THE EVENING STAR AND DAILY HERALD
THURSDAY 7 DECEMBER 1899
Our Aldeburgh correspondent telegraphs: – At 11 a.m. this (Thursday) morning, telephone messages arrived that minute guns were firing out at sea to the south of Aldeburgh, but caution was exercised before the gun-cotton rockets used for the purpose of summoning the crew of the lifeboat at Aldeburgh were fired. Even then it was some time before the launching order was given.
Te (sic) sprat boats had taken the early morning tide, but those who had gone north saw that a gale was brewing, and wisely beached at Sizewell. The storm at length broke, and by noon a heavy gale was raging from the S. E. by E., blowing dead on shore. signals of distress were soon heard, but some delay in launching the lifeboat was occasioned owing to the fact that Coxswain Cable, who had only just risen from a sich (sic) bed was consulting his doctor as to whether he might occupy his usual place in the boat. The request was refused, and the boat was at once launched, the usual competition for belts having taken place. For some time the crew had a stiff battle with the heavy sea, caused by the on-shore wind.
At last the foresail was set and the boat turned southward, and reaching along with great speed, made the final dash through the immense seas running over the shoals. Just then a heavy sea struck the boat on her quarter, and before her helm could recover a mighty sea struck her on her broadside.
She was over in a moment and such a scene has never been witnessed off Aldeburgh since the capsizing of the first lifeboat, 40 years ago. The Aldeburgh did not sink, but was driven towards the shore, and those who could clear from the boat made for the shore, but the backwash made it a most difficult task.
At first it was reported that all were saved, but when the roll-call of the crew of 18 was called seven were missing.
FRIDAY 8 DECEMBER 1899
SOME FURTHER DETAILS
HOW THE BODIES WERE RESCUED
The wrecked Aldeburgh lifeboat could hardly be seen in the pitch darkness of Thursday evening, and as it would have been dangerous to show a strange light on that part of the coast, no examination could be made. A solitary coastguardsman, who was afterwards relieved by a police-officer, kept watch all night. It was thought probable that the wreck would be shifted at high tide, with a storm raging, but at sunrise this morning it was found undisturbed, just as when the working party left off after taking the last body from beneath. The great jagged hole in her side, and the massive timbers used in raising her up for a foot or two only, bore striking testimony to the desperate exertions that were required before the unfortunate men beneath could be reached.
None but those who were actually present could describe the scene of fearful excitement which ensued when the boat first came ashore. A crowd rushed to the spot, and it was declared by some of the men that during the first few minutes, voices could be heard under the boat. James Cable, the coxswain -just out of bed from an attack of influenza and rheumatism -climbed on to the bottom, with the water dashing over him, and called through one of the valves – “Are you there?” No answer was returned, however, and it is generally believed that the hearing of voices was quite imaginary. The boat carried spare masts and sails, eighteen or twenty heavy oars, and a large quantity of other gear, and as all this weight fell upon the men who were beneath, none could have lived under it for more than a few seconds.
The first body was washed from under the boat, as she lifted before a heavy wave before settling down on the shingle. It would have been washed away if the gunwale of the boat, as she went down again, had not closed on his life-belt. The work of cutting a hole in the side and bottom, which at once commenced, occupied some three hours. The outer skin of the hull was of one-inch oak! the cork belting was strongly fastened together, and, before a sufficient aperture could be made, one of the water-ballast tanks had to be taken out, and the deck smashed in. Meanwhile the boat had been partially raised, and the bodies could be seen below. The first two men to get beneath were brothers of two of the victims, John Butcher and Walter Ward, the latter was lying forward, and was not injured. The body of Morris was taken out next and afterwards that of young Herbert Downing, the only single man of the party. He was quite uninjured; he seemed to have fallen asleep, with a smiling face. John Butcher and Charlie Crisp were in the after part of the boat, and were fearfully crushed.
The inquest will be opened at the Moot Hall at two o’clock this afternoon.
THE EVENING STAR AND DAILY HERALD
FRIDAY 8 DECEMBER 1899
TERRIBLE SCENE IN THE BREAKERS
SIX MEN DROWNED
One of the saddest accidents that has ever happened in East Anglia occurred at Aldeburgh yesterday, when the celebrated lifeboat “Aldeburgh” was overturned in the surf, and six of her crew drowned. The bare facts of the disaster were reported in the Evening Star last night.
