, and so into the deep water of the Downs.
Looking at a chart or reading of these passages, they seem easy
enough, but to find and get through them safely when you are as low
down as you are in a boat, near the sea level, is very difficult, and
as exciting as the escape of the entangled victims from the labyrinths
of oldunmistakable danger being all around you, and impressed on both
eyes and ears.
The whole of the Goodwin Sands are covered by the sea at high water;
even the highest or north part of the Sands is then eight or ten feet
under water. At low water this north part of the Goodwins is six feet
at least above the sea level, and you can walk for miles on a rippled
surface cut into curious gulleys, the miniatures of the larger
swatches. Wild and lonely beyond words is the scene. The sands are hard
when dryin some places as hard as the hardest beach of sand that can
be named. Near the Fork Spit the sand is marvellously hard. On the
north-west part of the Goodwins, which is that given in the engraving,
it is hard, but not so hard as elsewhere. In all cases it is soft and
pliable under water, and sometimes in wading you sink with alarming
Recently attempting in company with a friend to wade a very
peculiar-looking but shallow swatchto right and left of us being blue
swirls of deeper water, the 'fox-falls' on a smaller scale of another
part of the Sands, and exceedingly beautifulI suddenly sank pretty
deep, and struggled back with all my energies into firmer footing from
the Goodwins' cold and tenacious embrace.
The Sands reach round you for miles, and the greater swatches cut
you off from still more distant and still more extensive reaches of
sand. In such solitudes, and with such vastness around you, of which
the great lonely level stretch makes you conscious as nothing ashore
can do, you realise what an atom you are in creation.
[Illustration: The Goodwin Sands.]
Here you see a ship's ribs. This was the schooner laden with
pipe-clay, out of which in a dangerous sea the captain and crew escaped
in their own boat, as the lifeboat advanced to save them. Far away on
the Sands you see the fluke of a ship's anchor, which from the shape
when close to it we recognise to be a French pattern.
With me stood the coxswain of the celebrated Deal lifeboat, Richard
Roberts. Intently he gazed at the projecting anchor flukeshaft and
chain had long been sucked down into the Goodwinsand then, after a
good long look all round, taking the bearings of the deadly thing, at
last he said, 'What a dangerous thing on a dark night for the
Just think, good reader! The lifeboat, close reefed, flies to the
rescue on the wings of the storm into the furious seas which revel and
rage on the Goodwins. Her fifteen men dauntlessly face the wild
smother. She sinks ponderously in the trough of a great roller, and the
anchor fluke is driven right through her bottom and holds her to the
placefor hold her it would, long enough to let the breakers tear
every living soul out of her!
Under our feet and deep in the sand lie vessels one over another,
and in them all that vessels carry. Countless treasures must be buried
therethe treasures of centuries. Witness the Osta Junis, a Dutch East
Indiaman, which, treasure-laden with money and other valuables to a
great amount, ran on the Goodwin Sands, July 12, 1783. The Deal boatmen
were quickly on board, and brought the treasures ashore, which, as it
was war time, were prize to the Crown, and were conveyed to the Bank of
England. That merchandise, curiosities, and treasures lie engulfed
in the capacious maw of the Goodwin Sands is very probable, although we
may not quite endorse Mr. Pritchard's statement that 'if the multitude
of vessels lost there during the past centuries could be recovered,
they would go a good way towards liquidating the National Debt.'
From its mystery and 'shippe-swallowing' propensities, the word
'monster' is peculiarly appropriate to this great quicksand, which
still craves more victims, and still with claws and feelers
outstretchedScylla and Charybdis combining their terrors in the
Goodwinslies in ambush for the goodly ships that so bravely wing
their flight to and fro beyond its reach. But it is only in the storm
blast and the midnight that its most dreadful features are unveiled,
and even then the lifeboatmen face its perils and conquer them.
Independently of the breakers and cross-seas of stormy weather, the
dangers of the Goodwin Sands arise from the facts that they lie right
in the highway of shipping, that at high water they are concealed from
view, being then covered by the sea to the depth of from ten to
twenty-five feet, varying in different places, and that furious
currents run over and around them.
Add to this that they are very lonely and distant from the mainland,
and, being surrounded by deep water, are far from help; whilst, as an
additional and terrible danger, here and there on the sands, wrecks,
anchors, stumps, and notably the great sternpost of the Terpsichore,
from which a few months ago Roberts and the Deal lifeboatmen had
rescued all the crew, stick up over the surface. And woe be to the boat
or vessel which strikes on these!
On September 12, 1891, on my way to the North Sandhead lightship,
which, however, we failed to reach by reason of the strong ebb tide
against us and the wind dropping to a calm, we revisited this sternpost
of the Terpsichore. We got down mast and sails and took to our oars.
The light air from the north-east blew golden feathery cloud-films
across the great blue arch above our heads, and for once in the arctic
summer of 1891 the air was warm and balmy. Starting from the North-west
Goodwin buoy, we soon rowed into shallow water, crossing a long spit of
sand on which, not far from us, a feathery breaker raced. Again we get
into deep water, having just hit the passage into an amphitheatre in
the Goodwins of deep water bordered by a circle or ridge of sand about
three feet under water, over which the in-tide was fiercely running and
rippling, and upon which here and there a breaker raised its warning
We reached the great sternpost of the lost Terpsichore at 9.22 a.m.,
just two hours before low water at the neap tides, and found it
projected five feet nine inches above the water, which was ten feet six
inches deep in the swilly close to it, but nowhere shallower than eight
feet within a distance of fifty yards from the stump. Underneath in the
green sea-water there lay quite visible the keel and framework of the
vessel; and again I heard the story from Roberts, the coxswain of the
Deal lifeboat, who was with me, of the rescue of the crew of this very
vessel at 2.15 a.m. on the stormy night of the preceding November 14.
As we held by the green sea-washed stump, it was hard to realise the
sublime story of that awful night: the mighty sea warring with the
furious wind, and the dismantled, beaten shipmasts gone overboard and
tossing in mad confusion of spars and cordage along her sideinto
which most black and furious hell the lifeboatmen dared to venture the
Deal lifeboat, and out of which she and her gallant crew came, by God's
mercy, triumphant and unscathed, having saved every soul on board, and
also, with a fine touch of humanity often to be found in a brave
sailor's heart, the 'harmless, necessary cat' belonging to the vessel.
I can assure my readers that poor pussy's head and green eyes peering
out of the arms of one of the storm-battered sailors as they struggled
up Deal beach was a beautiful and most touching sight.
Having lingered and examined this wreck as long as we dared, we now
tried to get out of the great circle in which we were enclosed. With
one man in the bows and another steering, we tried to cross the
submerged ridge of sand which encircled us and over which the tide
raced; but we struck the sand, and then were turned broadside on by the
furious current and swept back into the circle. Cautiously we rowed
along, when, not twenty yards off, I saw an object triangular and not
unlike a shark's fin just above the water. 'Hard-a-starboard!' at the
same moment cried the man in the bows, and then in the same breath,
'Port, sir, quick! Hard-a-port!' For to right of us stuck up out of
eight feet of water, beautifully clear and green, the iron pump-work of
a submerged wreck, the iron projection being not more than six inches
out of water; and then, a few yards further on to the left of the boat,
out of deep water, a rib, it may be, of the same forgotten and it may
be long-buried vessel.
Had not the water been calm and clear, the place would have been a
regular death-trap. With increased caution we felt our way all round
the great circle into which we had entered. South of us rose a smooth
yellow-brown bank of sand, and upon this sunny shore tripped hundreds
of great white seagulls. So warm, so silent, so lonely was the place
that it might have been an island in the Pacific; and upon the same
yellow sandbank there basked, quite within view, a great, large-eyed
At last we found our way out of the heart of the Goodwins, and got
into the deep, wide swatchway called the Ramsgate Man's Bight. Away to
the north-east we saw the Whistle buoy, and toward the east the East
buoy, both of which mark the outer edge of the Goodwins.
In the deep centre of this swatch rolled the mast of another wreck,
somehow fast to the bottom, and having gazed at this weird sight, we
landed, amidst the wild screams of protesting sea-birds, and explored
all round for a mile the edges of this sandbank, which was of singular
firmness and yellowness, and upon which, in rhythmic cadence, plashed a
most pellucid sea.
With change of tide and rising water we got up sail and at last
reached the Gull lightship, on whose deck we met old friends, and where
we had Divine Service as the evening fell in. Need it be said that that
which we had just seen on the Goodwins, the memories of the lost ships,
and of the gallant seamen who lie buried there, served to point a moral
and to raise all our hearts to that good land where 'there shall be no
more death, neither sorrow, nor crying; neither shall there be any more
pain, for the former things are passed away.' One of the hymns in that
service was suggested by the scene we had left, and began thus,
Jesus! Saviour! Pilot me.
But not every boat that visits the mysterious quicksand escapes as
readily. Skilled and hardy boatmen are sometimes lost even in fine
About twenty years ago a Deal galley punt, and four men, Bowbyas,
Buttress, Erridge, and Obree, skilled Deal boatmen, landed on the
Goodwins to get some coal from a wrecked collier. All that is certainly
known is that they never returned, and that they had been noticed by a
passing barge running to and fro and waving, which the bargemen
thought, alas! was only the play of some holiday-keepers on an
excursion to the Goodwins. They went to the Goodwins in a light
south-west breeze and smooth sea. While there the wind shifted to
north-east and a tumble of a sea got up, and it is supposed that it
then beat into and filled their laden boat, despite the efforts which
they are believed to have made to float her or get her ride to her
anchor and come head to wind. If this be so, how long and desperate
must their struggle have been to save their boat from wreckage, and to
pump out the water and heave out the coal. Their anchor and cable,
found on the sands and let go to full scope, favours this idea.
On the other hand, the fact that they were seen wildly running to
and fro looks as if some sudden catastrophe had occurred, as if they
had struck on some stump in the water close to the very edge of the
The very day on which the photographs were taken which have been
used to illustrate this chapter, we were shoving off the steep northern
face of the Goodwin Sands, when we saw, not ten yards from the
precipitous edge of the dull red sands, in about twenty-five feet of
water, and just awash or level with the surface, the bristling spars
and masts of a three-masted schooner, the Crocodile, which had been
lost there January 6, 1891, in a fearful snowstorm, from the
north-east, of that long winter. Had we even touched those deadly
points, we too should have probably lost our boat and been entrapped on
the Goodwin Sands. The coxswain of the Deal lifeboat was with us, and
told how that at three o'clock on that terrible January morning, or
rather night, wearied with previous efforts, he had launched the
lifeboat and beat in the face of the storm and intense cold ten miles
to windward, toward the burning flares which told of a vessel on the
Just when within reach of the vessel, this very wreck, they saw the
Ramsgate tug and lifeboat were just before them, and taking the crew
out of the rigging of the wreck. In sight of the whole company, for
their lanterns and lights were burning, the poor exhausted captain of
the schooner, in trying to get down from the rigging, in which he was
almost frozen to death, fell into the stormy sea and was lost in the
darkness, while the remainder were gallantly rescued by the Ramsgate
[Illustration: A wreck on the Goodwins.]
It was on the dangerous stumps and masts of this vessel, to save the
crew of which the Deal and Ramsgate men made such a splendid effort,
that we so nearly ran; and an accident of this kind perhaps sealed the
fate of the four boatmen above mentioned.
On this north-west part of the Goodwins, on which hours of the
deepest interest could be spent, you can walk a distance of at least
two miles, but you are separated by the great north-east swatch of deep
water from getting to the extensive north-east jaw on the other side of
the swatch, which is also full of wrecks, and round and along the edges
of which, on the calmest day, somehow the surf and breakers for ever
roar. The southern part of the Goodwins is also full of memories, and
of countless wrecks. The ribs of the Ganges, the Leda, the Paul Boyton,
the Sorrento, all lie there deep down beneath the Sands, excepting when
some mighty storm shifts the sand and reveals their skeletons. Deep,
too, in the bosom of the Goodwins, masts alone projecting, is settling
down the Hazelbank, wrecked there in October, 1890; but this southern
part at lowest tide is barely uncovered by the sea, and only just
At high water the depth is about three fathoms, varying of course in
patches, over this southern part or tail of the sea-monster. It is
clear that, being thus, even at low tide, nearly always covered with
water, and as the sand when thus covered is much more 'quick' and
movable, the southern part of the Goodwins is an exceedingly awkward
place to explore. If you made a stumble, as the sands slide under your
feet, it might, shall I say, land you into a pit or 'fox-fall,'
circular in shape, and very deep. The stumps of forgotten wrecks are
also a real danger to the boat which accompanies the investigator.
As to the depth of the great sandbank, borings have been made down
to the chalk to a depth of seventy-eight feeta fact which might have
been fairly conjectured from the depth of water inside the Goodwins,
down to the chalky bottom being nine or ten fathoms, while the depth
close outside the Goodwins, where the outer edge of the sands is sheer
and steep, is fifteen fathoms, deepening a mile and a half further off
the Goodwins to twenty-eight fathoms.
The ships wrecked on the Goodwins go down into it very slowly, but
they sometimes literally fall off the steep outer edge into the deep
water above described.
One still bright autumn morning I witnessed a tragedy of that
description. On the forenoon of November 30, 1888, I was on the deck of
a barque, the Maritzburg, bound to Port Natal. I had visited the men in
the forecastle, and indeed all hands fore and aft, as Missions to
Seamen chaplain; and to them all I spoke, and was, in fact, speaking of
that only 'Name under heaven whereby we must be saved,' when my eyes
were riveted, as I gazed right under the sun, by the drama being
enacted away to the southward.
There I saw, three miles off, our two lifeboats of Kingsdown and
Walmer, each in tow of a steamer which came to their aid, making for
the Goodwins, and on the outer edge of the Goodwins I beheld a hapless
brig, with sails set, aground. I saw her at that distance lifted by the
heavy sea, and at that distance I saw the great tumble of the billows.
That she had heavily struck the bottom I also saw, for crash!and even
at that distance I verily seemed to hear the crashaway went her
mainmast over her side, and the next instant she was gone, and had
absolutely and entirely disappeared. I could not believe my eyes, and
rubbed them and gazed again and yet again.
She had perished with all hands. The lifeboats, fast as they went,
were just too late, and found nothing but a nameless boat, bottom
upwards, and a lifebelt, and no one ever knew her nationality or name.
She had struck the Goodwins, and had been probably burst open by the
shock, and then, dragged by the great offtide to the east, had rolled
into the deep water outside the Goodwins and close to its dreadful
What a sermon! What a summons! There they lie till the sea give up
its dead, and we all 'appear before the judgment seat of Christ.'
The origin of the Goodwin Sands is a very interesting question, and
is discussed at length in Mr. Gattie's attractive Memorials of the
Goodwin Sands. There is the romantic tradition that they once, as
the 'fertile island of Lomea,' formed part of the estates of the great
Earl Godwin, and that as a punishment for his crimes they 'sonke
sodainly into the sea.' Another tradition, given by W. Lambard, tells
us that in the end of the reign of William Rufus, 1099 A.D., there was
'a sodaine and mighty inundation of the sea, by the which a great part
of Flaunders and of the lowe countries thereabouts was drenched and
lost;' and Lambard goes on to quote Hector Boethius to the effect that
'this place, being sometyme in the possession of the Earl Godwin, was
then first violently overwhelmed with a light sande, wherewith it not
only remayneth covered ever since, but is become withal (Navium
gurges et vorago) a most dreadful gulfe and shippe-swallower.'
The latter phrase of 'shippe-swallower' being only too true, has
stuck, and there does seem historic ground to warrant us in believing
that in the year named there was a great storm and incursion of the
sea; but whether the Goodwin Sands were ever the fertile island of
Lomea and the estate of the great earl seems to be more than uncertain.
But there is no doubt whatever that the theory that the inundation
of the sea in A.D. 1099, which 'drenched' the Low Countries, withdrew
the sea from the Goodwins and left it bare at low water, while before
this inundation it had been more deeply covered by the ocean, is quite
untenable, for the sea never permanently shifts, but always returns to
its original level. When we speak of the sea 'gaining' or 'losing,'
what is really meant is that the land gains or loses, and therefore the
idea of the Goodwins being laid bare and uncovered by the sea water
running away from it and over to Flanders is absurd.
In all probability the origin of the Goodwin Sands is not to be
ascribed to their once having been a fertile island, or to their having
been uncovered by the sea falling away from them, but to their having
been actually formed by the action of the sea itself, ever since the
incursion of the sea up the Channel and from the north made England an
There are great natural causes in operation which account for the
formation of the mighty sandbank by gradual accumulation, without
having recourse to the hypothesis that it is the ruined remains of the
fabulous island of Lomea, fascinating as the idea is that it was once
Earl Godwin's island home.
The two great tidal waves of different speed which sweep round the
north of England and up the English Channel, meet twice every day a
little to the north of the North Foreland, where the writer has often
waited anxiously to catch the ebb going south.
Eddies and currents of all kinds hang on the skirts of this great
'meeting of the waters,' and hence in the narrows of the Channel, where
the Goodwins lie, the tide runs every day twice from all points of the
compass, and there is literally every day in the year a great whirlpool
all round and over the Goodwin Sands, deflected slightly perhaps, but
not caused by those sands, but by the meeting of the two tidal waves
twice every twenty-four hours.
This daily Maelstrom is sufficient to account for the formation of
the mighty sandbank, for the water is laden with the detritus of cliff
and beach which it has taken up in its course round England, and, just
as if you give a circular motion to a basin of muddy water, you will
soon find the earthy deposit centralised at the bottom of the basin, so
the great Goodwins are the result of the daily deposit of revolving
That the tides literally 'revolve' round the Goodwins is well known
to the Deal men and to sailors in general, and this revolution is
described in most of the tide tables and nautical almanacks used by
mariners, e.g. 'The Gull Stream about one hour and ten minutes
before high water runs N.E. 3/4 N., but the last hour changes to E.N.E.
and even to E.S.E., and the last hour of the southern stream changes
from S.W. 1/2 S. to W.S.W. and even to W.N.W.' Here the reader will
distinctly see recorded the great causes in operation which are
sufficient in the lapse of centuries to produce and maintain the
Goodwin Sands. But how they came to be called the Goodwin Sands we know
not, and can only conjecture. Those were the days of Siward and Duncan
and Macbeth, and, like them, the imposing form of the great Earl of
Kent is shrouded in the mists and the myths of eight centuries.
He was evidently placed, in the first instance by royal authority or
that of the Saxon Witan, in some such position as Captain of the Naval
forces of all Southern England, and it is certain that he gathered
round himself the affections of the sailors of Sandwich, Hythe, Romney,
Hastings, and Dover.
When he sailed from Bruges against Edward, 'the fort of Hastings
opened to his coming with a shout from its armed men. All the boatmen,
all the mariners far and near, thronged to him, with sail and shield,
with sword and with oar.' And on his way to Pevensey and Hastings from
Flanders he would seem to have run outside, and at the back of the
Goodwins, while the admirals of Edward the Confessor, Rodolph and Odda,
lay fast in the Downs.
He appears, by virtue of his semi-regal positionfor Kent with
Wessex and Sussex were under his governmentto have been the Commander
of a Naval agglomeration of those southern ports which was the germ,
very probably, of the subsequent 'Cinque Ports' confederation, with
their 'Warden' at their head; but at any rate he swept with him in this
expedition against Edward all the 'Buscarles' (boat-carles or seamen)
of those southern ports, Hythe, Hastings, Dover, and Sandwich. His
progress towards London was a triumphant one with his sons. 'All
Kentthe foster-mother of the Saxons,' we are told, on this occasion
'sent forth the cry, Life or death with Earl Godwin!'
Crimes may rest on the name of Earl Godwin, despite his oath to the
contrary and his formal acquittal by the Witan-gemot, and dark deeds
are still affixed to his memory, but 'there was an instinctive and
prophetic feeling throughout the English nation that with the house of
Godwin was identified the cause of the English people.' With all his
faults he was a great Englishman, and was the popular embodiment of
English or Saxon feeling against the Normanising sympathies of Edward.
In legend the Godwin family, even in death, seem to have been
connected with the sea. There is the legend of Godwin's destruction
with his fleet in the Goodwin Sands, and there is the much better
authenticated legend of Harold's burial in the sea-sand at Hastings.
The Norman William's chaplain records that the Conqueror said, 'Let his
corpse guard the coasts which his life madly defended.'
Wrap them together in a purple cloak,
And lay them both upon the waste sea-shore
At Hastings, there to guard the land for which
He did forswear himself.
Tenterden Steeple is certainly not the cause of the Goodwin Sands,
and the connection supposed to exist between them seems to have first
occurred to some 'aged peasant' of Kent examined before Sir Thomas More
as to the origin of the Goodwin Sands. But, as Captain Montagu Burrows,
R.N., mentions in his most interesting book on the Cinque Ports,
Tenterden Steeple was not built till 1462, and 'was not in the popular
adage connected with the Goodwin Sands, but with Sandwich Haven. It ran
Of many people it hath been sayed
That Tenterden steeple Sandwich haven hath decayed.'
Godwin's connection with Tenterden Steeple seems, therefore, to be
as mythical as his destruction in the Goodwin Sands with his whole
fleet, and we are driven to suppose that the connection of his family
name with the Goodwin Sands arose either from Norman and monkish
detestation of Harold and Godwin's race, and the desire to associate
his name as infamous with those terrible quicksands; or that these
Sands had some connection with the great earl and his family which we
know not of, whether as having been, according to doubtful legend, his
estate, or because he must often have victoriously sailed round them,
and hard by them often hoisted his rallying flag; or that these
outlying, but guarding Sands received from the patriotic affection of
the valiant Kentish men the title of 'the Goodwin Sands' in memory of
the great Earl Godwin and of Godwin's race.
 See Pritchard's interesting History of Deal, p. 196.
 Jefferson's Almanack, 1892.
 Edith and Harold.
 I am reminded by the Rev. C. A. Molony that Goodnestone next
Wingham or Godwynstone, and Godwynstone next Faversham, both referred
to in Archaeologia Cantiana, are localities which probably
commemorate the name of the great Earl of Kent. Hasted mentions that
the two villages were part of Earl Godwin's estates, and on his death
passed to his son Harold, and that when Harold was slain they were
seized by William and given to some of his adherents. Mr. Molony
mentions a tradition at Goodnestone near Wingham, that both that
village and Godwynstone near Faversham were the lands given by the
crown to Earl Godwin to enable him to keep in repair Godwin's Tower and
other fortifications at Dover Castle.
CHAPTER II. THE DEAL BOATMEN
Where'er in ambush lurk the fatal sands,
They claim the danger.
Ever since fleets anchored in the Downs, the requirements of the
great number of men on board, as well as the needs of the vessels,
would have a tendency to maintain the supply of skilled and hardy
boatmen to meet those needs. Pritchard, in his History of Deal,
which is a mine of interesting information, gives a sketch of events
and battles in the Downs since 1063. Tostig, Godwin, and Harold are
noticed; sea fights between the French and English in the Downs from
1215 are described; the battles of Van Tromp and Blake in the Downs,
and many other interesting historical events, are given in his book, as
well as incidents connected with the Deal boatmen.
With the decay and silting up of Sandwich Haven the Downs became
still more a place of ships, and thus naturally was still more
developed the race of Deal boatmen, who were, and are to the present
time, daily accustomed to launch and land through the surf which runs
in rough weather on their open beach; and whose avocation was to pilot
the vessels anchoring in or leaving the Downs, and to help those in
distress on the Goodwin Sands.
[Illustration: The boom of a distant gun. From a photograph by W. H.
Franklin. James Laming, Coxswain, Kingsdown Lifeboat, R.
Roberts, Coxswain, North Deal Lifeboat, John Mackins,
Coxswain, Walmer Lifeboat.]
Like their descendants now, who are seen daily in crowds lounging
round the capstans, the night was most frequently their time of effort.
In the day they were resting 'longshore' fashion, unless, of course,
their keen sailor sight saw anywhereeven on the distant horizona
chance of a 'hovel.' Ever on the look-out in case of need, galleys,
sharp as a shark, and luggers full of men, would rush down the beach
into the sea in less time than it has taken to write this sentence.
But until the necessity for action arose a stranger, looking at the
apparently idling men, with their far-away gazings seaward, would
naturally say, 'What a lazy set of fellows!' as has actually been said
to me of the very men who I knew had been all night in the lifeboat,
and whose faces were tanned and salted with the ocean brine.
Justly or unjustly, in olden times the Deal boatmen were accused of
rapacity. But the poor fellows knew no betterChristian love and
Christian charity seem to have slept in those days, and no man cared
for the moral elevation of the wild daring fellows. True indeed, they
were accused of lending to vessels in distress a 'predatory succour'
more ruinous to them than the angry elements which assailed them. In
1705 a charge of this kind was made by Daniel Defoe, the author of
Robinson Crusoe, and was sternly repelled by the Mayor and
Corporation of Deal; and Mr. Pritchard mentions that only one charge of
plundering wrecks was made in the present century, in the year 1807;
and the verdict of 'Guilty' was eventually and deservedly followed by
the pardon of the Crown.
With the increase of the shipping of this country, and the naval
wars of the early part of the nineteenth century, the numbers and fame
of the Deal boatmen increased, until their skill, bravery, and humanity
were celebrated all over the world. In those times, and even recently,
the Deal boatmen, including in that title the men of Walmer and
Kingsdown, were said to number over 1000 men; and as there were no
lightships around the Goodwin Sands till the end of the eighteenth
century, there were vessels lost on them almost daily, and there were
daily salvage jobs or 'hovels' and rescues of despairing crews; and
what with the trade with the men-of-war, and the piloting and berthing
of ships, there were abundant employment and much salvage for all the
The dress of the boatmen in those days, i.e. their 'longshore
toggery'and there are still among the older men a few, a very few
survivalswas finished off by tall hats and pumps; and in answer to my
query 'why they formerly always wore those pumps?' I was told, ''Cos
they was always a dancin' in them days'doubtless with Jane and Bess
and black-eyed Susan.
There was smuggling, too, of spirits and tobacco, and all kinds of
devices for concealing the contraband articles. Not very many years ago
boats lay on Deal beach with hollow masts to hold teathen an
expensive luxury, and fitted with boxes and lockers having false
bottoms, and all manner of smuggling contrivances.
It was hard to persuade those wild, daring men that there was
anything wrong in smuggling the articles they had honestly purchased
with their own money.
'There's nothing in the Bible against smuggling!' said one of them
to a clerical friend of mine, who aptly replied: 'Render therefore unto
Caesar the things that be Caesar's, and unto God the things that be
'Is it so? you're right,' the simple-minded boatman replied; 'no
more smuggling after this day for me!' And there never was.
But that which has given the Deal boatmen a niche in the temple of
fame and made them a part and parcel of our 'rough island story,' is
their heroic rescues and their triumphs over all the terrors of the
There was no lightship on or near the Goodwin Sands till 1795, when
one was placed on the North Sand Head. In 1809 the Gull lightship, and
in 1832 the South Sand Head lightships, were added, and the placing of
the East Goodwin lightship in 1874 was one of the greatest boons
conferred on the mariners of England in our times.
It is hard even now sometimes to avoid the deadly Goodwins, but what
it must have been in the awful darkness of winter midnights which
brooded over them in the early part of this century is beyond
Nor was there a lifeboat stationed at Deal until the year 1865.
Before that time the Deal luggers attempted the work of rescue on the
Goodwin Sands. In those days all Deal and Walmer beach was full of
those wonderful sea-boats hauled up on the shingle, while their mizzen
booms almost ran into the houses on the opposite side of the roadway.
The skill and daring of those brave boatmen were beyond praise. Let me
give in more detail the incident alluded to in the account of the
Fifty-two years ago, one stormy morning, a young Deal boatman was
going to be married, and the church bells were ringing for the
ceremony, when suddenly there was seen away to the southward and
eastward a little schooner struggling to live in the breakers, or
rather on the edge of the breakers, on the Goodwins. The Mariner lugger
was lying on the beach of Deal, and there being no lifeboat in those
days a rush of eager men was made to get a place in the lugger, and
amongst them, carried away by the desire to do and to save, was the
By the time they plunged into the awful sea on the sands the
schooner had struck, and was thumping farther into the sands, sails
flying wildly about and the foremast gone. The crew, over whom the sea
was flying, were clustered in the main rigging. It was a service of the
most awful danger, and the lugger men, well aware that it was a matter
of life and death, put the question to each other, 'What do you say, my
lads; shall we try it?' 'Yes! Yes!' and then one and all shouted, 'Yes!
We'll have those people out of her!' and they ran for the drifting,
drowning little Irish schooner. They did not dare to anchora lifeboat
could have done so, but for them it would have been certain deathand
as they approached the vessel and swept past her they shouted to the
crew in distress, 'Jump for your lives.'
They jumped for life, as the lugger rose on the snowy crest of a
breaker, and not a man missed his mark. All being rescued, they again
fought back through the broken water, and when they reached Deal beach
they were met by hundreds of their enthusiastic fellow townsmen, who by
main force dragged the great twenty-ton lugger out of the water and far
up the steep beach. The interrupted marriage was very soon afterwards
carried out, and the deserving pair are alive and well, by God's mercy,
to this day.
The luggers are about forty feet long and thirteen feet beam, more
or less. The smaller luggers are called 'cats.' There is a forecastle
or 'forepeak' in the luggers where you can comfortably sleepthat is,
if you are able to sleep in such surroundings, and if the anguish of
sea-sickness is absent. I once visited in one of these luggers, lost at
sea with two of her crew on November 11, 1891, the distant Royal
Sovereign and Varne lightships, and had a most happy three days'
There is a movable 'caboose' in the 'cats' right amidships, in which
three or four men packed close side by side can lie; but if you want to
turn you must wake up the rest of the company and turn all togetherso
visitors to Deal are informed. These large boats are lugger-rigged,
carrying the foremast well forward, and sometimes, but very rarely,
like the French chasse-marées, a mainmast also, with a
maintopsail, as well, of course, as the mizzen behind. The mainmast is
now hardly ever used, being inconvenient for getting alongside the
shipping, and therefore there only survive the foremast and mizzen, the
mainmast being developed out of existence.
The luggers are splendid sea-boats, and it is a fine sight to see
one of them crowded with men and close-reefed cruising about the Downs
'hovelling' or 'on the look out' for a job in a great gale. While ships
are parting their anchors and flying signals of distress, the luggers,
supplying their wants or putting pilots on board, wheel and sweep round
them like sea-birds on the wing.
[Illustration: Showing a flare.]
As I write these lines, a great gale of wind from the S.S.W. is
blowing, and it was a thrilling sight this morning at 11 a.m. to watch
the Albert Victor lugger launched with twenty-three men on board, in
the tremendous sea breaking over the Downs. Coming ashore later, on a
giant roller, the wave burst into awful masses of towering foam, so
high above and around the lugger that for an instant she was out of
sight, overwhelmed, and the crowds cried, 'She's lost!' but upwards she
rose again on the crest of the following billow, and with the speed of
an arrow flew to the land on this mighty shooting sea.
Just at the same moment as the lugger came ashore the bold coxswain
of the North Deal lifeboat launched with a gallant crew to the rescue
of a despairing vessel, the details of which service are found below.
There is no harbour at Deal, and all boats are heaved up the steep
shingly beach, fifty or sixty yards from the water's edge, by a capstan
and capstan bars, which, when a lugger is hove up, are manned by twenty
or thirty men. When hauled up thus to their position the boats are held
fast on the inclined plane on which they rest by a stern chain rove
through a hole in the keel called the 'ruffles.' This chain is fastened
by a 'trigger,' and when next the lugger is to be launched great flat
blocks of wood called 'skids,' which are always well greased, are laid
down in front of her stem, her crew climb on board, the mizzen is set,
and the trigger is let go. By her own impetus the lugger rushes down
the steep slope on the slippery skids into the sea. Even when a heavy
sea is beating right on shore, the force acquired by the rush is
sufficient to drive her safely into deep water. Lest too heavy a surf
or any unforeseen accident should prevent this, a cable called a
'haul-off warp' is made fast to an anchor moored out far, by which the
lugger men, if need arise, haul their boat out beyond the shallow
water. The arrangements above described are exactly those adopted by
the lifeboats, which are also lugger-rigged, and being almost identical
in their rig are singularly familiar to Deal men. The introduction of
steam has diminished greatly the number of the luggers, as fewer
vessels than formerly wait in the Downs, and there is less demand for
the services of the boatmen.
There was formerly another class of Deal boats, the forty-feet
smuggling boats of sixty or seventy years ago. The length, flat floor,
and sharpness of those open boats, together with the enormous press of
sail they carried, enabled them often to escape the revenue vessels by
sheer speed, and to land their casks of brandy or to float them up
Sandwich River in the darkness, and then run back empty to France for
more. In the 'good old times' those piratical-looking craft would pick
up a long thirty-feet baulk of timber at seatimber vessels from the
Baltic or coming across the Atlantic often lose some of their
deck-loadand when engaged in towing it ashore would be pounced upon
by the revenue officers, who would only find, to their own
discomfiture, amidst the hearty 'guffaws' of the boatmen, that the
latter were merely trying to earn 'salvage' by towing the timber
A little closer search would have revealed that the innocent-looking
baulk of timber was hollow from end to end, and was full of lace,
tobacco, cases of schnapps, 'square face,' brandy, and silks. There is
little or no smuggling now, and the little that there is, is almost
forced on the men by foreign vessels.
