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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Local History







It was not exceptional for ships to be lost in hurricane force winds of above seventy-five miles an hour. Nearly 10,000 vessels, excluding fishing boats, were wrecked between 1866 and 1875 and most of these were collier brigs en route to the Tyne. The seas were sometimes described as running "mountains high" with tremendous waves of thirty to forty feet. In such circumstances a vessel could be completely overturned as the result of one single wave. There were frequent references to vessels leaving port on a certain date and never being heard of again. Often they would founder at sea without any trace and grieving widows and children would be left behind without knowledge of how or where their loved ones had perished since they were only recorded as "lost at sea".

Castleford Gazette & Knottingley Advertiser
11th February 1860

“A few days since, Mr. John Schofield of Knottingley received a communication from London stating that his son John had fallen overboard, 12 miles off the port of Dunkirk on Friday 20th January. It appears that the ship was under double reef sails and the sea running very high at the time. The young man who was on the deck had a quantity of clothing on at the time, and as soon as it was perceived that he had fallen overboard, the ship was put round, and every effort tried to save him. It is supposed that the ship had passed him, as he was only seen once, and that was when under water. He was nineteen years of age.”

[The name of the ship was not mentioned and being in mid winter he would naturally be heavily clothed which would hinder his chance of survival]

In early November 1898 news was received from the Receiver of Wrecks at Lowestoft that a fishing vessel reported having picked up about 70 miles off Spurn, a ship's boat bearing the name 'Eleanor Thomas of Goole - master, G. Spence.' It was feared the vessel had sunk in the recent gales and in addition to Captain G. Spence of Knottingley the vessel carried four hands all of Goole.

Lost in the same gales was the three masted schooner 'Village Belle' owned and captained by Burton Arnold of Knottingley. It was recorded that he left Flushing on 31st October and having not been heard of since it was feared she was lost with all hands. She was on a voyage from Flushing to Yarmouth, estimated by Burton Arnold to be only about 90 miles from river to river, a journey he expected to complete in one day. He wrote to his wife on 31st October and again on 2nd November from Flushing Roads, and was to send a telegram on arrival at Yarmouth so she could meet him with whilst in port. He had only recently returned to the sea.

Sometimes children were left to be brought up in the Seaman's Orphanages. The 1891 census returns for Hull reveal Walter Branford (son of John William Branford reported in the next incident) aged ten, in the Hull Seaman's and General Orphanage. In the Port of Hull Society's Home were Albert Flower aged thirteen, Tom Flower aged nine and Mary Johanna Fagersand aged ten, all born at Knottingley.

Goole Weekly Times, 1st December 1882
Schooners 'Onward' and 'Sarah'

"We regret that the late storms have been accompanied by the sad loss of life in connection with this Port. Two vessels owned at Knottingley, and insured in the Knottingley Insurance, but registered as belonging to the Port of Goole, left Hartlepool in the fourth week of October 1882, and have not since been heard of.
The 'Onward' was one of the vessels under the command of Captain J. Osborne, a young man who unfortunately leaves a wife and five children, the youngest of whom is but a few weeks old. Osborne has during his career as a Captain, had obstacles of very serious character to encounter, and the consequence is that he leaves a widow, and young children with no provision made for their maintenance. They have literally nothing, and consequently already the sympathies of the benevolent have been awakened on their behalf, and a subscription list opened. Captain Eastwood of the 'Annie Gill', who has liberally headed the list with a gift of £5-5-0d, has secured the valuable co-operation of Captain Hudson of Banks Terrace, who will receive any further contributions. Mr. Meek, Lloyds agent, has subscribed a guinea.
In the case of 'Sarah,' under the command of Captain Branford [my note: John William], leaves a widow and three young children, but at the time we write we are not in a position to say what are their circumstances. The following are the details that have reached us respecting the vessels loss and wreck during the recent storms.
The schooner 'Onward' of Knottingley, under the command of Captain Osborne, on passage from Hartlepool to Mistley, with a cargo of coal has been missing since 23rd October. The 'Onward' left Hartlepool in company with the 'Sarah' of Knottingley, under the command of Captain Branford, also with a cargo of coal for London. Neither of the vessels have been heard of since, and there is only too good ground for fearing that in the heavy gales that prevailed about that date the vessels left Hartlepool, that they have been lost.
The crews included Captain Osborne, and a crew of three men, and Captain Branford also had three more men. The names of the crew are not known at Goole, but it is believed that the majority at any rate belong to this locality. Both the vessels were insured at the Knottingley Commercial Club."

Pontefract Advertiser, 21st March 1891
Steamer 'Neptune'

"During the recent gale, the steamer 'Neptune' of Newcastle bound from Guernsey to Dover with a cargo of stone, encountered the full force of a blizzard in mid-channel. The hatches became loosened, and the captain and mate while endeavouring to fasten them were washed overboard and never seen again. The sea afterwards swept the decks clear, totally dismantling the vessel, and finally extinguishing the fires. The crew, who numbered seven, then manned the lifeboat and abandoned her, landing safely at Weymouth on Wednesday. The drowned officers were both Knottingley men. The master Tom Eastwood was about 40 years of age, and resided in Aire Street, where he leaves a widow and three children. The mate Ephraim Green, was 45 years old, and leaves a widow and four children."