Lieut. J.O. Williams, hon. secretary to the Aldeburgh lifeboat, in an interview with our representative, said he received intimation, which had come by telephone from the Ship Wash Lightship, that Woodbridge Haven and Orfordness reported guns firing at five minutes interval. This is the Aldeburgh lifeboat signal, according to the code of the Trinity Office. He gave instructions to have the alarm gun fired so that the crew might assemble, and in the meantime consulted one or more members of the Committee, and also James Cable, the coxswain, and William Mann, the second coxswain. All agreed that the lifeboat must go out, and Cable would have taken his usual place, although he had just risen from a bed of sickness, had he not been absolutely forbidden to do so by the doctor. The second coxswain was also ill, and was ordered to stay at home. Lieutenant Williams then consulted the bowman of the boat, Charles Ward, who was coxswain of the old lifeboat some years ago, and is an experienced seaman. Ward promptly took command of the boat. The crew of eighteen, who had donned their lifebelts in readiness, went immediately to their places, and the boat was warped off in the usual way. It was a very rough day, but the sea was nothing like so heavy as it has been in many previous storms.
The story may be continued in the words of Charles Ward, the coxswain, who was seen at his own house. He said: When we started the wind was a little to the southward of E.S.E.; and the tide was about three-parts flood, so that it was very bad for getting the boat away. We hauled her off with the warp, but could not haul her across the inner shoal. I slipped the warp forward, paid off her head to the southward, and set the foresail. The mizzen had been set previous to that. When we got the sail on, we found the wind very strong. We were taking all the seas on the broadside of the boat, and while we were on the outer part of the inner shoal, a very heavy sea caught her from stem to stern. We were right under it. The boat was filled, and was forced over on the starboard side. Then another very heavy sea struck us, and the boat went over steadily. Neither of the sheets were fast. An ex-coxswain, named Crisp, was holding the mizzen sheet, and Will Smith had the fore-sheet: but the sea swept him away. The boat could not right herself I got clear of her, and when I could see round there seemed so many of us afloat that I thought all the men had got clear. We were about 150 yards from shore, and could all swim. I said to one man, “Don’t muddle yourself; we shall get ashore all right,” but as we got on the beach the waves rolled us up like so many sacks. One of the men, young Rodney Pallant, went under, and was black in the face when he was pulled ashore. A little while afterwards the boat came ashore bottom upwards. We missed half a dozen of the crew at once, and knew they must be under the boat. In a short time James Miller Ward was washed out from under the fore part of the boat. He was insensible, and dead really, for Dr. Wrightson and others tried for an hour or more to bring him to, and could not do so. The tide was still making, and with the waves breaking right over the boat some of us were working up to our necks in water all the afternoon, before we got the last of the bodies from under the boat. Some of them were dreadfully crushed. According to further statements made by Lieut. Williams and others, almost all the inhabitants of Aldeburgh were watching the boat as she went through the surf towards Slaughden Quay, at the southern end of the town, and cries of horror were raised in a thousand voices, as it was seen that she had capsized. The accident to the boat was actually witnessed from Thorpeness, so that the bad news spread quickly along the coast. Cable, the coxswain was speedily on the scene, together with Lieut. Williams, Dr. Wrightson, Colonel Smyth, Inspector Mann, and many others, including Mr. Bowers, the contractor for the new sewage works, who rendered splendid service.
The boat, which is 46 feet 3 inches long, with a beam of 12 1/2 feet, weighs over 13 tons, and with the sea constantly breaking over her as the tide rose, the work of attempting to get beneath was carried on with great difficulty and danger. She was such a splendidly built craft that the task of cutting through her stout timbers was extremely arduous. It occupied nearly the whole afternoon, and when it had been accomplished the labour was found to have been practically thrown away, for the bodies were still beneath the stout deck of the boat. At three o’clock the tide began to go down; the bridge of the boat was then raised by means of heavy spars, used as levers and screwjacks; the shingle was dug out on one side, and one by one the six bodies were got out. Two are believed to have been crushed to death. It was pitch dark when the last victim was recovered, and the boat was left for the night in charge of the Coastguard and the police.