Perhaps four boatmen have been out all night looking for a job in
their galley punt. At morning dawn they find a captain who employs them
to get his ship a good berth, or to take him to the Ness. Perhaps the
captain saysand this is an actual casein imperfect English, 'I have
no money to pay you, but I have forty pounds of tobacco, vill you take
dat? Or vill you have it in ze part payment?' The boatmen consult;
hungry children and sometimes reproachful wives wait at home for money
to purchase the morning meal. 'Shall we chance it?' say they. They
take the tobacco, and the first coastguardsman ashore takes them, tobacco and all, before the magistrates, and I sometimes have been
sent for to the 'lock-up,' to find three or four misguided fellows in
the grasp of the law of their country, which poverty and opportunity
and temptation have led them to violate.
At present a large number of galley punts lie on Deal beach. These
boats carry one lugsail on a mast shipped well amidships. These boats
vary in size from twenty-one feet to thirty feet in length, and seven
feet beam, and as the Mission boat which I have steered for thirteen
years, as Missions to Seamen Chaplain for the Downs, is a small galley
punt, I take a peculiar interest in their rig and behaviour.
The galley punts are powerful seaboats; when close reefed can stand
a great deal of heavy weather, and are the marvel of the vessels in
distress which they succour.
All the Deal boats, the lifeboats of course excepted, are clinker
built and of yellow colour, the natural elm being only varnished. And
it is fine to see on a stormy day the splendid way in which they are
handled, visible one moment on the crest and the next hidden in the
trough of a wave, or launched or beached on the open shingle in some
I have been breathless with anxiety as I have watched the launch of
these boats into a heavy sea with a long dreadful recoil, but the
landing is still more dangerous.
If you wait long enough when launching, you can get a smooth, or a
comparatively smooth, sea. I have sometimes waited ten minutesand
then the command is given 'Let her go,' and the boat is hurled into the
racing curl of some green sea.
Sometimes the sea is too heavy for landing, and the galley punts lie
off skimming about for hours. Sometimes if the weather looks
threatening it is best to come at once, and then, supposing a heavy
easterly sea, you must clap on a press of sail to drive the boat. You
get ready a bow painter and a stern rope, and the boat, like a bolt set
free, flies to the land. Very probably she takes a 'shooter,' that is,
gets her nose down and her stern and rudder high into the air, and, all
hands sitting aft, she is carried along amidst the hiss and burst of
the very crest of the galloping billow. Fortunate are they if this wave
holds the boat till she is thrown high up the beach, broadside on, for
at the last minute the helm must be put up or down, to get the boat to
lie along the shore, but only at the very last minuteotherwise danger
for the crew! I have known a boat landing, to capsize and catch the men
underneath, and I have been myself tolerably near the same danger.
Three or four men man these galley punts, and the hardships and
perils they encounter in the earning of their livelihood are great. The
men are sometimes, even in winter time, three days away in these open
boats, sleeping on the bare boards or ballast bags and wrapped in a
They cruise to the west to put one of their number on board some
homeward-bound vessel as 'North Sea pilot,' or they cruise to the north
and up the Thames as far as Gravesend, a distance of eighty miles, to
get hold of some outward-bound vessel with a pilot on board, which
pilot is willing to pay the boatmen a sovereign for putting him ashore
from the Downs, and they are towed behind the vessel, probably a fast
steamer, for eighty miles to Deal and the Downs. I have done thisand
it is a curious experiencein summer, but to be towed in the teeth of
a north-easterly snowstorm from Gravesend to the Downs is quite another
thing; but it is the common experience of the Deal boatmen. And every
day in winter they hover off Deal in their splendid galley punts,
rightly called 'knock-toes,' for the poor fellows' hands and feet are
often semi-frozen, to take a pilot out of some outward-bound steamer
going at the rate of ten or fifteen knots an hour. It means at the
outside about 5_s. per man; perhaps they have earned nothing for a
week, and hungry but dauntless they are determined to get hold of that
steamer, if men can do it. On the steamer comes full speed right end on
at them. The Deal men shoot at her under press of canvas, haul down
sail, and lay their boat in the same direction as the flying steamship,
which often never slackens her speed the least bit. As all this must
be done in an instant, or pale death stares them in the face, it is
done with wonderful speed and skill. While a man with a boat-hook, to
which a long 'towing-line' is attached, stands in the bow of the galley
punt and hooks it into anything he can catch, perhaps the bight of a
rope hung over the steamer's side, the steersman has for his own and
his comrades' lives to steer his best and to keep his boat clear of the
steamer's sides, and of her deadly propeller revolving astern, while
the bowman pays out his towing-line, and others see it is all clear,
and another takes a turn of it round a thwart.
[Illustration: Hooking the steamer.]
The steamer is 'hooked,' and, fast as she flies ahead, the galley
punt falls astern, this time, thank God, clear of the 'fan,' into the
boiling wake of the steamer, and at last she feels the tremendous
jerksuch a jerk as would tear an oak tree from its rootsof the
Then the boat, with her stem high in the air, for so boats tow best,
and all hands aft, and smothered in flying spray, is swept away with
the steamer as far perhaps as Dover, where the pilot wants to land.
Then the steam is eased off and the vessel stopped, but hardly ever for
the Deal men.
This 'hooking' of steamers going at full speed is most dangerous,
and often causes loss of life and poor men's propertytheir boats and
boats' geartheir all. Sometimes a kindly disposed captain eases his
speed down. I have heard the boatmen talking together, as their keen
eyes discerned a steamer far off, and could even then pronounce as to
the 'line' and individuality of the steamer: 'That's a blue-funnelled
China boatshe's bound through the Canal: he's a gentleman, he is; he
always eases down to ten knots for us Deal men.'
Even at ten-knot speed the danger is very great, and it is
marvellous more accidents do not occur, in spite of the coolness and
skill of the boatmen. Accidents do occur too frequently. The last fatal
accident happened to a daring young fellow who had run his boat about
six feet too close to a fast steamer; six feet short of where he put
her would have meant safety, but as it was, the steamer cut her in two
and he was drowned with his comrade, one man out of three alone being
saved. Just half an hour before he had waved 'good-bye!' to his young
wife as he ran to the beach.
Another boat has her side torn out by a blow from one of the
propeller's fans, and goes down carrying the men deep with her; one is
saved after having almost crossed the border, and I shall long remember
my interview with that man just after he was brought ashore, appalled
with the sense of the nearness of the spirit land, and just as if he
had had a revelationhis gratitude, his convulsive sobs, his
penitence. Another man has his leg or his arm caught by the tow-rope as
it is paid out to the flying steamer; in one man's case the keen axe is
just used in time to cut the line as it smokes over the gunwale before
the coil tears his leg off; in another's case the awful pull of the
rope fractured the arm lengthways and not by a cross fracture, and the
bone never united after the most painful operations.
Owners and captains and officers of steamships, for God's sake, ease
down your speed when your poor sailor brethren, the gallant Deal
boatmen who man the lifeboats, are struggling to hook your mighty
steamships! Ease down a bit, gentlemen, and let the men earn something
for the wives and children at home without having to pay for their
efforts with their precious lives!
The very same men who work the galley punts I have just described
are the 'hovellers' in the great luggers when the tempest drives the
smaller boats ashore, and they also are the same men who, in times of
greater and extremer need, answer so nobly to the summons of the
Pritchard's most interesting chapter, in which the best authorities
are quoted at length, is convincing that the word 'hoveller' is derived
from hobelier (hobbe, [Greek] hippos, Gaelic
coppal) and signifies 'a coast watchman,' or 'look-out man,' who,
by horse (hobbe) or afoot, ran from beacon to beacon with the
alarm of the enemies' approach, when, 'with a loose rein and bloody
spur rode inland many a post.' Certainly nothing better describes the
Deal boatmen's occupation for long hours of day and night than the
expression so well known in Deal, 'on the look-out,' and which thus
appears to be equivalent to 'hovelling.'
In 1864 the first lifeboat of the locality was placed in Walmer by
the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. In 1865 another lifeboat was
placed in North Deal, a cotton ship with all hands having been lost on
the southern part of the Goodwins in a gale from the N.N.E., which
unfortunately the Walmer lifeboat, being too far to leeward, was unable
to fetch in that wind with a lee tide.
This splendid lifeboat was called the Van Cook, after its donor, and
was very soon afterwards summoned to the rescue for the first time.
It was blowing 'great guns and marline-spikes' from the S.S.W. with
tremendous sea on Feb. 7, 1865, when there was seen in the rifts of the
storm a full-rigged ship on the Goodwin Sands. The lifeboat bell was
rung, a crew was obtained, and the men in their new and untried
lifeboat made her first, but not their first, daring attempt at rescue.
A few moments before the Deal lifeboat, there launched from the south
part of Deal one of the powerful luggers which lay there, owned by Mr.
Spears, who himself was aboard; and the lugger was on this occasion
steered by John Bailey. The Walmer lifeboat also bravely launched, and
the three made for the wrecked vessel.
The lugger, being first, began the attempt, and in spite of the risk
(for one really heavy sea breaking into her would have sent her to the
bottom) went into the breakers. But the lugger, rightly named England's
Gloryand the names of the luggers are admirably chosen, for example,
The Guiding Star, Friend of All Nations, Briton's Pride, and Seaman's
Hopeseeing a powerful friend behind her in the shape of the lifeboat,
stood on into the surf of the Goodwins to aid in saving life, and also
for a 'hovel,' in the hope of saving the vessel.
It was dangerous in the extreme for the lugger, but, as the men
said, 'They was that daring in them days, and they seed so much money
a-staring them in the face, in a manner o' speaking, on board that
there wessel, that they was set on it.'
And when Deal boatmen are 'set on it,' they can do much.
When the lugger fetched to windward of the vessel she wore down on
her before the wind. She did not dare to anchor; had she done so, she
would have been filled and gone down in five minutes, so hauling down
her foresail to slacken her speed, she shot past the vessel as close as
she dared, and as she flew by, six of the crew jumped at the rigging of
the wreck, and actually caught it and got on board. The Walmer lifeboat
sailed at the vessel and tried to luff up to her, hauling down her
foresail, but the lifeboat had not 'way' enough, and missed the vessel
altogether, being driven helplessly to leeward, whence it was
impossible to return.
In increasing storm and sea, more furious as the tide rose, on came
the Deal lifeboat, the Van Cook, Wilds and Roberts (the latter now
coxswain in place of Wilds) steering. They anchored, and veering out
their cable drifted down to the wreck; then six of the lifeboatmen also
sprang to the rigging of the heeling wreck, and the lifeboat sheered
off for safety.
The wreck was lying head to the north and with a list to starboard.
Heavy rollers struck her and broke, flying in blinding clouds of spray
high as her foreyard, coming down in thunder on her deck, so that it
seemed impossible that men could work on that wave-beaten plane. She
was also lifted by each wave and hammered over the sand into shallower
water, so that the drenched and buffeted lifeboatmen had to lift anchor
and follow the drifting vessel in the lifeboat, and again drop anchor
and veer down as before. All this time three powerful steam-tugs were
waiting in deep water to help the vessel, but they dared not come into
the surf where the lifeboat lay.
To stop the drift of the wrecked Iron Crown was her only chance of
safety, and it would have probably ruined all had they dropped anchors
from the vessel's bows, as she would have drifted over them and forced
them into her bottom. The Deal men, therefore, with seamanlike skill
and resource, swung a kedge anchor clear of the vessel high up from
her foreyard, and as the vessel drifted the kedge bit, and the bows
of the vessel little by little came up to the sea, when her other
anchors were let go, and in a few minutes held fast; then with a mighty
cheer from the Deal menlifeboatmen and lugger's crew all
togetherthe Iron Crown half an hour afterwards was floated by the
rising tide on the very top of the fateful sands; her hawser was
brought to the waiting tug-boats, and she was towedship, cargo, and
crew all savedinto the shelter of the Downs.
The names of this the first crew of the Deal lifeboat are given
below, and their gallant deed was the forerunner of a long and
splendid series of rescues, no less than 358 lives having been saved,
including such cases as the Iron Crown, by the North Deal lifeboat and
her gallant crew, and counting 93 lives saved by the Walmer lifeboat
Centurion, and 101 lives saved by the Kingsdown lifeboat Sabina, a
total of 552 lives have been saved on the Goodwin Sands.
The next venture of the Deal lifeboat was not so fortunate. It was
made to the schooner Peerless, wrecked in Trinity Bay, in the very
heart of the Goodwins. The men were lashed in the rigging, and the sea
was flying over them, or rather at them; but all managed to get into
the lifeboat except one poor lad who was on his first voyage. He died
while lashed on the foreyard, and was brought down thence by Ashenden,
who bravely mounted the rigging and carried down the dead lad with the
sea-foam on his lips. Among the rescuers of the Peerless crew were
Ashenden, named above, Stephen Wilds (for many years my own comrade in
the Mission Boat), brave old Robert Wilds, Horrick, Richard Roberts,
and ten others.
I have told of the first rescue effected by the Deal lifeboatlet
me describe one of the last noble deeds of mercy done on November 11,
1891, during an awful gale then blowing. In the morning of the day two
luggers launched to help vessels in distress, but such was the fury of
the gale, and so mountainous was the sea, that the luggers were
themselves overpowered, and had to anchor in such shelter as they could
At 2 p.m., tiles flying in the streets, and houses being unroofed,
it was most difficult to keep one's feet; crowds of Deal boatmen in
sou'-westers and oilskins were ready round the lifeboat, and in the
gaps of the driving rain and in the smoking drifts of the howling
squalls which tore over the sea, they saw that a small vessel which had
anchored inside the Brake Sand about two miles off the mainland had
parted her anchors, and, being helpless and without sails, was drifting
towards and outwards to the Brake.
[Illustration: A forlorn hope]
Then the Deal lifeboat was off to the rescue, and with eighteen men
in her, three being extra and special hands on this dangerous occasion,
launched into a terrible sea, grand but furious beyond description.
Hurled down Deal beach by her weight, the lifeboat was buried in a wild
smother, and the next minute was left dry on the beach by the ghastly
recoil. The coming breaker floated her, and she swung to her haul-off
Then they set her close-reefed storm foresail and took her mizzen
off. Soon after an ominous crack, loud and clear, was heard in her
foremast, and such was the force of the gale that Robertsthe same
brave man who, having been second coxswain and in the lifeboat in the
rescue of the Iron Crown above described in 1865, on this perilous day
in 1891 again headed his brave comrades as coxswain, with his old
friend and brother in arms, so to speak, E. Hanger, as second
coxswainhauled down the foresail and set the small mizzen
close-reefed on the foremast, and even then the great lifeboat was
nearly blown out of the water.
With unbounded confidence in their splendid lifeboat, under this
sail, and indeed they can only work their weighty lifeboat under sail,
they literally flew before the blast into the terrific surf on the
Brake Sand, six men being required to steer her!
By this time the little vessel named The Thistle had struck the
Sand, but not heavily enough to break her in pieces, and hurled
forwards by a great roller, she grated and struck, and then was hurled
forwards again, seas breaking over her and her hapless crew. So thick
was the air with the sea spray carried along in smoking spindrifts that
the Deal men lost sight of the wreck while they raced into the surf of
In that surfwhich I beheld from the end of Ramsgate Pier, being
called there by imperative business, and thus deprived of the privilege
of being with the menthe lifeboat was apparently swallowed up. She
was filled over and over again, and sometimes there was not a man of
the crew visible to the coxswain, who stood aft steering in wind which
amounted to a hurricane, and, according to Greenwich Observatory,
representing a velocity of eighty miles an hour.
At this moment I was witness of the fine sight of the Ramsgate tug
and lifeboat steaming out of Ramsgate Harbour, brave coxswain Fish
steering the lifeboat, which plunged into the mad seas behind the tug,
while blinding clouds of spray flew over the crew. Those splendid
'storm warriors' also rescued the crew of the Touch Not, wrecked that
day on the Ramsgate Sands; but just while they were steaming out of
Ramsgate, away on the horizon as far as I could bear to look against
the fury of the wind and rain, struggling alone and unaided in the surf
of the Brake Sand, I beheld the Deal lifeboat engaged in the rescue of
There indeed before my eyes was a veritable wrestle with death for
their own lives and those of the wrecked vessel's crew. The latter had
beaten over the Brake Sand, and was anchored close outside it, the
British ensign hoisted 'Union down,' and sinking. Sinking lower and
lower, and only kept afloat by her cargo of nuts, her decks level with
the sea which poured over them. In the agony of despair her crew of
five had taken to their own small boat, being afraid, from signs known
to seamen and from the peculiar wallowing of their vessel, that she was
about to make her final plunge to the bottom.
But now the great blue lifeboat rode like a messenger from heaven
alongside them, and their brave preservers dragged them over her sides
into safety from the very mouth of destruction.
Amidst words of gratitude and with praise on their lips to a
merciful God, the utterly exhausted crew saw the Deal men set sail and
fight their way again through the storm landwards.
Looking back for an instant, all hands saw the appalling sight of
the vessel they had left turn on her side and sink to the bottom of the
With colours flying, with proud and thankful hearts they reach
Broadstairs, whence I received the coxswain's telegram'Crew all
saved; sprung foremast. R. Roberts.'
This gallant rescue was effected under the leadership of R. Roberts
and E. Hanger, the very same men who were foremost in the saving of the
Iron Crown. Their names should not be passed over in silence, nor those
of the brave fellows who back up with their skill, their strength, and
their lives the efforts of their coxswains.
In very truth the Deal boatmen (Deal, Walmer, and Kingsdown all
included) as a class of men are unique. As pilots, boatmen, and
fishermen they, with the Ramsgate men, stand alone, in their perils
around and on the great quicksand which guards their coast, and they
must always be of deep interest to the rest of their fellow-countrymen
by reason of their hardships, their skill, and their daring, and above
all by reason of their generous courage, consistent with their ancient
fame. Faults they havelet others tell of thembut it seems to me
that these brave Kentish boatmen are worthy descendants of their Saxon
forefathers who rallied to the banners of Earl Godwin and died at
Senlac in stubborn ring round Godwin's kingly son.
To them, the lifeboatmen and coxswains of Deal, Walmer, and
Kingsdown, friends and comrades, I dedicate these true histories of
splendid rescues wrought by them, the 'Heroes of the Goodwin Sands.'
 Crew of the Deal lifeboat on her first launch to the rescue of
the Iron Crown:R. Wilds, R. Roberts, E. Hanger, G. Pain, J. Beney, G.
Porter, E. Foster, C. Larkins, G. Browne, J. May, A. Redsull, R.
Sneller, T. Goymer, R. Erridge.
CHAPTER III. THE AUGUSTE HERMANN
A brave vessel,
Who had, no doubt, some noble creatures in her
Dashed all to pieces! Oh, the cry did knock
Against my very heart! Pool souls! they perished.
All day long April 20, 1886, it had been blowing a gale from the
north-east, and a heavy sea was tumbling on the beach at Deal. On the
evening of that stormy day I was making my way to the Boatmen's Rooms,
at North Deal, where the boatmen were to assemble for the usual evening
service held by the Missions to Seamen chaplain.
On my way I met a boatman, a valued comrade on many a rough day in
the mission-boat. Breathless with haste, he could at first only say,
'Come on, sir, quick! Come on; there's a man been seen running to and
fro on the Goodwins!'
Seeing that immediate help was needed, it appeared that the coxswain
of the lifeboat proposed signalling a passing tug-boat, and wanted my
sanction for the measure. Had she responded to the signal, she would
have towed the lifeboat to the rescue of the mysterious man on the
Goodwins in an hour or so. As Hon. Secretary of the Lifeboat Branch, I
at once authorised the step, and a flag was dipped from Deal pierhead,
and blue lights were burned; but all in vain. The tug-boat went on her
way, taking no notice of the signals, which it is supposed she did not
It was plain some disaster had taken place, but what had happened on
those gruesome sands I could only conjecture until I reached the
Boatmen's Rooms. Outside the building I found in groups and knots a
crowd of boatmen and pilots, and also Richard Roberts, the coxswain of
the Deal lifeboat.
Roberts had that evening, about five p.m., been taking a look at the
Goodwins with his glass, a good old-fashioned 'spy-glass.' After a long
steady search'Why,' said he to the men round him, 'there's a new
wreck on the sands since yesterday!' The gale of the morning part of
the day had been accompanied by low sweeping clouds of mist and driving
fog, and as soon as the curtain of thick vapour lifted, Roberts noticed
the new wreck.
The other boatmen then took a look, and they all went up to the high
window of the lifeboat-house to gain a better view of the distant
The point where the wreck, or the object they saw lay, was the outer
part of the Goodwin Sands towards the north, and was quite eight miles
distant from the keen-eyed watchers at Deal.
'That's a wreck since yesterday,' said one and all.
Roberts, gazing through his glass, now cried out, 'There's
something, man or monkey, getting off the vessel and moving about on
'Let's have a look, Dick,' said another and another, and then all
'Yes; it's a man! He's waving somethingit's a flag!'
'No, 'tis n't a flag,' said Roberts, 'it's more like a piece of
canvas lashed to a pole; it blows out too heavy for a flag.'
Just about the same time, watchers at Lloyd's office had seen
through a powerful glass the same object on the Goodwins, and they sent
word to the coxswain of the lifeboat that there was a man in distress
on the Goodwin Sands, and wildly running to and fro.
The wind, however, being north-east, and the tide having just
commenced to run in the same direction as the wind, thus producing what
is called a lee tide, it would have been worse than useless for the
Deal lifeboat to have launched. No boat of shallow draft of water, such
as a lifeboat is, can beat to windward over a lee tide, and had she
been launched, the Deal lifeboat would have drifted farther at each
tack from the point she aimed at.
As before explained, the Deal lifeboat was unable to attract the
attention of the passing tugboat, and it was therefore decided to wire
to Ramsgate to explain that Deal was helpless, and ask the Ramsgate
lifeboat to go to the rescue.
By an extraordinary combination of misfortunes the Ramsgate lifeboat
and tugs were also helpless, and having been suddenly disabled were
laid up for repairs. We then anxiously discussed every alternative, and
it was sorrowfully decided that nothing more could be done until the
lee tide was over, which would be about 10.30 p.m.
It was now dark, and the hour had come for the boatmen's service
which I was to hold. The men as usual trooped in, and the room was
crowded; the scene was a striking one. Fine stalwart men to the number
of sixty were presentfree rovers of the sea, men who never call any
one master, with all the characteristic independence and even dignity
of those who follow the sea. There was present the coxswain of the
lifeboat, and there were present also most of the men who manned the
lifeboat a few hours afterwards. In every man's face was written the
story of dangers conquered, and a lifelong experience of the sea, on
which they pass so much of their lives, and on whose bosom a large
proportion of them would probably meet death.
On all occasions and at all times those meetings are of overwhelming
interest, by reason of the character and histories of each man among
that unique audience, and also it may be added on account of their rapt
attention to the 'old, old story,' which, 'majestic in its own
simplicity,' is invariably set before them. But, on this occasion, add
to the picture the distant and apparently deserted figure just seen
through the rifts in the mist, 'wildly running to and fro on the
Goodwins,' the eager and sympathetic faces of the boatmen in their
absolute helplessness for a few long hourshours that seemed centuries
to all of us. Observe their restrained but impatient glances at the
clock, and listen to their deep-throated responses to the impassioned
petitions of the Litany of the Church of England.
I am only recording the barest facts when I say that the response of
'Good Lord, deliver us,' following that most solemn of all the
petitions of the Litany, was touching beyond the power of words to
describe. In the midst of the service I stopped and said, 'Has any man
another suggestion to offer? Shall we telegraph for the Dover tug?' It
was seen after a short discussion that this would be unavailing, and
the service went on.
The hymns sung at that service were three in number, and perhaps are
familiar to those who read this story:
Light in the darkness, sailor!
Day is at hand,
being the well-known 'Life-boat' hymn;
Rescue the perishing;
Jesu, lover of my soul.
No man present could fail to think at each part of the service, and
as each hymn was sung, of the poor forlorn figure seen on the Goodwins,
and now in the most dire need of help. Nor do I think that service will
ever fade from the memories of those present on that Tuesday evening.
Service over, we all went to the front of the lifeboat-house, and
the coxswain and myself once more consulted. We stood just down at the
water's edge, where the white surf showed up against the black night,
and fell heavily on the shingle, resounding.
We asked, 'Had Ramsgate gone to the rescue?'
'Why was there no flare burning if there were any one or any vessel
on the Goodwins?'
'Why the dull oppressive silence and absence of all signs of signals
Looking up the beach we saw the black mass of boatmen all gathered
round the door of the lifeboat-house, and we heard their shouts, 'Throw
open the doors!' 'Let us have the key!' 'Why not give us the life-belts
Finally we decided to launch at exactly nine o'clock. I went home to
dress for the night, having arranged to go in the lifeboat. Meantime
the bell was rung, and the usual rush was made to get the life-belts.
So keen were the men that the launch was made before the time agreed
upon, and the lifeboat rushed down the beach just as I got in sight of
herto my great and sore disappointmentand soon disappeared in the
They stood on till they reached the inner edge of the Goodwins,
along which they tacked, being helped to windward, and swept towards
the north by the weather-tide, which they met about eleven o'clock. As
they worked their way into Trinity Bay, a sort of basin in the very
heart of the Goodwins, the coxswain felt sure they were drawing near
the spot where the wreck had been seen, but it was absolutely dark.
They could see nothing, no flare, no light, and they could hear nothing
but the hollow thunder of breaking surf.
Roberts now decided to run the lifeboat right through the breakers
which beat on the outer part of the sands, and thoroughly to search
that part of the Goodwins.
Some said, 'The Ramsgate lifeboat has been here and taken the man
Others, 'If there are people alive on the wreck, why is there no
light or flare?'
And then they ran her, in that pitchy blackness, into the surf; she
went through it close hauled, and beyond it into the deep sea the other
side, and searched the outside edge of the sands, but to no purpose.
Then, having shouted all together and listened, they stood back again
through the surf, running now before the wind.
The broken and formidable sea raged round the lifeboat like a pack
of wolves. It broke on both sides of the lifeboat right into her, and
literally boiled over her as she flew before the gale and the impulse
of the swell astern. Nothing could be seen in this stormy flight except
the white burst of the tumultuous waves, and all around was midnight
Some were of opinion, after the prolonged search, that the wreck had
disappeared; but Roberts carried all hearts with him when he said,
'We're not going home till we see and search that wreck from stem to
Then they anchored in Trinity Bay in four fathoms of water. They
each had a piece of bread, a bit of cheese, and a smoke; and with every
faculty of sight and hearing strained to the utmost, they longed for
the coming of the day.
We may now return to the wrecked vessel, and describe the fate of
her captain and crew. She was a Norwegian brig, the Auguste Hermann
Francke, bound from Krageroe to sunny San Sebastian with a cargo of
ice. She had a crew of seven all told, and the captain's name was
He had been running his vessel that morning before the gale, and at
eight o'clock in the forenoon struck on the Goodwins, having either
failed in the thick weather to pick up the lightships or the Foreland
as points from which to take a safe departure, or being carried out of
his course altogether by the strong tides which run around and over the
Goodwins, and which, if not allowed for, are a frequent cause of
disaster. It was on the shallower northern part of the Goodwins that
the Norwegian brig struck in a north-easterly gale.
The brig struck the Goodwins about high water with a terrific crash,
and was lifted up by successive billows and thumped down and hammered
on the hard sand. Contrary to the popular idea, ships sink but slowly
in the sand, which is practically very hard and close. When she took
the ground the crew rushed to the main rigging and the captain to the
fore rigging. The sea beat in clouds high over the vessel, and the
seven men lashed themselves in the rigging to prevent themselves being
shaken into the sea by the shocks. Again and again the heavy vessel was
lifted up and thumped down; while the weather was so thick that neither
could she be seen from the nearest lightship or the land, nor could
they on the vessel see the land, or form the least idea as to where
they were; conjecturing merely that they were aground on the Goodwins.
At last the mainmast went by the board, carrying with its ruin and
tangle of sails, spars and cordage, six of the crew into the terrible
billows. As each man unlashed himself he was carried away by the sea
before the eyes of the captain. The last of the crew was the ship's
boy, who, just as he cast off the fastenings by which he was lashed to
the rigging, managed to seize the jib sheet, which was hanging over the
side, and called piteously to the captain to save him. A great wave
dashed him against the ship's side, and his head was literally beaten
in. He too was carried away, and the captain was left alone.
The foremast shortly afterwards gave way, but the captain saw the
crash coming, and lashed himself to the windlass, where, drenched and
half drowned, he was torn at by the waves which were hurled over the
ship for hours.
At last the tide fell, and still, owing to the thick driving mist,
no one knew of the tragedy that was being enacted on the Goodwins.
Alas! many similar disasters take place on the Goodwins, the details
of which are covered by the black and stormy nights on which they
occur, and nothing is ever found to reveal the awful secret but,
perhaps, a few fishermen's nets and buoys, or a mast, or a ship's boat.
With the falling tide the sands round the wrecked vessel became dry
for miles, and the captain, half-crazed with grief and terror, climbed
down from the wreck and ran wildly about the sands. His first thought
was not to seek for a way of escape or help, but to find the bodies of
his crew, and to protect them from the mutilations of the sea.
But he found none of them, and then he walked and wildly ran and ran
for miles, and waved his hands to the nearest but too-distant
lightship. Sick at heart, he then fastened on the wreck a pole with a
piece of canvas lashed to it, and, as we know, he was seen by God's
mercy about that time at Deal.
As the tide again rose, evening came on, and again the captain had
to return to his lonely perch, and to lash himself again as before on
the little platform, barely three feet square, over which the sea had
beaten so fiercely a few hours before. What visionswhat fancies, what
terrors may have possessed his soul as the cruel, crawling sea again
lapped against the vessel's sides in the darkness of that awful night!
Even now a gleam of mercy shone on him, for though the cold waves
again tumbled over and around him, they did not break up the little
square platform upon which he stood, and upon the holding together of
which his chance of living through the night depended. None may tell of
the workings of that man's mind during that long night. It is said that
in moments of great peril sometimes the whole course of the past life,
past but not obliterated, is summoned up in the most vivid minuteness.
Thrice blessed is the man who in that dread moment can trust himself
wholly to Him who is 'a hiding-place from the wind and a covert from
And yet, though he knew it notthough hope and faith itself may
have burned low, nay, been all but quenched in that poor wearied
Norwegian seaman's breast, though grim despair may have shouted in his
ears, 'Curse God and die,' all that long night the lifeboat was close
to him. The dauntless coxswain and crew, though wearied, drenched and
buffeted, were 'determined to see the wreck before they went home.' To
use their own simple words, 'They hollered and shouted both outside and
inside them breakers, but you won't hear anythingnot out therethe
way the sea was a roarin'.'
At last morning broke. When the wind is easterly you can always see
the coming morning much sooner; and about 3.30, when the birds in the
sweet hedgerows were just beginning to twitter, the first soft, grey
dawn stole over the horizon in the east.
The weather was clearing fast and 'fining down' when the coxswain
roused all hands to 'get up the anchor.' The foresail was set, and then
a man in the bows cried out, 'I can see something therethere's the
wreck!'and, indeed, there it was, not more than four hundred yards
Now the sky was lighted up a rosy red, so fast came on the 'jocund
morn a tiptoe' over the waves.
'There's a man running away from the wreck!' said the coxswain.
He had descried the bright blue lifeboat with the red wale round her
gunwale, and was running to meet her in the direction she was heading.
But the lifeboat was making short tacks to windward, and the coxswain
taking off his sou'-wester waved it to the running figure to come back
and follow the lifeboat on the other tack.
Back again came the solitary man, and then at last was given the
final order from the coxswain, 'Run straight into the surf to meet
him!' and the lifeboat, carried on by a huge roller, grounded on the
Running, staggering, pressing on, the rescued man came close to the
lifeboat, and then fell forwards on his knees with face uplifted to the
heavens, and his back to the lifeboat.
'They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great
waters; these see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. .
. . Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them
out of their distresses. . . . Oh that men would praise the Lord for
His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!'
Now rose the glorious sun, darting his golden javelins high up into
the blue majestical canopy; and cheerily into the water, now burnished
by the sunbeams, sprang Alfred Redsull, danger and hardship all
forgotten, with a line round his waist, to guide and help the exhausted
man away from the deadly 'fox-falls,' which were full of swirling
water, and at last into the lifeboat. Then with bated breath they
learned the story,that all the rest were gone, and that the captain
himself was the solitary survivor. His hands were in gloves; they cut
those off, and also his boots, so swelled were hands and feet. They
gave him a dry pair of long stockings and woollen mittens, and they let
down the mizzen and made a lee for him under its shelter, for he was
half perished with the cold of that bitter night. After a few minutes
he insisted on again searching the sands for his lost crew, and the
coxswain and others of the lifeboatmen went with him.
The lifeboat was by this time high and dry, for the water was
falling with great rapidity, and there was a mile of dry sand on each
side of her. The company of men now searched the sands, and a long way
off the coxswain saw a dark object.
'What's that?' he said.
That's my ship's rudder,' replied the captain, 'and I walked round
it yesterday evening when death was staring in my face.'
Then they came to the wreck; her decks were gone, every atom of what
had once been on board her was swept clean out of her: she was split
open at her keel, and lay in halves, gaping.
Inside this wrecked skeleton ship lay her foremast, and so crushed
and flattened out was the vessel that the men stepped from the sand at
once into the hollow shelland there they saw, still holding together,
the little spot of planking, ten feet above them, on which the rescued
man had stood, and where he had been lashed: and they took down and
brought away as a memento the piece of canvas which he had fastened to
the pole, and which had caught the eyes of the boatmen at Deal; but the
bodies of the drowned crew were never seen again.
When the tide rose the lifeboat got up anchor and made for home.
Crowds were assembled at the beach, expecting, as the British ensign
was hoisted at the peak, to find a rescued crew 'all saved' on board;
but, alas! only one wearied, overwrought man struggled up the beach.
I led him to get some hot coffee and to give him a few minutes'
repose; but he could eat nothing, and he laid his head on his arms and
sobbed as if his heart would break for the friends that were gone, and
overwhelmed by the mercy of his own preservation.
