Fishley, the Luson’s and Porcelain.

By Haydn Brown,

Now, every old Norfolk Hall seems to have a good story to tell – if only their walls could speak!

At Fishley Hall there is such a story; firstly, it is of a tunnel having once existed which ran from the cellars (which still exist and have brick barrel vaulted ceilings) under the north wing and then to a boat dyke that directly connected the user to the River Bure – and to the sea beyond. By 1812 the boat dyke, and no doubt the tunnel had long since been disused; however, there exists an estate map of the same year which provides such evidence. But one may well wonder who, and for what purpose would cargo be transported to and from the Hall during that period – smuggling maybe, or just bringing provisions for the Hall, farm and the estate?

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This more modern map shows the dyke from the River Bure leading up to Fishley Hall; in fact, it had its own turning basin so that boats could unload, or load, a cargo and turn round and go back to the river. Image: Ordnance Survey, licence CC BY SA 4.0.

A clue may lie with William Luson himself – pure speculation of course! He was indeed a wealthy merchant who came from a staunchly non-conformist family and had lived in Great Yarmouth; he had made his money, legitimately one must suppose, from trading with Holland. He could, therefore, well afford to purchase Fishley Hall; which he did in 1712, from the previous owners who were the Pepys family of Impington near Cambridge. They were distant cousins of the famous diarist, Samuel Pepy, and had created their own wealth as lawyers in London.

By 1724, William Luson, was also the owner of the much larger Gunton Hall and its estate near Lowestoft, making him the lord of the manor of Gunton. This ancient title also gave salvage rights to the owner to anything washed ashore from sea wrecks which, over the centuries, were numerous. Is there a link here with the then William Luson and his Fishley Hall mooring facility?

In his Will of 1731, William Luson bequeathed everything, including both estates to his second son, Hewling Luson. Again, none of the Luson family came to live at Fishley Hall. Instead, Hewling continued to live at Gunton Hall in Suffolk, with the same entitlements. It was during his period there when he is credited with the discovery of a seam of clay on his land which was said to have been used later in the making of the famous Lowestoft Porcelain.

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A portrait of Hewling Luson (of Gunton, near Lowestoft) at an approximate age of 11 years, dated 1723. Painted by John Theodore Heins (1697-1756). Public Domain.

The story goes, according to the Suffolk historian Gillingwater, that the Lowestoft factory that was later established, came about under remarkable and somewhat romantic circumstances. It began when, around 1756, Hewling Luson befriended a shipwrecked Dutch mariner and provided him with accommodation at Gunton Hall until such time as the sailor was able to return to his own country.

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Teabowl and saucer, c. 1770, with a version of the “Redgrave” pattern. Images: Wikipedia.

On walking over his estate one day with the sailor, the latter noticed some clay which had been newly turned up, and remarked to his host:

“They make Delft-ware of that in my country.”

Acting upon this comment, Hewling was said to have taken the first steps towards experimenting with actually making porcelain. Gillingwater’s account also stated that Hewling’s pottery experiment seemed to have been reasonably accurate, but there was no actual indication of the whereabouts of the clay deposit used, or indeed whether this was the source actually used later by the Lowestoft Porcelain factory. Nevertheless, the account forms the basis of our knowledge of events today.

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Lowestoft Porcelain Teapot, c. 1770. Wikipedia.

A year later, around 1757, the Lowestoft Porcelain Factory was founded by the partnership of Messrs. Walker, Aldred, Richman, and Brown; it did not include Hewling Luson, although he clearly knew his tenant, the above Philip Walker, who became the principal of the new company. As for Hewling thereafter; by the October of 1761 he became bankrupt and his Gunton Hall estate and the Fishley estate in Norfolk was sold to Sir Charles Saunders.

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Sir Charles Saunders by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Wikipedia.

Hewling Luson remained in Lowestoft until at least 1765 when the Manor Roll records that:

“Robert Luson was admitted to the Fish Houses in the occupation of Hewling Luson, late of Gunton and now of Lowestoft” and, according to Gillingwater was “one of the town’s herring boat owners.” By 1777 Hewling had moved to Bethnal Green in London and died there.

THE END.

Sources Include:
https://norfolktalesmyths.com/2020/11/07/fishley-a-story-of-an-estate
https://archive.org/stream/historyantiquiti02suck/historyantiquiti02suck_djvu.txthttps://www.ornaverum.org/family/stewart-smith/hewling-luson.htmlhttps://chestofbooks.com/food/household/Woman-Encyclopaedia-2/The-Romance-Of-Old-China-Real-Lowestoft-Porcelain.html#VaKepRDbLGI

 

Mr Marten Visits Norfolk!

By Haydn Brown

This blog revises and adds to a previous blog, titled: Mr Marten Pays a Visit to Norwich!

Robert Humphrey Marten, to give him his full name, came to Norfolk in September 1825 on a 24-day tour of at least a section of the County which took in Yarmouth, Norwich, Cromer and finally ending with a few days of ‘country delights’ in an unspecified house and location where the family could enjoy shooting, musical evenings, riding, and some fine dining. His intention was to provide ‘heath and pleasure’ for himself, his wife, Emma and daughter Sarah; in this, the party were ably assisted by the family servant. Today we would class them as well-healed tourists.

Mr Marten (Steam Packet )1
An illustration of a typical steam packet that plied its trade along the east coast of England, bringing on at least one occasion, a certain Mr Marten to Norfolk.

Mr Marten, who was something of an avid diarist and gifted artist; however, he tells us little about himself. It has been left to future researchers to establish more about his personal details and character. Neverthe less, it seems that Robert was clearly a caring man, his kindness well in evidence in the pages with small acts of kindness. Also, although a serious and deeply religious man, he did seem to possess a ‘cheeky’ sense of humour, alongside his amusement, on several occasions during his travels, of the tactics employed by the smarter element of Norfolk locals to profit from visitors! But there was much more to this man.

Mr Marten (Family Gathering)
An English family at Tea by Van Aken. Painting and Image: Tate Britain

The basic facts of Mr Marten were that he was born on 21 March 1763 in London, the second eldest in a typically large family for the time. His father, Nathaniel, was a Mile End pastry cook and his mother was Martha Clarkson.  The family attended Congregationalist meetings and family prayers and religious instruction were commonplace in his home.

He married three times, but it was only his second marriage, to Elizabeth Giles in July 1791, that gave him children. At first, the couple lived on a small income, meaning that they had to practice economy – with no partying permitted; instead, they followed the advice of their church, working hard, praying hard and striving to remain cheerful despite their circumstances. But he was to advance in business and fortune, and with improving finances came the opportunity to move to larger premises, first at No. 64 Great Prescott Street in London; it was a comfortable house but with a small garden, of which he seems not to mind. However, by this time, Robert had established himself in maritime insurance, an occupation which had, for centuries, been the most dominant and important line of business. It followed that he became a partner with the company Smith St Barbe & Marten, marking a great step forward for this ambitious 30-year-old. To this firm’s main business,  he was responsible for adding the care and disposal of salvaged ships, a big money earner during the ensuing wars with France.

Mr Marten (Home Plaistow)
Mr Marten’s  ‘Broadway House’ at Plaistow. Image: Credit Elizabeth Larby/Sarah Murden

By April 1807 the family was in a position to move again, this time out to Plaistow and live in a large house called ‘Broadway House’ in what was then a small village east of London; a gardener and various servants completed the now well-to-do household. It seems also that his business career was matched only by his role as a religious leader and a reformer. Politically he worked towards removing legal discrimination against non-members of the Church of England. It is also known that he was a friend of William Wilberforce who is reported to have been a frequent visitor to Broadway House. Continuing his religious role, he also helped to found the Non-Conformist Church in Plaistow.

When his second wife, Elizabeth, died in 1811 Robert Marten wrote of twenty years of ‘mutual happiness’ with the mother of his five grown up children. Two more years were to pass before he found his third wife, Emma, said to have been chosen for her very high character and approved by the children.  It was Emma who accompanied Robert on his 1825 tour of Norfolk; but by then, the demands of business and philanthropy were beginning to take their toll on Mr Marten’s health, hence the need for a break away from business stresses, towards the more bracing and cleaner air of the Norfolk coast with its recently discovered benefits to the constitution.

Mr Marten (Yarmouth)2
Yarmouth Jetty after 1823; a view that Mr Marten would have recognised. By John Constable. Image: Tate Gallery.

Mr Marten simply tells us that, it was on Wednesday 7 September 1825 when he and his party began their tour of Norfolk; leaving from the Custom House steps London and sailing on the Thames-built steam packet ‘Hero’, bound for the County. In little over a day later, they reached the port of Great Yarmouth, having probably enjoyed their mini-cruise more comfortable than any stage-coach journey. Whilst in the town for only a short stay they took the opportunity to visit the more fashionable Gorleston, seemingly a more pleasurable place than its herring-smelt neighbour on the other side of the estuary.

Mr Marten (Yarmouth from Gorleston_William Daniells_Tate)
Yarmouth from Gorleston by William Daniell 1769–1837. Tate Gallery T02936.

On Saturday, 10 September, Mr Marten’s party boarded yet another, but smaller, steam packet vessel which would make its way inland along the river Yare to Norwich; a city laying some 27 miles and a journey time of approximately 5 hours away. It made good time and once alongside Norwich’s quay, they disembarked above Carrow Bridge at Foundary Bridge – the scene of the 1817 steam packet explosion.

Mr Marten ( Yarmouth Steam Packet)
The steam packet departing Yarmouth for Norwich by John Crome. Picture: Archant Archives

It was probably likely that Robert Marten and his party would have been picked up by a hotel employed vehicle and conveyed into the city; in this instance, it was to the Norfolk Hotel at 25 St Giles in the city centre near the Market Place; here they booked in for a several-day stay. The idea of picking up visitors made good business sense to the hotels of Norwich; particularly, fourteen years later, when trains operated to and from Norwich. The station would be at Thorpe which, incidentally, was the very site of the once Ranelagh Gardens and the point where Mr Marten and his party disembarked in 1825.

Mr Marten (Foundary Bridge)2
Foundry Bridge in the 1820’s, the point of Mr Marten’s arrival in Norwich. Painted by Robert Ladbooke (1768 – 1842) . Norfolk Museums Service.

Mr Marten and his party were clearly set on taking every opportunity during their stay in the city to explore all its facets; however, high on their list was their need to attend various places of worship. The first opportunity to do this was during their first full day in Norwich, which was a Sunday. They attended morning service at the old St Mary’s Baptist Chapel near Duke Street. It seems that they were a very devout family for during the evening they attended yet another service at the Princes Street Chapel.

Mr Marten ( Princes Street Independant)1
Princes Street Independent Chapel, built 1819.
Mr Marten ( St Marys Baptist)1
The present-day ‘Norwich Central Baptist Church’ (formerly St Mary’s Baptist Church). Photo: Evelyn Simak.