All the bodies were taken to the homes of the men, and in the stormy night the streets of Aldeburgh were deserted. Of the six men lost, several were married, and have families, though in one or two cases they are grown up. Walter Ward, a fine young fellow, was formerly one of the crew of Baron Rothschild’s yacht Rhona, and was coxswain of the owner’s gig. James Ward, married little more than a year ago, and leaves his young wife with a child of three months. Charlie Crisp, who is 55 or 60 years of age, was one of the brave fellows who went off in a gig on Sunday night and rescued the crew of a burning ship. John Butcher is also an elderly man; one of his sons is in the City Police. John Morris was formerly in the Navy and Downing, the oldest fisherman in Aldeburgh. The capsizing of the boat appears to have been purely a mischance, arising from the fact of three heavy seas striking her broadside on in succession; but these boats of the Norfolk and Suffolk type are supposed to be incapable of capsizing. It is said that the wrecked boat has been left untouched in order that thorough inquiry may be made. By the last down train Mr. C. Cunninghame Graham, Deputy-Chief Inspector of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, came down to open the usual inquiry on behalf of the Society.
Lloyd’s Aldeburgh agent states that some of the lifeboatmen saved are injured.
Never before was such a scene witnessed, writes another corespondent. The history of lifeboat work at Aldeburgh has been told far and near, and the honours granted the men have from time to time shown what foreign nations think of their gallantry. Many years ago, since the Royal National Institution was initiated, and soon after the first lifeboat was sent to Aldeburgh, it had a fearful encounter in trying to save the crew of a ship on Sizewell Bank, the result being that in attempting to cross the shoals the craft capsized, and some lives were lost. Great success in saving lives has been achieved by the crew of the Aldeburgh, and anything in the nature of a disaster has been rare. Thursday opened a good fishing day, but soon after daylight it became apparent that a gale from the east was pending, and as soon as the boats could get in their nets, a rush to the shore was made, some landing at Sizewell. Soon after 10 a.m. a telephone message stated that five minute distress guns were being fired by the south-lying lightships – notably the Sunk and the Cork lightships: this being a signal to the Aldeburgh Station to “stand by.” This the men did, and the Hon. Secretary at once consulted with Cox. Js. Cable and Second Cox. W. Mann, both of whom had been ill, and some of the Committee, upon the desirability of sending the boat. At last the bowman, Charles Ward (who had previously been a coxswain of the Aldeburgh lifeboat) undertook the work, and having got a crew on board (the men had previously scrambled
for belts), a launch was made. The tide approaching high water, it was rather severe along the coast, but using the southern laid off warp, they, by their own energies, managed to clear the breakers; but the danger was not over. The boat having to a certain extent cleared the shoal, the foresail was set and she came leewardly, and having had a fair “bust up”, came along south to try by speed and sails to worry through the shoals. Soon after passing the South Mill (to which place I had run), a dash was made to get through the inner shoal. A mighty sea struck the lifeboat on the quarter, and more or less knocked her head in, and before the rudder could command, an awful sea struck the boat, within two seconds, on her broadside, also going into the foresail. The boat was over in an instant.
It is impossible to describe the scene. Those who could clear from the wreck made for the shore; but this was not easy, as, the “drawback” on a shelving beach is wonderful. Standing a few yards south of me was Mr. Holland, from the laundry. Joined with another man, we rushed into the sea, and saved the first lifeboatman who came ashore. Others, by the aid of spectators, were landed, and with them drifted ashore the Aldeburgh, a wreck, bottom upwards, with part of her crew under her. The tide was still rising, and it was impossible to do much, as one could not right her – her weight is quite 13 tons. Every effort was made to rescue the men from under her. At last one of the six was washed out but he was cruelly knocked about. Every means was used to bring him round, but he died the death of a hero, in the presence of hundreds. Still many of the crew of 18 were missing, and the idea was entertained that they were under the boat. Daring men at once rushed into the sea, and, with axes, at the risk of their lives, cut through the main bottom of the lifeboat; but this was soon seen to be of no avail, as the deck of the boat was barely more than two feet from the gunwale, and this was partially embedded in the shingle. Every endeavour was made, as the tide receded, to save the lives of the men under the boat; but, as dusk closed in, not one had been got out. with the aid of flash-lights, the bodies were recovered some time after dark.
Not a question can be raised against the local officials in allowing the boat to float. The men were most anxious to be allowed to float, and it was a long time before permission was given. It is understood the wreck was on the Sunk Sand, and that the Harwich steam lifeboat went to the rescue.
THE EVENING STAR AND DAILY HERALD
MONDAY 11 DECEMBER 1899
CAUSE OF THE ACCIDENT
The Local Committee of the National Lifeboat Institution assembled at the residence of the Hon. Secretary (Lieut. J.O. Williams, R.N.), on Saturday morning to meet Mr. Charles E. Cunninghame-Graham, the deputy chief inspector, and Commander Holmes, R.N., inspector of the Eastern District, as representatives of the National lifeboat Institution. In addition to Lieut. Williams, there were present Mr. J. Flintham (chairman), Mr. W. Ahearn, and Mr. J. Mills – Mr Cunninghame-Graham stated, at the outset, that he proposed to make an informal investigation into the circumstances under which the lifeboat was wrecked. The method pursued by the Institution was to ask the Board of Trade to hold an inquiry in such cases, and all that he had to do was to obtain sufficient information to enable him to frame a report to the Board of Trade.
