E-text prepared by Al Haines
HEROES OF THE GOODWIN SANDS
THE REV. THOMAS STANLEY TREANOR, M.A.
Chaplain, Missions to Seamen, Deal and the Downs
Author of "The Log of a Sky Pilot," "The Cry from the Sea and the Answer from the Shore."
With Coloured and Other Illustrations
[Frontispiece: A Perilous Escape]
London The Religious Tract Society 4 Bouverie Street & 65 St. Paul's Churchyard 1904
For twenty-six years, as Missions to Seamen Chaplain for the Downs, the writer of the following chapters has seen much of the Deal boatmen, both ashore and in their daily perilous life afloat. For twenty-three years he has also been the Honorary Secretary of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution for the Goodwin Sands and Downs Branch; he has sometimes been afloat in the lifeboats at night and in storm, and he has come into official contact with the boatmen in their lifeboat work, in the three lifeboats stationed right opposite the Goodwin Sands, at Deal, Walmer, and Kingsdown. With these opportunities of observation, he has written accurate accounts of a few of the splendid rescues effected on those out-lying and dangerous sands by the boatmen he knows so well.
Each case is authenticated by names and dates; the position of the wrecked vessel is given with exactness, and the handling and manoeuvring of the lifeboat described, from a sailor's point of view, with accuracy, even in details.
The descriptions of the sea—of Nature in some of her most tremendous aspects, of the breakers on the Goodwins—and of the stubborn courage of the men who man our lifeboats are far below the reality. Each incident occurred as it is related, and is absolutely true.
The Deal boatmen are almost as mute as the fishes of the sea respecting their own deeds of daring and of mercy on the Goodwin Sands. It is but justice to those humble heroes of the Kentish coast that an attempt should be made to tell some parts of their wondrous story.
T. S. T.
I. THE GOODWIN SANDS II. THE DEAL BOATMEN III. THE AUGUSTE HERMANN FRANCKE IV. THE GANGES V. THE EDINA VI. THE FREDRIK CARL VII. THE GOLDEN ISLAND VIII. THE SORRENTO, S.S. IX. THE ROYAL ARCH X. THE MANDALAY XI. THE LEDA XII. THE D'ARTAGNAN AND THE HEDVIG SOPHIA XIII. THE RAMSGATE LIFEBOAT
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
A PERILOUS RESCUE . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece
THE LAUNCH OF THE LIFEBOAT
THE GOODWIN SANDS
A WRECK ON THE GOODWINS
THE BOOM OF A DISTANT GUN
SHOWING A FLARE
HOOKING THE STEAMER
A FORLORN HOPE
POSITION OF THE GANGES ON THE SANDS
THE ANCHOR OF DEATH (from a photograph)
DEAL BOATMEN ON THE LOOK OUT FOR A HOTEL
THE WRECK OF THE GOLDEN ISLAND
THE KINGSDOWN LIFEBOAT
SCENE ON DEAL BEACH, FEBRUARY 13, 1870
POSITION OF THE SORRENTO
THE SORRENTO ON THE GOODWIN SANDS
ALL HANDS IN THE LIFEBOAT
THE LIFEBOAT BRADFORD AT THE WRECK OF THE INDIAN CHIEF
LEAVING RAMSGATE HARBOUR IN TOW
THE GOODWIN SANDS
'Would'st thou,' so the helmsman answered, 'Learn the secrets of the sea? Only those who brave its dangers Comprehend its mystery.'
The Goodwin Sands are a great sandbank, eight miles long and about four miles wide, rising out of deep water four miles off Deal at their nearest point to the mainland. They run lengthwise from north to south, and their breadth is measured from east to west. Counting from the farthest points of shallow water around the Goodwins, their dimensions might be reckoned a little more, but the above is sufficiently accurate.
Between them and Deal lies thus a stretch of four miles of deep water, in which there is a great anchorage for shipping. This anchorage, of historic interest, is called the Downs—possibly from the French les Dunes, or 'the Sands,' a derivation which, so far as I know, was first suggested by myself—and is sheltered from the easterly gales to some extent by the Goodwins.
The Downs are open to the north and south, and through this anchorage of the Downs runs the outward and homeward bound stream of shipping of all nations, to and from London and the northern ports of England, Holland, Germany, and the Baltic.
A very large proportion of the stream of shipping bound to London passes inside the Goodwins or through the Downs, especially when the wind is south-west, inasmuch as if they went in west winds outside the Goodwins, they would find themselves a long way to leeward of the Gull buoy.
The passage here, between the Gull buoy and the Goodwin Sands, is not more than two miles wide; and again I venture to suggest that the Gull stream is derived from the French la Gueule.
Though there are four miles of deep water between the Goodwin Sands and the mainland, this deep water has rocky shallows and dangerous patches in it, but I shall not attempt to describe them, merely endeavouring to concentrate the reader's attention on the Goodwin Sands. Inside the Goodwins and in this comparatively sheltered anchorage of deep water, the outward bound shipping bring up, waiting sometimes for weeks for fair wind; hence Gay's lines are strictly accurate,
All in the Downs the fleet was moored.
