Port St Mary Lifeboat Station

1896-1917; RNLB "James Stevens No.1"

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The days of oars and sails

At a meeting of the RNLI's Committee of Management on Thursday, June 13th, 1895, it was decided to move Port Erin Lifeboat Station to Port St Mary. But this decision was strongly opposed in Port Erin and a petition was raised and sent to the RNLI Headquarters, pleading for the station to be retained. It pointed out that the long stretch of coast that the Peel lifeboat , to the north, would have to cover, if the Port Erin Station was closed.

Whilst the situation was still under consideration, the Port Erin lifeboat, 'William Sugden' was called out for its first service, to a vessel aground close to the breakwater at Port St Mary. In thick fog and a falling tide, the steamship 'Knar'' of Kings Lynn, ran aground while on passage from Llandulas to Ardrossan, laden with limestone. The 'William Sugden' was launched and stood by the steamer until it refloated.

The RNLI Committee of Management at a meeting on the 13th February 1896, decided that a new lifeboat station would be opened at Port St Mary and that the Port Erin station would continue on.

On the 16th March 1896 a public meeting was called by Mr Basil Hall, the Inspector of Lifeboats, at 8.00 p.m. at the Town Hall for the purpose of forming a local Committee of Management. The following were appointed:
Mr E T Kneale, President.,
Mr T Qualtrough, Chairman;
Capt. J Kissack, the Harbour Master, was appointed Honorary Secretary;
Also appointed were G K Crellin, J Watterson, J Moore jnr., A Gawne, E Qualtrough, J Millar, D Lace, T Clague, S Watterson, J J Sansbury , T Watterson, T Lace, H J Qualtrough, Jos. Qualtrough, J J Qualtrough , J Shimmin , Wm. Fallows and Wm. Strichland.

The local committee met a month later at the Town Hall in order to appoint the Coxswain and crew. William Kelly , a local boatman, was unanimously approved for the position of Coxswain and Capt. Kissack was asked to put a notice up in the Harbour Masters Office requesting applicants for lifeboat crewmen.

Five days later the Committee were notified that the new lifeboat would be a self righting ,standard 35 ft lifeboat of the same type as the one stationed at Castletown. Shortly after this another meeting it was decided that Cox. Wm. Kelly be allowed to appoint his own 2nd cox. and bowman . They were Henry Taylor and Edward Kneen respectively. The meeting also appointed Wm. S Coffey as the signalman.

During the summer building work commenced on the new boathouse and on the 3rd December the Inspector of Lifeboats visited the new house and suggested further clearance of rock from the lower end of the new slip-way, also the placing of three large ring bolts for the purpose of hauling the boat up from the low water mark.

In mid December the Coxswain and four crew went away to Liverpool to accompany the new boat back to the Island. On 23rd December , the big day came when the Lifeboat was launched for the first time from the new station in the presence of the Inspector and the Committee.


On New Years Eve Mr Basil Hall, District Inspector accompanied by Mr S Sedge, Asst. Engineer from London took the boat and crew to sea for their first full exercise and were well satisfied with the way she behaved when under canvas and pulling under oars in moderate seas and heavy surf around the Carrick Rock.

The new Port St Mary lifeboat was the standard 35ft, 10 oared self - righting lifeboat. Named the 'James Stevens No.1' , she was the bequest of Mr L Stevens, Birmingham and was built at Thames Ironworks at a cost of 463 pounds.

During the early part of 1897 the Lifeboat was frequently exercised and in March of that year engaged in a joint exercise with the new Castletown Lifeboat, the 'Thomas Black''. On the 8th July it was arranged for the lifeboat to be hauled on its carriage by a team of horses for the first time since delivery. The team was hauled to the Four Roads ,down to the Smelt and then back to the Boathouse. On the 4th August an interesting exercise was arranged whereby 60 people were embarked on the lifeboat whilst alongside the breakwater.

During 1898 exercises were carried out quarterly and during 1899 deputation's were received from Arbroath, Methil / Buckhaven, Dunbar, Montrose, Girvan, Johnshaven, Tynemouth and Stornoway arrived and usually went out on the lifeboat in order to assess its performance for the needs of their own stations.

