From the book "Filey - a Yorkshire fishing town" by Irene E Allen and Andrew A Todd
THE GALES OF 1860,1867,1869 AND 1880
It was bad weather, however, which was the commonest risk to Filey fishermen. We have seen that Filey's herring luggers and yawls operated from Scarborough because a harbour was needed for such craft. Nets had to be brought home to Filey every two or three weeks for repair and tanning and fresh gear collected; fish too might be landed, and, of course, there was always the attraction of staying a day or so with the family. Consquently, it was not unusual for the Filey fleet to anchor out in the Bay, ready to set again for the next period at sea. There are indeed, 19th Century photographs which show yawls actually beached at Filey. It was, after all, inconvenient to operate boats from Scarborough harbour, some eight miles aweay by road from fishermen's in Filey. The dangers of this practice, however, were to be dramatically exposed on the 28th May 1860, when Filey's 23 yawls (or most of them) were anchored in the Bay. A great hurricane sprang up with terrible effects on the unprotected boats. About a dozen broke from their anchors and drifted out to sea; two drifted onto the rocks; one was driven onto the beach; and one was actually carried round Flamborough Head and twenty miles beyond. Nine were totally wrecked, and many others severly damaged. Only one man, Robert Edmond, was drowned; he had tried to save his boat.
Fishermen were most likely to be out in peril at sea. The North Sea has a reputation for fast changing weather conditions. Men have set out early on a fine morning only to be met later by a severe storm. The 25th October 1869 was an instance of this.
The Reverend Charles Kendall's book "God's hand in the storm" was published in 1870 as an account of the gales of October 1869. The author obviously had the chance to speak to a number of Filey men who were involved in the incidents he describes, so he book is well worth quoting. Monday 25th October 1869, was a fine autumn morning, and herring yawls had set off from Scarborough as usual, the men having travelled up by train from Filey. They sailed all day to the E. N. E. , so that by evening they were about 30 miles offshore, on the fishing ground. It was then that the wind began to rise and soon it reached gale force. For several days, the boats were at the mercy of heavy seas, snowfalls and high winds. Kendall quotes George Jenkinson (1816-1876) of "Good Intent", a lay preacher of the Primitive Methodist Society.
"On Tuesday, the waves were of mountainous size, and very threatening. We prayed for help; and the Lord heard us. In the evening I perceived what I considered to be the unmistakable signs of an increasing storm, and asked the Lord to stretch forth his mighty hand, through the night, on our behalf. On Wednesday when we saw several of the boats breaking away from their warps, our hearts were ready to fail us; but the Lord was greater than our hearts; he sustained us. About two o'clock PM it was exceedingly rough, when I again besought the Lord to interpose in our behalf. He was gracious to our request, and the breaking seas instead of overwhelming us went from us, but the wind was very tempestuous. At this time I found the Lord very powerfully present , and, addressing the men, I said: 'The best thing that all of you can do is to prepare for another state of existence - that is, for heaven.' Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life; and he that believeth in me though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whoever liveth and believeth in me shall die.'
"On Tuesday morning, the winds and waves continuing violent, I earnestly prayed that the Lord would send deliverence, and I ventured to believe that he would do so, according to his promise made to the prayer of faith. The influence of the Holy Spirit was powerfully upon me, and I thanked him for the gift. In the afternoon one of the men, brother John Richardson, asked me what I thought to our being saved? I replied, I believe we shall be saved. I said, considering the praying host we have at sea, and one on land, it is strange that the gale should continue so long. I went down into the cabin and again prayed that we might be delivered, and as I prayed a divine power sweetly flowed into my heart, and this thought passed through my mind, 'Not a hair of my head, nor of the crew shall perish.' I again went upon deck, and again spread my hands in prayer, asking with much fervour, where is the God of Elijah? When an internal voice seemed to respond, I am in the wind and in the waves. My mind powerfully dwelt on several texts of God's word, especially the following, viz, Isaiah XXXVII 14,15 and 16; Exodus XVII 11, 12.