Before the examination of witnesses began, the Mayor of Aldeburgh (G.H. Garrett, Esq.), entered the room, and was cordially welcomed. On the motion of Mr. Flintham, seconded by Mr. Mills, his Worship was straightway elected a member of the Committee, and, in accordance with the rule of the Institution, a like resolution was passed with regard to Mr. Ritty,R.N., Divisional Officer of the Coastguard.
EVIDENCE OF THE COXSWAIN AND CREW
Mr. James Cable, who was looking much the worse for his exertions of the previous days, and was admonished by Mr. Flintham, in a very friendly sort of way, for not having kept his bed, was the first witness. In reply to Mr. Cunninghame-Graham, he said: I was on the beach on Thursday, and the Hon. Secretary (Lieut. Williams, R.N.) consulted me as to whether the lifeboat should be launched. He had had a report, he told me, that guns had been firing at intervals of five minutes; this meant that something had occurred on the Shipwash and I consider that he was quite right in ordering the boat out. I saw the lifeboat launched. Everything was done in a proper and seamanlike manner. Charles Ward was coxswain, and he is a thoroughly capable man.
Mr. Cunninghame-Graham: Are you satisfied that he was the right man to have charge of the boat?
Witness: I could not have found another man on the beach like him – or not one I would have trusted the boat to, so soon as I would him.
Did you watch the boat after she was launched? – Yes, I watched her until she capsized.
What was she trying to do then? – She was trying to cross the inner shoal.
How was the wind? – It was a little to the southward of E.S.~. The wind shifted on the boat after she was afloat; it veered to the southward a trifle before she slipped her warp.
That would make it worse for her? – Certainly.
What was the state of the sea? – It was a very heavy sea, according to the wind. The sea came before the wind, if you can understand my meaning.
Oh, yes! It is a common occurrence on this coast, isn’t it? -Yes.
You had launched in a heavier sea yourself? – Much heavier.
With the wind in the same direction? – Yes, sir.
And the tide the same? – Yes, only I have gone higher up before I attempted to cross. If I thought a vessel was ashore on the Shipwash, I should have crossed sooner, if possible.
If it was not a question of fetching the Shipwash you would have gone further south before attempting to cross the shoal? -Yes.
Seeing that it was necessary to fetch the Shipwash, do you consider that Ward was right, or that he took an undue risk in attempting to cross the inner shoal when he did? – No, sir. I should have done the same thing. If I thought there was a chance for the boat to get across, I should have let her go, as he did.
Had you confidence in the boat? – Yes; I never saw any better. There never was better-built one, to my idea.
She was built according to your ideas, wasn’t she? – According to mine and two or three others; Ward and two others.
Will you tell us what happened on Thursday? – Well, sir, I saw the seas continually breaking into the boat as she tried to get across.
How did the seas strike her? – Right on the beam. In fact, the sea before she was capsized hit her and knocked her head under a bit. Then, just as she was luffing and coming to the next sea, a big wave curled right over on to her, the whole way along the boat, fore and aft. I saw the sea curl over her myself
Could you see if the sea broke into the sail? – Well it covered the boat right up. I would not like to swear that the sea broke into the sail, but there is no doubt some of it did.
Then, what happened? – She buried her starboard side right down, and gradually went over on to her side. I said, “My God! the boat is over”, and I started to run as well as I could. I did not see the boat turn right over. According to my judgement, she turned till her masts and sails were in the water, and then, when the masts broke, she went right over.
What sail had the lifeboat? – Foresail and mizzen.
A large foresail, was it? – Yes, but it was not properly set.
The fore lug was not properly set? – I mean it was not properly up; it was not sweated up. The men could not get it up because of the seas breaking over her. From the time they slipped the warp, until the time she capsized, she was not clear of the broken water at all.
Was the fore lug drawing properly? – Oh yes, it was drawing all right.
Do you think the coxswain was justified in carrying whole sail? – Yes, and in carrying one as big again if he had had it; I should.
Why – to get enough way on the boat to get through the surf. You must understand that when you are in a surf like that, your boat loses the wind, and you want as large a sail as you can to force her through it.
