One hundred years ago, on 13 February 1915, the English steel barque Andromeda struck the rocks while inbound for Falmouth, en route to London, with 3,000 tons of grain from Oregon.
Her inclusion in the War Diary for this month illustrates the fact that while ships faced new threats from enemy action in time of war, they continued to be just as vulnerable as ever to environmental hazards. It could be said that wartime voyages were doubly hazardous. For the year 1915 there were some 59 recorded strandings on beaches, sandbanks, and rocks, or approximately one eighth of all wrecks recorded for that year. (1)
The Andromeda is a snapshot in time: in the early 20th century the barque became a specialist carrier of grain cargoes, and her manner of loss was linked to another aspect of seafaring heritage: for she was inbound to Falmouth ‘for orders’. In effect, when a vessel was loaded at her departure port, her master and crew did not necessarily where the final leg of the voyage would take them. It would only be in making landfall in England at Falmouth, with its noted anchorage, that crews would receive their ‘orders’ for their final destination.
When the Andromeda ‘spoke with’ an armed patrol vessel off the Isles of Scilly on 12 February messages were exchanged: the patrol vessel warned of U-boat activity in the Channel, while the Andromeda requested a message be sent to Falmouth requesting a pilot to take her in there.
The vessel got into difficulties off Falmouth as squally, stormy weather ensued and the master continued to wait, with reduced sail, for a pilot who failed to materialise. As so often, the loss of the Andromeda was the result of a chain of circumstances. To quote the Board of Trade Inquiry report into the loss:
‘his implicit reliance on the wireless message of the patrol officer, the warning as to submarines, his knowledge that pilotage was compulsory at Falmouth, his anticipation that the harbour was mined’ kept him waiting off Falmouth, exposing his vessel to difficulties on a lee shore onto which she could not but be driven ashore. (2)
Thus it was that while not a war loss, the Andromeda was wrecked through environmental hazards – the weather driving her onto local rocks – in circumstances shaped by the heightened fear of wartime conditions.
With many thanks to Mark Milburn, who has located the bow of the Andromeda off Killigerran Head, east of Falmouth, and researched her history, enabling us to update our records.
(1) Source: National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) database