Hartlepool youngster died of starvation after being shipwrecked

An illustration from Police News marking yet another Hartlepool tragedy in 1876. At least three men lost their lives
An illustration from Police News marking yet another Hartlepool tragedy in 1876. At least three men lost their lives

Three Hartlepool families were left in mourning following two shipwrecks in just one week back in Victorian times.

A young boy and two married men lost their lives during the week before Christmas 1864 - in tragedies 600 miles apart.

“Hartlepool, as a port, has sent thousands of men to sea. Sadly, some have never returned,” said historian Bill Hawkins.

“Victorian newspapers were filled with shipwreck stories and, in December 1864, Hartlepool made national headlines twice.”

The “dreadful sufferings of a ship’s crew” was widely reported after a Hartlepool brig, the Earl Grey, was caught in a gale.

The ship ended up mast-less and water-logged near the Danish island of Anholt, between Jutland and Sweden, trapping the sailors.

“The crew spent at six days stuck on the ship. All they had to eat were a few peas,” said Bill.

“These had to be soaked in salt water, as there was no fresh water to be had. Of course, this just made them thirstier.”

Trouble flared when stormy weather closed in just after the Earl Grey sailed past Elsinore, on the Danish island of Zealand.

Although “good passage” had been predicted, gale-force winds drove Earl Grey aground on nearby Anholt reef one day later.

“There she lay, with the sea beating over her until nothing that was moveable was left standing,” reported Lloyd’s Weekly.

“Two days later waves pushed her over the reef - but she was a total wreck.

“The stern had been beaten out by the storm, the rudder and stern-post were gone and both masts were overboard as well.”
Indeed, there was nothing left - no compass, no shelter, no water and no food for the seven sailors - except for a few dried peas.

“Although the crew tried to ration what little they had, the situation ended in tragedy after six days of starvation,” said Bill.

“They were finally rescued by a small boat from the nearby island of Lessee - whose inhabitants fed and watered the sailors.

“But a cabin boy named John Matthewson died shortly after reaching shore. His family was told just days before Christmas.

“Starvation was given as the reason for his death - a terrible end. I believe he would have been only 10 or 12 when he died.”

The sea also claimed the lives of two other Hartlepudlians in mid-December 1864 – married men John Robinson and Francis Hammond.

The pair were aboard the brig Margaret, which was “run down” by the Glasgow screw steamer Emma in a freak accident.

* Bizarrely, the Earl Grey and the Margaret were owned by the same Hartlepool man - Mr Coverdale.