Tuesday, 17 September 2019

The Sinking of the Briton at Maryport Harbour, on 13th February,1882

The Briton was a brig, which is a two masted square rigged ship, and was built at Maryport in the yards of John Peat & Company. It was a fine coppered and copper fastened vessel of 111 tons burthen per register, its name was depicted by a full length carved figure of an ancient Briton with spear and buckler. It was built for Captain Mason of Seaton and was intended for the St. Domingo trade. 
 In 1846, following repair, she was then put up for auction on 13th April at Mrs. Rennick's Senhouse Arms Inn, at Maryport. The boat was described as 'ready for sea' at the time of auction, the auctioneer was George Lister. 
 She was once again put up for early auction on 26th January 1847 at The Golden Fleece, Whitehaven. The vessel was now mastered by J.W.T. Middleton, and advertised as fully coppered and repaired at Whitehaven, in September last. However, it was listed, still under the deposition of Joseph W. J. Middleton, in Lloyd's on 16th December that year as sailing from Newport for Dublin. 
She was again to be auctioned on 30th August 1859 at Whitehaven and it was adverted that she was in 1st class order and £1,200 had been spent on her. Through her life she would undergo many auctions of the ship itself, or shares of her.
In January 1866 an application to remit a portion of the dues owed was made by the then owner, Mr. Thomas Kelly of Whitehaven, who had lost a man overboard at St. Bees Head on the night of 30th December. The Briton had then missed Whitehaven, but got into Maryport harbour. The trustees agreed to so remit part of the dues, as it had neither discharged nor taken on a cargo at its intended harbour.
 In February 1882 she was now found to be registered at Kirkcubbin, of Strangford Lough, Ireland, and commanded by J. M'Kay. 

Sunday 12th February was one of the finest and mildest winter days ever known in Maryport, but this turned into a tremendous storm through the night. On the morning of Monday 13th it was reported that a West to South West wind of Force nine was billowing and it was raining, with very limited vision. Some described it as a hurricane force wind; waves were breaking over the pier, with slates and chimneys being blown off roofs. 
At 4 am, Harbour boatman Wilson Beck went down to the south pier to light the tidal light; this would signal to shipping that there was 8 feet of water to enter the harbour in, the tide then being 4 hours flood. He saw two bright lights at sea, a little to the west of Flimby. It was later known to be The John, and the captain was signalling for a tug. Wilson alerted John Brown, the mate of the 117 tons gross weight, iron steam-tug called the Florence, who informed its commander, Captain Mounsey. This vessel was owned by The Maryport Steam Shipping Company Limited, and it then set out from the harbour to offer assistance. As they passed down the harbour channel, driven by the 70 horsepower engines, they came abreast of the light and stopped the engines, so not to proceed into the huge waves at too great a speed. Suddenly they spied a topsail, then a vessel, coming into the harbour. Mounsey shouted an urgent command of, 'Full speed astern!' to his engineer, although the helm wasn't altered. He then called out to the vessel, 'Hard a Starboard!' The  two ships soon collided with the Florence struck on the starboard bow and her mast was carried away. The other vessel was The Briton, and it then drifted damaged down the channel, going ashore on the north bank of the harbour and immediately broke up on the rocks. The crew of three and the captain took to the rigging in an attempt to save their lives. 
Following the collision the Florence captain had instructed the engineer to 'Turn a-head' with the intention of proceeding to the original vessel, the John, that had signalled for assistance. Unfortunately the mast and its stays had become entangled in one of the paddle wheels and the steamer had to move a'stern and return to port to clear this.
The next vessel to try and make the harbour was The John at 4:45am, but she was blown onto the shore a quarter of a mile beyond the harbour and beached. At 5am the North Branch attempted the harbour entrance and missed, though managed to drop her anchor, and brought herself up at the end of the north pier. The Ottawa then attempted to enter after ten further minutes and also missed the entrance. She narrowly passed the North Branch and beached on the shore near the north pier. She was within 30 yards of the stricken Briton and saw her crew crying out for aid in the rigging, but could offer no help. The Briton crew were known to have hung to the rigging for an hour and a half before their strength failed them and they were lost to the crashing waves; all four men were drowned.
The next ship, called The Allies, later tried to make the safety of the harbour, but struck the North Pier and remained there until the following day. This ship and the Ottawa, both of Maryport, were eventually wrecked, although there was no loss of life from those two vessels. 
The inquest was opened at the police court on Wednesday 15th and Adam Palmer, the father-in-law of James Gaw gave evidence of identification. He also told the inquest that the brig had sailed the previous Sunday, 11th. 
James Wilson Ogle, an out-door officer of customs, was on the hill at 9 am and saw the ships beached. He went down and helped recover the first body, then another three. Two locals were able to board the stricken Briton at 11 am, and not before due to the danger. The eventual verdict on th efour bodies was 'Found Drowned' and the main inquiry into how the accident happened would be an issue for a later maritime inquiry. The bodies of four deceased crew were released after identification by the coroner and were placed in coffins for transport back to their native Ireland. The bodies were arranged to be transported by rail to Barrow for shipment, at £5 per coffin. Thus would have been a significant cost to the bereaved families but now the owner of the s.s. Black Diamond, crewed by naval reserve men, was telegraphed and agreed to transport the bodies free of charge. That departure was from Maryport as the ship was engaged in the transport of coal, and was sailing to Belfast. She was owned by Mr. Wood, the brother of John Wood, who owned the Maryport Hematite Iron Works, and was a Trustee for the town and harbour. The coffins were loaded for a 5pm sailing; the whole town turned out in reverential respect to fellow departed sailors. 
On Friday 17th, all four crew members were buried in their native graveyards. James Gaw (36), the owner and captain, was buried at Glastry; Francis Filston (35) in Kirkcubbin; James Ross (36) in Ballyhalbert; and John Dorrian (21) in Lisban graveyard. A subscription of £50 was raised for the widow and orphans of Filson and Ross.

