Death on the beach - how stranded vessels came to tragic ends in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston
PUBLISHED: 07:00 17 February 2019
So near, but yet so far...
Many perished, their vessels stranded on Great Yarmouth and Gorleston beaches but atrocious January weather thwarted prolonged rescue efforts.
The most agonising sight, watched by horrified thousands at Gorleston, was a woman clambering into the rigging of the brig Rapid with fellow crewmen to await help... or death.
Hours later, and despite the fact that the Rapid was almost within touching distance of the shore, they remained in great jeopardy, desperately needing help while waves continued pounding the coal-laden brig.
But the woman and all six men were fated to perish, prolonged yet futile rescue bids mired in controversy.
A rocket team managed to fire a line over the Rapid but failed to save anybody.
Then a lifeboat arrived, and the rocketeers inexplicably ceased their efforts and withdrew, handing over responsibility to the lifeboat - which was also to fail in its mission.
Onlookers had begged both the rocket crew and lifeboatmen to work together to improve chances of rescuing the Rapid’s occupants, but their pleas went unheeded.
Bystanders imperilled themselves by wading into the wild surf, striving to push the Rapid into deeper water.
According to the next morning’s Eastern Daily Press, heavy-hearted spectators leaving the shore at dusk were distressed that the Rapid’s crew - including the woman - were still clinging to the rigging!
The reporter wrote that crowds on the shore “heard one continuous shriek, followed by a long dead silence... and it is supposed that they left the wreck and sprang into the water.
“Or if they had not, but still kept to the rigging, those who enter on the scene this morning will have the unpleasant sight of seeing them frozen to the masts!”
In that era, independent rocket crews and lifeboats might have been competing fiercely, their prize being salvage, but in this case, the former seemed to acknowledge the newcomers’ superiority and passed the responsibility to them.
The fatalities resulting from that storm included not only those on stricken ships but also brave souls striving to rescue them.
That year, 1881, began bleakly, as recalled here last week: a ship laden with stone blocks for our new town hall was among that prolonged storm’s victims, crewmen drowning.
The schooner Guiding Star was in peril as the lifeboat Abraham Thomas arrived to rescue her mate, alone on board because his three shipmates had gone ashore.
A line-carrying rocket fired over her was made fast, the lifeboat was hauled closer in darkness and sleet and rescued him.
But as lifeboatmen started hauling the Abraham Thomas back to the beach, she capsized.
“The men’s cries were heard piteously calling for help as they struggled in the water. No help, however, could be afforded and although within a stone’s throw of safety, several of the poor fellows were drowned, plus the rescued mate,” continued the EDP.
Altogether, six men died in that drama.
“This appalling event has created a profound sensation in the town and much sympathy is felt for the wives and families of the poor fellows who have lost their lives in pursuit of their hazardous calling in saving the lives of others,” reported the newspaper.
Meanwhile, the barque Edith Mary ploughed ashore between the Jetty and the Wellington Pier. A rocket brigade rescued most of her ten crew, but two trying to swim ashore were hauled from the surf by spectators who endangered themselves.
By that newspaper’s late-night deadline, five sailors had been landed but there was no news of their shipmates, feared drowned because their vessel broke up.
Simultaneously, a mast-less vessel grounded near the Wellington Pier, nobody surviving.
At Gorleston two vessels drifted ashore. All but one of the Sarah Ann’s crew were safely evacuated.
But the prolonged agonising drama peaked with the Rapid’s plight and the failure of either the rocket brigade or the lifeboat to save the men and woman on board.