What were your Weymouth ancestors doing in December of 1888?

Christmas is nearly upon us, its that time of year when we think about absent family and friends and especially those no longer here to celebrate with us.

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Our long departed ancestors knew how to celebrate Christmas too, albeit sometimes in a very different way, their life often mirrored ours of today, with the same old trials and tribulations.

Come on in and have a peek at the lives of Weymouth folk of  days gone past.

The year is 1888, it’s the 13th December and young Albert Rolls and his pals were making their way along a packed Weymouth esplanade. It might have been nearly Christmas, but the weather was set fair and the warm sun had brought out the crowds.

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In the distance Albert could hear the lively notes of organ music and the raised voices of happy revellers. A big grin spread across his face as he and his pals quickened their pace, pushing through the throng, most of whom seemed to be heading for where the action was.

The Christmas season  always brought a chance to enjoy a bit of fun  away from the drudgery of everyday toil.

Once they neared the  entrance to the pier they could see the steam fair in full swing on the quayside. it looked as if the whole of Weymouth had turned out to attend the festive revelries. Spiffily dressed stall holders bellowed their gaudy wares, “come buy…come buy” they cried as pretty maids crowded round, purses clutched tightly under their shawls. Dapper dandies stood perusing the assortment of side shows that lined the quay, their sight alighting upon somewhat scandalously dressed women whose dark eyes promised such delicious delights behind those beguiling curtains.

Albert and his mates though, headed straight for the steam rides, whose organs were churning out lively tunes that made toes tap, but even those were almost drowned out by the  screeches of nervous passengers and raucous laughter of dare devil riders.

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Their chosen ride slowed to a halt, men, women and children clambered down off their chain slung chairs, some still laughing and chattering happily while a few staggered off looking rather green around the gills.

Albert scrambled onto the nearest chair, he pushed his behind as far back onto the leather seat as he possibly could and held on tightly to the chain, excited but nervous at the same time.

Old tight me loverlies” bellowed the showman, “ere we’s goes.” 

The music started and so the ride began to turn, faster and faster. As the speed picked up its riders swung out, flying legs splayed above the heads of those watching below. Albert’s mates yelled cheerfully to each other above the din, “look ‘ere Rollsy” cried one daring chap as he casually loosed a hand and held it out sideways, “I be flying like they there birds do.” Albert chuckled to himself, Harry was always such a wag.

Despite almost being horizontal, flying round and round through the air, Albert was beginning to feel quite brave…and that was to be the undoing of him.

“Arry” he hollered, “bet you’s can’t do this,” and was on the point of loosening his grip on the straps, when he suddenly slid off the seat and flew, unaided by neither chain nor leather, through the air. Over the heads of stunned watchers he went, arms and legs aflailing, a startled expression on his face. Luckily for the crowd below, but not for Albert, he landed with an almighty crash on solid ground, in a small space void of any possible soft landing material and rolled to an ignominious stop besides a stunned lassie.

Albert never did visit the fair ever again!

(Bridport News 14 Dec 1888)

December of 1888 also witnessed a fairly farcical case held in the borough police court at the town’s Guildhall.

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Hauled before Messrs Robens was one Mary Jackson.

But the case before Robens was not quite that clear cut and took a bit of good old fashioned detective work by local Superintendent Vickery to sort out the mess.

He asked for it to be adjourned until a while later.

Mary Jackson it seems wasn’t actually Mary Jackson, she also went by the names of Pemberton, Roberts and Lee and no doubt many more besides.

Mary’s co-conspirator and partner in crime was one George Jackson. Not her husband at all, although he was married, just not to Mary.

George, a dentist by trade, had apparently deserted his wife and family elsewhere to set off for a life of crime roaming the country with his latest lady love.

Well, come December of 1888 and the Jackson’s arrived in good old sunny Weymouth.

The conniving couple took  advantage of the fair weather, and strolled along the seashore, their thoughts turned towards their next dastardly deed.

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The following morning, decked out in her best finery, Mary set out with a purpose, marching determinedly along St Thomas Street. She was heading straight for their next victim, 63-year-old Charles Hibbs, who owned shop premises at no 3 Frederick Place. Charles, along with his wife Susan and their family lived in the elegant Georgian rooms above them.

That fateful day,  behind the pretty bow fronted window, waiting patiently for his next customer, sat Charles. His beady eyes passed carefully over his stock, was it displayed at its best? Maybe he should move that piece over to the wall opposite the window where it would catch the light better. He frowned as he spotted something not quite to his liking. Being ever the perfectionist, he rose from his seat and walked across the room to straighten the offending item. His somewhat rather pretentiously named son, William Bond Edward,  also worked alongside his father, but as of yet,he didn’t yet have his father’s same exacting standards.

Charles was a well know businessman in Weymouth, the walls of his premises were hung with many pieces of valuable artwork.

Charles and William both traded as  fine art dealers.

As he was about to return to his comfortable chair, the shop bell rang. Straightening his shoulders and fixing a smile on his craggy face, Charles turned around to confront his customer.

Mary smiled sweetly at the dealer, little did he know it was more a smile of satisfaction and determination.

Before her stood her next victim.

The two chatted away while browsing the selection of artwork on offer. Charles advising and Mary nodding.

Having chosen the pieces she deemed suitable for what she wanted, Mary made her excuses and left the premises, leaving behind a very disappointed Charles. He was so sure that he had the sale in the bag…so to speak.

To his surprise, a few days later he received a letter from the lovely Mrs Mary Jackson, she wanted him to post a few pieces of artwork up to her, not just a few, but a dozen! Charles rubbed his hands with glee, he knew he had been right all along, when he first set eyes on the dear lady, he was so sure she was going to be a good customer. Mrs Jackson wanted the parcel to be carefully wrapped and personally addressed to her at Merriott Road in Crewkerne.

Paintings duly despatched, Charles waited.

First he received Mary’s letter to say that they had arrived safely…but then nothing!

Charles wrote again,  this time his missive was returned unopened with the dreaded words penned on its front cover, “gone, no address.”

By now, quite alarmed, Charles made his way to the police station where he reported the facts, but he knew in his heart that he had been well and truly duped by this damsel and in all probability would never see her, his money or his painting ever again.

Well, as luck would have it, Mary had been found residing at her Majesty’s pleasure in the Devonport jailhouse. When confronted by Weymouth’s PC Bartlett who had travelled to Devonport to question her, she held up her hands and spilled the beans on the whole kitten caboodle of their crime.

Seemingly the dishonest couple had left behind a trail of deception and debts. Two of Charles’ pictures had been pawned in Exeter during their travels down towards the West Country , and another three sold to a private dealer.

When Mary’s partner in crime, George, was brought to the police house later that day, he had no hesitation in throwing his supposed lady love to the lions. Denying anything to do with obtaining the pictures, though he had to admit to knowing she had received them. Upon his person though was found a selection of pawn tickets from various towns they had passed through. Each one bore a different name, Graham Jackson, Graham Johnson, Annie Jackson, Ellen Jackson…so the list of aliases went on.

This light fingered pair were no lightweights, they were wanted by constabularies all over the place.

Once back stood in the Weymouth dock, the defiant Mary Jackson alias Pemberton, (it turned out that her real name was actually Mary Stedman,)was charged with“unlawfully obtaining from Charles Hibbs of St Thomas Street, twelve unframed oil paintings valued at £12 6s”

At the Quarter Sessions the following Spring, Charles Hibbs sat patiently in the courtroom, he wanted to witness this dishonest couple get their just deserts. Imagine his surprise when the couple appeared before the judges, their case was thrown out, apparently it had been his own fault!  The Court Chairman decreed that“Hibbs had sent these twelve pictures to Crekerne without making any enquiries as to the applicant.”

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To compound matters even further, the couples crimes, including the theft from a now totally bewildered Charles, were brought before a second court, along with a list of other such cases. Surely they would pay for their trail of crimes this time?

Mary again stated that they had indeed sent for these goods and then pawned them, but, denied receiving the goods with any intention of fraud, “remarking the invoice sent in with the goods stated ‘accounts rendered every six months,’ and at the time they were too poor to meet the account.”

Due to lack of evidence, (apart from a string of pawn tickets in an assortment of names, and a fair number of complaints of their misdoings) the couple were found “not guilty” and released.

