Wednesday 16 September 2020

My Great-Grandfather was involved in a shipwreck!

 I learned something this week about my great-grandfather James Shepheard (1865-1940). I do not think my family has ever heard the story about him being involved in a shipwreck. I certainly never heard about it from anyone.

For a number of years after his wife's death in 1891, James Shepheard worked as a steward and cook on several merchant ships. Recently I have been tracing these activities through crew lists obtained from the Glamorgan Archives in Cardiff, Wales. They keep crew lists for ships registered in Cardiff or that sailed from that port as well as thousands of other documents and images for Glamorgan parishes, cemeteries, electors, courts, poor relief, police, etc.

I was alerted to the crew lists, particularly, by a friend, Alick Lavers, and his contact at the Ships Nostalgia website, Roger Griffiths. The site has a forum on which one can ask questions about various maritime activities and research. I am very appreciative that they advised me of the available records.

With their advice, and through the auspices of the archive, I have so far obtained crew lists that show James on three different ships between 1910 and 1912. We are continuing to look for more information.

One of the ships he served on was the Wimborne, a screw steamer built in 1898. James was on its final and fateful voyage from Rotterdam, Holland. It wrecked along the southwest coast of Cornwall, England on 7 November 1910 after only three days at sea. Following is a newspaper account of the wreck published in the Cornishman on 10 November 1910, which succinctly tells the story and the harrowing experiences of the crew:





A disastrous wreck marked with thrilling scenes, but almost miraculously unattended by loss of life, occurred at Carn Barrow Point, near Tol-Pedn-Penwith on Monday, the Cardiff steamer Wimborne being driven on the rocks in a strong gale. The crew, however, were rescued by the life-saving apparatus as the steamer was going to pieces.


The unfortunate vessel is the two-masted steamer Wimborne of Cardiff, she of 2,220 tons net register, and 3,266 gross. Her owners are Messrs. Thomas, Ratcliffe and Co., of Cardiff. She was on a voyage from Rotterdam to Barry in ballast, and was in charge of Captian Thomas, of Abersoch, South Carnarvon shire. The Wimnborne had taken a cargo of wheat from the Black Sea to Rotterdam and discharged it at that port. Here the majority of her crew were paid off, and fresh hands were shipped, so that the majority of them had been on board only a few days.

The Wimborne left Rotterdam on Friday, and apparently everything went well until Sunday night. The Lizard lights were sighted about 8 p.m., and the wind was then blowing strongly from the W.N.W.

In her light condition the Wimborne found progress a very difficult matter, but her captain kept on his course. About 4 o’clock on Monday morning he found himself in the vicinity of the Land’s End, but the wind having increased, and there being a heavy sea running, he found the steamer unmanageable, and she was driven ashore on Carn Barrow Point. This point is about half a mile from Tol-pedn-Penwith, and the Longships is about two miles to the westward.

At the time the vessel struck, about 4.30 a.m., there was a tremendous sea dashing in against the cliffs, accompanied with heavy rain showers. Immediately the shock came, the Wimborne’s anchors were thrown out, and these steadied her a little, but the seas broke over her stern and swept her whole length. Almost immediately her stern was submerged, and the seas broke clean on board. The crew took refuge on the forecastle deck, where they were somewhat beyond the reach of the waves. The bridge acting as a break-water. Their position, however, was one of the gravest peril, as in addition to the imminent prospect of the vessel going to pieces, the tide was flowing, rendering their position more untenable as it rose.

It was impossible to get at the rockets, as they were in the submerged part of the vessel, but flares were burnt, and greatly to the relief of those on board their signal was answered. This, it appears, was from the Admiralty look-out at Tol-Pedn, and the officer in charge immediately rang up Sennen Cove and Penzance on the telephone and asked for assistance.

SS Wimborne half buried in the wall of waters, as featured in the Illustrated London News 12 November 1910

Although the steamer had struck the rocks only a few yards from the headland there was no possibility of the crew getting ashore by their own efforts, as between them and the shore there was a raging gulf. Had they lowered a boat it would have immediately been dashed to pieces and its occupants battered to death against the rocks. Their only hope, therefore, lay in deliverance from the land.

When the news reached Sennen, the lifeboat was immediately got out of her house, but on learning that the vessel had struck the rocks close to the cliffs, Coxswain Nicholas recognized the impossibility of rendering any assistance with the boat, and she was not launched. The Newlyn lifeboat, however, was got afloat, and proceeded towards the spot, the rocket summoning the crew awakening the inhabitants of Penzance about 6 o’clock this morning.

The rocket apparatus at Sennen was got out and made for the wreck without any delay, and Lieut. Chambers, divisional officer of coastguards, Penzance proceeded to the scene on a motor cycle.

Meantime, C.P.O. (Cg.) Lamerton, the office in charge of the Admiralty station at Tol-pdn, with others of the staff, and a number of people from Porthgwarra, also made for the wreck, the coastguardsmen taking with them cliff ladders and hand lines. The vessel was not sufficiently close for the cliff ladder to be of any service and so great was the force of the gale that they were unable to throw the hand lines on board from the cliffs.


