St.Anne's lifeboats and 28 lives, December 1886.
From the "News of the World" magazine, 26th December 1886, page 8.
THE LIFEBOAT CALAMITY
REPORT ON THE OFFICIAL INQUIRY
A report of the official inquiry into the circumstances of the recent lifeboat disaster has been addressed to Lord Stanley of Preston, President of the Board of Trade. The report says:- "In obedience to your instructions, we have visited Southport, St.Anne's and Lytham, and have inquired into the circumstances attending the rescue of the crew of the barque Mexico, of Hamburg, and the accidents to the Southport lifeboat, Eliza Fearnley, and the St.Anne's lifeboat, Laura Janet, and we report as follows:- "The rescue of the crew of the barque Mexico was effected by the Lytham lifeboat, Charles Biggs. There is some difference of opinion both as to the force of the wind and its direction during the period occupied by the rescue and the return of the boat, but as nearly as we can judge the force was about seven of Beaufort's scale, and the direction W.N.W. The tide at the time of the rescue was about half-ebb, and although there was an eddy running to the northward close in shore the main stream was running W.N.W, or in the teeth of the wind, and consequently considerably increasing the very heavy sea which was already running owing to the continuance of bad weather. The tide setting against the wind caused the sea to break heavily, rendering it extremely dangerous to boats."
Evidence respecting the "Eliza Fearnley" Boat.
The narrative of the coxswain of the lifeboat Charles Biggs is then given, and a summary of the evidence regarding the voyage of the Southport boat, Eliza Fearnley, follows:- "The evidence is somewhat conflicting as to the number of men who were under the boat when she capsized. There is no doubt that there were six, and Henry Robinson, one of the survivors, was of opinion there were nine; but as as it was impossible for them to see one another, it is not quite certain that some of the voices which he heard may not have been those of men on the outside of the boat. The boat never righted, and was found on the beach about three miles to the westward of Southport at 3 a.m. on the morning of the 10th. Three men, Peter Wright, Timothy Rigby, and Peter Jackson, were found dead under the boat. Ralph Peters was found on the shore with life nearly extinct. He expired soon afterwards. John Ball was found at about 4.15 a.m. on the 10th standing in a pool of water, near the boat, up to his knees. He was taken in a cab to the Southport Infirmary and died there. John Jackson and Henry Robinson came ashore in the boat, and were able to effect their escape, but they were in too dazed and exhausted a condition to afford any assistance to the other men. Three other men appear to have become entangled by the oars and lines, and no assistance unhappily being at hand, they were unable to extricate themselves. The other bodies were found in various positions on the beach. We are of opinion that the loss of life was attributable to the boat never righting after she capsized, although there is evidence that she made several attempts to do so, but always fell back again, and we think her failure to right was occasioned by the anchor having been let go, and also the number of men holding on round and under the boat, though the former of these two causes would probably be sufficient to account for the casualty, as has been proved to have occured on previous occasions. This boat had been out on service 11 times previous to this disaster, had saved 52 lives, besides rendering assistance to one vessel. It has been stated in evidence that some of the crew remonstrated with the coxswain for keeping the boat so much broadside to the sea: the press have also stated this. We are of opinion that in such a heavy sea he may not have been able to prevent the boat falling off at times, but as he was a man of very great experience, who had rendered good service in the past, we are not disposed to attach much importance to this allegation. The dimensions of the Southport lifeboat were:- Length over all, 34 ft; beam, 8 ft.5 in.; depth, 3 feet 51/2 in. This boat was built in 1874.
Fate of the St.Anne's Boat.
