IT was a dark day in Hartlepool’s history.
Matthew Hastings and seven other town men lost their lives when the ship they were serving on, HMS Char, sank in high seas off the Kent coast.
But we wanted to know more and appealed for information last month. Susan Scott was quick to respond.
Matthew was her uncle. Susan told us: “He was born in July 1894 at Wells Yard on the Croft at the Headland. He was one of ten children with only six surviving into adulthood.”
The Hastings family lived in Hartlepool since the 1500s. They were mainly pilots, fishermen and mariners. Matthew’s father was also called Matthew Hastings, said Susan.
“He was a fisherman and thought to be the first fisherman to convert from sail to engine power in Hartlepool with his ship Constance. Matthew senior was also a member of the Hartlepool lifeboat crew and, together with his brother James Henry Hastings who was coxswain, and known as Lop Yastie, took part in many brave rescues. Including the Clavering and the Rohilla, the hospital ship at Whitby.”
Matthew junior’s mother was Elizabeth Ann Lumley Cook and she also had maritime connections. Her father William was a tug boat owner in Sunderland and her uncle Robert Lumley Cook helped rescue a ship called the Rapid of Shoreham on October 29, 1880.
It was family intervention which led to Matthew going to sea - and to his tragic end.
“Matthew’s mother did not want her sons to become fishermen as she felt it was a dying trade,” said Susan.
“So she insisted they serve their time as shipwrights and, if they wanted to go to sea, they could go as ship’s carpenters. So this is what he did.
“He worked on the tug Stranton for the North Eastern Railway. The same tug was requisitioned by the government and renamed HMS Char at the outbreak of the First World War. “
HMS Char had a 17-strong crew including the eight men from Hartlepool. But in the early hours of Saturday, January 16, 1915 while on patrol in very stormy weather, she approached a ship in distress, the Belgian steamer Frivan. A large sea drove her against Frivan’s bow and HMS Char was holed below the waterline.
The tragic story of HMS Char is one of the Hartlepool Heroism & Heartbreak Project’s “talking history” features, which can be accessed through the Hartlepool History Then & Now website at www. hhtandn.org.
Our thanks go to both the project and Susan for sharing the information. And in a final tribute to Matthew, we repeat the message which appeared in his obituary on his home town newspaper, the Northern Daily Mail.
His parents wrote:
“I left my home in perfect health, I little thought of death so nigh, but God thought fit to call me home, and with His will I must reply”