The anchorage of the Downs is sheltered from west winds by the mainland and from east winds by the dreaded Goodwins. They thus form a natural and useful breakwater towards the east, creating the anchorage of the Downs.
In an easterly gale, notwithstanding the protection of the Goodwins, there is a very heavy and even tremendous sea in the Downs, for the Goodwin Sands lie low in the water, and when they are covered by the tide—as they always are at high water—the protection they afford is much diminished.
The 'sheltered' anchorage of the Downs is thus a relative term. Even in this shelter vessels are sometimes blown away from their anchors both by easterly and westerly winds.
In 1703 thirteen men-of-war were lost in the Downs in the same gale in which Winstanley perished in the Eddystone Lighthouse of his own construction, and I have seen vessels in winds both from east and west driven to destruction from the Downs. Even of late years I have seen 450 vessels at anchor in the Downs, reaching away to the north and south for nearly eight miles.
Their appearance is most imposing, as may be judged from the engraving on page 95, in which, however, only twenty-five ships are visible in the moonlight. Almost all the ships in the engraving are outward bound, and some, it may be, are on their last voyage.
Outside, and to the cast of this great fleet of vessels, lies the great 'shippe-swallower,' the Goodwin Sands. The sands are very irregular in shape, and are not unlike a great lobster, with his back to the cast, and with his claws, legs, and feelers extended westwards towards Deal and the shipping in the Downs. Far from the main body of the sands run all manner of spits and promontories and jaws of sand, and through and across the Goodwins in several directions are numbers of 'swatches,' or passages of water varying in depth from feet to fathoms.
No one knows, or can know, all the swatches, which vary very much month by month according to the prevalence of gales or fair weather. I shall never forget the sensation of striking bottom in one of those swatches where I expected to find, and had found recently before in the same state of the tide, a depth of six feet. The noise of broken water on each side of us, and the ominous grating thump of our boat's keel against the Goodwins, while the stumps of lost vessels grinned close by, gave us a keen sense of the nearness of real peril. We were bound to the East Goodwin lightship, and in the path of duty, but we were glad to feel the roll of deep water under our boat's keel outside the Goodwins.
No one therefore knows, or can know, by reason of the perpetual shifting of the sands, all the passages or swatches, either as to direction or depth, of the Goodwins; but two or three main swatches are tolerably well known to the Deal and Ramsgate lifeboatmen.
There is a broad bay called Trinity Bay in the heart of the Goodwins, out of which leads due north-east the chief swatch or passage through the Sands. It is four or five fathoms deep at low water, and from about three-quarters to a quarter of a mile wide, and it is called the Ramsgate Man's Bight. Close to the outer entrance of this great passage rides, about twelve feet out of water, the huge north-east Whistle buoy of the Goodwins, which ever moans forth in calmest weather its most mournful note.
Sometimes when outside the Goodwins on my way from the North Goodwin to the East Goodwin lightship, we have passed so close to this great buoy that we could touch it with a boat-hook, and have heard its giant breathing like that of some leviathan asleep on the surface of the sea, which was dead calm at the time. I have also heard its boom at a distance of eight miles.
I have said this great swatch leads north-east through the Goodwins—but north-east from what, and how is the point of departure to be found on a dark night? If you ask the coxswain of the Deal lifeboat, who probably knows more, or at least as much about the Sands and their secrets as any other living man, he will tell you to 'stand on till you bring such a lightship to bear so and so, and then run due north-east; only look out for the breakers on either side of you.' It is one thing to go through this swatch in fair weather and broad daylight, and another thing in the dark or even by moonlight, 'the sea and waves roaring' their mighty accompaniment to the storm.
There are other swatches, one more to the southward than the preceding, and also running north-east, through which the Deal men once brought a ship named the Mandalay into safety after protracted efforts.
Another swatch too exists, opposite the East Goodwin buoy, being that in which we struck the dangerous bottom. And yet another, just north of the south-east buoy, leads right across the tail of the monster, and so into the deep water of the Downs.
Looking at a chart or reading of these passages, they seem easy enough, but to find and get through them safely when you are as low down as you are in a boat, near the sea level, is very difficult, and as exciting as the escape of the entangled victims from the labyrinths of old—unmistakable danger being all around you, and impressed on both eyes and ears.
The whole of the Goodwin Sands are covered by the sea at high water; even the highest or north part of the Sands is then eight or ten feet under water. At low water this north part of the Goodwins is six feet at least above the sea level, and you can walk for miles on a rippled surface cut into curious gulleys, the miniatures of the larger swatches. Wild and lonely beyond words is the scene. The sands are hard when dry—in some places as hard as the hardest beach of sand that can be named. Near the Fork Spit the sand is marvellously hard. On the north-west part of the Goodwins, which is that given in the engraving, it is hard, but not so hard as elsewhere. In all cases it is soft and pliable under water, and sometimes in wading you sink with alarming rapidity.