(Western Gazette 21 Dec 1888)

Even Weymouth’s famous swans made the news that December.

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An article described how “The good people of Weymouth have tried to induce the swans to live in the open sea-in the bay.” But it appears that the feathered flock of around 300 had their own views on such matters. Despite people feeding them on boiled Indian corn out in the bay to entice them away from their sheltered spot, they kept flying back to Radipole Lake. “They seem to dislike a strong wind” bemoaned one bewildered local.

(Bridport News 14th Dec)

Of course, with a bustling quayside, there’s always a bit of nautical news to be had “At Weymouth on Tuesday, eight seamen belonging to the British barque Mabel, who refused to go to sea on the ground that the vessel was unseaworthy, were each sentenced to 28 days hard labour”

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Not much of a Christmas for those fine fellows of the sea then!

(Western Chronicle Fri 14 Dec)

We might think that cruise ships arriving in port is a new phenomenon to this area…but not so.

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In December of 1888 the magnificent Queen Marfisa steamed  into Weymouth. She was homeward bound for Southampton after having been on a Mediterranean cruise, one which took in 39 ports over a distance of 5183 miles,(having missed out Africa “on account of the time of the year.”) She had used 50lb of coal per mile steamed at an average speed of 9 knots.

The ships owner,  wealthy Mr George Beer, and his guests had set out from Southampton on May 16th on their epic voyage, calling in many ports along the way such as Gibraltar, Malaga, Valencia, Palma and Naples.

Well, here she was moored in Weymouth for a couple of days. I bet that gave the locals something to gawk at.

(Hants Advertiser 26 Dec)

And of course, what would Christmas be without a good old game of footie?

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Christmas of 1888 saw a football match between Dorset v Devon.

The match for some obscure reason was held at Wareham, much to the disgust of the Devonians, who declared it as an absolutely “absurd place selected for the match.”

They complained that the Devon men had to travel up on the Friday and stop over for the weekend. Going on to point out that the Dorset team consisted of men all who came from the South of the county, and didn’t have to travel far.

In fact the majority of the Dorset team were soldiers from the West Kent Regiment who were stationed here at the time, what with footie being one of their favourite past times.

Kick off was at 3 o’clock.

Now, call me cynical, but from what I know of men and football and a the rare opportunity of a weekend away, it’s not normally something that they would complain about, but then just maybe it was a case of sour grapes because the final result was…

Dorset won 3-2!

We’ll round off with a completely un-Christmassy snippet.

Poor old Mrs Warren had been very busy doing her humungous pile of weekly washing, one which had been added to by visitors who had suddenly arrived unannounced for Christmas.

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The  windows and door of her cosy little cottage in Hope Street were completely steamed up, so she decided it might be better if she opened them for a while.

“It might’n be the season of good will to all ee there men, but fo’ us women,” she muttered to herself as she went about her chores, “din’t have no good will season’s, ’tis nothing but work, work,work.”

Having passed the last of the wet linens through the old mangle and draped it over the wooden clothes horse, she moved it in front of the fire, where she hoped that some of it would dry before the day was out.

With that she left the room and settled down in her tiny kitchen to enjoy a quick tipple before she started on the bedroom upstairs.

Whilst she was sat sipping her snifter of sherry and ruminating the woes of women, a gentle breeze fluttered through the windows and front door, ruffling the clothes airing in the room. Then, horror upon horrors, one strong wayward gust saw Mrs Warren’s clothes horse with all her nice clean washing fall forwards onto the fire.

In the back room, the disgruntled housewife was still deep in thought, clutching her glass close to her ample bosom, she sat wondering what it would be like to have someone else to do all the work for you.

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It wasn’t until cries of “Fire…fire” awoke the daydreaming dame, startling her from her flights of fancy.

“Heavens above…” she cried, “What’s to do? what do be going on out there?” all whilst rushing down the hallway towards the front door.

Mrs Warren suddenly realised that smoke was oozing from her front room, people were rushing to and fro outside her front door.

She realised the fire was in HER house…panic set in.

But she needn’t have worried, help was at hand,”a man who was passing extinguished the conflagration by the aid of a few buckets of water.”

Even Weymouth police force arrived with their hose, albeit a bit  late, the fire was already out.

Poor old Mrs Warren woefully surveyed the damage to her front room, the burnt washing, the scorched fire surround and the sea soaked sodden floor.

She certainly wished she had someone else to do her work for her now.

(Western Gazette 28 Dec)

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I would like to wish one and all A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

 

 

The Great Escape from Portland Prison 1868;

Anyone living in the Weymouth  area  while Portland was still a main stream prison  will have memories of the horrendous traffic jams along the Chesil Beach Road, caused by the pursuit of escaped prisoners. All vehicles leaving the island would be stopped and searched, checking for the concealment of the said escapees.

As a young kid it caused no end of great excitement. My parents even tried using it as a subtle threat, (well, o.k., maybe not so subtle,) to  make me better behaved, whispering to me as we crept ever nearer to the stern looking officers to sit still and keep quiet, otherwise they might haul me off. Of course, that only added to the frisson of excitement.

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This grim looking prison was originally constructed in the late 1840’s to house the convicts brought to the island specifically to work on the new coastal defence scheme. These mammoth works included the building of the breakwaters, the Verne citadel and surrounding batteries. These prisoners were used as manpower in the quarries on Portland,  painstakingly hewing the white stone free for their construction.

This was ‘hard labour,’  at its truest meaning.

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Nowadays that Victorian prison building has become the YOI, (Young Offenders Institute,) but in its time it held many a hardened and persistent criminal, political activists such as the ‘dreaded’ Fenians, and the usual mottly crew, many of whom had turned to crime out of financial necessity.

Throughout the years of the prison’s history, there were many attempts at escapes, some succeeded, many didn’t.

Come 1899 and a story hit the national newspapers, capturing the imagination of their readers.

William Bartlett, one of those ‘persistant’ petty criminals was making his way out from the Bow Street police-court. Rather surprisingly, he had been taking the Police Commissioner to court for the return of a few disputed items,  William maintained they were his legally, but the courts felt they were more likely the ill gotten gains of a recent robbery.

Being considered a news worthy article the press showed an interest in the story, William was stopped outside by a reporter asking for his version of events.

William though had an even stranger tale to tell, he proceeded to enlighten the eager scribe about his past history, a ‘romantic’ tale about his daring escape from the dreaded Portland prison.  He boasted he that had been the ‘only man to escape’ those grey forbidding walls. (Not true in fact because quite a few had before him, some even tasted freedom for a few months before being recaptured.)

William also claimed that his daring escape made him the hero in Hawley Smart’s novel, ‘Broken Bonds’ published in 1874.

“The correct details of my escape have never been told.” William informed the reporter who was furiously writing down his every word.“I’ll tell you what actually happened.”

The wily old career criminal continued with his story.

“In 1868 I received a sentance of 10 years’ penal servitude. From Pentonville I was taken to Portland.

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It was awful!

The endless round of hard work in the quarries, the short commons, and the strict discipline, made life almost unbearable.

It is to be wondered at that I made up my mind to escape!

I had many a sleepless night while I was laying my plans. I knew that no one had ever succeeded in escaping from prison; I knew that the place was watched night and day by guards almost as numerous as the convicts, and I was  aware that even if I could get clear of the prison it would be almost impossible to get far away in a suit plastered with the broad arrow.”

But things were about to look up for this chap in his rough prison suit.

William continued, “One day I managed to pick up a small piece of hoop iron. That seemed like a godsend. Every time I had the chance I took that iron hooping with me, and worked like a nigger to make it into a saw. I did it in fear and trembling, for the slightest sound would have betrayed me.

A stroke of luck awaited me.

I found a convict who had got a bit of a file. He had no ambition, and said the file was no good to him. I gave him my dinner for it, and with the file I was able to complete the saw. Then I managed, by working stealthily every evening after I had been locked up for the night to saw through the wood flooring of my cell. Every night I had to replace the boards, so that the warders should not see what I had done.”

It wasn’t going to be plain sailing though, when constructed, the designers had considered the possibility of such dastardly deeds, they had added a means to prevent escape through the floor.

