Sunday, 18 August 2019

The Story of the Tadorne Rescue, between Craster and Boulmer, Northumberland Coast on 29th March 1913

Normally I would write about Cumbrian Lakeland issues, although every once in a while, particularly when holidaying in 'Foreign Fields', on this occasion the Northumberland coast, a story comes to light that deserves fully telling. There is a Northumbrian local book for those wishing to purchase called: The wreck of the Tadorne', published by Howick Heritage Group. I stress I have not read this and for any further reading on the subject it may well be worth a buy. I suspect it contains some extra detail, as this account will have material not covered by the book. I hope having read the account, you will be moved to donate the next time you pass a lifeboat station (RNLI or volunteer group, it matters not), or see a donation box in a coastal village or town pub etc.

Painting depicting the Tadorne Rescue by the Boulmer lifeboat, the Arthur R. Dawes, of the self-righting Rubie Type.

On Saturday 29th March 1913 a dense fog settled across the Northumberland coast. A French Trawler called The Tadorne (Sheldrake or Shelduck) from Boulogne, with a crew of 30 men, was bound for the Icelandic fishing grounds and was passing through this fog in the early hours when it was driven onto Howick Haven rocks, off Howick Sea Houses, approximately a mile south of Craster Harbour. The ship itself was relatively new, built in 1905 at Mackie & Thomson & Co., Glasgow and was 150 feet long. It was initially reported in the local papers that the tide was low but due to the waves, the man could not get to the safety of the shore.  At the time of hitting the rocks the ship was close to land, it being low tide so had the weather been calmer the shore could have been reached. A distress rocket was fired by the crew and the rocket brigade from Craster responded. On arrival the brigade managed to fire a rocket across to the ship, but the sailors were so cold and exhausted from the exposure to the March winter  they were unable to secure the line to the vessel. No men were able to be rescued by this method. Earl Grey of nearby Howick Hall attended with his Countess, his daughter and her husband. It was reported in the papers that he sent a messenger in his motorcar to seek help from the Boulmer lifeboatmen, Boulmer being two miles south of the tragic scene. The lifeboat eventually attended, under the command of coxswain William Stephenson. They found a scene of huge waves dashing furiously over the ship, with the crew having taken to the rigging and lashing themselves to it to avoid the crashing waves. It was further reported that two men perished there purely from the exposure. The shoreline was crowded with local people wishing to help, but unable to offer any assistance, despite the desperate cries for help from the crew of the stricken vessel. The tide had by now risen and the force of the crashing waves had now split the vessel amidships.
The newspapers erroneously reported that four men had now desperately tried to swim ashore and believed one had made it, no doubt gaining uncorroborated accounts from people helplessly watching the terrible spectacle.
The Boulmer lifeboat in its Herculean attempt managed to get the remaining 25 off the broken ship in two batches. Following the transfer they went to Boulmer, returning for their second human cargo. On this return they managed to retrieve one of the crewman from the water who had earlier attempted to make the shoreline by swimming. They attempted resuscitation, but were unsuccessful. 
When the rescue was concluded and all that was left was a broken ship, the dead could be identified. They were later shown to be, Jean Guilbert, born 29 November 1859; Louis Joseph Dugueonoy, born 14 March 1865; Pierre Archenoux, born 15 October 1871; Francois Nouvel, born 22 March 1867; and Emile Duval Gournay, born 17 September 1897.

Earl Grey was moved by the predicament of the trawlermen that he donated £16 to the Lloyds Agent to assist in their care. A concert had been given at Copley Hall and Countess Grey suggested that the proceeds of it also be donated to the suffering men.

On the same night a Swedish barque called the Jacob Rauers from Gothenburg was heading to Grangemouth when it also struck rocks at Marshall Meadows near Berwick, the captain and all the crew were fortunately saved, although the barque itself was lost to the sea.

