The storm of 7 - 8 December 1886
Barque EARLS COURT ashore at Margam
Four members of crew die of exposure.
This storm is well known because two lifeboats were capsized and 28 lifeboatmen drowned. That happened on the coast of Lancashire. The barque Mexico, of Hamburg, had sailed from Liverpool but was driven onto a sandbank off Southport when the north-westerly storm, which raged between force 9 and 12, struck her. Three lifeboats were launched. The Souhtport lifeboat caspsized drowning 14 of her crew of 16 men, the St Anne's lifeboat was also lost drowning all 14 men of her crew. The Lytham lifeboat was able to rescue all the crew of the Mexico. Above is a painting of this rescue. This awful event caught the public interest and as a result the Lifeboat Saturday Fund was begun. It was the major fund raising event each year for the R.N.L.I.
The steamship Captain M'Clintock, of Dublin, was bound home from Garston with a cargo of coal when she sank off Amlwch, Anglesey with the loss of all hands.
The schooner Rover, of Wexford, had left Saundersfoot and was bound home with a cargo of coal when she ran into the storm and drove ashore in Carmarthen Bay.
The barque EARLS COURT, owned by Messrs Kidd and Fleming of Liverpool was of 1,113 tons. She left Newport on Saturday 4 December 1886 bound for Albany, Western Australia with a cargo of 1,799 tons of railway iron. Capt Martin Frampton, who had learnt the trade at the Conway on the Menai Straits, was her master and she had a crew of 20. She was towed as far as a point off the Nash where some workmen boarded her to carry out a repair. This was soon completed and at midnight the tug again took her in tow. Lundy island was sighted between nine and ten on Sunday evening and the tug left at two on Monday morning. Very soon the wind was increasing from south-west and rose to a strong gale. The vessel was making no progress and by Tuesday morning Lundy was again sighted. The crew reduced canvas but were unable to reef the foresail which was then carried away. By mid-day on Wednesday 8 December the wind had risen to hurricane force. Huge seas swept the deck flooding the cabin and destroying the charts and instruments. The lifeboat was also carried away. Capt Frampton was washed over the rail but was very lucky to regain the deck. He had a conference with his officers and they agreed with him that a return to Penarth roads to seek shelter was a good idea.
The ship was being driven back up channel. The weather thick and the compasses so disturbed as to be useless. As a result they had no idea of the vessel's position. At 7 on Wednesday evening a light was seen which they hoped was Nash Point but shortly afterwards the flames of the furnaces at Landore could be seen and Frampton realised they were in Swansea Bay. They had seen Mumbles lighthouse. With no chance of getting to Penarth or getting out of the bay Capt Frampton decided that he should beach the barque on the sands. So at about 8 p.m. the vessel was run ashore bow first on the sands between Kenfig river and Margam to the south of Port Talbot.
The seas had carried away the distress rockets so the crew soaked a sheet with parafin and set fire to it but it was seen by no one ashore. The crew all took to the masts. In a few hours the first mate John Pollock showed signs of dementia and the master was helped by two other men to lash him to a mast. Pollock fought them off and fell onto the deck. Five minutes later he was washed overboard and drowned.
The master, second mate James Egerton Crossland (a Canadian) and apprentice Robert Francis Crick of Lancashire then did their best to look after the cabin boy Thomas Littlejohn, of Newport, and apprentice B.T. Hatt (his father was a London architect) but both lads died of the cold when in the men's arms. The cook and steward T.R.Davies (it was said that he lived in Guernsey) also died in the rigging.
At eight next morning the tide had gone out enough for the survivors to lower themselves from the bows and make their way ashore. In doing that they found the body of another apprentice whose name was Twiss and carried him ashore with the others who had died.
The survivors were taken in by Mr and Mrs Loveluck at Morfa Fawr farm. They were all suffering from exposure and put to bed. The police were summoned and joined by others to go to the vessel to recover the bodies of those who had died. When they got there they found that Twiss was showing faint signs of life so he was carried to the farm and put to bed. In a day he had recovered.
The inquest on Davies, Hatt and Littlejohn was held at Taibach Police Station. Dr Jones of Taibach gave evidence that he had examined the dead at Morfa Mawr farm between 11.30 and 12 on Thursday and found that they had died from exposure.
The body of John Pollock the first mate was found a week later on Kenfig sands and taken to the Prince of Wales Inn at Kenfig. He left a wife and three children at Liverpool.
The Earls Court survived the stranding and after the cargo had been recovered she was refloated and taken to Swansea for repair. As a result the vessel does not appear in any shipwreck list so the story is not well known.