Clearly, two visits to a religious establishment in a week was not enough for Mr Marten, for he and his party headed for the ‘solemn grandeur’ of Norwich Cathedral on the Monday morning to attend the 9.45am Matins. Marten described the service as “the same as in other Cathedrals” – this comment may well suggest that he was an Anglian, but one who enjoyed visiting different places of worship. He went on to say in his diary:

“There were scarcely a dozen persons besides the ecclesiastics who officiated. The building is in fair preservation considering that it has been [in use] since the year 1096. The interior is very clean and from the magnitude and architecture presents to the eye a solemn grandeur. The Courts & inclosures and ancient houses around it are also kept in that order & have that still and quiet aspect & that appearance of retirement & comfort which is usually found around Country Cathedrals.”

Mr Marten (Norwich cathedral)
Sillett, James; Norwich Cathedral, Norfolk; Norfolk Museums Service;

Mr Marten also took a particular interest in Meeting House buildings and attended a sermon by Mr Joseph Kinghorn, although:

“His preaching was not to us so satisfactory…….He appeared to be more the preacher than the minister or pastor. His pronunciation is very broad…….Mr Kinghorn is a thin tall old gentleman, very plain in his attire, simple in appearance, of acknowledged talents and has entered the lists in controversy with Robert Hall of Leicester on the subject of open communion which is advocated by the latter and opposed by the former.”

Mr Marten (Joseph_Kinghorn)
Joseph Kinghorn, Preacher.
Mr Marten (Old Meeting House)1
The Old Meeting House, Colgate, Norwich. Photos: (c) George Plunkett.

On Tuesday, 13 September 1825, Marten and his family continued their tour of Norwich but found the stones with which the Norwich streets were paved very annoying; this would seem to be a strange reaction to a material that had long been widely used for laying road and pavements in many other towns and cities. Nevertheless, they prevailed and on the same day, obtained permission to:

“mount the top of the elevated castle in order to have a panoramic view of the City and the hills which surround it, but we were dissuaded on account of the wind blowing so strong that it would be difficult to stand against it”.

Mr Marten (Norwich)1
View of Norwich from Mousehold Heath. By John Walker after Charles Catton junior, Norwich. Engraving from The Itinerant, published 1 March 1792
British Museum, London © The Trustees of the British Museum.

However, they did manage to walk round the castle to where it was “loft enough to afford a view over the houses to the distant hills.” From high on the castle they counted 23 steeples of the 36 churches which the Map of Norwich stated to be within the city. The view “prolonged our stay because of the pleasure we enjoyed”.

“We then walked about the large city & came by St Giles Church into Heigham, and called on Mr Grout who permitted us to go through his important Silk Manufactory. The works are in several floors and the winding twisting bobbings are by machinery moved by a beautiful 20-horsepower engine. These operations are watched and conducted by more than seventy females, some so young as 7 to 8 years of age. These are on foot from seven in the morning till eight in the evening watching the threads, repairing the broken & seeing that all go on well – occasionally supplying oil where wanted to prevent evil from friction. Only that they have half an hour to breakfast & an hour for dinner. And these little girls earn some 5 shillings, some 5 shillings/6d a week.”

Mr Marten (Silk Weaving)1
Female silk weavers at work in 1893. The industry in Norwich was founded by Huguenot refugees – ‘Strangers’  ( Getty Images )

“We were then shewn the winding into warp – the subsequent Beaming – & the reeds for the weaving & were informed that a-yard-wide crape has in that breadth 2560 single twisted threads of silk. We then saw one of the female superintendents at her crape loom, and afterwards the turners shop where nine men were employed in preparing Bobbins etc. for the factory here & the much larger [factory] which Mr Grout is now erecting at Yarmouth. The silk used here is principally from Bengal but part was the white silk from China………Seeing a loom going in a private house as we passed, we asked the woman who was weaving Norwich crape & learned that she could, by close application, weave eleven yards each day – but we omitted to ask her earnings by that work.”

Where Mr Marten and family ate and refreshed themselves between forays is not known but they kept going throughout each day. This included walking towards the north of the City until they reached its outskirts and fields beyond and “found the population lively”. They remained clearly amazed by the number of churches around:

“so abounding that the eye could scarcely fail to see two or three whichever way it turned. Many of these were flint faced and some of them with squared flints very carefully cut & nicely laid” – They even counted eleven steeples from their hotel windows.

Mr Marten (Flint_st-miles-coslany)
Flint work in and around a replica window motif at St Michael (Miles) Coslany, Norwich. Photo: Courtesy of Reggie Unthank.

Their stay was also to include walks through both the eastern and southern parts of the city where they saw “many very large & elegant houses.” Marten even picked up on the fact that Norwich was in the process of building a new prison at the top end of St Giles, in an area now occupied by the Roman Catholic Cathedral. One wing of the new prison was expected to open for business later that year and Marten was sufficiently interested in the site to request a visit. He went on to write:

“We were admitted to go over the whole building. The Governor’s House is in the centre and from several windows he can at all times inspect every part of the prison. The Chapel is in the Governor’s House. His pew is opposite & very close to the Pulpit which is entered from the winding stair case. The Felons are in Pews even with this Governor whose eye may be constantly on them – and the Turnkeys guard the two entrances during the whole of divine services – the Debtors are on the floor of the Chapel and thus everyone can see & hear the Preacher. We were shewn the cells for the Felons who are confined at night separately – but they have a Day Room & they have the privilege of the open air in a yard allotted to them. Condemned Felons left for execution have other & still stronger lonesome cells which they are not permitted to leave until the hour when they are taken to the platform over the entrance gate to surrender their forfeited lives to the violated justice of their Country.”

Mr Marten (Norwich Prison)1
The former Norwich Prison; under construction during Mr Marten’s visit to the city in 1825.

Marten’s general impression of the City was favourable, apart of course for those streets which were paved with small pebbles and flints, making walking “uneasy to the foot and on which one unused cannot walk either steadily of comfortably.” Other than that:

“We were not accosted in any of our walks even by a single medicant [a beggar] – Everyone seemed busy and we were told by a Gentleman, a resident, that no complaints were heard and that the manufacturers and general business of the place were in thriving condition. Houses of the third and fourth rate & some even beneath these were buildings to a great extension of Norwich, a circumstance which marks many other cities beside this.”

Norfolk Hotel (c1820)

Marten’s final comments, as he prepared his party for their departure from Norwich, was to say that their stay had been pleasant and:

“the Norfolk Hotel intitled to praise for the goodness of its provisions – the neatness of its accommodation……..and attention of its conductors & servants. We were also perfectly satisfied with the reasonableness of its charges. We left the Hotel at 20 minutes before 4 o’clock in the stage for Cromer……….”

THE END

Sources:
Twinch, C., Norwich Book of Days, The History Press, 2012
Reeve, Christopher, (pages 169-172) Norwich The Biography, Amberley Publishing, 2014.
Norwich Record Office. 
https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2019/01/15/pleasure-gardens/
Photo (Feature Heading): The Yare at Thorpe, Norwich. circa 1806 by John Crome.
The George Plunket photographs are by kind permission of Jonathan Plunkett.
Robert Humphrey Marten | Morgan Web Site (morganfourman.com)
https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2021/01/20/a-georgian-tourist-the-1825-travel-diary-of-robert-humphrey-marten-revealed/

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Darwin Considered Him an Ass!

By Haydn Brown.

ROBERT McCORMICK was a British Royal Navy ship’s surgeon, explorer and naturalist. He was born on 22 July 1800 at Runham, a village near to Great Yarmouth in the County of Norfolk, England. John Marius Wilson’s 19th century ‘Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales’ described Runham as such:

“RUNHAM, a village and a parish in the Flegg district of Norfolk. The village stands near the river Bure, at the Runham-Swim Ferry, 4½ miles W N W of Yarmouth and was once a market-town. The parish includes a detached portion, called New Runham or Vauxhall, immediately adjoining Yarmouth, and on which fish-offices, manure-works, and the terminus of the Norwich and Yarmouth railway [would be] situated; and it was [to be] re-turned in the Census of 1851 as including also the extra-parochial tract of Nowhere……”

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Robert McCormick was the only son of Robert McCormick, Royal Navy, a ship’s surgeon from Ballyreagh, County Tyrone. Young Robert spent his childhood around Great Yarmouth; he was educated by his mother and sisters. His father had encouraged his son to become a naval executive officer, but the father’s death in the wreck of the HMS ‘Defence’ off the coast of Jutland on 24 December 1811 left Robert junior without the necessary influence and means by which to achieve his father’s desires.

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Two warships, the HMS St. George and the HMS Defence, both part of the British Baltic fleet, ran aground and were lost outside Thorsminde at the west-coast of Jutland on the 24th of December 1811.

It should be said at the outset that Robert McCormick junior was to turn out to be an eccentric and sometimes difficult character. His naval career would disappoint him, and promotion would be slow. Distinction also would elude him for his ambitions were greater than his application to his work. He would regularly invalid himself out of active service and only occasionally seemed to find work that he was keen to undertake. Almost certainly, his ambitions were destined to be thwarted by his own personality, and he was neither to make a great name for himself in the navy nor as a naturalist.

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Sir Astley Paston Cooper from Brooke in Norfolk. Engraved by J.S. Agar from an Drawing by A. Wivell. Image: Public Domain.

Nevertheless, in 1821 young Robert McCormick decided to enter the Royal Navy ‘as the only chance now left me of entering upon a naval life’. He asked to be trained as a surgeon and was accepted as an apprentice by the famous Sir Astley Paston Cooper, also originally from Norfolk. Following his studies in London, namely at Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospitals, he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons on 6 December 1822. The following year, he was assigned to the flagship Queen Charlotte as assistant surgeon.

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Robert McCormick, Age 25 From a portrait drawn on HMS Icarus. McCormick had been invalided out of active service for the first time and was travelling home to England from the West Indies after contracting yellow fever. Source: MacCormick (1884: 2: frontispiece). Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

When Robert McCormick entered the navy, the status of a naval surgeon had risen from that of the turn of the 18th century. He always maintained, however, that his father’s death had left him without enough money or influence to join the ‘executive line’ of the navy; also, his medical training in London would have cost perhaps £200 a year, ‘much the same as a young gentleman at Oxford or Cambridge’. However, it was a fact that a surgeon who had good connections in the Admiralty would have been in a far better position to achieve a successful career – for McCormick it was not to be!

Lack of family influences or fortune aside, McCormick seemed to be incapable to make friends in high places, and it has been argued that his lack of promotion came from antagonising the powerful William Burnett (1779-1861). Burnett sat on the Victualling Board from 1822, and became Director-General of the Medical Department upon its creation in 1832. It was said that Burnett ‘despised the spectacular, the second rate, or the ’dilettante’; but Burnett was not a scientist or a literary man, and seldom promoted those whose interests obviously lay more in the field of geology or botany than medicine. Indeed, McCormick did have more enthusiasm for exploration than for medicine, or natural history – maybe, therefore, he was considered by Burnett as both a ’dilettante’ and second rate!