The inquest took place at Copley Hall, Howick, on Monday 31st March. None of the surviving crew could speak English so Mdlle. Boutet, a French Maid of Countess Grey, translated the fluent evocative French accounts of the captain and his remaining crew into a broken but legible account that the jury could understand.  Much of the circumstances were still assumptions, due to the meagre evidence, but certain parts of the initial reported accounts could be corrected, such as the apparent four that had tried to swim to safety. It was now clear only one man in his boots had attempted the feat, through a belief he was to die on the vessel through exposure; still he died due to the fatal decision. The others had at various stages fallen into the water through pure exhaustion and exposure, no longer able to clasp the rigging that hung between them and the waves swirling and crashing around them.
Captain Eugene Fortain was the first to give his evidence and said they had sailed from Boulogne on 27th March to fish in the waters off Iceland. They had immediately been engulfed by fog. On the fateful night he had known he was off the coast of England, but believed he was 20 miles further out to sea. Only when the fog cleared a little did he realise his predicament, with a fast flowing current taking the Tadorne to the rocks. The crew immediately climbed the rigging and lashed themselves to it to prevent being thrown into the sea. Both he and the engineer fired the distress flares at 04:30hrs. It was 06:30hrs before the rocket apparatus arrived, but only one made it across the ship and by that time he confirmed the crew were too exhausted to attach the line. Archenoux had now become so numbed he fell from the rigging into the water. The 16 year old Duvel feared the same fate and took an ill-fated decision to try and swim to the shore, still with his boots on; both were drowned. Captain Fortain witnessed no further deaths and was then stood down from the inquest.
Next to give his account was Coxswain Stephenson of the Boulmer lifeboat who was impressive in the detailed yet succinct way he gave his evidence. He stated he received the signal at 06:05hrs, and said it had come from the Coastguard station; they landed at the wreck at 07:45hrs. He took 22 men off the ship and landed them at Boulmer, although one succumbed to the cold and died before they arrived at shore. They returned for the others but now there were only three and he told the inquest that two had fallen from the rigging through exhaustion, into the water, before they arrived for the second extraction. The three that they gathered on this occasion were landed at Howick Haven.
Henry Bean was the Craster coastguard and the then told the inquest that he had heard sirens at 04:30hrs. He dimly made out a stricken ship 100 yards off shore. After shouting words of encouragement to the crew he sent a messenger to the coastguard station on a bicycle, himself following him on foot. Once there he telephoned Boulmer and asked the fishermen of the village to launch and rescue the ship's crew.
This then concluded the evidence, which had now corrected some of the well meaning, yet erroneous earlier reports in the papers. The coroner summed up and expressed an opinion that he hoped the jury would share. He went on to state that although not their fellow countrymen, great sympathy was felt to the men of the Tadorne who had lost their lives. He also expressed his great appreciation of the crew of the Boulmer Lifeboat. The jury passed a verdict of Accidental Drowning and concurred fully with the coroner, adding that they hoped recognition would follow from more influential quarters.
Other accounts later showed the Mr. Thompson, a farmer of Howick Sea Houses, supplied sandwiches to the lifeboat crew, rocket brigade and the saved sailors. The crew were then forwarded to the sailors home at Newcastle to aid their recovery. Only the captain remained in the area, to give a full account to the Berwick Journal, and remained over the weekend as a guest of the Mayor. 

Tragic as the sinking of the Tadorne was, the practicality of it, and the equipment it carried, had to be dealt with. The Tadorne was now the property of the Lloyds agent, Alderman Adam Logan (the mayor of Berwick), and as early as 5th April an advert was placed in the papers where a public auction was to be held at Howick Burn. It was later sold to a Mr. Reid of Tynemouth for between £70 and £80.

Lifeboatman take to the dangerous waters to save fellow souls at risk to the raging seas, and they expect nothing in return; the knowledge that they have attempted, or have saved a life is satisfaction enough. If there is any other reason it is perhaps that others have, or would, assist them in a similar hour of need, for all men of the sea are kin to each other when disaster beckons, irrespective of national boundaries. Such feats of heroism could not however go unrecognised by society. In early April 1913 a meeting of the Committee of Management of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) was presided over by Earl Waldegrave. The silver medal of that institution, accompanied by a Vote of Thanks on vellum, was bestowed on coxswain William Stephenson, along with an additional monetary grant. Additional rewards were also given to the lifeboat crew in recognition of their gallant conduct that day.
At the same meeting the coxswain and crew of the Berwick lifeboat were similarly honoured for their saving of the barque crew, with a doctor and five soldiers on land who had assisted also being recognised and rewarded.

In the second week of April five coffins had been quickly prepared in the villages of Longframlington, Embleton and Craster. They were taken to The Boat House where the five dead trawlermen were placed inside these casks which were then sealed before being placed in a cart for transport to the final resting place. On a day of rain, Father Verity Young, of Saint Mary's Catholic Church at Alnwick, met the funeral cortege at the village Church of England graveyard of St. Michael's Church, Howick. Present also were Countess Grey, representing the Earl(who was away from the area), and the French Consul, Mr. R Enguehard. Also present was the master of the stricken vessel, Captain Fortain, paying his final duty to the men who had been under his command. Snowdrops and daffodils blanketed the graveyard as the men were laid in their final resting place. Although it was in a foreign land to their native France, the homage paid by the hundreds of local fishermen and women of the North East coast was no less a measure of that which they would have received in their homeland.
The French people and government were also eternally grateful to the brave lifeboat crew who rescued 25 of their fellow countrymen. At Boulmer on 14th April 1914, the French Consul Baron de Balabre publicly presented French Government awards to the crew.  Awards from a private French Society called the 'Societe des Hospitaliers Sauveteurs Bretons' had been presented following the shipwreck. Now he said that he had been awaiting on awards from the French Government itself, which he had recommended in numerous letters and were now in his possession. The Government awards were presented, these being a gold medal for the Coxswain and a purse of gold to be distributed amongst the crew members. The proceedings were presided over by Sir Francis Walker, the agent to the Duke of Northumberland, who took a keen interest in the work of the lifeboats. Coxswain Stephenson accepted the award with great humility, saying he and his crew had only done their duty and would continue to do so in response to any call of the distressed. He was roundly applauded. 
A vote of thanks was then expressed to the French Consul and the hope was that the present Entente Cordiale may in time move to be an Alliance. The Consul then expressed his great satisfaction  at the good relations that now existed between the two nations. The meeting then closed.