Castleford Gazette & Knottingley Advertiser
9th June 1860

Supposed wreck of the vessel 'Economy', June 5th.

The Harlequin (SS) of Hull, arrived off Brunshausen, reports having passed June 3rd, 45 miles SSE of Spurn; the afterpart of a wreck of a billy-boy, which had apparently been in collision. She was marked on her quarter 'Economy.'
We understand Capt. Thomas Wright of Knottingley had a vessel called 'Economy' laden with pig-iron from the North Coast to Bruges, with two of his sons on board, which has not been heard of. Whether the above be the vessel or not, it is impossible to say from the above meagre description, even if it be, hope may yet be entertained that they have not fared the same fate that has befallen so many of our fellow men during the late gales.

[The shipping registers for Goole record this vessel, built in Burton Stather in 1847, being lost 26 May 1860]

John Ambler, born in Knottingley in 1852, was lost at sea in December 1894. This is revealed in the records of the Hull Sailors Home Orphanage where two of his children, James and Sarah, were admitted in May 1895. He had married Annie Mary Adams, the daughter of James Adams, a mariner, at Christ Church, Knottingley on 10th May 1876.

As well as the loss of life or injury there was the constant threat of damage to the vessel. Because of the great number of ships operating along the East Coast, it was inevitable that there were many accidents. Collisions were common especially in periods of dense fog. During extreme weather conditions the master would have the chance of drawing in all sails, dropping anchor, facing windward with everybody below and hatches battened down trying to ride out the storm, or he could make a run for the shelter of any nearby bay or harbour knowing full well that either choice could end in disaster. Storm damage was often extensive and expensive, especially if the vessel wasn't insured. The loss of anchors and chains frequently resulted in vessels being driven helplessly ashore or foundering on rocks. Masts, sails, rigging and cables were often lost or badly damaged making it impossible for vessels to continue their journey without first being assisted into the nearest harbour for repairs. Damage was sometimes multiple and could cause the Captain and crew to abandon ship.

Paradoxically disasters at sea also provided opportunities for great heroism and self sacrifice. It was a fact of life that vessels were susceptible to the springing of leaks. Although carrying some manual pumping equipment, often capable of dealing with an emergency, there were still many vessels that had to be abandoned at sea when their pumps became unable to cope with the rate at which they were taking water on board. When this happened captain and crew were dependent on ships in the vicinity for aid, inadvertently placing these vessels at great risk also.

Goole and Marshland Gazette - 1st October 1862.
Sloop 'Wesleyan'

"On Tuesday, October 21st 1862, the 'Wesleyan' of Goole from Portland to London went down off Newhaven. Captain Green of Knottingley, the Master of the 'Wesleyan' makes the following statement:
He left Portland on Thursday at about 3 o'clock, and early on Friday morning experienced very heavy weather, in consequence of which she sprang a leak. On board were his wife and six children. With his crew of two men he worked incessantly at the pumps, but the water continued to gain on them. In the afternoon she was observed by the crew of the 'Wave' of Colchester, under the command of Captain Dorman, about five miles to the Westward, and nine miles S.E. of Newhaven. Perceiving that she was disabled, the 'Wave' ran as near the 'Wesleyan' as she could venture, and finally, in the face of a sea running mountains high, Dorman, the Master of the 'Wave', leaving two men on board his own vessel, launched his own boat, quite a cockle-shell comparatively speaking, and with three other brave fellows made for the 'Wesleyan'. The boat was nearly swamped several times, but at last they managed to get on board, where here a truly heartrending scene awaited them. The bulwarks were all gone, the boat was stove in, and the sea was making a clean sweep over them. The three men were utterly exhausted, and the poor woman and her six children were sitting huddled together below in nearly three feet of water which was pouring in from the deck. The youngest child was only six months old [note: this would have been Abner, born in April 1862, son of Jonathan Russell and Esther, nee Blackmore,] and the cries of the poor little creature were so piteous as to unnerve the strongest man. Then came the difficult task of getting Mrs Green and the little ones on board the 'Wave', but this was accomplished, although the boat was half full of water. Dorman and his men, after working at the pumps for three quarters of an hour without any diminution of the water in the hold, abandoned her, and the crew were taken on board the 'Wave'. In less than five minutes the 'Wesleyan' sank with everything belonging to the poor creatures, except for the scanty clothes that they stood upright in. The 'Wave' beat up into Newhaven harbour, and landed the crew and family, thus narrowly saved from death."

Ron Gosney


Also by Ron Gosney:

Christopher Rowbotham & Sons
John Harker Shipyard
Captain George Colverson


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