A ship with three identities: the Mexico disaster, 1886

We are delighted to welcome as our guest blogger this week Roger Burns, who has researched and written this post. Roger describes himself as a ‘retired civil engineer, who, seeking a hobby, volunteered in 2016 with the Maritime Archaeology Trust, for whom he researches wrecks and drafts articles and blogs, and as a result has become a regular contributor of wreck data to Historic England. Prior to volunteering, Roger had minimal maritime knowledge, but is now fully immersed in such an interesting and rewarding pursuit.’

On the anniversary of the final loss on 27th February 1900, Roger tells the story of a ‘wrecked’ vessel which resulted in a horrific tragedy off the Lancashire coast – one ship, three identities, and two distinct fates, with no apparent connection between the two events until his recent research.

Contemporary oil painting of the hull of a wreck under a dark cloudy sky at low tide, allowing salvors to attend the wreck (on the left).

Figure 1: The wreck of the Mexico, Emil Axel Krause, 1886. As a Lancashire painter born in Germany, the wreck of the Mexico must have held double appeal as a subject.
Source: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/the-wreck-of-the-mexico-66088
Atkinson Art Gallery Collection CC BY-NC-SA

Early career: as the John Bull

We begin with the launch of a barque on 21 February 1860 as the John Bull by Thomas R. Oswald & Co., Pallion, Sunderland for Temperley & Co., White Lion Court, Cornhill, London, a modestly-sized 3-masted sailing vessel of 484 tons gross. (1) Completed in March 1860, it was registered at London as ON28377 of 484 tons gross. With a single bulkhead, the vessel was constructed (2) throughout of iron protected by red lead paint, except for the deck which was yellow pine, provided with one longboat and two other small boats, certified and classed 12A1 by Lloyd’s.

We are able to trace the story of the John Bull in the British Newspaper Archive and elsewhere. The ship was intended for the London to Quebec and Montreal trade, first arriving on 17 May 1860 and these return voyages endured until November 1872, encountering seasonal ice. Exceptions were a return passage in 1866 to Woosung and Shanghai, another when in December 1872, the John Bull departed London for New Zealand, returning to London the following November, then departed again for New Zealand returning via Australia destined for Leith. The 1872 voyage to New Zealand provides exceptional detail in both British and New Zealand newspapers: over May and June 1873 there were several newspaper Notices of Auctions for three bales of curled horse hair, 79 kegs of crushed loaf sugar, 10 packages of Eleme raisins, one bale of bleached cotton waste, two bales of grey blankets, and an assortment of tin boxes of tin plates, all of which had been landed by the John Bullmore or less damaged by sea-water”. An out-of-character destination in November 1876 when en route London to Montreal was Guadeloupe, either as a diversion, or due to storms. The last Canadian trip appears to be mid-1878 and then, on 28 December 1878, when en route from Baltimore to North Shields with a cargo of Indian corn (maize), the ship’s boy, who hailed from London, fell overboard in heavy weather and drowned.

There were several changes of ownership, with the John Bull being regularly advertised for sale between November 1879 and March 1881. During this time, it had been dry-docked, chipped and painted internally and externally and provided with new main mast, main and foretopsail yard, jibboom and windlass. Contained in a Lloyd’s dated 19 May 1881, was another change of ownership to Gebrüder Oetling of Hamburg, including the construction of a ‘house’, 6.55m long, 4.15m wide and 1.96m high, on the deck between foremast and main hatch – unfortunately, records do not show details of previous accommodation. (3)

A change of name: Mexico

At this point it was also renamed the Mexico, re-registered at Hamburg, and a Captain Burmeister assumed command, signalling a change in routes through until summer 1886. Reported ports of call included, in chronological order, Santos, Valparaiso, Iquique, Hamburg, Arica, Corinto, Liverpool, Marseilles, Hamburg, Pauillac, unidentified ports in Central America, Hamburg, La Union, La Libertad, Tebuantepac and Liverpool. Between September and November 1886, regular advertisements appeared for repeat sailings between Liverpool and Guayaquil, Ecuador.  