Certainly, McCormick’s love of the spectacular would not have endeared him to Burnett. The sum total of McCormick was that he was a man with the wrong aptitudes in the wrong place at the wrong time in history. His efforts in natural history, intended to distinguish himself on the Navy’s congested personnel list, antagonised the Admiralty’s Medical Department, and alienated those with the power to advance him. Added to this, McCormick seemed neither good at, nor dedicated to, disciplined natural history collecting. To his further detriment, his dabbling came at the time when both natural history and medicine were growing complex networks. As a qualified but unexceptional naturalist, he had limited capacity for otherwise overcoming his lack of connection to London’s scientific elite. His case reveals the tensions inherent in the position of the ordinary naval surgeon in the mid-19th century – in which one individual performed the roles of doctor, scientist and naval officer, and these roles sometimes came into conflict. These tensions were to be amplified by the presence of the young Charles Darwin on HMS Beagle’s second voyage to South America in 1831.

800px-Robert_McCormick_by_Stephen_Pearce
Robert McCormick, oil portrait by Stephen Pearce, 1856 (National Portrait Gallery, London)

But first, McCormick’s served in the Caribbean where, in 1825, he contracted yellow fever and was invalided home. He then spent two years as medical officer to shore stations. Then, in 1827, he gained his first experience in the Arctic with William Edward Parry aboard the HMS ‘Hecla’ to Spitsbergen. Although he was not a member of Parry’s unsuccessful polar sledge party, he did contribute significantly to the expedition by keeping the crew healthy and by studying the plants, animals, and geology of Spitsbergen. Following this expedition, he was promoted to the rank of surgeon and then spent a year on half pay, after which he was assigned to the HMS Hyacinth and Caribbean duty, only to be invalided home again in 1830. By May 1831 Francis Beaufort was looking for suitable personnel for a survey expedition to South America. McCormick appeared well qualified, and was recruited as ship’s surgeon for the second voyage of HMS Beagle under Captain Robert FitzRoy.

While the preparations of the Beagle progressed in late October, McCormick met Charles Darwin who had been given an unofficial place on board as a self-funded gentleman naturalist who would be a companion to Captain FitzRoy. Darwin wrote telling his university tutor John Stevens Henslow about McCormick:

“My friend the Doctor is an ass, but we jog on very amicably: at present he is in great tribulation, whether his cabin shall be painted French Grey or a dead white— I hear little except this subject from him”.

Robert McCormick (HMS Beagle)
HMS Beagle in the Straits of Magellan. Image: Wikipedia.

When the voyage got under way, their first landfall was at St. Jago in the Cape Verde Islands in January 1832. McCormick and Darwin walked into the countryside together, and Darwin, influenced by Charles Lyell’s ideas on geology, found the surgeon’s approach old-fashioned:

“He was a philosopher of rather an antient date; at St Jago by his own account, he made general remarks during the first fortnight and collected particular facts during the last.”

McCormick became increasingly frustrated when FitzRoy took Darwin onshore, leaving McCormick behind and thereby denying him an opportunity for collecting. The last straw came at Rio de Janeiro in April 1832, when FitzRoy arranged for McCormick ‘s collection to be packaged and sent back to England. McCormick was also invalided home; he recalled in his memoirs of 1884:

“Having found myself in a false position on board a small and very uncomfortable vessel, and very much disappointed in my expectations of carrying out my natural history pursuits, every obstacle having been placed in the way of my getting on shore and making collections, I got permission from the admiral in command of the station here to be superseded and allowed a passage home in H.M.S. Tyne.”

McCormick’s upcoming return to England on 29 April 1832 gave Darwin the chance to send post home. He began a letter to his sister, Caroline, where he referred to McCormick, his former colleague:

“I take the opportunity of Maccormick [sic] returning to England, being invalided, ie. being disagreeable to the Captain & Wickham. – He is no loss.”

When HMS Tyne sailed, McCormick was unaware that he was conveying home not only Darwin’s letter, but also his opinion of him. Probably comfortable in his ignorance of Darwin’s words, McCormick settled into yet another ‘sabbatical’ before being posted once more to the Caribbean; only to suffer a further attack of yellow fever, for which he was sent home in 1834. For the next four years he was unattached except for one month aboard the HMS Terror in relief of ice-bound whalers.

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HMS Erebus and Terror in the Antarctic ice pack, from A Voyage of Discovery and Research, by James Clark Ross, engraving, 1847 (Linda Hall Library)

In 1839 McCormick successfully applied for duty with the expedition of James Clark Ross to the Antarctic as surgeon and zoologist aboard HMS Terror. The expedition lasted from September 1839 until September 1843; during this time, it managed to undertake much important work in all branches of science from the Antarctic, through to Australia and New Zealand. The large collections of zoological materials obtained were catalogued later – but not by McCormick! The task was undertaken by John Edward Gray and Sir John Richardson, on orders from the Admiralty following the discovery that the task had been left undone after the expedition.

Here was another example of McCormick’s apparent lack of drive and skills; also, the scientific ability, to cope with such a massive collection. Small wonder then when he did gain some recognition with his election, in 1844, as an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons – a different field of course. Then, during the following year, McCormick received what he thought was a life-time appointment; that of surgeon to the yacht William and Mary. To his dismay, however, the commission was changed and he was assigned to the Woolwich Dockyard, east of London; but even in this post he was to be disappointed when, in 1849, he was superseded.

It seems not generally known that Robert McCormick was a proponent of the search for Sir John Franklin, and he was one of the first to lay detailed plans for such an expedition before the Admiralty and the House of Commons. He advocated the use of small boats and sledges to explore Wellington Channel, the Boothia Peninsula and King William Island. However, whilst his suggestions, were well based on Arctic and Antarctic experience, they were ‘unofficial’, coming as they did from a medical officer and not a line officer; inevitably, they were rejected! It was left to Francis Leopold McClintock to later demonstrate and prove that McCormick was correct!

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In 1851 McCormick was appointed surgeon on the North Star in the search fleet of Sir Edward Belcher . At last, his life-long ambition was realised: for during this expedition, he became officer in command of a party. In August and September 1852, he explored the Wellington Channel, in a boat named Forlorn Hope, covering 240 statute miles. He did not find any trace of Franklin’s ships, Erebus and Terror, but did map the east side of the channel and establish the probability of a connection between Baring Bay and Jones Sound, virtually proving that Franklin had proceeded westward from Beechey Island.

5
Robert McCormick, Age 52, in Full Dress Uniform. McCormick seems to have had a lifelong interest in his appearance. His diary entry for 3 June 1832, while returning to England on HMS Tyne, reads: ‘Mustered in blue trousers’. Years later, in his early eighties, he was seen by RB Sharpe at the British Museum dressed like someone from a ‘bygone age’, in a ‘swallow-tail coat… with gilt buttons and trousers of a ‘pronounced shepherd’s plaid. Source: McCormick (1884: 1: frontispiece). Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

McCormick was awarded the Arctic Medal in 1857 and then, in 1859, he was finally promoted to Deputy Inspector-General. This was his last rise in rank and he was placed on the retired list in 1865, and in 1876 received a Greenwich Hospital pension of £80 per annum through the good offices of his friend, the medical director-general, Sir Alexander Armstrong, himself an old Arctic hand. In 1884 McCormick published his ‘Voyages of Discovery in the Arctic and Antarctic seas, and Round the World’. Despite excellent illustrations, sound scholarship, and an interesting narrative, it came too late to arouse much interest – most of the information was already well known and the incidents were too remote for acclamation.

McCormick, in fact, spent the last 20 years of his life in relative obscurity. He had failed either to reach the top in the naval medical service or to become a distinguished biologist. He displayed stamina and competence in exploration but had little opportunity to engage in it except, perhaps, during the North Star expedition. His troubles in the Admiralty have been attributed to a lack of tact and a strong individualism which resulted in frequent disagreements with each of the medical directors-general of his time, especially Sir William Burnett. The yellow fever he contracted and his dislike of small ships led him to avoid assignments to the Caribbean, even to the point of insubordination. However, these characteristics do not explain his scientific failure. McCormick was on good terms with many influential scientists of the day, including Sir John Barrow, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, and Sir Charles Lyell, and had opportunities to make his mark, but he did not display the single-mindedness, patience, and learning.

McCormick’s only claim to fame was that his name was given to several natural features: in the Antarctic, to Cape McCormick by Ross; in the Arctic, to McCormick Bay by Beaufort and McCormick Inlet by McClintock; and in northwest Greenland, to a valley. McCormick was proud of having his portrait painted in 1853 by Stephen Pearce, one of a series planned on the commanders in the Franklin search. He thought it a harbinger of a distinguished future, but, in the event, the Forlorn Hope was his first, last, and only command.

In his last years, McCormick lived in a Wimbledon house he named Hecla Villa, after the ship on which he sailed with Parry, and the class of ships that included the HMS Erebus. His living companions included a duck named ‘the Duchess’, and a sparrow named Polly. McCormick died at Hecla Villa on 28 October 1890 – He never achieved the desired rank of Inspector-General.

THE END

 Sources Include:
Biography – McCORMICK, ROBERT – Volume XI (1881-1890) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography (biographi.ca)
bshs_monograph_14_9780906450185_Steel_2011.pdf

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The Unfortunate Demise of Tomkins.

By Haydn Brown.

Oliver Fellows Tomkins, to give him his full name, was born in Great Yarmouth in 1873, the fourth son of the Daniel Tomkins.  His formal education began in his father’s school in the town before travelling to Switzerland for a short time to complete it. He then spent five years working in business in Norwich, during which time he joined Dr George Barrett’s Congregational Church in Princes Street. Later, Tomkins become a student at Dr Henry Grattan Guinness’ Training College in London where he took a medical course.

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Portrait_Wikipedia)
Oliver Fellows Tomkins (1873–1901). Image: Wikimedia.

The original Princes Street Congregational Church was opened in 1819 with John Alexander becoming its “Founder and First Pastor”, and one of the most popular ministers in and around Norwich from 1819 to 1866 at what is now the United Reformed Church. Dr George Barrett took over the church reigns following the death of Revd John Alexander.

Princes Street Church_EDP
United Reformed Church in Princes Street, Norwich.
The site on which the original Princes Street Congregational Church was built used to be a yard of densely populated tenement houses grouped around a central courtyard. However, within a short time, the roof was found to be unsafe and alterations were made in 1828 with some buildings situated behind the church modified and incorporated into the subsequent Church Rooms. The church was further altered and partially rebuilt in 1881 by Edward Boardman, a Deacon of the Church, and its present facade dates from this time. The roof was raised and a plasterwork ceiling installed. In 1927 the traditional box pews were replaced by the present pine pews with umbrella racks. Photo: EDP.

Tomkins was clearly smitten with evangelism for during college holidays and half-terms, he would preach to the North Sea fishermen and volunteer for mission work in English country villages, travelling to each in a caravan, whilst camping at night. He was therefore delighted when, eventually he was appointed to work as a missionary in the Torres Straits of New Guinea. Half of his financial support for this mission was paid for by members of the Home Magazine Missionary Band which helped to pay enthusiastic bearers of ‘God’s word’ to go to many far-flung places in the world.