William admits “… an awful dissapointment awaited me. The space beneath my cell was lined with sheet iron; but, nothing daunted, I eventually got through that. Then I got into an air shaft, and, after three months’ hard work, saw my way clear to liberty.”

He bided his time, it had taken months to get this far, no point in rushing his plans and risking capture.

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“At last the opportunity came. It was a dark night and all was still. With my sheets I had made a rope, and, as luck would have it, I had picked up a piece of wood, called a ‘dog’ with iron hooks at each end. I put my stool underneath the quilt, to look as much like my body as possible, in case the warders should look in, and then went down the passage it had taken me three months’ hard labour to make. After lifting an iron grating I found myself in the open air, and managed to throw the hooks on my linen ladder over a wall. By this means I got onto the roof of the officers’ quaters. There was no one about, and the only sound I could hear was that made by me beating heart. From the roof I had to jump on the boundary wall, about 10ft or 12ft distant.

I dare say it was a bold leap, but you don’t stick at trifles when you are escaping from Portland.

I made the leap, and was sucessful in reaching the boundary wall. Then I got to the ground by means of my linen ladder. Unfortunately, the hooks were so secure that I had to leave the ladder where it was, and if it had not been for that I might have been in London in three or four days.”

Things weren’t going too well though for the fleeing William.

“As it was I had an awaful experience.

Whilst making a desperate tug at the ladder I heard footsteps approching, and I rushed into the gaden of the Grove public-house. I turned round and saw a guard looking at the ladder. A few minutes afterwards shots were fired and a bell rung.

My escape had been discovered.

Guards were running in all directions; but, unperceived, I got through the window of the Roman Catholic Chapel, and concealed myself beneath the Communion table, which proved to be something very much like a box.

I could hear the sound of hurrying footsteps all night, but no one came into the chapel until next morning, when service was held there.

It was not a pleasant position to be in, I can assure you.”

Trapped in the chapel and unable to move, William spent a very uncomfortable few hours.

“A sneeze or a cough would have betrayed me, but, fortunately, all went well. But I got very hungry. So, at the end of about 33 hours, I stole out, and broke into the Clifton Hotel. I there found some bread and meat, cheese and tobacco. What was of more consequence, I was able to steal a hat and some clothes. With the clothing and food-the sweetest food I ever tasted-I returned to my hiding place in the chapel.”

Once ensconced within the relative sanctuary of the chapels walls, he set to with the next part of his scheme.

“Out of a black coat I made a pair of trousers, and put on another of the stolen coats, which happened to be made of velvet. The food I divided into six portions, and for six days I was concealed beneath that Communion table. There were frequent services, and, what was still worse, the priest used to come in at night for private devotions.”

William realised he couldn’t stay hidden in the chapel for ever, he had merely swapped one form of imprisonment for another! He had to make his move.

“At last I had more than enough of it, and broke into the priests house with the object of obtaining some money. I could find none, however. There was some silver plate, but that was of no use to me. I obtained a white stole, however, and with that made me something resembling a white shirt.”

It was now or never, he had to make his way across the Chesil causeway, or he’d never leave this god forsaken island.

“Feeling now fairly confident as to my appearance, I walked down the road, and saw a milkman, who, I afterwards found, gave information about me.

I passed over the bridge all right, and went on to Weymouth, and from there to Dorchester.

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At a little place 19 miles from Portland I concealed myself in a field. Two men came in blackberrying, and I had to get out. They asked me where I was going. I said to Blandford.”

Not all was that it at first seemed, a trap had been set.

“They volunteered to show me the way, but we had not gone very far before we met two police-inspectors. They asked me to go into a public-house and give an account of myself.

They were particularly anxious to know if I had a mark on my right arm.

Seeing the game was almost up, I tried to dash through the public house, but it was no good, and I was collared.”

Having been recaptured and brought before the courts yet again, the errant prisoner awaited his fate.

“I was afterwards sentenced to eight years penal servitude for the burglary at the Clifton Hotel.”

When asked if he had received corporal punishment for his daring deeds he simple replied

“No, I did not have the cat.” adding cheerfully “You see, I was tried by a civil power.” and the little man chuckled.

Though William was thoroughly enjoying reliving his moment of fame, the reporter ended his piece with a poignant sentence. “Immediately afterwards he assumed a graver tone, and asked, in mournful accents, ‘But what can an old convict like me do for a living?”

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Excerpts taken from the Western Gazette 1st Sep 1899 and various other national papers of the time.

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Interested in old views of Weymouth?

Check out my Pinterest page here https://uk.pinterest.com/susanhogben/old-views-of-weymouth-dorset/

Views of old Portland here https://uk.pinterest.com/susanhogben/old-views-portland/

Who’s a naughty boy then? Victorian prisoners, were they really all bad?.

 

The Prison Registers contain many intriguing stories within their yellowed  pages, and the faded elegant script tells us of our ancestors past lives.

They are just a tiny snapshot of their life’s story, but can reveal a great deal about the person or the family.

On the very last day of the year 1872, James Benfield, aged 20, was admitted to Dorchester prison.

The Prisoners admissions book gives us a few inklings of what he looked like, but tells us nothing about the man himself. For that you have to dig a little deeper.

James was a seaman, following in the age old family tradition. his Parents William and Mary Ann lived in Lower Lane at Chiswell, Portland which once lay behind the great Chesil Bank, the constant sounds of waves on pebbles his lullaby at night and wake up call in the mornings.

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He was only a young lad, but one who had worked hard throughout his early life.

He first signed up to go to sea at the tender age of 13. On the 28th April 1866 James joined his father and brother on his first ever paid voyage as a ships boy on the vessel Myrtle,

it was owned by Weymouth businessman Henry Attwooll, the ship plied its trade between British ports, Portland, London, Hartlepool, Chatham….it was a good grounding for the young lad to learn the skills necessary to help keep him alive in what could be a dangerous job.

Over the years James worked his way up through the crew, and on many different boats that sailed from Weymouth or Portland. It was a life he knew well and lone he loved. Most of his friends and family in the Chiswell community were sea going folks or earnt their living from the sea. They spent time together on the sea, and most of it when back on dry land.

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It was during one of those spells on ‘dry’ land that James and his young pals got themselves into a spot of bother. Their time on land wasn’t quite so ‘dry!’

One Thursday in 1872, James and three of his seagoing friends, John Anthony, Henry Peters and Benjamin Pearce had made their way to the Kings Arms Inn on Portland, they fancied wetting their whistles somewhat…only they didn’t just wet them, they almost drowned them! The four lads were more than slightly inebriated, they were rip roaring drunk, and obnoxious drunks at that.

They were physically picking up and shaking all the tables so that the glasses all fell off and smashed on the floor, they were making so much noise and commotion that the other customers in the pub were leaving in disgust. The landlord wasn’t at all happy, he demonstrated with the lads, and told them in no uncertain terms to leave…but they weren’t having any of it. They were enjoying themselves, no one was going to make them leave.

Then along comes Constable Loader, it was his turn to confront the young Victorian version of todays lager louts, he ordered them away to their homes or he would arrest them. Did they heed his warning, did they as heck! John anthony turned round and swung an almighty blow to the coppers face. Then all four lads literally bundled the poor fellow out of the pub and onto the ground outside, watched by a crowd of astonished and frightened women and children the lads proceeded to viciously assaulted the man, they hit him, kicked him as he lay prone on the ground. When more reinforcements  arrived, the lads took flight, they knew they were outnumbered.

But of course, Portland being such a tight knit community as it was, it didn’t take the police long to find the names of the four   miscreants, and they were fairly swiftly rounded up and removed to the local police station where they were locked up until it was time for them to appear before the magistrate.

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Hence, the 31st December1872 , James found himself, along with his fellow cell mates incarcerated in Dorchester prison for the vicious assault on the police officer, P.C. Loader, which had left him off work for a long time, he had suffered broken ribs and severe bruising all over his body.

John Anthony had got 4 months hard labour as he was considered the ring leader and the one who had struck the first blow, James and the other two lads fared slightly better, they only received three months hard labour.

As 20-year-old James was officially entered into the Prison Records book, his physical description is recorded for all eternity to witness in the far left hand column of the page.