Between 1860 and 1881, there were 18 Lloyd’s reports, of which eight were regular Annual Surveys, the remainder including repairs, mostly of checking and repainting the hull, always retaining its original classification, thus supporting its ‘For Sale’ advertisements which drew attention to its pedigree.

The first wreck as Mexico, 1886

Media reports of the wrecking of the sailing barque Mexico appeared in the newspapers of 10 December 1886, notably the local Lancashire Evening Post, intimating that the vessel had gone aground just off Southport, was dismasted, and its 12 crew were saved, but also that disaster had struck two RNLI lifeboats, from Southport and St. Annes, with 27 of 29 of their crews drowned. (4)

Map of the Ribble Estuary, showing the location of the wreck west of Southport, with St. Annes and Lytham to the north; inset map at top left showing the location on the north English coast.

Figure 2: Location of the first wrecking of the SV Mexico, and the three involved communities
(Maritime Archaeology Trust)

The Mexico had departed Liverpool the previous night with a general but valuable cargo for Guayaquil, Ecuador but managed only some 15 miles, encountering atrocious weather. The Southport lifeboat, the Eliza Fernley (5) was launched first, but capsized and was swept ashore, with only two of the 16 crew surviving. The St. Annes lifeboat, the Laura Janet (6) was also launched but it too capsized with all 13 crew being lost. The Lytham lifeboat, Charles Biggs, was launched for its maiden rescue, and succeeded in bringing all 12 crew of the grounded Mexico safely ashore. The loss of 27 RNLI volunteer crew remains to this day as its worst crew death toll in its long and distinguished history.

The newspapers were awash with reports for days afterwards. It is salutary to read the experience of John Jackson, one of the two survivors from the Eliza Fernley, who had been a volunteer lifeboatman for 15 years, transcribed from the 10 December 1886 issue of the Lancashire Evening Post:

‘At ten minutes to ten (pm) the horses set off with the boat, and, after experiencing considerable difficulty, launched the boat at eleven o’clock. A large crowd saw us off and the excitement was tremendous. The boat was launched successfully and went nicely for a time. A very heavy sea was running at the time, and our troubles soon commenced. Captain Hodge and Peters, the second coxswain, were at the helm, and as sea after sea washed over us, every man stuck grimly to his seat. We were beaten back several times and shipped an immense quantity of water. It was pitch dark at the time, and the only indication of the distressed barque was the faint glimpse of a lamp, which, as we got closer, we saw hung from the mizzen top. I was able to discern that the vessel had lost her foremast and mainmast. We were at length within 30 yards off the vessel, and could hear no shouting, indeed the storm rose to such a pitch that it was with difficulty that we could hear our own voices. I was just about letting go the anchor to get the boat alongside the vessel—we were then I should say, twenty yards from the barque—when a tremendous sea caught the boat right amidships, and she went over. We expected her to right herself, but she remained bottom upwards. Some of us managed, at length, to crawl out. I and Richard Robinson held firmly to the rowlocks, and was buffeted about considerably. With some difficulty I got underneath the boat again, and spoke, I think, to Hy. Robinson, Thos. Jackson, Timothy Rigby, and Peter Jackson. I called out, “I think she will never right; we have all to be drowned.” I heard a voice–I think it was Henry Robinson’s–say, “I think so, too.” I got out again and found Richard Robinson “fairly done.” He leaned heavily on my arm, and I think he must have been suffocated. Another heavy sea came, and when it receded, he had disappeared, and I never saw him again. While underneath, I called out to my brother “Clasper!” — that is a sort of nickname we gave him—but could get no answer. The boat eventually drifted bottom upwards to the shore, and those who were rescued, like myself, clung to her. I don’t know what became of the rest, I was exhausted. I remember seeing two or three struggling to reach the boat, but I do not know who they were. I drifted with the boat, bottom upwards, to the beach—and staggered home, about three o’clock in the morning.’

