No.84 A family concern

This week’s post approaches wrecks from the viewpoint of family history and local heritage, which are often closely intertwined: today’s case study concerns a number of wrecks which all belonged to the same family with a very distinctive name, the Isemongers of Littlehampton, Sussex.

They seem to have been specialists in the coal trade between Sunderland and Littlehampton, with four collier brigs that we know of, associated with the family and lost within a 30-year timespan.

In 1842, the Economy struck near her home port ‘between Rustington Mills and the Hot Baths’ of the nearby resort, while waiting for a suitable tide to come in. The initial report that the crew had all drowned was later reported as false, and the very specific location described above, in a version in which all the crew survived, lends credence to the report of their survival. She was owned by one Thomas Iremonger (sic), and captained by his brother.

The Peacock of Arundel was lost on the coal route at Caister-on-Sea, Norfolk, on the 12th. On the 25th the Oswy of Littlehampton was beached to discharge her cargo of coal, at Worthing, as was common on the shores of Sussex, and was wrecked when the wind shifted and the weather became stormy – a fairly common manner of loss locally, too.

The Oswy was among the effects of ‘R & P Isemonger’ advertised in a bankruptcy sale in 1851, but the Admiralty Register of Wrecks of 1852-3 attributes her ownership to an Isemonger: did they manage to retain her after all, or buy her back, or was she bought by a relative? (1)

It is 1872 before we hear again of a collier brig owned by an Isemonger of Arundel in another loss incident. The Russell was driven ashore at Hauxley Point, Northumberland, in wind conditions SE force 9. She illustrates another typical manner of loss, for she was outbound from Sunderland for Littlehampton with coal. A severe SE gale could force vessels leaving, or making for, the east coast ports of Shields and Sunderland off course, driving them north to be wrecked along the Northumberland coast.

Patterns of family history are often revealed through wrecks, typically through the names of masters and owners, whose names are those most often recorded in the sources used to tell the story of wrecks. (We do sometimes receive information from people who have traced ancestors as crew members, but that is another post for another day!) There must once have been many families like this, based in coastal towns or villages, who owned a number of ships, usually specialising in a particular trade, and they would have been hit hard by the loss of any one ship. Their story ripples out beyond family and local heritage to become a microcosm of a ‘typical’ 19th century trade route, illustrating characteristic loss patterns at both ends of the voyages they undertook.

(1) Brighton Gazette, 4 December 1851, No.1,597, p1; Admiralty Register of Wrecks, 1852-3, in Parliamentary Papers, Vol.61, pp194-195(197)

No.58 Caen Stone

The Building Blocks of Wreck Knowledge 

Inspired by my recent trip to Caen, I decided this week to have a look at wrecks laden with Caen stone.

Four of our wrecks are known to have been carrying stone specifically described as sourced from Caen. This form of limestone became a popular building material in England for post-Conquest abbeys, cathedrals, and castles: a demonstration of Norman might in Norman stone.

To see maquettes from the Bayeux Tapestry Museum depicting Norman ships unloading stone at the Tower of London, click here (two images on the right-hand side).

Despite all this medieval building activity, we currently know only of post-medieval Caen stone wrecks in English waters. As we would expect, all came ashore on the Channel coast, within a 50-mile stretch of coastline bounded by Dungeness to the east and Hastings to the west. The first, an unknown vessel (we don’t even know if she was English or French), was driven ashore in 1616 somewhere between Lydd and Rye, from which an anchor and cable were taken in assertion of right to wreck.

In early October 1852 the Honoria was driven ashore near the Black Rocks, Brighton, while bound to London. Her sails were torn to shreds in mid-Channel by an ‘equinoctial’ force 11 gale, so that her master was forced to let her drive before the wind. The ‘sufferers’, who were much exhausted by their efforts, were saved and lodged in ‘comfortable quarters’, a somewhat unexpected description for accommodation in the local workhouse!

In much the same fashion John and Mary, also bound to London, was driven ashore near Rye by another ‘equinoctial’ gale in late September 1856. This, however, ended less happily, as the master, who did make it ashore, was left to mourn his wife and four children, who perished.