The first call out for the new Port St Mary Lifeboat came on the 21 St October 1899. A small fishing boat 'Britannia' had left Port Erin on the morning of the 20th with Mr Hassal of Liverpool, his son aged 14 , Henry Watterson , the Master and Owner, and Edward Gale, an experienced fisherman. A thick fog came on with increasing wind and at 11 p.m. Port Erin Lifeboat was launched and at 1 am a messenger arrived to ask that the 'James Stevens No1' should be launched to assist in the search and at 1.30 am the boat was launched. The weather was thick, the wind by then was a south easterly fresh breeze. The sea was rough and a heavy surf broke all along the coast. The search by both boats proved fruitless and at 10 am the Port St Mary lifeboat returned back to station.

A short while after this the wreck of the Britannia was found 1 1/2 miles from Port Erin breakwater by a hard hat diver. She had apparently capsized in a squall with the loss of all hands. Further tragedy struck has the diver who had located the wreck subsequently died from the bends.

The crew on the first launch were Wm. Kelly , Cox., Wm. Clugston, Paul Kelly, Robt. Cain, Ambrose Qualtrough, Richard Moore, John Moore, John Kelly, Francis Corris, Wm. Keggan, Thos. Kneen, Thos. Kermode and Robt. Clucas.

On the 6th August 1900 , the pleasure yacht 'Olga' left Port St Mary at 10 am on a pleasure trip with John Corlett , the master , and a Mr Roberts. The wind had been a fresh easterly but had then increased suddenly to a moderate SSE gale. The yacht was seen to make for the harbour and was struck by a strong squall and floundered quickly. At 1.45 p.m. , which was low water, the lifeboat was launched and went to the spot were the 'Olga' had been seen to go down. However the lifeboat and a fishing boat which had been close by failed to find any sign of the two men and at 3.00 p.m. the lifeboat returned to station.

Two months had nearly elapsed when the steamer 'Floatah' from Barrow in Furness was seen to be in great danger of being driven ashore at the back of Port St Mary breakwater, on the morning of Thursday , 4th October. She was 46 tons gross with a cargo of 96 tons of iron ore and was bound from Barrow to Ardrossan. with a crew of four. She was running for shelter in a SE severe gale, heavy rain and with a large sea running. As she approached Port St Mary she was blowing her whistle and burning flares as her pumps had become choked with cinders and she was starting to take water. Her Master , Mr R Wilson from Stirling, had anchored in 12 fathoms of water just off the limestone ledges that form the rocks around the Point. The heavy surf created by the tide rip off these ledges had forced the vessel nearly on to the lee shore and the vessel was got under way just in the nick of time. The lifeboat was launched at 8.40 am and reached the vessel about half a mile outside the breakwater after a little over half an hour. the Cox Wm Kelly decided to put the Wm. Clugston on board as a pilot and then escorted the 'Floatah' to safety in the harbour. They returned at 10 am and the lifeboat was rehoused thirty minutes later.

During the same storm the Ramsey lifeboat was called to the assistance of a Norwegian barque in difficulties off the Bahama bank and was in danger of running on to it. Her crew was taken off and the vessel was left to drag her anchors and rode out the storm.

On the 30th May 1901, the lifeboat was taken to Port Erin and launched from the new slipway there and then returned around the Calf with Commander T Holmes as the District Inspector.

Two years elapsed before the next service. On the morning of 12th July 1902 during a Nor westerly gale a three masted steamer was showing signals of distress some seven miles north of the Calf of Man. At 10.30 am the gun signal for summoning the lifeboat crew was fired and shortly afterwards a similar report was heard over Port Erin. Eight minutes after firing the gun the 'James Stevens' was afloat , proceeded towards the Calf Sound and then beat to windward to join the Port Erin Lifeboat which had been southwards under wrong instructions. Both boats sailed out closed hauled for about 7 miles but could not see anything of the vessel in distress. It afterwards transpired that a large steamer had come along and towed the vessel in distress off in the direction of the Irish coast and eventually arrived at Dundrum Bay, Northern Ireland , however the names of the vessels involved was not ascertained. the Port St Mary Lifeboat returned to station at about 3 p.m. and the Port Erin Lifeboat arrived at her home station half an hour after that.