Recently attempting in company with a friend to wade a very peculiar-looking but shallow swatch—to right and left of us being blue swirls of deeper water, the 'fox-falls' on a smaller scale of another part of the Sands, and exceedingly beautiful—I suddenly sank pretty deep, and struggled back with all my energies into firmer footing from the Goodwins' cold and tenacious embrace.
The Sands reach round you for miles, and the greater swatches cut you off from still more distant and still more extensive reaches of sand. In such solitudes, and with such vastness around you, of which the great lonely level stretch makes you conscious as nothing ashore can do, you realise what an atom you are in creation.
Here you see a ship's ribs. This was the schooner laden with pipe-clay, out of which in a dangerous sea the captain and crew escaped in their own boat, as the lifeboat advanced to save them. Far away on the Sands you see the fluke of a ship's anchor, which from the shape when close to it we recognise to be a French pattern.
With me stood the coxswain of the celebrated Deal lifeboat, Richard Roberts. Intently he gazed at the projecting anchor fluke—shaft and chain had long been sucked down into the Goodwins—and then, after a good long look all round, taking the bearings of the deadly thing, at last he said, 'What a dangerous thing on a dark night for the lifeboat!'
Just think, good reader! The lifeboat, close reefed, flies to the rescue on the wings of the storm into the furious seas which revel and rage on the Goodwins. Her fifteen men dauntlessly face the wild smother. She sinks ponderously in the trough of a great roller, and the anchor fluke is driven right through her bottom and holds her to the place—for hold her it would, long enough to let the breakers tear every living soul out of her!
Under our feet and deep in the sand lie vessels one over another, and in them all that vessels carry. Countless treasures must be buried there—the treasures of centuries. Witness the Osta Junis, a Dutch East Indiaman, which, treasure-laden with money and other valuables to a great amount, ran on the Goodwin Sands, July 12, 1783. The Deal boatmen were quickly on board, and brought the treasures ashore, which, as it was war time, were prize to the Crown, and were conveyed to the Bank of England. That merchandise, curiosities, and treasures lie engulfed in the capacious maw of the Goodwin Sands is very probable, although we may not quite endorse Mr. Pritchard's statement that 'if the multitude of vessels lost there during the past centuries could be recovered, they would go a good way towards liquidating the National Debt.'
From its mystery and 'shippe-swallowing' propensities, the word 'monster' is peculiarly appropriate to this great quicksand, which still craves more victims, and still with claws and feelers outstretched—Scylla and Charybdis combining their terrors in the Goodwins—lies in ambush for the goodly ships that so bravely wing their flight to and fro beyond its reach. But it is only in the storm blast and the midnight that its most dreadful features are unveiled, and even then the lifeboatmen face its perils and conquer them.
Independently of the breakers and cross-seas of stormy weather, the dangers of the Goodwin Sands arise from the facts that they lie right in the highway of shipping, that at high water they are concealed from view, being then covered by the sea to the depth of from ten to twenty-five feet, varying in different places, and that furious currents run over and around them.
Add to this that they are very lonely and distant from the mainland, and, being surrounded by deep water, are far from help; whilst, as an additional and terrible danger, here and there on the sands, wrecks, anchors, stumps, and notably the great sternpost of the Terpsichore, from which a few months ago Roberts and the Deal lifeboatmen had rescued all the crew, stick up over the surface. And woe be to the boat or vessel which strikes on these!
On September 12, 1891, on my way to the North Sandhead lightship, which, however, we failed to reach by reason of the strong ebb tide against us and the wind dropping to a calm, we revisited this sternpost of the Terpsichore. We got down mast and sails and took to our oars. The light air from the north-east blew golden feathery cloud-films across the great blue arch above our heads, and for once in the arctic summer of 1891 the air was warm and balmy. Starting from the North-west Goodwin buoy, we soon rowed into shallow water, crossing a long spit of sand on which, not far from us, a feathery breaker raced. Again we get into deep water, having just hit the passage into an amphitheatre in the Goodwins of deep water bordered by a circle or ridge of sand about three feet under water, over which the in-tide was fiercely running and rippling, and upon which here and there a breaker raised its warning crest.
We reached the great sternpost of the lost Terpsichore at 9.22 a.m., just two hours before low water at the neap tides, and found it projected five feet nine inches above the water, which was ten feet six inches deep in the swilly close to it, but nowhere shallower than eight feet within a distance of fifty yards from the stump. Underneath in the green sea-water there lay quite visible the keel and framework of the vessel; and again I heard the story from Roberts, the coxswain of the Deal lifeboat, who was with me, of the rescue of the crew of this very vessel at 2.15 a.m. on the stormy night of the preceding November 14.
