The Scarborough Mercury of 22nd January, 1881 and Gazette of 20th January were thick with news about the terrible storms and cold weather. A hurricane had ripped through London which caused an estimated £2 Million damage included the destruction of 100 barges. At Yarmouth, seven ships went ashore and 50 lives lost including six lifeboatmen. Southend pier was blown away. The train system was disrupted and timetables sent into total chaos. Two notable wrecks occurred around Whitby. One was a tragic loss whilst the other was one of the most famous rescues in Lifeboat history.
On the Saturday, 15th January, 1881 there was a northern gale with heavy seas and "blinding showers of snow". At 10-30 a ship was spotted 2-3 miles out at sea and "the signal gun was fired from the battery and hundreds of inhabitants turned out". The Upgang Lifeboat, 1 mile north of whitby was launched to help save the vessel which struck on the dangerous Upgang Rock.
The Lifeboat attempted to throw a line to the vessel but failed. The Mercury continued
"The waves broke over the vessel, and as she began to break up the crew lashed themselves to the rigging. Their voices were distinctly heard above the storm. After the Lifeboat had been exposed to the storm for nearly two hours, without being able to render any assistance, a heavy sea broke over and half filled her with water".
Attempts at rescue were called off.
The other Whitby Lifeboat, the "Robert Whitworth" was launched by coxswain H Freeman. The Mercury continues,
"As she approached the vessel the red light suddenly went out. At the same time a blue light was seen on the shore at Upgang. The men on the Whitby boat mistook the extinction of the lights on board the vessel as a sign that the crew had been safely rescued, and that the last man, on quitting the ship, had extinguished the 'danger lights' on board. The Whitby Lifeboat accordingly put back. The ill fated ships crew perished, as their vesel broke up at midnight. Their expiring cries were heard on shore. At daylight on Sunday morning only a few vestiges of the wreck were visible".
The ship was later identified as the brig "Lumley", of south Shields carrying a cargo of coal. Her crew of ten all perished.
A gallant rescue just four days after the tragedy of the "Lumley"
On the morning of wednesday 19th January,1881 a Whitby ship, the brig "Visitor" was being wrecked in Robin Hood's Bay. The ship broke up and the luckless crew took to the little lifeboat. This epic story began without a soul watching. The crew obviously would have hoped for the people on shore to have noticed their plight. But it was only when morning broke that the alarm was raised. The crew could not venture through the surf. Robin Hood's Bay has treacherous rocks and only the most fool hardy would think of landing here in a storm. A local may stand a chance. But these men choose to stay just offshore. Here they struggled against mountainous seas and snow blizzards.
When morning broke the wreck was spotted. The Robin Hood's Bay Lifeboat was unseaworthy and only a foolhardy fisherman would have ventured out in such a sea. So some other solution needed to be found. Scarborough was contacted - Commander Grant received a telegram asking for assistance with the boat wrecked at Robin Hoods Bay. But the tugs were all aground in the harbour at the time making launch impossible. A telegram was sent to Captain Gibson,Harbourmaster at whitby from the Reverend Jermyn Cooper, vicar of Fylingdales requesting the lifeboat be sent out as "a ship was being wrecked, and the crew,who had taken refuge in the long boat, were astern of the ship, off at sea, outside the heavy breaking waves,and unable to land on account of the fearful surf."
Captain Gibson immediately tried to launch the Lifeboat but because of prevailing winds it was impossible. A tugboat could not be used as it would surely have perished. It was decided best to carry the Lifeboat overland to Robin Hoods Bay.
So began the epic eight mile journey over the moors to Robin Hood's Bay. The main problem was the huge snowdrifts. The Lifeboat was mounted on her carriage. First of all the Lifeboats crew and close relatives headed off along the Scarborough Road. The powerful team of horses carried the Lifeboat up the hill. But the treacherous winds and snow blizzards made this difficult. Yet the men of Whitby were not to be beaten. They used shovels, horses, cows and anything useful along the way. They tore through hedges that got in the way. They were helped by Bay men who cleared the path from the Robin Hood's Bay side. The epic journey built up momentum with farmers turning out to help. They met 2 people coming the other way urging them to turn back because of the blizzards. Yet three hours after they set off they made it to Robin Hood's Bay. When they reached the steep hill into Robin Hoods Bay a huge cheer was heard. Over 200 men helped clear the huge 6 foot snow drifts. Some of these were the Lifeboatmen themselves.
The Lifeboat next had to be lowered down the cliff. Once this was achieved the expectant crowd awaited the rescue. They watched the boat bob up and down. Yet the first rescue attempt was a failure. Eight oars were broken and they were replaced with oars from Robin Hood Bays Lifeboat. A second attempt was made which resulted in rescue. But this was only after a Bay man, John Skelton, waded out into the lifeboat and guided the boat safely through the surf. That local knowledge was needed as he piloted the boat through a narrow channel.
It was an exhausting and traumatic event for those rescued. They were numb with cold did not at first realize that they were rescued. They had virtually given up all hope of rescue. But the crowd made up for this. The thousand or so people who had helped clear the way and virtually the whole of Robin Hood's Bay erupted in excitement as the epic rescue was completed.
Henry Freeman was a famous Lifeboatman from Whitby. He served for many years. This rescue proved to be the height of his fame. He was the sole survivor of the 1861 Lifeboat disaster due to the fact that he wore a cork Lifejacket. He was the coxswain of the Whitby Lifeboat.
The rescue could claim to be the most epic and heroic ever in Lifeboat history. Robin Hood's Bay and Whitby both treasure this story. Rescues of this nature normally involve a few brave men. But this story involved virtually a thousand people who all helped in their own way - clearing roads of snow, forcing down walls and hedges to make a path for this Lifeboat. This rescue involved farmers and indeed children who all helped in some small way clearing the path. They felt a part of this historic rescue.
The ship saved proved to one of their own - the vessel was a Whitby ship, the Brig "Visitor" owned by Mr Trueman Robinson of Robin Hoods Bay. So they were saving their own.
- Scarborough Mercury,22nd January,1881
- Gazette,20th January,1881
- Robin Hood's Bay heritage placards.
- Rescue by Colin Waters