Ryde Lifeboat Disaster, 1st/2nd January 1907
Whilst on a rescue mission in the Solent the Ryde lifeboat Selina capsized in rough seas with the loss of two crewmembers. The boat overturn and the crew had cling to the upturned boat for about 6 hours, while being driven across the Solent towards Southsea. Two of the crewmen Frank Haynes and William Howard succumbed to the conditions before rescue, other crewmen managed to keep the bodies with the lifeboat until they to became exhausted.
On the previous afternoon the master of the London registered barge Jane of 56 tons, owned by A.Vanderward of Southend, was anchored off the pier, and reported that a boat belonging to the ship had been stolen, this later proved to be false. It was reported that the boat was later found by a man working on the pier, later it is believed that this same man launched the boat from the Dover Street slipway later in the day and soon got into difficulties near the Sewer Buoy. George Jeffery one of the Ryde lifeboat men who was working on the pier, saw the man in difficulty and launched a small boat to help him, but due to conditions had to turn back. He remarked had the man known, it was low tide he could have got out of the boat and walked ashore.
At that point a signal was made to launch the lifeboat, it took about 14 minutes to launch the lifeboat, the time by then was in the region of 5.30 pm and dark. Rescue attempt.
The crew, all Ryde men, consisted of coxswain, William Bartlett aged 34, 21 Nelson Place, George Jeffery aged 32, 59 Monkton Street, Ernest Cotton aged 33 years, 30 Nelson Street, Alfred Linington sen. aged 59, 15 Bellevue Road, Alfred Linington jun. aged 21 30 Nelson Place, Daniel Reaves aged 39, Clarges House, Nelson Street, Albert Reaves aged 37, 1 Nelson Street, Harry Heward aged 51 years, 52 High Street, second coxswain, 139 High Street and Frank Haynes aged 38 years [he only joined the boat to make the numbers up].
Reports indicate that the boat headed eastwards and the search found nothing, on the return journey near the Bell Buoy the lifeboat capsized throwing all the crew into the water. The boat with the crew clinging to it drifted towards Spithead Fort then Southsea and arriving about 2.0 am, their cries for help were heard by P.C.Vine of the Portsmouth police, who contacted the coastguard. A coastguard with a lifebuoy and safety rope attached, entered the sea and helped the men ashore; they were then taken to Southsea Police station and onto hospital. The body of Frank Haynes came ashore at 3.15 am. followed by H. Howard at 4.00 am. The Portsmouth lifeboat later recovered the Selina.
The first crew members to return on Wednesday afternoon were E. Cotton and brothers A. and D. Reaves. They jointly gave the first detailed account of what happened, at the lifeboat launch there were a few problems due shortage of people, however with the boat launched the search proceeded. They got well over towards the Horse Sand Fort but found nothing then crossed to the Norman and spoke to the Warner lightship, but still nothing, they then decided to return to Ryde. They were within 200 yards of the pier, and the boat was under sail, a reefed lug, a storm jib and a mizzen, the wind still blowing strongly when without warning the lifeboat capsized. Mr Reaves was able to fix the time of the accident as they had just tacked out of the way of the 7.45pm. steamer heading for Ryde pier. When pressed for this opinion as to why the lifeboat overturned, he said it would be up to the inquiry to decide.
They also explained that they had only done three or four practises previously with the boat and had never preformed a rescue before. When the boat turned over they had nothing to hold onto except the boat, in all they believed they had been carried by the tide for about 10 miles. They were unable to attract help because all the signalling equipment was in the upturned lifeboat.
With regard to the crew members Haynes and Heward they became exhausted and succumbed to the freezing conditions around 10.00 pm and 12.00 pm respectively. They kept the bodies with the boat as long as they could until Howard was swept away by a heavy sea. He also said that they were able to make the people on Horse Sand Fort aware of there situation and they kept the lights on to assist, but were unable to help because of the conditions. It was later found out that that the fort telephoned both Portsmouth and Bembridge lifeboats, the Ryde crew saw the rocket go up at Bembridge. They also said they were near their limits of exhaustion and the tide was driving them towards the piles at the entrance to the harbour and they could not have held on much longer when they beached within a few yards of Southsea Castle around 2.00 am. Without the help of the coastguard they doubted if they would had the strength to wade ashore.
