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.

2 thoughts on “13. The White Stuff

    1. Thank you! In this case, the same ship is spelt either “Ispelen” or “Ispilen”. I like both versions, I wonder which is correct? I think the version that translates as “Ice Pillar” is probably more logical but I can see that a ship called “Ice Arrow” suggests that she is a fast sailer, crucial in getting the cargo quickly from A to B. I would probably have to do some research in contemporary Norwegian newspapers to find out. Would you be able to recommend a good newspaper of that time for maritime news? It’s not uncommon for English sources to misspell foreign-language names – shipwreck conditions weren’t the easiest circumstances to decipher names written in foreign languages or lettering, and there was often a language barrier with survivors too! Thank you again for getting in touch.

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