Then you don’t attribute the accident to anything in connection with the amount of sail she was carrying? – Not a bit, sir.
In reply to further questions, Mr. Cable said he was ill in bed for ten days – up to the day the boat went off. He had not the slightest doubt but that the boat and her equipment were all right. He noticed no list; he was satisfied the boat was thoroughly sound until she capsized. At the time of the accident, the tide was about three-quarters flood, and was running very strong between the inner shoal and the shore. The registered draught of the boat was 2 feet fore and 3 1/2 feet aft, but she must have been drawing more than that at the time, on account of the sea in her. There was no time for the water to clear off. The depth of the water where she capsized would be about 8 feet, and he felt quite sure she never touched the bottom.
Captain Holmes: You think that the fact of two or three heavy waves having struck the boat at an unlucky moment was the cause of the accident?
Mr. Cable: No doubt about that. There was an extra big wave which could not have come at a worse time, nor caught the boat worse than what it did. It broke right over her fore and aft.
The Mayor: And a wave before that had taken her head round a little, and laid her broadside on?
Witness: Yes; her stern was straight to me, from where I saw stood, when the sea broke aboard and capsized her.
In reply to Mr. Flintham, and other gentlemen, Cable said he saw the crew, and although there might have been two or three young men who had not been in the boat before, the majority were thorough good lifeboat-men. It was a good representative crew. He had his oilskins on, all ready to go with them himself, but was stopped by the doctor.
William Crisp, brother of Charles Crisp, one of the lost men said he had been in the boat a good many times. On this occasion, Charles Ward asked him to act as bowman – “snorter“ was the word the witness was understood to use – and he took that place. The boat went off very well; they hauled off to the inner shoal through a heavy sea. In hauling off he got his fingers jammed. (One of the witness’s hands was bandaged up.)
Mr. Cunninghame~Graham: do you think it would have been advisable to haul out further?
Witness: Well, sir, there is no doubt that if we had hauled on to the outer shoal, we should have had a chance running -well not running, but going along – betwixt the two shoals, until we got the sail set, and then the boat would have been in better hand. They passed the word along to me to heave the rope out; but the boat canted a long way to the northward, and they sang out, “Hold on!” I put the clipper down, and the iron back, and held on. My brother called out, “Stand by!” as the boat canted the right way, and I heaved out.
Then did you see the foresail? – Yes, sir.
Was the sail properly sweated up? – No, sir. As often as the men got around it, they were washed away.
The heavy seas washed the men away from the halyards? – Yes. We then went more to southward of the inner shoal, shipping heavy seas every minute.
Did the boat gather way properly? – She did gather way, but not the same as I have seen her. She fared knocked out of time.
Was that by the seas? – I think it must have been the heavy seas. Once we were very nearly across the shoal; when we were very nearly across the shoal; when we were opposite the Brudenell Hotel, the boat was on the outer side. But the sea knocked her back to leeward; the waves were continually playing on her, and she was taking every sea right over her everywhere.
Tell us as shortly as you can about the accident. – Well sir, I will tell you as near as I can I see this big sea coming, and I hopped. That was the sea that threw her down. With the water around my ears, I heard another one strike her; I shot my head up, and I saw three or four of the crew going out on the sail – scrambling out on their hands and knees on the foresail. The sail was flat on the water. When I saw these men going, I thought it was time to be up to something and began to crawl along the sail. I had got six or eight feet along, perhaps – then snap went the mast, and, as soon as ever her mast snapped, over she go. I went down, and whether it was the gunwale of the boat caught my legs, or the weather of the sail, I don’t know. I had my big boots on which pulled me down, and I seemed to be under some time. However, I kicked myself clear, and come up with my oily trousers tore down. I came up the shore side of the boat, about three yards away from her, and was frightened lest she would come on top of me. So I struck out to southward, until I got clear of her. I looked around, and saw the boat ashore, and then I made for the shore. I came ashore very near to Slaughden. I was thrown down, with my feet to the beach and my head in the breakers; then another sea came, and doubled me up, and old John Smith, of Slaughden, got hold of my hand, and helped me out.
Have you always been thoroughly satisfied with the behaviour of the boat? – Yes, sir: and I believe everyone thought she was a thorough good boat.
You still think she was a good boat? – Yes, sir. I would go in her again tomorrow, if she was all right.
Do you think she was in her usual condition that day? – Yes, only she seemed that day to be very sluggish, but that was on account of being knocked about so. The boat could never get any way on her before there was another sea clean into her.
