The Storm of December 1874

Winteringham Local History and Genealogy

The Storm of December 1874, & Winteringham’s aid to Shipwreck Survivors

Winteringham folk’s kindness to shipwrecked sailors
from the Hull Packet of 11th December 1874


Returning home from Barton, on Wednesday afternoon, my attention was arrested by the appearance of three weather-beaten sailors, who had been driven into the place in a spring-cart, and who had evidently been "roughing it", to all intents and purposes, in the gale which burst over the coast at an early hour that morning.  One of them was attired in a thick light overcoat, the bright brass button son which told that it had formerly belonged to some coachman or servant in a gentleman’s family, and had been lent by some kindly hand.  Another was provided with a thick, warm overcoat, such as sailors do not generally wear; and all three had a haggard and worn appearance.  Following them into the train, their conversation soon turned on the gale, which had now subsided, but which, during the short time it lasted, was described to have been the “awfullest” that has been witnessed on the Humber for many years past.  From the remarks that were made, and which enlisted the sympathy of all the other persons in the compartment, it seemed that no less than 34 small vessels had been driven on the Lincolnshire shore by the furious gale, and that several lives had been lost, whilst the survivors who so narrowly escaped had endured terrible suffering during the bitterly cold morning. A large carrying trade is done between Hull and places on the rivers Ouse and Trent by means of ketches, keels and other craft of that description; and these are frequently towed up the the stream by small steam tugs, until they are enabled to make their own way in the less rapid currents of the tributaries of the Humber.  About three o’clock on Wednesday morning four of these vessels, in tow to the tug “Wards,” left Hull, the weather at that time being comparatively favourable, though a rather stiff breeze was blowing from the northward.  The Sarah, belonging to Mr. Samuel Lee of Gunthorpe, near Nottingham, was laden with 1,500 loaves of sugar, 18 tons of linseed cake, and 190 quarters of barley; the L’Orient, owned by Mr. Wm. Cook of Hull, had on board 140 quarters of wheat, 100 quarters of barley, and 90 tons of super-phosphate; and the Ocean, belonging to Mr. John Thomas Weightson, of North Muscombe, and the Newark Castle, of Newark, were laden with linseed.  Soon after five o’clock the wind increased to a gale, and it was with considerable difficulty that the tug could make way against the heavy wash of the river.  The L’Orient was the first ketch in the tug’s wake, and my informant, whose name is Wilson, states that the waves completely swept the deck of his vessel for a considerable distance.  The Sarah came
next, having on board William Mitchell, captain, and Charles Sanders as mate, so it appears that though the crew consists of only two men, they have these distinctive titles.  The Ocean had also two married men on board, and their wives were asleep in bed at the time of starting, though in consequence of the rough weather they had hurriedly thrown on a few garments and hastened on deck.  In the Newark Castle was Captain Swanwick, his wife, and little daughter (the latter being aged about nine years), and also a mate and his wife and child.  At half-past five o’clock the hurricane burst in its full force, and the line of crafts was then abreast of Winteringham Lights, on the Lincolnshire side.  Great surprise was expressed at the tug keeping so close to the lee shore, though as the men remarked, they were entirely under the control of the steamer which was towing them.  Just at this point, and without the slightest warning, the tow-rope of the tug was slipped, and, without waiting to see the fate of the four ketches, it appears she steamed off, leaving the poor men and women in the little crafts entirely at the mercy of the storm!  The strain of the leading rope having been removed, the ketches, to use the language of the men, were “all of a heap,” bumping together, and on the mud bottom, like shells upon the waves.  Had they struck upon rocks instead of mud they must have been dashed to pieces: and as it was, the boats began to make water rapidly.  The L’Orient was the first to go down, and Wilson only managed to clutch the gunwale of the Ocean, and thus escaped with his life, being pulled on deck by the men on board.  At this time there were four men, two women, and a child on the Ocean; and Mitchell and Sanders, seeing the difficulty of their position, jumped overboard from the Sarah, as she swung round upon the mud-bank, and succeeded in scrambling ashore.  They had no ropes with which to render any assistance to those still on the river, so, adopting the maxim that “necessity is the mother of invention,” the cut away the lamp halyards of the Winteringham Lights, and after much difficulty succeeded in making it fast to one of the ketches.  The Ocean had by this time gone down, and Wilson was again overboard, but succeeded in drawing himself into a small boat, into which Captain Swanwick’s little girl was put.  But the boat was soon filled, and its occupants “swilled” out; and in the struggle for life Wilson found it impossible to save the child.  She was, however, brought ashore by one of the men of the L’Orient, but though she breathed once or twice after getting to land she died in a very few minutes.  Her father and mother were subsequently drawn by a rope through the waves and mud and reached land in a thoroughly exhausted condition; the woman being totally unable to stand, and quite unconscious.  It was quite an hour and a-half before the whole of the party were brought ashore, the women having been hauled in first, with the other child who, though suffering severely from exposure, is likely to recover.  They were now quite two miles from any place where either warmth or refreshment could be obtained, and the men, taking off their overcoats, wet as they were, wrapped the unfortunate females in them, as some little protection from the rain and nipping, cold wind.  There is a little shed under the legs of the lights, and here, for more than two hours, the party huddled together, until daylight should come to their assistance.  They had then to cross a country intersected by dykes and ditches for nearly a mile, till they came to any road, the men carrying the almost lifeless body of Mrs. Swanwick till they discovered a wheelbarrow in one of the fields, and which they afterwards utilised as a conveyance for her.  On reaching the highway one of the men hurried forward to the village of Wintringham and obtained a spring cart, in which the party ultimately reached the village, and were treated with the utmost kindness by the inhabitants.  The Rev. C. Knowles, the esteemed rector of the Parish, was one of the first on the scene, and rendered most valuable assistance in supplying the men and women with dry clothes, and otherwise caring for their immediate wants.  Meanwhile, the sailors dried their clothes in a malt kiln in the village, and Captain and Mrs Swanwick were put to bed at the inn, in a very precarious condition.  The inhabitants generally exerted their utmost efforts to render what little assistance they possibly could to the poor castaways, and their conduct in this respect was spoken of in terms of gratitude by the men in the railway carriage.  On the other hand, they did not scruple to deprecate in forcible language the inhumanity of the crew of the steam-tug who, had they stood by them, might have rescued their lives , and very probably got the ketches into a place of safety on the river.  No doubt we may hear more of this before the matter is finished with.