All honour to the brave coxswain and his lifeboat crew who sought
and searched for him through and through that dreadful midnight surf,
and stuck to their task with determined resolution, and who found and
rescued this poor Norwegian stranger from the very grasp of death!
All honour to the brave!
 The crew of the lifeboat on this occasion wereRichard Roberts
(coxswain), Alf. Redsull, W. Staunton, H. Roberts, W. Adams, E. Hall,
P. Sneller, W. Foster, W. Marsh, Thomas May, J. Marsh, T. Baker, R.
Williams, G. Foster.
CHAPTER IV. THE GANGES
I've lived since then in calm and strife,
Full fifty summers, a sailor's life;
And Death whenever he come to me
Shall come on the wide unbounded sea.
The rule that gales of wind prevail at the equinoxes is certainly
proved by the exceptions, but October 14, 1881, was an instance of a
gale so close to the autumnal equinox that it belonged rather to the
rule than to the exception. It had been blowing from the west all that
day, and the Downs was full of ships. Others were running back from
down Channel under lower fore top-sails, all ready to let go their
Sometimes in stress of weather a ship bringing up will lose her
anchors by not shortening sail sufficiently before she lets them go.
She preserves too much 'way' through the water, and she snaps the great
chain cable by the force of her momentum as if it had been a
The wind reached the force of a 'great gale,'the entry I find in
my diary of that date. The boatmen say to the present day that it was
blowing a 'harricane,' and, according to the report of the coxswain of
the lifeboat, 'it was blowing a very heavy gale of wind.' There was,
therefore, no mere capful of wind, but a real, whole, tremendous gale.
Old salts are always ready to pity landsmen, and to overwhelm them with
'Bless you's!' when they venture to talk of a 'storm'; but the harsh,
steady roar of the wind on this day made it plainly and beyond doubt a
Long lines of heavy dangerous rollers broke on Deal beach, and only
the first-class luggers could launch or live in the Downs, so great was
the sea. These splendid luggers being of five feet draught, and having
therefore a deeper hold of the water, could do better than a lifeboat
in the deep water of the Downs. They could fight to windward better,
and would not be so liable to upset under sail as a lifeboat; but this
only applies to the deep water.
Put the best Deal lugger that ever floated alongside the present
Deal lifeboat, the Mary Somerville, in a furious sea of breakers on the
Goodwin Sands, and the whole state of affairs is altered. The lugger
would be swamped and overwhelmed in five minutes, while the lifeboat
would empty herself and live through it successfully.
The fortunes of the vessels in the Downs on that day were varied.
Some were manfully riding out the gale; others were holding on to their
one remaining anchor, signalling for help, and as sorely in need of
fresh anchors and chains as ever was King Richard of a horse. Some had
lost both anchors and were drifting out to destruction; destruction
meaning the Goodwin Sands, on which a fearful surf was raging about two
miles under their lee.
One of those driving vessels was the Ganges. She had run back from
the Channel to the Downs for shelter, and dropped her anchors running
before a strong tide and a heavy gale; having thus too much 'way' on
her, both the long chain cables parted, snapping close to the anchors,
and trailed from her bows. Her head was thus kept up to the wind, while
there was no sufficient check to her drift astern and outwards towards
Efforts, but ineffectual efforts, were made to get rid of the
trailing cables, and therefore the vessel's head could not be got
before the wind, and she could not be steered, but drifted out faster
and faster. It is supposed that there was another anchor on the
forecastle head, which had somehow fouled, or, at any rate, could not
be got loose from some cause or other.
In the confusion, the sails of the great vesselfor she was a
full-rigged shiphaving been either neglected or imperfectly furled,
were torn adrift and blew to ribbons. These great strips of heavy
canvas cracked like monstrous whips with deafening noise, thrashing the
masts and rigging, and rendering any attempt to furl them or cut them
away, perilous in the extreme.
The crew consisted of thirty-five hands 'all told,' of whom the
captain, mates, petty officers, and apprentices were English, while the
men before the mast were Lascars. Now I think my readers will agree
with me in believing that 'Jack,' with all his faults, is a more
reliable man to stand 'shoulder to shoulder' with in time of danger
than Ali Mahmood Seng, the Lascar. In cold and storm and peril most of
us would prefer 'our ain folk' alongside of us.
Some years ago a Board of Trade report contained a quotation from
the remarks of a firm of shipowners, to the effect that they largely
employed foreign sailors on board their vessels, because they were (
a) more sober, (b) more amenable to discipline, and (c
) cheaper than British sailors; but they added, 'we always keep a few
Englishmen among the crew to lead the way aloft on dark and stormy
What a heart-stirring comment on the character of the British sailor
is there in the passage above quoted! Is there no remedy, and no
physician for the frailties and degradations of poor Jack, who,
whatever be his faults, 'leads the way aloft on dark and stormy
nights?' 'If the constituents of London mud can be resolved, if the
sand can be transformed into an opal,' to use the noble simile of a
great living writer, 'and the water into a drop of dew or a star of
snow, or a translucent crystal, and the soot into a diamond such as
On the forehead of a queen
Trembles with dewy light,
if such glorious transformations can be wrought by the laws of
Nature on the commixture of common elements, shall we despair that
transformations yet more glorious may be wrought in human souls now
thwarted and blackened by the malice of the devil, when they are
subjected to the far diviner and far more stupendous alchemy of the
Holy Spirit of God?'
The moral to be drawn from these pages surely must be thisthat
there is splendid material to work upon, the most undaunted heroism and
the noblest self-sacrifice, among the seafaring classes of our island.
On this dark, tempestuous night, be the cause what it may,
preventible or otherwise, the Ganges drifted helplessly to her fate. A
powerful tug-boat got hold of her, but the ship dragged the tug-boat
astern with her, towards the Goodwins, until at last the tug-boat
snapped her great 15-inch hawser, and then gave up the attempt and
returned to land.
The Ganges now burned flares and blue lights for help. Noting her
rapid approach to the Goodwins, on which an awful sea was running, and
the helpless and dishevelled condition of the vessel, the Gull
lightship fired guns and rockets at intervals of five minutes.
This is the proper and recognised summons to the lifeboats, but long
before the lightship fired her signal, the Deal boatmen saw the peril
of the vessel; and one of their number, Tom Adams, ran to the coxswain
of the Deal lifeboat with the news: 'Tug's parted her, and she'll be on
the Goodwins in five minutes!' 'Then we'll go,' said the coxswain, and
he rang the bell and summoned a crew.
As it was one of the wildest nights on which the Deal lifeboat was
ever launched, the very best men on Deal beach came forward to the
struggle for a place in the lifeboat, and out of their number a crew of
fifteen was got.
R. Roberts, at this time the second coxswain, was afloat in his
lugger, putting an anchor and chain on board the Eurydice, and in his
absence Tom Adams helped the coxswain to steer the lifeboat, which
literally flew before the blast, to the rescue.
The squalls of this tempest were regular 'smokers,' a word which
signifies that the crests of the waves were blown into the astonished
air in smoking clouds of spray; and the lifeboat was stripped for the
fight, reefed mizzen and double-reefed storm foresail. I should say
that running out before the wind the mizzen was not set, and they
frequently had to haul down the reefed foresail, and let her run under
bare poles right away from the land into the hurricane.
No one can appraise the nature of this dangerous task who has not
run before a gale off shore for five or six miles to leeward, and then
tried to get back home dead to windwards. No one who has ever tried it,
and got back, will ever forget it, if his voyage, or rather his escape
from death, has been effected in an open boat.
Nor can any one realize how furious and terrible is the aspect of
the sea in a gale off shore, and especially in the surf of the
Goodwins, who has not been personally through such an experience.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution pay the men who form the
lifeboat crew on each occasion generously and to the utmost limit their
funds will admit. No one who knows the facts of the case and the
management of this splendid Institution can have any doubt on this
subject. Each man is paid L1 for a night service, and 10_s. for service
in the daytime. If he be engaged night and day, he is paid 30_s. This
single launch cost L18that is, L15 to the fifteen men who formed the
crew, and L3 to the forty helpers who were engaged in launching and
heaving up the lifeboat on her return.
But no money payment could compensate the men for the risk to their
liveslives precious to women and children at home; and no money
payment could supply the impulse which fired these men and supported
them in their work of rescue.
One of the men in the lifeboat on this occasion, Henry Marsh, and
his name will end this chapter, was the man referred to in Chapter II,
who had on the day he was going to be married, many years before,
rushed into a lugger bound to the rescue of a ship's crew on the
Notwithstanding the splendid services of the Deal lifeboatmen in
many a heart-stirring rescue, they seem utterly unconscious of having
done anything heroic. This is a remarkable and most interesting feature
in their character. There is no boasting, no self-consciousness, and
not the faintest word of self-praise ever crosses their lips. The
noblest, the purest motives and impulses that can actuate man glow
within their breasts, as they risk their lives for others, and they
nevertheless are dumb respecting their deeds. They die, they dare, and
they suffer in silence.
A lifeboat rescue killed poor Robert Wilds, the coxswain of the Deal
lifeboat. The present second coxswain of the same lifeboat, E. Hanger,
was struck down after a rescue by pneumonia. J. Mackins, the coxswain
of the Walmer lifeboat, was also seized by pneumonia after a splendid
service across the Goodwins, when his lifeboat was buried thirty times
in raging seas; S. Pearson, once coxswain of the Walmer lifeboat, died
of Bright's disease, the result of exposure; and on the occasion of the
rescue of the Ganges, one of the crew, R. Betts, had his little finger
torn off. The Lifeboat Institution gave him a generous donation. But
the rescues by the Deal lifeboatmen are done at the risk, and sometimes
at the cost, of their health, their limbs and their lives.
There is a Kentish proverb that 'there are more fools in Kent than
in any other county of England,' because more men go to sea from Kent
than from any other county in England, Devon coming next; but Kent on
this wild night need not have blushed for the folly of her sailor sons,
until it be proved folly to succour and to save.
The Ganges had by this time struck on the middle part of the
Goodwins, and the sea was breaking mast-high over her. Her lights and
flares had gone out, and the lifeboat had the greatest difficulty in
finding her. Just when the lifeboatmen were in perplexity, she again
burned blue lights, and these guided the advancing boat. When they came
close to the wreck they found her head was lying about north, so that
the great wind and sea were beating right on her broadside, and a
strong tide was also running in the same direction right across the
Just before the arrival of the lifeboat, in the bewilderment of
terror, one of the boats of the wrecked vessel was lowered, and one
English apprentice and four Lascars sprang into it. In the boiling surf
which raged alongside, the boat was upset in an instant, and with the
exception of one Lascar, who grasped a chain-plate, all were lost,
their drowning shrieks being only faintly heard as they were swept into
the caldron of the Goodwins to leeward. There can be no doubt that a
merciful insensibility came soon to their relief. To swim was
impossible in raging surf, and there would be little suffering in the
speedy death of those poor fellows. I once heard a sailor say to
another one moonlight night in the Mediterranean, 'Death is nothing, if
you are ready for it;' and if there be a good clear view of the country
beyond the river, and of the King of that land, as Shepherd, Saviour,
Friend, the writer firmly holds with his sailor friend, long since lost
at sea, and now with God, that 'Death is nothing, if you are ready for
The position of the lifeboat had to be now chosen with reference to
tide, wind and sea. Had the lifeboat anchored close outside the vessel,
there would have been the fearful danger of falling masts; and, besides
this, the tide would have swept her completely away from the wreck, and
would have prevented her getting back, had she once been driven to
leeward; hence, as shown in the diagram, they were driven to anchor to
windward of the vessel, or right between her and the land.
[Illustration: Position of the Ganges on the Sands.]
They first tried to get to the stern of the vessel, but they found
this position unsuitable, and being baffled, they hauled up to their
anchor with great trouble, and approached the bows of the wreck, having
veered out their cable again.
There was, be it remembered, an enormous sea, which during all the
struggles of the men broke with fury over the lifeboat, and kept her
full to her thwarts all the night, bursting in clouds of spray, and of
course drenching the lifeboatmen.
They now got to the bows of the wreck, where the strong off-tide
drifted them right under the jib-boom and bowsprit. Looking up, they
could just dimly see the jib-boom and bowsprit covered with men, who
had, in their terror, swarmed out there to drop into the lifeboat.
As they were hoisted up on the crest of a great breaker, which also
filled them, the great iron martingale or dolphin striker of the
vessel, pointed like an arrow, came so near the lifeboat that the men
saw that a little heavier sea would have driven the spear head of the
martingale through the lifeboat. One of the crew had a very narrow
escape of being impaled. This novel danger drove them back again
therefore to their anchor, to which they had with great difficulty
again to haul the lifeboat; and in reply to the imploring cries and
shouts of those on the jib-boom, they shouted back, 'We're not going to
The lifeboat now lay to windward of the vessel, in the full blast of
the tempest, and exposed to the full sweep of the breakers. The
official report of the coxswain was: 'We succeeded in getting alongside
after a long time and with great difficulty, through a very heavy sea
and at great risk of life, as the sea was breaking over the ship.'
As the lifeboat rode to windward of the wreck, the shouts of those
on board were inaudible, and their gestures and signs in the dim
lantern light could not be understood by the lifeboatmen. Having thrown
their line to the vessel, a weightier line was now passed and made fast
on board the Ganges, and in order to remedy the confusion and give the
necessary directions to save the lives of the distressed sailors, one
of the lifeboatmen, Henry Marsh, volunteered to jump into the sea with
a line round his waist, to be dragged through the breakers on board the
wreck. Heavy seas were bursting on the broadside and breaking over the
vessel, so that it was a marvel he escaped with his life.
He fastened a jamming hitch round his waist and then with a shout of
'Haul away!' sprang into the midnight surf. Some said, 'He's mad!'
others said, 'He's gone!' and then, 'Haul away, hard!' He fought
through the sea, he struggled, he worked up the ship's side, against
which he was once heavily dashed, and he gained the deck, giving
confidence to all on board: the brave fellow being sixty-five years of
age at the time.
The vessel was during this event thumping and beating out over the
Goodwins, and was at last, when finally wrecked and stuck fast, not
more than one hundred yards from safety and deep water, having thumped
for miles across the Sands. The lifeboat had to follow her on her awful
journey and almost to the outer edge of the Goodwins.
Her masts had stood up to this time, and she had been listing over
to the east, or away from the wind and the sea, but now all over and
within the ship were heard loud noises of cracking beams and the sharp
harsh snap of timbers breaking. The crew of the wreck, in dread of
instant death, now again burned blue lights. Just before the lifeboat
approached, as if in a death-throe, the ship reeled inwards, and her
tottering masts leaned to port, or towards the lifeboat and against the
windthus adding great peril to the work of rescue.
By the directions of the coxswain and the lifeboatmen the exhausted
crew were at last got down life-lines into the lifeboat, seventeen in
number, including the captain, mates and apprentices; while twelve
Lascars got into the Ramsgate lifeboat, which had about this time
arrived to help in the work of rescue.
One of the features of this terrible night which perhaps impressed
the memories of the lifeboat crew most of all, was the noise of the
torn sails above their heads as they fought the sea below. Just before
shoving off with the rescued crew, the words of the lifeboatmen were,
'We'll all go mad with that awful noise.'
At last all were on board, thirty-two souls in all, and at two
o'clock a.m. the lifeboat got up sail for home, which lay seven miles
off dead to windward.
The canvas they set will give some idea of the nature of the
strugglea reefed mizzen and two reefs in the storm foresail. Thus
reefed down, they struggled to get hold of the land, which they finally
did at four o'clock on that dark wintry morning, landing the rescued
men on Deal beach, when boatmen generously took them to their
Not the faintest publicity has ever before been given to the details
of this gallant achievement, which I now rescue from obscurity and
I cannot refrain from recording a previous gallant deed of Henry
Marsh, before mentioned. On February 13, 1870, there was a furious
tempest blowing, with the wind from E.N.E. All the vessels at anchor in
the Downs had been, with one exception, blown ashore and shattered into
A Dutch brig, sugar-laden, went ashore in the afternoon opposite
Deal Castle, and was broken up and vanished in ten minutes; others went
ashore at Kingsdown, and late in the evening, opposite Walmer Castle,
another brig came ashore, also sugar-ladena French vessel with an
English pilot on board.
The gale was accompanied with snow squalls, and Marsh, hearing of
the wrecks along Deal and Walmer beach, determined to go and see for
himself. His wife, as is the manner of wives, repressed his rash and
impulsive intentions, and said, 'Don't you go up near them!' But Marsh
said, 'I'll just take a bit of bread and cheese in my pocket, and I'll
take my short pipe with me, and I'll be back soon.' He laid great
stress and emphasis on having 'his short pipe' with him, probably
reserving a regular long-shanked 'churchwarden' for home use.
He found the beach crowded with spectators, and the sea breaking
blue water over the French brig. Her rigging was thick with ice, and
the snow froze as it fell. She was rocking wildly in and out, exposing
her deck as she swung outwards to the full sweep of the tremendous
easterly sea. Between her and the beach there were about ten feet deep
of water, which with each giant recoil swept round her in fury.
Marsh asked, 'Are all the people out of that there brig?' 'All but
two,' said the bystanders, 'and we can't get no answer from them.
They're gone, they are!'
Said Marsh, 'Won't nobody go to save them?'
'Which way are you going to save them?' said one; and all said the
same. 'I'm a-going,' said Marsh. 'Harry, don't go!' cried many an old
sailor on the beach. 'Here, hold my jacket!' said Marsh. And I verily
believe he was thinking chiefly of the preservation of his short pipe.
'Don't you hold me back! I'm a-going to try! Let go of me!' and seizing
the line which led from the rocking brig to the shore, Marsh rushed
neck deep in a moment into the surf. Swept the next instant off his
feet, on, hand over hand, he went; swayed out under her counter, back
towards the shore, still he lives! Dashed against the ship's side,
while some shout 'He's killed,' up he clambers still, hand over hand;
and as the vessel reels inwards, down, down the rope Marsh slips into
the water and the awful recoil. 'He is gone!' they cry. No! up again!
with true bull-dog tenacity, Marsh struggles. And at last, nearly
exhausted, he wins the deck amid such shouting as seldom rings on Deal
Taking breath, he first fastens a line round his waist and to a
belaying pin; and then he discovers a senseless form, Holbrooke, the
pilot, a friend of his own, who, fast dying with the cold and drenching
freezing spray, was muttering, 'The poor boy! the poor boy!'
'William!' said Marsh. 'Who are you?' was the reply. 'I'm Henry
Marsh, and I'm come to save you.' 'No, I'll be lost; I'll be lost!' 'No
you won't,' said Marsh, 'I'll send you ashore on the rope.' 'No, you'll
drown me! you'll drown me!'
And then finding the poor French boy was indeed lost and swept
overboard, alone he passed the rope round the nearly insensible man,
protecting and holding him as the seas came; and finally watching when
the vessel listed in, alone he got him on the toprail of the bulwarks,
with an exertion of superhuman strength, and then, with shouts to the
people ashore, 'Are you ready?' and 'I'm a-coming!' threw Holbrooke, in
spite of himself, into the sea; and both were safely drawn ashore.
The people nearly smothered Marsh when he got ashore, but he ran
home, his clothes frozen stiff when he got in; and I have no doubt that
the 'short pipe' played no insignificant part in his recovery.
Eleven years afterwards, this same Henry Marsh was dragged by a rope
from the lifeboat to the Ganges, as described in the beginning of this
chapter, through the breakers on the Goodwin Sands at midnight; and he
is now (1892), my readers will be glad to hear, alive and hearty, at
the age of seventy-five, and I rejoice to say 'looking for and hasting
unto that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the Great God,
and our Saviour Jesus Christ.'
There can be few, I think, of my readers who will not find their
hearts beat faster as they read this story, and few will hesitate to
say, 'Bravely done!'
 The names of the crew of the lifeboat on this occasion wereR.
Wilds (coxswain), Thomas Adams, Henry Marsh, T. Holbourn, Henry
Roberts, James Snoswell, T. Cribben, J. May, T. May, George Marsh, H.
Marsh, R. Betts, and Frank Roberts.
CHAPTER V. THE EDINA
The oak strikes deeper as its boughs
By furious blasts are driven.
The Edina was one of a great fleet of ships at anchor in the Downs
on January 16, 1884. Hundreds of vessels were there straining at their
anchorsvessels of many nations, and of various rigs. There were
picturesque red-sailed barges anchored close in shore, while even there
the sea flew over them. Farther out were Italians, Norwegians and
Yankees, all unmistakable to the practised eye; French chasse-marées, Germans, Russians and Greeks were there; and each vessel was
characterised by some nautical peculiarity. Of course the greater
number were our own English vessels, as plainly to be pronounced
British as ever was John Bull in the midst of Frenchmen or Spaniards.
It was blowing a heavy gale from the W.S.W., and towards night,
accompanied by furious rain-squalls and thunder, the gale increased to
a storm. The most powerful luggers along the beach tried to launch, but
as the tide was high they had not run enough to get sufficient impetus,
and were therefore beaten back on the beach by the surf.
[Illustration: Dangerous work.]
Some vessels were blown clean out of the Downs, and away from their
anchors. Indeed, when the weather cleared between the squalls, a
pitiable number of blue light signals of distress were seen in the
distance beyond the North Foreland. And it is probable that vessels
were lost that night on the Goodwins of which no one has ever heard.
When the tide fell, about 8.45, flares and rockets were seen coming
from the Brake, a very dangerous and partially rocky 'Sand' lying close
to the Goodwin Sands. Then the Gull lightship also fired guns and
rockets. There being obviously a vessel in danger on or near either the
Goodwins or the Brake Sand, the Deal lifeboat bell was rung; and a crew
was obtained out of the hundred men who rushed to get a place. The
beach was smoothed to give the lifeboat a run, she was let go, and, in
contrast with the failure of other boats, launched successfully.
In receiving the report of the coxswain next day, I asked him what
time precisely he launched. Now that evening, about 9 p.m., I was
sitting in my own house listening to the long-protracted roar of the
wind, and just when I thought the strong walls could bear no more,
there came a blinding flash of lightning which paled the lamps, almost
simultaneously with a peal of thunder that made the foundations of the
house tremble. When I asked the coxswain next day what time exactly he
launched, his reply was, 'Just in that clap of thunder.'
This may help my readers to depict the scene in its appalling
grandeur, and to realise the meaning of the words, 'A vessel in
distress,' and the launch of the lifeboat on its sacred errand.
The flares which had been burning now suddenly stopped. This,
however, was owing to the distressed vessel having exhausted her stock
of rockets and torches.
Passing under the stern of a schooner which they hailed, the gallant
lifeboat crew were pointed out the vessel that had been burning them,
riding with a red light in her rigging to attract notice. Making for
her, they anchored as usual ahead, and veered down eighty fathoms. In
the gale and heavy sea they found the anchor would not hold, and they
had to bend on another cable, and pay out a hundred fathoms, and at
last they got alongside.
The captain cried out, 'Come on board and save the vessel! My crew
are all gone!' And indeed she was in a sore plight.
That evening after dark, about 6 p.m., this brig, the Edina, had
been riding out the gale in the Downs. In a furious blast a heavy sea
broke her adrift from her anchor, and she came into helpless collision
with a ship right astern of her. Grinding fiercely into this other very
large vessel, the Edina tore herself free with loss of bowsprit and
jib-boom, all her fore-rigging being in dire ruin and confusion.
In the collision, six of the crew of the Edina jumped from her
rigging to the other ship with which they were in collision, leaving
only three men, the captain, mate, and boy, on board the Edina. By
great efforts they, however, were able to let go another anchor, but
that did not bite, and the Edina kept dragging with the wreckage and
wild tangle of bowsprit and jib-boom hanging over her bows and beating
against her side.
One of the six men who had jumped from the Edina in the panic of the
collision had, alas! jumped too short, and had fallen between the two
vessels. The next day his body was found by the lifeboatmen entangled
in the wreckage, and under the bows of the Edina.
The Edina in her wrecked and crippled condition had dragged till she
got to the very edge of the Brake Sand. She had dragged for two miles,
and at last her anchor held fast when within twenty fathoms or forty
yards of the Brake Sand. She was stopped just short of destruction as
the sea was breaking heavily under her stern, and had she drifted a few
more yards she would have struck the deadly Brake, and have perished
with those on board before the lifeboat could have reached her.
In setting off his rockets, the unfortunate captain had blown away a
piece of his hand, and was in much suffering, when the advent of the
lifeboat proclaimed that he was not to be abandoned to destruction. The
vessel was riding in only three fathoms of water, and as a furious sea
was running, she was plunging bows under. Six of the lifeboatmen sprang
on board and turned to clearing the wreckthe remainder of the men
remaining in the lifeboat, as they feared every moment the ship would
break adrift and strike.
They worked with the energy of men working for life, but they took
three hours to clear away the wreck; this being absolutely necessary in
order to get at the windlass and raise the anchor.
At morning dawn they found the body of the poor sailor who had
failed to spring to the other vessel; they got up anchor, they set the
sails, and they brought the vessel out of her dangerous position into
That day four weeks the Edina came out of Ramsgate refitted and
ready for sea. I went on board the vessel on my daily task as Missions
to Seamen Chaplain in the Downs, and talked with the captain over the
events of the night as here described, and the merciful Providence
which prevented him striking on the Brake Sand. 'What brought you up,'
I asked him, 'when you had already dragged for miles?'
The captain pointed me to a roll of large-printed Scripture texts, a
leaf for each day, for four weeks. 'Why,' said he, 'that's the very
leaf that was turned the night of the 26th of last month'and going
close to the 'Seaman's Roll,' as this Eastbourne publication is
called'There,' said he, 'is the very text.'
It ran thus: 'Wherefore, also, He is able to save them to the
uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make
intercession for them.'
'And that,' said the captain, 'was the anchor that held my ship that
It is hard to doubt that He who once stilled the tempest, and
granted to this humble sailor the mighty gift of Faith, on that stormy
night 'delivered His servant that trusted in Him.'
The Edina went on her way to Pernambuco.
CHAPTER VI. THE FREDRIK CARL
There is sorrow on the sea; it cannot be quiet.
On October 30, 1885, the small Danish schooner, the Fredrik Carl,
ran aground on the Goodwin Sands. She struck on the outer part of the
North Sand Head, about eight miles from the nearest land, and two miles
from the well-known Whistle Buoy, which ever and always sends forth its
mournful note of warningtoo often unavailing.
Summoned by the lightship's guns and rockets to the rescuefor the
red three-masted North Sand Head lightship was only two miles from the
wreckthe Ramsgate lifeboat, towed by the steam-tug Aid, came to the
spot, and, after a long trial, failed to get the schooner afloat, and,
having taken her crew out of her, returned to the shore.
At low water the next day, October 31, the vessel lay high and dry
on the Goodwin Sands. She was tolerably upright, having bedded herself
slightly in the sand, and all her sails were swinging loose as the wind
chose to sway them. There was no rent in her side that could be seen,
and to all appearance she was safe and soundonly she was stranded on
the Goodwins, from which vestigia nulla retrorsum. As in the
Cave of Cacus, once there, you are there for ever, and few are the
cases in which vessels fast aground on the Goodwins ever again get away
from the great ship-swallower.
[Illustration: The anchor of death. From a photograph by W. H.
The schooner had a cargo of oats, and if she could be got off would
be a very valuable prize to her salvors. But 'if'and we all know that
'there's much virtue in your if.'
However, when morning broke on October 31, many of the Deal boatmen,
whose keen eyes saw a possibility of a 'hovel,' came in their powerful
'galley punts' to see about this 'if,' and try if they could not
convert it into a reality. Accordingly, two of the Deal boats, taking
different directions, the Wanderer and the Gipsy King, approached the
Goodwin Sands near the north-west buoy.
On this day there was just enough sea curling and tumbling on the
edge of the sands to make landing on them difficult even for the
skilled Deal boatmen. For the inexperienced it would have been
dangerous in the extreme.
There were four Deal men in each boat, and they only got ashore with
difficulty, one of the boats' cables having parted; and they had all to
jump out and wade waist-deep in the surf, as they dared not let their
weighty boats touch the bottom.
Two boatmen remained in each boat, for neglect of this precaution
has caused accidents frightful to think of, on the Goodwins; and the
remaining four boatmen, daring fellows of the sea-dog and amphibious
type, walked across the sands, dripping with the brine. As a matter of
fact, two of them were not only Deal boatmen, but were sailors who had
been round and round the world, and one was an old and first-rate
Sometimes they met a deep gully with six feet of water in it, which
they had to make a circuit round, or to swim; and farther on a shallow
pond, in the midst of which would be a deep-blue 'fox-fall,' perhaps
twenty feet deep of sea-water. Then, having avoided this, more dry,
hard sand, rippled by the ebbing tide, and then a dry, deep cleftfor
the Goodwins are full of surprisesand then came more wading.
Wading on the Goodwins conveys a very peculiar sensation to the
naked feet. The sand, so dense when dry, at once becomes friable and
quickindeed, it is hard to believe there is not a living creature
under the feetand if you stand still you slowly sink, feet and
ankles, and gradually downwards. As long as you keep moving, it is hard
enough, but less so when under water.
The surroundings are deeply impressive. The waves plash at your
feet, and the seagull, strangely tame, screams close overhead; but
glorious as is the unbroken view of sky and ocean, the loneliness of
the place, and the unutterable mystery of the sea, and the deep sullen
roar, and the memories of the long sad history of the sands, oppress
your soul. Tragedies of the most fearful description have been enacted
on the very spot whereon you stand. Terror, frozen into despair,
blighted hope, faith victorious even in death, have thrilled the hearts
of thousands hard by the place where you stand, and which in a few
hours will be ten feet under water. Here you can see the long line of a
ship's ribs swaddling down into the sands, and there is the stump of
the mast to which the seamen clung last year till the lifeboat snatched
them from a watery grave.
Buried deep in the sands are the cargoes of richly-laden ships, and
their 'merchandise of gold and silver, and precious stones, and pearls,
and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet.' 'To dig there' (if
that could be done, say the Deal boatmen), 'would be all as one as
going to Californy;' and who should know the Goodwins or the secret of
the sea better than they do? 'Only those who brave its dangers
comprehend its mystery.'
Keenly intent on getting to the wreck, the four men hastened on, and
they perceived that other boatmen had landed at similar risk, at other
points of the sands, and were also making for the wreck.
The four boatmen reached the vessel, found ropes hanging over her
side, all sails set, and a part of the Ramsgate lifeboat's cable
chopped off short, telling the tale of her unsuccessful efforts the
night before to get the vessel off. They clambered up, and found others
there before them, and soon more came, and eventually there were twelve
boatmen on board.
All eagerly discussed the chances of getting her off. To the
unpractised eye she seemed sound enough; but, after a thorough
overhaul, some saying she could be kept afloat, and others the reverse,
it was found that the water had got into her up to the level of her
cabin-seats, and that a bag of flour in one of her cabin-lockers was
sodden with salt-water. Judging by these signs that the water would
again come into her when the tide rose, and that she was broken up, the
four men whose journey across the sands has been described, decided
with sound judgment to leave her to her fate, and with them sided four
other men, who also came to the conclusion that it was beyond the power
of their resources to save her.
George Marsh and George Philpot with six others took this view.
Looking overboard, they found the rising tide just beginning to lap
'Best for us to bolt,' said Marsh; and seeing there was no time to
lose, the eight men came down the ropes and made for their boats, more
than a mile off; leaving the four others, who took a different view, on
board. The eight men ran, and ran the harder when they found the wind
and sea had increased, and having run and waded as before half the
distance, they made a halt and called a council of war. There were now
serious doubts whether they would be able to reach their boats, which
they could see a long way off heaving on the swell, which was becoming
heavier every minute.
Some said, 'Best go back to the shipwe'll never reach the boats.'
And indeed it was very doubtful if they could do either; for the
flood-tide was now coming like a racehorse over the sands, and hiding
its fox-falls and gullies. Others said, 'You'll never get back to the
ship now; there's deep water round her bows by this time! Come on!'
But some of the men had left brothers on the vessel, and this
attracted three of the company back to the wreck, and Marsh was
persuaded to join the returning band. And so they parted, there being
danger either way: Marsh with three others back to the ship, and
Philpot with three others to the boats; and both parties now ran for
Looking back, they saw Marsh standing in uncertainty, and they waved
to him. But he finally decidedlittle knowing at the time how
momentous was his decisionfor the ship. He and his party reached it
with great difficulty, finding deep water around it, and they were at
the last minute pulled on board through the water by lines slung to
them from their friends.
Of the others, each man for himself, as best he could, 'pursues his
And swims or sinks or wades or creeps,
till they all come as close as the rough sea permits them to their
boats, and stand breathless on a narrow and rapidly contracting patch
'Upon this bank and shoal' clustered the four men. The sea was so
heavy that the weighty Deal boats did not dare to back into it. The men
at first thought of trying to swim to them; but a strong tide running
right across their course rendered that out of the question.
Fortunately a tug-boat hove in sight, bound to the wrecked schooner,
and seeing the men waving and their dangerous plight, eased her
engines. Deal boats were towing astern, and Deal boatmen were on board,
and out of their number Finnis and Watts bravely volunteered to go to
the rescue in the tug-boat's punt.
This boat being light and without ballast, they at considerable risk
brought off the four men to their own boats, when they forthwith,
forgetting past hardship and perils, got up sail for the wrecked
schooner, to see how their comrades who had returned, and those who
remained on board, were faring.
They found the tug-boat close to the wrecksay half a mile offand
also many other Deal boats; but none ventured nearer than that
distance, and none could get nearer.