Charles Edward Ward, the coxswain of the boat when the accident happened, deposed that he was formerly second coxswain, and then coxswain of the lifeboat at Aldeburgh, and that he gave up the position simply because his work kept him away so much. He had been out in this lifeboat about fifty times altogether, and was the regular bowman. In reply to questions, he said there were some young ones in the crew on Thursday, but the “young ones” must learn experience, and he had no fault to find with the crew. There were a good many old lifeboat hands amongst them. They took the north warp, and made a very good launch, according to the weather.
Mr. Cunninghame-Graham: How far did you haul off?
Witness: We hauled off to the inner shoal, with the boat’s head into the breakers. I then found out that we could not haul across the shoal.
How did you find that out? – Because the men were getting no more of the warp. The snorter was being worked by William Crisp, a man whom I could thoroughly depend upon. The mizzen was set before we launched, and the sheet was held by Charles Crisp.
When you found you could not haul any further off, you waited for a cant to starboard, and the slipped it? – Yes. All hands were on the warp, with the exception of myself and Crisp. She did cant with her head the right way, and we hoisted the foresail.
Was it taut up? It was fairly well set, but not set the same as I should have liked to see it. The reason was that the men could not get at the work, on account of the sea. They had all they could do to hold on sometimes.
Was the foresheet belayed – was it made fast and left? – No, sir. The man took a turn round the bollard and over the top, and he told me there was not a round turn.
Mr. Cunninghame-Graham asked this witness to tell how the accident happened.
Witness repeated some of the statement that had already been published. In addition he said: After the sail was set we came well towards the shore, until we got way on the boat Directly she began to gather way, she was right. We went to the southward as far as the Brudenell Hotel before I attempted to cross the shoal. The sea was very heavy, and the boat was full of water at different times. As soon as one sea was out, another was in. After we had had two or three heavier seas than before I thought we were over the shoal. I asked Crisp, the one who was attending to the mizzen sheet, whether we were over it, and he said, “No, not quite over; but she’ll work through it”. Crisp was a former coxswain, and that was why I asked him to stay aft with me. At the same time almost that I spoke to him, this very heavy sea was rising, and it came along, and began to curl just outside the boat. It was the biggest wave we had seen, and it broke right into her – the whole force of the wave. I called out, “Hold on, everybody”, while it was curling over us: the same instant it came and forced the boat under to leeward.
Mr. Cunninghame-Graham: Did it break into the sail?
Witness: I should not think it did. It curled right over on to the boat. It did not break into the mizzen, and I don’t think it broke into the foresail. I found the boat could not recover, so I let go of the tiller, and caught the weather ridge rope. ‘The boat went gradually over; I could not say if any other sea came to help her over; but it was not a sudden capsize.
Witness went on to tell how he got ashore, or was thrown ashore, as he put it, “like an old cork fender”. As soon as he found his feet, he helped to rescue two other men, and he spent the afternoon in working with the rest to try and get the lost members of the crew from under the boat.
Mr. Cunninghame-Graham: Had the bow of the boat been knocked off before the wave which did the damage struck you?
Witness: I don’t think it was much. Nothing more than what a sea will usually do.
At that time was she travelling fairly through the water? – She was travelling fairly well, but there was not quite wind enough to handle her properly in the broken water.
In reply to further questions, Ward said the boat was simply buried beneath the sea. Half the men who got clear were washed out by it. He was quite certain that the canvas the boat carried had nothing to do with the accident. If the boat had had no masts and sails up at all, she would only have gone over quicker.
Mr. Cunninghame-Graham: Now that the boat has capsized do you still think she was a good boat?
Witness: I know she is.
It has not altered your opinion of her? – No, I don’t think any lifeboat that was ever built, would have acted differently, under the same circumstances. I always maintain that they can’t build a lifeboat that won’t upset in any case; but it is a difficult job to upset them, and this was once of the best.
In all your experience, have you ever been in exactly that same position before? – I have never been in a boat before when a sea has come in all the way along, right from stem to stern. If the water ballast had been loose, as it used to be, I don’t think that would have made any difference.
Why did you choose that particular place for crossing the inner shoal? – We get across as soon as we can, so that we can fetch the Shipwash.
William Smith another of the crew, who took the fore-sheet, was also examined. He gave a similar account of the disaster, and said the sheet was perfectly free to run. He could not see whether the wave broke into the foresail. He was washed away from the sheet, and, after he had come up once, something caught him, and he went under again. The lifebelt however, kept him up, and he succeeded in getting ashore. He did not think the amount of canvas set had anything to do with the capsizing of the boat; she was continually filling with water, and never had a chance.