During the same morning a number of small vessels were driven ashore, and it is said thirty-four in all may be seen resting on the Lincolnshire side of the river, between Hull and Goole.  The market boat, which plys [sic] being [sic] Hull and Barton, was driven high and dry upon the fields, on the western side of Barrow Haven, and her crew succeeded in finding their way home, leaving the vessel safe on terra firma.  When daylight dawned the keel Alert, belonging to Messrs. Saner & Co., of Hull, laden with bricks, which had been moored near to one of the jetties, at Barrow Haven, was found ashore, having dragged her anchor a considerable distance.  Her crew, consisting of the master, Henry Hutchinson, and his mate, were missing, and it is almost beyond doubt that both were washed overboard and drowned.  The cargo has been transferred to another vessel and the Alert was floated off with last night’s tide.  At Ferriby Sluice three keels, laden with linseed, sank during the gale, and their cargoes were destroyed, though I have yet been unable to ascertain whether or not any loss of life has occurred.




Which took place in the Gale of Wind in the Humber, off Winteringham, Lincolnshire, in the early morning, December 11th, 1874.

Along the banks at Winteringham,
What sad  distress there's been!
The heart will sicken at the thought
Of such a fearful scene.

Some fifteen shipwrecked sufferers
Escaped from watery graves,
Being dashed upon our friendly shore
By the fury of the waves.

One of the number perished
Before assistance came:
That cruel captain of the Tug
O he was much to blame!

He cast their ropes, and drifted them
When a heavy gale did blow:
Their vessels sank, and ploughed them in
The watery gulf below.

They reached the land, 'mid dangers
Which I can hardly tell;
Though many people in the place
Understood them well.

And when they all to land had got
Their hearts were filled with woe;
In the battling of the elements,
They knew not where to go.

One William Burkill, in his bed,
Could not lie down to sleep,
Foe thinking of the howling wind,
And the terrors of the deep.

Uprose he then from off his bed,
And to his hut he went;
When a blazing fire within its grate
Soon told the good he meant.

Behold him followed other men
Who watched, til break of day
Revealed each sad and shipwrecked one
Come slowly on his way.

The first a hardy sailor was
With the dead or dying child,
And next to him two women came
With harried looks so wild.

Each woman carried in their arms
A child, of clothing bare;
And falling rain, and driving sleet
Hung thickly in their hair.

But soon they spied another band
Whose sad appearance told,
The dire result of struggling long
 With winter's wind so cold.

To their different homes they sent them,
To their respective wives:
Who used all means within their power
To save their several lives.

The Ladies and the Gentlemen
Were all so very kind;
To help each shipwrecked sufferer
They one and all combined.

The Dr. G. From Winterton
Appeared upon the scene;
Whose every order was obeyed
With the utmost ardour keen.

Oh let us then a warning take
While time to us is given;
And from the narrow path of life,
Away be never driven.

Thus shall we all be landed safe
On Canaan's happy shore;
Where earth's tempests, and its billows
Shall trouble us no more.
                                 ANN BARRATT

Printed by M.C.PECK & SON, HULL

Sold as a penny Broad Sheet

From research by Kay Ashberry

** The “Dr G from Winterton” is likely to be Dr Roger Portington Goodworth, L.R.C.P.Ed, M.R.C.S., L.S.A., of Chapel Street, Winterton, who married Winteringham’s Mary Elizabeth Scarbrough, and about whom there is a section in “Lincolnshire Leaders” here.

Ann Barratt also wrote a poem, which she dictated to the Curate Mr Mitchell, and which is also on this website, here.

Have you tried the other Winteringham Websites?
Winteringham News, Don Burton World of Nature Photo Archive (modern photographs of the village), What the Papers have said about Winteringham (since July 2004), High Resolution Historical Photographs, Winteringham Film Archive, Winteringham Nature Site, Winteringham Recipes, Winteringham Camera Club, Winteringham Village Hall, Winteringham Chapel


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