Jeune St Charles lost in the Sound 8th April 1858

On the 8th April 1858 the schooner Jeune St Charles was wrecked on Kitterland, this account has been put together by my Dad, Michael Kneale…

The story wreck of the schooner “Jeune St Charles” on Thousla Rock, 8th April 1858 and subsequent rescue of some of the crew has been set down in earlier accounts. These are based on records and observations made at the time, in particular the skipper’s report, written the day after the shipwreck while recovering at one of the two lighthouses then operating on the Calf of Man. Other details are patchy and the rescue by brave locals in small boats has long interested me as a Port St Mary man, small-boat sailor and local lifeboat man.

The following is an attempt to piece together the likely turn of events.

These two reports from the time contain some clues and with a bit of local knowledge applied, I believe a better picture can be drawn.

Local newspaper report at the time

On Thursday last, a schooner was observed riding at anchor in a very dangerous position off the Sound. Towards 9am she slipped her anchor and ran for the Sound but either through ignorance of the passage or baffling wind, she struck on Thousla Rock, where the lives of the crew were in imminent danger. The report of the wreck no sooner reached Port St Mary than preparations were made for attempting a rescue. Here is an account of the gallant affair, as publicly rendered by the poor shipwrecked mariners themselves and kindly furnished us for publication by an esteemed friend at Castletown.

“This is to certify that we, the undersigned, being part of the crew of he schooner “Jeune St Charles” of Pontrieux, from that port to Londonderry, wrecked in the Sound of the Calf of Man on the 8th instant, were saved from a most perilous situation, off a half-tide rock known as Thousla, in a very exhausted condition, having been exposed to all the fury of a SE gale, the sea for the most part of the time making a clear reach over our heads, (two lads, brothers of the Captain and Mate had previously been swept from the rock), by a boat’s crew consisting of the following men: Thomas Harrison, Joseph Harrison, John Watterson, Daniel Lace and John Karran, who bravely put off to out assistance after having witnessed the ineffectual attempt by five other men who had attempted our deliverance but were obliged themselves to seek shelter on the Calf until the sea would subside and they could obtain more assistance. This crew consisted of Henry Qualtrough, Thomas Taubman, Edward Fargher, Thomas Kegg and John Maddrell – to whom, aw well as the crew who actually saved our lives, we tender our most grateful thanks.
Signed: Capt Jegou
Signed at Castletown, Isle of Man, in the presence of Henri van Laun, Professor of Foreign Literature at King William’s College and J McMeiken, Honorary Agent, Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society, this 10th April 1858.

The poor fellows were seriously injured and almost in a state of nudity, their boots and clothing were scarcely hanging together and their bodies, especially their hands, arms, legs and feet were scratched, bruised and swollen, and the very nails on their finers worn to the stump with the desperate efforts to hold on to the rock as every wave broke over their devoted heads. They were landed on the Calf, when the most prompt and praiseworthy attention was paid to their wants by the light-keepers and Captain Cary’s steward. Medical assistance, together with clothing, wine and other necessaries were supplied from the main land as soon as possible.

The crew has been removed to Castletown and are now under the care of the medical attendant, Dr Underwood. As soon as they are capable of being removed, they will be forwarded to the care of the French Consul at Liverpool by the Agent of the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society.

An eyewitness of the rescue says – I must say I was never prouder of my countrymen than on this trying occasion. I have witnessed many wrecks and assisted at saving some lives but never did I see a crew of daring men more determined to risk all in order to save human life, especially when I take into account the frail and tiny boat – the bad oars – not a spare one in the boat – the raging sea – the fearful tide rushing through the narrow channel – the rock only appearing at intervals, threatening destruction to their feeble bark at fall of every breaking surge. I sincerely hope that bravery may be rewarded, as a stimulus to others.

Translation of Captain Jegou’s report of 9th April 1858

I left Pontrieux at 6pm on 29th March 1858 with a cargo of flour for Londonderry. The ship was fully equipped and had been given its certificate of seaworthiness after inspection. She carried a crew of six.

I stayed in the River Trieux until 2nd April when I got out to sea in a stiff SE breeze. We had variable winds up to 4th April, when by 10pm we were caught in a E-SE gale. We were then 40 miles N of Longships. I wa forced to heave to being unable to hold course because of the wind and heavy swell, which badly worked the ship.

At 10am on the 5th, we took a big sea which stove in the hatch over the accommodation and flooded it. At noon on the 6th, as the weather had moderated, I resumed course, reefed down. At 2am on the 7th, the strop of the mainsheet block parted and the mizzen boom broke. I ran before the wind under staysail, hoping to repair the damage. At 4am I resumed course in a full E-SE gale and blinding rain. We had no sight of land, only of three ships at the latitude of Anglesey.

At 10pm I was sailing under mainsail, staysail and small jib when, the weather clearing briefly, I saw the lights of the Calf of Man, but to the westward. Judging my position too close to the Isle (of Man) to luff up and weather it, as I could not put on more canvas, I dropped anchor.

We immediately sighted land at a distance of about one cable. I dropped the two bow anchors and we held at just one ship’s length from the land. The sea was washing over the ship from stem to stern. I furled the sails and we pumped all night to try and keep the ship afloat but she was working badly.