Augustus N. Mann was next called. He began by thanking Mr. Flintham for having taken him and his brother home from the wreck on Thursday evening. His account of what happened tallied with the story told by previous witnesses. He had hold of the mizzen-sheet when the big wave struck the boat, and was compelled to leave go. As he went down, there was one rope round his neck, and another round his waist and, when he got clear of them, he got foul of the outrigger. He had a desperate struggle to get ashore. He had not lost confidence in the boat a bit, and, if she was repaired, would go in her again to-morrow. He had been out in the boat many times in heavier weather than it was on Thursday.
RESCUE WORK: A TRIBUTE TO WARD’S BRAVERY
The other section of evidence taken was given by witnesses who saw the accident from the beach, and took part in the work of recovering the bodies.
Mr. Bower, the contractor for the Sewage Works, which are now in progress at Aldeburgh, said he saw the accident, and worked all afternoon at getting the men out from under the boat. The men in his employ brought timbers and other materials for raising her.
Mr. Cunninghame-Graham: You can speak as an expert upon this particular question – Do you consider that everything was done, promptly and efficiently, that could have been done, to get these poor fellows out from under the boat?
Mr. Bower: Yes, I do.
Lieut. J. O. Williams, R. N., hon. secretary, gave an account of the call for the boat, and the manner in which she was launched. Everything was done in a seaman-like fashion; and he thought that Ward was a perfectly capable man to be in charge. He (witness) saw the lifeboat daily, and took care that she was kept in proper order. Everybody had perfect confidence in her. The wind and tide were the worst the boat could have had to encounter, because the crew were compelled to keep her broadside to the waves. After the accident, everything possible was done for the relief of the men who were beneath the boat. The boat was manned by a good and experienced crew, with which he would have gone himself
Mr. G.A. Whistler said he stood under the lee of a ruined building down at Slaughden, and was watching the boat when the accident happened. He ran down to the beach, and was there almost as soon as the first man from the boat reached h. He and others helped the man out. After the boat came ashore, and, as none could be found, it was concluded that they were under the boat. Steps were immediately taken to get at the men, but the raising of the boat, sufficiently to get the bodies out was a very long and difficult job.
Mr. V.A. Pamloe, a visitor to Aldeburgh, said he stood outside the Brudenell Hotel, and watched the launching of the boat. As she went down southward, he followed along the beach. He had an idea that she would not get through the surf, and would be driven ashore. The big wave that struck her on the side, and did the mischief, seemed to fill the sails. Running down to the spot, he helped to get the first two men out. They had no line or anything of the sort, and it was very difficult and dangerous work.
The Inspector: I should be glad of your opinion, as to whether you think all prompt and proper means were taken, to help the crew out of the water, and afterwards to get the men from under the boat?
Mr. Parsloe: I think everything was done that could be done. The difficulty was, of course, that there was no tackle or anything of the kind with which to turn over the boat. I am a building contractor myself, and I know it is a very difficult thing to shift a heavy weight like that, without proper appliances.
Mr. Ernest S. Rogers, a resident in Aldeburgh, said that when he saw the boat capsize he ran along the beach, and as there was no rope to be got anywhere, he went into the Mill Laundry, and got a clothes line. They gave him about 60 fathoms of rope, which so handicapped him that when he was “pumped”, he handed it on to a man named Spendler. He did what he could to render assistance.
Mr. Cunninghame-Graham: Was everything done that could be done under the circumstances?
Mr. Rogers: Everyone did his best in his own way, but there were too many leaders. I should very much like to speak a word as to the bravery of Charles Ward. I saw him washed ashore, and, as he got ashore, someone gave him a hand. He went down on his knees again, however, and, when in the right position he saw a man coming in and went right into the breakers after him. At the same time, he was so “done” that he could hardly stand. It was certainly the pluckiest thing I have ever seen. Mr. Rogers spoke of the services rendered by Mr. Redding and his nephew, and said the recovery of young Pallant was largely due to the prompt attention of a trained nurse who came on the scene.
Mr. A.J. Whistler, an Army Reserve man, was the last witness to give evidence, and, in his account of the rescue, he mentioned particularly, as being amongst the most active workers, Mr. Alec Key, Mr. Burrell, and William Fisher.
The preliminary informal enquiry was then closed.