Coastal towns live with tragedy at their door and soon recover. That a terrible shipwreck had occurred was undisputed, but hand in hand with coastal catastrophes and loss runs their bedfellow, namely salvage. The contents of the Briton were auctioned at the Custom House Yard, Maryport, on Monday 20th of that month. Following the contents auction the remains of the vessel itself were further put under the hammer. It had been clear from the later inspection of the wreck that the stern had suffered catastrophic damage.

A Board of Inquiry was commenced on Friday 24th March, to investigate the circumstances of the tragedy. It continued on 25th and concluded on 27th. It was held at the Athenaeum and chaired by Mr. Rotheray, the Chief Commissioner of Wrecks with The Board of Trade. The Maryport Steam Shipping Company, and the Briton owners were each legally represented. Two assessors were also appointed under 'The Shipping and Casualties Act, 1879'. They were Captains Murdoch, Parish, and Rear Admiral Moresby, RN. It was said the Briton was 68 feet long, 19 feet broad, and 10 feet deep. She had sailed from Portaferry on 12th and was laden with twenty tons of stone ballast, eleven and a half tons of potatoes and five of hay and bound for Whitehaven. James Gaw had owned her for a year and it was a seaworthy vessel and not overloaded. 
The Board immediately honed in on the weak points of those who tried to clear their actions. Captain Mounsey came in for the particular criticism of The Board who stated that The Briton was coming into the harbour quite properly.  The 'Hard a-Starboard' shout was a violation of the rules of the road at sea. Then after the collision there was no evidence to show that the crew of the steamer had tried to aid any of the crew of the Briton, despite the fouling of the starboard paddle wheel. The board concluded that something should have been able to be done to rescue the crew. They said that all Captain Mounsey did was return to the safety of the harbour. Although he reported to the harbour master that he had been in collision with another vessel, the seriousness of the impact was not conveyed. They further concluded that he had set about to treat the collision as lightly as possible. They then censured William Johnston, the acting harbour master and the John Webster the coxswain of the Maryport lifeboat, for not sending out the boat when they knew a vessel had been struck. They stated that the regulations of the lifeboat were disgraceful and clearly what occurred was, 'What is everyone's business is nobody's business'. It was said that the lifeboat would not be sent to a vessel unless they specifically signalled they were in distress. The board found such a statement as simply astounding on any level of human intelligence. How could a man, who had taken to the rigging of a broken vessel to save his life, send a signal of distress? The only signal that such crew could give was cries for help, and hope brave men would risk themselves in the face of such a tempest to save fellow sailors; that cry for aid was ignored. The final board decision was that Captain Mounsey was to blame for the collision, having tried to pass on the inside of, and the starboard side of The Briton. They further concluded that Webster and Johnston were to blame for the failure to launch the lifeboat. Mr. Hutchins was the Chief Coastguard officer, but they concluded he was blameless. He had only been alerted around 6:30 am and attended immediately. On going to the end of the north pier he saw what he believed was a man fluttering a flag and ordered the lifeboat to be launched, but before it could be got out the flag waver had disappeared.
The local press reported on the board of inquiry findings and used the words of, indifference, cowardice, and they commented also on the shame born by the town, due to the inaction of its harbour staff.