Tomkins sailed with the Reverend Albert Pearse in December 1899; they were to join the Scottish-born missionary James Chalmers in New Guinea, the territory where Chalmers himself was to ignore calls from his friends to leave and return to England when his second wife died. His refusal, along with the arrival of Tomkins was to have consequences for both of them some sixteen months later.

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Portrait_James-Chalmers-1887)
James Chalmers. Photo: Public Domain.

But for the moment, Chalmers was pleased with the arrival of Tomkins, who would share the burden of his large district. According to Chalmers:

“Throughout Mrs. Chalmers’s last illness, Tomkins [was] “a great help and a great comfort.” No son could have treated me kindlier than he did.”

In his young colleague Tomkins, Chalmers saw reasons for hoping that he might have more time to return to his pioneer work. A few months after Tomkins’s arrival, Chalmers again sent a brief message to the Mission House regarding Tomkins: “He will do”; and that opinion was confirmed again, and again in the months that followed. Dr. William George Lawes  was to call them, “the intrepid Paul and the beloved Timothy.”

But we move on – to 7 April 1901 to be exact. This was when Tomkins and Chalmers were on board the ‘Niue’ and had arrived at the Aird River at Kisk Point on Goaribari Island. The last entry in Tomkins’ diary indicates what happened next:

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Portrait_EDP Library)
Oliver Fellows Tomkins (1873–1901). Image: Wikimedia.

“In the afternoon we were having a short service with the crew, when about twenty canoes were seen approaching ……. They hesitated as they got nearer to us, till we were able to assure them that we meant peace. Gradually one or two of the more daring ones came closer, and then alongside, till at last one ventured on board. Then, in a very few minutes, we were surrounded by canoes, and our vessel was covered with them …… On this, our first visit, we were able to do really nothing more than establish friendly relations with the people. They stayed on board about three hours, examining everything, from the ship’s rigging to our shirt buttons. They tried hard to persuade us to come ashore in their canoes, but we preferred to spend the night afloat, and promised we would visit their village in the morning.”

Neither of the Niue two missionaries, nor the twelve native Christians who accompanied them were seen after this visit to the natives. What really happened was only ascertained a month later, when George Le Hunte, Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony, visited the Aird River with a punitive expedition, and heard the story from a captured prisoner. This was quoted from an account supplied by the Rev Archibald Ernest Hunt, who accompanied the Lieutenant-Governor:

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Native)2
Natives of New Guinea. Image: Public Domain.

“The Niue anchored off Kisk Point on 7 April and a crowd of natives came off. As it was near sunset, ‘Tamate’ [the native name for John Chalmers] gave them some presents, and made signs that they were to go away, and the next day he would visit them ashore. At daylight the next morning, a great crowd of natives came off and crowded the vessel in every part. They refused to leave, and in order to induce them to do so, Tamate gave Bob, the captain, orders to give them presents. Still, they refused to move, and then Tamate said he would go ashore with them, and he told Tomkins to remain on board. The latter declined, and went ashore with Tamate, followed by a large number of canoes. When they got ashore, the whole party were massacred and their heads cut off. The boat was smashed up, and the clothing etc. distributed. All the bodies were distributed and eaten, Tomkins being eaten at the village of Dopima, where they were all killed.”

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Memorial Plot_Jamie Honeywood)
Memorial to Oliver Fellows Tomkins at the Great Yarmouth Minster. Photo: Jamie Honeywood

But just like most stories aimed at a reading public; the writers kept to the old adage ‘don’t let the facts spoil a good story’! One suggested that the ships party was invited back to the native’s village and into a newly constructed ‘Dubu’ for refreshments; clearly, if this was true, the two did not recognise the significance of entering such a communal house – which was for fighting men and could not be used without consecration by a human sacrifice! Tomkins and Chalmers were clearly ‘taken in’ by the welcome; neither could they have seen any meaning behind the piles of human skulls nestled around the crude wooden idols in the corner of the hut, a picture of stark contrast!

True or false, it was the case that other fellow missionaries had already reported similar sights elsewhere; of smoke-blackened human jaw bones dangling from the rafters of village huts, smoke-dried human flesh and notches in trees which denoted the number of humans who had been cooked and eaten in a community. So, some may have thought, what on earth were the two men thinking, when clearly it was common knowledge that there were cannibalistic traditions in the region, a place where the missionaries were trying to bring the word of God!

But for Tomkins and Chalmers it would be too late; no sooner had they taken their places, seated at ground level along one side of the large laid-out spread, when each was clubbed from behind and killed. It was also said that their bodies were prepared and cooked with a variety of sago dishes, cooked with shell-fish, boiled with bananas, roasted on stones, baked in the ashes and tied up in leaves, – to be served as the main course, a feast that had been promised to the victims! Afterwards, their bones were kept on display and seemingly, the native’s ‘Dubu’ house had been suitably blessed by their preferred Gods!

Oliver Fellow Tomkins(Plaque)
Memorial Plaque in Princes Street URC. Photo: Simon Knott.

Back home, relatives and friends undoubtedly mourned the loss of Oliver Tomkins and the church he once worshiped in, the Princes Street Congregational Church, held a memorial service for Tomkins. Members afterwards subscribed to a plaque which they placed inside the church building in his memory; it remains there to this day.

THE END

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Norfolk in Brief: Caister’s Watch House.

By Haydn Brown

Thomas Clowes, solicitor and reputed Lord of the Manor, was a popular Caister resident in the mid-19th-Century. He not only had charitable leanings towards the inmates of Yarmouth gaol, but also built, in 1834, the first purpose-built school in Caister, known as the ‘Fear God School’, along with two small alms houses in Beach Road, known as the ‘Widows Homes – that was in 1856.

Watch House (Caister)6
The Clowes Alms Houses today. Photo: Minors & Brady, Caister.

Thomas Clowes also seemed to have had a close relationship with the local beachmen. For instance; in 1846, the beachmen asked for permission to build a new Watch House, Store and Lookout on the sand hills north of The Gap. This was the name given to a low point in the sand hills where the track from the village to the beach, now Beach Road, passed through the hills to reach the beach. This area traditionally belonged to the Manor – and therefore Thomas Clowes. He gave his immediate approval, but with the proviso that he should receive a ‘fortieth’ share of the salvage income from the beach company. Now, salvage income traditionally doled out to beach companies was as ‘fortieth’ shares, in what was something of a complicated and secretive system. Members of the company received one or more shares depending on the part they had played in a particular salvage incident. In the mid-nineteenth century the annual income from a company share was often a considerable sum of money.

Watch House (Caister)1
This photograph of the 1880’s show members of the beach company on the steps of the Caister Watch House. Photo: Courtesy of Colin Tooke.

As soon as the Lookout and Store had been erected the beachmen bought a 60-foot ship’s mast and erected it next to the new Watch House; the former mast had a small box on the top from where the ‘lookout man’ could keep a watch for shipping in distress during bad weather. In 1864 a writer described the Watch House as:

“the beachmen’s parliament house where the affairs of the nation……… are discussed, accounts settled and business transacted”.

Its ground floor was used as a carpenter’s shop, and it was where a George Vincent made oars, masts and a variety of other items including wooden “goodwives washing tubs”. At the rear of the building, they hung an old ships bell which was used as a call-out signal when the lifeboat was to be launched.

Watch House (Caister)2
This postcard image shows the tall mast with its ‘lookout’ at the top; the call out bell is out of sight at the rear of the building. Image: Courtesy of Colin Tooke.

It was said that after Thomas Clowes died his widow, Maria, moved to Yarmouth where, in 1918, she sold the title of Lord of the Manor by auction. The title was bought by a Yarmouth man, Anthony Francis Traynier who, having lived in London for a while returned to live in Gorleston; however, he did not have the same level of interest in Caister as that previously shown by the late Thomas Clowes. By 1924, a beach company’s ‘fortieth’ share of any salvage was almost worthless – nothing more than about £10 per annum. Then there was the fact that in 1924, Caister was fast becoming an established holiday resort, with most of the land at the end of Beach Road, near the Gap, developed.

Watch House (Caister)3
This image is an engraving, from the 1880 London Gazette, of the first floor interior of the  Watch House, Image: Courtesy of Colin Tooke.

The old Watch House now stood in the way of any further development and Trainier, in September 1934, gave the beachmen six months’ notice to give up possession of Watch House and Lookout, which they had occupied for some 87 years. The beachmen disputed this Notice, but a subsequent court case decision in April 1935 ruled against them and the beachmen had to move; the building was soon demolished. For his part, Traynier agreed to surrender his claim to any share in future salvage.

Watch House (Caister)5

The former Manor House (above) is believed to have once been owned by Thomas Clowes of this story. It was built around 1793 and was converted into a hotel in 1894 – extended to have 36 bedrooms in the 1920’s. However, around 1941 the building was abandoned because of coastal erosion; it was completely destroyed soon afterwards. Today, only its bricks may be found on the beach.

THE END

(Source: The above is based on an article by Colin Tooke; and the banner heading image above is ‘Caister, Norfolk’ by Reuben Bussey, 1879.)

The Brigatine Captain and a Pirate!

By Haydn Brown.

First, an Explanation:
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

“Pirate is the most general of the four terms. Originating with the Greek peiratēs, meaning brigand, it can be applied to a wide range of nautical misbehaviour, including coastal raiding and intercepting ships on high seas. Robbery, kidnapping, and murder all qualify as piratical activities, provided there’s some water and a boat involved. If there’s no water and no boat, you’re just a regular bandit. If there’s a boat but no water, you need to go back to pirate school.”

A privateer was a pirate with papers. As the name suggests, privateers were private individuals commissioned by governments to carry out quasi-military activities. They would sail in privately owned armed ships, robbing merchant vessels and pillaging settlements belonging to a rival country. The most famous of all privateers is probably English admiral Francis Drake, who made a fortune plundering Spanish settlements in the Americas after being granted a privateering commission by Elizabeth I in 1572. The use of privateers allowed states to project maritime power beyond the capabilities of their regular navies, but there were trade-offs. Because privateering was generally a more lucrative occupation than military service, it tended to divert manpower and resources away from regular navies.

Bartleman (Pirates)2

Privateering could be shady business, and this accounts for some of the lexical overlap with the word pirate. Privateers sometimes went beyond their commissions, attacking vessels that didn’t belong to the targeted country. This extracurricular raiding and pillaging were indistinguishable from piracy as defined above. At other times, outlaw pirates would operate with the tacit encouragement of a government but without the written legal authorization given to privateers. In historical settings where these practices were common, the line between privateer and pirate was blurred.

Our Story:
As youngsters we were brought up on romantic swashbuckling tales of pirates sailing in various exotic parts of the world; then there were movies such as “Treasure Island” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”. No one ever told us that being a pirate in the cold waters of the North Sea could be just as profitable, and just as violent, – as happened, for instance, on the morning of Wednesday, 31 January 1781 when a large brigantine, the “Alexander & Margaret” was heading for London laden with coals. David Bartleman was its captain with Daniel MacAulay as his mate.

Bartleman (Brigatine)1
A Two-Masted Brigatine – similar to Bartleman’s “Alexander & Margaret” . Image: ArtUK.