The RNLI have authored several reports, including this one on the centenary of the event in 1986.

The ensuing 2½ years

There was an outpouring of condolences from all walks of life, including Queen Victoria. The public relief fund, over an extended period, raised £35,000 (approx. £3.5m in 2022) to which the Emperor of Germany contributed £1,300. Just a few days after the disaster, the National Lifeboat Association announced that they would pay the cost of the funerals, held on 14 December 1886 and witnessed by huge crowds, and would also provide monetary assistance to the families until the public fundraising was complete: later, annuities from the relief fund were distributed to the families, sadly comprising 16 widows and 50 fatherless children. (7)

The St. Annes and Southport lifeboats were replaced in late 1886 with improved with improved water-ballast versions, but still powered by oar, and, weather permitting, sails. (8)

At a ceremony on 1 February 1887, the crew of the Charles Biggs were each thanked in person by Mr Babr, the German Consul, with a modest reward in appreciation of saving the Mexico’s German crew. (9)

On 11 March 1887, after three months partly under water, tugs towed the Mexico to Lytham where it was beached – Messrs Allsopp and Sons of Preston had secured the wreck for £70 in the expectation of reaping the rewards of its cargo, although a significant amount had been salvaged soon after the disaster and sold in local shops. During 1888, three obelisks and a memorial were erected in memory of the 27 lifeboat crew who were drowned.

Montage of four colour photographs of monuments in different styles; top left, obelisk; top right, chest tomb with broken mast feature; lower right, statue of lifeboatman on plinth; lower left, Gothic spire on plinth.

Figure 3: The four memorials, all listed structures, clockwise from top left: lifeboat monument, Southport; monument to the Southport lifeboat Eliza Fernley; lifeboat monument near St. Annes Pier; monument to the St. Annes lifeboat Laura Janet

It was right that the 1886 tragedy brought the RNLI into focus, precipitating the first public street collection in Britain in 1891, nearly seventy years after the RNLI’s inception in 1824.

The Mexico resurrected

A ‘For Sale’ advertisement in Lloyd’s List of 11 February 1889 offered the hull of the Mexico where it was lying on Lytham beach, with anchors, chains, steel hawser, some timber, ropes and a derrick, and with mizzenmast standing. Three months later, the Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette of 14 May 1889, reported that the Mexico had arrived at the Old West Dock in Greenock for an expected two months of repairs by a Mr Thomson, boilermaker, in preparation for the West India trade. It must have been considered a worthwhile investment despite its wide-ranging voyages as John Bull, grounding off Southport as Mexico, enduring over two years of storms at Lytham, and then towed some 200 miles to Greenock, thus being a credit to the structural design and skill of the builders who specialised in iron ships from 1860 – regular survey by Lloyd’s and essential maintenance by the owners also contributed.

Final fate as the Valhalla

The new (managing) owner was Lewis T. Merrow, 65 West Regent St., Glasgow and the Mexico was re-registered with 477 tonnage at Glasgow until 1898. Ownership was then briefly held by J.P. Clausen, Nordby, Fanø, Denmark, who renamed the vessel Valhalla. The final owner was A/S Valhalla, managed by Hans Blom & Frithjof Ohlsen, Fredriksvaern, Norway. By now, it was registered in Fredriksvaern, with new number 1028377, and her tonnage recorded as 494 gross/476 net. The voyage history after repairs at Glasgow is sparse and lacking detail in the cargoes carried, but ports visited from the Clyde included the Demerara region of Guyana, Pensacola, and Belfast.

With nine crew and the master (whose name is either omitted from both British and Norwegian newspapers, or variously spelt as Servig, Sorvig, Sowig etc.) the Valhalla departed Gravesend for Grangemouth in ballast, and while off the North Berwick coast on 27 February 1900, encountered a rain storm, haze, and heavy sea, and ran aground opposite Tantallon Castle. (10)

Location map showing the wreck of the Valhalla off Tantallon Castle; inset map at top left showing the relative location near Edinburgh

Figure 4: Location of the final wreck SV Valhalla (Maritime Archaeology Trust)

The North Berwick lifeboat was called out, and like at Southport, four lifeboatmen were washed overboard but fortunately regained their lifeboat. The Valhalla’s crew were pulled ashore in their own boat, aided by a rocket line from shore, and, except for one injury, were safe and well. (11) The Valhalla was dashed to pieces, and the crew were repatriated.