He was described as 5ft 8 1/2 ins tall, had brown hair, dark grey eyes and a the sea going mans usual ruddy complexion. Distinguishing marks were a cut on the centre of his forehead and mole on the left side of his face near his right ear. It appears that his nose was fairly distinctive too…the tip turned up.

Was this the start of a life of crime for James, would this be the beginning of numerous trips in and out of courts and jail?

Not a bit of it.

He did appear in court again in 1880, but that was to summons another sea going Captain named  Smith of the Kingdon of Sweden barque for monies owed him as a pilot working in the local area.

James went on to become a well respected pilot,  in 1890 he was the Master on the Fox, working along side his brother John. The records show a list of the various vessels he skippered over the following years, eventually going on  to work at a steady job for Trinity House as a pilot.

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By 1891 James is living in Queens Row over on Portland with his second wife Elizabeth and a stepdaughter, still doing the job he loved, working out at sea for Trinity house.

Sadly things had changed for James by the 1911 census, by then, aged 59, he has lost his wife and home and is living in the the Union Workhouse on Wyke Road, Weymouth. Far away from the sounds and constant views of his beloved sea that he had adored during his lifetime on Portland, though he is still listed as a pilot and seaman, so maybe he was still  able to work on the waters.

Here he died  on the  11th February 1935 at the ripe old age of 82.

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History of Chiswell. http://www.chiswellcommunity.org/ccommunity/page.aspx

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Some people though took slightly longer to learn the lesson that crime and bad behaviour doesn’t pay.

Such was the case of William John Bilke.

He was the son of William and Mary, a family that lived and worked in Wyke, Dad William was a a boot and shoe mender in the village.

William jnr had opted for a life working on the sea, he was one of the many Wyke  fisherman that plied their trade from the beach.

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By the 1871 census William is still living at home with his Mum and sister Mary, his Dad had died and Mum was trying her best to keep the family going by running a carrier business.

But by next year, the  31st Dec 1872, 26-year-old William John Bilke found himself before the courts.

A family row had erupted at home in their little cottage in Wyke, and all over half a crown!

William and his mother had been arguing over the said sum of money, when suddenly William lashed out, hitting his mother. Hearing the awful commotion going on downstairs, his sister Mary raced down to see what was happening and witnessed the blow. Remonstrating with William for such an ungentlemanly act, she suddenly found herself on the receiving end of his wrath when he attacked her, hitting her about the head  with closed fists.

He was taken before the court, but because his family had dropped the charges against him, and it was his first appearance in court, the magistrate only gave him a short sentence, 14 days.

A couple of years later, 1875,  and William was back before the court again, this time for the theft of some bones!

According to the Prisoners Description book, William was a tall lad for the day, 5ft 10 3/4 ins, he had a mop of light brown hair, with dark grey eyes and a fair complexion. On the left side of his lips was an old  scar that looked like a dent, his left hand bore a scar that stretched right across the back of his fingers.

After that he seemed to have managed to keep out of trouble, well, at least from the police and the courts.

In 1881 William finally took the plunge, on the 28th April married  Eliza Hallett, a Somerset lass. But their wedded bliss wasn’t to last long.

wedding q 1877

On the 10th September 1883, aged just 38, Eliza passed away in the Union workhouse, we can only guess why when we look down through the burials for that time. On the opposite page to Eliza is another  death on the 2nd August, Elizabeth Bilke, this was a 4 day old girl, whose sad demise also took place in the Union workhouse.

William tries matrimony again later in 1889, on the  28th April William as a widower aged 46, tied the knot with Mary Frampton, who was also on her second marriage, she was aged 50, and another local born woman of Wyke Regis.

 

Aged just 50, on the 28th april 1893, death struck once more…William.

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Age, or lack of,  was no barrier to being thrown into prison in the Victorian era…if you were found guilty, that was that.

raggedy boy

In 1873 a small lad stood in the dock, he could barely peer over the box, he was aged 10, but appeared to be much younger because of his diminutive stature. Maybe poverty had a role to play in that. He was only 3ft 6 ins tall, he had a fair complexion, sandy coloured hair and sad grey eyes that mirrored his wretched life. His body was too young and fresh to have accumulated those scars and markings that many of the older and more worldly wise men wore with such pride, but he was fairly distinctive because he lacked any hair whatsoever on the sides of his head.

Thomas Bartlett was stood before the judge for stealing a pair of boots in Weymouth.

For his sins he was committed to 1 months hard labour to be followed with 5 years in a reformatory school. Ironic as it may be, he more than likely would have had a better start to his life here.

In the Victorian era, Reformatory schools were fairly progressive in their thinking, the lads were taught self sufficiency, a variety of trades, they were educated, many going on the  a  life in the army or military.

boys at exercise

Maybe it just gave Thomas a chance in life……..

 

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Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/VictorianGraphics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

 

 

 

The sea takes… and the sea gives back

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With the steady stream of violent storms that has hit the South coast over the past couple on months it has been fascinating to see how the immense power of the ebb and flow of the extreme tides and currents affect the shores.

The last storm to hit the South Coast, rather fetchingly named the St Valentine’s Day Storm, completely stripped the beach in the Cove of it’s pebbles…thousands of tons of those world famous objects washed out to sea,

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and with nothing but a bed of sand and blue clay left behind, littered here and there with a few rusted relics of past shipwrecks..

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But already the pebbles are slowly returning to their resting place on shore again, many locals will tell you that it’s happened time and time again.

What the sea takes, it returns, be it pebbles, ships, bodies or booty.

Dead Man’s Bay,as it is sometimes referred to (with very good reason !) and especially the area along by the Cove at Chiswell,  also often ends up as the final destination of ships and their cargoes, whether they are the result of Davey Jones pulling them in their entirety to the deep, or simply goods that have been parted company with the vessels transporting them.

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At present the shore is littered with the most recent flotsam to find its way inland…fags! Marlboro’s by the millions

( other brands and varieties are available to purchase !)

Snip20140301_26

By way of  laying the table for a perfect evenings dining and entertainment, these were soon to be followed onshore by cheese, and the obligatory bottles and bottles of alcohol.

Of course, as news spread fast of this abundance of riches that lay for the taking…the takers arrived thick and fast, and quickly on their heels were the  the police and customs.

But this is  no new phenomenon to those who live close to the sea. The battle between the pickers and the police and customs to outwit each other has gone on for centuries.

Over time the sea has not only swallowed up vessels, people and possessions, but also spewed forth the very same.

In January of 1866 the ultimate treasure was washed in on the tumultuous waves…gold coins.

A couple of weeks after came more golden treasures, of a sort, this time barrels of butter bobbed their way to the beaches along Chesil, followed not long after by great drifts of timber that were being transported from the Baltic.

(January of 1866 was a fairly rough one, in the short period no less than 17 vessels had been driven ashore on Chesil beach in the gales, but most were later recovered)

letter Civic Society. 1

1871 saw a bonanza for the local wreckers, the Adelaide had gone down in a storm with loss of life (a sad story that I’ve covered elsewhere in my blog)  the dreadful dealings of the scavengers made the headlines of many of the national papers, so disgraceful were the scenes of pillaging on the beach. Even so called respectable local businessmen and women were prosecuted for trying to secure many of the goods that had washed ashore. The police and customs men couldn’t cope with the overwhelming tide of humanity that had flocked to the wreck site.

Dead drunk bodies and real dead bodied were carted from the beach, men, women and children!…so much alcohol had been consumed from those casks and bottles that had washed ashore after.

August of 1891 and the drifting debris that came ashore was the body of a man. All that was left of his clothing was a snazzy pair of plaid trousers and a smart pair of spring sided boots,  this was no simple fisherman or sailor who had paid the ultimate price for his trade…this was a toff who maybe should have stayed ashore. But like most things, Neptune returned him to whence he came, just a bit battered and decayed.

He was only one body of the many hundreds who found their coming ashore on Chesil in a manner other than they had originally anticipated.

Later that same year, the Cove played host to another strange cargo …this times candles, hundreds and hundreds of them…

book 7

One wonder’s what on earth nature and Neptune will throw up onto the shores at Chesil next…

 

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Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/VictorianGraphics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

 

The Armada and Chesil beach; December 1876.