The James Stevens' first effective service came on the 15th March 1905, 9 years after she had entered service to the local schooner 'William Berry'. A south easterly severe gale was veering round to the south west and a large number of boats had put into Port St Mary for shelter. The Isle of Man Examiner takes up the tale:

'From an early hour on Wednesday morning much anxiety was caused at Port St Mary because of the unusually large number of fishing and other craft in the harbour preparatory to the departure of the mackerel fleet. One of these luggers, the 'Harvest Home' ran aground beneath the Old Wesleyan Chapel. The impact has wrought some damage to the boat but fortunately there is every prospect of salving her. The 'Harvest Home' was to have left for Kinsale in a few days.
With the schooner 'William Berry' - Mr Walter Cowley of Port St Mary , the owner, things were not so fortunate. She was lying to her moorings in the centre of the harbour. The sea ran in at a tremendous rate and at about 8.15 am it was noted that her mooring had given way. Mr Cowley was on the quay at the time and at once apprehended the danger. Messrs Thos. Doran , Thos. Qualtrough and J Halsall pluckily lent assistance. The small boat which was lying alongside the quay was immediately launched and at great risk the four men proceeded to the vessel for the purpose of tightening the moorings. Hardly had they got on board when the chain snapped with a crash and the vessel drifted on to the rocks below the Cliff Hotel [ now the Carrick Hotel ]. The anchor was promptly thrown out but it failed to grip. When the vessel struck she began to heavily heave to and fro which placed the volunteer crew in a perilous position. The sound signal for the lifeboat was sent off and commanded by Cox. Wm. Kelly in a few minutes was alongside the William Berry'. The crew were reluctant to leave the vessel at first but shortly afterwards they decided to do so and were safely landed. The storm gradually abated and strenuous efforts were made by quite 150 men to extricate the vessel from the unfortunate position but without avail.'

The crew for this launch were Wm. Kelly, Cox., Wm. Clucas, Thos. Cregeen, John Moore, Paul Kelly, Francis Corris, Tom Kelly, Wm. Corris, John Halsall, Henry Kermode, Wm. Quillin, Wm. Clugston and Wm Coole. During the rescue the Lifeboat had burst two cork fenders and snapped a running line in getting alongside the wreck.

Also that same day Ramsey Lifeboat was called out to search for a reported dismasted barque drifting towards Maughold and at Douglas the IOMSP Co vessel the 'Douglas' was forced to put to sea to ride out the storm as she was sustaining too much damage whilst moored at the Victoria Pier.

On the 10th January 1906 3 small fishing boats arrived in Port St Mary from Port Erin driven for shelter from a northerly gale. They reported that there were two other small open fishing boats following them but that due to the increased fury of the gale, that they could not make Port St Mary. The Hon Sec. John Moore ordered that the lifeboat should be launched to search for the two boats and she was afloat 10 minutes from gun fire. The lifeboat proceeded to the Sound under sail and oars making good speed and reached the two boats at about 2 p.m. ; half an hour after launching. The crews of the fishing boats decided that it was possible to save their boats by grounding them in a creek in the Sound whilst the Lifeboat stoodby ready to render assistance.

A further two years elapsed before the services of the lifeboat were called upon. At 2.10 p.m. Friday 18th July 1908 the small dandy rigged fishing boat 'Elate' was seen to hit the breakwater and sink rapidly. The 'Elate' owned by Wm. Qualtrough and skippered by John Ronan was approx. 40 tons wt. and was loaded with 50 mease of herring after a nights fishing. She was attempting to make the inner harbour in a NW gale and a large sea swell. As it was high water there was also an ebb tide race at the back of the breakwater to deal with. in her attempt to reach the harbour her jibboom fouled the breakwater, broke and fell in the water were it went through her below the water line. She immediately began to fill with water and sank in 12 fathoms of water 300 yards south of the breakwater.

