No.33 Durham and the Farne Islands

Power and Piety

A recent visit to the Farne Islands observing diving ops, followed by a trip to Durham to see the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition, inspired me to look at the ways in which the See of Durham and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne are intertwined in terms of wrecks.

In 1320 a ship laden with wool and hides was lost near Holy Island. The Bishop of Durham, Lewis de Beaumont, claimed the cargo since the wreck lay ‘within the Bishop’s liberty of Norham’, wherein he had ‘regal rights’ – the Bishops of Durham were, after all, Prince Bishops! The wool was arrested in Newcastle on its way south, since Robert the Bruce in his turn laid claim to it, following a treaty at ‘Twedemuth’. The treaty notwithstanding, Edward II upheld the Bishop’s rights in this matter.

In 1534, Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall dealt with a ‘Scotch ship’ stranded within his bishopric. James V of Scotland complained on behalf of his subjects, who accused locals of plundering the ship – a fairly typical accusation, which, in being escalated to the highest level, has preserved a shipwreck in the official record. Tunstall, clearly with an eye to Henry VIII’s finances, felt that offering ‘full reparation against all who could be proved to have offended’ was one thing, but ‘full value, as if the goods had arrived undamaged’ was a step too far! He thereby demonstrated a shrewdness which enabled him to survive the subsequent religious upheavals under Henry and his children, before eventually meeting his match in Elizabeth I.

Nathaniel, Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham 1674-1721, married a Bamburgh heiress, and between them they posthumously influenced the outcome of shipwrecks on the Farne Islands and Bamburgh for the better. From his wife he inherited considerable estates in Northumberland, stipulating in his own will that surpluses from these assets be charitably distributed. From at least 1776 shipwrecked mariners were succoured by Lord Crewe’s charity, noted with approbation by the newspapers of the day.

The Scotsmen from the Friendship wrecked on the Farne Islands in 1796 met with a better reception than their predecessors in 1534: being ‘liberally supplied from Bamburgh Castle, by the noble charity of the late Lord Crewe.’ I shall close with the happy ending to the ordeal suffered by the sole survivor of the John’s Adventure which struck near the Castle itself the following year:

‘[he] held by some part of the wreck till she righted, when he took his station on that part of the mast, which remained above water. As soon as he was discovered, every exertion was made by the steward of the castle for his relief, and a boat was just putting off when they discovered his deliverers making toward him from off Waren Bar. When brought to land he was much swelled, and had nearly lost the use of his speech, sight, and limbs, but by the care of the Dispensers of Lord Crewe’s noble charity, he is happily restored.’

Have a great weekend!

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