Storms are nothing new to us on the South coast, we have lived with them since time immemorial, though this winter’s battering is proving to be some what of a prolonged event! P1460025

World famous Chesil beach  runs from the cove at Chiswell, Portland to West Bay. Facing that immense heritage pebble bank is the locally named Dead Man’s Bay, or Lyme Bay, an aptly named piece of water due to the amount of ship wrecks  that have ended up along this stretch of coastline during the storms over the past centuries. P1460190

Many of those vessels that came to grief in the bay often contained valuable cargoes, and from time to time tantalising bits and pieces would be washed ashore during storms. letter Civic Society.

Such was the case in December of 1876.

Portlanders were frequently found scouring the shores of Chesil, even while the monstrous waves pounded the pebbled shores , they knew this was the time when Neptune spewed forth dead mans riches, an opportunity to drastically change their lives as long as they managed to survive the towering waves. The winter of 1876 had seen tremendous storms, and part of Chesil beach had been washed away revealing seams of blue clay. The scavengers had been busy, and had struck lucky. One eagle eyed Portlander had come across a bar of dirty looking metal wedged in the mud…picking it up, he examined it, he knew that it might be something valuable. It turned out to be a bar of solid silver, weighing in at 3lb 2oz and worth £12.00 (in old money) Certainly a lot more than he could ever hope to earn toiling in the quarries for a few weeks. Apparently these bars were supposed to have come from a couple of the Spanish Armada treasure galleons that had gone down out in the bay. The Portlanders even had a name for these frequently found and  much treasured ingots, they were know locally as “duckey-stones.” letter Civic Society. 1

I wonder what those old Portlanders would have made of such things nowadays, with all the media hype about the severe weather and the question of Health and Safety, warning to stay right away from the coast when storms were forecast.

Mind you, even nowadays some people like to dice with death and walk a fine line with the boiling shores. While sat watching the raging seas at Chesil from the safety of the pebbled groynes I watched a camera man who was obviously determined to get an unforgettable shot of the waves crashing on the shore. He boldly strode  down the beach, equipment in hand, finally stopping right at the waters edge. P1460412

He was going to get the perfect shot come hell or high water… P1460437

Maybe he should have been more careful and kept a closer eye on what was going on around him as he packed away his expensive equipment…. P1460446

He was certainly one very lucky cameraman…he very well could have been another sad statistic.

Oddly enough, just days after I had written this blog, the South coast was struck again by another fierce storm, in the terms of wind strengths, this was the worst of the Winter’s conveyor belt offerings. We went for a wander over next morning to survey the damage, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked over the railings onto the beach below…the pebbles had vanished!

Virtually every single one of them had been scoured back into the sea!

You can see the depth of pebbles that were removed that night by the depth of the ironwork left exposed beneath the steps. P1460578

Revealed was the blue layer of clay that I had written about (and had wondered about at the time of writing, thinking perhaps that had been an exaggeration… obviously not!) P1460572

Even the massive Chesil Bank itself was revealed to be made of the blue clay, great swathes of it exposed right up to the ridge line. While we were there the Environment agency staff were there surveying the damage, probably wondering how the army who had been drafted in to move the pebbles back into place were going to work their miracles now…what pebbles?

P1460571  

I had always assumed that the Chesil Bank was composed of pebbles, and nothing but pebbles…but now I know different! Don’t worry though, the Portlanders will tell you that what the sea took…the sea will replace, eventually! Might take a while!

 

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Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/VictorianGraphics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

 

1824; Weymouth, the Great Storm

This being the morning before zero hour…I thought that this might well be a good time to write about the Great Storm of 1824 that hit the country. Those living on the South coast were worst hit.

This is a tale of a storm that was so severe and so destructive that it has gone down in Weymouth’s legend. My father used to recount the tale, it had been handed down through the family, as I’m sure it had been through many others. You mention the year 1824 to any old Weymouthian, and they’ll shake their head as they recall tales told of the devastation to the town and nearby.

Well, here we are again, and if the amount of media hype around he forthcoming ‘Storm’ is anything to go by, this could be another biggun that’ll go down in the history books! But the again it might just be a bit blowly…none of the weather forecasters are willing to become another Michael Fish of the infamous ‘no hurricane’ of 1897, when everybody woke next morning to scenes of devastation.

1824, 22nd November; The weather had been fairly boisterous along the south coast, but that wasn’t unusual for this time of year, those that live along the coast were used to raging seas and shipwrecks, but what was to visit them that night and the next day was something out of Dante’s Hell!

People had gone to bed that night, listening to the wind howling like a banshee outside, most thinking how lucky they were to be tucked up safe indoors, and said a prayer for those out at sea.

Things were about to get worse…a lot, lot worse!

During that fateful night those ‘winds’ had turned into a full on hurricane by 4 o’clock in the morning, the already raging seas boiled, accompanied by a huge tidal surge.

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In Weymouth, the normally tranquil bay was a mass of crashing waves, foam, shingle and sand, the force of which ripped out completely the renown esplanade that Royal footsteps had once paraded along. The famous white stones and chains that marked the promenade along the shore were dragged from their very spots by the scoring waters…(a few of the originals remain outside the old Pier bandstand.)

The grand houses along the seafront were deluged with seawater, the lower floors awash with the debris from the pounding and relentless waves, vicious spray pelting their grand Georgian windows with pebbles and sand.

This is where the famous Narrows once were…where the sea sat right opposite the Backwater, only a thin spit of land stood between the pair…on that dreadful day day, the two finally met! Two people lost their lives while trying to cross the surging waters

Down by the harbour, even worse devastation!

The pier was virtually demolished, ships that had once floated against  the harbour walls now sailed up through the flooded streets. Many more were smashed to pieces in what should have been the haven of the harbour, some were just washed out into the bay and sunk without trace. All the houses and buildings around the harbour were inundated with the surging seas, flooding cellars and lower rooms. Peoples precious belongings washed too and fro as they frantically tried to save what they could from the cold brine.

On the other side of town, Lodmoor, fared no better. The main road into Weymouth from that direction was also protected by a raised pebble beach, that was all that stood between the  relentless crashing waves and Lodmoor behind. Once the waters began to rise, the fractious seas topped the bank, and the flat lands of Lodmoor became part of the bay, waves rolling in across the grass where once brave Yeomen had raced their horses.

The Cove at Portland was to see one of its worst ever disasters. The mountainous seas out in West Bay crashed relentlessly onto the pebbled shore, reaching ever highrer and higher…until one mountainous wave rose up like a mighty warrior and with one vengeful swoop crashed down onto the houses below.  ‘The lower part of the parish of Chisel on Portland was in a moment deluged by a most tremedous wave that swallowed up the greater part of it, and upwards of 30 souls were in an instant doomed to death.’ When they set to recovering those bodies from the rubble , those that hadn’t been washed out into the sea, amongst the debris and pebbles they found a husband and his wife with the battrered remains of their seven children. 30 odd houses had been destroyed and many more so severely damaged as to make them almost uninhabitable.

After the devastating event a meeting was held, all the local Portland fishermen had lost their boats and nets, everything, absolutely everything that they owned washed away into the depths of Davy Jones’s locker! Most had no homes left, no clothes, food…they were in a dire strait.

The crossing at Ferry bridge had been smashed to smithereens…now there was no way for help to come from Weymouth. In the storm, the people from the house next to the crossing managed to escape with their lives, bar one. He had risked his life trying to rescue a soldiers horse from the stables by the crossing, he succeeded, the horse survived…but he drowned.

The most destruction befell the small village of Fleet that huddled behind the Chesil bank. The raging seas washed right over the top of the huge pebble bank and rushed towards the village like a steam train. An eye witness account of that describes what they saw;_

“Twern’t a sea – not a bit of it –
twer the great sea hisself rose up level like
and come on right over the ridge and all,
like nothing in this world”
;

The little village church was almost completely destroyed, the houses flattened by the power of the surging water, the only saving grace was the villagers had fled to the high ground of Chickerell when they saw what disaster about to befall them.

Further along the coast, at Abbotsbury, the famous Swannery was deluged with water, many of the resident birds perishing in the onslaught of the fierce storm.

Inland, a huge barley rick had been lifted into the sky like a balloon in a breeze, only to land a 1/4 mile away..in one piece!