The wind, which had been blowing from south-west freshly, was
dropping into a calm, while great rollers from an entirely opposite
quarter were tumbling in on the Goodwins. In fact, a great
north-easterly sea was breaking in thunder on the sands, and around and
over the vessel. The eight men on board her were therefore beset as if
in a beleaguered city, and as nothing but a lifeboat could live for a
moment in that tremendous surf, the crews of the Deal boats, astounded
at the sight, were simply helpless spectators of their comrades'
danger, and torn with distress and sympathy, as they saw them take to
the rigging of the vessel.
An hour before this pitch of distress had been reached, a galley
punt had gone to Deal for the lifeboat, and in the afternoon, about 3
p. m., the boat reached Deal beach with one hand on board. He jumped
out, and staggered up the beach to tell the coxswain of the lifeboat
that eight boatmen were on board the wreck, and that nothing but a
lifeboat could reach the vessel, as there was a dreadful sea all round
her, and that his own brother was among the number on board.
The Deal boatmen are not slow to render help when help is needed,
and indifference to the cry of distress is not one of their failings;
but when they heard of their own friends and neighbours, their comrades
in storm and in rescue and lifeboat work, thus beset and in imminent
peril, their eagerness was beyond the power of words to describe. From
the time the bell rang to 'man the lifeboat' to the moment she struck
the water only seven minutes passed!
A fresh south-west breeze brought her to the North Sand Head, and
round and outside it to the melancholy spot where, in the waning
autumnal light, they could just discern the wreck. They passed through
the crowd of Deal boats, and close to the tug-boat; but no one spoke or
hailed the other, as all knew what had to be done, and the nature of
the coming struggle.
The south-west breeze had now dropped completely, and they
encountered, as explained before, the strange phenomenon of a great
windless swell from the north-east, rolling in before the wind, which
was evidently behind it, and which indeed blew a gale next day, though
it was now an absolute calm. Great tumbling billows came in from
different quarters, and met and crossed each other in the most furious
collision. There was tossing about in the sea at the time an empty
cask, which was caught in the clash together of two such waves, and was
shot clean out of the water as high as the wrecked schooner's mast, or
thirty feet into the air, by the force of the blow. The water-logged
wreck was now nearly submerged, or just awash, her bulwark-top-rail
being now and then exposed and covered again with the advance and
recoil of each wave.
Aft there were a raised quarter-deck and a wheel-house, behind the
remains of which three of the boatmen took refuge, while the five
others climbed into the rigging, but over them even there the sea broke
As there was no tide and no wind, it was impossible to sheer the
lifeboat, and, whatever position was taken by anchoring, in that only
the lifeboat would ride after veering down before the sea. The
coxswains, therefore, had to try again and again before they got the
proper position to veer down from.
At last, however, they succeeded, and anchoring the lifeboat by the
stern, they veered down bows first towards the wreck into the midst of
this breezeless but awful seabows first, lest the rudder should be
The cable was passed round the bollard or powerful samson-post, and
then a turn was taken round a thwart; and the end was held by Roberts,
the second coxswain, with his face towards the stern, and his back to
the wreck, watching the billows as they charged in line, and easing his
cable or getting it in when the strain had passed.
The heavy rollers drove the lifeboat before them like a feather, and
end on towards the wreck, till her cable brought her up with a jerk.
The strain of these jerks was so great, that, even though Roberts eased
his cable, each wave seemed to all hands as if it would tear the after
air-box out of the lifeboat, or drag the lifeboat itself in two pieces.
They veered down to about five fathoms of the wreck; closer they
dared not go, lest a sea should by an extra strain dash their bows into
the wreck, when not one of all the company would have been saved, and
the lifeboat herself would have perhaps been broken up.
Then they saw their friends and comrades and heard them cry, 'Try to
save us if you can!' And the men said afterwards, 'We got in such a
flurry to save them, that what we did in a minute we thought took us an
At last the cane and lead were thrown from the lifeboat by a
stalwart boatman standing in the bows. A heavier line was then drawn on
board by the light cane line, and the boatmen came down from the
rigging, and, having made themselves fast to pins and staunchions,
sheltered behind the bulwark and the wheel-house, seeing the approach
Enough of the slack of the weightier line was kept on board the
wreckthe end being there made fastto permit the middle of the rope
being fastened round a man and of his being dragged away from the wreck
through the sea into the lifeboat. A clove-hitch was put by George
Marsh over the shoulders of the first man, who watched his chance for
'a smooth,' jumped into the waves, and, after a long strugglefor the
line fouledwas hauled safe into the lifeboat. Marsh on the wreck saw
after this that the line was clear, and that no kink or knot stopped
its running freely.
Reading these lines in our quiet homes, and in a comfortable
arm-chair by the fireside, it is hard to realise the position of those
eight boatmen. They were drenched and buried in each wallowing sea,
which strove to tear them from the pin to which each man was belayed by
the line round his waist; and their ears were stunned with the bellow
of each bursting wave. But, on the other hand, their eyes beheld the
grand and cheering spectacle of their brethren in the lifeboat
struggling manfully with death for their sakes, and they heard their
If for a moment they cast off or lengthened their lifelines, they
were washed all over the slippery deck; and brave George Marsh, who was
specially active, was bleeding from a cut on his forehead, having been
dashed against a corner of the wheel-house.
The wheel-house up to this time had afforded some shelter to the men
who ventured on the deck of the wreck, lashed as just explained, of
course, to some pin or bollard; and even they had now and then to rush
up the rigging when a weighter [Transcriber's note: weightier?] wave
was seen coming. But just at this time a great mass of water advanced
and wallowed clean over the wreck, carrying the wheelhouse away with
it, and bursting, where it struck the masts and booms, into a cloud: it
was too solid to burst much, but it just 'wallowed' over the wreck.
Successive seas are, of course, unlike in height, volume, and
demeanour. One comes on board and falls with a solid, heavy lopthere
may be twenty tons of blue water in itthe next rushes along with wild
speed and fury.
Roberts in the lifeboat now saw a great roller of the latter
description advancing; ready to ease his cable, he cried, 'Look out!
Look out! Hold on, my lads!'
But before Wilds, the coxswain, who was not a young man, could turn
round and grasp a thwart, the sea was on him, and drove him with great
force against the samson-post, breaking over and covering the lifeboat
fore and aft in fury. This sea would have washed every man off the
wreck if they had not had ropes round their waists, and fastened
themselves to something; and it most certainly stupefied them and
half-drowned them, fastened as they were.
The blow which Wilds in the lifeboat received would have killed him
but that he was wearing his thick cork life-belt. His health was so
much affected that he never came afloat again, and he never recovered
the strain, the shock, and the exposure of this day. He was a brave
man, and a stout, honest Englishman.
Faithful below he did his duty,
And now he's gone aloft.
And the writer has good reason for sure and certain hope that this
is so. His post as coxswain has since been filled, and nobly filled, by
R. Roberts, for many years second coxswain.
In meeting this sea, which struck down poor Wilds with such force,
the lifeboat stood straight up on her stern and reared, as the men
expressed it, 'like a vicious horse'; and so much did the cable spring,
that the lifeboat was driven to within a fathom, or six feet, of the
wreck, and was withdrawn the next instant to fifteen fathoms distance
by the recoil of the cable.
One by one the men were dragged through the breakers into the
lifeboat, until at last only two remained on the wreck, George Marsh
and another man. It was Marsh, it will be remembered, who in the
earlier part of the day had been persuaded to return to the wreck
across the sand, and it was Marsh now who in each case had passed the
clove-hitch round his comrades, sending them before himself. He was a
very smart sailor and a brave man, and with wise forethought he had
also passed the end of the veering line, on which the men were dragged
through the surf, over the main boom of the wreck, to let it run out
clear of anything which might have caught it, and, in fact, was the
leader of the men in peril on the wreck.
The last two men intended to come together, when another great
billow, notice of its advance being given by Tom Adams, came towering
and seething, filled the lifeboat, as usual, and covered the
shipindeed, breaking right into her fore-top-sail! That is, thirty
feet above her deck!
When the sea passed, the two remaining men, who had been tied
together, were not to be seen.
The men in the lifeboat pulled at the line, but it was somehow and
somewhere fast to something. And then they shouted, and minutes went
by, hours as it seemed to them. At last one of the menbut not
Marshslowly raised his head and seemed to move about in a dazed
'Where's Marsh?' cried the lifeboatmen.
'Can't find him!' he replied.
'Is he drowned?'
'Is he washed away?'
And the reply was, 'I can't find him.'
And then this man was pulled into the water, and was the last man
savedand that with great difficulty, for the line fouled and
jammedfrom the wreck of the Fredrik Carl, which had proved a
death-trap to poor Marsh, and so nearly to the seven others who were
Still the lifeboat waited in the gathering darkness, and hailed the
wreck, hoping against hope to see Marsh appear; but he was never seen
again alive. Short as was the distance between the lifeboat and the
wreck, it was impossible to swim to her, lying broadside as she was to
the swell. Anyone attempting it would either have been dashed to pieces
against her, or lifted bodily over her, brained very possibly, and
certainly washed away to leeward, return from which would have been,
even for an uninjured man, impossible.
And still the lifeboatmen waited and called; but there was no
answer. Poor Marsh had been suddenly summoned to meet his God. The
oldest man of the number, and for some years a staunch total abstainer,
he had manfully stuck to his post, he had sent the others before
himself, and had shown throughout a fine spirit of self-sacrifice
worthy of the best traditions of the Deal boatmen.
Slowly and sadly the lifeboat got her anchor up, and never perhaps
did the celebrated Deal lifeboat return with a more mournful crew; for
they had seen, in spite of their best efforts, one of their comrades
perish before their eyes.
The next day it blew a gale of wind from the north-east, and it was
not till several days afterwards that Marsh's body was recovered,
entangled in the wreckage, to leeward of the vessel, and sorely
mangled. Wrapped in a sail, and with the rope still round him which
ought to have drawn him into safety, lay the poor 'body of humiliation'
in which had once dwelt a gallant spirit; but a good hope burned within
me as the triumphant lines rang in my ears
Deathless principle, arise!
Soar, thou native of the skies.
Pearl of price, by Jesus bought,
To His glorious likeness wrought!
In telling the story of this gallant struggle to save their
comrades, made by the Deal lifeboatmen, I lay this tribute of hope and
regard on the grave of brave George Marsh.
[Illustration: Deal boatmen on the lookout for a hovel.]
CHAPTER VII. THE GOLDEN ISLAND
Nor toil nor hazard nor distress appear
To sink the seamen with unmanly fear;
Though their firm hearts no pageant-honour boast,
They scorn the wretch that trembles in his post.
The smart and trim three-masted schooner, the Golden Island, was
bound from Antwerp to Liverpool, with a cargo of glass-sand, and was
running before a favouring gale to the southward. At midnight, on May
14, 1887, or the early morning of May 15, with a heavy sea rolling from
the N.E., suddenly, no notice being given and no alarm felt, she struck
with tremendous force the outer edge of the Goodwin Sands.
The timbers of the Golden Island opened with the crash, and she
filled, and never lifted or thumped, but lay swept by each billow, like
a rock at half-tide, immovable by reason of her heavy cargo. Her crew
consisted of seven all told, including a lad, the captain's son, and
they managed to light a large flare, which was seen a long way, and was
visible even in Deal, eight miles distant.
With what sinking of heart, as the waters raged round and over them,
they watched the flame of their torch burning lower and lower. How
intense the darkness when it was extinguished! How terrible the
thunderous roar of the breakers!
The nearest lightship was about four miles from them, and her
look-out man noticed the flare and fired the signal guns of distress,
and sent up the usual rockets.
At 2 a.m. the coastguard on Deal beach called the coxswain of the
lifeboat, R. Roberts. Hastily dressing himself he went up the beach,
and seeing the flash of the distant guns, he rang the lifeboat bell.
Men sprang out of their warm beds, and, half-dressed, rushed to the
lifeboat. Their wives or mothers or daughters followed with the
remainder of their clothes, their sea boots, or jackets or mufflers.
Then came the struggle to gain a place in the lifeboat, and then the
bustle and hurry of preparation to get her ready for the launch.
Deal beach at such a time is full of boatmen, some in the lifeboat
loosing sails and setting the mizzen, some easing her down to the top
of the slope, some seeing to the haul-off warp, a matter of life or
death in such a heavy sea dead on shore; others laying down the
well-greased 'skids' for the lifeboat to run on, and others clearing
away the shingle which successive tides had gathered in front of her
Mingling among the workers are the wives and mothers, putting a
piece of bread and cheese in Tom's pocket or helping on 'father' with
his oilskin jacket or his sou'wester. And now 'All hands in the
lifeboat!' and twenty minutes after the bell is rung she rushes down
the steep and plunges into the surf. The loving, lingering watchers on
the beach just see her foresail hoisted, and she vanishes into the
night, as the green rocket shoots one hundred yards into the sky to
tell the distressed sailors 'The lifeboat is launched and on her way.'
The vessel's flare had now burned out, and the guns and rockets from
the lightships had ceased, and in front of the lifeboat was only the
chill night, 'black as a wolf's throat.' As they worked away from the
shore there came in, borne landwards and towards them by the gale, the
dull deep roar of the surf on the Goodwins.
It is marvellous how far the sound of the sea on the Goodwins
travels. Previously, on a fine calm day, with light breeze, I was
standing across the Goodwins, bound to the East Goodwin lightship, and
we could hear the roar of the ripple on the Goodwinsnot breakers, but
rippleat a distance of two miles. We were sucked into that
ugly-looking ripple by an irresistible current, and after an anxious
half-hour we got through safely.
In front of the lifeboat on this night was no mere ripple, but
breakers; and the deep hollow roar foretold a tremendous sea.
As the dawn came faintly, the breakers were seen by the oncoming
lifeboat; she was already stripped for the fight, and her canvas was
shortened to reefed mizzen and reefed storm-foresail. Even then she was
pressed down by the blast and leaned over as the spray flew mast-high
over her. There was a mile of this surf to go through, and with her red
sails flat as a board the lifeboat plunged into it.
She thrashed her way nobly through, now up and down on short
wicked-looking chopping seas, now on some giant wave hoisted up to the
sky; and still up as if she was about to take flight into the airas
we once before experienced in a gale on the Brake Sandthen buried and
smothered; and then over the next wave like a seabird. On to the rescue
flew the lifeboat, steered by the coxswain himself, beating to windward
splendidly, as if conscious of and proud of the sacred task before her.
On triumphantly through and over the breakers, onwards to the Golden
Island the lifeboat beat out against the sea and the storm. She stood
on till quite across the Goodwins, and fetched the East Buoy, which
lies in deep water well outside the breakers. In that deep water of
fifteen fathoms there were of course no breakers, only a long roll and
heavy sea; but the moment this heavy sea touched the Goodwin Sands it
broke with the utmost fury, and was sweeping over the Golden Island,
now not more than half-a-mile from the lifeboat. At the East Buoy the
lifeboat put about on the other tack, and stood in towards the Goodwins
and again right into the breakers, from which she had just emerged.
The wreck was lying with her head to the N.W., and was leaning to
port, so that her starboard quarter was exposed to the full fetch of
the easterly sea that was breaking 'solid' in tons on her decks. 'Why,
she was just smothered in it sometimes, and every big sea was just
a-flying all over her.' Her masts they saw were still standing, and her
crew of seven were cowering for refuge between the main and mizzen
masts under the weak shelter of the weather bulwarks, and also under
the lee of the long boat, which still held its place, being firmly
fastened to the deck. The fierce breakers burst rather over her
quarter; had they swept quite broadside over her, the boat would have
been torn from its fastenings long before.
As the Deal lifeboat stood in towards the Goodwins, they saw that
their noble rivals the Ramsgate tug and lifeboat in tow had arrived on
the scene a few minutes before them, and were close to the wreck.
The Ramsgate tug Aid now cast off the lifeboat, which got up sail
and made in through the breakers with the wind right aft impelling her
forwards at speed. The tug of course waited outside the surf, in deep
water. The Deal men, separated from the Ramsgate lifeboat by about four
hundred yards, were breathless spectators of the event. They watched
her plunging and lifting into and over each sea and on towards the
The Ramsgate men could not lie or ride alongside the vessel to
windward; there was too terrible a sea on that side, and therefore, in
spite of the danger of the masts falling, they were obliged to go to
leeward, or to the sheltered side of the vessel.
Just as the Ramsgate lifeboat was coming under the stern of the
wreck and about to haul down foresail and shoot up alongside her, she
was struck by a terrific sea. The Deal men saw this and shouted 'She's
capsized!' The Ramsgate lifeboat was indeed almost, but not quite
capsized, and she was also shot forwards and caught under the cat-head
and anchor of the wreck. The captain of the wrecked vessel told me
afterwards that he thought she was lost, but it was happily not so, and
the Ramsgate lifeboatmen anchored, after recovering themselves, ahead
of the vessel and veered down to her.
But the tidal current which runs over the Goodwins varies in a very
irregular manner according to the wind that is blowing, and, contrary
to their calculations, swept the Ramsgate lifeboat to the full length
of her cable away from the vessel.
They naturally expected to find the usual off-tide from the land
before and at high-water, which would have carried them towards the
vessel when they anchored under her lee; but instead of that there was
running a strong 'in-tide,' which swept them helplessly away from the
vessel, and rendered them absolutely unable to reach her, though
anchored only two hundred yards off.
The seamen on the wreck, in order to reach by some means the
lifeboat which had thus been borne away from them so mysteriously,
threw a fender, with line attached, overboard, hoping that it too would
follow the current which carried away the lifeboat, and that thus
communications would be established between them; but the currents
round the ship held the fender close to the wreck, and kept it eddying
under her lee.
All eyes were now turned to the advancing Deal lifeboat battling in
the thickest of the surf. Both the Ramsgate men with warm sympathy and
the shipwrecked crew with keen anxiety watched the Deal men's attempt,
as they raced into the wild breakers.
The poor fellows clinging to the masts feared lest the Deal lifeboat
too might miss them, and that they might all be lost before either
lifeboat could reach them again, and they beckoned the Deal men on.
The very crisis of their fate was at hand, but there were no
applauding multitudes or shouts of encouragement, only the cold wastes
and solitudes of wild tumbling breakers around the lifeboatmen on that
grey dawn, and only the appealing helpless crew in a little cluster on
It was now 4 a.m., and the Deal coxswain, cool and sturdy as his
native Kentish oak, knowing that the combination of an easterly gale
with neap tides sometimes produces an 'in-tide' at high-water, and
seeing the Ramsgate lifeboat carried to leeward, gave the order to
'down foresail!' when well outside the wreck, and anchored E. by S. of
her. Thus the same 'in-tide' which swept the Ramsgate lifeboat away
from the wreck, carried the Deal lifeboat right down to her.
[Illustration: Location of the wreck]
It will be remembered that the head of the Golden Island lay N.W.,
and the accompanying diagram will enable the reader to understand that
as the lifeboat anchored in nearly the opposite quarter, viz. about
S.E., her head, as she ranged alongside the wreck, lay in precisely the
opposite direction to the head of the shipwrecked schooner.
The Deal lifeboat coxswain now hoisted a bit of his foresail to
sheer her in towards the wreck, but from the position of his anchor he
could not get closer than ten fathoms, or twenty yards.
To bridge this gulf of boiling surf, the cane loaded with lead, to
which a light line was attached, had to be hurled by a stalwart arm,
and John May succeeded in throwing the 'lead line' on board the wreck.
As the half-drowned and perishing crew of the wreck saw the Deal
lifeboat winning her way towards them, and inch by inch conquering the
opposing elements, their hearts revived.
They saw within hailing distance of themfor their cries could be
heard plainly enough coming down the wind by the Deal menthe brave,
determined faces of their rescuers, and they felt that God had not
forsaken them, but had wrought for them a great deliverance.
Having gone through all that surf, and having got within reach as it
were of the wreck, the crew of the Deal lifeboat were now eager for the
final rescue. They never speak of, or even allude to the feeling on
such occasions within them, yet we know their hearts were on fire for
the rescue, and men in that mood are not easily to be baulked or to be
As the wearied seamen grasped the meaning of the Deal coxswain's
shouts, or rather signs, for shouts against the wind were almost
inaudible, they aided in rigging up veering and hauling lines, by which
they would have to be dragged through the belt of surf which lay
between them and the lifeboat.
A clove-hitch, which my readers can practise for themselves, was
passed round the waist of the captain's son, a boy of thirteen, who was
first to leave the wreck.
The lad naturally enough shrank from facing the boiling caldron
which raged between him and the lifeboat, and with loud cries clung to
his father. Waiting was impossible, and he had to be separated partly
by persuasion and partly by main force from his father's arms and
dragged through the sea. When once he was in the water the boatmen
pulled at him with all their might, and when alongside, two strong men
reached over the side and hoisted him like a feather into the lifeboat.
The men said 'he cried dreadful,' and the coxswain found a moment to
tell him, 'Don't cry, my little fellow! we'll soon have your father
into the lifeboat.' But with the words came a sea 'that smothered us
all up, and it wanted good holding to keep ourselves from being carried
overboard.' Some kind-hearted fellows, till the sea passed, held the
boy, but still he kept crying, 'Come, father! Come, father!'
Three more of the crew then got the 'clove-hitch' over their
shoulders and jumped into the sea; some of them helped themselves by
swimming and kept their heads up; others merely gripped the rope and
fared much worse, being pulled head under, but all three were quickly
dragged through the water into the lifeboat.
I have said dragged through the 'water'; but surf is not the same as
waterit is water lashed into froth or seething bubbles in mountainous
masses. You can swim in water; but the best swimmer sinks in 'froth,'
and can only manage and spare himself till the genuine water gives him
a heave up and enables him to continue the struggle on the surface.
Now water that breaks into surf is not merely motionless 'froth,'
that is half air and half water, but it runs at speed, and being partly
composed of solid water strikes any obstacle with enormous force and
smashes like a hammer. These then were the characteristics of the sea
which beat all round the wreck, and through which the half-dazed and
storm-beaten sailors had to be dragged.
Besides the veering and hauling line by which the sailors in
distress came, there was another line passed round the mast of the
tossing lifeboat, to hold her in spite of her plunging as close as
possible to the ship; and this line had to be eased with each sea and
then the slack hauled in again. Some better idea will be given of the
nature of this deadly wrestle, when I mention that this line cut so
deeply into the mast as to render it unsafe, and it was never again
used after that day.
The sails of the wrecked vessel were clattering and blowing about,
'like kites'indeed, they were in ribbons; and the wind in the rigging
was like the harsh roar of an approaching train, so that in the midst
of this wild hurly-burly even the men in the lifeboat could hardly hear
each other's shouts.
Roberts now saw that it was necessary to shift the cable as it lay
on the bow of the lifeboat, and he shouted to his comrades forward to
have this done; but 'the wind was a blowin' and the sea a 'owling that
dreadful' that not a man could hear what he said, and he sprang forward
to shift the cable himself. That very moment round the stern of the
wreck there swept the huge green curl of a gigantic sea, which, just as
it reached the lifeboat, broke with a roar a ton of water into her.
It took Roberts off his feet, so that he must have gone overboard,
but for the foremast against which it dashed him, and to which he clung
desperately, as the great wave melted away hissing, to leeward. Shaking
off the spray, the drenched lifeboatmen again turned to the work of
rescue; the coxswain having been preserved by his thick cork lifebelt
from what might otherwise have been a fatal crush.
This weighty sea tore away the lines and all means of communication
between the wreck and the lifeboat, and drove the three remaining
sailors on the vessel away from the shelter of the long boat to the
bows of the wreck. Indeed, as they grasped for dear life the belaying
pins on the foremast, the sea covered them up to their shoulders, and
they were all but carried away.
Again the loaded cane had to be thrown; again the task was entrusted
to John May, who sent it flying through the air, and again the veering
and hauling line was rigged, and the remaining seamen were got into the
The last man has to see to it for his life that the veering line is
clear, and that it is absolutely free from anything that could catch or
jam it or prevent it running out freely.
Just as coming down a steep ice slope where steps have to be cut by
men roped together, the best man should come last, so the last man
rescued from a wreck should have a good clear head and the stoutest
heart of all; and last man came bravely the captain, to the great joy
of his little son.
Then the lifeboatmen turned to preparations for home. They dared not
get in their cable and heave their anchor on board, lest they should be
carried back and dashed against the wreck, the danger of which, a
glance at the sketch will show. So they got a spring on the cable, to
cant the lifeboat's head to starboard or landsward, and with a parting
'Hurrah!' they slipped their cable, of course thus sacrificing it and
their anchor. They hoisted their foresail, and with a gale of wind
behind them raced into and through the surf on the Goodwins, which lay
between them and home.
The Goodwins are four miles wide, and the land was eight miles
distant, but a splendid success had crowned the brave and steadfast
Deal coxswain's efforts. Not a man was lost, and they had with them in
the lifeboat the shipwrecked vessel's crewall saved.
It was a noble sight to see the lifeboat nearing the land that
morning at 7 a.m. The British red ensign was flying proudly from her
peak, in token of 'rescued crew on board'; and as the men jumped out, I
grasped the brave coxswain's hand and said, 'Well done, Roberts!' And
as I saw the rescued crew and their gallant deliverers, 'God bless you,
my lads, well done!' The words will be echoed in many a heart, but
could my readers have seen the faces of the lifeboatmen, weather-beaten
and incrusted with salt, or watched them, as they staggered wearied but
rejoicing up the beachcould they have knelt in the thanksgiving
service which I held that morning with the rescued crew, and have heard
their graphic version of the grim realityand how that the living God
had in His mercy stretched out His arm and saved them from death on the
Goodwins, they would better understand,better, far, than words of
mine can bring it homehow splendid a deed of mercy and of daring was
that day done by the coxswain and the crew of the North Deal
 The names of the crew of the lifeboat on this occasion (being
one man short, which was not observed in the darkness of the launch)
wereRichd. Roberts (coxswain), G. Marlowe, John May, Henry May, Wm.
Hanger, Ed. Pain, R. Betts, G. Brown, David Foster, Wm. Nicholas, Henry
Roberts, R. Ashington, John Adams, John Marsh.
CHAPTER VIII. THE SORRENTO, S.S.
And the clamorous bell spake out right well
To the hamlet under the hill,
And it roused the slumb'ring fishers, nor its warning task gave
Till a hundred fleet and eager feet were hurrying to the shore.
That Norse and Viking blood is to be found in the E. and S.E. coasts
of England is tolerably certain. Tradition, as well as the physical
characteristics of the people, go to support the belief that the
inhabitants of the little picturesque village of Kingsdown, midway on
the coast line between Deal and the South Foreland, are genuine 'Sons
of the Vikings.'
Kingsdown looks seaward, just facing the southern end of the Goodwin
Sands, and at the back of the pretty village, which is built on the
shingle of the beach, rise the chalk cliffs which culminate in the
South Foreland, a few miles farther on. Here in days gone by the
samphire gatherer plied his 'dreadful trade,' and, still from the
wooded cliff 'the fishermen that walk upon the beach appear like mice.'
Like their Deal brethren, the hardy boatmen of Kingsdown live by
piloting and fishing, and, like the Deal men, have much to do with the
Goodwin Sands. The same may be said of the more numerous Walmer
boatmen; and all three are usually summed up in the general and
honourable appellation of Deal boatmen.
[Illustration: Jarvist Arnold]
The Kingsdown villagers are believed to be Jutes, and the names
prevalent amongst them add probability to the idea. Certainly there is
a Norse flavour about the name of Jarvist Arnold, for many years
coxswain of the Kingsdown lifeboat Sabrina. This brave, fine old seaman
still survives, and still his eye kindles, and his voice still rings,
as with outstretched hand and fire unquenched by age he tells of
grapples with death on the Goodwin Sands. He is no longer, alas! equal
to the arduous post which he nobly held for twenty years, a post now
well filled by James Laming, Jarvist's comrade in many a risky job; but
still he is regarded with reverence and affection, and the rescue of
the crew of the Sorrento and the story of the 'old cork fender' will
always be honourably associated with his name. Round him the incidents
of this chapter will group themselves, for, though brave men were his
crew on each occasion, he was the guiding spirit.
[Illustration: The Kingsdown lifeboat]
The mode of manning the Kingsdown lifeboat is somewhat different
from the practice of Deal and Walmer, as will be seen, but in all three
cases the same rush of eager men is made to gain the honourable post of
a place in the lifeboat.
Sometimes the launch is utterly unavailing, as was the case on a
December night in 1867, when with Jarvist Arnold at the helm, the
lifeboat sped into and through the tossing surf and 'fearful sea' (the
coxswain's words), across the south end of the Goodwins, and found a
barque from Sunderland on fire and drifting on to the sands. So hot it
was from the flames that they could not if they would go to leeward of
her, and they kept to windward, witnessing the spectacle of a ship on
fire in a midnight 'hurricane from the west.' There was no one on board
of the burning ship, and no one knows the fate of her crew. Sadly the
lifeboatmen returned to the land.
Again Jarvist Arnold is summoned to the rescue, and this time with a
different result. On February 12, 1870, all the vessels in the Downs
were driven ashore, with the exception of one, which the skill and
pluck of E. Hanger, second coxswain of the Deal lifeboat, safely
piloted away to safety, through the tremendous sea.
There was a great gale from E.S.E. with bitter cold and snow. Vessel
after vessel came ashore, and some were torn into matchwood along the
beach. One large vessel, the ship Glendura, having parted her anchors
in the great sea that was running, was driving landwards. The captain,
foreseeing the inevitable, and determined, if he could not save his
vessel, to save precious liveshis wife and child being on
boardboldly set his lower foretopsail, to force his vessel stem on as
far ashore on the mainland as possible; and about 9 p.m., in this dark
freezing snowstorm, the stem of his large vessel, drawing about
twenty-three feet of water, struck the land.
[Illustration: Scene on Deal Beach February 13, 1870. From a
painting by W. H. Franklin.]
The engraving shows this ship in the act of striking. Facing the
picture, the Glendura lies farthest from the spectator. Between her and
the land would be about 100 fathoms, or 200 yards of water; but that
water was one furious mass of advancing billows hurled landwards by
this great tempest.
Fortunately, as I have said, the Glendura struck the beach unlike
the other vessels in the engraving, not broadside on, but stem on. They
were broken up very soon; but the Glendura held together, burning
flares and sending up appealing rockets. Still more fortunatelybut in
truth providentially is the word to useshe struck right opposite
Kingsdown lifeboat house, where lay head to storm-blast, the Kingsdown
lifeboat Sabrina, and where, grouped round her, Jarvist Arnold and the
lifeboat crew stood ready.
Had the wrecked ship come ashore at any distance from the spot where
the lifeboat lay, either to the right or left, that is, either west or
east of where she did strike, the probability is that all on board
would have perished. With a heavy gale dead on shore, if the lifeboat
had succeeded in launching, she would not have fetched the wreck, had
she lain any distance either side, but would have been helplessly
beaten back again.
The Kingsdown men were keenly watching the approaching catastrophe
as the Glendura came landwards. Long before she struck, the little
fishing village echoed to the cry of 'Man the lifeboat,' and clad in
their sou'-westers and lifebelts the brave crew waited for the crash of
the doomed vessel, which, by God's mercy, took place right in front of
them. The sea they had to face was terrific, and so bitter was the
night that the sea spray froze as it was borne landwards by the blast,
and each rope in the ship's rigging was thick with ice.
Just as the men were all in the lifeboat, and were about to man
their haul-off warp to pull the lifeboat out into deep water thereby, a
service of the greatest danger on such a night, some one on the
beachit was James Laming, the present able Kingsdown coxswain, but
then a very young maneven in that black night discovered a great
fender floating in the recoil. It was pulled ashore, and it was then
found that a line was attached to it, and to that line a weightier one;
and to that a four and a half-inch hawser, or strong cable, leading
from the wrecked ship to the land.
Perceiving the object of those on board, Jarvist Arnold gave the
order to 'Let the lifeboat go,' and she plunged down the steep beach
into the black billows of that easterly snowstorm and right into the
very teeth of it. No sooner had they touched the water than they hauled
upon the cable which had been sent ashore from the vessel; and so, bit
by bit, one moment submerged and the next swung on the crest of some
stormy wave, they gradually hauled themselves out to the vessel, and
found the crew with the captain and his wife and child gathered in a
forlorn little cluster out on the jib-boom.
Right under the martingale with its sharp spear-like head the
lifeboat had to lie. When a monstrous sea came roaring round the stern
of the vessel, the lifeboat had to let go and come astern, lest she
should be impaled on the sharp point, as she was hoisted up with great
Back again the crew hauled her, and when the furious sea had passed,
in answer to shouts of 'Come on!' 'Now's your time!' down a rope into
the lifeboat came the second mate with the captain's child in his arms.
Up the stiff half-frozen rope again he climbed and brought down the
captain's wife; and some more of the crew rapidly came the same way.
Then the lifeboat having their full complement of people on board, some
of whom were perishing with the cold of that awful night, made for the
land; still holding the cable from the ship they drifted, or rather
were hurled ashore, in the darkness, pelted by hail and snow and
drenched by the seas, which broke with force clean over them.
The task of landing the enfeebled crew and the poor lady and child
in such a great sea was dangerous, but it was accomplished safely.
Indeed, such was the sympathy and enthusiasm of the Kingsdown villagers
and fisherfolk that, if need were, they could and would have carried
the lifeboat with its human freight right up the beach.
