20. Genuinely Wreck of this Week!

I answer PastScape enquiries if they have a maritime flavour, and earlier this week, a member of the public with an interest in maritime history got in touch via the PastScape comments log to tell us that our record for the Ann in 1802 had the incorrect master’s name and that she had more information.

Incidentally, this one was one researched and put on the system in the first instance, as she does not appear in the Shipwreck Index of the British Isles.

Quite why we have the wrong master’s name turned out to be quite clear in one way, but a bit of a mystery in another way. It’s not uncommon, if a ship is wrecked on her first voyage with a new master, for the earlier master’s name to be quoted in contemporary newspaper reports, particularly if it is a vessel with a quick turnaround on a regular route, as was the case with the Ann.

This lovely correspondent kindly typed up some further background information from copies of original documents she had obtained from the National Maritime Museum for me: it turned out that on this voyage the master was Bittleston, not Grant, she was 243 tons, and owned by a man who specialised in the east coast coal trade, so the Ann was most likely a dedicated collier. She is utterly typical of ships in that trade, a brig, and about the usual tonnage for a smaller brig of c.250 tons. Not unusually for a collier brig, she was lost off Great Yarmouth by getting on the Scroby Sand.

What was interesting was the level of detail after the ship struck the Scroby. The master’s attempts to get the vessel off continued until the planks started, when it became clear she wasn’t going to come off; the salvors were circling like vultures to start stripping the hull, and a bill was presented to W D Palmer, shipwreck agents at Great Yarmouth, for efforts to attend the ship. According to my correspondent, apparently some of the sails which were supposed to have been salved were stolen.

In these cases, the vessel was normally stripped of all her materials, which were advertised for sale by auction in situ, or taken back within 2-6 weeks, to be sold by auction at her home port, depending on how quickly the materials and stores could be salved and the availability of a suitable vessel to take the materials back. The wrecks of Shields colliers were often sold back at Shields in this way. For example a ship appeared in the arrivals list at Shields with “wrecked materials” from Saltfleet, following the loss of a vessel at Saltfleet in 1810.

The tide times in the contemporary sources don’t stack up. I had a look on Admiralty Easytide and high water on 14 September 1802 at Great Yarmouth itself was at 9.29 so two hours after high tide would have been circa 11.30. As the Scroby is not that far offshore, the discrepancy is surely too great to be owing to the location? There are other things which are slightly odd. Mrs Thompson told me that the mate had been arrested on the previous voyage by the Customs on arrival at Shields, but was bailed, and two days after the wreck he wrote to the former captain: My Dr. Friend That you were not Master of the Ann when this Misfortune came upon us I heartily rejoice.

Curiouser and curiouser. It was suggested that there was some “pong” about the whole thing. Was there a reason the master was replaced, so that the original master had an alibi?

The thought of insurance fraud did cross my mind, but against that is the whole issue of a spike in 1802 of ships lost on the Scroby with 4 ships lost that year, one only a couple of weeks previously. Interestingly, the weather conditions are not mentioned at all in any of those four cases, suggesting that they were unremarkable, so the weather was probably not particularly a factor in the case of the Ann, i.e. not driving her onto the sand. As with most sandbanks, there are fairly discernible patterns where the numbers of wrecks rise in a particular year which must be owing to sand movement. The vessel struck at 9pm on the 13th in company with another vessel, near enough to high tide at 9.30pm, according to Admiralty Easytide, This suggests that the two ships were expecting a clear navigable channel around the Scroby. The other ship was more fortunate in getting off, perhaps because she might have been nearer the edge of the sand and able to float off more quickly as the tide reached its height. The number of Scroby losses in that year without ascribing any responsibility to the weather suggests that perhaps the sand was encroaching unexpectedly on the navigable channel, which was therefore narrower than usual.

Does anyone else have anything to add or any other suggestions? In the meantime, however, this is a really good example of a record which is hugely improved following collaboration with a PastScape visitor.

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