At 8am on the 8th the anchor chains parted and the ship began to drift along the coast. I had time to hoist the small jib as we drifted along about 3 fathoms from the cliffs. As I could not get her head out sea, I dropped my one remaining anchor in the channel that separates the Isle of Man from the Calf. It held just long enough for us to launch the longboat and immediately after we had done so the anchor hawser parted.

We could see that the ship would go through the channel and break up on the rocks, so we abandoned it, taking a few personal belongings and the ship’s papers. The wind and current were so strong that before we had time to ship the oars, both the Jeune St Charles and the longboat went aground on a rock awash in mid-channel.

The first wave took away our oars, the second wave capsized the longboat and all six of us clung to the rocks. One minute later, Yves-Marie Jegou and Francois Ave (the first from Lezardrieux and the other from Ploezal) could no longer hold on and disappeared in the waves. The four of us were left cleaving to the rocks, every wave breaking over us, our clothes and flesh being torn from us.

A rowing boat came to our rescue but after a first attempt it had to give up, leaving us in a state of mortal fear. Half an hour later, another boat, with a crew of five skippered by John Watterson appeared, risking their lives to save ours. They managed to take us aboard their open boat, the four of us being more dead than alive.

The bow of the ship remained intact on the tide she went aground but the wind carried the wreckage out to sea. Nothing has been salvaged, she disappeared completely on the next fold, according to the English – as of course, none of us has been able to go and have a look.

This is the story of our shipwreck as far as I can recollect at present.
This report is addressed to Consul of France in Liverpool by the undersigned, to be consigned by post-mail on the 9th April.

Written on the Calf of Man this 9th April 1858.

Capt. Jegou

The Captain’s cool, concise report was written while still bedridden at the Calf lighthouses, his hands in tatters, by all accounts. It was written in flawless French – his second language, as he was a Breton (like all the crew). He had just lost his little brother and another lad – the son of the Mate, his ship and probably his Skipper’s Ticket, all at just 28 years of age. It is clear he was still in command, so I believe his report is accurate.

The schooner, of 69 tons, was a single deck boat, probably only about 20 metres long but even so, a crew of four men and two boys would be barely enough for normal conditions, never mind in endless gales, big seas, the boat leaking like a sieve and the rigging falling apart. The cargo of flour would also have to be kept dry – another constant worry.

From the skipper’s report we know the broad sequence of events from his leaving the River Trieux for Londonderry on 2nd April.

At 10pm on the 4th he was 40 miles North of Longships (Land’s End) where he had to heave to, as the ship was uncontrollable in an ESE gale.

At 10am on the 5th a big sea stove in the accommodation hatch and flooded it. This would have meant emergency repairs and endless pumping as the hull was already working in heavy seas.

At 12 noon on the 6th the weather had moderated and they had resumed course, reefed down.

At 2am on the 7th the strop of mainsheet block parted and the mizzen boom broke. Sounds to me like a big sea had come over the starboard quarter, smashed into the mainsail and mizzen, the extra weight on top of the stress from the wind was too much for both.

The skipper says he ran before the wind under staysail to effect repairs and 2 hours later (4am) he was back on course in an E-SE gale and blinding rain under mainsail, staysail and small jib. The mainsheet block was evidently repaired but there was probably no way to replace the mizzen boom in the conditions, assuming they even carried a suitable spare spar. Without the mizzen, the schooner would be almost impossible to get to windward – critical at the next stage.

They had seen no land for days and will have been uncertain of their position – especially longitude. The crew will have been exhausted, cold and wet after endless gales, pumping day and night, repairing damage and probably getting nothing hot to eat or drink.

After having to run downwind (ie: to the WNW) to fix the mainsheet block, the skipper will have been concerned at his westing in the zero visibility. He wouldn’t want to find himself embayed off Dundalk, so will have luffed the schooner on a course slightly East of North, allowing for leeway, to maintain sea room on the Irish side. Avoiding a lee-shore was imprinted in all sailors at this time. His preferred course will also have been on the Welsh side of the South Irish Sea, keeping well to weather of the shallow banks off Arklow and Wicklow.

At 10pm on the 7th, in a brief clearance, he saw the Calf lights to his “westward”. By this I believe he meant that he found himself on the wrong side of them as the lights were actually obscured from the East, behind the highest point of the Calf. He will have planned to leave the Calf clear to the East heading for the North Channel. I think he had probably over-corrected for the time spent sailing downwind and now found himself up against the unexpected lee-shore of the Calf and Isle of Man.

Without the mizzen, the schooner would not be weatherly enough to sail out of this trap – they were only a cable off the land (one-tenth of a nautical mile or 600 feet) – so dropped both bow anchors. The Skipper said they held with the ship’s one length off the land – just 60 feet or so. With the seas breaking over the schooner from stem to stern they pumped all night in a desperate effort to keep it afloat.

I reckon the schooner was just South of the Burroo when the Calf lights were momentarily spotted (they were obscured anywhere east of SE) and that the schooner luffed up (turning to starboard in a wide arc) and managed to anchor just off Spanish Head. No wonder the waves were breaking over it – anchored off here in an E-SE gale!

Low water was at midnight, so the tide will have been fairly slack while all this was going on. These were very small neap tides. The next HW was 0620 with less than 2 metres range between LW and HW