An attempt was now made to use the rocket apparatus, and a rocket
was fired, which went clean through the fore-topsail and to the poop of
the vessel behind. Another whizzing rocket, carrying its line with it,
went hurtling through or close to the crowd clustered on the
top-gallant forecastle, where they cowered before creeping out on to
the bowsprit. No harm was done by the erratic flight of the rockets,
but the wrecked sailors naturally preferred to go ashore in the
lifeboat to being dragged through the breakers in the cradle of the
rocket-apparatus, and declining to use it, they again summoned the
The first crew of the lifeboat were worn out with their exertions,
and the blows and buffetings of the freezing sea-spray. A fresh crew
was therefore obtained, all but the coxswain, Jarvist Arnold, who stuck
to his post. Back again to the ship the lifeboatmen hauled themselves,
through such a sea that words which would truly describe it must seem
exaggerated. Remember the bows of the ship lay nearly two hundred yards
from the land in a veritable cauldron of waters.
Again the lifeboat returned with her living freight of rescued
seamen, and again worn out as before with the struggle, a fresh crew
was obtained; but again Jarvist Arnold for the third time went back to
the wreck. And yet again with a fourth fresh crew the brave man
returned for the fourth and last time to the vessel; and finally came
safe to the shore with the remainder of the crew, twenty-nine of whom
were thus rescued, but only rescued by the most determined and repeated
efforts, through what the coxswain's report describes as 'a fearful sea
with snowstorm and freezing hard all the time.'
When, long after midnight, the lifeboatmen staggered home, Jarvist
found that his oilskin coat was frozen so hard that it stood upright
and rigid on his cottage floor when he took it off his own half-frozen
self. But he had a soft pillow that night; he had bravely done his
duty, and had saved twenty-nine of his fellow human beings from death
in the sea.
Many a stormy struggle after this rescue was gone through by Jarvist
Arnold and his Kingsdown lifeboat crew on the Goodwin Sands during the
years 1870-1873. Holding the honourable but arduous post of coxswain of
the Kingsdown lifeboat Sabrina, he also manfully earned his living as
Channel pilot, being a most trustworthy and skilful seaman. He did well
that which came to his hand; he did his best and his duty. I speak
after the manner of men, and as between man and man. More than that no
man can do.
On the night of December 17, 1872, about 2.30 a.m., it was blowing a
gale from the south-west. Out of the gale was borne landwards the boom
of guns; far away on the horizon, or where the horizon ought to be, was
seen the flash of their fire; and upwards into the winter midnight shot
the distant rockets, appealing not in vain for help.
Almost simultaneously the coxswains at Walmer and Kingsdown were
roused, William Bushell and Jarvist Arnold. At Walmer the lifeboat-bell
rang out its summons, but at Kingsdown a fast runner was sent round the
village, crying as he ran, 'Man the lifeboat!' 'Ship on the Goodwins!'
Up sprang the menthat is, all the grown-up men in the village; and
while the tempest shook their lowly cottage roofs, out they poured into
the night, followed by lads, boys, wives, mothers, sweethearts and
Jarvist Arnold's wife said, 'Ladies can sometimes keep their
husbands, but poor women like us must let them go;' and once more
Jarvist Arnold steered his lifeboatshall I not say to victory? for
'Peace hath her victories no less renowned than War;' and this sentence
might well be emblazoned on every lifeboat in the kingdom.
At 3 a.m. on this midwinter night they launched at their respective
stations, distant about two miles from each other, the lifeboats of
Walmer and Kingsdown, and faced the sea and the storm. Think of the
deed, and its hardships, and its heroism; of the brave hearts who
'darkling faced the billows,' and the anxious women left behind, ye who
live to kill time in graceless self-indulgence, and ere it be too late,
learn to sacrifice and to dare.
The two lifeboats got together before they reached the edge of the
Goodwins, and held such consultation as was possible in the pitchy
darkness and in the roar of the sea. It was agreed between them that
there would be much difficulty in finding the vessel in distress, as
her signals and blue lights had ceased and the night was very dark.
They decided that the Kingsdown lifeboat should go first, and if they
hit the vessel they were to burn a red light in token of success, and a
white light if they could not find her; but that, in any case, Walmer
was to come shortly after them and search through the breakers, whether
Kingsdown succeeded or not.
In the dark the Kingsdown coxswain put his lifeboat into the surf on
the Goodwins; it was heavy, but they got through it safely, and found
on the off-part of the Goodwins, towards its southern endknown as the
South Callipera large steamship aground. She proved to be the
Sorrento, bound from the Mediterranean to Lynn.
Close outside where she lay on the treacherous sands were thirteen
and fourteen fathoms of deep water, that is, from seventy to eighty
feet, while she lay in about six feet of white surf, which flew in
clouds over her as each sea struck her quarters and stern.
The Sorrento had struck the Goodwins at midnight, or a little after,
in about twenty-one feet of water, but when the lifeboat got alongside
the tide had fallen, and there was only six feet of broken water around
her. As the sands were nearly dry to the southward of her, the sea was
by no means so formidable as it afterwards became with the rising tide
and increasing gale and greater depth of water.
The Kingsdown lifeboat sent up her red light, and then came through
the surf the Walmer lifeboat, guided by the red signal of success from
Jarvist Arnold. Both lifeboats got alongside the great steamer, and the
greater part of the crews of both lifeboats clambered on board her,
leaving eight men in each lifeboat.
The head of the wrecked steamer lay about E.N.E., and the seas were
hammering at and breaking against her starboard quarter, which rose
high in the air quite twenty feet out of the water at the time the
lifeboats got alongside. All the lifeboatmen now turned to pumping the
vessel, which was very full of water, with a view to saving the ship
and her valuable cargo of barley.
The Walmer lifeboat lay alongside the Sorrento, under her port bow,
and the head of the Walmer lifeboat pointed towards the stern of the
wrecked steamer, and was firmly fastened to her by a stout hawser.
About this timesay, five o'clock in the morningwhile it was
dark, the Ramsgate lifeboat also arrived, and seeing the other two
lifeboats alongside they anchored outside the sands. And the Kingsdown
lifeboat, manned only by her coxswain and seven of her crew, was
sheered off about two hundred fathoms, to lay out a kedge anchor, with
a view to preventing the vessel drifting farther, as the tide rose,
into the shallower parts of the sands, and in the hope of warping her
into deeper water.
Naturally the presence of the lifeboats and a company of seventeen
or eighteen stalwart lifeboatmen, all thoroughly up to their work,
infused fresh courage into the captain and crew of the Sorrento. They
felt that all was not lost, and dividing themselves into different
gangs of men, all hands worked with a will, throwing the cargo
overboard to lighten the vessel, and pumping with all their
energiestheir shouts ringing out bravely as they worked to get out
the water. The donkey engine too was set at work, and steam fought
storm and sea, but this time in vain. After several hours' hard work,
the engineer came to the captain and lifeboatmen and said, 'It's all
up; the water's coming in as fast as we pump it out. Come down and see
It was too true, the good steamship's back was broken, and the clear
sea-water bubbled into her faster than it could be got out. As the day
began to break, the sea rose and beat more heavily over the vessel; it
burst no longer merely in clouds or showers on the deck, but in heavy
volumes, and on all sides, especially to the south; long lines of
rollers careered on towards the doomed vessel with tossing, tumbling
crests, and then burst over her.
At 11 a.m. in this state of affairs the hope of saving the ship was
abandoned, and all only thought now of saving life. Thinking the two
lifeboatsthe Centurion and the Sabrinawere insufficient to rescue
the whole of the steamer's crew, the ensign was hoisted 'union down'
for more assistance. None came; probably the signal was not seen, or
possibly, it was thought that the presence of the lifeboats had
answered the appeal.
As the tide rose the water deepened and more wind came. Heavy masses
of water struck the hapless vessel, and though her starboard quarter
was still ten feet out of the water, each sea swept her decks, carrying
spars, hen coops, and everything movable clean before it.
All hands now fled to the bridge of the steamer, watching for a
favourable moment to get into the Walmer lifeboat, still riding
alongside, while each mad billow lifted her up almost to the level of
the bridge and then smothered the lifeboat in its foaming bosom as she
descended into the depths.
Any one who carefully observes a succession of waves either breaking
in charging lines on a beach, or in the wilder turmoil of the Goodwins,
must notice how frequently they differ in shape and in size. I am by no
means convinced that either the third wavethe [Greek] trikumia
of the Greeksor the tenth wave, as the Latin fluctus decimanus
seems to suggestis always larger than its tempestuous comrades, but
ashore or afloat you do now and then see a giant, formed mysteriously
in accordance with the laws of fluids, that does out-top its fellows,
[Greek] kephalen te kai eureas ômous.
Such a great sea was seen advancing by the occupants of the bridge
of the Sorrento. Combing, curling, high over the stern of the wreck it
broke, carrying everything before it in one common ruin. It carried
away the boats of the wrecked steamer, tearing them and the davits
which supported them out of the vessel.
Snap went the strong five-inch cable which fastened the Walmer
lifeboat to the port or sheltered quarter of the Sorrento, as the end
of the great green sea swept round her stern; and as the lifeboat was
torn away from the wreck she was forced up against the crashing jangle
of the steamer's boats and davits; and yet again with tremendous force
jammed right up against the anchor of the Sorrento, which was driven
into the fore thwart of the ascending lifeboat. The lifeboatmen
crouched down to avoid destruction, andfor all this was done in a
momentaway she sped, spun round as a boy would spin his top, to
leeward of the wreck and among the breakers of the Goodwins.
'Never saw anything spin round like her in my life!' said one of the
crew afterwards; and so far was she carried by this great sea that she
could not drop anchor till she was half a mile from the wrecked
steamship. Tide and wind were both against her, and she was utterly
unable to get back to the wreck. She simply rode helplessly to her
anchor with less than half of her own men in her, the remainder being
clustered on the bridge, as already described, or clinging to the
rigging of the Sorrento. The aspect of affairs had now become one of
The Walmer lifeboat was swept away, and as helpless as if she were
fifty miles off, leaving seven of her crew in great peril on the
bridge. Seven of the crew of the Kingsdown lifeboat were also gathered
on the steamer's bridge, together with thirty-two of the crew of the
wrecked vessel herself. In all, there stood or clung there, drenched by
the clouds of spray, drowned almost as they fought for breath,
forty-six persons; and their only hope or chance for life was the
Kingsdown lifeboat, which still bravely lived, heavily plunging into
and covered now and then by the seas.
At the helm, in dire anxiety, was Jarvist Arnold, and with him were
in the lifeboat only seven of his crew, the remainder of them being
entrapped on board the Sorrento, together with the Walmer lifeboatmen.
It was thought, as my readers will remember, that two lifeboats were
insufficient to rescue all hands, but now the rescueif rescue there
were to bedepended upon one small lifeboat half manned.
Besides this, Jarvist Arnold saw with his own eyes the defeat of the
Walmer lifeboat, and was so close to the wreck that he was well aware
of the dangerous sea sweeping over her and racing up under her stern;
but the brave fellow never faltered in his determination to attempt the
rescue; and he was strung to his formidable task by the knowledge that
three of his own sons were holding on for dear life on the bridge of
the wreck. He could see the gestures and hear the shouts from the
bridge as the sounds came across the wind, now a heavy gale.
There was no lack of resolution, but the problem was to get at the
Sorrento at all, as the diagram will help the reader to understand.
[Illustration: Position of the Sorrento.]
It will be plain that the tide current was forcing the Kingsdown
lifeboat, even when at anchor, away from the distressed vessel, and
that if she weighed anchor, she would be carried away to leeward, as
the Walmer men had been.
Thinking of all expedients, they bent on their second cable and rode
to the long scope of one hundred and sixty fathoms. Still the cruel
lee-tide and wind forced them away. They sheered the head of the
lifeboat in towards the wreckand thenthe six men in her sprang to
the oars, and tugged and strained at them, all rowing on the same side,
to direct the lifeboat towards the vessel. While they struggled, the
great breakers overwhelmed and blinded them, filling many times the
gallant little lifeboatshe was only thirty-six feet in lengthwhich
as obstinately emptied herself free and lived through it all, by God's
'Must I see my sons die in my sight, and my friends and neighbours
too?' thought Jarvist Arnold, as he was beaten away from the vessel;
and then, 'Lord, help me!' Again and again, in vain they struggled,
when some one on the wreck sprang from the bridge at the most imminent
peril of his life, on to the slippery, sloping wave-swept deck.
He had seen coiled on a belaying pin on the bridge a long lead line,
and on the deck still unwashed away an old cork fender. Some say it was
the mate of the vessel; others that it was one of the Kingsdown men who
fastened the lead line to the fender and who slung it overboard, and
then, stumbling and slipping, ran for his life back to the bridge,
barely escaping an overwhelming wave.
Swirling and eddying in the strange currents on the Goodwins, and
beaten of the winds and waves, on came the old cork fender towards the
lifeboat. They had not another bit of cable to spare on board the
lifeboat; every inch of their one hundred and sixty fathoms was paid
out. Breathless the coxswain, and the man in the bows, rigid as his own
boat-hook with the anxiety of the moment, lashed to his position, a
life line round his waist, watched the approach of the fender. It was
sucked by the current towards the lifeboat, and then tossed by a wave
away from her again.
Feeling assured that a great loss of life must soon occur, either by
the people on the frail refuge of the steamer's bridge being swept off
it, or by the bridge itself being carried away by the seas, which were
becoming more solid every moment, Jarvist and his comrades thought the
cork fender was a long time in reaching them. Lives of men hung in the
balance, and minutes seem hours then.
At last it drifted hopelessly out of reach, but into a curious
backwater, which eddied it right under the boat hook of the bowman. In
an instant it was seized, and the line made fast to a thwart. 'I've a
great mind to trust to it,' said Jarvist Arnold, but caution prevailed,
and they made fast a stout rope to the lead line.
Again the people on the bridge watched their chance. One man managed
to wade along the now submerged deck to reach the lead line, and he
hauled it with the stronger rope on board, making the latter securely
fast. Again had this man to fly for life up the bridge from an
advancing billow, which, leaping over the stern of the wreck, nearly
overtook him, and at the same time by its great weight and impulse,
beat the stern of the steamship a little way round to the west.
Hauling on this cable without letting go their own anchor, Jarvist
Arnold and his small crew hauled their lifeboat as close under the
leaning bridge as they dared.
The first man who tried to escape from the bridge in his leap missed
the lifeboat and fell into the sea, and not a moment too soon was
grasped by friendly hands and dragged into the lifeboat.
The direction of the tidal current on the Goodwins shifts every hour
to a different point of the compass; and now this strong eddy, being
altered still more by the position of the wreck, would suck the
lifeboat towards the stern of the wreck. There she would meet another
current of the truer tide, and get hurried back again half buried in
breakers, which were ever and anon bursting over and round the stern of
[Illustration: The Sorrento on the Goodwin Sands.]
Then she would come back under the bridge, where every effort was
made to hold her by stern ropes; and as she rose, 'by the dreadful
tempest borne, high on the broken wave,' man after man they jumped, or
were dragged, or came quick as lightning down a rope, into the Sabrina,
the whole forty-six of the imperilled men, the captain being last man,
and almost too late.
Bringing with them the old cork fender as a memento, Jarvist and his
unbeaten crew sheered out their lifeboat to ride by their own cable, as
before the timely arrival of the fender. Now they saw signs of the
approaching break up of the Sorrento, for before they had left her very
long her funnel and masts went overboard, and reeling to the blows of
the sea, she split in halves and disappeared under the breakers of the
But before this dramatic conclusion, the Kingsdown lifeboat slipped
her anchor, to which she never could have got back, and setting her
mast and double-reefed storm-foresail, ran away before the wind through
the 'heavy boiling surf' on the Goodwins. These are the coxswain's own
written words, and I can only repeat they are below the grim reality.
With the forty-six rescued seafarers on board she was terribly low
in the water, and was filled in and out from both sides at once by the
seas as they broke. Only a lifeboat could have lived, but even she
resembled a floating baulk of timber, which is covered and swept by the
seas on the same level as itself. Holding on for life to thwarts and
life-lines, they kept the lifeboat dead before the sea. They did not
dare to luff her to the west or bear her away to the east. They dared
not keep away to get to the Walmer lifeboat, nor in the other direction
toward the mainland, about six miles off.
The slightest exposure of the broadside of the lifeboat would either
have capsized her, or washed every soul out of her; onwards, therefore,
dead before the wind and right on the top of and in the breakers of the
Goodwins she flew her stormy flight for nearly four miles.
The Walmer lifeboat had got up anchor at the same time as the
Kingsdown men; for as the Kingsdown overcrowded lifeboat ran past the
Walmer lifeboat, which was waiting at anchor for them, they shouted to
the Walmer men, 'Slip your cable, and come after us!'
This the Walmer lifeboat did, and now ventured to approach the
Kingsdown lifeboat. Though handled with skill and caution, being light,
she took a sea; and she came right on top of the gunwale of the
Kingsdown lifeboat, smashing her oars, which were run out to steady
her, like so many pipe-shanks, and crunching into her gunwale.
But at last, with difficulty, half of the living freight of the
Sabrina was transferred to the Walmer lifeboat; and then both lifeboats
luffing in through Trinity Swatch, by God's mercy, escaped the deadly
Goodwins, and landed the rescued crew at Broadstairs.
And the gallant deed is still sung by the Kingsdown children in
simple village rhymes,
God bless the Lifeboat and its crew,
Its coxswain stout and bold,
And Jarvist Arnold is his name,
Sprung from the Vikings old,
Who made the waves and winds their slaves,
As likewise we do so,
While still Britannia rules the waves,
And the stormy winds do blow;
And the old Cork Float that safety brought,
We'll hold in honour leal,
And it shall grace the chiefest place
In Kingsdown, hard by Deal!
One of Jarvist Arnold's sons never recovered the strain of those
awful hours on the bridge of the Sorrento in her death-throes, and, to
use his father's words: 'He never was a man no more.' But Jarvist
himself did many a subsequent good deed of rescue, and stuck to his
arduous post as long as, and even beyond, what health and strength and
Would that I could say that the noble old fellow was in independent
circumstances! Despite the continued generosity of the Royal National
Lifeboat Institution to him, alas! this is not the case. Would that
some practicable scheme for providing a pension for deserving working
men in their old age were before the country!
Jarvist Arnold is, however, not forsaken; he has good and honourable
children, and I know that with that inner gaze which sees more clearly
as eternity approaches, he too in simple faith beholds the advancing
lifeboat, and hears the glad words, 'When thou passest through the
waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not
overflow thee,' from the mouth of the Great Commander.
CHAPTER IX. THE ROYAL ARCH
Cease, rude Boreas, blust'ring railer!
List, ye landsmen ill, to me!
Messmates! hear a brother sailor
Sing the dangers of the sea.
This and the following chapter contains the story of cases of rescue
in which the ships in distress were saved, together with all on board,
by the skill and courage of the Deal lifeboatmen, and brought finally
with their respective cargoes safe into port.
A century ago, certain of our English coasts are described by the
same writer whose lines head this chapter, as
Where the grim hell-hounds, prowling round the shore,
With foul intent the stranded bark explore.
Deaf to the voice of woe, her decks they board,
While tardy Justice slumbers o'er her sword.
But these pages recount, in happy contrast, the generous and gallant
efforts of the Deal boatmen, in the first instance to save life, and
then, when besought to stand by the vessel, or employed to do so, of
their further success in saving valuable property, often worth many
thousand pounds, from utter destruction in the sea.
I stood some years ago on the deck of a lightship stationed near the
wreck of the British Navy, a vessel sunk by collision in the Downs one
dreadful night, when twenty sailors went to the bottom with her, and I
saw her masts blown up and out of her by an explosion of dynamite to
remove the wreck from the Downs, while the water was strewn with the
debris of her valuable cargo. This cargo, amongst countless other
commodities, was said to have contained one hundred pianos; hence some
idea may be gathered of the pecuniary importance, apart from the
story's thrilling interest, of salvage of valuable vessels and precious
On March 29, 1878, the wind blew strong from the E.N.E., and only
one vessel, the Royal Arch, lay in the Downs. The great roadstead,
protected from the full fetch of an easterly sea by the natural
breakwater of the Goodwinsfor without those dreaded sands neither the
Downs as a sheltered anchorage would exist, nor in all probability the
towns of Deal and Walmerwas nevertheless on that day a very stormy
place, and as the wind freshened towards evening, as the east wind
nearly always does in this locality, it eventually came on to blow a
whole gale dead on shore.
The sea raised by an easterly gale on Deal beach is tremendous, and
not even the first-class luggers, or their smaller sisters, the 'cats,'
could be launched. Had there been a harbour from which the Deal luggers
could at once make the open sea, they would have been able to live and
skim like the stormy petrel over the crest of the billows; but it is
quite a different thing when a lugger has to be launched from a beach
right in the teeth of a mountainous sea, and incurs the certainty of
being driven back broadside on to the steep shingle, and of her crew
being washed out of her, and drowned by some giant sea. Hence that
evening no ordinary Deal boat or even lugger could launch. On the
morning of the same day the captain of the Royal Arch had been
compelled by some necessary business to come ashore. To have come
ashore in his own ship's boat in such a wind and sea would have
involved certain disaster and even loss of life, and therefore he came
ashore in a Deal galley punt, which successfully performed the feat of
beaching in a heavy surf.
In the evening, against an increasing gale, and much heavier sea,
the galley punt dared not launch to bring the captain back. None even
of the luggers would encounter the risk of launching in so heavy a sea
dead on the beach. He therefore tried the lifeboats, upon the plea and
grounds that his ship was dragging her anchors and in peril. She was
lying abreast of Walmer Castle, and was indeed gradually dragging in
towards the surf-beaten shore, which, if she struck, not a soul on
board probably would have been saved.
The anxious captain first tried the Walmer lifeboat, but she was too
far to leeward, and would not have been able to fetch the vessel. But
eventually, as his vessel was now burning signals of distress, he ran
to the North Deal lifeboat, and the coxswain, Robert Wilds, seeing all
other boats were helpless, decided to ring the lifeboat bell and pit
the celebrated Van Cook against the stormy sea in deadly fight.
The Deal boatmen had long foreseen the launch of the lifeboat, and
they were massed in crowds round the lifeboat-house, competitors for
the honour of forming the crew. The danger of the distressed vessel was
known in the town, and crowds had assembled on the beach, amongst them
the Mayor of Deal, to watch the lifeboat launch.
The long run of the great waves came right up to where the lifeboat
lay, so that when she was let go she had no steep slope to rush down so
as to hurl her by her own impetus into the sea. She depended,
therefore, for her launching against this great sea, on her haul-off
warp, which was moored one hundred fathoms out to sea, and by which her
fifteen men hoped to pull her out to deep water. But this dark night
she simply stuck fast after running down a little way, and got into the
'draw back' under the seas bursting in fury.
Her situation was most perilous, and the danger of the men being
swept out of her was great. But through it all the lifeboatmen, with
stubborn pluck, held on to the haul-off warp and strained for their
lives, and at last a great sea came and washed them afloat within its
recoil, and covered the lifeboat and her crew. The spectators groaned
with horror as the lifeboat disappeared, but the men were straining
gallantly at the haul-off warp, and the lifeboat emerged. When she was
seen above the surges just only for an instant, 'All Deal sent forth a
rapturous cry,' and the brave men, though they could not see the people
on the land, yet heard their mighty cheer, and, strung in their hearts
to dare and to conquer, sped on their glorious task.
When just out to deep water, the coxswain sang out, 'Hang on, every
man!' and a great sea came out of the night right at the lifeboat. Tom
Adams was out on the fore air-box, lifting the haul-off warp out of the
cheek, a perilous spot, when the sea was seen; he had just time to get
back and clasp both arms round the foremast as the sea broke,
overwhelming lifeboat and the crew and the captain of the Royal Arch,
who was aft, in a white smother of foam. But the lifeboat freed herself
of the sea, and like a living creature stood up to face the gale.
Close-reefed mizzen and reefed storm foresail was her canvas;
watchful men stood by halyards and sheets, hitched, not belayed, and
watched each gust and sea as only Deal men who watch for their lives
can watch, and even they are sometimes caught.
At last the vessel in distress loomed through the night, and from
many an anxious heart on board went up, 'Thank God! here comes the
lifeboat!' Not too soon was she! For the hungry breakers were roaring
under their lee. Blue lights and other signals of distress had already
been made on board the vessel for some time; a rocket too had been
fired, with a rather unsatisfactory result.
One of the mates, who I was informed hailed from County Cork,
decided to fire a rocket, a thing he had never, it seems, done before
in his life, and failing the usual rocket-stand, he bethought him of
the novel and ingenious expedient of letting it off through the iron
tube which formed the chimney of the galley or cooking-house on deck,
thus hoping to make sure of successfully directing its flight upwards.
In the confusion and darkness he did in his execution not perhaps do
justice to himself, or to the fertility of resource which had devised
so excellent a plan. The sea was rolling to the depth of two feet over
the deck, and washing right through the galley house, and it was only
by great efforts he succeeded in the darkness in fastening the rocket
in the tube which formed the chimney.
To do this he had unwisely removed the rocket from its stick, and,
unfortunately, he fastened it in the chimney upside down. Having done
so, he fumbled in his pocket, the darkness being intense, for his
matches, and applied the light underneath in the usual place. But the
rocket being upside down he of course failed to set it off, and then he
unluckily tried the other end, which was uppermost, with the disastrous
result, as my English informant described it, that 'the hexplosion
blowed him clean out of the galley.'
'Blowed him!' said I, unconsciously adopting my friend's expression,
'Why,' said he, 'hout of the galley into the lee scuppers.'
'Was the poor fellow much hurt?'
'Hurt! Bless you! not he. But he kept shouting like forty blue
'What did he say?'
'Well,' he replied, 'he was that scared and that choked with soot,
as ever was, that all he could say wasI'm dead! I'm dead! I'm dead!'
The position of the vessel was now very serious; she was going so
fast astern towards the breakers and the land that after the lifeboat
anchored ahead of and close to her she could hardly keep abreast of the
dragging vessel by paying out her cable as fast as possible. Roberts
and Adams, and in all five of the lifeboatmen, sprang on board of her
as she rolled in the pitchy night.
They sprang, as the lifeboat went up and the ship came down, over
the yawning chasm, on the chance of gripping the shrouds, and some of
them rolled over and actually and literally, as they were carried off
their feet, had to swim on the decks of the labouring vessel.
The captain of the vessel could not get on board in the same way,
and though they passed a line round his waist it was a good half-hour
before they could get him up the steep side.
The lifeboatmen say that when he did reach the deck he declared
'that if that was what they called coming hoff in a lifeboat from Deal
beach, he wouldn't do it againno, not for hall the money in the Bank
The captain now hesitated to slip his ship, lest she might pay off
on the wrong tack and come ashore; but as the vessel was steadily
drifting and the sea terrific, the lifeboat being now and then hoisted
up to her foreyard, while mountainous seas wallowed over both the
lifeboat and the vessel, the Deal lifeboatmen said, 'If you don't slip
her, we will. There's death right astern for all of us if you delay.'
Then the captain himself took the helm, the rudder-head being
twisted, and the spirit and energy of the Deal men infused new life
into the wearied crew, and all hands worked together with a will.
They loosed the fore-topsail and they set the foretopmast staysail.
Tom Adams went or waded forwards, holding on carefully, with a lantern,
and he watched by the dim light till the fore-topmast staysail bellied
out with a flap like thunder on the right side, and then he shouted
down the wind, 'Hard up, captain! Hard a-port!' At the same instant
Roberts shouted, 'Slip the cable! Let go all!' And just within the very
jaws of the breakers, the ship's head payed away to the southward, and
she escapedsaved at the last minute, and safe to the open sea.
When safe away and running before the gale, the Deal men strapped
the rudder-head with ropes, straining them tight with a tackle, and
then wedged the ropes tighter and tighter still, making the rudder head
And then, though only very poorly and miserably supplied with
foodfor they only had dry biscuits till they reached portthey
manned the pumps with the worn-out crew, and brought the ship safe to
But for the existence of a lifeboat at North Deal the ship would
have been wrecked that night on the stormy beach of Deal, and, in all
probability, her crew would also have perished.
It is pleasant to record the unselfish heroism of the Deal
lifeboatmen, who on this occasion were the means of saving both
valuable property and precious human lives.
CHAPTER X. THE MANDALAY
The leak we've found, it cannot pour fast;
We've lightened her a foot or more
Up and rig a jury foremast,
She rights! She rights, boys! Wear off shore!
The case of the Mandalay here recorded so far resembles that of the
Royal Arch and of the Edina, that in all three cases the vessels, the
cargoes, and the lives of all on board, were saved by the Deal
lifeboatmen, and by their courage and seamanlike skill, and intimate
local knowledge of the Goodwins and other places and sands in their
dangerous vicinity, brought safe to port. The Royal Arch was drifting
at night from her anchorage in the Downs, in an easterly gale towards
the surf-beaten shore. The Edina was in the most imminent peril on the
edge of the Brake Sand. The Mandalay was on the Goodwins itself, and to
save a vessel and her cargo from the Goodwins is no easy task.
On December 13, 1889, the Mandalay was passing the North Sand Head
lightship a little after midnight. She was outward bound from
Middlesbrough to the River Plate with a cargo of railway iron sleepers.
They hailed the lightship as its great lantern rapidly flashed close to
them, but the reply was lost in the plash of the sea and the flap of
the sails and the different noises of a ship in motion. At any rate the
Mandalay mistook her bearings, and managed to get into the very heart
of the Goodwin Sands.
In the darkness she probably sailed into what is called the Ramsgate
Man's Bight, though this is only a conjecture. This bight is a
swatchway of deep water, and the Mandalay then struck the Sands on the
eastern jaw of another channel into the Goodwins. This swatchway runs
N.E. and S.W., and leads from the deep water outside the Goodwins into
the inmost recesses of the Sands; that is, into a shallowish bay called
Trinity Bay; and it is much harder to get out of this bay than to get
in, like many a scrape of another kind. The swatchway leading into
Trinity Bay was about seven fathoms deep, but only fifty fathoms or one
hundred yards wide. On the eastern bank or jaw of this channel the
Mandalay ran aground. She ran aground at nearly high water, when all
was covered with the sea, on a fine, calm night, there being no surf or
ripple or noise to indicate the shallow water or the deadly proximity
of the Goodwin Sands.
Some of the crew were on deckthe man at the wheel aft would take a
sight of the compass gleaming in the light of the binnacle lamp, and
then cast his eye aloft, where the main truck was circling among the
stars, as the ship gently swung along with a light N.W. breeze. Others
of the crew were below and had turned in, 'their midnight fancies
wrapped in golden dreams,' when the grating sound of contact with the
Sands was heard. Then came, 'Turn out, men! All hands on deck! We're
aground on the Goodwins!'
Efforts were made to box the ship off by backing and swinging the
yards and trimming the sails, but all to no purpose, and then flares
and torches to summon help were lighted. These at once caught the
notice of the look-out men on the lightships, and drew from those
vessels the guns and rockets, the usual signals of distress. As the sea
was smooth there was no present danger for the Mandalay, but wind and
sea rise suddenly on the Goodwins, and no one could foresee what might
The Deal coxswain was roused by the coastguard; he saw the flash of
the distant guns and rockets, and having obtained a crew launched at
1.30 a.m., the weather being hazy with frost. They reached the Gull
lightship, and heard there that the vessel ashore lay E.N.E. from them.
They steered in that direction, gazing into the darkness and listening
for sounds or shouts or guns, and at last, about 3 a.m., found the
vessel, her flares having gone out. In spite of the efforts of those on
board, she was sidling more and more on to the Sands, and settling
further into them.
The lifeboat anchored and veered down as usual to the stranded
vessel, and the coxswain got on board: then morning came, and with it
low water, when there would be not more than two feet of water round
the Mandalay and the lifeboat, which latter was at that depth of water
just aground. The lifeboat remained by the vessel, to insure the safety
of the crew in case of possible change of weather. About midday, as the
tide began to rise over the Goodwins, the lifeboat and her crew were
employed by the captain to do their best to save the vessel.
The lifeboat was now on the port bow of the Mandalay, which lay fast
on the Sands with her head to the S.W., and the coxswains laid out a
kedge or small anchor, with warp attached, to the N.E., five of the
lifeboatmen remaining in the lifeboat with Roberts, the coxswain, to
direct the course of action on the Sands, while Hanger, the second
coxswain, went on board with seven lifeboatmen to direct operations
there, and to heave on the warp, in order to move the vessel. Just then
a tug-boat hove in sight, and as the sea was calm, she backed in and
made fast her hawser to the Mandalay, at the captain's desire. Though
all on board heaved their best on the warp, and the tug-boat Bantam
Cock made every effort, they were unable to move the Mandalay from her
perilous position, and the tug-boat then gave the matter up as a bad
job and later in the evening went away.
It was now about 3 p.m., and the tide was again falling when the
lugger Champion, of Ramsgate, appeared and anchored in the swatchway
spoken of above. Some of her crew also went on board the Mandalay, and
under the directions and advice of Roberts and Hanger, the two Deal
coxswains, who were determined to win, all hands turned to throwing
overboard the cargo to lighten the vessel. They thus jettisoned about
two hundred tons of iron sleepersworking at this job till
midnightand threw it over the right or starboard side of the ship,
where it lay in a great mass. It was never recovered, though every
effort was afterwards made to save it. It had been engulfed and
disappeared in the Goodwins' capacious maw.
The men of the lifeboat, now cold, wearied, and hungry, managed to
get an exceedingly frugal meal of tea and some bread and meat, and
about 4 or 5 p.m. the light N.W. breeze fell away to a calm. Towards 7
p.m. the Champion lugger at anchor hoisted her light, to indicate the
channel or swatchway by which the Mandalay would have to come out if
ever she moved at all. The wind now came strong from the S.W. and then
backed to S. and by W., and there was heard the far-off moan of
breaking surf, making it plain that there was a heavy sea rolling in
from the S.W. on a distant point of the Sands. The sea was evidently
coming before the wind, 'the moon looked,' the men said, 'as if she was
getting up contrary,' and Roberts said, 'We'll have trouble before
morning.' At 10 p.m. the wind came. The calm was 'but the grim repose
of the winter whirlwind,' and it soon blew a gale from the S.W. Before
this some Deal galley punts had also wisely made their way for the
shore, and the lifeboat and the Champion lugger were left alone on the
scenethan which nothing could now be wilder. Fortunately another
tug-boat, the Cambria, had anchored about 7 p.m. in deep water outside
the Goodwins, as close as was prudent to the swatchway before
described; but the inevitable struggle was regarded with the greatest
anxiety by all hands, notwithstanding the proffered help of the
tug-boat and the lightening of the ship.
