Saturday, January 15, 2011

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters ...

While studying some transcripts of parish registers in connection with family history research, I came across several interesting entries for the parish of Ancroft, North Durham (the area of Northumberland near to Berwick-upon-Tweed).
The curate, William Hewitt, has carefully inscribed several burials for November of 1834 for unnamed individuals whom he has simply described as "A Shipwrecked Seaman from the ship Christiana of Stockholm lost at Spittal."
There were five of them in all, their estimated ages between 19 and 50, buried between 10th and 18th November, their bodies being found in various places along the Northumbrian coast south of Berwick and as far as Holy Island.
Curious to find out more about this tragedy, I tracked down a report in the Edinburgh newspaper, The Caledonian Mercury, of 15th November 1834, which reads as follows:

Spittall: Nov. 10 - Yesterday about three o'clock P.M. the wind blowing hard from the N.E. and a heavy sea, a vessel was seen about three miles south of the pier, apparently anxious to make the port of Berwick. About ten minutes after four o'clock she made the bay with her sides to the wind, when she was struck by a heavy sea, and before she had time to right, she was again struck by another sea, which completely capsized her, and all on board perished. A part of the crew (five in number) were seen on the side of the vessel, sixteen minutes after she capsized: but there being no life-boat in the place, no relief could be afforded by the hundreds who witnessed the catastrophe. The vessel sunk about half-past four, within speaking of the shore. A part of the wreck was washed onshore on the Scremerston Rock, during the night. The body of only one of the crew has yet been found - a young man about 18 years of age, lashed to the rigging. All that is yet known of the vessel is that she was the Christiana of Stockholm, laden with tar, timber and bones, for the port of Berwick. From the circumstances of children's clothes being washed onshore, it is supposed that the captain's family was on board.
The report of children's clothes is doubly poignant, for if there were any on board their bodies were presumably never found and they are not among those interred at Ancroft. One can only wonder at those families in Sweden, or wherever the sailors came from, anxiously waiting for loved ones who never came home. Even if they eventually had word on the loss of the Christiana, to know that people just stood by helplessly and there was no-one on hand to help them while so close to the shore just increases the tragedy.
But the story of the "business" of the sea and its hazards are as old as time itelf.  In nearly every Shipping Intelligence page of The Caledonian Mercury one can find reports in the same vein.  Despite the invention of the life-boat by William Wouldhave and associates in the late 1700s and the establishment of the first national lifeboat institution by Sir William Hillary in 1826, there were still not enough lifeboats available to go to the rescue for many years.
At the time the Christiana sank it is obvious that there wasn't one operational in this area of Berwick-upon- Tweed on that fateful November day in 1834. But from further research, it seems that the population were distressed enough to make sure something was done.
On the website for the Berwick Lifeboat station there is a history that is worth reading, and although the Christiana herself is not mentioned, it could be that her wreck was a major impetus in the townsfolk raising money by themselves for a station that was established the following year in 1835 with its operation later taken over by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
Women involved in life-saving and rescue at sea have been the subject of earlier posts on this blog, and it is good to see that a new book has now been published about women in the RNLI by Sue Hennessy.

The use of life jackets and shore-based lifeboats have saved untold numbers of lives since the days when the crew of the Christiana and countless other individuals on vessels like her suffered in vain.The RNLI remains one of the most important life-saving volunteer organisations in Britain and was a forerunner of many others around the world.
Here is a Flikr link to a recent photograph of the Berwick lifeboat.

The images below of Ancroft Church where the sailors are buried and the Berwick coast from

© Copyright Martin Loader and Les Hull respectively.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Take up your pick, shovel and pan

Inspired by connections in the family tree to gold mining on three continents at both major and minor levels in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, I wondered what there is to be found on any women who discovered and mined gold in their own right, but there seem to be very few records in what was predominantly a male enterprise after all.
The most well-known gold rushes of the mid-19th Century were in California and Australia. Later rushes occurred in New Zealand and South America, Southern Africa, Canada, Alaska, and Russia, and it is inevitable that women went along for the ride. If not as long-suffering wives, daughters, or servants, most mining camps were beacons for prostitutes, and there must have been a number of enterprising women who indulged in cross-dressing in order to avoid detection. 
E. de Lacy Evans, 1879, State Library of Victoria
One of the more notorious of these was known as the "Sandhurst Impersonator", Mr/Mrs Edward de Lacy Evans, whose story caused a sensation in the press of the day. The best article on him/her appeared in a past issue of the La Trobe Journal and can be read online here.
As with most who-first-discovered-the-gold stories, they can abound with hysteria and myth, so one has to keep an open mind as to the real truth, but it now seems to be accepted that Margaret Kennedy and Julia Farrell, wives of workmen on the Ravenswood sheep run, found the first gold in Bendigo, Victoria, in 1851. It is said they were prospecting along Bendigo Creek when a newspaperman, Henry Frencham, spotted them with tins full of nuggets and reported the scene. See the history of gold in Bendigo.
Other than that shown below from the book "Water for Gold" by Dr Geoffrey Russell, there don't appear to be any images of these ladies who discovered the gold, although there is a delightful modern interpretation by Lucy Fekete and now owned by the Bendigo Historical Society, here on Flickr.

More on this topic in future posts.