In 1870 the Thomas Hubbuck, again London-bound with Caen stone, struck near Dungeness like her 1616 counterpart. On this occasion all were happily saved. The lifeboat went out to the scene, but was not required: it was then beached at Dungeness, rather than battling back in the prevailing weather conditions. The men and horses sent to fetch the boat back overland were nearly ‘smothered’ in an unexpected quicksand from which they were extricated only with difficulty.

What contemporary projects in England required the import of Caen stone for new buildings, repairs, or sculptures? Occasionally we can tie the loss of stone cargoes to specific works, for example Portland stone for the New Bridge at Blackfriars, or Dundee stone for the Import Dock at Wapping.

Any suggestions, therefore, for the use of Caen stone in 1616 or in Victorian London in 1852, 1856 and 1870?


Traduction en français: 

Après avoir passé un bon séjour à Caen, cette semaine j’écris un peu concernant les épaves chargées de pierre de Caen.

Quatre naufrages chargés de pierres extraites des carrières caennaises sont coulés autour des côtes anglaises. La pierre de Caen, d’origine calcaire, est devenue la pierre de choix pour les constructions anglo-normands après l’arrivée de Guillaume le Conquérant dès 1066: abbatiales, cathédrales, et châteaux sont tous également construits en pierre de Caen, exprimant la conquête normande de l’Angleterre en pierre aussi normande.

Veuillez cliquer ici pour voir des maquettes du Musée de la Tapisserie, Bayeux, où se trouvent des navires normandes qui débarquent pierre de Caen aux bords de la Tamise où la Tour de Londres est en train de construction (à droite).

Malgré tous ces bâtiments outre-manche du Moyen Age, nous n’en connaissons pas de naufrages médiévales chargés de la pierre de Caen: les quatre naufrages dont nous avons la connaissance se sont coulés à partir du XVIIe siècle, tous aux côtes de la Manche, entre Hastings et Dungeness. La première est échouée en 1616 entre Lydd et Rye, dont nous savons peu de détails: nous ne savons même pas si c’était un bateau anglais ou un bateau français. Les autorités anglaises en ont pris une ancre et une chaîne comme “right of wreck” (“droit d’épave”), ancien droit qui accordait aux grandes domaines de propriétaires terrines ou ecclésiastiques le droit de prendre quelque partie du navire échoué et de son cargaison, si c’était sauvée, lui aussi.

En octobre 1852 le navire Honoria est échoué près des Black Rocks (Rochers Noires), Brighton, en route pour Londres. Ses gréements sont rompus par un vent qui hurlait de force 11, mais les marins naufragés bien épuisés en sont tous sauvés. Quatre ans plus tard, le navire John and Mary est de même façon échoué près de Rye: quoique le capitaine se soit échappé avec toute l’équipe du navire, sa femme et ses quatre enfants se sont malheureusement noyés.

En 1870 le Thomas Hubbuck, en voyageant aussi vers Londres chargé de pierre caennaise, est, tout comme le bateau de 1616, aussi échoué près de Dungeness. Heureusement, toute l’équipe est sauvée dans leur propre bateau; le canot de sauvetage est parti en mer, mais on n’en avait pas besoin, parce que les marins se sont sauvés. Le canot est donc placé sur terre à Dungeness, les sauveteurs épuisés ne voulant pas le retour en mer en pleine tempête. Les hommes et les chevaux commandés de le récupérer par voie de terre sont presque péris aux sables mouvants inattendus, desquels ils ne sont pas extraits qu’avec des plus grands périls.

On peut quelquefois lier les épaves chargées de pierres particulières avec leurs ouvrages destinataires, pierre de Portland (Dorset) pour le Pont Nouveau de Blackfriars (Londres) par exemple, ou pierre de Dundee (Ecosse) pour le Quai des Imports, Wapping (Londres).

Quels sont donc les projets contemporains en Angleterre en 1616 et au troisième quart du XIXe siècle auxquels la pierre de Caen était destinée – nouveaux constructions, réparations des bâtiments anciens, ou œuvres sculptés?