In Scarborough's Art Gallery there are some huge paintings of the storm of October 1880. The scene is littered with the ten ships which went down on the South Bay. It looks like a scene from the bible. Such is the scene of destruction with so many ships already wrecked. You could imagine someone describing the scene in terms of fire and brimstone. Yet this scene was real. Ten ships went down in one night within a few hundred yards of each other. At some point more than one rescue was taking place. The storms of October 1880 were amongst the worst in Scarborough's history. They began on the Wednesday night and continued into Thursday (28th October) and Friday morning.
"As soon as daylight appeared, crowds of people thronged the cliffs, gasping with anxious eyes across the wild expanse of water, which for miles around was foaming and seething with terrible fury" [Scarborough Mercury, October 30th 1880]
The brig 'Mary', of South Shields, went ashore first. It had been one of three vessels seen struggling in the North Bay around seven O'clock. One of these vessels made off to the north whilst the other recovered. The 'Mary' had earlier reached as far north as Cloughton before turning round and heading for Scarborough. The 'Mary', Captain Wraith, "by clever handling crept round the castle foot". But as the 'Mary' headed for the Harbour entrance heavy seas hit her and she ended up 100 yards off the Blands Cliff. "the beach,the Foreshore Road, the Spa, the Cliffs, and every available point for observation,were crowded with public, anxiously watching the issues of life and death"[Gazette]. Some of the crew wanted to save the boat but the high seas made this impractical."The lifeboat had not been clear of the wreck above five minutes before the main mast went by the board". "As the crew were landed a slight cheer went up from the thousands of people who lined the Foreshore Road."
At ten O'clock the 'Black Eyed Susan',of Bideford , was spotted again. It had been seen making good offing from the North bay. But it headed for shore again with full sail set. But after missing the harbour headed south. It hit shore opposite the white House just beyond the Spa. The Rocket Apparatus was ideal for this situation. But the master and another hand were disabled so the crew were not sufficiently strong enough to work the line. Some of the crew headed for the rigging to escape the heavy seas. The Lifeboat remained on the slipway not relishing the perilous journey.
"Seeing the danger to the crew of the wrecked vessel however, their better feelings prevailed, and with a hearty cheer the Lifeboat was launched amid the roaring breakers. On more than one occasion she was in danger of being capsized, and her crew thrown out into the water, but with skillful handling she managed to right herself."
The crew of five were safely taken off. The journey to the schooner was very dangerous. At one point "when about midway past the Spa, a tremendous sea struck the Lady Leigh (the Lifeboat), sweeping the oars out of two of the crew, and breaking the oar of a third."
At Three O'clock the French Brig 'Jeune Adolphi',of Nantes , was seen in the North Bay flying a flag of distress. She was followed round the castle hill and it was hoped that she would make harbour. The crew let go of the anchor and she ran ashore. The lifeboat was launched and the crew saved. Criticism was made of the tugboat but it was likely that she would have shared the fate of the 'Jeune Adolphi' in such high seas.
Half an hour after the 'Jeune Adolphi' the schooner 'Glastry',and brig 'Lily' were seen heading for port. At one stage they in fact collided. The 'Glastry' was assisted by the tugboat to find still water near the Lighthouse pier.
The 'Lily', had lost both top masts and was flying a flag of distress. It drifted to the south and went onto rocks 300 yards south of the 'Black Eyed Susan'. It was impossible to send the lifeboat to such rocks. "Stout hearts on the beach,quailed at the sight. Those that could judge pronounced it to be the worst job of the lot ".The rocket apparatus was used. After three failed attempts a rescue was completed. "It was not until 7 O'clock - by which time it was intensely dark - that the crew, consisting of eight men,were got a shore". Captain Boucher praised the expertise of the Coastguard. The Coastguard praised him in return. But everyone had praise for the Spa refreshment room.
At this point the Lifeboat was unable to cope with the sheer numbers of incidents. It was still grounded after saving the 'Jeune Adolphi'. The 'Arun' then was in need of assistance. At this point "Almost suddenly and at the imminent risk of their lives, three or four gallant fellows pushed off in a smacks boat, and reaching the Brig, succeeded in receiving into their little shell the six men forming the vessels crew. This deed of daring was greeted with long and ringing cheers".
At 7-30 the billybuoy,'J Prizeman',of Plymouth was lost. The lifeboat was called out and helped save the crew and a shrieking woman(the masters wife) on board.
At eight O'clock the Harbourmaster, Mr Appleyard, helped make safe the 'Glastry'. It was in imminent danger of being carried out to sea by the currents. It was tied up between St Vincents Pier and The Lighthouse Pier. "All possible efforts were made to keep her to her moorings. Unfortunately these proved ineffectual". The Glastry broke free. Her crew had the good sense to get off just before the inevitable happened. The moorings were simply not able to take the strain and she broke free and drifted out of the harbour.
At nine,the brig, 'Anniversary' of Blyth, went ashore on Scalby sands. The crew were conveyed to Scarborough along with the crews of a Norwegian and French vessels which went ashore on Burniston Bay.
Next a large steamer was seen heading for the harbour. It was "swept by such a succession of seas that her fires were nearly extinguished." She lost all her power and it seemed that she would go ashore but a line was got to her and she was made safe. It was the Monitor, a steam trawler of Sunderland, no 1168.
The storms subsided during the early part of Friday morning but by 3 O'clock they had whipped up again. At this time the schooner, 'Bosphorus', ran on the rocks 700-800 yards south of the spa. The coastguard assisted the crew ashore.
