Shipwrecks on the Dart
Shipwrecks on the Dart
Thekla 1893 tragedy
On 14th January 1893 a German ship, the Thekla, arrived off Dartmouth harbour in passage from Iquique bound for Hamburg. She was short of provisions and called for a pilot from the pilot sloop Gwendoline which was sailing in the Range*. Pilot Coaker was transferred to the Thekla. The harbour gig of Fox, Sons and Co came out from the port to take the Thekla’s captain ashore to get the provisions.
The wind had increased from the east with a strong ebb tide and George Macey, local boarding clerk and manager of Fox’s, was begged without success not to take the Captain and his provisions back out in the gig, but to hire a tug. Regardless, the gig in the charge of Mr Macey with four rowers James Stevens, John Collins, George Lidster and Edward Lidster returned the Captain to Thekla which was ‘dodging’ about under sail in the care of pilot Coaker about three miles off the harbour mouth. Gwendoline had returned to the harbour but the pilot cutter Rose, manned by pilot William Kelland and extra-men Gurney and Joseph Maycock, came out to pick up Coaker who had joined the five men in the gig. It had become much more rough with a heavy easterly gale and ‘Snow began to fall very thickly a few minutes before five and, with the howling and shrieking of the keen biting wind and the foaming and raging of the sea, combined to make the scene at once wild and weird’.
The cutter Rose was hove-to upwind of the gig for the transfer but was hit by a violent squall, which swept over them laying the cutter on her beam ends. She was deluged by the waves, becoming quite unmanageable, and as the bow fell off, the bowsprit plunged and drove into the gig lifting it clean out of the water and throwing all six men into the sea. Only pilot Coaker was picked up by seizing a rope flung to him by Gurney. As soon as Coaker was on board, pilot Kelland and Gurney launched the cutter’s boat and proceeded in search of the drowning men of whom nothing was afterwards seen or heard. Pilot Coaker and extra-man Maycock were the only hands left on board the Rose and it was some time, with the gig hanging suspended on the bowsprit, before the cutter was fairly manageable. It was dark, snowing and a full gale, with visibility about forty yards; the masthead light blew out and it was not possible to keep any flares alight. The cutter Rose searched for some time for Kelland and Gurney but it was clear that the two men in an open rowing boat and against gale and tide would be unable to get back to the river entrance. In spite of searching, and being joined by the Dartmouth lifeboat which had come out under coxswain Pillar, no sign was found of the Rose’s boat or the gig’s five lost men.
In fact Kelland and Gurney managed to get ashore at Blackpool where they were picked up by a coach searching for them and returned to Dartmouth. In the calamity five young local men had lost their lives in spite of the great courage shown by pilots Coaker and Kelland, and extra-man Gurney.
* the mouth of the river
SS Broadmayne 1921
Another wreck occurred in the harbour, but this time the fault was not entirely due to Mother Nature but also to human error. An oil tank steamer had signalled for a pilot to guide her into the harbour, but because of the intensity of the storm the pilot boat could not make contact so the steamer proceeded without a pilot and with serious consequences for the vessel and all on board. She was the SS Broadmayne built in 1888 as the Oka. On New Year’s Day 1921, in heavy weather and thick fog, the SS Broadmayne, 3,120 tons, was outward bound from London to Newport, Mass, and making for Dartmouth for bunkers. So the ship proceeded to enter, but failed to allow sufficient for leeway and caught on the Castle Ledge buoy, breaking its cable, which then twined around the propeller. Without her engines she was carried across the Range to run up on the rocks below Inner Froward Point.
Then came a night of bravery. The Brixham lifeboat Betsy Newbon II, pulled by oarsmen, could not be launched until 2am because of the heavy weather and thick fog and was unable to reach the wreck until later in the morning. Meanwhile, Brixham Coxswain Sanders and Signalman Noraway with the aid of local Kingswear farmer Tom Bulley and his son, all on foot, located them. In the darkness Sanders climbed down the cliff face to find sixteen members of the crew who had scrambled ashore. With help the crew climbed the cliff face to safety, and those remaining aboard were advised to wait for the arrival of the lifeboat. The Brixham Rocket Brigade had made herculean efforts to get their heavy wagon and equipment up to Hillhead from where, with the aid of three exhausted commandeered horses, they eventually reached the site, but unfortunately their rope ladders were too short to reach the rocks below. The lifeboat, after searching in the fog for six hours, finally saw a rocket fired from the vessel and moved in and rescued the remaining twenty-eight persons including two women and a child still aboard.
Efforts made to salvage the Broadmayne were unsuccessful and fortunately there was no serious oil spillage and no loss of life. She was sold to Messrs John & Co, Port Talbot, for disposal. Soon after, her stern broke away and slipped into deep water so the larger remaining portion, bow and mid-ships was patched and on a very high tide she was floated to nearby Mill Bay Cove, adjacent to Kingswear Castle. There she was cut up for scrap iron, which was taken to Kingswear Station for dispatch by rail for smelting in South Wales. Today at very low tide, some boilers and a few plates are still visible.