As we held by the green sea-washed stump, it was hard to realise the sublime story of that awful night: the mighty sea warring with the furious wind, and the dismantled, beaten ship—masts gone overboard and tossing in mad confusion of spars and cordage along her side—into which most black and furious hell the lifeboatmen dared to venture the Deal lifeboat, and out of which she and her gallant crew came, by God's mercy, triumphant and unscathed, having saved every soul on board, and also, with a fine touch of humanity often to be found in a brave sailor's heart, the 'harmless, necessary cat' belonging to the vessel. I can assure my readers that poor pussy's head and green eyes peering out of the arms of one of the storm-battered sailors as they struggled up Deal beach was a beautiful and most touching sight.
Having lingered and examined this wreck as long as we dared, we now tried to get out of the great circle in which we were enclosed. With one man in the bows and another steering, we tried to cross the submerged ridge of sand which encircled us and over which the tide raced; but we struck the sand, and then were turned broadside on by the furious current and swept back into the circle. Cautiously we rowed along, when, not twenty yards off, I saw an object triangular and not unlike a shark's fin just above the water. 'Hard-a-starboard!' at the same moment cried the man in the bows, and then in the same breath, 'Port, sir, quick! Hard-a-port!' For to right of us stuck up out of eight feet of water, beautifully clear and green, the iron pump-work of a submerged wreck, the iron projection being not more than six inches out of water; and then, a few yards further on to the left of the boat, out of deep water, a rib, it may be, of the same forgotten and it may be long-buried vessel.
Had not the water been calm and clear, the place would have been a regular death-trap. With increased caution we felt our way all round the great circle into which we had entered. South of us rose a smooth yellow-brown bank of sand, and upon this sunny shore tripped hundreds of great white seagulls. So warm, so silent, so lonely was the place that it might have been an island in the Pacific; and upon the same yellow sandbank there basked, quite within view, a great, large-eyed seal.
At last we found our way out of the heart of the Goodwins, and got into the deep, wide swatchway called the Ramsgate Man's Bight. Away to the north-east we saw the Whistle buoy, and toward the east the East buoy, both of which mark the outer edge of the Goodwins.
In the deep centre of this swatch rolled the mast of another wreck, somehow fast to the bottom, and having gazed at this weird sight, we landed, amidst the wild screams of protesting sea-birds, and explored all round for a mile the edges of this sandbank, which was of singular firmness and yellowness, and upon which, in rhythmic cadence, plashed a most pellucid sea.
With change of tide and rising water we got up sail and at last reached the Gull lightship, on whose deck we met old friends, and where we had Divine Service as the evening fell in. Need it be said that that which we had just seen on the Goodwins, the memories of the lost ships, and of the gallant seamen who lie buried there, served to point a moral and to raise all our hearts to that good land where 'there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.' One of the hymns in that service was suggested by the scene we had left, and began thus,
Jesus! Saviour! Pilot me.
But not every boat that visits the mysterious quicksand escapes as readily. Skilled and hardy boatmen are sometimes lost even in fine weather.
About twenty years ago a Deal galley punt, and four men, Bowbyas, Buttress, Erridge, and Obree, skilled Deal boatmen, landed on the Goodwins to get some coal from a wrecked collier. All that is certainly known is that they never returned, and that they had been noticed by a passing barge running to and fro and waving, which the bargemen thought, alas! was only the play of some holiday-keepers on an excursion to the Goodwins. They went to the Goodwins in a light south-west breeze and smooth sea. While there the wind shifted to north-east and a tumble of a sea got up, and it is supposed that it then beat into and filled their laden boat, despite the efforts which they are believed to have made to float her or get her ride to her anchor and come head to wind. If this be so, how long and desperate must their struggle have been to save their boat from wreckage, and to pump out the water and heave out the coal. Their anchor and cable, found on the sands and let go to full scope, favours this idea.
On the other hand, the fact that they were seen wildly running to and fro looks as if some sudden catastrophe had occurred, as if they had struck on some stump in the water close to the very edge of the Goodwins.
The very day on which the photographs were taken which have been used to illustrate this chapter, we were shoving off the steep northern face of the Goodwin Sands, when we saw, not ten yards from the precipitous edge of the dull red sands, in about twenty-five feet of water, and just awash or level with the surface, the bristling spars and masts of a three-masted schooner, the Crocodile, which had been lost there January 6, 1891, in a fearful snowstorm, from the north-east, of that long winter. Had we even touched those deadly points, we too should have probably lost our boat and been entrapped on the Goodwin Sands. The coxswain of the Deal lifeboat was with us, and told how that at three o'clock on that terrible January morning, or rather night, wearied with previous efforts, he had launched the lifeboat and beat in the face of the storm and intense cold ten miles to windward, toward the burning flares which told of a vessel on the Sands.
Just when within reach of the vessel, this very wreck, they saw the Ramsgate tug and lifeboat were just before them, and taking the crew out of the rigging of the wreck. In sight of the whole company, for their lanterns and lights were burning, the poor exhausted captain of the schooner, in trying to get down from the rigging, in which he was almost frozen to death, fell into the stormy sea and was lost in the darkness, while the remainder were gallantly rescued by the Ramsgate lifeboat.