Numerous ships were to come to grief along the South coast in that wild melee, for the few days after the storms, body after body was washed up all along Chesil beach, nearly 100 in total, they were all gathered up and given a christian burial at the nearest graveyards to their discovery. Most unidentified.

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Stories of bravery were told of desperate attempts by those on shore to rescue the poor souls on board stricken ships that floundered near the coast, men time and time again in their small boats, battling against the rolling waves that towered over them, no thought to their own lives.

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One can only imagine the terror that must have struck the hearts of those on board these floundering ships as they saw the destructive, towering waves as they pounded onto Chesil, they knew they were doomed, all they could do was pray, and hope that their God would be kind and make it quick.

A passenger aboard the fated vessel, the Colville, could only think of one thing during his last moments on earth. He didn’t want his battered body washed up and buried without anyone knowing who he was. He tore off part of his shirt, wrote his name and address on the already soaking fabric, and tied it tightly around his neck, safe in the knowledge that his wife back in London would know his sad fate. He was ready to met his maker!

So, here we sit today…waiting to see what nature will throw at us tonight and tomorrow.

May God save us all.

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Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many more, including local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/VictorianGraphics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

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http://www.portlandbill.co.uk/floods.htm (includes great shots of storms at Portland)

http://www.dorsetlife.co.uk/2013/01/the-great-gale-of-1824/ (story of the storm and shipwrecks on that day including a drawing of Chesil cove in the midst of the destruction)

http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~imw/chesil.htm (site of Chesil including photos taken during storms)

http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~imw/Fleet-Lagoon.htm (includes descriptions, narrations and modern day photos of the aftermath at Fleet, scroll down the page)

1872; Chesil Royal Adelaide shipwreck; part 2. Armageddon.

P1170896

This is the second part of the tale of the sinking of the Royal Adelaide on Chesil beach that happened on the 25th November 1872.

Well, in fact, it’s actually about what happened after…the dreadful scenes that hit the national papers and shook a lot of people.

Despite there being many shipwrecks around the coast over that couple of days due to the fierce gales, only the Adelaide made the national headlines, but for all the wrong reasons.

The loss of the ship was bad enough, so too was  the terrible loss of lives of those who tried to get ashore but sadly failed, however, what sparked the reporters and readers imagination was the unfolding scene of the next morning on Chesil, it was one  of complete devastation and debauchery.

Scattered all along the pebbled banks of the beach was debris from the wreck, parts of the smashed boat, boxes and crates, cargo, clothing, mens women s and children’s, all their personal items, food. There was even the battered body of a thoroughbred horse that had been on board for the long voyage out to Australia, once it had been some passengers pride and joy..not any more.

The entire contents of a humans life was laid before the hundreds of onlookers and scavengers that flocked to the beach in the wake of the wreck.

The wreckers were in there.

Gathering up what ever they could, cargo, goods, personal items, furniture, wood, money….you name it, they grabbed it.

Soldiers and coastguard men had been drafted in to protect the wreck and its contents, but they were overwhelmed by the mass of the human tide that swept down the beach in search of booty. All they could do was to retreat to the road to search people as they came off the Chesil bank, looking for stolen goods.

These in effect now belonged to The Receiver of wrecks, but the way things were going, he wasn’t going to receive a great deal by the time the scavengers had finished picking over the beach.

Extra soldiers and coast guards were drafted in, trying to hastily gather up as much as they could, a race against the human carrion, whatever items could be salvaged were loaded onto carts and and removed to the Customs house in Weymouth.

coastguards boys own paper 1890s

A pig from on board the boat had somehow miraculously survived the storm and managed to swim to shore in the early hours of the morning. Safely on shore, his new found freedom didn’t last long. Spotting the valuable animal, he was quickly captured and thrown over a mans shoulder, who then staggered up the steep slopes of the pebbled beach with his weighty booty. Once on firm ground the satisfied man started to march homewards, pleased with his piece of precious pork.

Only trouble was, the soldiers also spotted him and the squealing pig, he found himself being marched off in a different direction… towards the police station.

Another  local from Wyke was stopped and searched, he was found to have bundles of wet money concealed about his person.

A  Wyke business man and his daughter were arrested for theft. They had come across large bundles of linen handkerchiefs blowing down along the beach. The father had wrapped as many around his body as he could to conceal, the daughter had tucked bundles of them in and around her voluminous clothing.

They nearly escaped with their ill gotten gains only she dropped one of the bundles as they passed an obsevant coastguards.

At Dorchester court, the pair faced the wrath of the local judge.

Charles Edwards, 47, shop owner, baker and grocer of  Wyke,  and his daughter 26-year-old daughter, Mary Jane Edwards, were fined, Dad £20 and the daughter £5.

A decision was taken by the ships owner, they announced that they wouldn’t prosecute, if the stolen goods were returned…it was luck of the draw. Many had tried to get away with their goods, and many did.

Some were even trying to bury their bounty right there on the beach…men were spotted trying to dig large holes in the pebbles to cover large barrels of spirits, something to be retrieved at a later date when the coast was clear..

Something else more sinister was scattered along the beach too that morning.

More bodies…but these were the unconscious bodies of those who had helped themselves to the strong spirits that had been washed ashore in the wooden kegs. Men, women and children lay prone all along  the pebbles, for all intense purposes, dead to the world. Medical help had to be sought as they tried to move the lifeless bodies, many were wet, cold, some were literally near death. The ‘living corpses’ were loaded onto wagons and taken to places of safety, where they were laid out. Many had to be stripped of their sodden clothing and were covered in hot blankets and hot bricks in an effort to revive them.

Some never woke again.

Over the next couple of days inquests were held around the area for those whose life was lost for the love of a free drink.

Weymouth courts; Death by drink, George Neale, 15, West Parade;

boy collapsed street quiver 1865

On Tuesday young George had walked onto Chesil beach with Richard Rolls to see the scene of devastation for themselves. They came across a wooden cask of rum with the head off. George picked up a nearby tin, one that would hold a quart of liqueur, he scooped the rich spirits out of the barrel and downed it in one.

Seeing danger ahead, Richard took the tin away from him, but a group of men drinking nearby passed him a biscuit tin.

Within minutes, young George had downed nearly 3 quarts of strong liqueur.

Not surprisingly he became unconscious.

Richard with the help of a couple of the  realtively sober men and a policeman carried George to Mr Manley’s in Weymouth town where he worked. Mary Jane Andrews had tried desperately to bring him round. George’s father had called doctor Simpson on the Tuesday evening. Later he told him he thought George was getting better, the doctor  prescribed a stimullent emetic, then left for Portland.

He returned at midnight to find boy dead.

Congestion of the brain from alcohol poisoning. “Death from excessive drinking.” (Buried 2nd December Melcombe Regis graveyard)

Inquest at the Royal Victoria Inn, Ferry Bridge, Wyke Regis, 42 year-old Samuel Biles, labourer; Sergeant Gale was on duty on the beach , he had come across 3 men lying apparently dead on beach. The bodies of the  unconscious men were moved to the ‘safety’ of the Fishermans Arms. Having been called in to check the men over, Dr Rhodes arrived to see the victim and another man lying  face down on straw.

Samuel Biles had no pulse. “Death from exessive drinking and exposure to the cold.” (Buried Wyke Regis churchyard November 30th 1872)

Inquest at Cove Inn Chesil, Thomas Strange and George Gilbert; P.C James Bugg found their bodies on the beach on the Wednesday, “Died from exposure to cold, and from having taken an excessive quantity of raw spirits.”

Thomas Strange was a 46 year-old cabinet maker who lived in Walpole street, Weymouth with his wife Sarah and children. (Buried 2nd December 1872, at Melcombe Regis graveyard)

George Gilbert unknown, must have come from further afield, though his death is registered in Weymouth, no record of his burial locally.

Two more men were fined being “dead” drunk on the beach at Weymouth. Chaddock and Mayo,  2 men.doctors bill, fined 5s each and costs.

Thomas A Chaddock, 45 year old quarryman lived at Chisel Portland with wife Jane. He was so cold that they had to strip him and cover him with hot bricks.

John Mayo, 21, stone mason, lived at the Freemasons Arms, Upwey with his parents. both these men were in the employ of  Mr Richard Reynolds, stonemason of Weymouth.