Text in Norwegian (translated in caption) in Black Letter Gothic typeface from contemporary newspaper

Figure 5: Contemporary report in Norges Sjøfartstidende, 5 March 1900, p2 (excerpt).
Translated, this reads: ‘Valhalla. Dundee, 28th February. Norwegian barque Valhalla has now completely broken up.’
Source: Nasjonalbiblioteket, Oslo, Norway. CC-BY-NC-ND

We would like to express our appreciation to Roger for telling the fascinating story of the Mexico/Valhalla, a ship that was wrecked twice over in two different places, and also to Julie Satchell of the Maritime Archaeology Trust for her kind assistance.

The connection between the two events has until now been obscure, with the two years between the first wreck event involving the Mexico and its eventual recovery for sale highly unusual, to sail again as the Valhalla, and the different names under which the barque went ashore on those two occasions.

The double ‘loss’ of the same ship under different circumstances several years apart is also unusual: it is not unknown, but is a relatively rare event (one of the better-known examples being HMS Thetis, sunk in Liverpool Bay in 1939, which was salvaged and re-entered service as HMS Thunderbolt, only to be lost with all hands in the Mediterranean in 1943).

There are also more interesting features about this ship since it illustrates over the course of the two wreck events that, on the one hand, a shipwreck such as Mexico may entail loss of life (in this case of the lifeboatmen who went so gallantly to the rescue) but the ship itself is recovered; on the other, as Valhalla, the crew may be saved, but the vessel itself lost.


(1) http://www.sunderlandships.com/view.php?year_built=&builder=&ref=105355&vessel=JOHN+BULL/

(2) Iron Ships Report for John Bull, 23rd February 1860 – https://hec.lrfoundation.org.uk/archive-library/documents/lrf-pun-iron434-0176-r

(3) Report of Survey for Repairs, &c for Mexico, 19th May 1881  https://hec.lrfoundation.org.uk/archive-library/documents/lrf-pun-lon665-0613-r

(4) Mexico; https://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=3ca4c738-ba17-4906-87cc-d5ec4943fe42&resourceID=19191

(5) ibid (Mexico); Eliza Fernley: https://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=2e1647cd-fc97-44ae-843b-692e41686884&resourceID=19191

(6) ibid; Laura Janet: https://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=fd3d560b-8ff7-4e25-99ba-c5240fb2e12f&resourceID=19191

(7) https://rnli.org/about-us/our-history/timeline/1886-southport-and-st-annes-lifeboats-disaster

(8) Leeds Mercury, 15 December 1886; https://lifeboatmagazinearchive.rnli.org/volume/13/143/the-life-boat-disasters-at-southport-and-st-annes?searchterm=fernley&YearFrom=1886&YearTo=1888&page=1

(9) Lancashire Evening Post – 1 February 1887

(10) https://canmore.org.uk/site/120022/valhalla-tantallon-castle-gin-head-firth-of-forth

(11) North British Daily Mail, 28 February 1900

Diary of the Second World War – February 1943

The Lindbergh

Historic colour photograph of fisherman in typical navy blue fishing gear and cap standing beneath drying nets and looking out to sea.
Portrait of a Belgian fisherman. (TR 1868)
Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205123994

Sometimes the tragedy of a shipwreck can also reveal a hidden heritage which has all but slipped out of living memory – and the events that unfolded on that day of 19 February 1943 are all the more moving because of it.

