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The Loss of the Brigantine Rupert, 24th Dec 1895

As a great easterly storm struck the country on Christmas Eve 1895, the Rupert, from Faversham in Kent and laden with coal from Sunderland, was smashed by two massive waves at 11:45 am as she rounded the South Pier in force 11 winds.

She then laboured, stern-heavy, into the harbour when she foundered on the Bar and capsized stern-first after being deluged by a third huge wave. This was just after the remaining men on board had taken refuge in the rigging. All seven men were lost.

The tragedy occurred in front of thousands of onlookers, as the TVLB stood mustered on the rocks with breeches buoy and rockets ready to fire, had the ship come aground, which it had looked certain to do. The alarm guns had been fired shortly before the ship overturned.

The wrecked hull of the Rupert was then driven onto the Battery Rocks. Three Lifeboats were immediately launched but no bodies were found. Three bodies were later washed ashore and taken to the mortuary on the Haven.

The salvaged figurehead and ship’s wheel are on display in the Tynemouth Watch House Museum

This is how The Times reported it the following day:

LOSS OF A SCHOONER AND SEVEN LIVES.

During the gale on the north-east coast during Monday night and yesterday, huge waves frequently drove against the new lighthouses on the Tyne piers, and at times completely hid them from view, and there were, too, frequent showers of rain and sleet. Yesterday morning several vessels safely entered the Tyne Harbour, their progress being watched by thousands of people.  

About 11 o’clock the passenger steamer Bernicia, which trades between Newcastle and Leith, entered the harbour in safety ‘ but shortly before noon a disaster involving the loss of several lives occurred.  A schooner was seen making for the harbour, and, when between the piers, she was struck by a heavy sea and driven upon the outer edge of the Black Middens, facing the Spanish Battery at Tynemouth.  The alarm guns were at once fired, and the lifeboat Forester, stationed at Tynemouth, was launched. There was a rush of people to the scene, but nothing could be done for the hapless crew.  The man at the wheel was seen to leave his post and make his way to the rigging, where the other men had already taken refuge; but the vessel no sooner struck than she capsized, and nothing more was seen of the crew.

The Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade mustered in force, and prepared the rocket apparatus.  A body was afterwards washed ashore.  It was that of a young man about 20 years of age.  He had on a lifebelt and oilskins, but there was nothing about the body by which it could be identified.  The remains were removed to the mortuary in Tynemouth Haven.  

It has been ascertained that the vessel was the Rupert, of Faversham.  She was commanded by Captain Burdon, and carried a crew of seven hands, all of whom were drowned.  The ill-fated schooner left Sunderland on Sunday last bound for Ramsgate, coal laden, and she was running into the Tyne for shelter when the accident occurred.  The vessel appeared at first to be likely to strike the South Pier, but the hurricane carried her over to the north side.  When the ship struck several of the crew were seen to take to the rigging; but when she went over on her broadside the masts were carried away, and, of course, the unfortunate crew went with them.  Other vessels continued to run to the port for safety, and there were no sailings.

Rupert had sailed from Sunderland two days prior and was and originally bound for Ramsgate. Her cargo, itinerary and origin were later gleaned from papers washed ashore.

A public fund was set up for the families of the crew and the bodies were buried at Preston Cemetery on 29th December, with thousands taking part in a two-mile procession from Tynemouth Front Street to the cemetery.

Interred:

  • Captain Thomas Barden (Whitstable),
  • RJ McKenzie (Folkestone),
  • Edward Connor (Queenstown),
  • David Muir (Arbroath),

Not recovered:

  • GH Yardley (Birmingham),
  • William Fleet (Ramsgate),
  • Harry Saffery (Lower Stourmouth).
Grave of the crew of Rupert. Photograph by Wesley Fry, TVLB Captain

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
Stories from the TVLB
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Life Brigade
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