The crew of the lifeboat who were honoured at the ceremony were: William Stephenson, coxswain; James Stanton, second coxswain; Edward Stephenson, bowman; Mathew Turner, signalman; George Stanton, Robert Holland, Robert Mason, James Dent, Jas Straker, William Stephenson, Robert Stephenson, William Wood, William Wood the second, John Mason, Isaac Gair, Edward Stanton, John Edward Stanton, James Campbell, Andrew Stanton, John William Stephenson, John Stanton and Mathew Stanton. Two further members, John Simm and William Gair had since died. 
The second coxswain, James Stanton died aged 60 years and was buried at Longhoughton on 20th April 1916, well attended by local people and the Boulmer lifeboat crew. He had been the steward of the primitive Methodist Chapel of the area. 


On 19th August 1925 the Boulmer lifeboat was to celebrate its centenary. There had been five vessels used over those 100 years. Two had been unnamed, but the first had been built under the superintendence of the president of the Newcastle Shipwreck Association. It had served for 27 years and had cost £150; it was built by boat builder William Blake of Sunderland. The second had been built at the expense of the Duke of Northumberland, the President of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. It was actually the greatly modified first boat, that had been taken to London for alteration and returned to Shields on 4th October 1853 for further transport to Boulmer, though there was still some criticism by the pilots of the beam being too narrow. The third was called the Robin Hood of Nottingham, £252 towards her cost having been collected in Nottingham itself. She was exhibited in the town on 7th January, drawn through the streets on a horse drawn carriage before being named by the Mayoress. She was then launched into the Trent for transport north. She served for 25 years until 1892. The fourth was defrayed from a magnificent bequeathed by the late Miss M. Fielder, if London who asked it be named 'Milicent', and it served from 1892 until 1911. The fifth was the Arthur R. Dawes, provided out of a legacy of Mr. George Robert Dawes. It was of the self-righting Rubie type, and was the boat in the Tadorne rescue. Since 1825 196 lives had been saved from the sea by the Boulmer lifeboats.
Present at the centenary William Stephenson, proudly wearing his medals presented to him regarding the Tadorne rescue. He had retired in nineteen twenty-two. It was noted at the celebrations that since 1825 after James Addison (whose sister married a Stephenson,) every coxswain of the Boulmer boat had borne the name Stephenson.

of Boulmer Lifeboat, wearing his Silver Medal of the Institution of, Medal of the Societe des Hospitsaliers Sauvetaurs Bretons, Medal (Gold) of the French Government.

In September 1931 the boat was replaced by a motor driven lifeboat, dedicated in a ceremony by the Bishop of Newcastle, with the young Duke of Northumberland present with his mother.

The local fishermen had collected money together to pay for a stone cross to commemorate the five men who had died, although the date of its placing is presently unknown. The grave was tended by person, but the identity was not revealed, the task a quiet sense of duty to sailors taken by the sea. It was only in February 1993 that the carers of this grave were revealed in The Newcastle Journal. 66 year old Alec Thompson, whose hilltop farm overlooked the jagged rocks identified himself as the current custodian. He had walked as a child to the grave with his aunt Margaret who had quietly taken on the duty to the dead without any person knowing this. Alec maintained the role upon her being no longer able. In 1993 he was pictured inspecting part of the Tadorne boiler that still lies off the shoreline.

Alec Thompson inspecting the remains of the boiler of the Tadorne, off Howick Haven.

Three images of the boiler remains of The Tadorne, taken August 2019

The Tadorne Memorial

'This Cross is placed here by the people of Howick, Boulmer and Craster in memory of five French sailors, who, out of a crew of 30, were drowned in the wreck of the Tadorne.'

Around the stone plinth of the memorial at St. Michael's, is the above inscription. Without entering the grounds the churchyard can be accessed from a lane just over Howick Burn and on the west side. You can drive up the lane to it as the more modern graveyard is there. The gate to the estate was closed, but unlocked, I feel sure that access is allowed to the churchyard alone, as it is a Church of England Church, and contains public graves, as well as the Grey family ones. That said, the grounds are well worth paying to visit. 

In February 2013, the French warship Primauguet docked at the Tyne, commemorating the centenary of the saving of the 25 crew of the Tadorne. It also paid tribute to another ship where lives were saved on the Bastiaise in 1940. Through a further turn of fate a trunk of one of the drowned men had been found when washed ashore. It was returned by Lady Grey, with a massage to his bereaved widow. It was forgotten in France until it once again surfaced, and investigations led to the story again re-surfacing. As as result, at the centenary some descendants of the men visited the memorial. These two events, namely the visits of the warship and the descendants, kept alive the memory of the five men who died. Besides the memory of the Fishermen who drowned, they equally honoured the bravery of the Boulmer lifeboat crew who set out that night to rescue fellow fishermen, resulting in 25 saved souls.


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