At about six o’clock on that January morning a Cutter, carrying eighteen 4-pounders plus a crew of upwards of 100 men commanded by the notorious English pirate Daniel (John?) Fall, emerged out of the mist and attacked the brigantine just off Cromer on the edge of the North Norfolk coast. Bartleman and his crew courageously defended their ship and did manage to beat off what was a first assault by Fall; it was an effort which no doubt raised the moral of the men – at least temporarily.

Bartleman (Cutter)1
An 18th century Cutter – similar to that employed by Fall.

This success did indeed turn out to be short lived for barely two hours later Fall’s Cutter attacked again. This second skirmish continued for a further two hours until the brigantine became totally disabled with Daniel MacAulay, the mate, dying from the loss of blood and Bartleman also seriously wounded, some of the remaining crew less so; two small boys, apparently, escaped injury. It was clear that there was no option other than for Bartleman to strike a ransom with Daniel Fall; a ransom reputed to have been around 400 guineas. This agreement allowed Bartleman to bring his proud but shattered vessel into Great Yarmouth, which lay approximately thirty miles south-east of the skirmish area. Two weeks later, on the 14th February 1781 and at an age of barely 25 years, David Bartleman died as a consequence of his wounds and was buried in the parish churchyard of St Nicholas Church, in Great Yarmouth. To commemorate the gallantry of his son’s death, plus the bravery of his faithful mate, and at the same time mark the infamy of Fall the pirate, his father Alexander Bartleman ordered a stone to be erected over his son’s grave. At the foot of this stone is the following epitaph:

“Twas great. His foe though strong was infamous – the foe of human kind
A manly indignation fired his breast
Thank God my son has done his duty”.

On Saturday, 3 February 1781 the Ipswich Journal recorded this and other similar incidents by Fall:

“Yesterday the noted pirate Fall made his appearance to the North of this coast, and has taken a number of colliers and coasters; amongst which are the following:

The ‘John Pearson’ of Shields, ransomed for 700 guineas.
‘Smelt Coxon’ of Shields, ransomed for 400 guineas.
‘Fanny Porter’ of Yarmouth ransomed for 300 guineas.
‘Alexander & Margaret’ from Shields, ransomed for 400 guineas.”

Almost simultaneously, another account emerged from Cromer, picking up on what could have been part of Daniel Fall’s raiding programme in the vacinity of the Norfolk coast during that period, reporting thus:

“On Monday last, 11 fellows, armed with pistols etc landed out of a large boat at Runton, near Cromer, and greatly terrified the inhabitants; but assistance being called from Cromer, [ensured] they were all secured. The account they give of themselves is, that they belonged to a large smuggling vessel, which they were obliged to quit in order to save their lives; but it is supposed they belonged to the noted Daniel FALL, two of them being lately wounded, one of whom is shot through the knee, and the boat they landed from being thirty feet long. It is thought they either came to plunder, or surprise some unarmed vessel. William Windham, Esq. of Felbrigg, sent for Captain Bracey, of the impress service in this city, who accompanied by his gang, safely conducted them to town, [where] they were examined before Roger Kerrison, Esq., who committed them to Norwich Castle. They all prove to be Englishmen. (February 1781).”

Bartleman (Privateering)
Image: Wikipedia.

The Norfolk Chronicle also picked up on the theme of Fall in the following two reports; on one hand you have Fall, the pirate, and on the other hand, you have Captain Steward, the ‘good guy’ :

“Yarmouth, Feb 1, 1781. On Thursday, about twelve o’clock, the ‘Dreadnought’, with Privateer, Captain Timothy Steward, Commander of 14 carriage guns, and 50 men, went to sea………he saw a large brigantine from Shields (known now to be the ‘Alexander & Margaret……..which was taken this morning about six o’clock)………Within half an hour, another large vessel, laden with coals, passed our roads and which was also taken this morning……and ransomed for five hundred guineas. The Captains of the above vessels say, they were taken by that notorious villain FALL, who had on board his ship at that time thirteen Ransomers; they supposed that FALL has taken near thirty sail of ships from the North. It is surprising that this villain had not one Frenchman on board.”

“Captain STEWARD, his Officers……. sailed down to a Scotch privateer in the Roads, and would have had its Captain [join him in pursuit of] this audacious pirate, but the Captain refused; then Capt. Steward directly sailed down to the ‘Ranger’ privateer, but the crew refused, as their Captain was not on board and the ship [was] not in proper order for action. Captain STEWARD, had 20 Gentlemen friends on board,……….who volunteered to go in pursuit of FALL, [provided] the ships in view would join the chase; but all refused. The sloop of war, ‘Fly’, was in the Roads, but had fifteen ships under her convoy for Portsmouth. (February 1781)”

Our Ships are Privateers, YOURS are Pirates!:
It depended very much from which side you were looking. Generally speaking, the British ships which preyed on enemy vessels were described as privateers. The enemy’s ships, or those who attacked British vessels, regardless of their own origin, were described as pirates. It made little difference to the treatment given to their victims. Strickly speaking, a privateer had a government commission to carry out commerce raiding against the enemy — a kind of privatised naval warfare — whereas a pirate was simply in it for the money and would attack anyone. However, sometimes even Captain Fall was given the relative dignity of being called a privateer – and in this the profits likely to come to him from the value of his ‘catch’ were huge:

“The ‘Sans Pear’, a French privateer, Capt. FALL, is arrived at Helvoetfluys, with 100 English prisoners, and 14 ransomers, valued at 5,400 guineas. The same privateer has also taken the ‘Ranger’ privateer (formerly the Lady Washington and captained by Magnus Brightwell of Wells),  of 12 guns and 45 men; and on the third inst. she fell in with the ‘Eagle’ privateer of 16 guns and 160 men, which she sunk, after an obstinate engagement, that lasted with great fury on both sides for three hours and an half. (February 1781).”

At the beginning of June 1781, the Harwich packet, ‘Prince of Wales’ was captured by two cutters – The ‘Fearnought’, commanded by Fall, and the ‘Liberty’, which he had recently cut out from a Scottish port. The packet was taken into Flushing, where the ‘Liberty’ was wrecked as she approached the harbour and her company, including the British prisoners were rescued by Fall. It is interesting to note that although England was at war with Holland, the capture angered the Dutch, as they considered the packet-boats to be no more than neutral ships and the prisoners were soon repatriated.

Bartleman (American_Privateering)

Often FALL would sail under American colours. In February 1781 for instance, a Harwich packet sighted Fall who carried letters of marque from Holland, France and America and on this occasion hoisted the 13 stripes as the packet passed him. A short while later it was reported that Fall was off Orfordness with a squadron of privateers from Dunkirk. This demonstates that Fall, and many English sailors were happy to act as French (and American) privateers! – it would appear that a pirate was a pirate, regardless of the flag under which they happened to be sailing. However, although Captain Fall was active for quite a long time in the North Sea, it was reported in April 1782 that Fall had moved into the Irish Sea – and, apparently, Norfolk and the East Coast heard no more of him!

Today, tucked away in the old graveyard of the Great Yarmouth parish church of St Nicholas, is the headstone which was erected to the memory of David Bartleman, master of the brigantine “Alexander & Margaret” of North Shields.

Bartleman (Restored Gravestone_EDP)
The headstone in the St Nicholas Church graveyard, Gret Yarmouth, Norfolk. Photo: EDP.

In the early part of 2011, stonemason Colin Smith, spent many weeks restoring Bartleman’s faded relic of a headstone and transforming it into a legible icon for the St Nicholas Church Preservation Trust. This work was followed in the July of that same year by a special service, attended by more than 25 people; it was held in the St Nicholas churchyard, specifically for the purpose of the rededication and re-positioning of the restored stone at the West End of the Church. The stone was blessed by the Rev Chris Terry. Interestly, the funding for the restoration was said to have come from a family whose distant ancestors were themselves pirates!

Bartleman (Mason_Colin Smith_Yarmouth Mercury)
Stonemason, Colin Smith, restoring Bartleman’s faded relic of a headstone in 2011. Photo: Yarmouth Mercury.
Bartleman (Ceremony_EDP)
A special service was held in the St Nicholas churchyard in 2011 to rededicate the re-positioned headstone. Photo: EDP, James Bass.

THE END

Footnote:
Like most ship’s of the time, Bartleman’s ’Alexander’ and Margaret’ brigatine sported a figurehead, or ‘wooden dolly’ on its bow. Some three decades later, this same figurehead settled in Shields when, in 1814, the ship was in dock for repairs and the late Captain Bartleman’s father, Alexander, presented the figurehead to the quayside tradesmen. They, in turn, placed it at the entrance to Custom House Quay on Liddell Street, North Shields, and it stood there until 1850.

The curved female figure which today stands outside ‘The Prince of Wales Tavern’ in North Shields is the latest in a series of ‘wooden dollies’ which have stood at the entrance to Customs House Quay since 1814. This and all other ‘Dollies’ since then became famous the world over amongst sailors, who would cut pieces off to keep for good luck whilst voyaging at sea. Most Dollies became so defaced that they were regularly replaced.

 Sources:
https://www.gravestonephotos.com/public/namedetails.php?grave=317621&forenames=David&surname=Bartleman
https://www.greatyarmouthmercury.co.uk/news/yarmouth-gravestone-recounts-dire-sea-battle-with-pirates-1-977233
https://www.britannica.com/story/pirates-privateers-corsairs-buccaneers-whats-the-difference
Pirates of the … North Sea?
http://yardyyardyyardy.blogspot.com/2012/04/wooden-dollies-of-shields.html

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Past Holiday Adventures Afloat!

The pleasure steamers our grandparents and great grandparents enjoyed are long gone. All we have are the memories of the tales they once told; along with the sepia and poorly coloured postcards that, having been posted from resort to family and friends during those far-off years, now lie cocooned in collectors’ albums, boxes and draws.

Belle Steamers (Britannia Pier 1895)
Yarmouth’s Britannia Pier 1895. Image Five Minute History.

It is also certain that the likes of Great Yarmouth, along with every other seaside resort along the east coast and elsewhere, will ever again see these floating super-charged paddle-driven charabancs moor up and unload and re-load holidaymakers and trippers from London and other stopping places en route. Nice now to recall the era when they were commonplace, operating as they once did between our eastern resorts and often using specially-built piers where there was neither river nor adequate harbour.

Belle Steamers (Yarmouth Promenade 1895)
Yarmouth’s Promenade 1895. Image Five Minute History.

The heyday of pleasure steamers coincided with that of the punctual railways, but the two clearly complemented each other for, like today, many folks enjoyed the spice of adventure for their holidays and chose pleasure steamers to provide this. An example was when, on August Bank Holiday Monday in 1889, thirteen special trains arrived at Yarmouth’s South Town Station packed with visitors – and five paddle steamers sailed into the Yare, each full to capacity. As usual, Hall Quay was crowded with sightseers welcoming the steamers, crews and passengers. Also waiting would have been those boarding-house proprietors offering accommodation in the town. But even then, it was more than likely that, in the thronged resort, some distressed and homeless visitors still desperately sought rooms in the early hours of the following morning.

