No.43 The Vogelstruis

An Ostrich with her Head in the Sand (or in the mud . . . )

Happy New Year!

To kick off another year of Wreck of the Week, here’s a ship which was captured, but not wrecked, at the Battle of Portland in 1653. She was the Vogelstruis, beautifully mangled in one English source as the ‘Fugelstrays‘!

The Vogelstruis was built for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1640. She had already made six return voyages for the VOC when she set out on her last adventure, as part of the Dutch escort for a large convoy of merchantmen homeward-bound through the Channel. The English lay in wait to intercept the convoy and thus began the Battle of Portland, or the Three Days’ Battle as it is also known, in February 1653.

In his despatches the Dutch commander Maarten Tromp* noted that it had been impossible to rescue the disabled Vogelstruis drifting ‘in amongst the English fleet . . .’ , who captured her and sent her for Portsmouth. She entered English service under a simple translation of her original name, to become the Estridge or ‘ostrich’, a name that was redolent of the faraway climes of her earlier VOC service.

If a ship could be named Ostrich, then contemporary poets such as Richard Lovelace likened the ostrich to a ship: Eastrich! Thou featherd Foole, and easie prey, That larger sailes to thy broad Vessell needst (Lucasta’s Fanne, 1649).

She was hulked in 1653 and is reported in one source as becoming a careening hulk, a support vessel in the ‘careening’ or heeling over of ships on the shore to be cleaned and repaired, an essential but time-consuming process in the age of sail. As warships aged and/or became obsolete, they would be successively downgraded, passing through a number of incarnations after leaving active service, a process of decay that sometimes ultimately led to wrecking by abandonment or through structural weakness in adverse conditions.

There was another fate, and a common one in the 17th and 18th centuries as the demands of the Royal Navy for facilities increased: to be sunk as harbour foundations or as breakwaters at principal ports. Such was the fate of the Estridge, given variously as at Portsmouth or at Sheerness, but in all sources for the same purpose, and at the same date, in 1679. The Augustine, also captured from the Dutch in 1653, became a foundation at Harwich in 1665, a fate shared by the Play Prize, ex. French Le Jeu[x] in 1697. Even as late as 1830 HMS Glatton was scuttled as a breakwater foundation, again revealing Harwich’s rich heritage of ‘recycled ships’.

*the banner photo is of the Admiral van Tromp, a modern wreck named after Admiral Maarten Harpertsz. Tromp.

No.42 The Bumper Christmas Edition

The Annunciation: The Angel Gabriel from Heaven came . . .

The Engel Gabriel was a Dutch ship scuttled by the English at the Battle of Portland in 1653, during the First Anglo-Dutch War, and a name very much in tune with the times in the 17th century. Quite a few wrecks of the Anglo-Dutch wars bore names inspired by characters from the Bible, though such names were beginning to fall out of favour in the Protestant nations. We have an Angel Gabriel of unknown nationality which struck at Jury’s Gap in 1637 with a cargo of wine from Spain. You may also like to have a look at another Angel Gabriel, which was lost in a hurricane off the Maine coast in 1635.

The Annunciation to the Shepherds: The First Nowell that the Angel did say . . .

We have four wrecks in English waters called Noel, one of which was a French steamer which staggered from collision to collision off the Royal Sovereign Light Vessel in the English Channel, during a gale in 1897 which saw widespread casualties all over England. She ran first into a barque, which was at first feared to have gone down, but was later seen under tow with her bows ‘stove’. However, the Esparto steamer was not so lucky, and sank after being cut nearly in two. It took some time for the full story to emerge: the Noel‘s crew could not be rescued for a few days because they were ashore in a rather inaccessible location in the teeth of a howling gale, and could only communicate by signals from the master. In the meantime, the rest of the crew took shelter in the stern, the bows being ‘completely torn away, exposing the whole of the forepart of the ship, which is entirely submerged, having apparently settled over the bank’.

 . . . was to certain poor shepherds in the fields as they lay . . .

There is also a small flock (sorry!) of lost vessels named Shepherd, some probably for the surname. However, I particularly like the Shepherd and Shepherdess of 1766, which struck the Farne Islands: perhaps the name cashed in on the popularity of contemporary Arcadian subjects, for example, this Meissen couple from 1750.

O little town of Bethlehem . . .

The name Star of Bethlehem seems to have been current in fishing communities in the 1890s. Our first loss was a Grimsby trawler off Staithes in 1890, with three weeks’ worth of fish. I wonder if a local fisherman saw the name and was taken with it, since the next wreck, in 1892, was of the newly-built ship of the same name, operating out of Staithes, and also lost in that region. Finally, the last wreck to bear this name in English waters was a Scottish herring lugger from Banffshire in 1895, working the Great Yarmouth fishing grounds as so many Scottish fishermen did, up to the mid 20th century. Perhaps this last gives a clue as to why the name was popular: the crews followed the migratory herring as the shepherds and the wise men followed the star. Could anyone from a fishing community shed any light on this?

The Annunciation to the Magi: Star of the East, the horizon adorning . . . .

In the same way, a fishing vessel named Star of the East was run down by a steamer off the Eddystone in 1904, while returning from Newlyn to her home port of Lowestoft.

And finally . . . no Christmas would be complete without a nativity scene:

When the General Gascoyne struck the Burbo Bank off Liverpool, in 1837, inbound from Quebec and Montreal with deals, potash and passengers, she rapidly found herself in a perilous situation. Potash prices rose on the Liverpool markets with the loss of the ship and her cargo. This prosaic detail was rather overshadowed by what happened to the crew and human cargo who ‘were clinging to the poop and mizen rigging with a heavy sea breaking over them’ when the local tug Eleanor steamed to the rescue. Those on board either jumped off into the ship’s longboat or were taken off one by one by the Eleanor‘s crew, who boarded the ship at the risk of their own lives.

The accounts of what happened next are slightly conflicting: according to the Lancaster Gazette, a lady ‘far advanced in pregnancy’ promptly gave birth on board the Eleanor, suggesting the shock of shipwreck had brought on labour; according to the Times, she had been ‘only confined the previous day’, and was ‘rescued along with her infant’. Either way, this nativity was surely a miraculous rescue.