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The Rescue of the Schooner Light Of The Harem, 8th Feb 1870

This figurehead with beauty spot was painstakingly restored by Peter Swan and George Miller in 1983
Rescued just over 5 years since the formation of the Brigade after the tragedy of the SS Stanley. In fact, it had been the worst week for loss of the life in the harbour in 20 years, with the exception of the Stanley disaster. Were it not for the Tynemouth and South Shields Life Brigades, the death toll would’ve been far higher.

The storm had raged for more than two days prior to the rescue, and 12 hours earlier the Brigade, in their first ever rescue, had brought ashore the crew of the brigantine Susannah with the loss of one life. The rescue took place after the firing of five rockets towards the vessel on the Battery Rocks by Brigade Captain, John Anderson. The ship was laden with coal from Seaham and was heading to London when her topmasts were carried away off Flamborough Head and she made for the Tyne instead.

Minutes before to the rescue of Light Of The Harem, the Brigade were also involved in saving the crew of the barque Helena of Scarborough, which had ran aground on the Sparrow Hawk reef below the Spanish Battery. The 16-man crew and pilot were brought aboard the illustrious lifeboat Northumberland and landed at North Shields.

This is how the conditions leading up to the events were described in the Brigade minutes:

“1870 – 8th February – Last week we experienced a turn of hard winter weather, and the S.E. storm off the coast on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday “blocked up” the port as far as sailings went; even screw steamers, which rush out in all kinds of weather, dared not venture out to face the blast. The arrivals were considerable, and I should say that between twenty and thirty vessels belonging to other ports, mostly laden, availed themselves of the Tyne as a harbour of refuge. Two of the vessels stranded on Tuesday were from Seaham, and it is but proper to state that the three vessels lost on Tynemouth Rocks on Tuesday were crippled before they attempted to take the harbour, and were therefore placed at a disadvantage in struggling with the frightful sea which broke across the harbour mouth. The two which drove ashore on Tuesday afternoon, while running for the harbour, were caught in a blinding snowstorm, and their crews lost sight of the land, and so came to grief. It is, however, a matter of great satisfaction to all concerned with the Tyne to know that through the admirable organisation of the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade, and the noble courage of the North Shields Lifeboat crew, three ships’ companies (except one poor fellow belonging to the “Susannah”) were rescued from the storm and safely landed, who would otherwise would, in all probability, have perished.”

The Shields Gazette reported the following day:

“Between 2 and 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon, snow began to fall thickly and the gale now blowing from the south-west perceptibly increased in violence. About an hour afterwards, the signal guns were fired. Crowds of people soon gathered. Through the blinding drifts of sleet, the masts and sails of what appeared to be a schooner were dimly visible at the back of the north pier, but the attention of those on shore and the efforts of the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade were at first directed to a large barque (the HELENA of Scarborough)…

… As soon as the lifeboat NORTHUMBERLAND had left the barque HELENA and her crew, the crowds rushed to Tynemouth pier, which was in a few minutes packed from end to end. The Tynemouth Life Brigade, had, as soon as they were certain that their services were not further needed by the HELENA, gone to the pier with the apparatus, with the view of rescuing the crew of the schooner, which, shortly after the HELENA struck, was observed to be rapidly drifting behind the pier.

When the Brigade arrived, the schooner, which proved to be LIGHT OF THE HAREM of Lowestoft, was rolling heavily from side to side, and the crew, five in number, were clinging to the sides of the vessel, and in imminent danger of being carried by the waves, which were dashing over the vessel, into the sea. The first line missed, but the second went over the vessel. The crew, however, either did not understand the working of the apparatus, or were unable to secure the rope. Several members of the Brigade shouted directions to the men, but although the schooner was only distant about 80 yards from the pier, they were not heard owing to the noise of the sea.

Signs were made to the crew to fasten the hawser to the foremast, but the men signalled that the masts could not safely support the strain. The Brigadesmen then signalled to the crew to fasten the hawser to some other part of the vessel, and ultimately it was attached to the capstan. The breeches buoy was then pulled to the side of the vessel, and two of the crew secured themselves in it. As it was being pulled from the vessel’s side, the schooner made a heavy lurch, and the two men sank overhead in the water. They were, however, quickly pulled through the waves, and in a couple of minutes were safely landed on the pier. In like manner, two others of the crew, and lastly the captain, were rescued.

The Brigade displayed great coolness, and throughout evinced great skill in the management of the various apparatus. The crew, who were thoroughly drenched, were conducted to the Brigade House, where they received the usual attentions and afterwards were taken to the Sailors’ Home. The schooner was commanded by Captain E Rhodes.”

Light of the Harem had, similarly to the Susannah, started from Seaham for Lowestoft with a cargo of coal, then turned back and ran for the Tyne after her anchor was lost off Filey Bay in the storm.

People carried off coal and other items washed ashore from all three wrecked vessels.

Thank you to Brigade Chairman and Historian, John Wright, for help in curating this information.

The Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade need support in order to continue to their vital work keeping people safe on our shorelines. Please consider a donation here: justgiving.com/tynemouth-vlb 

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Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade logo
Tynemouth
Volunteer
Life Brigade
Collection
Stories from the TVLB
Stories from the TVLB
Tynemouth
Volunteer
Life Brigade
Collection
Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade logo
Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade logo
Stories from the TVLB
Tynemouth
Volunteer
Life Brigade
Collection

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