The person by the name of Jarrett who cause the lifeboat to be launched, was found and interviewed in Portsmouth on Friday 4th January, by a reporter from the Isle of Wight County Press in order to find out the course of events. Mr Jarrett said the ship ‘Jane’ arrived at Ryde on Sunday 29th with a cargo of stone from Portland. On Tuesday the 1st January a shipmate and himself landed at St. Thomas Street slipway around 10.30 am.
With regards to the boat, which had been reported stolen, his version was, that he found it on the Dover Street slipway and said the coastguards wanted salvage money for it, which he refused to pay. About one and a half later he launched the boat and soon got into difficulties by the bathing pier. He got out of the boat, but owing to the depth of water could not get the boat to shore. He got back into the boat, and tried to scull back to the beach, however he was getting nowhere and decided to scull across the Solent, landing at Eastney somewhere in the region of 7.00 pm.
Friday 4th January, Town Hall, Portsmouth
The proceeding opened with the formal identification of the bodies, it was said that both men were fit and good swimmers. Ryde coxswain evidence.
The coxswain William Bartlett then gave evidence and said he had been a member of the Ryde lifeboat crew for 7 years; Selina was a new boat that required a crew of 9 and had been based at Ryde for 12 months. During that time, they had about 5 practices launches without any problems. He was then asked, did you at that time have confidence in the boat, to which he replied ‘yes’, she is a whaleboat, I, and members of the crew were involved in its selection. A further question was asked, were you aware it is not a self righting boat, ‘yes’ and to my knowledge so were the crew. At the launch there were 6 regular crew members and 3 ‘volunteers’ all were experience sailors.
The lifeboat got away well and we rounded the pier, and set all three sails [standing lug, storm jib and mizzen], a search was made along Ryde and out to Sand Head Buoy, then to Horse Fort. The lifeboat came up under the stern of Warner light ship, and contact made with the crew, but they had not seen anything. The decision was then made to return to Ryde, due to head winds is was not possible to sail direct to Ryde so at first they headed in the direction of Bembridge, then ‘tacked’ towards Ryde. We were approaching Ryde Pier, near the Bell Buoy, with sails up, but no oars deployed, the boat was sailing well. It may have been heavy seas or a ‘puff’ of wind, but the boat fell into trough and rolled over, the sails remained in place.
The coxswain was asked to explain why the boat did not right itself; he explained that the casing on either side of the boat made it impossible for the boat to right itself.
He was then questioned what happened when the boat turned over, did you all get onto the upturned boat, ‘no there were only 3 of us, the rest were in the water and the waves were washing over the boat’. He then said that it was about 8 pm. when the boat turned over; we were then taken by a N.S.W. wind and the tide over to Horse Shoe Fort. During around that time a 3 masted schooner passed, but we were unable to raise the crew. Then the tide changed and we driven towards Southsea Castle, Howard may have died around 11.00 pm and Haynes possibly 00.30am.
Both bodies were kept with the boat until we lost them through exhaustion and heavy seas as we hit the beach at Southesea the masts broke. As we approached the shore we were shouting to attract attention. We were all nearly the limits of exhaustion when we were rescued by a member of the coastguard service.
The coroner then asked the coxswain if he was satisfied to go out in the boat again, the answer given was “I would go in her with a faint heart”. He was then asked if he had the same confidence with regards to the existing type of boat or would you prefer a self righting boat, in response the coxswain said a self righting boat would be to low for our condition, we need to be able to use oars, he accepted in heavy seas a self righting boat would be better. When pressed by the coroner, the coxswain stated in his opinion the existing design was better for the Ryde Station.
Questions were then asked was there any water in the boat at any time, to which the answer was ‘no’, the boat was designed to allow any water to run out, a further question was then raised, was it wise to have the sail up at that time, the coxswain said it would have been impossible to use the oars only in those conditions. Further questions were then raised by the coroner as to the size of the old lifeboat and the new one, he was advised the old boat was 28ft long and the new one 30ft. was there and safety lines around the boat, to which the answer was given, ‘yes’.