About midnight the rising tide had again covered the Goodwins, but
the surface, no longer fair and calm, was now lashed into fury by the
gale. The seas were breaking everywhere, and as the moon emerged from
behind a flying cloud, far as the eye could see was one sheet of
tumbling, raging breakers, except the narrow channel in which the brave
Champion rode with her guiding light, plunging heavily even in the deep
channel. But the most furious sea raged on the western jaw of the deep
swatchway; there currents and cross seas met, and the breakers rose up
and clashed and struck together in weightier masses and with especial
fury. Now a black cloud covered the moon, and again as it swept away
came the clear moonlight, but in the darkness and in the moonlight the
scene was equally tremendous.
As the water deepened round the ship, sea after sea broke over her
with such increasing fury that the work of jettisoning the cargo, which
had been carried on under great difficulties, had to be given up, and
the hatches had to be put on and battened down tight, to keep the ship
from filling. The same seas that broke over the Mandalay also struck
and buried the lifeboat as she rode alongside to the full scope of her
cable, and as each breaker went roaring past she as regularly freed
herself from the water which had been hurled into her the moment
At one o'clock this wild winter morning the time came for a final
effort to float the ship; and the steam-tug Cambria that had been
waiting outside the Sands now moved in, and, guided by the riding light
of the Champion lugger, anchored for this purpose in the swatchway, was
cautiously manoeuvred in through the narrow channel, and feeling her
way with the lead at great risk came even into the broken water in
which the Mandalay was lying. This broken water was only fourteen or
fifteen feet deep, and though barely enough to float the tug-boat in a
sort of raging smother of froth, was not deep enough to float the
Mandalay, which required three feet more and still lay firm as a rock,
and, like a tide-washed rock, was swept by the seas which were flying
Directed by the second coxswain, attempts were now made to get the
Cambria's steel hawser on board the vessel, and in the boiling turmoil
the Cambria came dangerously near the heap of jettisoned iron on the
starboard side of the Mandalay. It will be plain that without the
presence of the lifeboat and her crew in case of disaster, all other
efforts to save the ship would have been paralysed, and indeed would
never have been attempted. Without the lifeboat, no tug-boat, or any
other boat, would have dared to venture into that fearful labyrinth of
sand and surf.
The hawser was got on board after an hour's struggle, and made fast
to the Mandalay's starboard bow; but though the Mandalay rolled and
bumped she was not moved from her sandy bed. It was almost impossible
for those on board to keep their feet as she struck the sand and as the
seas swept her decks. The position of the tug on the starboard side of
the Mandalay was so perilous that it was decided to bring her across
the bows of the vessel to her port side; and this was done with great
difficulty against the gale and sea continually becoming heavier.
Creeping round the bows of the Mandalay the tug-boat came, and in doing
so crossed the cable of the lifeboat with her hawser, and therefore the
lifeboat's cable had to be slipped at once, and she had to be made fast
to and ride alongside the Mandalay.
Still round came the tug, and getting into deeper water of about
three or three and a half fathoms, after a most hazardous and gallant
passage through the breakers round the vessel, set her engines going
full speed ahead. The seas now struck and bumped the Mandalay so
heavily that, in spite of all efforts to save her, she was in a most
critical position, and at the same time a great disaster nearly
occurred. The great steel hawser of the tug, as she strained all her
powers, was now tautening and slackening, and then, as steam strove for
the mastery against the storm, again tightening with enormous force
till it became like a rigid iron bar. It vibrated and swung alongside
the lifeboat, which could not get out of the way, and dared not leave
the vesselreturn to which, had the lifeboat once slipped her anchor,
against wind and tide would have been impossible; and their comrades'
lives, and those of all, depended on their standing by the vessel.
Though the gallant coxswain did all that man could do to combat this
new danger, still with a terrific jerk the steel hawser got right under
the lifeboat, hoisting her, in spite of her great weight, clean out of
Aided by an awful breaker, whose tumultuous and raging advance was
seen afar in the moonlight, this powerful jerk of the tightening
hawser, which had got under the very keel of the lifeboat, lifted her
up so high that she struck in her descent, with her ponderous iron keel
or very undermost part of the lifeboat, the top rail of the Mandalay's
bulwarks. The marvel is how she escaped being turned right over by the
shock. The next day I saw with astonishment the crushed woodwork where
this mighty blow had been struck.
The lifeboat's rudder was smashed and her great stern post sprung,
and one of the crew that remained in her was also injured, but still
Roberts held on to the ship. At this critical moment Hanger, seeing the
lifeboat's safety was endangered, and regarding it as a question of
saving not only his comrades' lives but the lives of all, most
reluctantly gave orders to cut the steel hawser of the tug, which was
made fast on board the vessel. This would have of course sacrificed all
the trouble and risk that had been incurred; another tug-boat had also
crept up on the starboard bow to help the first, and efforts were being
made to get her hawser too on board; in fact, success and safety seemed
almost within their grasp, but it was a matter of life or death, and
one of the Deal men, obeying orders, seized an axe and hewed and struck
with all his might at the steel hawser, which was still endangering the
Strand after wire strand was divided, when a great sea came and the
vessel trembled from her keel to her truck, and all hands had to hold
on for life. Down again came the axe, as the sea went by. But its edge
was blunted and it cut slowly, as the wielder doubled his efforts in
reply to the shouts, 'Cut the hawser, or the lifeboat's lost!'
A confused struggle was now going on; some were passing the second
tug-boat's hawser on board, and some were trying, under pressure of
dire necessity, to cut the hawser by which the Cambria tug was
straining at the vessel, and still the terrible hawser got under the
lifeboat, and still the axeman strove vainly with a blunted axe to
divide the hawser.
Another sea came racing at the vessel. It lifted her off the Sands,
and thumped her down with such fury that Hanger said, 'The bottom is
coming out of her!'
Just then, holding on to prevent himself falling, he looked at the
compass, 'Great heavens! She's moving! She's slewing, lads!' he said;
the axeman threw down his useless axe, and again came a sea, lifting up
the vessel and her iron cargo as if she had been a feather. Had she
struck the bottom as violently as before, her masts must have gone over
with a crash into the lifeboat, but the lift of this overwhelming sea
was at the very instant aided by the strain of the tug-boat's hawser,
exerting enormous force, though divided almost in twain, and the
vessel's head was torn round to the east and, 'Hurrah! my lads! she's
off!' was heard from the undaunted but wearied battlers with the storm.
The hawser of the second tug-boat had been passed shortly before
this with extreme danger both to that tug-boat, the Iona, and to the
lifeboatmen working forwards to make it fast, on the slippery footing
of the deck. The strain of the second tug-boat was now felt by the
moving vessel, and then came the scrapes and the crunches and the
thumps as she was pulled over the sand towards the deep swatchway. Her
head sails were set, to pay her head off still more, and at last the
victorious tug-boats pulled her safe into the swatchway, accompanied by
On the left or western jaw, it will be remembered, the most terrific
sea was running, and the tug-boat approached this awful turmoil too
closely. Fortunately, Roberts saw the danger, and shouted from the
lifeboat, 'Port your helm! Hard a-port! or you're into the breakers!'
Hanger on board, with answering readiness, set the great spanker of the
vessel, and forced her head up to the north-east, barely clearing the
Champion and her invaluable riding light; and at last the Mandalay was
towed through the narrow swatch, on either side of which roared the
hungry breakers, baulked of their prey by human skill and perseverance
and dauntless British pluck.
Some time before emerging from the death-trap, as the spot where the
Mandalay grounded might well be called, and when in the very most
anxious and critical part of the struggle, the moon broke out from
behind a great dark cloud, and there was seen struggling and labouring
in the gale a ship whose sails caught the moonlight. She shone out
vividly against the black background, but the lifeboatmen were
horrified to see that, attracted by the lights of the Champion, she was
heading straight for the terrible sea on the western jaw of the swatch,
where she apparently thought she would find safe anchorage in company
with other vessels.
The North Deal coxswain expected to see her strike, and had decided,
in his mind, to get his crew from the Mandalay on board, and then rush
through the breakers to the doomed vessel, and having rescued her crew,
to return with the help of one of the tug-boats to the Mandalay; but,
fortunately, this catastrophe was averted by the humane and generous
action of the captain of the tug-boat Bantam Cock, who went at full
speed within hail, and warned the unsuspecting vessel of the terrible
danger so near her.
We can almost fancy we hear the hoarse shouts from the tug-boat of
'Breakers ahead!' 'Goodwins under your lee!' and then the rattling and
the thunderous noise of the sails, and the creaking of the yards and
braces, as the vessel swings round on the other tack into safety.
The Mandalay was then towed out of the swatchway by the Cambria into
deep water, and round the Goodwin Sands, with the lifeboat alongside
her, into the anchorage of the Downs by the half-divided hawser. Had
the axe's edge been keener, or had a few more blows been struck, or a
few more strands severed, or had the masts of the vessel crashed into
the lifeboat, or the lifeboat been capsized by the hawser's mighty
jerks, how different a tale would have been told!
But it is our happy privilege to record the successful issue of
thirty-five hours' struggle against the terrors of a winter's gale on
the Goodwin Sands, and of doing some small justice to the seamanlike
skill and daring of the Deal coxswains and lifeboatmen, and of all
engaged in the task.
It will be seen from the case recorded in this chapter that the
motives which were apparent in the minds of the brave fellows who
manned the lifeboat on each occasion were those of humanity and
generous ardour to succour the distressed; the salvage of property was
an afterthought. They started from the beach to put their intimate
local knowledge of the Goodwins, their skill, their strength, nay,
their lives, at the service of seamen in distress; but when they saw
that their energies, and theirs alone, could save a valuable vessel and
her cargo, and that they could earn such fair recompense as the law
allowed, this salvage of property became a duty, in the discharge of
which, had any man lost his life he would have lost it nobly, having
entered upon his perilous task in the unselfish and sublimer spirit of
rescuing 'some forlorn and shipwrecked brother' from death on the
CHAPTER XI. THE LEDA
Swift on the shore, a hardy few
The Lifeboat man, with a gallant, gallant crew.
Some years ago I remember reading a tale, the hero of which was a
youth of nineteen. The scene was laid around the lifeboat of either
Deal or Walmer. There was supposed to be a ship in distress on the
Goodwins, and the night was dark and stormy. All the boatmen hung back,
so the story ran, from the work of rescue, and shrank from the black
fury of the gale, when the hero appeared on the scene, and roundly
rating the coxswain and crew, sprang into the lifeboat, pointed out
exactly what should be done, gave courage to all the quailing boatmen,
and seizing an oarthose heroic youths always 'seize' or 'grasp' an
oarpulled to the Goodwin Sands 'in the teeth of a gale.' I notice
these heroes always prefer the 'teeth of a gale,' especially when
pulling in a lifeboat; nothing would apparently induce them to touch an
oar if the wind were fair or moderate.
Having rescued the crew of the distressed vessel, solus fecit
some slight assistance having also been rendered by the
lifeboatmenthe lifeboat is of course overturned, and he swims ashore.
Still, by some extraordinary manoeuvre on the part of the wind 'in the
teeth of the gale,' bearing the beauteous heroine in his arms, with the
usual result and the inevitable opposition from the cruel uncle, who is
actuated of course by deadly hatred to all heroic youths of nineteen.
I only refer to this fiction to point out how absurd it is to
represent the brave men who man our lifeboats of the Goodwin Sands and
Downs as ever needing to be roused to action by passing and incompetent
strangers, who must be as ignorant of the perils to be faced as of the
work to be done. When the boatmen of Deal hang back in the storm-blast,
who else dare go?
Again, the three lifeboats of this locality always sail to
the distant Goodwin Sands. To reach those sands, four to eight miles
distant, according as the wreck lies on the inner or the outer edge, in
one of our heavy lifeboats, if they were only propelled by oars, would
be impossible. As a matter of fact, the lifeboat services to the
Goodwins are invariably effected under sail. In other places, where the
wreck lies close to the land, and the lifeboats are comparatively
light, services are performed with oars, but not to the Goodwin Sands,
which have to be reached under sail, and from which the lifeboats have
to get home by sail, often against a gale off shore, eight miles to
windwardwith no steam-tug to help them, but by their own unaided
skill, 'heart within and God o'erhead.'
[Illustration: 'All hands in the lifeboat!' From a photograph by W.
The following simple statementfar below the sublime realitywill
prove, if proof be needed, that the men who live between the North and
South Forelands are not inferior to their fathers who sailed with Blake
About one o'clock on Sunday, December 28, 1879, a gun from the South
Sand Head lightship, anchored about a mile south of the Goodwins, and
six miles from Deal, gave warning that a ship was on the dreadful
Sands. It was blowing a gale from the south-west, and the ships in the
Downs were riding and straining at both anchors. It was a gale to stop
your breath, or, as the sailors say, 'to blow your teeth down your
throat,' and the sea was white with 'spin drift.' As the various
congregations were streaming out of church, umbrellas were turned
inside out, hats were blown hopelessly, wildly seawards, and children
clung to their parents for shelter from the blinding spray along Deal
Just then, in answer to the boom of the distant gun, the bell rang
to 'man the lifeboat,' and the Deal boatmen answered gallantly to the
summons. A rush was made for the lifebelts. The first and second
coxwains, Wilds and Roberts, were all ready, and prepared with the key
of the lifeboat house, as the rush of men was made.
The first thirteen men who succeeded in getting the belts with the
two coxwains formed the crew, and down the steep beach plunged the
great lifeboat to the rescue. There were three vessels on the Goodwins:
the fate of one is uncertain; another was a small vessel painted white,
supposed to be a Dane, and she suddenly disappeared before my eyes,
being probably lost with all hands; the third was a German barque, the
Leda, homeward bound to Hamburg, with a crew of seventeen 'all told.'
This ill-fated vessel while flying on the wings of the favouring
sou'-westerly gale, supposed by the too partial poet to be
A ladies' breeze,
Bringing home their true loves,
Out of all the seas,
struck, while thus impelled at full speed before the wind, the inner
part of the S.E. spit of the Goodwin Sands. This is a most dangerous
spot, noted for the furious surf which breaks on it, and where the
writer has had a hard fight for his life with the sea.
The Germans, therefore, found this 'ladies' breeze' of Charles
Kingsley's splendid imagination more unfriendly to them than even 'the
black north-easter,' and their first contact with the Goodwin Sands was
a terrific crash while they were all at dinner, toasting absent friends
and each other with the kindly German prosit, and harmless
clinking of glasses, innocent of alcohol.
The shock against the Goodwins as the vessel slid from the crest of
a snowy roller upon the Sands, threw the cabin dinner table and
everything on it up to the cabin ceiling, and no words can describe the
wild hurry and helpless confusion on the sea-pelted motionless vessel,
as the foam and the spray beat clean over her.
Under her reefed mizzen and reefed storm foresail the lifeboat came
ramping over the four miles of tempestuous sea between the mainland and
the Goodwins, the sea getting bigger and breaking more at the top of
each wave, or 'peeling more,' as the Deal phrase goes, the farther they
went into the full fetch of the sea rolling up Channel. At last the
shallower water was reached about twenty feet in depth, where the
Up to this point any ordinary good sea-boat of sufficient size and
power would have made as good weather of it as the lifeboat, but when
at this depth of twenty feet the great rollers from the southward began
to curl and topple and break into huge foam masses, and coming from
different directions to race with such enormous speed and power that
the pillars of foam thrown up by the collision were seen at the
distance of five miles, then no boat but a lifeboat, it should be
clearly understood, could live for five minutes, and even in a lifeboat
only the 'sons of the Vikings' dare to face it.
The wreck lay a long mile right into the very thick of this awful
surf, into which the Deal men boldly drove the lifeboat. As her great
forefoot was forced through the crest of each sea she sent showers of
spray over her mast and sails, and gleamed and glistened in the evening
sun as she struggled with the sea.
To the wrecked crew she was visible from afar, and her bright
colours and red sails told them unmistakeably she was a lifeboat. Now
buried, then borne sky-high, she appeared to them as almost an angelic
being expressly sent for their deliverance, and with joy and gratitude
they watched her conquering advance, and they knew that brave English
hearts were guiding the noble boat to their rescue.
When within about half a mile, the lifeboatmen saw the mainmast of
the vessel go over, and then down crash came the mizzenmast over the
port side, carrying with them in the ruin spars and rigging in
confusion, and all this wild mass still hung by the shrouds and other
rigging round the quarter and stem of the doomed ship, and were ever
and anon drawn against her by the sea, beating her planking with
thunderous noise and tremendous force.
The Leda's head was now lying S.W., or facing the sea, as after she
struck stem on, her nose remained fast, and the sea gradually beat her
stem round. There was running a very strong lee-tide, i.e. a tide
running in the same direction as the wind and sea, setting fiercely
across the Sands and outwards across the bows of the wreck. Owing,
therefore, to this strong cross tide and the great sea, every minute
breaking more furiously as the water was falling with the ebb-tide, the
greatest judgment was required by the coxswains to anchor in the right
spot, so as not to be swung hopelessly out of reach of the vessel by
the tide. All the bravery in the world would have failed to accomplish
the rescue, had the requisite experience been wanting. Nothing but
experience and the faculty of coming to a right decision in a moment,
amidst the appalling grandeur and real danger which surrounded them,
enabled the coxswains to anchor just in the right spot, having made the
proper allowance for the set of the tide, the sea, and the wind.
This decision had to be made in less time than I have taken to write
this sentence, and the lives of men hung thereon. All hands knew it, so
'Now! Down foresail!' and the men rushed at the sail, and some to the
'down-haul,' and got it in; the helm being put hard down, up, head to
sea, came the lifeboat, and overboard went the anchor, taking with it
coil after coil of the great white five-inch cable of Manilla hemp; and
to this they also bent a second cable, in order to ride by a long
scope, thus running out about 160 fathoms or 320 yards of cable. They
dropped anchor therefore nearly a fifth of a mile ahead of the wreck
and well on her starboard bow. Now bite, good anchor! and hold fast,
stout cable! for the lives of all depend on you.
If the cable parted, and the lifeboat struck the ship with full
force, coming astern or broadside on, not a man would have survived to
tell the tale, or if she once got astern of the wreck she could not
have worked to windwardagainst the wind and tideto drop down as
before. No friendly steam-tug was at hand to help them to windward, in
case of the failure of this their first attempt, and both the
lifeboatmen and the crew of the wrecked vessel knew the stake at issue,
and that this was the last chance. But the crew of the lifeboat said
one to another, 'We're bound to save them,' and with all the coolness
of the race, though strung to the highest pitch of excitement, veered
down towards the wreck till abreast of where her mainmast had been.
Clinging to the bulwarks and forerigging in a forlorn little cluster
were the Germans, waving to the lifeboat as she was gradually veered
down alongside, but still at a considerable distance from the wreck and
the dangerous tossing tangle of wreckage still hanging to her.
To effect communication with a wreck, the lifeboat is provided with
a piece of cane as thick as a man's little finger and about a foot
long, to which a lump of lead is firmly fastened. To the end of the
cane a long light line is attached, and the line is kept neatly coiled
in a bucket.
With this loaded cane in his right hand, a man stood on the gunwale
of the lifeboat; round his waist his comrades had passed a line, to
prevent him from being washed overboard his left hand grasped the
halyards, for the masts of the lifeboat are always left standing
alongside a wreck, and at the right moment with all his might he threw
the cane. Hissing through the air, it carried with it right on board
the wreck its own light line, which at great risk a German sailor
seized. Hauling it in, he found the lifeboat had bent on to it a
weightier rope, and thus communication was effected between the
lifeboat and the wreck.
But though the lifeboat rode plunging alongside, she rode alongside
at a distance of twenty yards from the wreck, and had to be steered and
sheered, though at anchor, just as if she was in motion. At the helm,
therefore, stood the two coxswains, while round the foremast and close
to the fore air-box grouped the lifeboatmen. Wave after wave advanced,
breaking over them in clouds, taking their breath away and drenching
The coxswains were watching for a smooth to sheer the lifeboat's
head closer to the wreck, and the wearied sailors on the wreck were
anxiously watching their efforts, when, as will happen at irregular
intervals, which are beyond calculation, a great sea advanced, and was
seen towering afar. 'Hold on, men, for your lives!' sang out the
coxswains, and on came the hollow green sea, so far above their heads
that it seemed as they gazed into its terrible transparency that the
very sky had become green, and it broke into the lifeboat, hoisting her
up to the vessel's foreyard, and then plunging her bodily down and
In this mighty hoist the port bilge-piece of the lifeboat as she
descended struck the top rail of the vessel's bulwarks, and the
collision stove in her fore air-box. That she was not turned clean over
by the shock, throwing out of her, and then falling on, her crew, was
only by God's mercy. All attempts to help the seamen on the wreck in
distress were suspended and buried in the wave. The lifeboatmen held on
with both arms round the thwarts in deadly wrestle and breathless for
dear life. Looking forwards as the boat emerged, the coxswains,
standing aft on their raised platform, could only see boiling foam.
Looking aft as the noble lifeboat emptied herself, the crew saw the two
coxswains waist deep in froth, and the head of the Norman post aft was
invisible and under water. We were all 'knocked silly by that sea,'
said the men, and they found that two of their number had been swept
aft and forced under the thwarts or seats of the lifeboat.
And now they turned to againno one being missingalone in that
wild cauldron of waters, with undaunted courage, to the work of rescue.
Two lines leading from the ship to the lifeboat were rigged up, the
ends of those lines being held by one of the lifeboatmen, George
Philpot, who had to tighten and slack them as the lifeboat rose, or
when a sea came. Spread-eagled on this rough ladder or cat's cradle,
holding on for their lives, the German crew had to come, and Philpot,
who held the lines in the lifeboatno easy taskwas lashed to the
lifeboat's mast, to leave his hands free and prevent his being swept
overboard himself. A space of about thirty feet separated the wreck and
the lifeboat, as the latter's head had to get a hard sheer off from the
ship, to counterbalance the tide and sea sucking and driving her
towards the wreck, and over this dangerous chasm the German sailors
Still the giant seas swept into the lifeboat, and again and again
the lifeboat freed herself from the water, and floated buoyant, in
spite of the damage done to her airbox, so great was her reserve of
floating power. This her crew knew, and preserved unbounded confidence
in the noble structure under their feet, especially as they heard the
clicks of her valves at work and freeing her of water.
In the intervals between the raging seas, twelve of the crew had now
been got into the lifeboat, when one man seeing her sheer closer than
usual towards the vessel, jumped from the top rail towards the
lifeboat. Instead of catching her at the propitious moment when she was
balanced on the summit of a wave, he sprang when she was rapidly
descending; this added ten feet to the height of his jump, and he fell
groaning into the lifeboat.
Having put the rescued men on the starboard side of the lifeboat, to
make room for the descent of the others, great seas again came fiercely
and furiously. As the tide was falling fast, the water became
shallower, and all around was heard only the hoarse roar of the storm,
and there was seen only the advancing lines of billows, tossing their
snowy manes as they came on with speed.
Again and again the lifeboat was submerged, and the man lashed to
the mast had to ease off the lines he held till the seas had passed.
'It was as if the heavens was falling atop of us; but we had no fear
then, we were all a-takin' of it as easy as if we was ashore, but it
was afterwards we thought of it.'
But not so the rescued crew who were in the lifeboat; some of them
wanted to get back to the ship, which was fast breaking up, but one of
their number had, strange to say, been rescued beforetwice before,
some sayby the same lifeboat on the very same Goodwin Sands, and he
encouraged his comrades and said, 'She's all right! she's done it
before! Good boat! good boat!' And then the rest of the crew came down,
or rather along the two lines, held fast and eased off as before, till,
last man down, or rather along the lines, came the captain. 'Come
along, captain! Come along. There's a booser coming!' and Roberts aft,
second coxswain, strained at the helm to sheer the lifeboat off, before
the sea came.
It came towering. 'Quick! Captain! Come!' Had the captain rapidly
come along the lines, he would have been safe in the lifeboat, but he
hesitated just for an instant, and then the sea camea moving mountain
of broken water, one of the most appalling objects in Naturebreaking
over the foreyard of the wreck, sweeping everything before it on the
deck, and covering lifeboat and men. Everything was blotted out by the
green water, as they once again wrestled in their strong grasp of the
thwarts, while the roar and smother of drowning rang in their ears. But
there is One who holds the winds in His fist and the sea in the hollow
of His hand, and once again by His mercy not a man was missing, and
again rose the lifeboat, and gasping and half-blinded, they saw that
the ropes along which the captain was coming were twisted one across
the other, and that, though he had escaped the full force of the great
wave, the captain of the Leda was hanging by one hand, and on the point
of dropping into the wild turmoil beneath, exhausted. Another second
would have been too late, when, quick as lightning, the lifeboatman, G.
Philpot, still being lashed to the mast, by a dexterous jerk, chucked
one of the ropes under the leg of the clinging and exhausted man, and
then, once again, they cried, 'Come along! Now's your time!' And on he
came; but as the ropes again slacked as the lifeboat rose, fell into
the sea, though still grasping the lines, while strong and generous
hands dragged him safe into the lifeboatthe last man. All saved! And
now for home!
They did not dare to haul up to their anchor, had that been
possible, lest before they got sail on the lifeboat to drag her away
from the wreck she should be carried back against the wreck, or under
her bows, when all would have perished. So the coxswains wisely decided
to set the foresail, and then when all was ready, the men all working
splendidly together, 'Out axe, lads! and cut the cable!' Away to the
right or starboard faintly loomed the land, five long miles distant.
Between them and it raged a mile of breakers throwing up their spiky
foaming crests, while their regular lines of advance were every now and
then crossed by a galloping breaking billow coming mysteriously and yet
furiously from another direction altogether, the result being a
collision of waters and pillars and spouts of foam shot up into the
air. Through this broken water they had to gothere was no other way
home, and 'there are no back doors at sea.' So down came the keen axe,
and the last strand of the cable was cut.
Then they hoisted just a corner of the foresail, to cast her head
towards the land and away from the wreckmore they dared not hoist,
lest they should capsize in such broken water, the wind still blowing
very hard. As her head paid off, a big sea was seen coming high above
the others. 'Haul down the foresail, quick!' was the cry; but it was
too late, and the monstrous sea struck the bows and burst into the
sail, filling and overpowering the lifeboat and the helm and the
steersmenfor both Wilds and Roberts were straining at the yoke
linesand hurled the lifeboat like a feather right round before the
wind, and she shot onwards with and amidst this sea, almost into the
deadly jangle of broken masts and great yards and tops, which with all
their rigging and shrouds and hamper were tossing wildly in the boiling
surf astern of the wreck.
But the noble deed was not to end in disaster. Beaten and hustled as
the Deal lifeboatmen were with this great sea, there was time enough
for those skilled and daring men to set the foresail again, to drag her
clear before they got into the wreckage. 'Sheet home the foresail, and
sit steady, my lads,' said Roberts, 'and we'll soon be through!' and
they made for the dangerous broken water, which was now not more than
twelve feet deep. The coxswains kept encouraging the men, 'Cheer up, my
lads!' And then, 'Look out, all hands! A sea coming!' And then, 'Five
minutes more and we'll be through.' And so with her goodly freight of
thirty-two souls, battered but not beaten, reeling to and fro, and
staggering and plunging on through the surf, each moment approaching
safety and deep wateron pressed the lifeboat.
Now gleams of hope broke out as the lifeboat lived and prospered in
the battle, and at last the rescued Germans saved 'from the jaws of
death,' and yet hardly believing they were saved, sang out, though
feeble and exhausted, 'Hurrah! Cheer, O.' And inside the breakers the
Kingsdown lifeboat, on their way to help, responded with an answering
Then we may be well sure that from our own silent, stubborn Deal
men, many a deep-felt prayer of gratitude, unuttered it may be by the
lips, was sent up from the heart to Him, the 'Eternal Father strong to
save,' while the Germans now broke openly out into 'Danke Gott! Danke
Gott!' and soon afterwards were landedgrateful beyond expression for
their marvellous deliveranceon Deal beach.
With conspicuous exceptions, few notice and fewer still remember
those gallant deeds done by those heroes of our coast.
Few realize that those poor men have at home an aged mother perhaps
dependent on them, or children, or 'a nearer one yet and a dearer,' and
that when they 'darkling face the billow' the possibility of disaster
to themselves assumes a more harrowing shape, when they think of loved
ones left helpless and destitute behind them. Riches cannot remove the
pang of bereavement, but alas! for 'the comfortless troubles of
the needy, and because of the deep sighing of the poor.' And yet the
brave fellows never hang back and never falter. There ought to be,
there is amongst them, a trust in the living God.
They apparently think little of their own splendid deeds, and seldom
speak of them, especially to strangers; yet they are part, and not the
least glorious part, of our 'rough island story.' The recital of them
makes our hearts thrill, and revives in us the memories of our youth
and our early worship of heroic daring in a righteous cause. God speed
the lifeboat and her crew!
 The names of the crew who on this occasion manned the lifeboat
were Robert Wilds (coxswain 1st), R. Roberts (coxswain 2nd), Thos.
Cribben, Thos. Parsons, G. Pain, Chas. Hall, Thomas Roberts, Will
Baker, John Holbourn, Ed. Pain, George Philpot, R. Williams, W. Adams,
H. Foster, Robt. Redsull. Of these men, poor Tom Cribben never
recovered [Transcriber's note: from] the exposure and the strain.
CHAPTER XII. THE D'ARTAGNAN AND THE
Loud roared the dreadful thunder,
The rain a deluge poured.
There was a gale from the S.W. blowing over the southern part of
England, on November 11, 1877. The barometer had been low, but the
'centre of depression' was still advancing, and was probably over the
Straits of Dover about the middle of the day. Perhaps more is known now
than formerly of the path of the storm and the date of its arrival on
these coasts, and more is also known of the pleasanter but rarer
anti-cyclonic systems. Nevertheless, we are still in the dark as to the
cause which originates those two different phenomena, and brings them
from the east and the west. The secrets of Nature belong to Him who
holds the winds in His fist and the sea in the hollow of His hand. In
the seaboard towns of the S.E. coast the houses shook before the blast,
and now and then the tiles crashed to the pavement, and the fierce rain
squalls swept through the deserted streets, as the gale 'whistled aloft
his tempest tune.' To read of this makes every fireside seem more
comfortable, but somehow it also brings the thought to many a heart
'God help those at sea to-night!'
In the great roadstead of the Downs, among the pilots and the
captains, there were anxious hearts that day. There were hundreds of
ships at anchor, of many nations, all outward bound, and taking refuge
in the comparative shelter of the Downs. Those vessels had everything
made as snug as possible to meet the gale, and were mostly riding to
two anchors and plunging bows under. Here and there a vessel was
dragging and going into collision with some other vessel right astern
of her; or perhaps slipping both her anchors just in time to avoid the
crash; or away to the southward could be seen in the rifts of the
driving rain squalls, a large ship drifting, with anchors gone and
sails blown into ribbons.
Deal beach was alive with the busy crowds of boatmen either
launching or beaching their luggers. The smaller boats, the galley
punts, which are seven feet beam and about twenty-eight feet in length,
found the wind and sea that day too much for them, especially in the
afternoon. They had been struggling in the Downs all day with two or
three reefs, and in the 'smokers' with 'yardarm taken,' but in the
afternoon the mercury in the barometers began to jump up and
First rise after low
Foretells a stronger blow.
Then the galley punts had to come ashore, and only the luggers and
the 'cats' were equal to cruising among the storm-tossed shipping,
'hovelling' or on the look-out for a job.
Some of the vessels might need a pilot to take them to Margate Roads
or northwards, or some might require a spare yard, or men to man the
pumps, or an anchor and chain, the vessels in some cases riding to
their last remaining anchoror perhaps their windlass had given way or
the hawse pipe had split, and in that case their own chain cable would
cut them down to the water's edge in a few hours. To meet these various
needs of the vessels, the great luggers were all day being continuously
beached and launched, and it was hard to say which of the two
operations was most perilous to themselves or most fascinating to the
spectator. Once afloat they hovered about, on the wing as it were,
among the vessels, and from the beach it could be seen how crowded with
men they were, and how admirably they were handled.
The skill of the Deal boatmen is generally supposed to be referred
to in the lines:
Where'er in ambush lurk the fatal sands,
They claim the danger, proud of skilful bands;
Fearless they combat every hostile wind,
Wheeling in mazy tracks with course inclined.
The passage has certainly a flavour of the Goodwins but at any rate
the sea-bird does not sweep to the raging summit of a wave, or glide
more easily from its seething crest down the dark deep blue slope to
its windless trough, or more safely than the Deal boatmen in their
Richard Roberts had been all that day afloat in the Downs in his
powerful 'cat,' the Early Morn. It was this boat, some of my readers
may remember, which picked up, struggling in the water, twenty-four of
the passengers of the Strathclyde, when she was run down off Dover by
the Franconia, some years ago. But the gale increasing towards evening,
Roberts, who had got to leeward too much, could not beat home, and he
had to run away before the wind and round the North Foreland to
Margate. Thence he took train, and leaving his lugger in safety,
reached Deal about nine p.m., just as the flash from the Gull
lightship, and then the distant boom of a gun and again another flash,
proclaimed there was a ship ashore on the sands. And through the wild
rain gusts he saw the flare of a vessel in distress on the Brake
SandGod have mercy on them! for well he knew the hard and rocky
nature of that deadly spot.
