13. The White Stuff

Given the weather of the past week and our new-found proficiency in the art of skating on pavements, I thought the ice trade would be an excellent subject this week!

Today’s wreck, the Christiane, is a fairly typical example of a Norwegian barque belonging to Kragero which stranded with her cargo of ice beside the groyne at South Shields during the ‘Great Storm’ of November 1901. The accompanying text from the South Shields Gazette is a wonderful example of contemporary provincial journalism: suspense, drama, and heightened emotion at their best. One of the seamen was evidently in shock, and we might perhaps detect that the relief that the rescuers felt at the end of the story was as much to do with quietening him down as with the rescue of his shipmates!

There are 41 wrecks of vessels laden with ice in the National Record for the Historic Environment database – all but four were Norwegian, but all were carrying Norwegian ice. The heyday of the ice trade between Norway and England was in the 1870s to the 1890s, and had its roots in the demand for refrigeration and the popularity of ice cream. Norway was a much closer source of ice than the United States, the earliest leader in ice export, and of course the shorter journey meant that the cargo was at less risk of losing its USP . . . ! The demand was such that, although a natural resource in Norway, it was also commercially farmed, with the Christiane’s home port of Kragero as one of its chief outlets.

These ships often had names reflecting their trade: Isbaaden (“ice bath”) is one. Ispolen (“ice pole”) is another, uncovered by a scouring tide at Sheringham last year. Here is a nice view of Ispolen by a local photographer:

Another wreck turns up as Ispilen or Ispelen. This may be an error for another Ispolen or a variant of Isbilen, which today means “ice cream van” in Norwegian… what a wondrous thought if it does allude to the popularity of Victorian ice cream!

Reverting back to the drama of rescue, we see two very similar stories from ice trade wrecks. When the Nora struck the Leman Bank in 1878 the captain was left behind when the ship broke up as he was just about to jump into the boat. He clung to some wreckage all night, then in the morning hoisted a white handkerchief to a stick and waved it about as a signal, being picked up after 19 hours in the water by a Yarmouth smack. The rest of the crew made it across to a lightship.

Less happily, the captain of the August Hermann Francke in 1886 was the sole survivor after the rest of his crew were washed overboard on the Goodwin Sands. He lashed a piece of canvas to a boathook, which signal was seen from Deal, and a successful rescue launched.

12. The Swiss Navy

Happy New Year to you all.

In an example of the “history begins yesterday” approach the recording of post-1945 wrecks began in 2010, when something like 500 modern wrecks were input onto the National Record of the Historic Environment (now under the aegis of Historic England, but at the time when this post was originally written, part of English Heritage).

That old joke about the Swiss Navy isn’t quite as far fetched as you might think: in the 20th century there was, and indeed into the 21st there remains, a Swiss mercantile marine not confined to the shores of Lake Geneva!

Today’s wreck is the Nyon, a Swiss ship which foundered off Beachy Head with a cargo of Mercedes cars following a collision with the Jalazad in 1962. Not only was she Swiss-registered, she is unusual for another reason.

In fact, she is a double wreck, in fact, because part of her had been left behind when she was hauled off the Byrips off St. Abb’s Head, Scotland, in 1958, and so is in the records of the Canmore database (Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of Scotland) as a wreck. She was repaired and re-entered service until her final loss in the 1962 incident. This form of double wrecking in different locations at different times, though rare, does occasionally happen and we signpost as appropriate to other records, as in this instance.

This interesting picture story recounts this initial incident.

Similarly landlocked at first sight are the ships which used to belong to Austria-Hungary, but the Austro-Hungarian Empire was formerly much greater than the borders of the eponymous constituent countries today, and had an outlet to the sea at Trieste in modern Italy and at ports on the Croatian coast.

We know of at least 60 ships which either belonged to Austria-Hungary at the time of loss or had borne an Austro-Hungarian nationality at an earlier period. One of the latter was the Elmcrest, torpedoed in 1940, having formerly borne the Hungarian name of Auguszta Főhercegnő (Archduchess Augusta). In other words, within our records is a body of evidence for ships registered in countries that have never had (Switzerland), or formerly had (Austro-Hungary), an outlet to the sea.