On Tuesday 23rd January 1883, at Whitehaven County Court the case of Ruth Gaw -v- Maryport Steam Shipping Company Limited was commenced at a preliminary hearing. Mrs. Gaw was claiming £300 for the loss of The Briton. A date was set for the full case and at Carlisle Court on Wednesday 9th May this was to be heard. The claim was now £279 and it was recognised by each party's barristers that Mrs. Gaw had a separate claim  for the loss of her husband, to be heard before the Admiralty Court in Liverpool. The lawyers had all now fairly met and agreed a settlement of the whole matter at £500.


Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Charles Gough, The Faithful Dog, and the Helvellyn Monument

On Saturday 18th April 1805, Charles Gough, a painter from (Kendal/Manchester) was holidaying in the Lake District, reported to be with his brother, and had stayed at Thomas Dobson's Inn at Patterdale. It was a common occurrence for him to holiday in The Lakes, as he had for the previous three years. On this day he intended on setting out for Wythburn with the intention of fishing in that water, now extended from Wythburn Water and Leathes Water to become Thirlmere; this was a regular haunt for him. He was to travel over the Helvellyn range and would take his fishing tackle with him, accompanied by his trusty companion a small brown terrier called Foxie. After eating at the inn he enquired if a guide could escort him over the range yet there was a General Review Day of the Volunteers in Patterdale and no guide was available. He set off to make the journey with his only companion being his little rough haired terrier (one account calls it a spaniel) and was never heard of alive again.

Striding Edge, as seen from the Nethermost Pike path.

Helvellyn summit looking back to Glenridding, and Charles Gough's route

Striding Edge with the rise to the Gough Memorial stone, likely the area of his fall.

Coming off Striding Edge for the final summit climb, where Gough would have fallen

Looking back along 'The Edge'.
Accounts state that people tried to dissuade him from the unaccompanied journey, yet he endeavoured to reach his goal, but the weather turned. One account says it snowed that day and the mist descended over the fells.
The exact location of his body is now not certain, but for reasons later disclosed it seems most likely to be the final ascent to the summit from Striding Edge, on the southern side of Red Tarn, Helvellyn. On 20th July 1805 a shepherd boy was out on the fells and heard a dog yelping. When he went to investigate he came across the decomposed and flesh stripped body of a man. The body was in such a state of decomposition the the head was detached and lying seven yards below the main corpse. Some accounts give the hands and feet as being detached. The shepherd boy raised the alarm in Patterdale and a party of men set off to recover the deceased male. On reaching it they checked the body and confirmed who it was through an engraved gold watch and papers in his pocket book, it was indeed that of Charles Gough. The dog appeared to be in a very nourished condition and had clearly been in pup when they began the fateful journey on 18th April. The searchers discovered she had born a litter; two were now dead and lay next to Gough's body, but at least one other was still alive, appearing to be about six weeks of age. The adult bitch could not be taken hold of and was hunted (to capture) by the shepherds dogs and eventually taken to Patterdale Hall, with the one remaining pup. These were then taken on to Kendal by his maternal uncle, a Mr W. Braithwaite