The lifeboat was immediately signalled to launch and reached the position were the 'Elate' had gone down within 15 minutes. Meanwhile a rowing boat manned by Messrs R Clewis and Cubbon also put off to the rescue and succeeded in taking off four men who were in immediate danger as the 'Elate' sank. Eleven of the 'Elate's crew and passengers had taken to the vessels' small punt just before she sank. The Lifeboat arrived and took on board 11 from the punt which was only large enough to contain half that number in fine weather and also the 4 men that the rowing boat had rescued. Two of the passengers were artists who were on board sketching and one of them was the now notable artist Wm. Hoggat.

Only a week elapsed before the next call out of the lifeboat. At 2 p.m. Tuesday 25th .,the Hon. Sec. John Moore received a telephone message from Douglas Light House stating that a sailing vessel could be seen in distress about 8 miles SE of Douglas Head and that the Douglas Lifeboat had gone out that morning and her whereabouts were unknown. It was also stated that she seemed to be drifting before a northerly gale with her sails blown away and would be soon off Langness. The lifeboat was launched at 2.15 p.m. and reached the casualty an hour later were they found that Douglas lifeboat was also in attendance of the 5 ton fishing smack 'Margurite'. The two Coxswains spoke and then the 'James Stevens' returned to station. It took over four hours to beat back against the wind

When the open yawl 'The Chicken Rock' was reported overdue in worsening weather on the 12th October 1910 , the Hon. Sec. Stanley Williams and the Cox. Wm. Kelly decided that the lifeboat should be launched to search for the yawl at just after midnight.

'The Chicken Rock' was Mr T Clagues Calf of Man tender, and had been seen off Perwick Bay at 6.30 p.m. making for Port St Mary under double reefs beating against a strong NNE breeeze. However night drew in and the wind increased to a near gale and she had still not arrived in port. By 11.30 p.m. concern was raised with the Hon. Sec. as to the whereabouts and safety of the boat and its five occupants. The lifeboat was launched and proceeded to the Calf to investigate whether the yawl and returned there.

The lifeboat reached the South Harbour at the Calf at 1.15 am on the 13th and found the yawl and its crew safely housed on the Island. Heavy wind and sea had to be contended with on the return beat home and the Cox. reported the good behaviour of the boat. It was rehoused at 5.30 am.

The committee commented that there was a need for a means of communication with the Calf of Man inhabitants ( the lighthouse keepers and the people at the farm ) for their safety and the prevention of anxiety of their relatives around Port St Mary and Port Erin.

The lack of communications in the days before radio was often the cause of anxiety. The next service for the 'James Stevens' was a case in point. On the 5th April 1911 Coxswain Wm. Kelly reported to the Hon. Sec. that Edward Kneen, the 2 nd Cox., had gone to sea that morning early in his small open fishing boat. Wm. Kelly had put out to haul crab pots at 7.30 am but returned half an hour later due to heavy seas and a ENE near gale. Knowing that Kneen was still at sea and that their boats were similar , his concern was for the whereabouts of the 2nd cox. At 9.30 am a boat was sighted about 2 miles west of Langness point, drifting seaward in a heavy squall of snow. The boat was seen by several people with a telescope.

The Hon. Sec. Mr S Williams, was absent from the port and so Cox Wm. Kelly decided to summon the crew and launched the lifeboat at 10.20 am. Half a mile out he sighted Kneens' boat , hailed him and found all safe. The crew being still satisfied there was a boat in the distance off Langness point they sailed for that locality in a strong ENE wind, heavy seas and snow showers. On reaching the spot a search was made for any sign of distress but no boat could be seen. After making an exhaustive search was made without success, the lifeboat ran back to Port St Mary and was rehoused two and half hours after launching. Enquiries were made in Port Erin , Port St Mary and Castletown as to any missing craft but all were accounted for and the nature, name and fate of the boat that had been sighted was to remain a mystery.

Later that year, both Port St Mary and Castletown lifeboats went to the assistance of the steamer 'Resource' which ran aground in thick fog at Poolvaish, this was the first recorded combined service by the two stations.