The message was received by the Sennen coastguards shortly before 5 a.m. and without the least delay they were galloping with rocker apparatus to the scene, arriving there about 6 a.m. The brigade in charge of chief officer Rees, of the Sennen coastguards, took up a somewhat sheltered position slightly to the westward of Carn Barrow point, and with their first shot they landed a line on the Wimborne. This was made fast to the steamer’s bow, but the work of rescue was by no means easy as the Wimborne’s bow was swaying to and fro in the breakers, and the utmost care had to be exercised lest the lines from the Life Saving Brigade on shore should be snapped. Soon, however, the first man was landed, and as there was no lack of willing helpers, others followed in quick succession, being pulled up the cliff in safety.

Lieut. Chambers got on the spot about 7 o’clock, and by that time 9 of the crew had been saved.


The position of the men on the doomed ship was, however, one of the utmost peril. Everything on deck was being washed away including the life-boats. Then the mainmast snapped, and went overboard, and the vessel broke n two amidships. At any moment she might have gone to pieces engulfing with her debris her living freight. It was then decided to accelerate the landing of the men, and they were brought ashore two at a time.

There were four apprentices on board and these were sent ashore first, the officers coming last, the captain and the chief officer being the last to leave.

One of the men immediately he was hauled ashore ran to the lifeline and lent a hand in saving his companions, and when the captain and the mate were safe on shore, the men clapped their hands in glee.


The officers of the Wimborner are:

Captain THOMAS, Abersock, South-Carnarvonshire.

Mr. JONES, 1st officer, Aberraron, Cardigan.

Mr. L. T. LEWIS, 2nd officer, Aberdovery.

Mr. J. PUGH, chief engineer, Cardiff.

Mr. D. J. REES, 2nd engineer, Goodwich, Pembrokeshire.

Mr. H. HEATHCOTE, 3rd engineer, Bristol.

Mr. C. MORRISON, 4th engineer, Aberdeen.

A number of the crew are foreigners, and some of them coloured men.


The shipwrecked mariners were immediately taken to the houses in the vicinity. Nine of them were put up at Mr. James Hocking’s, Sawah farm, three at Mr. G. Williams’ at Roskestal, six at Mr. R. H. Waters’, Trevean, two at Porthgwarra, and two as Sawah Cottage.

When our representative arrived at Sawah he found the men in front of a big fire in the open chimney, and all of them appeared most comfortable. They had been provided with refreshments, their clothes dried, and some kind friend had supplied them with cigarettes.

All of the crew speak in the highest terms of the kindness which had been extended to them and also had nothing but unbounded praise for the manner in which the life-saving apparatus was worked. It seemed quite fitting that chief office Rees, himself a Welshman should have been mainly responsible for saving a crew of which the principal officers were Welshmen.


When our representative visited Carn Barrow this morning, the Wimborne was a total wreck. Only one of her two masts was standing, her funnel had disappeared, and nothing was visible of her abaft of the bridge. The tide had receded considerably, but the seas were dashing over her continuously. The wind had also lessened, but the gale was blowing so strongly that one could scarcely make headway against it, and speech was altogether inaudible. Away to the right was the Longships lighthouse, against which the waves were dashing almost enveloping it in snow-white spray. Just to the right of where the Wimborne struck, is the little cove and beach where the solitary Spaniard swam ashore from the wrecked Febrero. To the left, some few hundred yards distant, is the spot where the Kyber struck and carried with her to destruction 23 of her crew, five years ago last March. Tol-pedn is well within sight, and but for the fact that this lookout has now been established and furnished with telephonic communication, a disaster equaling in magnitude that of the Kyber might well have been the fate of the Wimborne and her crew.


Capt. Thomas and other officers of the steamer Wimborne, called at the office of this paper on Tuesday morning and asked us to tender their sincere thanks to the people of St. Levan and district for the great kindness shown them, and also to the members of the Sennen life-saving brigade for the splendid and prompt assistance rendered.

A Board of Trade inquiry was held concerning the wreck, on 13-16 December 1910 before Thomas William Lewis, Esq., Stipendiary Magistrate, at the Law Courts in Cardiff. Following evidence given by crew members and others, it was held that Captain Thomas’s “error of judgement was the primary cause of the casualty. The master’s initial error, however, might have been corrected if he had given heed to the warning conveyed by the red sector of the Longships Light, which clearly indicated that the vessel was off her course and much nearer the shore than assumed by him. The master’s neglect to take warning from the light, and continuing to navigate the vessel too close to the shore, in conjunction with the necessity of porting the helm to avoid collision with a crossing vessel and so placing the vessel still nearer the shore, were the proximate causes of her stranding and loss. Hence, she was not navigated with proper and seamanlike care, and the neglect of the master, as above mentioned, was a contributory cause of the loss. For such neglect the master is censured.”

It was fortunate for our family that all 27 members of the crew were rescued from an apparent hopeless situation, again according to the Board of Trade report, “by means of the promptitude, skill, courage, and resource of the coastguardsmen of Sennen and their neighbours who assisted them.”

James was discharged on 7 November 1910, with a final payment of 1 pound, 11 shillings. Between May 1911 and November 1912, he served as a steward and a cook on two other ships, the Manchester and the Usk. He immigrated to Canada to join his son, my grandfather, and his family in 1913, working as a farmer until his death in Irricana, Alberta, on 30 October 1940.

Tuesday 15 September 2020

 Are we learning anything?

Most news reports about the pandemic these days are about the rising infections related to opening up the economy and the schools. Many people are nervous or angry or both as restrictions are eased or new procedures are put in place.

Read the whole post on my blog Mother Nature's Tests at