With regard to the St.Anne's lifeboat, it is stated; - "The distress signals were observed at about 9.15, the crew were summoned, and the boat was successfully launched at 10.25. She proceeded for about 500 yards under oars, and then made sail, crossing the Salthouse Bank. What happened after this is a matter of pure conjecture. There is some evidence to show that two red lights and other signals were seen about W. by N. from Southport at a distance of about two miles. if these two red lights were distress signals from the lifeboat she had probably met with some casualty in that position, but as none of her crew have survived, any opinion as to the cause of the disaster must be purely hypothetical. The lifeboat was found on the beach bottom up, and three bodies were found hanging on the thwarts with their heads downwards. The boat in drifting ashore must have capsized as soon as she got into shoal water, and it would then have been impossible for her to right again. Whether she capsized before this there is no evidence to show. There is evidence of some shouting having been heard in the direction in which these two lights were seen, which renders it possible the boat may have been disabled in the before-mentioned position, but we doubt whether it was possible for the shouting to have been heard on such a night a distance of two miles, although the listeners were to leeward. The boat had been out on service on five occasions and had saved six lives on December 4 last. We regret to have to state that from evidence taken by us at St.Anne's and Lytham, we find that the coxswain was physically unfit for the performance of so arduous and difficult a service, as he was ill with consumption, and was not expected by his medical man to last beyond the spring. Two or three of the others were not strong men, and one poor fellow had only had a basin of gruel all day prior to proceeding on this service. The honorary secretary of the branch states in his evidence with reference to this man -'I believe he' (Bonney) 'stinted himself for the sake of his family. I don't think his privations lasted for more than a week or two; he showed no signs of it.' We were privately informed that this man's children always appeared to be well clothed and fed, and that he only stinted himself for their sakes. There was no one in authority present at the launch of this boat, excepting the coxswain, who was drowned, and therefore nobody alive is responsible either for the coxswain or any of the men proceeding in the boat on this night in an unfit condition. The coxswain, according to the rules of the National Lifeboat Institution, is the person in authority at a launch on service. We are unable in consequence of the lack of evidence to assign any reason for the loss of this boat. The dimensions of the St.Anne's boat were:- Length over all, 34 ft. 7 in.; beam, 8 ft.4 in.; depth, 3 feet 63/4 in. She was built in 1881, and her righting powers had been tested on the station.
Conclusions of the Committee.
In conclusion, Sir Digby Murray and Captain Chetwynd made the following observations:- "The fact of one boat out of three having effected the rescue of the crew of the stranded ship, while the other two were capsized, might have been a matter either of accident or of superior management; but without seeking in any way to detract from the gallant service of the Lytham boat, we are satisfied that the lifeboat, the Charles Biggs, was far the better boat of the three, having far greater stability and righting power than the other two boats. She is fitted with four water-ballast tanks amidships, running along the keelson, holding about one ton of water; they can be filled as soon as the boat, after launching, gets into a sufficient depth of water; they take one minute to fill, and can be pumped out in the same space of time when required. The boat has also larger air cases running along the sides above the deck, and consequently holds less water when filled through a sea breaking on board than the older type of boats. We are of opinion that greater safety can be attained in the future by increasing the stability of these self-righting boats, which will at the same time increase their righting power, but in this we have been in great measure anticipated by the National Lifeboat Institution, who, guided by the experience which they and their officers have attained in the past, have already fitted about seventy-five boats with water-ballast, and they are, as fast as practicable, increasing that number. They have besides constructed or fitted four boats with drop keels. These boats will have still greater stability, but, owing to the increased weight of these fittings and the consequent greater draught of the boats, they will not be adapted for all stations. The only pleasant duty which has devolved upon us during this painful inquiry is to be able to bring to the notice of your lordship the great gallantry of the fishermen of this neighbourhood. We have ascertained that there is never the slightest difficulty in obtaining a crew to endeavour to save life, no matter what may be the state of the weather, and the peculiar formation of this part of the coast and the numerous sand-banks, which in bad weather cause a very nasty confused and breaking sea, render the service a particularly dangerous one."
It is probable that by the fund for the relief of the bereaved not only will the wants of the families be fully provided for, but that there will be a handsome surplus towards the funds of the Lifeboat Institution.
of the Disaster
Further account - including Coroner's Inquest