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The Wreck of the Diamant, 26th March 1898

Like so many of the shipwrecks documented in these pages, this Norwegian barque struggled into the harbour in wild seas and encountered trouble as she attempted to cross the Bar. This happened at 9am when she was struck by a wave in her stern which dislodged the wheel-house, disabling the wheel and the rudder.

The ship then drifted and struck the Black Middens, while a large crowd had gathered to watch the drama unfold, as waves repeatedly deluged the stranded wreck. A rocket line was soon put aboard, however, and all 8 of of the Diamant’s crew were brought to safety by the TVLB, with lifeboat crews and the coastguard standing by.

The Diamant had embarked from the Shetlands during a lull in the weather and was carrying a cargo of pit props for the coal mines. Trade in this timber from Scandinavia was huge at the time, evidenced by the fact that the parkland behind the Royal Quays Marina today, was originally a massive yard for their storage.

On the same day, more damage was done to the North Pier, already completely breached in two places. The builders and the townsfolk surely now looked on this mammoth undertaking as a blighted endeavour.

In this famous image by Auty, we can see a line aboard the ship and one man being carried ashore in the breeches buoy, while five crewmen await their turn.

The Shields Daily News printed this beautfully written letter in praise of the Life Brigade, describing the episode as follows:

     “The excitement which was aroused on Saturday morning when the guns of Medusa thundered forth the intelligence that a ship was in distress in an angry sea was a reminiscence of former experiences when there was even more danger at the mouth of the Tyne.  The scene had a grandeur peculiar to itself.  Swaying and tossing with the wind and the sea, the vessel and crew seemed to be marked as fresh victims of the storm, and the huge waves which continuously broke over the ship appeared to be greedy for human life.  Eager but powerless to help, the lifeboats put off, but dared not risk approach amid the rocks which had the ship in their tenacious grip.  In the background, if such a term may be used in connection with a seascape, great volumes of water were pouring through the shattered pier, and high in the air the white masses of spray were tossed, enveloping the lighthouse, and adding to the effect that was picturesque, whilst it was awe-inspiring.  
     Lifeboat, steamer, and tug stood afar off, their crews doubtless chafing under the chagrin of impotence to help thought they were so near, and when the whizzing rocket sped over the vessel there were many onlookers who felt thankful for the Life Brigade, while they feared that none could venture on deck while such enormous waves swept over her.  A little suspense, and then a second rocket went straight to the deck, and with a celerity that was incredible whilst it was admirable, one by one the storm tossed mariners were drawn safely to shore until everyone was saved.  One would almost feel thankful for the wreck in the light of the opportunity it afforded our Life Brigade to show their smartness and efficiency.  When once the rocket apparatus was fixed, a life was saved every minute, and spectators near at hand and in the distance were loud in their praise of the marvellous speed shown by our volunteer brigadesmen in bringing those who were in peril safe to land.
     It was a performance of which not only they themselves, but the whole Borough, and indeed the country, may well be proud, and it is surely fitting to put on record a tribute to the brigadesmen who are “always ready” to succour and to save those who are in peril on the sea.  This I gladly and thankfully do, as one who saw how much they did and how well they did it.
     VIGILANTE.”

In a detailed report of the weekend’s turmoil, the paper also provided some advice for ships under sail to avoid such misfortunes:

“In an interview with a correspondent, Mr. J. Linkleter, of Tynemouth, who enjoys a world wide reputation for his inventions in life saving apparatus &c., stated that in his opinion that there would be fewer occurrences of the kind if the captains would carry more sail than they do in making the harbour in an easterly gale on an ebb tide.  That is the mistake, he said, made by most foreigners when entering Shields Harbour. A sailing vessel must have the force of the wind behind her to contend against the outgoing tide, which runs very strongly round the edge of the Black Middens and the Battery Point.  Providing no mishap occurs to the steering gear, a vessel is pretty safe to come in all right with a good spread of canvas.  To give point to Mr. Linkleter’s remarks, it was observed that the barque which came in before dusk on Saturday had very little canvas spread, and any defect in the steering gear might easily have led to a repetition of the morning’s exciting incidents.”

An exciting account also in the SDN:

“Me wait for de captain.”
“a total wreck”

Painting by Cullercoats artist, Michael Smith:

Rejuvenated by George Miller and Peter Swan in 1983
Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, 2nd April

Thank you to Brigade Chairman and Historian, John Wright and Steve Ellwood @TyneSnapper for their 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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