Other members of the lifeboat crew were then called and agreed with the evidence given by the coxswain. Many other detailed questions were asked by both the coroner and members of the jury of the coxswain and crew members.
PC Vine, Portsmouth Police
Next to give evidence was the policeman P.C. Vines said that on Wednesday 2nd about 1.10 am. he was in Clarendon Road, Southsea when he heard shouting coming from the direction of the seashore. Being a stormy night he wonder if an accident had happened, so he the went to Grenada Road fire point were his colleague P.C. Williams was on duty. Together they went to the Esplanade, near Southsea Castle and heard shouts coming from the sea. He explained, that they ran to the Coastguard Station where Coastguard McCallam was on duty and informed him of the situation, he in turn alerted the Coastguard Station to the west of the Castle and his chief officer. Coastguard Richardson from west of the castle joined them, and they went down to the beach, at first we could see nothing, then saw an upturned boat with men clinging to it; It was about 300 yards out and drifting towards shore rapidly, we were concerned it would come up against the piles. Coastguard Richardson then reported the situation back to headquarters.
Coastguard Richardson then gave his evidence, and said he was alerted by a telephone call from the castle and quickly made him way round to join the others. They had been made aware by Horse Sand Fort that an upturned boat from Ryde was in the area. As already stated at first they could see nothing, then they spotted an upturned boat about 300 yards out with men clinging to it and drifting towards them. There was a risk that it would end up on the harbour piles with possible loss of life. He reported the situation back to the coastguard headquarters and returned to the beach. By this time the boat was within 50 yards of the beach and coming ashore. I decided to enter the surf and rescue the men because of the possible risk of fouling the piles. Luckily the boat missed the piles and grounded about 12 yard out, all those on and around the boat were saved.
Southsea Lifeboat Coxswain
Next witness to be called was Taxton Crofts captain of the Southsea lifeboat, he said that he received a call from the police about 1.45 am requesting assistance with the upturned Ryde lifeboat. His boat was launched and they went to Southsea Castle ready to render any assistance they could, they saw the Ryde lifeboat being washed up on the beach. Later they found the body of Howard washed up on the beach about 300 yards away, he was wearing a lifejacket. He was then asked by the coroner what type of lifeboat he preferred, his answer was self-righting, and in his opinion the tragedy would have been avoided if the Ryde boat had been self-righting.
There was then much technical debate about the merits of self-righting boats, and the need for standardization of boat design in the lifeboat service. The coroner recommended that a standardised self-righting should design for the service to avoid further loss of life.
Dr Lysander Maybury MD. said that at 3.30 am. on the 2nd he made a superficial examination of the body of Haynes and pronounce life extinct. Later that day he carried out the same examination on Howard again his findings were the same, both men had died through exposure.
In lengthy summing up the coroner said the loss of life was regrettable because the person they were searching for had already landed at Eastney before the tragedy happened. He also suggested that the design of lifeboats should be standardised. But with regard to the loss of life he did not believe it was anyone fault. After a brief discussion the jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death”.
A. During the time that the events described above were taking place, the Bembridge lifeboat was in the Solent, it had been launched at 10.50 pm, in response to a wireless message from Horse Sand Fort which said that a man in a boat was adrift at Ryde. A statement from the Bembridge lifeboat was read out was; - "The lifeboat was launched at 10.50 pm in good time, the coxswain was Mr John Holbrook assisted by R. Holbrook, second coxswain. The boat proceeded out to Horse Sand Fort, then over to Langston Sands and found nothing, they then sailed westwards to near Southsea Castle and still nothing was seen. They spent the next three and a half hours cruising up and down, they must have been near the stricken Ryde lifeboat, but nothing was seen or heard. They were unaware of the tragedy until about 7.00 am. when the tug Empress passed and informed them what had happened, the lifeboat returned to Bembridge at 9.30 am."
B. The funeral of the two lifeboat men took place on Monday 7th, the cortège started from the lifeboat station at 2.00 pm. They were laid to rest in Ryde Cemetery.
Source: County Press, 5th January 1907This page was last edited on: 4th March, 2015 06:17:05