It was the 19th October and during the evening reports were made to the Port St Mary Cox. that sounds or voices were heard coming from seaward. The night at the time was very thick and raining with a light wind from the SE a signal was fired summoning the crew together to standby until more information was known. At 10.30 p.m. word was received by telephone that a steamer was ashore at Poolvaish and 5 minutes later the lifeboat was launched and proceeded to the casualty under oars. The casualty was found to be 800 ton Admiralty moorings tender SS 'Resourse' which was bound from Devonport to Lamlash with moorings and equipment and had 30 persons on board.

The 'James Stevens' arrived on scene at 11.00 p.m., a little after high water, and they found the Castletown Rocket Brigade already in attendance. The Castletown lifeboat arrived 10 minutes later. The Captain and crew of the 'Resource' were not in danger and decided to stay on board but asked the Cox. of the lifeboat to take telegrams ashore. The Port St Mary Lifeboat returned to port and then returned back to the casualty at 4.30 am i.e. low water and found all was safe. The Captain wished for no further assistance from the lifeboats but requested that the Rocket Brigade stay in attendance a while longer. The 'James Stevens'' arrived back at 9.30 am after a ten and half hours service.

The next service was a month later on the 13th November. At 7.15 am Cox Kelly was leaving port in his fishing yawl when he sighted a dismasted vessel 3 miles south of Port St Mary flying signals of distress. He immediately returned to the lifeboat station and caused the lifeboat signals to be fired. The lifeboat was launched at 7.45 am and in a strong WNW breeze reached the casualty within 35 minutes. It was found to be the ketch 'Alexandra' with its mainmast carried away but running before the wind with her mizzen set and 2 jury rig sails set on the stump of the mainmast.

The 'Alexandra' of Chester, was 80 tons , carrying a cargo of tiles and bricks from Chester River to Belfast and had 4 crew on board. The lifeboat Cox. was asked by the master of the ketch to stand by. Four of the lifeboat crew were put on board to assist the vessel make safe into harbour. The lifeboat kept close by as it was feared the ketch was making water. The ketch was finally brought to safety and anchored in Douglas Bay just of the Tower of Refuge at noon. At the Captains request the lifeboat crew kedged the vessel into the harbour and made the vessel fast to the quay.

The lifeboat left Douglas at 1 p.m. in a hard WNW breeze and arrived safely at station at 9 p.m. some thirteen hours after setting out.

During 1912, the Committee of Management of the RNLI decided that the lifeboat would be always launched from the slipway at the Albert Pier and that exercises with teams of horses would be discontinued. Gas was laid on in the lifeboat house to provide heat and lighting.

On 17th December 1913 a messenger from Cregneish reported a vessel ashore in the Calf Sound and the lifeboat was launched at 2.15 p.m. to proceed to the scene of the wreck. On arriving it was found that it was the 280 tons steamer 'Lochaber' which had been abandoned full of water on the south side of the Thousla rock. The lifeboat unable to rendered any assistance returned to station.

The next service the lifeboat was able to render some assistance. On 23rd March 1914 ,during a strong southerly breeze and rain squalls, Coxswain Kelly saw a schooner misstay and about to strike the rocks beneath the Lime Kilns at Port St Mary. He immediately fired the signals to summon the crew and in less than 10 minutes the Lifeboat was afloat and made her way to the schooner under oars and sail. On arrival the schooner was seen to be in safety as though she had struck a rock she had managed to get off without being holed. However the schooner had lost her anchor and chain.

The schooner was the 250 ton 'Julia' of Fecamp, Normandy which had been carrying a cargo of salt from Lisbon to Reykjavick, Iceland and had a crew of six. The Captain of the schooner spoke very little English but made it clear that he was anxious to recover his small boat and three of the crew who had gone ashore about an hour previously for provisions. The wind was now increasing and the sea rougher. The Lifeboat returned to the Pier. A few minutes later the schooner small boat started off under oars to return to the schooner , however in the freshening conditions it was decided that the lifeboat would stand by the small boat. However before the three sailors had got a third of the way they had become exhausted and were in danger of being swamped so the lifeboat took them in tow back to the schooner which was then 1 1/2 miles away where they boarded safely.