Picture of the supposed scene, by Sir Edward Landseer, depicting the faithful Foxie never leaving her master.
Tragic as the circumstances were of the death, that Mr Gough came by his unfortunate accident on the slopes of Helvellyn, it was clear that he had likely fallen from Striding Edge area. The monument is set above the final face of the southern side of the bowl of Red Tarn. The accounts of the time though are confusing, some speaking of the Edge, some of Red Tarn Crags and others of Cat-stee, which we would now call Catstye Cam. The exact location is perhaps an irrelevance, the fishing tackle he had taken added to the tale in that it was found at the top(it was not stated whether this was the summit or top of either Edge), above him and part of the scalp was below this, stuck to a rock with a deep cut through his cap; he had clearly come to rest at a location some distance down the Red Tarn cliff-face following a fall from height. He may even have reached the summit ridge and become disorientated in the fog, perhaps a snow cornice had given way which to this day remains a hidden and real danger for the uneducated 'climbers' of Helvellyn.

Attention initially centred on the well nourished dog and it was speculated at the time that it had nourished itself by worrying the corpse of its Master. In one article it was reported:

 '....; for, it appears that a small brown bitch, which accompanied him, had pupped after the fatal event; which, together with her litter, were found near his remains, uncommonly fat, and the flesh of the latter was mostly consumed. ...'

 Local people quickly dispelled this as a likely version of events, stating that it would have maintained itself from carcasses of dead sheep that would be in the area and the worrying of the corpse would be from carrion that thrived in the area. Thus the scene was set for the romantic tale that led to two of the great poets of the time to write on the subject, Sir Walter Scott and Wordsworth.

Sir Walter Scott - Helvellyn

I climbed the dark brow of the mighty Helvellyn,
Lakes and mountains beneath me gleamed misty and wide;
All was still, save by fits, when the eagle was yelling, 
And starting around me the echoes replied.
On the right, Striden-edge round the Red-tarn was bending,
And Catchedicam its left verge was defending,
One huge, nameless rock in the front was ascending,
When I marked the sad spot where the wanderer had died.

Dark green was that spot 'mid the brown mountain heather,
Where the pilgrim of nature lay stretched in decay,
Like the corpse of an outcast abandoned to weather,
Till the mountain-winds wasted the tenantless clay.
Nor yet quite deserted, though lonely extended,
For, faithful in death, his mute favourite attended,
The much-loved remains of her master defended,
And chased the hill-fox and the raven away.

How long didst thou think that his silence was slumber?
When the wind waved his garment, how oft didst thou start?
How many long days and long weeks didst thou number,
Ere he faded before thee, the friend of thy heart?
And, oh! was it meet, that—no requiem read o'er him,
No mother to weep, and no friend to deplore him,
And thou, little guardian, alone stretched before him—
Unhonoured the pilgrim from life should depart?

When a prince to the fate of the peasant has yielded,
The tapestry waves dark round the dim-lighted hall;
With scutcheons of silver the coffin is shielded,
And pages stand mute by the canopied pall;
Through the courts, at deep midnight, the torches are gleaming;
In the proudly arched chapel the banners are beaming;
Far adown the long aisle sacred music is streaming,
Lamenting a chief of the people should fall.

But meeter for thee, gentle lover of nature,
To lay down thy head like the meek mountain lamb,
When, wildered, he drops from some cliff huge in stature,
And draws his last sob by the side of his dam.
And more stately thy couch by this desert lake lying,
Thy obsequies sung by the gray plover flying,
With but one faithful friend to witness thy dying

In the arms of Helvellyn and Catchedicam.

Wordsworth however did allude to the practical question of nourishment in his final verse of:

A barking sound the Shepherd hears,
A cry as of a Dog or Fox;
He halts, and searches with his eyes
Among the scatter'd rocks:
And now at distance can discern
A stirring in a brake of fern;
From which immediately leaps out
A Dog, and yelping runs about.

The Dog is not of mountain breed;
It's motions, too, are wild and shy; 
With something, as the Shepherd thinks,
Unusual in its' cry:
Nor is there any one in sight
All round, in Hollow or on Height;
Nor shout, nor whistle strikes his ear;
What is the Creature doing here?

It was a Cove, a huge Recess,
That keeps till June December's snow;
A lofty Precipice in front,
A silent Tarn [1] below! 
Far in the bosom of Helvellyn,
Remote from public Road or Dwelling,
Pathway, or cultivated land;
From trace of human foot or hand.

