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.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.
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 http://www.geograph.org.uk/
© Copyright Martin Loader and Les Hull respectively.