After the fall of Belgium in May 1940 fishermen from Nieuwpoort, Ostend and Zeebrugge left for England either directly or via French ports. They, of course, had better means than many of making their escape in their fishing boats, and were able to take other refugees with them. The testimony of Pierre Logghe, who left Belgium as a boy with his family, recalled their boat, hosting three other refugee families, coming under bombardment at Calais and seeing a mine off Dieppe claiming another Belgian trawler, O.288 Normandie, and they were again bombed as they set out once more on the last leg for England. (See note 1 to read his story in full.)

As Pierre recalled, and as research by the Ministry of Information at the time demonstrated, (2) many of the fishermen remembered only too well the horrors of the First World War, something that in itself we often overlook: those born around 1900 would see war twice before they were 50.

Belgian drifters and trawlers were a familiar sight on the eastern and Channel coasts from the late 19th century onwards, encountered both as working vessels and as wrecks, as for example the Vierge Marie, which stranded west of Tater-Du, Cornwall, in heavy seas in January 1937.

Pierre’s father’s ship was the O.280 Pierre, registered at Ostend, was recognised in harbour as one of their own, having previously been Brixham smack BM 1, Superb, sold on in 1919. Nor were the Logghes the only Belgian refugees to come to Brixham, which soon hosted a community in exile of 2,000 Belgians (3) from fishing families who followed a similar tradition of trawling from sailing vessels as the Brixham fleet – for that very reason, it is unsurprising that at least one Brixham trawler had been sold on into Belgian service. (If you’d like to follow up the heritage of the Brixham sailing trawler, have a look at a past post on a former Brixham sailing trawler that went to war, HMS Brown Mouse.)

Historical colour photo of a group of three fishermen in typical navy blue fishing gear with caps on their heads, with a blurred view of terraces behind them.
A group of Belgian fishermen on the quayside at Brixham, 1944 (TR 1864) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205123992

The Belgians became well-established in Brixham, settling into homes nearby, a Belgian school for children hosted in the Town Hall, and a sea school for boys established. A documentary short (Little Belgium / Klein België), following the lives of the fishermen, their families, and their community, was shown in cinemas: it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Film in 1942.

The film depicted the success of the community at work, school and play, but British gunners shown boarding the fleet setting out to sea to provide some defence against air attack showed the dangers they still had to face. Pierre Logghe recalled his father being strafed by aircraft on several occasions while out fishing, and also the fate of other Belgian trawlers fishing from Brixham: ‘two ships were lost through mines and the third by an explosion in their net.’ (4)

We can identify the Belgian trawler which sank after netting a mine as the Marie Robert, lost off Wolf Rock, between Land’s End and the Isles of Scilly, on 2 April 1942. We cannot confirm with certainty the identities of the other two ships lost to mines, as there are more than two candidates in the frame (including Ster der Zee and Irma Germaine, sunk off Berry Head in October 1942 and August 1943 respectively) but it is likely that one of those to which he referred was another Ostend ship in the fleet operating out of Brixham, O.260 Lindbergh, lost on 19 February 1943.

Our best source for the sequence of events comes from a Flemish-language fishermen’s newspaper, Het Nieuwe Visscherijblad, published after the war, with its attractive masthead of two trawlers, one sailing and one steam, heading into harbour amid strong breakers. (5) Commemorating the third anniversary of a loss that was still raw, under an English-language heading of ‘Remember . . .‘ the newspaper recounts a sequence of events that must have come down from the sole survivor, Arthur Vinck.

The Lindbergh was fishing off Brixham harbour in a position about 15 or 16 miles south of Berry Head together (6) with other Belgian trawlers of the Brixham fleet. Vinck was on deck at the bows, with the skipper Fransciscus Vanneuville in the wheelhouse. The moment of the explosion must have been frozen in his mind, as he recalled the exact position of everyone in the crew: the two Vandammes, father Lodewijk and son Marcel, were chatting behind him to Jozef Monteny, and the cook Jan Michel Duyck was in the galley. ‘Suddenly, there was a tremendous explosion and the stern flew up in the air. The vessel sank immediately.’ N.63 Sincerity of Nieuwpoort, also in the surrounding fleet, and based in Newlyn, (7) set course for the site and picked Arthur up after an hour in the sea, having been kept alive and afloat by a lifebelt. Out of the other five crew, nothing could be discovered other than the body of Marcel Vandamme, the ship’s boy.

