Castletown Lifeboat - Wreck of the Schooner "Lyra" 1888

This is a transcript of a report in the newspaper, The Manx Sun, of 7th January 1888


The gale on Wednesday was felt in all its severity at the south end of the Island, and the sea ran higher than on any occasion since the great gale in November last. From all the southern harbours a keen lookout was kept, in readiness for any possible call upon the willing services of the lifeboat and the rocket brigade men. Tuesday night wore away without any special incident, but early on Wednesday morning a sad disaster happened in Port St Mary Bay, involving the loss of one life, and the rescue under most exciting circumstances of three men from a position of imminent peril, by the gallant crew of Port Erin lifeboat.

It seems that at about twenty minutes to eight o'clock in the morning Mr John Watterson, who is well known from his official connection with Port St Mary railway station, was walking from the station towards the town when through the grey mist which overhung the sea, he observed a dark object moving across the bay. A little further scrutiny convinced him that it was a large schooner, and that, unless her course was altered, she would strike on the dangerous Carrick Rock, midway across the bay. The schooner was evidently in distress, for she was showing a red light and Mr Watterson realising the situation with commendable promptitude ran off for the post office and telegraphed both Port Erin and Castletown for the lifeboats, and also asked that the Castletown Rocket Brigade might be sent. He also informed Mr T Qualtrough the harbour master. These messages were quickly on their way, but with equal speed the news had spread in Port St Mary of the impeding disaster, and crowds of men, women and children were soon lining the beach and clustering on the pier. As the light grew stronger, the guesses which had been made as to the identity of the hapless vessel developed into certainty, and excitement was intensified when it became clear that the schooner was one belonging to the very port in sight of which she was drifting to destruction, and carrying as part of her crew at least two residents of the town.

Driven before the fierce wind and no less violent sea, the schooner went with a fearful crash on to the Carrick, and with the aid of glasses there could be seen from the shore several men clinging to the rigging, and repeatedly covered by the waves which s wept clean over the vessel. The enforced inactivity and helplessness of those on shore, whilst waiting for the lifeboat, grew unendurable, and, with a courage that cannot be too highly praised, a number of men put off from inside the pier in a harbour boat, rowing double manned oars. The names of these brave fellows are -Wm. Kelly, coxswain ( owner of the boat), who resides in Port St Mary; Wm. Watterson of Cregneish; Joseph Kinvig of Cregneish; Wm. Watterson of Howe; J J Sansbury ,banker, Port St Mary, H Creggen, John Shimmin of Glenchass; and W Begg, one of the Chicken Rock lighthouse keepers who happened to be ashore on leave.

Amidst the cheers of the assembled people the boat stood stoutly out across the bay, lost to sight at intervals, and then reappearing on the crest of a huge wave, the boat being several times filled to the thwarts with water. After a hard struggle the adventurers got down close to the Carrick, but on the rock the surf was so terrific that they had no hope of getting alongside the stranded schooner, which was threatening to capsize every minute. The situation was most trying, but at this moment a loud cheer from the those on shore announced that the lifeboat was approaching, and immediately afterwards the Port Erin Boat, on her carriage drawn by six horses, and surrounded by her crew came into sight. Plenty of willing hands were found to help in the launch, which took place from the Smelt beach, near Mount Gawne House, where the surf was not so heavy. The boat, in charge of the coxswain, William Collister, and pulling ten oars, had a hard struggle getting to the wreck, which lay directly to windward. It was about a quarter to nine o'clock when she left the beach, and it was not until half an hour elapsed that she came within hailing distance of the schooner. It was then found that this was the "Lyra", 130 tons, of Port St Mary and that the Captain, Francis Petherrick, married, whose wife and child resided in Port St Mary, had been lost overboard when the schooner struck. He was last seen standing by the wheel, and when his vessel crashed upon the rock, a huge wave swept him, it is supposed, clean overboard. The three other men who composed the crew were holding on to the fore rigging, and for a time the lifeboat men could not approach sufficiently close to enable these to be reached. Soon, however, the schooner was driven, as the tide rose, further across the rock, and at last the Port Erin men pulled their boat close up. Then, seizing their opportunity, the three men jumped for the boat. Two alighted within the boat in safety, but the other fell into the water, though he was at once pulled aboard.