It was on the dangerous stumps and masts of this vessel, to save the crew of which the Deal and Ramsgate men made such a splendid effort, that we so nearly ran; and an accident of this kind perhaps sealed the fate of the four boatmen above mentioned.
On this north-west part of the Goodwins, on which hours of the deepest interest could be spent, you can walk a distance of at least two miles, but you are separated by the great north-east swatch of deep water from getting to the extensive north-east jaw on the other side of the swatch, which is also full of wrecks, and round and along the edges of which, on the calmest day, somehow the surf and breakers for ever roar. The southern part of the Goodwins is also full of memories, and of countless wrecks. The ribs of the Ganges, the Leda, the Paul Boyton, the Sorrento, all lie there deep down beneath the Sands, excepting when some mighty storm shifts the sand and reveals their skeletons. Deep, too, in the bosom of the Goodwins, masts alone projecting, is settling down the Hazelbank, wrecked there in October, 1890; but this southern part at lowest tide is barely uncovered by the sea, and only just awash.
At high water the depth is about three fathoms, varying of course in patches, over this southern part or tail of the sea-monster. It is clear that, being thus, even at low tide, nearly always covered with water, and as the sand when thus covered is much more 'quick' and movable, the southern part of the Goodwins is an exceedingly awkward place to explore. If you made a stumble, as the sands slide under your feet, it might, shall I say, land you into a pit or 'fox-fall,' circular in shape, and very deep. The stumps of forgotten wrecks are also a real danger to the boat which accompanies the investigator.
As to the depth of the great sandbank, borings have been made down to the chalk to a depth of seventy-eight feet—a fact which might have been fairly conjectured from the depth of water inside the Goodwins, down to the chalky bottom being nine or ten fathoms, while the depth close outside the Goodwins, where the outer edge of the sands is sheer and steep, is fifteen fathoms, deepening a mile and a half further off the Goodwins to twenty-eight fathoms.
The ships wrecked on the Goodwins go down into it very slowly, but they sometimes literally fall off the steep outer edge into the deep water above described.
One still bright autumn morning I witnessed a tragedy of that description. On the forenoon of November 30, 1888, I was on the deck of a barque, the Maritzburg, bound to Port Natal. I had visited the men in the forecastle, and indeed all hands fore and aft, as Missions to Seamen chaplain; and to them all I spoke, and was, in fact, speaking of that only 'Name under heaven whereby we must be saved,' when my eyes were riveted, as I gazed right under the sun, by the drama being enacted away to the southward.
There I saw, three miles off, our two lifeboats of Kingsdown and Walmer, each in tow of a steamer which came to their aid, making for the Goodwins, and on the outer edge of the Goodwins I beheld a hapless brig, with sails set, aground. I saw her at that distance lifted by the heavy sea, and at that distance I saw the great tumble of the billows. That she had heavily struck the bottom I also saw, for crash!—and even at that distance I verily seemed to hear the crash—away went her mainmast over her side, and the next instant she was gone, and had absolutely and entirely disappeared. I could not believe my eyes, and rubbed them and gazed again and yet again.
She had perished with all hands. The lifeboats, fast as they went, were just too late, and found nothing but a nameless boat, bottom upwards, and a lifebelt, and no one ever knew her nationality or name. She had struck the Goodwins, and had been probably burst open by the shock, and then, dragged by the great offtide to the east, had rolled into the deep water outside the Goodwins and close to its dreadful edge.
What a sermon! What a summons! There they lie till the sea give up its dead, and we all 'appear before the judgment seat of Christ.'
The origin of the Goodwin Sands is a very interesting question, and is discussed at length in Mr. Gattie's attractive Memorials of the Goodwin Sands. There is the romantic tradition that they once, as the 'fertile island of Lomea,' formed part of the estates of the great Earl Godwin, and that as a punishment for his crimes they 'sonke sodainly into the sea.' Another tradition, given by W. Lambard, tells us that in the end of the reign of William Rufus, 1099 A.D., there was 'a sodaine and mighty inundation of the sea, by the which a great part of Flaunders and of the lowe countries thereabouts was drenched and lost;' and Lambard goes on to quote Hector Boethius to the effect that 'this place, being sometyme in the possession of the Earl Godwin, was then first violently overwhelmed with a light sande, wherewith it not only remayneth covered ever since, but is become withal (Navium gurges et vorago) a most dreadful gulfe and shippe-swallower.'
The latter phrase of 'shippe-swallower' being only too true, has stuck, and there does seem historic ground to warrant us in believing that in the year named there was a great storm and incursion of the sea; but whether the Goodwin Sands were ever the fertile island of Lomea and the estate of the great earl seems to be more than uncertain.
But there is no doubt whatever that the theory that the inundation of the sea in A.D. 1099, which 'drenched' the Low Countries, withdrew the sea from the Goodwins and left it bare at low water, while before this inundation it had been more deeply covered by the ocean, is quite untenable, for the sea never permanently shifts, but always returns to its original level. When we speak of the sea 'gaining' or 'losing,' what is really meant is that the land gains or loses, and therefore the idea of the Goodwins being laid bare and uncovered by the sea water running away from it and over to Flanders is absurd.
