Port St Mary Lifeboat History
-The schooner "Jeaunne St Charles"
A dramatic rescue occurred early in 1858 in the treacherous waters of the Sound of the Calf of Man, which resulted a lasting symbol of tragedy and the heroism of those who went to the aid of a French schooner the "Jeaunne St Charles" en route to Londonderry from Pontrieux, the Thousla Cross now sighted over looking the Sound.
The "Jeaunne St Charles" had a gross tonnage of sixty nine tonnes and had been built at Flecamp, Normandy in 1852. Her master for a trip delivering flour to Londonderry was Captain Joseph Jegou, an experienced seaman. On the trip was his youngest brother, Yves making his first passage as ships boy at the age of 13 years.
On the 29th March 1858 she set sail with a crew of six and with favourable winds would make her passage to Londonderry in five days. For two days, stiff south easterly winds kept her penned on the French coast, then after a couple of days of variable winds, they were caught in a south- easterly gale forty miles north of the Longships, off Lands End, and were forced to heave to.
On the 5th April they took heavy seas and had their hatch covers stove in. The following day the weather moderated and they resumed course. On the 7th, early in the morning, the mainsheet block parted and the mizzen boom broke and they were forced to run before the wind whilst repairs were made. Later that day whilst sailing under main sail and storm jib the weather cleared and they saw the lights of the Calf lighthouse but to the westwards of them. Judging his position to be too close to the Isle, he luffed up to it and dropped the two bow anchors after sighting land about one cable off. They held about one boats length from the rocks with the sea washing over the ship. All they could do was furl the sails and man the pumps through the cold night.
The next morning the anchor chains started to part and the ship began to drift along the coast. In desperation the storm jib was hoisted to get her head out to sea but they were forced into the narrow channel of the Big Sound and the isle of Kitterland. Their one remaining anchor was dropped and held lo ng enough for them to launch the ships long boat. The anchor hawser broke and she was finally swept into the channel .
The "Jeaunne St Charles" was quickly abandoned but due to the strength of the wind and tide both the schooner and the longboat went a ground on a rock in mid channel. The first wave took away their oars, the second capsized the long boat and all six crew were left clinging perilously to the rocks. Shortly after the two ships boys could not hold on and disappeared into the waves and perished. The Captain, Mate and two crew were left clinging to the rocks with waves breaking over them tearing their clothes and flesh.
At first light the dangerous position of the French schooner had been noticed by farmers on the hillside overlooking the eastern approaches of the Sound. Word was spread to Port St Mary of the news of the vessel where action was taken to transfer a substantial rowing boat overland by relays of men from the Howe and Cregneish.
The boat, crewed by Henry Qualtrough, Thomas Taubman, John Maddrell, Edward Fargher and Thomas Keig, was launched into the Sound but could not reach the wreck. After battling against south east wind , and the flood tide, the rescuers were swept past the desperate sailors and were forced to save themselves by landing on the Calf Island. A second boat was carried from Port St Mary. It was crewed by Thomas Harrison, Joseph Harrison, John Watterson, Daniel Lace and John Karran who, with disregard for their own safety and with skilled seamanship launched their boat into the channel. The Frenchmen's ordeal had now lasted over three hours and their desperate cries could be heard from the shore as the waves broke over them. The second boat was swept towards them and they were grasped and taken a board the boat which was swept on by the tide towards the Calf, where they managed to land. Quickly they received attention from the lighthouse keepers. Later they were taken to Castletown for medical care and when they were capable, onwards to the French Consul in Liverpool.
Subsequently the French Minister of the Marine agreed to recommend to the French Emperor Napoleon III, a commendation for the five crew of the second boat. The Emperor, decreed in July 1858, that each of the five crew should receive a silver medal of Honour for their gallantry. Later in the year on 7th December 1858 at a meeting in the schoolroom in Port St Mary, the Lieutenant Governor, the Hon. Charles Hope, presented the medals on behalf of the French Government.
After the ship wreck public pressure led to the erection of a beacon on the Thousla Rock. In the summer of 1859, the Commissioners of the Northern Lighthouses, arranged for the completion of a beacon which would also provide refuge from the wind and sea. At the same time moneys were raised in France to erect an iron Cross of Lorraine on top of this beacon as a tribute to the two ships boys that were lost.
Last edited 15 February 2000
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(copyright Brian Kelly, Port St Mary, IoM)