The rescue was most timely, for no sooner had the lifeboatmen picked up the men and backed clear of the wreck than the vessel , sliding off the Carrick into deep water, fell over on her side and disappeared as if by magic. Her foreyard almost grazed the lifeboat as the mast went under, and had the boat not cleared away just at the moment she did, it is more than likely that she would have been struck and smashed by the descending spar. It was seen that all hope of recovering the captain was gone, and the boat made for the beach whence she had come. The waiting crowd, on seeing that the men had been rescued, gave three mighty cheers and then "tailed on" to the ropes and dragged the lifeboat high and dry on the shore.

The rescued men were John Hawkins, a native of Port St Mary, mate of the Lyra, and two seamen whose names we were not able to ascertain. All three were badly bruised, and one of the strangers had his head seriously cut, a doctor having to be called in . Hawkins went to his home, and his shipmates were well taken care of by Mrs Qualtrough, Shore Hotel, where Dr Edmundson, of Castletown, attended to their hurts.

Whilst the rescue had been in progress, the Castletown Rocket Brigade had come upon the scene, with Mr J S Gell, 1st officer and the Rev E Ferrier, 2nd officer, but they of course could do nothing to aid a vessel a mile from the shore. The crew of the Castletown lifeboat "The Hope", responsive to an appeal from Port St Mary, promptly got horses and dragged their boat over the hill to Poolvash Bay, where they launched her and made with all speed for the wreck. Before their arrival, however, the men had been got off, and the Castletown coxswain, William Callow, then took "The Hope" to moorings alongside the Alfred Pier, and later in the day she was carried back overland to Castletown. Mr G H Quayle, H.K., secretary to the local committee, drove over at once to Port St Mary and rendered valuable service in connection with the boat. Mr Mylchreest, Lloyd's agent at Castletown, Mr G L Trustrum, of Port Erin, and many other gentlemen hurried to Port St Mary at once on hearing the wreck and directed operations. All, in fact worked hard and well in the gallant endeavour to save the crew of the Lyra. The latter vessel, it should be mentioned, was owned in Port St Mary by W Caine, Mrs Leicester, Mr Skillicorn, Mr Qualtrough, the harbour master (who though suffering from illness was foremost amongst the helpers on shore), and T Clague, butcher. She left Runcorn on Monday evening with a cargo of salt for Dublin, and had experienced the full fury of the gale, which drove her rapidly up channel until the unfortunate captain decided to make for Port St Mary.

The disaster serves at least one purpose in emphasising the necessity for the further extension of the Alfred Pier, which has been stopped, as his Excellency said the other day, "just when it was beginning to be useful." Another 200 feet added to the length of that structure would have given the Lyra a sheltered anchorage. It will also show with lamentable force the need for erecting a beacon on the Carrick, which is at present unmarked, and lies in a most dangerous situation. The establishment of a Lloyd's signal station above the Chasms should also be pushed on, as it would be of great assistance in the case of vessels approaching the port. At latest accounts the body of Captain Phedrick had not been recovered, and the schooner still lay in deep water. The following men composed the crew of the Port Erin lifeboat : W Collister, 1st coxswain, John Maddrell 2nd ditto; John Watterson, Rbt Christian, William Carine, Henry Watterson, Thomas Cregeen, William Watterson, John Christian, Joseph Woodworth, and James Coole. The Castletown lifeboat crew, who made every effort to save the imperilled seamen, but owing to their long pull, were prevented from reaching the wreck first, were : William Callow , coxswain, James Bridson Snr., James Anchors, F Cleator, John Christian, William Corlett, Ben Fell, G E Kelly, J Quinney, John Christian jun., J Bridson jun., William Bridson, H Gallaher, D Fitzpatrick and Joseph Hudson. All the boatmen and the members of the Rocket Brigade are deserving off the highest praise for the skill and activity they displayed in their work of relief.'

Castletown Lifeboat the day after the service to the schooner Lyra,

photograph taken at Athol Street, Port St Mary


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