In all probability the origin of the Goodwin Sands is not to be ascribed to their once having been a fertile island, or to their having been uncovered by the sea falling away from them, but to their having been actually formed by the action of the sea itself, ever since the incursion of the sea up the Channel and from the north made England an island.
There are great natural causes in operation which account for the formation of the mighty sandbank by gradual accumulation, without having recourse to the hypothesis that it is the ruined remains of the fabulous island of Lomea, fascinating as the idea is that it was once Earl Godwin's island home.
The two great tidal waves of different speed which sweep round the north of England and up the English Channel, meet twice every day a little to the north of the North Foreland, where the writer has often waited anxiously to catch the ebb going south.
Eddies and currents of all kinds hang on the skirts of this great 'meeting of the waters,' and hence in the narrows of the Channel, where the Goodwins lie, the tide runs every day twice from all points of the compass, and there is literally every day in the year a great whirlpool all round and over the Goodwin Sands, deflected slightly perhaps, but not caused by those sands, but by the meeting of the two tidal waves twice every twenty-four hours.
This daily Maelstrom is sufficient to account for the formation of the mighty sandbank, for the water is laden with the detritus of cliff and beach which it has taken up in its course round England, and, just as if you give a circular motion to a basin of muddy water, you will soon find the earthy deposit centralised at the bottom of the basin, so the great Goodwins are the result of the daily deposit of revolving tides.
That the tides literally 'revolve' round the Goodwins is well known to the Deal men and to sailors in general, and this revolution is described in most of the tide tables and nautical almanacks used by mariners, e.g. 'The Gull Stream about one hour and ten minutes before high water runs N.E. 3/4 N., but the last hour changes to E.N.E. and even to E.S.E., and the last hour of the southern stream changes from S.W. 1/2 S. to W.S.W. and even to W.N.W.' Here the reader will distinctly see recorded the great causes in operation which are sufficient in the lapse of centuries to produce and maintain the Goodwin Sands. But how they came to be called the Goodwin Sands we know not, and can only conjecture. Those were the days of Siward and Duncan and Macbeth, and, like them, the imposing form of the great Earl of Kent is shrouded in the mists and the myths of eight centuries.
He was evidently placed, in the first instance by royal authority or that of the Saxon Witan, in some such position as Captain of the Naval forces of all Southern England, and it is certain that he gathered round himself the affections of the sailors of Sandwich, Hythe, Romney, Hastings, and Dover.
When he sailed from Bruges against Edward, 'the fort of Hastings opened to his coming with a shout from its armed men. All the boatmen, all the mariners far and near, thronged to him, with sail and shield, with sword and with oar.' And on his way to Pevensey and Hastings from Flanders he would seem to have run outside, and at the back of the Goodwins, while the admirals of Edward the Confessor, Rodolph and Odda, lay fast in the Downs.
He appears, by virtue of his semi-regal position—for Kent with Wessex and Sussex were under his government—to have been the Commander of a Naval agglomeration of those southern ports which was the germ, very probably, of the subsequent 'Cinque Ports' confederation, with their 'Warden' at their head; but at any rate he swept with him in this expedition against Edward all the 'Buscarles' (boat-carles or seamen) of those southern ports, Hythe, Hastings, Dover, and Sandwich. His progress towards London was a triumphant one with his sons. 'All Kent—the foster-mother of the Saxons,' we are told, on this occasion 'sent forth the cry, "Life or death with Earl Godwin!"'
Crimes may rest on the name of Earl Godwin, despite his oath to the contrary and his formal acquittal by the Witan-gemot, and dark deeds are still affixed to his memory, but 'there was an instinctive and prophetic feeling throughout the English nation that with the house of Godwin was identified the cause of the English people.' With all his faults he was a great Englishman, and was the popular embodiment of English or Saxon feeling against the Normanising sympathies of Edward.
In legend the Godwin family, even in death, seem to have been connected with the sea. There is the legend of Godwin's destruction with his fleet in the Goodwin Sands, and there is the much better authenticated legend of Harold's burial in the sea-sand at Hastings. The Norman William's chaplain records that the Conqueror said, 'Let his corpse guard the coasts which his life madly defended.'
Wrap them together in a purple cloak, And lay them both upon the waste sea-shore At Hastings, there to guard the land for which He did forswear himself.
Tenterden Steeple is certainly not the cause of the Goodwin Sands, and the connection supposed to exist between them seems to have first occurred to some 'aged peasant' of Kent examined before Sir Thomas More as to the origin of the Goodwin Sands. But, as Captain Montagu Burrows, R.N., mentions in his most interesting book on the Cinque Ports, Tenterden Steeple was not built till 1462, and 'was not in the popular adage connected with the Goodwin Sands, but with Sandwich Haven. It ran thus—
Of many people it hath been sayed That Tenterden steeple Sandwich haven hath decayed.'