The skipper who performed the rescue was awarded a medal for his efforts from the Belgian government-in-exile in London.

Prayer cards for the deceased survive in online Belgian collections. (8) They reveal that Marcel was not yet 16 when he died, much the same age as the boy shown taking his examination at the Belgian Fishing School in Brixham below.

Historical black and white photograph of a teenage boy at left stands before 7 men at a table under fishing nets suspended from a ceiling.
A pupil (left) at the Belgian State Fishing School, run by the Belgian Government, in Brixham, Devon, is questioned on what he has learnt by a panel of experts. (PD 196)
Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205202835

An account of Marcel’s funeral in the local press revealed more about wartime censorship than details of the circumstances behind his death, for details of deaths to war causes were minimised (9) so as not to reveal to the enemy the success or otherwise of their operations:

A spacious public hall, kindly loaned by the public authority in a South-West town, was crowded last week by Belgian and Fighting French refugees at the Requiem Mass for Marcel Dandamme [sic], aged 15, whose mortal remains were brought into the hall by four stalwart compatriots . . . The funeral was attended by the chairman and members of the local authority and officials of the Belgian and Fighting French Mercantile Marine. (10)

Marcel’s body was repatriated after the war and now lies in his home town of Ostend. (11)

The wreck is a tangible memorial not only to the crew, but also to an uprooted culture and community which found a temporary home in a comparable community, but which could not wholly escape the spectre of war.


(1) Logghe, P 2012 The Story of Brixham’s Belgian Visitors: “Our Escape from Belgium” and “Life in Wartime EnglandDevon Heritage, published online; Logghe, P 2020 “Pierre’s Story”, Brixham Future, published online

(2) See, for example, a photograph with the biography of fisherman M Major and his family https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205202833

(3) Ministry of Information / Ministerie voor Voorlichting van België (Belgian Ministry of Information) 1942 Little Belgium / Klein België (film) (British Paramount News) See, for example, Brixham Heritage Museum’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDM2nj3eWyw (in Flemish, auto-captions in that language available)

(4) See note 1.

(5) Het Nieuwe Visscherijblad, 16 February 1946, No.12

(6) Lloyd’s War Losses for the Second World War, 3 September 1939-14 August 1945, Vol. 1, p625 (London: Lloyd’s of London Press)

(7) The Flemish newspaper article does not name the ship other than its fishing number, N.63, and the name of the skipper, but the fishing number can be traced. https://freepages.rootsweb.com/~treevecwll/family/belgianfv.htm

(8) The crew’s names vary slightly between the newspaper article and the prayer cards, partly because of different linguistic registers and naming conventions with which the English-language reader may not be familiar. The versions on the prayer cards have been preferred.

(9) For further reading on this topic Thompson, G 1947 Blue Pencil Admiral (London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co. Ltd.) is revealing. Rear Admiral George Pirie Thompson was Britain’s Chief Press Censor during the Second World War.

(10) Western Morning News, 2 March 1943, No.25,940, p2

(11) Entry for Marcel Vandamme: https://www.wardeadregister.be/fr/dead-person?idPersonne=71888

Diary of the Second World War – January 1943

A fairly quiet month – apart from the weather

January 1943 was a fairly quiet month in terms of shipwrecks in English waters: 8 ships were recorded as lost, of which one, Bolbec, was refloated in September 1943.

There were a few ships lost to war causes: first, patrol trawler HMT Kingston Jacinth was mined with considerable loss of life off Portsmouth on 12 January. Two wooden sailing Thames barges were lost to mines off Burnham-on-Crouch on the Essex coast: on 13 January, Ailsa struck a mine on the edge of Foulness Sand off the Essex coast, although fortunately her crew were saved, and on 28 January, Resolute, bound from London to Ipswich with wheat, struck a mine off Holland-on-Sea. When the lifeboat arrived on scene the crew found only wreckage, but the master had been picked up by another barge and was transferred to the lifeboat, although the mate was lost with the vessel. It sounds as if the barge had been blown to smithereens by the explosion.