Belle Steamers (Yarmouth Belle)4
The Ps Yarmouth Belle arriving from London.

That great pleasure steamer period began in the 1820s and endured until the Great War of 1914-18, unquestionably making a massive contribution to Yarmouth’s holiday industry. Some ships sailed directly from the Thames in London to Yarmouth, while others made “bus stop” calls at other resorts en route. Then, on the River Yare, some tied up on Brush Quay at Gorleston to let passengers off before continuing up-river to Yarmouth – an indication of the importance of Gorleston as a holiday destination. Occasionally, adverse weather conditions did cause delays in boat arrival, resulting in day-trippers having only a few hours ashore before they had to re-board for the voyage home.

Belle Steamers (Yarmouth Belle)2

The pleasure steamer line that provided this service to and from Great Yarmouth was the Belle Steamer fleet, which was a comparative late-comer to the business. ‘Belle Steamers’, as they were referred to, was nothing more that the marketing name used by the steamer company which had been created by various interests connected with the development of the east coast resorts of Clacton, Walton, Southwold, Felixstowe, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth. Belle Steamers was the actual name of the parent company for about one year only, in 1897. The principal number of vessels operated by this company north of London totalled six; they were:

PS Clacton Belle (1890-1915), PS Woolwich Belle (1891-1924), PS London Belle (1893-1929), PS Southend Belle (1896-1929), PS Walton Belle (1897-1925), PS Yarmouth Belle (1898-1929) and PS Southwold Belle (1900-1913) – as below:

It was in June 1897 when the PS Walton Belle arrived in Yarmouth, after her maiden voyage from London; flags fluttering as cheering onlookers welcomed her and her 150 passengers. Her arrival was the inauguration of the London to Yarmouth (and vice versa) Belle Steamer service in the town, although the previous year the PS Southend Belle had sailed into the port and proved that safe berthing was possible, despite the Yare’s notorious currents. It also convinced the line that, provided the right vessel was used on the Thames-Yarmouth voyage, profits were assured. The PS Walton was, in fact, the sixth company vessel – and the fifth ‘Belle’. She was finished to the highest specifications, ensuring that her passengers were safe and well provided for. Her hull was divided into nine separate watertight compartments, a specification which rendered it very unlikely that the vessel would founder in any extreme weather conditions. As for her accommodation, first-class saloons were provided in oak and sycamore finishing, and the chairs and settees were upholstered in velvet and arranged to give a home-like appearance; windows guaranteed fine sea views and were curtained in blue and gold tapestry. The vessel was fully lit by electricity.

Belle Steamers (Walton Belle)
The PS Walton Belle about to enter the Yare.

Soon after the PS Walton Belle’s inaugural visit to Yarmouth the great and the good from the area were invited on board for a voyage to savour the quality of the services the vessel had to offer. It was just as she was passing Corton, when Abel Penfold, the company chairman at the time, addressed the dignitaries. It was a well-timed intervention, being that his guests had been mare than adequately fed on a sumptuous lunch. No one questioned his statement that there was good mutually-beneficial business to be gained from a regular service between the capital and Yarmouth. Neither did they appear to doubt that the Belle steamers were far superior to the company’s rivals, but then it must have been a distinct possibility that few, in any, of the softened-up guests would ever make such a comparison.

Nevertheless, Abel Penfold seemed determined to make the point that his company would not be beaten on service and standards – and he kept his promise; within three years the Belle fleet numbered at least six vessels covering the east coast up to Yarmouth. Within seven years it had the monopoly on not only the Yarmouth service but also the landing piers of Lowestoft, Southwold, Clacton and Felixstowe. They used to say that on bank holiday weekends it was not unusual to see three Belle steamers berthed in the Yare. All would have arrived crowded with trippers eager to enjoy the pleasures of Great Yarmouth. This continued throughout the Victorian and Edwardian period when the Belles served the town; the Belles being principally the PS Walton Belle, PS Yarmouth Belle and PS Southwold Belle, proving that they all were indeed strong and reliable, a credit to their designers and builders. But what about Belle Steamers Ltd itself? (1896-1897)

Belle Steamers (Clacton Pier 1895)2
Clacton Pier 1895. Image Five Minute History.

The company was formed in 1896 when the London, Woolwich and Clacton-on-Sea Steamboat Company was renamed – using the title which applied to its steamers. However, the company was wound up at the end of 1897 and a new company named The Coast Development Company was formed, with interests outside the vessels themselves, particularly with further speculative development of the coastal resorts of East Anglia, but still retaining the ‘Belle Steamers’ identity. The company had pier and land interests in Clacton and also Walton-on-the-Naze. Importantly, a newly extended pier at Walton, then owned by the Belle Steamers parent company, became an important steamer call and from 1900 – 1904. The steamers would call at the more northerly pier before the more treacherous and tide-bound Clacton pier; this gave Walton “first call” for London excursionists and a new role as the interchange point for onward passengers to the more northerly resorts such as Yarmouth. The company also purchased land at Southwold in 1898 and set about the development of the small resort there, with new roads, a large hotel, a pier and a new steamer, to be called PS Southwold Belle, which entered service in the mid-summer of 1900. A pier was also built at Lowestoft (Claremont Pier) and opened in 1903 and a further pier at Felixstowe in 1905.

Then came the outbreak of war in 1914 and this meant that the whole steamer service was terminated. The vessels were requisitioned and put into service as minesweepers. Two of them went to Russia as hospital tenders. With peace came a decline, almost inevitable in the light of competition from motor coaches and changing ideas about excursions by sea. The steamers were gradually disposed of and the last call to Southwold was made in 1928. In 1934 a severe storm washed away the pier’s ‘hammer-head’ there and any chance of steamers being able to call was lost.

Belle Steamers (Southwold Pier P057 c1900)
Paddle steamer about to berth at Southwold Pier in the early years of the 20th Century. Bathing machines are drawn up to the water’s edge. Image: Southwold Museum.

An almost ‘last throw of the dice’ by Belle Steamers was when three of its pleasure steamers, ‘Queen of the Channel’, ‘Golden Eagle’ and ‘Royal Eagle’ were used to evacuate thousands of schoolchildren from Yarmouth and Lowestoft when the 1939-45 war broke out.  However, this exodus was briefly counterbalanced by the arrival in Yarmouth of 4300 London mothers and children ferried to Yarmouth by the same three pleasure steamers

THE END

Sources:
Images: Unless otherwise stated, images are Courtesy of Ian Boyle of Simplon Postcards
Banner Heading: Yarmouth’s Britannia Pier 1895.
http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/BelleSteamers.html
https://www.southwoldmuseum.org/Transport%20popups/Steamers_popup.htm
http://www.ourgreatyarmouth.org.uk/page/belle_steamers
http://paddlesteamers.info/BelleSteamers.htm
https://www.tendringcoastalheritage.org.uk/content/places/clacton-on-sea/photo-gallery
https://fiveminutehistory.com/18-victorian-seaside-pleasure-piers/

Wickhampton: St Andrews and a Legend!

By Haydn Brown.

On reclaimed marshland where the most frequent visitors are birds, the site of St Andrew’s Church at Wickhampton was once covered by sea, now it stands as a lonely beacon on the haunting expanse of Halvergate marsh. It is a place which inspires calm – unlike the story attached to the stone effigies it guards. Many childhood generations have been told the heartrending and cautionary tale of two local brothers who took extreme measures to resolve their differences; it warns against sibling wars.

Wickhampton Legend4 (St Andrews)
St Andrews, Wickhampton, Norfolk.

This tale has to start in the chancel of St Andrew’s Church where there is an interesting pair of 13th century effigies, representing Sir William and Isabella Gerbygge; the couple lie in single beds awaiting Judgement Day. Sir William served as a Bailiff of Great Yarmouth in the 1270s and died about 1280. One fascinating feature of Sir William is that he is shown holding a heart in his hands. This has given rise to several interpretations. The most romantic interpretation is that Sir George is showing his love for his wife. A more religious interpretation is that he is holding his heart up to God in prayer. Another, rather intriguing interpretation is that the heart tells the story of Sir William’s two sons who tore each other’s hearts out.

Wickhampton Legend1

It was during the reign of Edward I that Wickhampton, on the marshes near Breydon Water, was a place of fishing, fine hunting and with a farm and a church; the neighbouring village of Halvergate was rich in arable land and seen as the better of the two villages for it boasted many fine farms and a fine church.

Sir William Gerbygge owned both villages and he and his two sons, Gilbert, the elder son, and William managed the estate. It was a fine estate, the rich farmland produced bountiful crops, while livestock thrived on the damp verdant pastures, which also provided hay for the winter months. Wildlife abounded, providing fine sport and hunting. The sons were very fortunate, a fact that Sir William was forever reminding them. But the brothers were quarrelsome and jealous and their father often had to reproach them.

Wickhampton Legend6

Gilbert, the elder son, wanted the better of the inheritance and his possessive gaze took in all that was good, frequently using the word “my”, to the annoyance of his brother and the villagers. But William was strong and had a sharp mind, frequently quarrelling with his brother and driving his father to his wits end to know how best to distribute his lands after his death. He eventually left Wickhampton to William and the better of the two villages, Halvergate, to Gilbert. He made known of his Will and prayed for peace as he breathed his last. But, after his death, there would be little peace. At first Gilbert and William wanted to at least give the impression that they were both pleased with their respective inheritances; when they met, they would make a point of shaking hands – which was noted by the quiet villagers with a cynical nod as they could see the storm clouds gathering. In fact, the two brothers were to spend years arguing over their respective lands, with neither brother conceding; gradually, the dispute became bitter and finally, became violent.

It happened at ploughing time of one particular year, when the folk looked forward to another good season. There was a field, just north of Wickhampton church which projected far into the boundary of Halvergate, and Gilbert saw this as an opportunity. He called to his brother who happened to be close by, “That field should be mine. It is an obvious mistake, made when the boundaries were drawn”. William replied coolly “You already have enough…….no mistake was made”. But the impetuous Gilbert, angry that he could not sway his younger brother, jumped from his saddle, rushed over to William and pulled him from his horse. “I will have my way” he shouted, striking William with his bare hands.

Wickhampton Legend7
Conflict!

The two brothers then attacked each other with increasing ferocity that frightened the folk who had gathered around to watch the fight. Gilbert and William tore at each other with bare hands, at the edge of the field over which they disagreed. They grasped for hair to pull out by its roots, ears to rent, fingers, legs, arms and noses which were scratched, pulled and twisted with unreasoning and inhuman fury. The differences, pent up over the years, were released as they became snarling and snorting animals. The villagers dared not to intervene.