There was one redeeming light in admist all this debauchery.

Thirty one year old Albert Drayton was a coastguard for the Wyke area. On that fateful evening he strived along with many others to rescue as many of the ship wreck survivors as he could.

Having worked tirelessly all through the stormy night in the wet and cold, Albert caught a severe chill.

He lingered for a few days, but during  his delirious periods he kept repeating  “There’s another saved, thank God!”. (Albert sadly lost his fight for life and was buried on the 20th December 1872,  at Wyke Regis graveyard.) He left behind his widow, Jane and baby daughter Mary.

policeman in dock with boy quiver 1891

The tale of the terrible wreck of the Adelaide remains forever in the memory of Dorset folk, but not always for the right reasons.

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http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1540307/Police-to-clamp-down-on-beach-scavengers.html (modern day scavangers further along Chesil beach )

1872; Chesil shipwreck; death, drowning and detention, human nature at its very best and worst!

Lyme Bay and Chesil beach have always been notorious amongst sailors of old (and new!) many a ship and its crew and passengers have seen the sight of thunderous waves breaking on the steep pebble bank as maybe their last, or maybe their salvation.

P1460025

Since time immemorial the subject of ship wrecks have meant many things to the people who live near by…courage, in trying to rescue to poor souls from a watery grave.

An income, gathering up any booty washed ashore from the stricken ship and it’s passengers (great examples of this still exist such as the wreck of the MSC Napoli beached off Lyme Bay 2007).

Finally, opportunity, frequently barrels or bottles spirits would be washed ashore, and men, women and children have been known to take advantage of these, often not even bothering to move from their landing place on the shore, if it was too big or too heavy to move and hide away in safety, they would imbibe somewhat to excess there and then!

Such was the sad case in 1872, much reported in the national news because of the shocking scenes that were witnessed after.

One Saturday morning late in november a ship had set sail from London, bound for Sidney Australia, on board her were a crew of 30 and 60 odd passengers.

She was the Royal Adelaide, an iron ship of 1,385 tons, fairly modern for her time, many a sailing ship in this period was still totally of wooden construction, but the Adelaide was an iron vessel, with stout iron masts and strong wire rigging.

Gales had been battering the South coast for some time, and had not improved by the time of the disaster, the night of the 25th November.

Under the command of William Hunter as ships master, she was coming up through the channel, somehow the wrong calculations were made as she sailed, and as visibility was poor, it wasn’t until the last moment that the master realised that he wasn’t where he thought he should have been, heading for the relative safety of Portland Roads.

Coastguards keeping close watch from the shore could see the ship just off Chesil through the thick fog, but she seemed to turn and veer out to sea again.

All was well, so they thought, but the master had left these alterations too late. The fierce winds and tides swept the hapless ship back towards the fearsome Chesil bank and danger.

While trying to set her back on a safe course, they had raised the sails, but the powerful gusts had simply ripped straight through the heavy canvas of the jib and main topmast staysails like mere tissue paper.

Battling against the worsening elements, they slowly heaved the tattered sails down again, fastening them to the masts, but they fast were loosing control of the vessel.

By now, the master and his crew realised that they were in imminent danger of coming to grief on the infamous bank, where over the centuries, so many ships and and people had been claimed by Davy Jones.

Hunter had his crew standing by ready, the second mate and the ships carpenter were stood on the rolling deck with axes in hand should the order be given to chop the masts down.

Image

Rockets were fired to alert those on shore of their plight, but huge crowds were already gathering on the beach, like crows around carrion, well aware of the ships impending fate.

They had seen it all too often before, some with great sadness in their hearts for those poor souls on board, some with a greedy eye to ill gotten gains to be had.

The waves surged and crashed around the stricken vessel as she lurched her way towards the boiling shore, the second mate stood fast at the rails, short lead line in hand, calling out the depths as she rolled ever closer, 15ft, 13ft, 10ft…..then she grounded, swung broadside, and was firmly wedged on the shingle…but not quite close enough!

One of the ships crew jumped overboard and attempted to make his way through the pounding surf for the shore with a line. He never made it…the back tow of the waves smashed him against the side of the vessel, and beaten senseless, down he went.

From on shore the first to attempt a rescue were the Portland fishermen, without a thought to their own safety, they had plunged into the surging waves and managed to get a line across to the ship, not far behind were the coastguard men ready and waiting, they fired their rockets towards the now dangerously rolling ship.

Unfortunately the panicking crew on board had concentrated on the first line to reach them, that of the fishermen, they were busy rigging it to the masts to attach the basket.

The line wasn’t up to the job, it snapped.

It took them some time to get the second line up and running, passengers by now were on deck and crying for their salvation. Women and children hugged each other, hanging onto what they could to save themselves from being washed overboard as the waves broke over the slowly fracturing ship.

Two more of the crew attempted to go over the side of the vessel to reach the safety of the shore, they were both seen hanging onto the side when a sudden large wave broke and within seconds the ship rolled back towards the open sea. Watching from shore the people could only gaze on in despair, the men desperately trying to hang on, once again, waves forced the ship to roll back  towards shore, both men could hold no longer, their arms exhausted, first one, then the other dropped like stones, their bodies crushed like eggshells under the hull of the violently rolling vessel.

At last the crew on board managed to get the second line fixed, and the basket working.

Now they could start to get the frantic passengers ashore.

At first all went well, five women and several of the men were transferred safely across the boiling seas…but then, for what ever reason, absolute fear, panic, the master could not get people to climb into the basket and head for safety.

One desperate father on board was begging someone, anyone, to take his two small children, he had them gripped tightly in his arms.

One of the frantic women waiting on board snapped “No, indeed, I will save no one’s child”.

But no one was moving!

Sensing time was short, and seeing  no other way, Hunter, the master,  grabbed one of the children, climbed into the basket and rode safely to shore, handing the small child over to the care of those on the beach. He attempted to get back to rescue the others, but was stopped by the coastguards.

He could only watch with a heavy heart from shore, it was now a case of every man woman and child for themselves.

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Once the master had crossed, people began to realise the dire urgency, the ship was starting to break up in the fierce seas. Falling spars had already knocked two men in the maelstrom, water was surging through the sides of the boat.

If they didn’t get off now, they wouldn’t get off at all.

One by one, terrified crew and passengers were hauled over the swirling abyss between ship and shore.

The second young child of the distraught father was handed to a male passenger to carry with him as he crossed, but half way over, a breaking wave swept the innocent little body straight from his arms…another one to Davy Jones.

Then, through the uproar of the surging sea and the howling winds came a resounding crack, described by many as the noise of a volley of musketry being fired.

The hull of the vessel, no longer able to cope with the rolling and twisting of the vicious seas, snapped like a twig underfoot.Image

There were still three people left aboard, if they wanted to survive, they needed to get off the boat.

Reluctant to get into the swinging basket, 33 year-old Mrs Irons had hung back, but realising that it was the only way to be saved, she frantically clambered in and prayed for her salvation to the Lord.

He didn’t hear.

By the time Mrs Irons and the basket had been dragged onto shore, she had been swamped by the waves and had breathed her last. (Buried Portland, St John 28th Nov)

Once again the life saving basket was hauled back to the stricken vessel.

This time a German passenger clambered in, but he was a big built chap, very tall and heavy set…too heavy for the equipment…the line broke, and down it and he went.

Now only a solitary soul remained on the doomed vessel.

A seventy-two year old lady who had been bed bound ever since leaving the port of London. Despite the desperate attempts of passengers and crew to get her ashore, she was adamant that she was staying put in her bed.

The Good Lord would decide her fate…and he did.

But that wasn’t to be the end of the tragedy…oh no.

The vessel had been carrying casks of rum and brandy, there was money and fun to be had here.

Despite soldiers of the 77th regiment and coastguards being placed on the beach to protect the valuable and not so valuable goods as they came ashore what followed was human nature at its worst.

Local people, even reputable traders from near and far came and gathered as many of  the items as they were washed ashore as they could carry. The tide of marauding humanity too overwhelming for the men posted to guard the goods be able to do anything about, all they could do was stand and watch as men, women and children, wreckers… took part in whole sale plundering.

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A few were later arrested and taken before the local courts to be made examples of by the Receiver of Wrecks.

