END of the CENTURY GALE DECEMBER 1900
LIFEBOATS RESCUE CREWS of EIGHT VESSELS
BUT OTHER SHIPS ARE WRECKED WITH MANY LIVES LOST
A severe storm struck the coast of Wales in the closing days of 1900.
The 34ft self-righting lifeboat Elizabeth Lloyd launched at Aberystwyth at one o'clock on the morning of Friday 28 December to search for a fishing smack and crew of three blown out from New Quay. Capt Doughton, Honorary Secretary of the station, accompanied the crew. The lifeboat was unable to make progress against the rising gale and was driven back onto the shore. Fortunately the vessel to which they had launched was driven ashore near Aberaeron with its crew scrambling to safety.
The next lifeboat to launch was the George Moore from the station at Porthdinllaen. She went off at 10.15 that morning to the Liverpool flat Caliban which was signalling for assistance. The lifeboat anchored to windward of the flat and veered down on her cable to get alongside. The crew of two were taken off, but the lifeboat found that her anchor was foul of an obstruction and unable to raise it. The cable was slipped. In attempting to work off the lee shore under sail, the lifeboat missed stays and was run onto the beach. The RNLI forwarded a draft for £20 -19s to cover the costs of the service.
The lifeboat James Stevens No. 12 was launched at The Mumbles at 11 a.m. to three vessels which had hoisted distress signals while anchored in the roads. The lifeboat found that all three were dragging and rescued two men from the cutter R.W.T., of Plymouth; three from the cutter Lizzie, of Padstow; and two from the ketch Gorey Lass, of Jersey. Costs of the service were £15-8s.
Late in the morning a schooner anchored in St Tudwals roads was seen to be dragging her anchors and hoist a distress signal. At mid-day the lifeboat Oldham was launched into the NW storm which was gusting to hurricane force. As the lifeboat approached, the Llandddulas, of Liverpool, parted both cables and began to drive before the storm. The master, his wife, and the mate were taken off and landed at Abersoch. The schooner drove away and foundered. Cost of service £12-8-6d.
At 12.15 the Penarth lifeboat Joseph Denman went off to the barque Zeffiro, of Castellamare, which had been in collision with another vessel about one mile south-west of the English and Welsh Grounds lightship. The barque was badly damaged and in danger of grounding on the bank. The lifeboat rescued the crew of nine and the masters wife. Cost of service £38-16-6d.
The steam lifeboat Duke of Northumberland got under way at 12.55 and went to the Norwegian barquentine St Joseph which was dragging her anchors in the outer roads at Holyhead. The master of the vessel did not require assistance. The lifeboat then steamed to the Caernarfon schooner Ebenezer which was also dragging towards the shore. The master of the schooner said that he was about to show distress signals, so he and the crew of four were very happy to be taken off. Cost of service £5-10s. Presumably the steam lifeboat had a regular full time crew?
The Moelfre lifeboat Star of Hope launched at 2 p.m. on the 28th to the aid of the ship Pass of Balmaha which was flying signals of distress. The vessel had parted one cable and so the crew were taken off. The lifeboat was unable to beat back to its station, and landed the men two miles to the east. A head count then found that two men were missing. The lifeboat had a hard task in returning to the ship where it found the two men asleep in their bunks! They too were landed. So a good days work in landing 28 men. The cost of this service was £59-14s. [The Pass of Balmaha survived, and during the 14-18 war was seized by the Germans. She became the commerce raider Seeadler (Sea Eagle) and sank a dozen or so Allied ships until wrecked in the South Seas.]
There were another seven wrecks that day leading to many deaths.
The barque RAGNA, of Christiania (Oslo), was towed out of Cardiff on Christmas Eve with a cargo of coal bound for Bahia, Brazil. At first there was a breeze from SSE but the wind slowly veered to SW and increased. The tug left off Ilfracombe. The gale continued through the night and on Christmas Day increased to a near hurricane. Over the next few days the barque was driven up St Georges channel. Her sails were torn to ribbons and the decks swept of boats and gear. The master realised that the vessel was now in Cardigan Bay. They anchored but the storm was blowing at force 11 from the north west and the cables soon parted. The vessel struck the shore at Aberfelin near Trevine (Trefin) on the Pembrokeshire coast. St David's Life-Saving Apparatus company were alerted and set off as fast as they could on the eight mile journey. But immediate help was needed so the people of Trevine - mariners, women, and the curate, went into the sea and dragged the crew ashore though three men were drowned. Capt Zopfi was full of praise for the actions of the villagers in saving him and most of his crew: "They have treated us splendidly since we have been here". The men who were drowned were Louis Stamp of Lubeck, Germany; Carl Tobias Tonnesen of Vestre Moland, Norway; and Frantz Laurent of Finland. The stone which marks their grave at Llanrhian was erected by local subscription.
The brigantine NEPTUNE, Aberdyfi to Littlehampton with a cargo of slates, entered Milford Haven for shelter from the storm but was driven against the pier at Newton Noyes and wrecked. Her crew survived.
The Norwegian steamer BORG arrived at Milford Haven on Saturday morning in tow of the trawler Roxina. The Borg was bound from Seville for Glasgow with iron ore when she was struck by the storm early on Friday. Capt Otterbek and both mates were washed overboard and lost. The vessel was badly damaged and shipping water. Skipper Colby of the Roxina saw her distress signals when near The Smalls. Some hands boarded her and she was taken in tow.
The ship PRIMROSE HILL was wrecked near the South Stack, Holyhead, drowning all but one of her crew. Read the full account here.
A number of sailing vessels had left Newport (Monmouthshire) with coal cargoes but were at anchor waiting for the storm to moderate.
The barque TORDENSKJOLD, of Tvedestrand, had left Newport for St Paul de Loanda (Angola) on the 24th but the contrary wind had forced her to remain in the Usk. Driven from her anchors she was wrecked on the Welsh Hook (part of the complex of sandbanks which form the Severn bar). Her crew of eleven got ashore on the evening of the 28th and found shelter at a farmhouse at Goldcliff.
The barque HØVDING, of Kragerø, was bound for Maceio, Brazil. She was also driven onto the Welsh Hook where she was wrecked with the loss of all eleven members of her crew.
A third barque also drove onto the Welsh Hook and broke up drowning all eleven hands. She was the TENAX PROPOSITI which had been bound for Paramaribo, Surinam.
Some days after this storm, wreckage began to come ashore near Fishguard and bodies were found floating off Strumble Head. Some of the wreckage was marked Sherborne. This British steamship had been sold to Norway and renamed FAGERHEIM. She was on passage from Glasgow for St Nazaire, and must have foundered in the Irish Sea drowning her crew of twenty three Norwegians.