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

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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.

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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 )

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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.

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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.

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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)