Godwin's connection with Tenterden Steeple seems, therefore, to be as mythical as his destruction in the Goodwin Sands with his whole fleet, and we are driven to suppose that the connection of his family name with the Goodwin Sands arose either from Norman and monkish detestation of Harold and Godwin's race, and the desire to associate his name as infamous with those terrible quicksands; or that these Sands had some connection with the great earl and his family which we know not of, whether as having been, according to doubtful legend, his estate, or because he must often have victoriously sailed round them, and hard by them often hoisted his rallying flag; or that these outlying, but guarding Sands received from the patriotic affection of the valiant Kentish men the title of 'the Goodwin Sands' in memory of the great Earl Godwin and of Godwin's race.
 See Pritchard's interesting History of Deal, p. 196.
 Jefferson's Almanack, 1892.
 Edith and Harold.
 I am reminded by the Rev. C. A. Molony that Goodnestone next Wingham or Godwynstone, and Godwynstone next Faversham, both referred to in Archaeologia Cantiana, are localities which probably commemorate the name of the great Earl of Kent. Hasted mentions that the two villages were part of Earl Godwin's estates, and on his death passed to his son Harold, and that when Harold was slain they were seized by William and given to some of his adherents. Mr. Molony mentions a tradition at Goodnestone near Wingham, that both that village and Godwynstone near Faversham were the lands given by the crown to Earl Godwin to enable him to keep in repair Godwin's Tower and other fortifications at Dover Castle.
THE DEAL BOATMEN
Where'er in ambush lurk the fatal sands, They claim the danger.
Ever since fleets anchored in the Downs, the requirements of the great number of men on board, as well as the needs of the vessels, would have a tendency to maintain the supply of skilled and hardy boatmen to meet those needs. Pritchard, in his History of Deal, which is a mine of interesting information, gives a sketch of events and battles in the Downs since 1063. Tostig, Godwin, and Harold are noticed; sea fights between the French and English in the Downs from 1215 are described; the battles of Van Tromp and Blake in the Downs, and many other interesting historical events, are given in his book, as well as incidents connected with the Deal boatmen.
With the decay and silting up of Sandwich Haven the Downs became still more a place of ships, and thus naturally was still more developed the race of Deal boatmen, who were, and are to the present time, daily accustomed to launch and land through the surf which runs in rough weather on their open beach; and whose avocation was to pilot the vessels anchoring in or leaving the Downs, and to help those in distress on the Goodwin Sands.
Like their descendants now, who are seen daily in crowds lounging round the capstans, the night was most frequently their time of effort. In the day they were resting 'longshore' fashion, unless, of course, their keen sailor sight saw anywhere—even on the distant horizon—a chance of a 'hovel.' Ever on the look-out in case of need, galleys, sharp as a shark, and luggers full of men, would rush down the beach into the sea in less time than it has taken to write this sentence.
But until the necessity for action arose a stranger, looking at the apparently idling men, with their far-away gazings seaward, would naturally say, 'What a lazy set of fellows!' as has actually been said to me of the very men who I knew had been all night in the lifeboat, and whose faces were tanned and salted with the ocean brine.
Justly or unjustly, in olden times the Deal boatmen were accused of rapacity. But the poor fellows knew no better—Christian love and Christian charity seem to have slept in those days, and no man cared for the moral elevation of the wild daring fellows. True indeed, they were accused of lending to vessels in distress a 'predatory succour' more ruinous to them than the angry elements which assailed them. In 1705 a charge of this kind was made by Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, and was sternly repelled by the Mayor and Corporation of Deal; and Mr. Pritchard mentions that only one charge of plundering wrecks was made in the present century, in the year 1807; and the verdict of 'Guilty' was eventually and deservedly followed by the pardon of the Crown.
With the increase of the shipping of this country, and the naval wars of the early part of the nineteenth century, the numbers and fame of the Deal boatmen increased, until their skill, bravery, and humanity were celebrated all over the world. In those times, and even recently, the Deal boatmen, including in that title the men of Walmer and Kingsdown, were said to number over 1000 men; and as there were no lightships around the Goodwin Sands till the end of the eighteenth century, there were vessels lost on them almost daily, and there were daily salvage jobs or 'hovels' and rescues of despairing crews; and what with the trade with the men-of-war, and the piloting and berthing of ships, there were abundant employment and much salvage for all the boatmen.
The dress of the boatmen in those days, i.e. their 'longshore toggery'—and there are still among the older men a few, a very few survivals—was finished off by tall hats and pumps; and in answer to my query 'why they formerly always wore those pumps?' I was told, ''Cos they was always a dancin' in them days'—doubtless with Jane and Bess and black-eyed Susan.
There was smuggling, too, of spirits and tobacco, and all kinds of devices for concealing the contraband articles. Not very many years ago boats lay on Deal beach with hollow masts to hold tea—then an expensive luxury, and fitted with boxes and lockers having false bottoms, and all manner of smuggling contrivances.
It was hard to persuade those wild, daring men that there was anything wrong in smuggling the articles they had honestly purchased with their own money.