As the blood began to flow and the fighting became ever more intense, a demonic fury gripped the two brothers. Their finger nails appeared to grow longer, their teeth became fangs, their eyes widened and the villagers gazed on in silence. The brothers tore at each other’s throats and breasts with devilish roars in what became their final fight. Then, strange as it would appear and precisely at the same point in time, the brothers tore the hearts from each other with their bare hands in a final burst of malice. They lay upon the ground, lifeless – as one would expect! The awestruck onlookers then saw a divine figure overhead, some said it was an angel, others said no – it was God who was so appalled by the brother’s behaviour that he instantly turned them both to stone to atone for such sins and as a warning to others. God also ensured that the stone fingers of each brother would remain clutching the heart of the other. Local villagers bore the stone corpses – together with the clutched hearts – into the church to serve as a reminder of the perils of fighting. As for the brothers’ lands; they were renamed Wicked Hampton, now shortened to Wickhampton, and Hell Fire Gate, now known as Halvergate. Legend also has it that, over time, one brother’s heart has been worn away leaving just one grasping a heart with the other next to him.

 

But there is more to St Andrew’s church than a legend, standing as it does in a secluded rural location on the wide open Halvergate marshes where the Yare Valley seems to contain any excitement it may have of reaching the sea. We are still four miles from the coast and there is nothing hereabouts until you reach Yarmouth except – the haunting flatness. Five-hundred years ago, St Andrews stood on the edge of a wide inlet, but the silting up of the estuary over the years left its tower as a beacon for nothing else other river boats.

The dedication of the church to St Andrew seems appropriate; he is the patron saint of fishermen, and Wickhampton is said to have been a fishing community which supported a population of around 500 inhabitants and had direct access to the river Yare. The church was built in the 13th century, but it seems very likely that an earlier church stood on the same spot for at least several hundred years before that. The earliest part of the church is the 13th century tower. The nave was rebuilt around 1340, and the chancel and south porch were added in the 15th century.

That said, the most interesting historic feature of St Andrews church is a series of 14th century wall paintings which are simply staggering, and the detail is remarkable. They were hidden by plaster at the Reformation and only came to light again during restoration in 1840 by the Diocesan architect Richard Phipson, someone criticised for over doing it! However, many wallpaintings of this kind were lost when liturgical patterns changed in the 15th century, a full century before the Reformation when perpendicular windows often destroyed such decorations when punched through them. But the three main subjects at Wickhampton are pretty well complete. They sit on the north wall with the largest, at the extreme westend, being the best surviving depiction in Norfolk of the Three Living and Three Dead. The theme was a common one in medieval art; the frailty of human life and the certainty of mortality. Three kings are shown hunting, and they meet three skeletons in a wood. They give the kings a warning,

‘As you are now, so once were we. as we are now, so shall you be.’

Wickhampton Legend (Wall Painting_Simon K)2b
Three kings are hunting and meet three skeletons in a wood. They give the kings a warning. Photo: Simon K Flickr.
Wickhampton Legend (Wall Painting)2a
The Three Living Kings.
Wickhampton Legend (Wall Painting)2
The Three Skeletons.

The final wall painting shows The Seven Acts of Mercy and The Resurrection, which illustrates people Feeding the Hungry, Giving Drink to the Thirsty, Clothing the Naked, Visiting the Prisoner, Receiving the Stranger, Visiting the Sick, and Burying the Dead. In a largely illiterate society, these images acted as as colourful reminder to churchgoers of the sort of behaviour that was expected of medieval Christians. The message is driven home in the final scene, showing Christ raising his hand in a gesture of blessing.

Wickhampton Legend (Wall Painting)1
The Seven Acts of Mercy and The Resurrection

According to Simon Knott: The Seven Works of Mercy were, and are, a Catholic catechetical tool, designed to help the faithful follow the teachings of Christ with regard to strangers as set forth in Chapter 25 of St Matthew’s Gospel. By meditating on these images, the worshippers could ensure they were carrying out this advice in their daily lives. The faithful are called upon to feed the hungry, to give water to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to give shelter to the homeless, to visit the sick, to comfort the prisoner, and to bury the dead. The way in which meditative images could be used to follow their example give us an insight into the way in which medieval Christianity was practiced in the days before congregational worship became the norm. The illustrations at Wickhampton are stunning in their simplicity and emotion. The Burying of the Dead panel in particular deserves to be as well-known as any 14th century Christian image in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and yet here it is, in an isolated church on the edge of a wild Norfolk marshland.

There are, of course, other features of historic interest in the church beyond the wall paintings. The pulpit is late Elizabethan, while the benches in the nave are Victorian, in the style of the Jacobean period. A single original Jacobean bench end survives in the chancel. In the nave hangs a royal coat of arms to George I, dated 1737. The organ came from Freethorpe Manor and is housed in an 1810 mahogany cabinet made by George Pike. Near the south door is an ancient parish chest. In its traditional place opposite the entrance is a painting of St Christopher carrying the Christ Child. You can still see swarms of fish around St Christopher’s feet, perhaps another sign of Wickhampton’s once-thriving fishing industry.

To visit Wickhampton church will provide an unforgettable experience. The church seems stranded, lost in time, with no obvious village left to serve, but the superb wall paintings speak of a long and rich past, now lost, when this rural backwater was a busy place, full of life, and providing the roots of a possible sibling feud – one which led to a legend!

THE END

Sources:
www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/wickhampton/wickhampton.htm
https://www.britainexpress.com/counties/norfolk/churches/wickhampton.htm

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K.

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The Fate of HMS Invincible – 1801

By Haydn Brown

 Before we proceed with what happened to the Royal Naval ship HMS Invincible some 219 years ago take particular note of Hammond’s Knoll, a 6-mile (9.7 km) long sandbank off the coast of Norfolk, England, just off Happisburgh. This is an innocent sandbank below high water when the sea behaves itself; but when the weather is foul and the tide is low, it is best to stay alert and be on guard – it can be dangerous. At low water, the sandbank has only a depth of about 6 fathoms at each end, and 3 fathoms in the centre. Nowadays, the Hammond’s Knoll is marked by lighted buoys at its north and east ends – this was not the case on the 16th March in the year of our Lord 1801.

Invincible (Hammonds Knoll)
The East Anglian coast is recognised as dangerous when the weather and sea choose to be foul. Many ships have been lost to gales over the centuries – some say the number runs into thousands. Storms in this part of the world seem frequent and ferocious either side of Autumn and Spring, wrecking and shifting the many sandbanks and shoals as they rage. In winter months particularly, the prevailing off-shore westerly wind would, more than likely, become a north-easterly, thrashing down from Scandinavia and the Artic. battering the lee shoreline. Ships which managed to sail a safe course through those ever shifting sands would still risk being smashed by the wave’s force, overwhelmed or driven ashore.

In the days of sail, the sea lanes up and down the eastern coast were far busier than they are today. Any storm would, as likely as not, have created a havoc of torn canvas, tangled ropes, broken masts and dead bodies. No ship, whether they be on Government business or commercial trading, were immune from possible disaster. Even the large fishing fleets that once thrived on herring could be lost; in fact, in 1789 around 130 fishing smacks and coasters were wrecked between Southwold and Cromer – one of more than a few such instances. With so many storms over the years the losses have been many, with coastal churchyards well used with graves and memorials for those who did not come home safely. These included resting places for members of the Royal Navy.

Britain once prided itself on having the greatest navy in the world and her sea battles were renowned, but East Anglian seas were even a challenge to military ships. Amongst those who did fall foul of the seas off Happisburgh, two stand out; the first was HMS Peggy which, in short, was wrecked on 19th December 1770 with thirty-two of its men losing their lives. They were buried in Happisburgh churchyard while their ship, the Peggy, was to remain on the beach for many years thereafter.

Invincible (HMS Peggy)
The wreck of the HMS Peggy

The HMS Invincible disaster was the other instance of a Royal Naval ship going down. She was a 74-gun, Ramilles Class third-rate ship, thirty-six years old in the spring of 1801 and battle-wearied, but nevertheless a stirring sight when fully rigged.

 

Invincible 1
HMS Invincible

Launched at Deptford in March 1765, the HMS Invincible had served in the American War of Independence. Her battle honours included Cape St Vincent 1780, Chesapeake 1781, St Kitts 1782 and the Glorious First of June in 1794, where she was badly damaged and lost fourteen men. In 1797, she took part in the invasion of Trinidad which captured that island from the Spanish. So by 1801, HMS Invincible, which had a proud record of service, was back in British waters. By March of that year, and with the war against France in a protracted state, fear remained that the French would seize the powerful Danish navy and use it against Britain. Therefore the British Baltic fleet, led by Admiral Sir Hyde Parker and with Nelson as his second-in-command, was directed to sail to Copenhagen and make sure the Danish fleet could not fall into French hands.

 

Invincible (Hyde Parker)
Admiral Sir Hyde Parker (1739–1807) after the painting by Romney

HMS Invincible was to be part of this fleet so it was ordered to sail from Chatham, with its crew of around 600, and meet up with the fleet of Admiral Sir Hyde Parker which was already in the Sound preparing for the planned attack on the Danish fleet – to be known later as the Battle of Copenhagen 1801. HMS Invincible sailed on its journey under the flag of Rear-Admiral Thomas Totty.

Invincible (Copenhagan)
Painting of the Battle of Copenhagen on 2 April 1801. National Maritime Museum

During its way north, Invincible, with the ship’s newly appointed, thirty-fout year old, Captain John Rennie, put into Yarmouth to collect final orders and stock up with ordnance, stores and ammunition. She was by then a 1,631 ton war ship, as prepared as she could be for the battle ahead. Her state of readiness meant that on the 16th March she was able to leave Yarmouth Roads and, with a master and pilot aboard, set a course towards the notorious area of shifting sandbars off Happisburgh on the north-east coast of Norfolk.

The Master and Pilot clearly thought that they could navigate through the shoals safely, but a rising wind and the strong tide forced the ship off course. Within an very short time, at 2.30pm to be precise, she struck the sandbank of Hammond’s Knoll where the effect of wind and waves tore down the masts and began to break up the ship. The crew did all they could to save the ship. They jettisoned provisions and when the mizzen mast went they cut away the mast, hoping that the ship would float off the sands at high water. Whilst all this was going on, Invincible repeatedly fired a distress signal with its guns. For a while, it looked as if the crew’s efforts of jettisoning every they could would work for the Invincible moved slightly into deeper water. But, as she did so an even heavier swell and stronger wind caused the ship to lose its rudder. Unmanageable, she was driven back on to the sandbank. There she remained whilst the only thing left for the crew to usefully do was to man the pumps and try to keep as much of the ship as possible above water.

Invincible (Ship in Storm)

The wreck was only a few miles offshore and its distress signal, by way of frequent firing of the guns, was eventually answered by the collier Hunter, on her way into Yarmouth – but unfortunately she, for one reason or another, ignored the Invincible’s plight. Only the Yarmouth smack The Nancy, fishing for cod under its skipper, Daniel Grigson, came to Invincible’s aid. He offered whatever assistance he could. However, by midnight, it was clear to all on the royal naval ship that nothing could be done to save it and the order was for two of her boats to be lowered with Totty, the Purser, four midshipmen and some seamen in one and seamen in the other. They made it safely to The Nancy and then made a second run only for one of the boats to capsize as it approached The Nancy for the second time. Those men who had been thrown into the water were, fortunately, picked up by a Collier which had also answered the distress signal from the Invincible.