Thirty-four year old Henry Cosser had spirited away one of the head boards from a ships bed. He was a respectable business man who owned a draper and grocers shop in Fortunes Well on Portland.

He was fined 40s and costs.

Twenty-five year old Jonathan Lane, a a farm labourer from Reform on Portland, had made off with his ill gotten gains, a spade. According to him, he wanted it as a  memento.

He was fined £5 and costs.

Even worse, those large kegs of spirits that ended up strewn along the beach…were opened there and then. Drunken bodies lay all around, too intoxicated to crawl from the sea spray wet pebbles.

More loss of life from exposure and alcohol poisoning. (That’ll be a tale for another day)

Over the next few days as the bodies were washed ashore, a series of burials took place on Portland St Johns for those whose remains  were found.

Some remained unidentified.

Found mariner; name unknown, buried November 27th.

Found mariner;  name unknown, buried November 28th.

Catherine Irons; age 33, passenger, buried November 28th.

William Edwards; passenger, buried November 29th.

Sonia Fowler; passenger, age 72, buried November 29th.

Matthew Clayton; age 37, buried December 2nd.

Buried in Wyke Regis church yard;

Rhoda Bunyan; passenger, age 6 years, buried on the November 29th. (a little note at the bottom of the parish records X Drowning in landing from the wreck of the Royal Adelaide)

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Read on for part 2.

1872;Chesil Royal Adelaide shipwreck; part 2. Armageddon!

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http://www.burtonbradstock.org.uk/History/Wrecks%20off%20Burton%20Bradstock/Historical%20list%20of%20wrecks.htm (excellent site covering shipwrecks on Chesil, and an illustration of the Adelaide herself in her dying moments)

http://www.jurassiccoastline.com/jurassic_Info1b.asp?ID=132&AreaID=132 (details and images of the shipwreck today in its watery grave)

1888; Chesil swallows up another wreck.

Chesil beach in Dorset is  world renown. It is part of the World Heritage Jurassic coastline. A more stunning place for scenery is hard to find…but it does have it’s dark side, as anyone who’s witnessed it in storms will realise.

Many a ship has fallen foul of the weather and tides here, the sea floor is littered with wrecks along this seemingly innocuous, but deadly stretch of coastline

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Late on Thursday evening in March in 1888, an iron built barque, the 665 ton Lanoma was making her way from Tasmania back to her home port of London. Belonging to merchants Messrs T B Walker of Fenchurch street, she was laden goods, her hull filled with wool, hides and blue stone.

In charge of her was Captain Whittingham,  on board a crew of 18.

The journey home had been a plain sailing , nothing remarkable to break the monotony of the days sailing. That was until the Thursday….when they had reached West Bay. A thick fog had descended, but there was also a heavy sea running. not a problem for experienced sailors like this crew.

One of the young apprentices on board was Ernest James Arnold,  that night he was at the helm, a responsible job for one so young, but that was life at sea. About 1/2 hour before midnight, the look out shouted out a warning, through the fog he had spotted breakers close by, they were too near the shore! The captain somehow had miscalculated his charts, and they were off course.

Ernest responded quickly and spun the wheel desperately trying to turn the ship,  but by the time she had started to turn it was too late…she grounded on the steep pebbled shore, with large waves washing over her.

The men frantically tried to right things, but nature saw to it that they were thwarted every time. The boiling seas dashed away the maintop gallant mast,  followed by the mizen-top gallant mast and finally the mizen mast. The smaller boats were dashed off the davits and disappeared.

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Two of the men, apprentice Edward Allen and able seaman  Jones grabbed a line, leapt in to the boiling sea to try to swim for the shore, but the surge near the beach was too strong. Allen managed to finally make shore, but he had lost the vital line in his battle to stay afloat.  Jones was washed back towards the stricken ship, and had to be dragged out of the water half drowned.

While battling the surging waves that were washing over their stricken vessel,  the men tried tying the line to a belaying pin, once they had it attached they tried to throw it on shore, but it was too far…there was nothing for it, they had to admit defeat and start burning the blue lights to attract attention to their dire plight, they needed help, and needed it fast!.

Not long after, a rocket lit the sky, their cry for help had been seen…now they could be rescued. The men at the Wyke station had spotted their lights and were on their way with rescue equipment, with Chief Officer Young in charge. Joining the men were those from the Fleet coast guard.

Once on the Chesil bank the men battled the constant battering from the waves, but they finally managed to get a line on board using a rocket, and the breeches buoy was sent out to start pulling the cold and wet men off the doomed vessel.

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It wasn’t going to be straight forwards, it never is, half way across the gap, the lines tangled ,and the man who must have thought he was almost home safe and dry was washed beneath the sea, never seen again.  Trying again, they managed to sort the lines and pulled two more to safety through the surf.

Davy Jones had one last trick up his sleeve…a huge wave broke with ferociousness onto the wreck, washing the remaining men who were waiting patiently to be rescued right off the deck.

For one of those men, an angel must have been watching over him… he found himself desperately swimming for shore, but his way was hampered by bales of wool that were all around. Almost on the point of  giving up he spotted a wooden plank, dragged himself onto it…that’s all he remembered until he came to on the shore nearly an hour later. The tide had washed him in and the coast guards spotting him had pulled him ashore.

In total only 6 of the boats crew were rescued.

The frozen, wet, exhausted survivors were taken to the Fleet coast guard station where they were given dry clothes. Next morning they were transferred to the Sailor’s Home in Weymouth to be met by the Shipwreck mariners Society agent. He sorted them fresh clothes and arranged for them to be sent back home to London, back into the arms of their anxious families.

The 6 survivors were 3 Able seaman; Hansen; Stephen Kenseth; and Fox.

and 3 apprentices; Allen, Bussey and Ernest James Jones.

Those who sadly lost their lives; Captain Whittingham; Mr Cruse, chief mate; Mr Fox, second mate; Mr Black, carpenter; Mr Smith, steward; Mr Montaro, cook;

able seamen Jones, Johnson, and Wilson.

apprentices Edwards, Finnis and Hood.

The wreck of the Lanoma broke up in the surf, and joined the litter of debris that haunts the seabed.

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Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many more, including local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/VictorianGraphics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

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http://www.chesilbeach.org/ (Chesil beach website)

http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~imw/chesil.htm ( Chesil beach)

1828; Chesil beach gives up her riches.

Now, if you’ve ever been stood on Chesil beach and watched nature’s fury as she crashes in on this huge pebbled bank, you’ll know why treasure hunters love to visit after a storm.

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West Bay was referred to  as ‘Deadman’s Bay’ by our own world renown local author, Thomas Hardy, and for very good reason.

Numerous ship  have come to grief here over the centuries, wrecks litter the sea floor from one end to the other.

As much as today’s treasure hunters search the shoreline with their electronic gagetry, so did the men and women of day’s past with nothing but their eyes to seek out those shiny nuggets that would make their fortune.

In December of 1828 there had been a huge storm which sent the waves rolling into the bay, and surging up the steep banks. The wily Portlanders knew this was the best time to search for dead mans booty, they weren’t to be disappointed! As the waves still pounded the shoreline, men and women scoured along the beach, dodging the fierce wash, for anything valuable the sea might have dredged up.

That day they struck gold…literally! Silver and gold coins, even bullion bars…

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A ship from Amsterdam had gone down out in the bay 80 years earlier, on the 16th February 1748, she had contained £50,000 of gold bullion, and it seems that each year a few of these bars were washed ashore during the storms. Over the years numerous riches were washed ashore after each storm, gold guineas, fresh from the mint of George III, dollars from King Philip V of Castile and Leon, a Spanish gold watch chain….No wonder these men and women frequently risked their very lives in the search for the elusive Davy Jones’s treasures.

On that day, two of those intrepid beachcombers came so close to their hearts desire. Dodging the violent, rolling waves they had espied a cache of golden coins revealed from the scouring waters, hastily scraping them them up together in a pile for collection…but to no avail, what Davy Jones released at a whim of nature, he took away,  an enormous wave rolled in ,crashing down on that very spot, covering the loot with tons of shingle.

So near, but so far. Who knows what lies under the shingle these days, some of which may be revealed at the next storm.

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Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many more, including local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/VictorianGraphics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

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