Two groups of Thames barges moored on the river, with their sails furled. Behind them lies an industrial landscape of chimneys and dock cranes on the far bank of the river.

Thames barges moored at Greenwich, taken by photographer S W Rawlings between 1945-1965. He was the photographer for the Information Office of the Port of London Authority, recording the working river in the postwar period. S W Rawlings Collection, AA001107 © Historic England Archive

The cargo vessel Longbird collided with the Beltoy off the north-east coast while sailing independently for Hull with foodstuffs on 16 January 1943, having parted convoy on her ‘northabout’ voyage round the Scottish coast from the Clyde. She was a fairly unusual vessel type, having been launched as a steam naval gunboat in 1919, but sold into commercial service in 1920 and converted to a cargo vessel.

The 7-ton Landing Craft Personnel (Medium) No.17 or LCP (M) No.17 was lost off the Isle of Wight on 5 January, cause of loss unclear. There does not appear to have been anything exceptional about the weather, but loss even in fairly calm conditions is not unknown.

It was a different story for our other wrecks this month, where the weather appears to have been the major factor accounting for their loss. Firstly, the cargo vessel Wyetown foundered in ‘heavy weather’ off the Suffolk coast on 14 January, while bound from Hull for Ipswich, consistent with the gale warning issued for London and the east coast at 01.45am earlier that day. (1)

On the last day of the month HMS Bloodhound, a pre-war motor torpedo discharge vessel built by Vosper of Portsmouth in 1937 was wrecked at her station off Bincleaves, Portland.

Historic aerial photograph taken only four years after our wreck, showing Bincleaves groyne, one of the breakwaters enclosing Portland harbour, from the east, looking towards the land, with small harbour craft dotting the water. To the right, outside the groyne, the water is fast-moving and agitated, within the groyne on the left, much calmer: a breakwater captured doing its job. If wrecked within the groyne, the water must indeed have been turbulent that day.
© Historic England. Aerofilms Collection Historic England photograph: EAW010943 flown 24/09/1947

Bloodhound was an interesting small experimental vessel, with a fascinating background. She had been part of ‘stone frigate’ (shore establishment) HMS Vernon, Portsmouth, as part of the Admiralty Torpedo, Mining and Electrical Training Establishment, based on the old Gunwharf (now the Gunwharf Quays development). Vernon was dispersed after air raids on Portsmouth, the Establishment being based at Roedean School for Girls for the rest of the war, and Bloodhound sent to Portland.

The wreck of HMS Bloodhound occurred in severe weather, with a gale warning issued for points on the SW coast at 6am on 30 January; a further prediction was a ‘south to southeast gale, veering southwest to west, severe at times especially on parts of the coast, beginning to moderate tonight’. (2)

Not only were there few wrecks for January 1943, detail on the ships involved is sparse and/or widely dispersed among sources, not helped by wartime censorship of sources we would normally rely on, such as newspapers. As Wyetown and Bloodhound demonstrate, weather data helps to fill the gap for vessels not lost to war causes.


(1) Daily Weather Report of the Meteorological Office, Air Ministry, London, Wednesday 14th January, 1943, No.25638 https://digital.nmla.metoffice.gov.uk/IO_5245f1c2-b185-42e0-99d5-3aefd5c4acaf/

(2) Daily Weather Report of the Meteorological Office, Air Ministry, London, Saturday 30th January, 1943, No.25654 and Sunday 31st January, 1943, No.25655 (Met Office Digital Library and Archive, Daily Weather Report January 1943 https://digital.nmla.metoffice.gov.uk/IO_5245f1c2-b185-42e0-99d5-3aefd5c4acaf/