At 11-30am the Dutch galliot, 'Herbruder', went ashore. Some criticised the tugboat for not launching quickly enough. By the time it appeared outside the harbour the 'Herbruder' was in broken water and it was too late. The Lifeboat was launched again saving the crew of two men and a boy. It was a difficult rescue.
Fishing families simply had to wait for news of missing vessels. 'The Achilles', a Scarborough smack, was at sea throughout the gales. They lost their top mast but came into the harbour with a full crew and "a good cargo of fish". Other fishing boats were not so lucky. Three skippers were lost.
THE AFTERMATH - NEWSPAPER COVERAGE AND NEWS FROM UP THE COAST
Amidst all the heroism some stories remained untold. A letter in the Scarborough Mercury told the story of Mr Joseph Morrison whose heroism had not appeared in the extensive coverage. Mr Morrison (of Rothbury Street) "most certainly saved the life of two men. They were drifting out to sea, and after divesting himself of his superfluous clothing he plunged into the breakers, and seizing each man at arms length, he threw himself upon his back and swam with them until he got a footing on the sand, and then the men were so exhausted that he had to carry them to terre ferme".
John Harris, the master of the "Ellen" of Faversham, wrote to the Mercury thanking the people of Cloughton fields in rescuing his crew. The "Ellen" was stranded at Cloughton Cliffs on the 28th. The skipper paid special thanks to Mrs Hamilton and family for the "kindness and hospitality shown to me and my crew after the shipwreck".
The plight of fishing families affected by tragedy was highlighted. John Robson(skipper of the smack the 'Diligent'), James Pardon (skipper of the 'Denison'), and John Race(skipper of the smack 'Alexandria') were all swept overboard and drowned. Mr W Rowntree,of St Nicholas Street, launched an appeal for the families. People could contribute at numerous places including all the banks. One of the fishermen was single but the two others had families(one had seven children and the other four). It was reported that "Both are without resources and are objects of the deepest sympathy".
On Wednesday 3rd November,1880 the 'Glastry' was floated. With the assistance of a tugboat it got back into the harbour. It was reported that "she is a good deal strained and beaten about, and will require a considerable outlay to refit her."
One notable letter in the Mercury was from someone calling himself "LOVER OF FAIRPLAY". This concerned the coverage of a naked body washed up in Burniston Bay. The body had been "forced head first by the action of the water, onto a cleft in the cliff." The newspapers had credited the wrong people with the recovery of body. The letter went into great detail saying how the Coastguard had been present at no time during the whole incident. They then set the record straight by saying "Had it not been for the heroic and manly conduct of Mr Ed Leadley, and PC Weedy of Scalby, to all praise is due, who plunged into the water at great peril to their own lives, likewise the aid and assistance of others,some pulling with ropes and others aiding with laterns,he could not have been extricated. "
The Burniston body was thought to be from a Swedish brig which was driven ashore on rocks at Staintondale. These wrecks up the coast were often very different in nature. There were no onlookers to many of the wrecks. One man survived the staintondale wreck. He had to climb up the cliffs and woke up farmers in Staintondale. He could not speak English but somehow got help to pull up another survivor from the shore. Three others crew from the Swedish brig were drowned.
The burial of those drowned in Hayburn Wyke was quite touching considering that those buried were complete strangers from another land. The Vicar of Cloughtons wife, Mrs Carris, "attached to each coffin a beautiful floral cross. There were also some very pretty wreathes and bunches of flowers placed on the coffins by some of the sympathetic villagers."
The whole of the coast was littered with wrecks and bodies. Four vessels were wrecked on Robin Hoods Bay including the Scarborough Yawls 'Elizabeth' and 'Eliza'.
Attention was paid by the Newspapers to previous lifeboat tragedies. The coverage was reminiscent of today in that every aspect was covered. This included articles about previous storms of the century . This in itself sparked letters. One letter was sent from the Trueman family. It had been reported that only one crew member of the Lifeboat tragedy of 1836 was still alive - William Mollon. But the letter stated that William Trueman was indeed still alive and "in middling health" living in Vine Street.
The Scarborough Gazette (2nd December 1880), reported a meeting at the Town Hall. Dignitaries gathered together to pay tribute to the Lifeboat. Here the Lifeboats Coxswain was awarded a Silver medal by the RNLI. A reward of £10 was given also to the crew for their services. "It will be remembered that during that terrible time the Lifeboat went off five times, and returned with twenty eight lives from the vessels stranded here". The coastguard were not forgotten. Mention was paid to their use of the rocket apparatus in saving crews of two dutch vessels.
John Oxston,coxswain of the Lifeboat, made a very moving and humble speech himself saying "when at eight, the boat saved the crew of the billybuoy, on board which a poor woman was shrieking, he could not have felt more thankful if anybody had given him a fortune".
Sir Harcourt Johnstone Bart, summed up the mood of the Town Hall meeting. He said "he certainly could not remember any public occasion, in the course of his life, in which he felt such pleasurable emotions as he did that night".
Just how did the storm compare to previous great storms. The storm of 1836 sank the lifeboat and destroyed the old Spa. The September,1851 storm destroyed 7 great losses. In 1857 7 vessels were thrown up on the beach. In 1861 the lifeboat was lost.
- Scarborough Mercury 1861
- Gazette 14th November 1861
- The story of the Scarborough Lifeboats by Jeff Morris