"I again went into the cabin, and once more prayed, Lord sent deliverence; while pleading I seemed baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
"It ocurred to my mind, or was suggested, 'I did formerly favour thee with some remarkable answers to the prayer of faith; thou didst believe and it was done unto thee accordingly.' I at once cried out, 'O that I might be favoured now with the faith that will prevail, and secure a divine and manifest interposition in the stilling of the storm;' I even stretched my hands to God in prayer that the winds might at once be hushed. My faith became strong, that the hour of God's help was at hand, and the vivid recollection that a host of devout men and women both at sea and land were seeking the same thing, did much towards strengthening my confidence.
"Prayer was answered; towards evening there was a comparative calm. We easily got in what ropes were left, and then made our way to Scarbro', and on the 30th reached home safe and well. We cannot sufficiently praise God for his signal deliverence. May we all continue to believe in the Son of God, till we have navigated the sea of sorrow, and all land at length in 'the harbour of comfort'"
It may be well that Kendall embroidered George Jenkinson's words for the effect; but this quotation very cleverly demonstrates the close connection between Filey fishermen and the Primitive Methodist faith. Remarkably, all 34 Filey yawls returned safely.
The damage done to boats in storms like those of May 1860 and October 1869 hit the whole community. In the absence of social security benefits for themselves or their families, hundreds of people could well have been clamouring at the doors of Scarborough Union Workhouse, totally bereft of any means of support. It was reckoned in 1869 that 860 people in the Scarborough and Filey area had been 'thrown out of employ' as a result of the storm. Fortunately the towns rallied round and made donations. In fact, it looks like money came from much further afield. On the 1st November 1869 a letter was written to the Driffield Times, and signed by six prominent townspeople, appealing for subscriptions for the fishermen" [Filey Post 1st November 1869]. Within seven weeks, a total of Â£1,938 15 shillings and a penny had been subscribed, and was being managed by a "Committee of Management of Funds of Distressed Fishermen of Filey." Similarly, over Â£3000 was raised in connection with the disaster of May 1860. [Reverend George Shaw]
In really heavy seas, the luggers and yawls could be swamped. One of the biggest risks for the crewmen was to be washed overboard by the "wall of water" which could sweep the deck and, with it, anything not securely tied. These boats had only a small cabin which would itself be waterlogged in a very bad storm. Men would simply hang on to whatever they could, whilst two of the hung on to the tiller, keeping the bows into the weather. Such a storm struck the Filey and Scarborough herring fleets in 1880 and, coincidentally with 1869, in the week beginning Monday, October 25th. Altogether, fifteen men were swept off various fishing vessels in that week.[Yorkshire fishing fleets page 19]. One of these unfortunate men was Ross Jenkinson(1841-1880); a funeral card now at Filey Museum carries the words:
"In loving reemembrance of Ross Jenkinson (the beloved husband of Eliza Jenkinson of Filey) who was lost with the boat 'Eliza' and all her crew during the gales of October 28th and 29th 1880 aged 38."
John Cammish Crompton, husband of Margaret Crompton, is similarly recorded on a funeral card at the museum. He was lost off the same yawl, at the same time.
The 'Eliza' is presumably another case of a boat being named after a fisherman's wife. It is a touching postscript to Ross Jenkinson's sad death that 19 years later, his widow suggested a contribution of five shillings from each family that had ever suffered sea tragedies, towards a window to lost fishermen in the parish church. She and Mark Baxter Jenkinson (1835-1920), who had lost his son, George, three years before off the coble 'Mary', who were the two fisherpeople whose idea it was. They paid the first contributions. 40 fishermen were to be commemorated, and Â£10 was required to do the work. On the night of Thursday 24th May 1900, the window was dedicated to "fishermen who had been lost at sea and whose bodies had never been recovered" Approprioately, the subject of the window was "our Lord calling St Andrew and St Peter." [Filey Post 25th November 1899 , 26th May 1900]. The window can still be seen and continues to evoke sympathy for these long dead men and their bereft families.