Then rang out wildly above the storm-shriek the summons from the
iron throat of the lifeboat bell, 'Man the lifeboat! Man the lifeboat!'
The night was dark, the ponderous surf thundered on the shingle, and
there could be seen the long advancing lines of billows breaking into
white masses of foam; and outside that there was only the blackness of
sea and sky, and the tossing lights and flares and signals calling for
help. 'No lanterns could be kept lit that night, sir! Blowed out they
was, and we had to feel our way in the lifeboat.'
And you might hear in the bustle and din of quick preparation the
boatmen's shouts, 'Ease her down, Bill! just to land her bow over the
full!' 'Man that haul-off warp! she'll never get off against them seas
unless you man that haul-off warp! Slack it off!' And the coxswain
shouts, 'All hands aboard the lifeboat! Cut the lanyard!'
Then the trigger flies loose and the stern chain which holds the
lifeboat in her position on the beach smokes through the 'ruffles,' or
hole in the iron keel through which it runs, as the mighty lifeboat
gains speed in her rush down the steep declivity of the beach. As she
nears the sea, faster still she slides and shoots over the well-greased
skids, urged forwards by her own weight and pulled forwards by the
crew, who grasp the haul-off warp moored off shore a long way, and at
last, as a warrior to battle, with a final bound she meets the shock of
the first great sea. And then she vanishes into the darkness. God speed
her on her glorious errand!
Close-reefed mizzen and double-reefed storm foresail was the canvas
under which the lifeboat that night struggled with the storm, to reach
the vessel on the Brake Sand. 'She did fly along, sir, that night, but
we were too late! The flare went out when we were half-way!' Alas!
alas! while the gallant crew were flying on the wings of mercy and of
hope to the rescue, the vessel broke up and vanished with all hands in
The lifeboat cruised round and round in the breakers, but all in
vain. The crew gazed and peered into the gloom and listened, and then
they shouted all together, but they could hardly hear each other's
voices, and there was no answer; all had perished, and rescue close at
Suddenly there was a lift in the rain, and between them and the land
they saw another flare, 'Down with the foresheet! All hands to the
foresheet! Now down with the mizzen sheet!' cried the coxswain, and ten
men flew to the sheets. As the lifeboat luffed she lay over to her very
bearings, beating famously to windward on her second errand of mercy.
It was about midnight, and there was 'a terrible nasty sea,' and a
great run under the lifeboat as she neared the land; and the coxswains
made out the dim form of a large vessel burning her flare, with masts
gone and the sea beating over her.
Once again the lifeboat was put about, and came up into the wind's
eye, the foresail was got down and the other foresail hoisted on the
other side and sheeted home, sails, sheets and blocks rattling
furiously in the gale, and forwards on the other tack into the spume
and sea-drift the lifeboat 'ratched.' Between them and the vessel that
was burning her signal of distress, the keen eyes of the lifeboatmen
discerned an object in the sea, 'not more than fifty fathoms off, as
much as ever it was, it was that bitter dark!' Another wreck! 'Let us
save them at any rate!' said the storm-beaten lifeboatmen, as a feeble
cry was heard.
The anchor was dropped. The lifeboat was then veered down on her
cable a distance of eighty fathoms, and the object in the sea was found
to be a forlorn wreck. Her lee deck bulwarks were deep under water, and
even her weather rail was low down to the sea.
The wreck was a French brig, the D'Artagnan, as was afterwards
ascertained, and on coming close it was seen her masts were still
standing, but leaning over so that her yardarms touched the water.
Nothing could live long on her deck, which was half under water and
swept by breakers.
In the main rigging were seen small objects, which were found to be
the crew, and in answer to the shouts of the lifeboatmen they came down
and crawled or clung along the sea-beaten weather rail. Half benumbed
with terror and despair and lashed by ceaseless waves, they slowly came
along towards the lifeboat, and the state of affairs at that moment was
described by one of the lifeboatmen as, 'Yes, bitter dark it were, and
rainin' heavens hard, with hurricane of wind all the time.'
The wreck lay with her head facing the mainland, from which she was
about a mile distant, and which bore by compass about W.N.W. The wind
and the strong tide were both in the same direction, and if the
lifeboat had anchored ahead of the vessel she would have swung
helplessly to leeward and been unable to reach the vessel at all. So,
also, had she gone under the wreck's stern to leeward, the same tide
would have swept her out of reach, to say nothing of the danger of
falling masts. It was impossible to have approached her to windward, as
one crash against the vessel's broadside in such a storm and sea would
have perhaps cost the lives of all the crew.
They therefore steered the lifeboat's head right at the stern of the
vessel, as well for the reasons given as also because the cowering
figures in the rigging could be got off no other way. They could not be
taken to windward nor to leeward, and therefore by the stern was the
By managing the cable of the lifeboat and by steering her, or by
setting a corner of her foresail, she would sheer up to the stern of
the wreck just as the fishing machine called an otter rides abreast of
the boat to which it is fast. The lifeboat's head was, therefore,
pointed at the stern of the wreck, which was leaning over hard to
starboard, and the lifeboatmen shouted to the crew, some in the rigging
and some clutching the weather toprail, to 'come on and take our line.'
But there was no response; only in the darkness they could see the men
in distress slowly working their way towards the stern of the wreck.
The position of the lifeboat was very dangerous. The sea was raging
right across her, and it was only the sacred flame of duty and of pity
in the hearts of the daring crew of the lifeboat that kept them to
their task. The swell of the sea was running landwards, and the 'send'
of each great rolling wave, just on the point of breaking, would shoot
the lifeboat forwards till her stem and iron forefoot would strike the
transom and stern of the wreck with tremendous force. The strain and
spring of the cable would then draw back the lifeboat two or three
boats' lengths, and then another breaker, its white wrath visible in
the pitchy darkness, would again drive the lifeboat forwards and
upwards as with a giant's hand, and then crash! down and right on to
the stern and even right up on the deck of the half-submerged vessel.
Sometimes even half the length of the lifeboat was driven over the
transom and on the sloping deck of the wreck, off which she grated back
into the sea to leewards.
What pen can describe the turmoil, the danger, and the appalling
grandeur of the scene, now black as Erebus, and again illumined by a
blaze of lightning? And what pen can do justice to the stubborn courage
that persevered in the work of rescue in spite of the difficulties
which at each step sprang up?
It was now found that the crew in distress were French. In their
paralysed and perished condition they could not make out what our men
wanted them to do, and they did not make fast the lines thrown them.
Nor had they any lines to throw, as their tackle and running gear were
washed away, nor could they understand the hails of the lifeboatmen.
Hence the task of saving them rested with the Deal men alone.
The Frenchmen, when they saw the lifeboat rising up and plunging
literally upon their decks with terrific force, held back and
hesitated, clinging to the weather rail, where their position was most
perilous. A really solid sea would have swept all away, and every two
or three minutes a furious breaker flew over them. Something had to be
done to get them, and to get them the men in the lifeboat were
Now the fore air-box of the lifeboat has a round roof like a
tortoise's back, and there is a very imperfect hand-hold on it.
Indeed, to venture out on this air-box in ordinary weather is by no
means prudent, but on this night, when it was literally raked by
weighty seas sufficient in strength to tear a limpet from its grip, the
peril of doing so was extreme, but still, out on that fore air-box,
determined to do or die, crept Richard Roberts, at that time the second
coxswain of the lifeboat, leading the forlorn hope of rescue, and not
counting his life dear to him. Up as the lifeboat rose, and down with
her into the depths, still Roberts held on with the tenacity of a
As the lifeboat surged forwards on the next sea, held behind by his
comrades' strong arms, out on the very stem he groped his way, and then
he shouted, and behind him all hands shouted, 'Come, Johnny! Now's your
time!' There's a widespread belief among our sailor friends that the
expression 'Johnny' is a passport to a Frenchman's heart. At any rate,
seeing Roberts on the very stem and hearing the shouts, the nearly
exhausted Frenchmen came picking their dangerous way and clinging to
the weather rail one by one till they grasped or rather madly clutched
at Roberts' outstretched arms. 'Hold on, mates!' he cried, 'there's a
sea coming! Don't let them drag me overboard!' And then the Frenchmen
grasped Roberts' arms and chest so fiercely that his clothes were torn
and he himself marked black and blue. Then rang out as each poor sailor
was grasped by Roberts, 'Hurrah! I've got him! Pass him along,
lads!'and the poor fellows were rescued and welcomed by English
hearts and English hands. 'We never knowed if there was any more, but
at any rate we saved five,' said the lifeboatmen.
Having rescued this crew, all eyes were now turned to the vessel
that had for some hours been burning her signals of distress.
It was by this time four o'clock on this winter morning, and the
crew of the lifeboat were, to use their own words, 'nearly done.' They
also noticed that the lifeboat was much lower than usual in the water,
but neither danger, nor hardships, nor fatigue can daunt the spirits of
the brave, and their courage rose above the terror of the storm, and
they forgot the crippled condition of the lifeboatboth of her bows
being completely stove in by the force of her blows against the deck
and the transom of the French brigand they responded gallantly to the
coxswain's orders of 'Up anchor and set the foresail!' and they made
for the flare of the fresh wreck for which they had been originally
The signals of distress were from a Swedish barque, the Hedvig
Sophia. She had parted her anchors in the Downs, and had come ashore in
three fathoms of water, which was now angry surf; her masts were gone,
but as the rigging was not cut adrift, they were still lying to leeward
in wild confusion. She had heeled over to starboard, and her weather
rail being well out of the water, afforded some shelter to the crew;
but her sloping decks were washed and beaten by the waves that broke
over her and it was all but impossible to walk on them.
The lifeboat's anchor was dropped, and again they veered down, but
this time it was possible to get to windward, and by reason of the
wreckage it was impossible to get to leeward. There was an English
pilot on board, who helped to carry out the directions given from the
lifeboat, and lines were quickly passed from the wreck.
It was seen the captain's wife was on board, for the grey morning
was breaking, and as the lifeboat rose on the crest of a wave, after
the crew and just before the captain, who came last, the poor lady was
passed into the lifeboat.
She only came with great reluctance and after much persuasion, as
the deck of the lifeboat was covered with three inches of water and she
seemed to be sinking. When the Swedish captain came on board, while the
spray was flying sky-high over them, could he truly be said to be taken
'Here's a pretty thing to come infull of water!' said the captain.
'Well,' replied Roberts, 'we've been in it all night, and you won't
have to wait long.'
The lifeboatmen then got up anchor, and with twelve Swedes, five
Frenchmen, and their own crew of fifteen made for home. Deep plunged
the lifeboat, and wearily she rose at each sea, but still she struggled
towards Deal, as the wounded stag comes home to die. Her fore and after
air-boxes were full of water, for a man could creep into the rent in
her bows, and she had lost much of her buoyancy. Still she had a
splendid reserve in hand, from the air-boxes ranged along and under her
deck, and thus fighting her way with her freight of thirty-two souls,
at last she grounded on the sands off Deal, and the lifeboatmen leaped
out and carried the rescued foreigners literally into England from the
sea, where they were received as formerly another ship-wrecked stranger
in another island 'with no little kindness.'
The next day the storm was over; sea and sky were bathed in
sunshine, and the swift-winged breezes just rippled the surface of the
deep into the countless dimples of blue and gold.
[Greek] Pontiôn te kumatôn
was the exact description, more easily felt than translated; but
close to the North Bar buoy, in deep water, and just outside the Brake
Sand, there projected from out of the smiling sea the grim stern
spectacle of the masts of a barque whose hull lay deep down on its
sandy bed. She it was which had been burning flares for help the night
before in vain, and she had been beaten off the Brake Sand and sank
before the lifeboat came. She was a West India barque, with a Gravesend
pilot on board, and his pilot flag was found hoisted in the unusual
position of the mizzen topmast head, a fact which was interpreted by
the Deal boatmen as a messagea last message to his friends, and as
much as to say, 'It's me that's gone.'
But the brave men in the lifeboat did their best, and by their
extraordinary exertions, although they did not reach this poor lost
barque in time, yet by God's blessing on their skill and daring they
did save, Swedes and Frenchmen, seventeen souls that night from a
CHAPTER XIII. THE RAMSGATE LIFEBOAT
Not once or twice in our rough island story
The path of duty was the way to glory.
A book bearing the title of Heroes of the Goodwin Sands,
would hardly be complete without a chapter devoted to the celebrated
Ramsgate lifeboat and her brave coxswain and crew. To them, by virtue
of Mr. Gilmore's well-known book, the title of Storm Warriors
almost of right belongs, but I am well aware they will not deny their
daring and generous rivals of Deal a share in that stirring
appellation, and I know that their friends, the Deal boatmen, on their
part gladly admit that the Ramsgate lifeboatmen are also among the
'Heroes of the Goodwin Sands.'
The first lifeboat placed in Ramsgate was called the Northumberland.
The next was called the Bradford, in memory of the interesting fact
that the money required to build and equip her, about L600, was
subscribed in an hour on the Bradford Exchange, and within the hour the
news was flashed to London. Since then the rescues effected by the
Ramsgate lifeboat have become household words wherever the English
tongue is spoken.
Nor less celebrated than the lifeboat is her mighty and invaluable
ally the steam-tug Aid, so often captained in the storm-blast by Alfred
Page, her brave and experienced master. This powerful tug boat has
steam up night and day, ready to rush the lifeboat out into the teeth
of any gale, when it would be otherwise impossible for the lifeboat to
get out of the harbour. The names of Coxswain Jarman, and more recently
of Coxswain Charles Fish, the hero of the Indian Chief rescue, will
long thrill the hearts of Englishmen and Englishwomen who read that
wondrous story of the sea. It may be fairly said that no storms that
blow in these latitudes can keep the Ramsgate tug and lifeboat back,
when summoned to the rescue.
I had the privilege of standing on Ramsgate pier-head on November
11, 1891, when amidst the cheers of the crowd, who indeed could hardly
keep their feet, the tug and lifeboat slowly struggled out against the
great gale which blew that day. The lifeboat is towed a long way astern
of the tug-boat, to the full scope of a sixty fathom, five inch, white
Manilla hawser, and on the day I speak of, as the lifeboat felt the
giant strain of the tug-boat and was driven into the seas outside the
harbour, every wave broke into wild spray mast high over the lifeboat
and into the faces of her crew.
The crew are obtained from a body of 150 enrolled volunteers. The
first ten of these who get into the lifeboat when the rocket signal
goes up from the pier-head form on that occasion the crew of the
lifeboat. In addition to these the two coxswains, by virtue of their
office, raise the total number to twelve. The celebrated coxswain,
Charles Fish, was also harbour boatman at Ramsgate, and slept in a
watch-house at the end of the pier in a hammock. He was always first
aroused by the watch to learn that rockets were going up from some
distant lightship signifying 'a ship on the Goodwins.' With him rested
the decision to send up the answering rocket from the pier-head, upon
seeing which the police and coastguard called the lifeboat crew. Then
would come the rush for a place.
The coxswain had to decide what signals were to be regarded as false
alarms, and there are many such; sometimes, it is said in Ramsgate, the
flash of the Calais lighthouse is taken for a ship burning flares and
in distress on the Goodwins, and draws the signal guns from the
lightships. Sometimes a hayrick on fire is mistaken for a vessel's
appealing signal; sometimes the signals, of enormous and unnecessary
size, which the French trawlers burn to each other at night around the
Goodwins, set both the lightships and lifeboats all astray; and the
coxswains of the lifeboats, both at Ramsgate and Deal, have to be on
their guard against these delusive agencies. As the coxswains in both
of these places are men of exceptional shrewdness and ability, mistakes
are few and far between. The coxswain of a lifeboat ought to have the
eye of a hawk and the heart of a lion, and, I will add, the tenderness
and pity of a woman.
Never was the possession of these qualities more finely exhibited
than by coxswain Charles Fish and the crew of the Ramsgate lifeboat in
the rescue of the survivors of the Indian Chief from the Long Sand on
January 5 and 6, 1881. The following account has been taken by
permission from the Lifeboat Journal for February, 1881,
including the extracts from the Daily Telegraph and the
The accompanying graphic accounts of the wreck of the Indian Chief,
and of the noble rescue of a portion of her crew by the Bradford
self-righting lifeboat, stationed at Ramsgate, appeared in the Daily
Telegraph on January 11 and 18, as related by the mate of the
vessel and the coxswain of the lifeboat. The lifeboats of the National
Lifeboat Institution stationed at Aldborough (Suffolk), Clacton and
Harwich (Essex), also proceeded to the scene of danger, but
unfortunately were unable to reach the wreck. Happily the Bradford
lifeboat persevered, amidst difficulties, hardships, and dangers hardly
ever surpassed in the lifeboat service; but her reward was indeed great
in saving eleven of our fellow-creatures, who must have succumbed, as
their mates had a few hours previously, to their terrible exposure in
bitterly cold weather for nearly thirty hours.
[Illustration: The lifeboat Bradford at the wreck of the Indian
Indeed, Captain Braine, the zealous Ramsgate harbour-master, states
in an official letter of January 8, in reference to this noble service,
'Of all the meritorious services performed by the Ramsgate tug and
lifeboat, I consider this one of the best. The decision the coxswain
and crew arrived at to remain till daylight, which was in effect to
continue for fourteen hours cruising about with the sea continually
breaking over them in a heavy gale and tremendous sea, proves, I
consider, their gallantry and determination to do their duty. The
coxswain and crew of the lifeboat speak in the highest terms of her
good qualities; they state that when sailing across the Long Sand,
after leaving the wreck, the seas were tremendous, and the boat behaved
most admirably. Some of the shipwrecked crew have since stated that
they were fearful, on seeing the frightful-looking seas they were
passing through, that they were in more danger in the lifeboat than
when lashed to the mast of their sunken ship, as they thought it
impossible for any boat to live through such a sea.'
The following are the newspaper accounts of a lifeboat service that
will always be memorable in the annals of the services of the lifeboats
of the National Lifeboat Institution; and many and many such services
reflect honour alike on the humanity of the age in which we live, and
on the organisation and liberality which have prompted and called them
'On the afternoon of Thursday, January 6, I made one of a great
crowd assembled on the Ramsgate east pier to witness the arrival of the
survivors of the crew of a large ship which had gone ashore on the Long
Sand early on the preceding Wednesday morning. A heavy gale had been
blowing for two days from the north and east; it had moderated somewhat
at noon, but still stormed fiercely over the surging waters, though a
brilliant blue sky arched overhead and a sun shone that made the sea a
dazzling surface of broken silver all away in the south and west.
Plunging bows under as she came along, the steamer towed the lifeboat
through a haze of spray; but amid this veil of foam, the flags of the
two vessels denoting that shipwrecked men were in the boat streamed
like well-understood words from the mastheads. The people crowded
thickly about the landing-steps when the lifeboat entered the harbour.
Whispers flew from mouth to mouth. Some said the rescued men were
Frenchmen, others that they were Danes, but all were agreed that there
was a dead body among them. One by one the survivors came along the
pier, the most dismal procession it was ever my lot to beholdeleven
live but scarcely living men, most of them clad in oilskins, and
walking with bowed backs, drooping heads and nerveless arms. There was
blood on the faces of some, circled with a white encrustation of salt,
and this same salt filled the hollows of their eyes and streaked their
hair with lines which looked like snow. The first man, who was the
chief mate, walked leaning heavily on the arm of the kindly-hearted
harbour-master, Captain Braine. The second man, whose collar-bone was
broken, moved as one might suppose a galvanised corpse would. A third
man's wan face wore a forced smile, which only seemed to light up the
piteous, underlying expression of the features. They were all saturated
with brine; they were soaked with sea-water to the very marrow of the
bones. Shivering, and with a stupefied rolling of the eyes, their teeth
clenched, their chilled fingers pressed into the palms of their hands,
they passed out of sight. As the last man came I held my breath; he was
alive when taken from the wreck, but had died in the boat. Four men
bore him on their shoulders, and a flag flung over the face mercifully
concealed what was most shocking of the dreadful sight; but they had
removed his boots and socks to chafe his feet before he died, and had
slipped a pair of mittens over the toes, which left the ankles naked.
This was the body of Howard Primrose Fraser, the second mate of the
lost ship, and her drowned captain's brother. I had often met men
newly-rescued from shipwreck, but never remember having beheld more
mental anguish and physical suffering than was expressed in the
countenances and movements of these eleven sailors. Their story as told
to me is a striking and memorable illustration of endurance and
hardship on the one hand, and of the finest heroical humanity on the
other, in every sense worthy to be known to the British public. I got
the whole narrative direct from the chief mate, Mr. William Meldrum
Lloyd, and it shall be related here as nearly as possible in his own
No. 1.The Mate's Account.
'Our ship was the Indian Chief, of 1238 tons register; our skipper's
name was Fraser, and we were bound with a general cargo to Yokohama.
There were twenty-nine souls on board, counting the North-country
pilot. We were four days out from Middlesbrough, but it had been thick
weather ever since the afternoon of the Sunday on which we sailed. All
had gone well with us, however, so far, and on Wednesday morning, at
half-past two, we made the Knock Light. You must know, sir, that
hereabouts the water is just a network of shoals; for to the southward
lies the Knock, and close over against it stretches the Long Sand, and
beyond, down to the westward, is the Sunk Sand. Shortly after the Knock
Light had hove in sight, the wind shifted to the eastward and brought a
squall of rain. We were under all plain sail at the time, with the
exception of the royals, which were furled, and the main sail that hung
in the buntlines. The Long Sand was to leeward, and finding that we
were drifting that way the order was given to put the ship about. It
was very dark, the wind breezing up sharper and sharper, and cold as
death. The helm was put down, but the main braces fouled, and before
they could be cleared the vessel had missed stays and was in irons. We
then went to work to wear the ship, but there was much confusion, the
vessel heeling over, and all of us knew that the Sands were close
aboard. The ship paid off, but at a critical moment the spanker-boom
sheet fouled the wheel; still, we managed to get the vessel round, but
scarcely were the braces belayed and the ship on the starboard tack,
when she struck the ground broadside on. She was a soft-wood built
ship, and she trembled, sir, as though she would go to pieces at once
like a pack of cards. Sheets and halliards were let go, but no man
durst venture aloft. Every moment threatened to bring the spars
crushing about us, and the thundering and beating of the canvas made
the masts buckle and jump like fishing-rods. We then kindled a great
flare and sent up rockets, and our signals were answered by the Sunk
Lightship and the Knock. We could see one another's faces in the light
of the big blaze, and sung out cheerily to keep our hearts up; and,
indeed, sir, although we all knew that our ship was hard and fast and
likely to leave her bones on that sand, we none of us reckoned upon
dying. The sky had cleared, the easterly wind made the stars sharp and
bright, and it was comforting to watch the lightships' rockets rushing
up and bursting into smoke and sparks over our heads, for they made us
see that our position was known, and they were as good as an assurance
that help would come along soon and that we need not lose heart. But
all this while the wind was gradually sweeping up into a galeand oh,
the cold, good Lord! the bitter cold of that wind!
'It seemed as long as a month before the morning broke, and just
before the grey grew broad in the sky, one of the men yelled out
something, and then came sprawling and splashing aft to tell us that he
had caught sight of the sail of a lifeboat dodging among the heavy
seas. We rushed to the side to look, half-blinded by the flying spray
and the wind, and clutching at whatever offered to our hands, and when
at last we caught sight of the lifeboat we cheered, and the leaping of
my heart made me feel sick and deathlike. As the dawn brightened we
could see more plainly, and it was frightful to notice how the men
looked at her, meeting the stinging spray borne upon the wind without a
wink of the eye, that they might not lose sight of the boat for an
instant; the salt whitening their faces all the while like a layer of
flour as they watched. She was a good distance away, and she stood on
and off, on and off, never coming closer, and evidently shirking the
huge seas which were now boiling around us. At last she hauled her
sheet aft, put her helm over, and went away. One of our crew groaned,
but no other man uttered a sound, and we returned to the shelter of the
'Though the gale was not at its height when the sun rose, it was not
far from it. We plucked up spirits again when the sun shot out of the
raging sea, but as we lay broadside on to the waves, the sheets of
flying water soon made the sloping decks a dangerous place for a man to
stand on, and the crew and officers kept the shelter of the
deck-cabins, though the captain and his brother and I were constantly
going out to see if any help was coming. But now the flood was making,
and this was a fresh and fearful danger, as we all knew, for at sunrise
the water had been too low to knock the ship out of her sandy bed, but
as the tide rose it lifted the vessel, bumping and straining her
frightfully. The pilot advised the skipper to let go the starboard
anchor, hoping that the set of the tide would slue the ship's stern
round, and make her lie head on to the seas; so the anchor was dropped,
but it did not alter the position of the ship. To know, sir, what the
cracking and straining of that vessel was like, as bit by bit she
slowly went to pieces, you must have been aboard of her. When she broke
her back a sort of panic seized many of us, and the captain roared out
to the men to get the boats over, and see if any use could be made of
them. Three boats were launched, but the second boat, with two hands in
her, went adrift, and was instantly engulphed, and the poor fellows in
her vanished just as you might blow out a light. The other boats filled
as soon as they touched the water. There was no help for us in that
way, and again we withdrew to the cabins.
A little before five o'clock in the afternoon a huge sea swept over
the vessel, clearing the decks fore and aft, and leaving little but the
uprights of the deck-houses standing. It was a dreadful sea, but we
knew worse was behind it, and that we must climb the rigging if we
wanted to prolong our lives. The hold was already full of water, and
portions of the deck had been blown out, so that everywhere great
yawning gulfs met the eye, with the black water washing almost flush.
Some of the men made for the fore-rigging, but the captain shouted to
all hands to take to the mizzenmast, as that one, in his opinion, was
the securest. A number of the men who were scrambling forward returned
on hearing the captain sing out, but the rest held on and gained the
foretop. Seventeen of us got over the mizzentop, and with our knives
fell to hacking away at such running gear as we could come at to serve
as lashings. None of us touched the mainmast, for we all knew, now the
ship had broken her back, that that spar was doomed, and the reason why
the captain had called to the men to come aft was because he was afraid
that when the mainmast went it would drag the foremast, that rocked in
its step with every move, with it. I was next the captain in the
mizzentop, and near him was his brother, a stout-built, handsome young
fellow, twenty-two years old, as fine a specimen of the English sailor
as ever I was shipmate with. He was calling about him cheerfully,
bidding us not be down-hearted, and telling us to look sharply around
for the lifeboats. He helped several of the benumbed men to lash
themselves, saying encouraging things to them as he made them fast. As
the sun sank the wind grew more freezing, and I saw the strength of
some of the men lashed over me leaving them fast. The captain shook
hands with me, and, on the chance of my being saved, gave me some
messages to take home, too sacred to be written down, sir. He likewise
handed me his watch and chain, and I put them in my pocket. The canvas
streamed in ribbons from the yards, and the noise was like a continuous
roll of thunder overhead. It was dreadful to look down and watch the
decks ripping up, and notice how every sea that rolled over the wreck
left less of her than it found.
'The moon went quickly awayit was a young moon with little
powerbut the white water and the starlight kept the night from being
black, and the frame of the vessel stood out like a sketch done in ink
every time the dark seas ran clear of her and left her visible upon the
foam. There was no talking, no calling to one another, the men hung in
the topmast rigging like corpses, and I noticed the second mate to
windward of his brother in the top, sheltering him, as best he could,
poor fellow, with his body from the wind that went through our skins
like showers of arrows. On a sudden I took it into my head to fancy
that the mizzenmast wasn't so secure as the foremast. It came into my
mind like a fright, and I called to the captain that I meant to make
for the foretop. I don't know whether he heard me or whether he made
any answer. Maybe it was a sort of craze of mine for the moment, but I
was wild with eagerness to leave that mast as soon as ever I began to
fear for it. I cast my lashings adrift and gave a look at the deck, and
saw that I must not go that way if I did not want to be drowned. So I
swung myself into the crosstrees, and swung myself on to the stay, so
reaching the maintop, and then I scrambled on to the main topmast
crosstrees, and went hand over hand down the topmast stay into the
foretop. Had I reflected before I left the mizzentop, I should not have
believed that I had the strength to work my way for'rards like that; my
hands felt as if they were skinned and my finger-joints appeared to
have no use in them. There were nine or ten men in the foretop, all
lashed and huddled together. The mast rocked sharply, and the throbbing
of it to the blowing of the great tatters of canvas was a horrible
sensation. From time to time they sent up rockets from the Sunk
lightshiponce every hour, I thinkbut we had long since ceased to
notice those signals. There was not a man but thought his time was
come, and, though death seemed terrible when I looked down upon the
boiling waters below, yet the anguish of the cold almost killed the
craving for life.
'It was now about three o'clock on Thursday morning; the air was
full of the strange, dim light of the foam and the stars, and I could
very plainly see the black swarm of men in the top and rigging of the
mizzenmast. I was looking that way, when a great sea fell upon the hull
of the ship with a fearful crash; a moment after, the mainmast went. It
fell quickly, and as it fell it bore down the mizzenmast. There was a
horrible noise of splintering wood and some piercing cries, and then
another great sea swept over the after-deck, and we who were in the
foretop looked and saw the stumps of the two masts sticking up from the
bottom of the hold, the mizzenmast slanting over the bulwarks into the
water, and the men lashed to it drowning. There never was a more
shocking sight, and the wonder is that some of us who saw it did not go
raving mad. The foremast still stood, complete to the royal mast and
all the yards across, but every instant I expected to find myself
hurling through the air. By this time the ship was completely gutted,
the upper part of her a mere frame of ribs, and the gale still blew
furiously; indeed, I gave up hope when the mizzenmast fell and I saw my
shipmates drowning on it.
'It was half an hour after this that a man, who was jammed close
against me, pointed out into the darkness and cried in a wild hoarse
voice, Isn't that a steamer's light? I looked, but what with grief
and suffering and cold, I was nearly blinded, and could see nothing.
But presently another man called out that he could see a light, and
this was echoed by yet another; so I told them to keep their eyes upon
it and watch if it moved. They said by and by that it was stationary;
and though we could not guess that it meant anything good for us, yet
this light heaving in sight and our talking of it gave us some comfort.
When the dawn broke we saw the smoke of a steamer, and agreed that it
was her light we had seen; but I made nothing of that smoke, and was
looking heartbrokenly at the mizzenmast and the cluster of drowned men
washing about it, when a loud cry made me turn my head, and then I saw
a lifeboat under a reefed foresail heading direct for us. It was a
sight, sir, to make one crazy with joy, and it put the strength of ten
men into every one of us. A man named GillmoreI think it was
Gillmorestood up and waved a long strip of canvas. But I believe they
had seen there were living men aboard us before that signal was made.
'The boat had to cross the broken water to fetch us, and in my agony
of mind I cried out, She'll never face it! She'll leave us when she
sees that water! for the sea was frightful all to windward of the Sand
and over it, a tremendous play of broken waters, raging one with
another, and making the whole surface resemble a boiling cauldron. Yet
they never swerved a hair's-breadth. Oh, sir, she was a noble boat! We
could see her crewtwelve of themsitting at the thwarts, all looking
our way, motionless as carved figures, and there was not a stir among
them as, in an instant, the boat leapt from the crest of a towering sea
right into the monstrous broken tumble.
'The peril of these men, who were risking their lives for ours, made
us forget our own situation. Over and over again the boat was buried,
but as regularly did she emerge with her crew fixedly looking our way,
and their oilskins and the light-coloured side of the boat sparkling in
the sunshine, while the coxswain, leaning forward from the helm,
watched our ship with a face of iron.
'By this time we knew that this boat was here to save us, and that
she would save us, and, with wildly beating hearts, we unlashed
ourselves, and dropped over the top into the rigging. We were all
sailors, you see, sir, and knew what the lifeboatmen wanted, and what
was to be done. Swift as thought we had bent a number of ropes' ends
together, and securing a piece of wood to this line, threw it
overboard, and let it drift to the boat. It was seized, a hawser made
fast, and we dragged the great rope on board. By means of this hawser
the lifeboatmen hauled their craft under our quarter, clear of the
raffle. But there was no such rush made for her as might be thought.
No! I owe it to my shipmates to say this. Two of them shinned out upon
the mizzenmast to the body of the second mate, that was lashed eight or
nine feet away over the side, and got him into the boat before they
entered it themselves. I heard the coxswain of the boatCharles Fish
by name, the fittest man in the world for that berth and this workcry
out, Take that poor fellow in there! and he pointed to the body of
the captain, who was lashed in the top with his arms over the mast, and
his head erect and his eyes wide open. But one of our crew called out,
He's been dead four hours, sir, and then the rest of us scrambled
into the boat, looking away from the dreadful group of drowned men that
lay in a cluster round the prostrate mast.
'The second mate was still alive, but a maniac; it was heartbreaking
to hear his broken, feeble cries for his brother, but he lay quiet
after a bit, and died in half an hour, though we chafed his feet and
poured rum into his mouth, and did what men in our miserable plight
could for a fellow-sufferer. Nor were we out of danger yet, for the
broken water was enough to turn a man's hair grey to look at. It was a
fearful sea for us men to find ourselves in the midst of, after having
looked at it from a great height, and I felt at the beginning almost as
though I should have been safer on the wreck than in that boat. Never
could I have believed that so small a vessel could meet such a sea and
live. Yet she rose like a duck to the great roaring waves which
followed her, draining every drop of water from her bottom as she was
hove up, and falling with terrible suddenness into a hollow, only to
bound like a living thing to the summit of the next gigantic crest.