Invincible (Rescue)2
To the Rescue!

Both The Nancy and the Collier remained on rescue watch throughout that Monday night to pick up survivors, although neither were able to offer any assistance to Invincible herself. Then, after dawn had broken, the final act of this tragedy was played out. Those on the rescue ships were nothing more than spectators to the death throes of the Invincible as she shifted gradually into deeper water before slowly sinking. As she lowered herself below the surface waves, those on its forecastle made a last desperate attempt to survive by leaping into the sea before trying to get on board the last of the ship’s launches. Some made it but others were beaten back by those safely on board who feared that the launch itself would also capsize if overloaded. The weapons they used to repel greater numbers were the launche’s oars.

When the Invincible finally disappered into the depths, it took with her about 400 crew. Out of a full complement of 600 and, bizarrely, 50 passengers despite the fact that the ship was scheduled to go to war, one hundred and ninety persons were saved. Not included in this number of survivors was Captain Rennie who, duty bound, was the last man to leave his post; when he did so he was not only wet and extremy cold but suffering from exhaustion. He tried to swim to a launch but gave up. At that final moment before he drowned he seemingly had accepted his fate when he lifted his hands and place them over his face before sinking calmly beneath the water. Rear-Admiral Thomas Totty reported Rennie’s loss in his Report for the Court-martial which was to follow, calling him ‘a truly zealous and intelligent Officer’. That same Report also described the last moments of the HMS Invincible :

“At daylight on Tuesday morning, I observed that the Invincible had not a single Boat, either alongside or astern of her, and the tide ran so strong that it was impossible to get the fishing Smack to her, but the moment the tide slacked … she stretched under the Invincible’s stern, endeavouring by all possible means to work up and get alongside of her; but before that could be accomplished the Ship went down in thirteen fathoms Water, and out of 600 persons that belonged to the Invincible they have not been above 190 saved and now living; several who were picked up by the launch died very soon afterwards. I am extremely grieved to inform you that Captain Rennie was among the number of those drowned; by his death the service has lost a truly zealous and intelligent Officer … The horror of the scene at the Moment the Ship went down far exceeds all power of description.”

Amongst those who had reached The Nancy, and were later landed at Great Yarmouth, were those who were still to die as a result of the experience. In total, more than 400 were lost, compared to the 256 who were to die at the Battle of Copenhagen. On his way home from his triumph, Nelson still made time to visit “his men” from the Invincible lying injured in Great Yarmouth hospital.

For days after the wreck, bodies were washed up all along the coast. Most were brought on carts to Happisburgh churchyard, where they were buried in a huge, unmarked communal mound grave in unconsecrated ground to the north of the church. Of all those lost only six received a proper burial in the Holy Trinity & All Saints churchyard at Winterton the 20th day of March, 1801. Their names unknown

Invincible (St Marys Church)
St Mary’s Church, Happisborough.

But the story of the Invincible did not end there because an attempt was made by a Mary Cator in 1913 to erect a memorial as a reminder to the lives lost. She raised money by subscription but when it was found that there was no official record that proved that bodies from the Invincible were buried in the mound, she returned the money raised. Then in 1924, Mary Cator’s persistence to ensure that an appropriate memorial existed in St Mary’s churchyard paid off. This was the year when the church bells were re-hung and Mary gave a treble bell on which was inscribed ‘In memory of Nelson’s men wrecked off Haisboro in 1801‘. A memorial at last! – but the story did not even end there.

Invincible (Dedication)
The unconsecrated land where the dead were buried was later incorporated into Happisburgh churchyard, then in 1988, the remains of many of the Invincible’s crew were located by chance in their original mass grave during the digging of a new drainage channel. There was found a disordered mass of bones less than three feet below the surface. These remains were reburied with proper rites; then, ten years later, in 1998, a memorial stone was erected to their memory by the Ship’s Company of the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Invincible, together with members of the Nelson Society,, the Happisburgh parochial church council and a descendant of Captain John Rennie. This was a final recognition of all those who had died on HMS Invincible in 1801, summed up by St Mary’s Rector, Reverend Doctor Richard Hines as being: “interpreted as a gesture of Christian faith that even in their most desperate moments those who perished out in the cold North sea did not perish beyond the love and presence of Almighty God” The Memorial’s inscription came from Revelation and reads ‘And the sea gave up the dead that were in it’.

Invincible (Memorial)
HMS Invincible Memorial at St Mary’s Churchyard at Happisburgh, Norfolk Photo: © Lynda Smith – 2004

Transcript of Memorial Lettering:

On 16 March 1801, HMS INVINCIBLE
was wrecked of Happisburgh when
on her way to join the fleet with
Admiral Nelson at Copenhagen.
The day following, the Ship sank with
the loss of some four hundred lives.
One hundred and nineteen members
of the Ship’s Company lie buried here.
“And the sea gave up the dead
that were in it…..”
Revelation 26:13

This memorial stone was given jointly
by the Parochial Church Council and
The Officers and Ship’s Company of
HMS Invincible. 1998.

FOOTNOTE:
The compulsory court martial that followed Invincible’s sinking was held on the HMS Ruby at Sheerness. It absolved the Amiral and the Captain (posthumously) of culpability in the disaster, but posthumously blamed the harbour pilot and the ship’s master, both of whom had been engaged to steer the ship through the reefs and shoals of the dangerous region – they should have known the location of Hammond Knoll, especially since it was daytime and in sight of land.

The only amusing side to this story concerns the many casks that were seen floating on the sea after the HMS Invincible went down. Some 150 were brought ashore by the customs officers and were found to contain brandy. Others casks escaped and were to be picked up by delighted villagers; many of whom drank themselves into oblivion – one even died from his excesses!

THE END

Sources:
The Loss of HMS Invincible in 1801

Click to access invinc01.pdf


http://www.happisburgh.org/history/sea/losses-at-sea
https://rna-norwich.org.uk/2017/03/hms-invincible-memorial-service-2017/

NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K.

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SS White Swan: Gorleston’s Wreck!

From the southern end of the old Yarmouth harbour it is an unhindered route past Gorleston and down to Lowestoft, and indeed beyond. If, instead, you prefer to remain near rougher water then turn inshore and walk along the line of the concrete pier, towards the breakwater and the confusion of shallow water that performs there, known locally as the cauldron. Here, the waves rebound from both the pier structure and breakwaters and, dependant on wind and current direction, waves can come from at least three directions almost simultaneously, often forming a quite spectacular ‘clapotis’ (the lapping of water – French). Of course, if you choose to head further southwards from the cauldron, you are more than likely to see surfers, swimmers, kite surfers and wooden groynes. Then, a little further beyond, and a little offshore, a red buoy bobs above the surface movement of the water. It is there for a reason; it is there to mark the wreck of the once proud north country collier, the SS White Swan, which sank at that spot in 1916.

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The Cauldron, between the old Yarmouth harbour and  Gorleston beach. Photo: EDP.

It was on the 30 September 2018 when Peggotty, of the Eastern Daily Press, set his own imagination to work as he passed this spot at an approaching low tide:

“At the south end of our sands, midway between the water’s edge and the warning buoy marking the remains of the wrecked collier White Swan from 1916, two heads appeared to be bobbing in the gentle sea, apparently without anybody on the shore nearby keeping an eye on them. As we drew closer, my concern increased because the number of swimmers now had risen to four, then six. Safety in numbers is reassuring, but I made sure my mobile phone was switched on, just in case…… Happily, my apprehension was groundless. There were no swimmers! The “black heads” on which I had kept a watchful [eye] were, in fact, the tops of some skeletal remains of the White Swan, the numbers increasing because the ebbing tide was revealing them.”

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A remaining small section of the former SS White Swan. Photo: Unknown at present.

The SS White Swan was once a collier, owned by J. A. Dixon and T. N. Sample of Newcastle and built in April 1903 by the Blyth SB Company Ltd. She was a single screw ship, measuring 287.3 ft long with a 43.2 ft beam and weighing 2,173 gross tons. During the early part of November 1916, the White Swan, the only ship owned by the company at that time, was loaded with coal at West Hartlepool before leaving en-route to Greenwich, London. It was during this voyage, on the 17th November 1916 to be precise, that a violent storm erupted off the east coast of Norfolk and the ship’s Master, in his wisdom, decided to ride out the storm by sheltering off Scroby Sands. However, the ferocity of wind and waves had other ideas, causing the ship to drag her anchor and be driven relentlessly on to Gorleston beach – despite the frantic efforts of the crew to secure her.

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The SS White Swan beached on Gorleston sands.

The collier’s eventual grave was to be on the low water mark of the beach, side on to the waves where her back was broken. The combination of the furious weather and the position of the ship, so close inshore, meant that it was impossible for the Gorleston lifeboat to come to the rescue of either ship or crew and it was left to the local lifesaving ‘rocket brigade’, together with their Breeches Buoy, to attempt to save the 22 seamen. For some thirteen hours the atrocious conditions frustrated their attempts to deliver the vital ropes across to the White Swan. Eventually, after several attempts, a total of four ropes did find their target and the ship’s crew were able to secure them. From that point, the ‘hand over hand’ rescue of all the seamen on to the beach took place and, whilst there were no casualties at Gorleston, the loss of the SS White Swan, the only vessel operated by the Swan Line, caused the company into liquidation. According to a newspaper of the time, there was:

“a great gale which raged with a violence, the equal of which could scarcely be recalled by some of the oldest helpers in the work of rescue from wrecks at sea along the coast.”

What remains of the former SS White Swan is still part of the Gorleston beach scene, exactly as witnessed by Peggotty; and after over a century of withstanding many subsequent storms and flood surges. For the presence, this answers any question as to the fate of the SS White Swan following the storm of 17th November 1916. It is still in the sand on which it was driven, worst for wear and broken down into much smaller pieces, some timbers still showing above low water. At one time, fishermen would tell unsuspecting anglers that the wreck’s position was a rich spot to cast a long line without getting it snagged by the skeleton.

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Some timbers. Photo: Tony Ramsay)

From other unsuspecting visitors, alarmed to see someone in apparent distress offshore, would come the occasional alert. This would trigger the usual efficient response from the emergency services who would rush to the scene – whether they suspected a false alarm or not. In 2016 for instance, the wreck’s centenary year, the local coastguard was alerted to an unknown object in the water thereabouts. In response, a seven-man team was sent to check out the report and found it was just part of the wreck; on that occasion, they logged the incident as “a false alarm with good intent.” Later, a spokesman said that whilst false alarms were quite common, “calls which turned out to relate to a 100-year-old shipwreck are rare occurrences.”

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The buoy at high tide. Photo: EDP.

THE END

Sources:
https://www.edp24.co.uk/features/white-swan-sank-in-north-sea-at-gorleston-1-5709159
https://wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?70222
https://www.wrecksite.eu/ownerBuilderView.aspx?302
https://swscroby.wordpress.com/2016/11/16/the-white-swan/
Banner Heading Photo: By Campbell A. Mellon Wreck of the “White Swan”

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