There, sometimes does a leaping Fish
Send through the Tarn a lonely chear;
The Crags repeat the Raven's croak,
In symphony austere;
Thither the Rainbow comes, the Cloud;
And Mists that spread the flying shroud; 
And Sun-beams; and the sounding blast,
That, if it could, would hurry past,
But that enormous Barrier binds it fast.

Not knowing what to think, a while
The Shepherd stood: then makes his way
Towards the Dog, o'er rocks and stones,
As quickly as he may;
Nor far had gone before he found
A human skeleton on the ground,
Sad sight! the Shepherd with a sigh 
Looks round, to learn the history.

From those abrupt and perilous rocks,
The Man had fallen, that place of fear!
At length upon the Shepherd's mind
It breaks, and all is clear:
He instantly recall'd the Name,
And who he was, and whence he came;
Remember'd, too, the very day
On which the Traveller pass'd this way.

But hear a wonder now, for sake 
Of which this mournful Tale I tell!
A lasting monument of words
This wonder merits well.
The Dog, which still was hovering nigh,
Repeating the same timid cry,
This Dog had been through three months' space
A Dweller in that savage place.

Yes, proof was plain that since the day
On which the Traveller thus had died
The Dog had watch'd about the spot, 
Or by his Master's side:
How nourish'd here through such long time
He knows, who gave that love sublime,
And gave that strength of feeling, great
Above all human estimate.

This however came out after Scott's more romantic version of 'Helvellyn' which turned Gough into a martyr of heroic 'seekers of the natural world'. Scott was the known celebrity figure of the time and Wordsworth was much lambasted by the critics of the age, only finding popular favour later in his life. I myself am of the view that the dog worried his master's corpse. This will always cause debate, especially from those who humanise such an animal to be human in its characters. All I can say is that I have experienced more modern incidents that, following death, such animals have quickly given weight to my view. I will say no more here on that point.
 Later, emanating from these great masters of literature, their followers in turn were to pay for a memorial to commemorate the death of Gough on the fell with the placing of this memorial stone in his name. These two people were Canon Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley and the writer Frances P. Cobbe. It was erected by Messrs. Bromley of Keswick around November 1890.

The erection of the Memorial Stone to Charles Gough on Helvellyn. Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley stands behind the stone, facing the camera.
The Gough Memorial now. (sorry about the muzzle!)

In an article from The Cumberland and Westmorland Herald of 1903 it was said that Rawnsley had been fortunate enough to have spoken to the son of the man who found Gough's body. His father had told him that he was up the fell the same day as he met Wordsworth, Scott and Davy. Scott was going down to see the very spot where Gough came to rest. His father took Scott down and Scott then sat on a 'girt stane, and just luikt, an' luikt, an' luikt'. Rawnsley himself became interested and went and found the stone and green area, which could not be seen from above. Scott himself was to descriptively refer to: 'The dark green in the brown mountain heather.' One would expect that now the location of the body coming to rest was identified to these academics, then this would in turn be passed on, until Rawnsley was later in possession of the knowledge and therefor know where to best place the memorial.
Warren Hastings (the first Governor General of India 1713 - 1818) visited Patterdale in 1806 while travelling south from Edinburgh and obtained an account of the incident from a local man, assumed to be Captain Charles Luff, a friend of the Wordsworth's. It perhaps shows the interest the death now had on people of Society, that they would ensure they detoured to obtain as close an account as possible, to report on as a now acknowledged source.

Charles Gough was not a novice to the area, as earlier discussed it was his practice to holiday at Wythburn and he had at least climbed Helvellyn the previous year so would know of the precipitous drop on the eastern face. He knew his way around the lake district and conversed with Mr. Robinson of Buttermere, the Fish Hotel proprietor and the father of Mary Robinson, the beauty (or Maid) of Buttermere, who would be so wronged by John Hatfield through a bigamous marriage in 1802.
Gough was born in Manchester and was a quaker by religion although he was excluded from them approximately two years prior to his death, following him joining the volunteers, the militia, this being the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Following the discovery and extraction of his remains from the fell, the Quakers must have relented, now he was answerable to only The Almighty and he was interred at the Quaker burial ground at Tirril, near Pooley Bridge, on 22nd.