'When I looked at the lifeboat's crew and thought of our situation a
short while since, and our safety now, and how to rescue us these
great-hearted men had imperilled their own lives, I was unmanned; I
could not thank them, I could not trust myself to speak. They told us
they had left Ramsgate Harbour early on the preceding afternoon, and
had fetched the Knock at dusk, and not seeing our wreck had lain to in
that raging sea, suffering almost as severely as ourselves, all through
the piercing tempestuous night. What do you think of such a service,
sir? How can such devoted heroism be written of, so that every man who
can read shall know how great and beautiful it is? Our own sufferings
came to us as a part of our calling as seamen. But theirs was bravely
courted and endured for the sake of their fellow-creatures. Believe me,
sir, it was a splendid piece of service; nothing grander in its way was
ever done before, even by Englishmen. I am a plain seaman, and can say
no more about it all than this. But when I think of what must have come
to us eleven men before another hour had passed, if the lifeboat crew
had not run down to us, I feel like a little child, sir, and my heart
grows too full for my eyes.'
Two days had elapsed (continues the writer in the Daily Telegraph
) since the rescue of the survivors of the crew of the Indian Chief, and
I was gazing with much interest at the victorious lifeboat as she lay
motionless upon the water of the harbour. It was a very calm day, the
sea stretching from the pier-sides as smooth as a piece of green silk,
and growing vague in the wintry haze of the horizon, while the white
cliffs were brilliant with the silver sunshine. It filled the mind with
strange and moving thoughts to look at that sleeping lifeboat, with her
image as sharp as a coloured photograph shining in the clear water
under her, and then reflect upon the furious conflict she had been
concerned in only two nights before, the freight of half-drowned men
that had loaded her, the dead body on her thwart, the bitter cold of
the howling gale, the deadly peril that had attended every heave of the
huge black seas. Within a few hundred yards of her lay the tug, the
sturdy steamer that had towed her to the Long Sand, that had held her
astern all night, and brought her back safe on the following afternoon.
The tug had suffered much from the frightful tossing she had received,
and her injuries had not yet been dealt with; she had lost her
sponsons, her starboard side-house was gone, the port side of her
bridge had been started and the iron railing warped, her decks still
seemed dank from the remorseless washing, her funnel was brown with
rust, and the tough craft looked a hundred years old. Remembering what
these vessels had gone through, how they had but two days since topped
a long series of merciful and dangerous errands by as brilliant an act
of heroism and humanity as any on record, it was difficult to behold
them without a quickened pulse. I recalled the coming ashore of their
crews, the lifeboatmen with their great cork-jackets around them, the
steamer's men in streaming oilskins, the faces of many of them livid
with the cold, their eyes dim with the bitter vigil they had kept and
the furious blowing of the spray; and I remembered the bright smile
that here and there lighted up the weary faces, as first one and then
another caught sight of a wife or a sister in the crowd waiting to
greet and accompany the brave hearts to the warmth of their humble
homes. I felt that while these crews' sufferings and the courage and
resolution they had shown remained unwritten, only half of the very
stirring and manful story had been recorded. The narrative, as related
to me by the coxswain of the lifeboat, is a necessary pendant to the
tale told by the mate of the wrecked ship; and as he and his
colleagues, both of the lifeboat and the steam-tug, want no better
introduction than their own deeds to the sympathy and attention of the
public, let Charles Edward Fish begin his yarn without further preface.
No. 2.The Coxswain's Account.
'News had been brought to Ramsgate, as you know, sir, that a large
ship was ashore on the Long Sand, and Captain Braine, the
harbour-master, immediately ordered the tug and lifeboat to proceed to
her assistance. It was blowing a heavy gale of wind, though it came
much harder some hours afterwards; and the moment we were clear of the
piers we felt the sea. Our boat is considered a very fine one. I know
there is no better on the coasts, and there are only two in Great
Britain bigger. She was presented to the Lifeboat Institution by
Bradford, and is called after that town. But it is ridiculous to talk
of bigness when it means only forty-two feet long, and when a sea is
raging round you heavy enough to swamp a line-of-battle ship. I had my
eye on the tugnamed the Vulcan, sirwhen she met the first of the
seas, and she was thrown up like a ball, and you could see her
starboard paddle revolving in the air high enough out for a coach to
pass under; and when she struck the hollow she dished a sea over her
bows that left only the stern of her showing. We were towing head to
wind, and the water was flying over the boat in clouds. Every man of us
was soaked to the skin, in spite of our overalls, by the time we had
brought the Ramsgate Sands abeam; but there were a good many miles to
be gone over before we should fetch the Knock lightship, and so you
see, sir, it was much too early for us to take notice that things were
not over and above comfortable.
'We got out the sail-covera piece of tarpaulinto make a shelter
of, and rigged it up against the mast, seizing it to the burtons; but
it hadn't been up two minutes when a heavy sea hit and washed it right
aft in rags; so there was nothing to do but to hold on to the thwarts
and shake ourselves when the water came over. I never remember a colder
wind. I don't say this because I happened to be out in it. Old Tom
Cooper, one of the best boatmen in all England, sir, who made one of
our crew, agreed with me that it was more like a flaying machine than a
natural gale of wind. The feel of it in the face was like being gnawed
by a dog. I only wonder it didn't freeze the tears it fetched out of
our eyes. We were heading N.E., and the wind was blowing from N.E. The
North Foreland had been a bit of shelter, like; but when we had gone
clear of that, and the ocean lay ahead of us, the seas were
furiousthey seemed miles long, sir, like an Atlantic sea, and it was
enough to make a man hold his breath to watch how the tug wallowed and
tumbled into them. I sung out to Dick Goldsmith, Dick, I says, she's
slowed, do you see, she'll never be able to meet it, for she had
slackened her engines down into a mere crawl, and I really did think
they meant to give up. I could see Alf Pagethe master of her, siron
the bridge, coming and going like the moon when the clouds sweep over
it, as the seas smothered him up one moment, and left him shining in
the sun the next. But there was to be no giving up with the tug's crew
any more than with the lifeboat's; she held on, and we followed.
'Somewhere abreast of the Elbow buoy a smack that was running ported
her helm to speak us. Her skipper had just time to yell out, A vessel
on the Long Sand! and we to wave our hands, when she was astern and
out of sight in a haze of spray. Presently a collier named the Fanny,
with her foretopgallant-yard gone, passed us. She was cracking on to
bring the news of the wreck to Ramsgate, and was making a heavy sputter
under her topsails and foresail. They raised a cheer, for they knew our
errand, and then, like the smack, in a minute she was astern and gone.
By this time the cold and the wet and the fearful plunging were
beginning to tell, and one of the men called for a nip of rum. The
quantity we generally take is half a gallon, and it is always my rule
to be sparing with that drink for the sake of the shipwrecked men we
may have to bring home, and who are pretty sure to be in greater need
of the stuff than us. I never drink myself, sir, and that's one reason,
I think, why I manage to meet the cold and wet middling well, and
rather better than some men who look stronger than me. However, I told
Charlie Verrion to measure the rum out and serve it round, and it would
have made you laugh, I do believe, sir, to have seen the care the men
took of the big bottleCharlie cocking his finger into the cork-hole,
and Davy Berry clapping his hand over the pewter measure, whenever a
sea came, to prevent the salt water from spoiling the liquor. Bad as
our plight was, the tug's crew were no better off; their wheel is
forrard, and so you may suppose the fellow that steered had his share
of the seas; the others stood by to relieve him; and for the matter of
water, she was just like a rock, the waves striking her bows and flying
pretty nigh as high as the top of her funnel, and blowing the whole
length of her aft with a fall like the tumble of half-a-dozen cartloads
of bricks. I like to speak of what they went through, for the way they
were knocked about was something fearful, to be sure.
[Illustration: Leaving Ramsgate Harbour in tow.]
'By half-past four o'clock in the afternoon it was drawing on dusk,
and about that hour we sighted the revolving light of the Kentish Knock
lightship, and a little after five we were pretty close to her. She is
a big red-hulled boat, with the words 'Kentish Knock' written in long
white letters on her sides, and, dark as it was, we could see her flung
up, and rushing down fit to roll her over and over; and the way she
pitched and went out of sight, and then ran up on the black heights of
water, gave me a better notion of the fearfulness of that sea than I
had got by watching the tug or noticing our own lively dancing. The tug
hailed her first, and two men looking over her side answered; but what
they said didn't reach us in the lifeboat. Then the steamer towed us
abreast, but the tide caught our warp and gave us a sheer that brought
us much too close alongside of her. When the sea took her she seemed to
hang right over us, and the sight of that great dark hull, looking as
if, when it fell, it must come right atop of us, made us want to sheer
off, I can tell you. I sung out, Have you seen the ship? And one of
the men bawled back, Yes. How does she bear? Nor'-west by north.
Have you seen anything go to her? The answer I caught was, A boat.
Some of our men said the answer was, A lifeboat, but most of us only
heard, A boat.
'The tug was now towing ahead, and we went past the lightship, but
ten minutes after Tom Friend sings out, They're burning a light aboard
her! and looking astern I saw they had fired a red signal light that
was blazing over the bulwark in a long shower of sparks. The tug put
her helm down to return, and we were brought broadside to the sea. Then
we felt the power of those waves, sir. It looked a wonder that we were
not rolled over and drowned, every man of us. We held on with our teeth
clenched, and twice the boat was filled, and the water up to our
throats. Look out for it, men! was always the cry. But every upward
send emptied the noble little craft, like pulling out a plug in a
wash-basin, and in a few minutes we were again alongside the
light-vessel. This time there were six or seven men looking over the
side. What do you want? we shouted. Did you see the Sunk lightship's
rocket? they all yelled out together. Yes. Did you say you saw a
boat? No, they answered, showing we had mistaken their first reply.
On which I shouted to the tug, Pull us round to the Long Sand Head
buoy! and then we were under weigh again, meeting the tremendous seas.
There was only a little bit of moon, westering fast, and what there was
of it showed but now and again, as the heavy clouds opened and let the
light of it down. Indeed, it was very dark, though there was some kind
of glimmer in the foam which enabled us to mark the tug ahead. Bitter
cold work, Charlie, says old Tom Cooper to me: but, says he, it's
colder for the poor wretches aboard the wreck, if they're alive to feel
it. The thought of them made our own sufferings small, and we kept
looking and looking into the darkness around, but there was nothing to
be spied, only now and again and long whiles apart the flash of a
rocket in the sky from the Sunk lightship. Meanwhile, from time to
time, we burnt a hand-signala light, sir, that's fired something
after the manner of a gun. You fit it into a wooden tube, and give a
sort of hammer at the end a smart blow, and the flame rushes out, and a
bright light it makes, sir. Ours were green lights, and whenever I set
one flaring I couldn't help taking notice of the appearance of the men.
It was a queer sight, I assure you, to see them all as green as leaves,
with their cork jackets swelling out their bodies so as scarcely to
seem like human beings, and the black water as high as our mast-head,
or howling a long way below us, on either side. They burned
hand-signals on the tug, too, but nothing came of them. There was no
sign of the wreck, and staring over the edge of the boat, with the
spray and the darkness, was like trying to see through the bottom of a
'So we began to talk the matter over, and Tom Cooper says, We had
better stop here and wait for daylight. I'm for stopping, says Steve
Goldsmith; and Bob Penny says, We're here to fetch the wreck, and
fetch it we will, if we wait a week. Right, says I; and all hands
being agreedwithout any fuss, sir, though I dare say most of our
hearts were at home, and our wishes alongside our hearths, and the warm
fires in themwe all of us put our hands to our mouths and made one
great cry of Vulcan ahoy! The tug dropped astern. What do you want?
sings out the skipper, when he gets within speaking distance. There's
nothing to be seen of the vessel, so we had better lie-to for the
night, I answered. Very good, he says, and then the steamer, without
another word from her crew, and the water tumbling over her bows like
cliffs, resumed her station ahead, her paddles revolving just fast
enough to keep her from dropping astern.
'As coxswain of the lifeboat, sir, I take no credit for resolving to
lie-to all night. But I am bound to say a word for the two crews, who
made up their minds without a murmur, without a second's hesitation, to
face the bitter cold and fierce seas of that long winter darkness, that
they might be on the spot to help their fellow-creatures when the dawn
broke and showed them where they were. I know there are scores of
sailors round our coasts who would have done likewise. Only read, sir,
what was done in the North, Newcastle way, during the gales last
October. But surely, sir, no matter who may be the men who do what they
think their duty, whether they belong to the North or the South, they
deserve the encouragement of praise. A man likes to feel, when he has
done his best, that his fellow-men think well of his work. If I had not
been one of that crew I should wish to say more; but no false pride
shall make me say less, sir, and I thank God for the resolution He put
into us, and for the strength He gave us to keep that resolution.
'All that we had to do now was to make ourselves as comfortable as
we could. Our tow-rope veered us out a long way, too far astern of the
tug for her to help us as a breakwater, and the manner in which we were
flung towards the sky with half our keel out of water and then dropped
into a hollowlike falling from the top of a house, sir,while the
heads of the seas blew into and tumbled over us all the time, made us
all reckon that, so far from getting any rest, most of our time would
be spent in preventing ourselves from being washed overboard. We turned
to and got the foresail aft, and made a kind of roof of it. This was no
easy job, for the wind was so furious that wrestling even with that bit
of a sail was like fighting with a steam-engine. When it was up ten of
us snugged ourselves away under it, and two men stood on the
after-grating thwart keeping a look-out, with the life-lines around
them. As you know, sir, we carry a binnacle, and the lamp in it was
alight and gave out just enough haze for us to see each other in. We
all lay in a lump together for warmth, and a fine show we made, I dare
say; for a cork jacket, even when a man stands upright, isn't
calculated to improve his figure, and as we all of us had cork jackets
on and oil-skins, and many of us sea boots, you may guess what a raffle
of legs and arms we showed, and what a rum heap of odds and ends we
looked, as we sprawled in the bottom of the boat upon one another.
Sometimes it would be Johnny Goldsmithfor we had three
GoldsmithsSteve and Dick and Johnnygrowling underneath that
somebody was lying on his leg; and then maybe Harry Meader would bawl
out that there was a man sitting on his head; and once Tom Friend swore
his arm was broke: but my opinion is, sir, that it was too cold to feel
inconveniences of this kind, and I believe that some among us would not
have known if their arms and legs really had been broke, until they
tried to use 'em, for the cold seemed to take away all feeling out of
'As the seas flew over the boat the water filled the sail that was
stretched overhead and bellied it down upon us, and that gave us less
room, so that some had to lie flat on their faces; but when this
bellying got too bad we'd all get up and make one heave with our backs
under the sail, and chuck the water out of it in that way. Charlie
Fish, says Tom Cooper to me, in a grave voice, what would some of
them young gen'lmen as comes to Ramsgate in the summer, and says they'd
like to go out in the lifeboat, think of this? This made me laugh, and
then young Tom Cooper votes for another nipper of rum all round; and as
it was drawing on for one o'clock in the morning, and some of the men
were groaning with cold, and pressing themselves against the thwarts
with the pain of it, I made no objection, and the liquor went round. I
always take a cake of Fry's chocolate with me when I go out in the
lifeboat, as I find it very supporting, and I had a mind to have a
mouthful now; but when I opened the locker I found it full of water, my
chocolate nothing but paste, and the biscuit a mass of pulp. This was
rather hard, as there was nothing else to eat, and there was no getting
near the tug in that sea unless we wanted to be smashed into staves.
However, we hadn't come out to enjoy ourselves; nothing was said, and
so we lay in a heap, hugging one another for warmth, until the morning
'The first man to look to leeward was old Tom's sonyoung Tom
Cooperand in a moment he bawled out, There she is! pointing like a
madman. The morning had only just broke, and the light was grey and
dim, and down in the west it still seemed to be night; the air was full
of spray, and scarcely were we a-top of a sea than we were rushing like
an arrow into the hollow again, so that young Tom must have had eyes
like a hawk to have seen her. Yet the moment he sung out and pointed,
all hands cried out, There she is! But what was it, sir? Only a mast
about three miles offjust one single mast sticking up out of the
white water, as thin and faint as a spider's line. Yet that was the
ship we had been waiting all night to see. There she was, and my heart
thumped in my ears the moment my eye fell on that mast. But Lord, sir,
the fearful sea that was raging between her and us! for where we were
was deepish water, and the waves regular; but all about the wreck was
the Sand, and the water on it was running in fury all sorts of ways,
rushing up in tall columns of foam as high as a ship's mainyard, and
thundering so loudly that, though we were to windward, we could hear it
above the gale and the boiling of the seas around us. It might have
shook even a man who wanted to die to look at it, if he didn't know
what the Bradford can go through.
'I ran my eye over the men's faces. Let slip the tow rope, bawled
Dick Goldsmith. Up foresail, I shouted, and two minutes after we had
sighted that mast we were dead before the wind, our storm foresail taut
as a drum-skin, our boat's stem heading full for the broken seas and
the lonely stranded vessel in the midst of them. It was well that there
was something in front of us to keep our eyes that way, and that none
of us thought of looking astern, or the sight of the high and frightful
seas which raged after us might have played old Harry with weak nerves.
Some of them came with such force that they leapt right over the boat,
and the air was dark with water flying a dozen yards high over us in
broad solid sheets, which fell with a roar like the explosion of a gun
ten or a dozen fathoms ahead. But we took no notice of these seas, even
when we were in the thick of the broken waters, and all the hands
holding on to the thwarts for dear life. Every thought was upon the
mast that was growing bigger and clearer, and sometimes when a sea hove
us high we could just see the hull, with the water as white as milk
flying over it. The mast was what they call 'bright,' that is, scraped
and varnished, and we knew that if there was anything living aboard
that doomed ship we should find it on that mast; and we strained our
eyes with all our might, but could see nothing that looked like a man.
But on a sudden I caught sight of a length of canvas streaming out of
the top, and all of us seeing it we raised a shout, and a few minutes
after we saw the men. They were all dressed in yellow oilskins, and the
mast being of that colour was the reason why we did not see them
sooner. They looked a whole mob of people, and one of us roared out,
All hands are there, men! and I answered, Aye, the whole ship's
company, and we'll have them all! for though, as we afterwards knew,
there were only eleven of them, yet, as I have said, they looked a
great number huddled together in that top, and I made sure the whole
ship's company were there.
'By this time we were pretty close to the ship, and a fearful wreck
she looked, with her mainmast and mizzenmast gone, and her bulwarks
washed away, and great lumps of timber and planking ripping out of her
and going overboard with every pour of the seas. We let go our anchor
fifteen fathoms to windward of her, and as we did so we saw the poor
fellows unlashing themselves and dropping one by one over the top into
the lee rigging. As we veered out cable and drove down under her stern,
I shouted to the men on the wreck to bend a piece of wood on to a line
and throw it overboard for us to lay hold of. They did this, but they
had to get aft first, and I feared for the poor half-perished creatures
again and again as I saw them scrambling along the lee rail, stopping
and holding on as the mountainous seas swept over the hull, and then
creeping a bit further aft in the pause. There was a horrible muddle of
spars and torn canvas and rigging under her lee, but we could not guess
what a fearful sight was there until our hawser having been made fast
to the wreck, we had hauled the lifeboat close under her quarter. There
looked to be a whole score of dead bodies knocking about among the
spars. It stunned me for a moment, for I had thought all hands were in
the foretop, and never dreamt of so many lives having been lost.
Seventeen were drowned, and there they were, most of them, and the body
of the captain lashed to the head of the mizzenmast, so as to look as
if he were leaning over it, his head stiff upright and his eyes
watching us, and the stir of the seas made him appear to be struggling
to get to us. I thought he was alive, and cried to the men to hand him
in, but someone said he was killed when the mizzenmast fell, and had
been dead four or five hours. This was a dreadful shock; I never
remember the like of it. I can't hardly get those fixed eyes out of my
sight, sir, and I lie awake for hours of a night, and so does Tom
Cooper, and others of us, seeing those bodies torn by the spars and
bleeding, floating in the water alongside the miserable ship.
'Well, sir, the rest of this lamentable story has been told by the
mate of the vessel, and I don't know that I could add anything to it.
We saved the eleven men, and I have since heard that all of them are
doing well. If I may speak, as coxswain of the lifeboat, I would like
to say that all hands concerned in this rescue, them in the tug as well
as the crew of the boat, did what might be expected of English
sailorsfor such they are, whether you call some of them boatmen or
not; and I know in my heart, and say it without fear, that from the
hour of leaving Ramsgate Harbour to the moment when we sighted the
wreck's mast, there was only one thought in all of us, and that was
that the Almighty would give us the strength and direct us how to save
the lives of the poor fellows to whose assistance we had been sent.'
Ten years more fly by, in which there is a splendid record of
services and rescues to the credit of Coxswain Fish, the Ramsgate
lifeboatmen, and the brave steam-tugs, Vulcan and Aid, and we come to
the night of Jan. 5 and 6, 1891, which is exactly, my readers will see,
ten years to the day after the rescue of the survivors of the Indian
Chief, a rescue certainly unsurpassed for its dramatic intensity and
its heroism even by the Deal lifeboat.
At 3 a.m. on the night of Jan. 5, 1891, Coxswain Fish was asleep in
his hammock in the watch-house at the end of Ramsgate pier. There was a
gale blowing from the E.N.E., and in the long frost of that awful
winter there was no more terrible night than this. The thermometer
stood at 15° below freezing-point; there was a great sea and strong
At 3 a.m. Fish was called by the watch on Ramsgate pier, and he saw
a flare on the Goodwins through the rifts in the snow squall. At 2.15
Richard Roberts, the coxswain of the Deal lifeboat, was also roused
from sleep and launched his lifeboat, manned by the gallant Deal men.
But though the Deal men launched at 3.15 a.m., they had not the same
favourable chance of reaching the wreck, beating eight miles dead to
windward, as compared with the Ramsgate lifeboat, towed into the eye of
the wind by its powerful steam-tug Aid.
We may on this occasion, therefore, leave out the consideration of
the Deal lifeboat, splendid as its effort was, inasmuch as it only
arrived at the scene of the wreck just as the Ramsgate lifeboat had
saved the crew. Some of the hardy Deal lifeboatmen were almost benumbed
and rendered helpless by the cold, and they only saw the tragedy of the
captain's death and the rescue of the remainder of the crew from the
wreck by the Ramsgate men.
At 3 a.m. then the Ramsgate rocket went up in answer to the signals
from the Gull lightship; on that bitter night the lifeboat was manned
in eight minutes. The lifebelts and oilskins were handed into the
lifeboat; shivering, the brave hearts got their clothes on, and in less
time than this page has been written, the tow rope had been passed into
the lifeboat from the Aid, and that tug was out of the harbour,
dragging the lifeboat, head to sea, 110 yards astern of her.
It was black midnight, and no man in the boat could see his
neighbour; the pier was like a great iceberg and sheeted with ice; the
sea was flying over the oilclad figures in the lifeboat and freezing
almost as it fell, rattling against the sails or on the deck, or
fiercely hurled into the faces of the men; indeed, every oilskin jacket
was frozen stiff before they had been towed a quarter of a mile against
the furious sea, which drenched them 'like spray,' as the coxswain
expressed it, 'from the parish fire engines.' The brave fellows were
more than drenchedthey were all but frozen, but no one dreamed of
turning back, for though the lightship's rockets had stopped they could
see the piteous flares from the distant wreck now and then, as the snow
squalls broke, beckoning them on.
The vessel on the Goodwins was the three-masted schooner or
barquentine The Crocodile, laden with stone from Guernsey to London,
and when about a mile or so north of the Goodwins 'reaching' on the
port tack, 'missed stays' in the heavy sea, and before they had time to
'wear' ship, she struck the northern face of the Goodwins, against
which a tremendous sea was driven by the black north-easter that was
blowing from the Pole. She struck the Goodwins bows on with her head to
the south-east, and she heeled over to starboard, the sea which rolled
from the E.N.E. beating nearly on her port broadside.
The wrecked crew knew their position, and that their only chance was
the advent of some lifeboat, and they burned flares, which consisted on
this occasion of their own clothes, which they tore off and soaked in
oil. They were soon beaten off the deck as the tide rose, and in the
darkness had to take to the rigging, the captain, who was an elderly
man, and his crew all together climbing in the mizzen weather rigging.
The weather rigging was of course more upright than the lee rigging,
which leaned over to the right or starboard hand as the vessel lay.
As the tug bored to windward and rapidly neared the vessel they
could see the flares being carried up the rigging by the sorely beset
crew, and knew the extremity of the case; then the next snow squall
wrapped them in like a winding-sheet, and all was shut out. But still,
on plunged the Aid at great speed, for the new tug-boat Aid is a much
faster and more powerful boat than either of the old tugs, the Aid and
the Vulcan. Towing the lifeboat well to windward of the wreck, at last
the moment arrived, and though not a word was spoken and not a signal
made, the end of the tow-rope was let go by the lifeboat and sail was
made on her for the wrecked vessel, or rather for the flares.
But even then down came an extra furious snow squall, and the
lifeboat had to anchor, lest she should miss the vessel altogether.
This took time. Again in the fury of the storm the word was given
'Up anchor!' and 'Run down closer to the wreck!' and again the anchor
was dropped to the best of the judgment of the coxswain. Fish and
Cooper were first and second coxswains ten years before, and exactly
ten years before to the day and hour the same brave men were in a
similar desperate struggle at the wreck of the Indian Chief. In the
tremendous sea the anchor was for the second time dropped well to
windward of the wreck. The hull was under water, and over it the hungry
sea broke in pyramids or solid sheets of flying, freezing spray. As
they veered out their cable and came towards the wreck bows foremost,
for they anchored the lifeboat this time by the stern, they could dimly
see the cowering, clinging figures in the rigging. They had to pay out
their powerful cable most cautiously, for great rollers bursting at the
top, and the size of a house, every now and then came racing at them,
I don't believe a man on board remembered it was exactly to the hour
ten years since they rescued the crew of the Indian Chief; but their
hearts, beating as warmly as ever in the cause of suffering humanity,
were concentrated on the present need. They veered down under the stern
of the wreck, and passing the cable a little aft in the lifeboat,
steered her up under the starboard-quarter of the wreck. They had just
got out their grapnel, and were about to throw it into the lee rigging
of the wreck, in hopes it would grip and holdfor unless it held of
itself no one of the frozen crew could come down to make it fast. Left
foot in front, well out on the gunwale, left hand grasping the fore
halyards to steady himstrong brave right hand swung back to hurl the
grapnel on the next chance, stood a gallant Ramsgate man, when with a
roar like the growl of a wild beast, a monstrous sea broke over vessel
and lifeboat, not merely filling her up, and over her thwarts, but
snapping her strong new Manilla hawser.
Those who know the quality of the splendid cables supplied by the
Royal National Lifeboat Institution will understand the great force
that must have been exerted to snap this mighty hawser. But so it
happened, and away to leeward into the darkness, smothered, baffled,
and almost drowned, but by no means beaten, were swept on to and into
the shallower and more furious surf of the north-west jaw of the
Goodwins, the Ramsgate lifeboatmen.
Contrast the freezing midnight scene of storm and surf, eight miles
from the nearest land, with the quiet sleep of millions.
Here was a January midnight, black as a wolf's throatthermometer
15° below freezing, a mountainous surf on the Goodwins, and only twelve
brave men to face it all; but those twelve men were the heroes of a
hundred fights, and were determined to save the men on the wreck or die
Therefore, though swept to leeward, they got sail on the lifeboat
and got her on the starboard tack, ten men sheeting home the fore
sheet. 'Bad job this!' they said, for words were few that night, and
they made through the surf for the tug, which was on the look-out for
them, and steered for the blue light they burned. Nothing can be more
ghastly than the effect of this blue light on the faces of the men or
on the wild hurly-burly of boiling snow white foam one moment seen
raging round the lifeboat, and the next obliterated in darkness, the
more pitchy by reason of the extinguished flare.
The blue light was seen by the Aid, and she moved to leeward to pick
up the lifeboat after she emerged from the breakers. Again the tug-boat
passed her hawser on board the lifeboat, and once more towed her to
windward to the same position as before; and once again, burning to
save the despairing sailors, the lifeboatmen dropped anchor and veered
out their last remaining cable, well-knowing this was the last chance,
as they had only the one remaining cable. Tight as a fiddle string was
the good hawser, and the howling north-easter hummed its weird tune
along its vibrating length, as coil after coil was paid out in the
lulls, and the lifeboat came closer and closer, and at last slued right
under the starboard quarter of the wreck.
By hand-lights, blue and green, they saw, high up in the air, the
unfortunate crew lashed in the weather-rigging, i. e. on the port or
left side of the wreck, the side opposite to that under shelter of
which they lay. The shelter was a poor one, for great seas broke over
the wreck and into the lifeboat on the other side.
The men were lashed half-way up the weather rigging of the
mizzenmast, and the lifeboatmen shouted to them to come over and drop
into the lifeboat. To do this, they, half-frozen as they were, had to
unlash themselves from the weather-rigging and, in the awful cold and
darkness, climb up to the mast-head, where the lee-rigging or shrouds
met more closely the weather-rigging. Every giant sea shook the wreck;
every billow swayed her masts backwards and forwards so that they
'buckled' like fishing-rods, and the marvel is any man of the benumbed
crew succeeded in getting across from the weather side to the
It must be borne in mind that the deck was under water and 'raked'
by every sea, and that the only possible way of reaching the lifeboat
was by going up the rigging from the place where the wrecked crew were
lashed, and coming downif only they could reach acrossthe other
side, which was next the lifeboat, and thence jumping or being hauled
The topsails were in ribbons, and as the wrecked sailors clambered
aloft the great whips of torn canvas lashed and terrified and wounded
them. By great effort they got across the black gulf between the two
riggingsall but the captain.
There high in airvisible as the blue lights flared up from the
lifeboat, struggling hard for life, hung the captain.
One leg straddled across the chasmone hand clutched the
weather-rigging he wanted to leave, and one hand reached out
blindlyhopefully to catch the lee shrouds'You'll do it, captain!
Come on, captain! For God's sake, captain, come on!' And every face in
the blue glare was riveted on the struggling man but,oh! what anguish
to the staring lifeboatmen eager to save him!he fell, his life-belt
being torn off in his fall, full forty feet on to the wave-washed
'Out boat-hooks, brave hearts, and catch him.' But a great billow
broke over the wreck and lifeboatmen, and never was he seen again.
This time death won.
Let us trust he was ready to meet his God. 'If it be not now, yet it
will comethe readiness is all.'
Some jumping, and some dragged by the lines, the rest of the
shipwrecked men got into the lifeboat, so dazed, so benumbed that they
neither realised the loss of the captain nor their own miraculous
Just at this moment, under press of canvas, the foam flying from her
blue bows, at full speed came the Deal lifeboat, too late to avert the
disaster they had witnessed.
They had left Deal at 3.15, but not having the aid of steam, were
half-frozen and much later on the scene of action than the Ramsgate tug
and lifeboat, to whom the honour of this grand rescue belongs.
They reached Ramsgate Harbour at 7.30 a.m. and at 9 o'clock, without
having gone ashore to breakfast, almost worn out, but borne up by
dauntless spirit within, in response to a telegram from Broadstairs,
the same steam-tug, lifeboat, coxswain and crew, again steamed out of
Ramsgate Harbour. A collier, the Glide, had gone to the bottom after
collision with another vessel, named the Glancesuch strange
coincidences there are in real lifeand the crew of the Glide had
taken to their own small ship's boat, while the crew of the Glance had
been saved by the Broadstairs lifeboat.
The crew of the Glide in their little boat were in great peril in
the mountainous seas which run off the North Foreland in easterly
gales, and it was feared they were lost.
Once more into the teeth of the icy gale, without rest and with only
snatches of food taken in the lifeboat, after the long exposure of the
preceding night and its terrible scenes, the Ramsgate men were towed
behind their tug-boat to the rescue. They found the boat of the Glide
riding in a furious sea to a sea-anchor, the very best thing they could
have done. A sea-anchor may be rigged up by tying sails and oars
together, with, if possible, a weight attached just to keep them under
water, and then pitching the lot overboard.
To this half-floating, half-submerged mass, the boat's painter was
made fast, and as it dragged through the water much more slowly than
the boat, the latter checked in its drift came head to sea, and
yielding to the send of each wave rode over crests and combers which
would otherwise have swamped her.
Hardly hoping for deliverance, they saw the steam-tug and lifeboat
making for them and ranging to windward of them to give them a lee, and
they were all dragged at last safely into the Bradford. Soon they were
towed in between Ramsgate piers, and this time the flying of the
British red ensign denoted, 'All saved.' Shouts of rejoicing hailed the
double exploit of the hardy lifeboatmen, and their fellow townsmen of
Ramsgate proudly felt they had done 'by no means a bad piece of work
before breakfast that morning.'
'Storm Warriors' of unconquered Kent, rivals in a hundred deeds of
mercy with your brethren the Deal boatmen, and with them sharing the
title of 'Heroes of the Goodwin Sands,' God guard you in your perils
and bring you safe home at last!
At many other points around the British Isles the same noble spirit
is displayed of splendid daring in a sacred cause. Would that all the
stalwart fishermen and boatmen of this dear England, as their
prototypes of the Sea of Galilee, would serve and follow Him who
Himself 'came to seek and to save that which was lost,' that so passing
through the waves of this troublesome world, finally they may come
through Him to the land of everlasting life!
 This clearly is an error, for no lifeboat could possibly have
been near the wreck at this early hour. The ship struck at half-past
two o'clock on the morning of January 5, and at daybreak the rescue
mentioned was attempted, clearly, by a smack, for no lifeboat heard of
the wreck until eleven o'clock of the same day. Probably it was that
smack which afterwards conveyed the news of the wreck to Harwich at 11
a.m. Another fishing smack proceeded at once to Ramsgate, and arrived
there at noon, having received the information of the wreck from the
Kentish Knock lightship.
* * * * * *