Heavy weather was responsible for the lifeboat being launched to the assistance of the 16 ft open fishing boat 'Maud' CT89. On 11th October 1916 the fishing boat was seen to be in difficulties in large seas during a SW gale of Pooilvaish Bay. The boat was kept under observation for an hour when at midday it was decided to launch the lifeboat to go to the boats assistance. It was found that the two crew were endeavouring to row against the heavy seas and were danger of being swamped and thrown on to the shore. The 'Maud' was half full of water when the 'James Stevens' arrived after 25 minutes and picked the two men out of the boat. The 'Maud' was then towed back to Port St Mary.

The next month bad weather led to two services in gale force winds on the same day.

On the 3rd November , at 4.30 am the Cox. and the signal man received a message that the 62 ton steamer 'Telephone' had parted her moorings at the pier in the inner harbour , Port St Mary, during a severe SSW gale and was ashore on Gansey Point. The crew was assembled and the 'James Stevens' was afloat by 4.45 am. The boat came to anchor a short distance away to wait for an opportunity to take the six crewmen off. The steamer was fast on the rocks with large seas breaking over the vessel but was not showing any signs of breaking up. The lifeboat was unable to get alongside the vessel and at 5.30 am the Castletown Rocket Brigade arrived. At 7.30 am the crew of the 'Telephone' was brought ashore by the Rocket Brigade and the lifeboat released however because of the large swell over the slipway she had to lie alongside the breakwater until the tide receded.

The 'Telephone' of Dublin, owned by Donald Mc Kendery was loaded with coal and was bound from Whithorn to Bray, Ireland when they had taken shelter from the weather.
At 8.50 am a message was received from the Coast Guard station at Spanish Head that a full rigged sailing ship was seen showing signals of distress about 3 miles south of the station. The lifeboat was launched again into the strong SSW gale and heavy seas at 9.05 am and proceeded towards the Calf Sound. Upon reaching there the Coast Guards at Spanish Head signalled that the vessel had managed to round the Calf safely and so the lifeboat returned to station at 11.25 am. The lifeboat was finally rehoused at 12.15 p.m..

It transpired that the ship was the three masted ship 'Wiscombe Park' of Liverpool which had had the majority of her canvas blown away.

Three months later the lifeboat was called out three times in short succession to the same vessel.

On the 17th February 1917, at 8.05 am a telephone message was received at the local Police Station from the Coastguard station at Spanish Head that a vessel was aground at Bay Stacka just to the north of Spanish Head. The lifeboat was launched and proceeded to the wreck. Upon arrival it was found that the steamship 'Lady Plymouth' was ashore at the foot of the cliffs. She was 2500 tons loaded with a cargo of iron ore bound from Spain with a crew of 35 on board and J K Watson her master. The sea was smooth with a slight swell and the weather was thick with rain and dense fog. The crew refused to leave the vessel but requested that the lifeboat standby till the change of tide. This was done but the 'Lady Plymouth' did not move on the high tide so the lifeboat returned to station and was rehoused at 4.45 am the following morning.

Two days later on the 20th , a telephone message was received from the Coast Guard station at Spanish Head to say that the 'Lady Plymouth' was in danger of breaking up in moderate seas due to a SSE strong breeze and was asking for assistance. The lifeboat launched at 10.45 am and reached the vessel three quarters of an hour later. On arrival it was found that the crew of the 'Lady Plymouth' had been taken off by the mine sweeper GV47 , 'Anson'. The crew were transferred to the lifeboat which landed 26 persons back at Port St Mary at 3.15 p.m..

Another two weeks elapsed when on the 5th March the lifeboat was called yet again to the assistance of the 'Lady Plymouth'. The vessel had finally been refloated and was being towed to Port St Mary when she ran aground 100 yards south east of the breakwater on the 27th February. On the 3rd March a SSE full gale sprang up and continued to rage on until very heavy seas were threatening to break the vessel up on the morning of the 5th. At 11.45 am the lifeboat was launched in snow showers and reached the wreck in 15 minutes. The lifeboat brought of the crew and salvage men who were on board, in two trips. In all 36 persons were saved.

Later that year the 'James Stevens' was taken out of service and subsequently sold. She had performed 22 services and saved 55 lives.

 

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