All the herring boats had a 'corfe' (a small boat) which the boats could row along the nets to check them. The same division of labour existed between 'mother' boat and corfe if the men were 'long lining': the lugger, yawl or herring coble allowed the fishermen to travel quickly and safely out to and from the fishery (perhaps 30-50 miles offshore); once there, the coble could be rowed and easily manoeuvred so that lines could be shot and taken in.
30 miles fro the shore, and perhaps a mile or more from the 'mother' boat, in a 12 foot coble! These three men, only able to move slowly by oar power, were seriously at risk if the fickle North Sea threw up a storm. Shaw, in his book "Our Filey Fishermen" (1867) recorded how Jenkinson Haxby's yawl suffered such a loss in 1859. His brother, Francis, and two other brothers William and Edmund Saywers were out in a corfe hauling the lines when it suddenly disappeared. The yawl eventually located the upturned boat, but the men were never found.
The Filey Post of 16th March 1867 reported how a storm struck several Filey yawls about 30 miles to sea. The "Jane Elizabeth" under Captain Bayes Cowling, was in the process of taking in its lines. 14 were already on board, and its coble had set off to get the remaining seven. On it were Thomas Hunter Cowling (the Captain's son), William Jenkinson (1843-67) and William Sayers. At this point a storm rose, and the coble was swamped. She overturned, but Jenkinson and Sayers managed to get onto it. Captain Cowling ran his yawl over to the scene of the accident, and his son was hauled in out of the water. By this time, a second wave had struck the coble, and only Sayers had managed to get back on, "but poor Jenkinson, in attempting to do so, fell backwards exhausted, exclaiming 'Lord help me', and was never more seen. Jenkinson was about 26 years of age, and has left a young widow, he having been married two months." The Reverend Shaw used this newspaper account in his book "Our Filey Fishermen", published in the year of the tragedy. "I saw him but a day or two before his death", he wrote, "looking the picture of health and happiness, and little thought then, that I should see his face no more."
Shaw's account of the storm helps us to see how the town would share a sense of foreboding and anxiety if bad weather sprang up. His is a first hand account:
"On reaching home a few nights ago, from a country appointment, I was distressed to hear that one of our men had been drowned, and that no less than seven of our yawls were missing. You can form no idea of the feelings which prevailed in the place. Women, whose husbands were in the missing vessels, were in a state of intense excitement, and the scene at the telegraph office was really distressing. The distracted females were anxious to hear if any tidings of their friends had reached Hull or Grimsby, and it was the utmost reluctance the clerk informed them that as the offices in the above named towns were closed, he could obtain no response to his enquiries, and that it was not probable that any news could be received before six the next morning. Slowly and silently they returned to their homes, but not to sleep. If ever I prayed earnestly for sailors and fishermen it was that night. Next morning I was at the cliff top before day light, but no tidings had been received. The sea was rolling in upon the beach in dark and sullen waves, and the faces of the weather beaten fishermen looked as gloomy as that of the ocean. Six, seven, eight o'clock arrived, and no news! At last about nine o'clock, the gladsome message was flashed along the wires, and written by the trembling hand of the telegraph clerk, that six Filey Yawls, were safe at Grimsby, and in the Humber. This still left one unnaccounted for, but about noon she also was heard of, and a great load of anxiety was removed from many a heart."
Robert Hall's grandfather, 'Old Naz' Jenkinson lived with their family. The old man had a'passion for an old ship's barometer which had to be fixed to the wall when he was living with us... the glass of the barometer was cracked but he would never have it mended because as he used to tell me almost daily it had been broken 'aboard the yawl in THE march Gale'". It seems almost certain that this was the ferocious storm of 1867 described by Shaw.