RIGHTING THE CAPSIZED BOAT
By the energy of nearly a hundred men, and by the erection of improvised “shear-legs”, with suitable tackle, the lifeboat Aldeburgh was righted on Saturday. A deep excavation was made in the shingle, on the side of the wreck fronting the sea; a couple of stout ropes were placed underneath the boat, and she was slowly turned over. The fact of the work having occupied nearly the whole morning shows the stupendous difficulty with which the rescue party were confronted. The famous boat, of which the Aldeburgh men have been so proud, presented a pitiable spectacle. The foremast was broken off at the step, as was also the mizzen mast, the outrigger was gone, and the contents of the boat laid in a miscellaneous heap on the shingle. With the numerous oars, the storm foremast and foresail, and all the warps, ropes, and tackle used when a boat goes out to an outlying sand, the weight of this gear was so great that the poor fellows who lost their lives could not have lived long under it. The operations were carried out under the direction of Mr. Luther Evans, Surveyor of Lifeboats to the Institution; Mr. Cunninghame-Graham and Captain Holmes, R. N., District Inspector of Lifeboats, were also present. Charles Ward, the coxswain when the accident happened, was at the head of the working party, and Cable, the old coxswain, looking very unwell, went down to look at the old boat. She was left lying high and dry above high-water mark. A melancholy circumstance is that three of the men lost formed the crew of one of the sprat boats.
The Mayor of Aldeburgh (G.H. Garrett, Esq.) has called a public meeting for this evening (Monday), at which the organisation of a relief fund will be considered. Lieut. Williams, R. N., received the following telegram on Saturday, from Lady Birbeck, wife of the President of the National Lifeboat Institution: – “Please express deep sympathy of Lady Birbeck to bereaved families; she will subscribe £5 to local funds”. Many other promises of support have been received by Colonel Smyth, Mr. J. Cable, and others, and Mr. Ahearn, local agent of the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Society, received telegraphic instructions to send in particulars of all cases, “irrespective of membership”. The Mayor of Southwold (Mr. Eaton W. Moore) is calling a public meeting, at the Drill Hall, on Thursday evening, for the purpose of raising a local fund.
The interment of all six bodies will take place at the Parish Churchyard on Tuesday afternoon, at two o’clock, and arrangements for the funeral are being made by Lieut. Williams and Mr. J. Flintham and Sir Richard Martin (church-wardens).
THE EVENING STAR AND DAILY HERALD
FRIDAY 8 DECEMBER 1899
SOME FURTHER DETAILS
HOW THE BODIES WERE RECOVERED
The wrecked Aldeburgh lifeboat would hardly be seen in the pitch darkness of Thursday evening, and as it would be have been dangerous to show a strange light on that part of the coast, no examination could be made. A solitary coastguardsman, who was afterwards relieved a by a police officer, kept watch all night. It was thought probable that the wreck would have been shifted by the high tide, with a storm raging, but at sunrise this morning it was found undisturbed, just as when the working party left off after taking the last body from beneath. The great jagged hole in her side and the massive timbers used in raising her up a foot or two only, bore a striking testimony to the desperate exertions that were required before the unfortunate men beneath her could be reached.
None but those who were actually present could describe the scene of fearful excitement when the boat first came ashore. A crowd rushed to the spot, and it was declared by some of the men that during the first few minutes, voices could be heard under the boat. James Cable, the coxswain – just out of bed after a attack of influenza and rheumatism – climbed on the bottom with water dashing over him and called through one of the valves – “Are you there?”. No answer was returned, however, and it was generally believed that the hearing of voices was quite imaginary. The boat carried spare masts and sails, eighteen or twenty oars, and a large quantity of other gear, and as all this weight fell upon the men who were beneath, none could have lived for more than a few seconds.
The first body was washed from under the boat, as she lifted before a heavy wave before settling down on the shingle. it would have been washed away if the gunwale of the boat, as she went down again, had not closed on his life-belt. The work of cutting a hole in the side and bottom, which was at once commenced, occupied some three hours. The outer skin of the hull was of one-inch oak! the cork belting was strongly fastened together, and, before a sufficient aperture could be made, one of the water-ballast tanks had to be taken out and the deck smashed in. Meanwhile, the boat had been partially raised, and the bodies could be seen below. The first two men to get in were brothers of two of the victims, John Butcher and Walter Ward. The latter was lying forward and was not injured. The body of Morris was taken out next, and afterwards that of young Herbert Downing, the only single man of the party. He was quite uninjured; he seemed to have fallen asleep, with a smiling face. John Butcher and Charlie Crisp were in the after part of the boat, and were fearfully crushed.
The inquest will be opened at the Moot Hall at two o’clock this afternoon.