'There's nothing in the Bible against smuggling!' said one of them to a clerical friend of mine, who aptly replied: 'Render therefore unto Caesar the things that be Caesar's, and unto God the things that be God's.'
'Is it so? you're right,' the simple-minded boatman replied; 'no more smuggling after this day for me!' And there never was.
But that which has given the Deal boatmen a niche in the temple of fame and made them a part and parcel of our 'rough island story,' is their heroic rescues and their triumphs over all the terrors of the Goodwin Sands.
There was no lightship on or near the Goodwin Sands till 1795, when one was placed on the North Sand Head. In 1809 the Gull lightship, and in 1832 the South Sand Head lightships, were added, and the placing of the East Goodwin lightship in 1874 was one of the greatest boons conferred on the mariners of England in our times.
It is hard even now sometimes to avoid the deadly Goodwins, but what it must have been in the awful darkness of winter midnights which brooded over them in the early part of this century is beyond description.
Nor was there a lifeboat stationed at Deal until the year 1865. Before that time the Deal luggers attempted the work of rescue on the Goodwin Sands. In those days all Deal and Walmer beach was full of those wonderful sea-boats hauled up on the shingle, while their mizzen booms almost ran into the houses on the opposite side of the roadway. The skill and daring of those brave boatmen were beyond praise. Let me give in more detail the incident alluded to in the account of the Ganges.
Fifty-two years ago, one stormy morning, a young Deal boatman was going to be married, and the church bells were ringing for the ceremony, when suddenly there was seen away to the southward and eastward a little schooner struggling to live in the breakers, or rather on the edge of the breakers, on the Goodwins. The Mariner lugger was lying on the beach of Deal, and there being no lifeboat in those days a rush of eager men was made to get a place in the lugger, and amongst them, carried away by the desire to do and to save, was the intended bridegroom.
By the time they plunged into the awful sea on the sands the schooner had struck, and was thumping farther into the sands, sails flying wildly about and the foremast gone. The crew, over whom the sea was flying, were clustered in the main rigging. It was a service of the most awful danger, and the lugger men, well aware that it was a matter of life and death, put the question to each other, 'What do you say, my lads; shall we try it?' 'Yes! Yes!' and then one and all shouted, 'Yes! We'll have those people out of her!' and they ran for the drifting, drowning little Irish schooner. They did not dare to anchor—a lifeboat could have done so, but for them it would have been certain death—and as they approached the vessel and swept past her they shouted to the crew in distress, 'Jump for your lives.'
They jumped for life, as the lugger rose on the snowy crest of a breaker, and not a man missed his mark. All being rescued, they again fought back through the broken water, and when they reached Deal beach they were met by hundreds of their enthusiastic fellow townsmen, who by main force dragged the great twenty-ton lugger out of the water and far up the steep beach. The interrupted marriage was very soon afterwards carried out, and the deserving pair are alive and well, by God's mercy, to this day.
The luggers are about forty feet long and thirteen feet beam, more or less. The smaller luggers are called 'cats.' There is a forecastle or 'forepeak' in the luggers where you can comfortably sleep—that is, if you are able to sleep in such surroundings, and if the anguish of sea-sickness is absent. I once visited in one of these luggers, lost at sea with two of her crew on November 11, 1891, the distant Royal Sovereign and Varne lightships, and had a most happy three days' cruise.
There is a movable 'caboose' in the 'cats' right amidships, in which three or four men packed close side by side can lie; but if you want to turn you must wake up the rest of the company and turn all together—so visitors to Deal are informed. These large boats are lugger-rigged, carrying the foremast well forward, and sometimes, but very rarely, like the French chasse-marees, a mainmast also, with a maintopsail, as well, of course, as the mizzen behind. The mainmast is now hardly ever used, being inconvenient for getting alongside the shipping, and therefore there only survive the foremast and mizzen, the mainmast being developed out of existence.
The luggers are splendid sea-boats, and it is a fine sight to see one of them crowded with men and close-reefed cruising about the Downs 'hovelling' or 'on the look out' for a job in a great gale. While ships are parting their anchors and flying signals of distress, the luggers, supplying their wants or putting pilots on board, wheel and sweep round them like sea-birds on the wing.
As I write these lines, a great gale of wind from the S.S.W. is blowing, and it was a thrilling sight this morning at 11 a.m. to watch the Albert Victor lugger launched with twenty-three men on board, in the tremendous sea breaking over the Downs. Coming ashore later, on a giant roller, the wave burst into awful masses of towering foam, so high above and around the lugger that for an instant she was out of sight, overwhelmed, and the crowds cried, 'She's lost!' but upwards she rose again on the crest of the following billow, and with the speed of an arrow flew to the land on this mighty shooting sea.
Just at the same moment as the lugger came ashore the bold coxswain of the North Deal lifeboat launched with a gallant crew to the rescue of a despairing vessel, the details of which service are found below.
There is no harbour at Deal, and all boats are heaved up the steep shingly beach, fifty or sixty yards from the water's edge, by a capstan and capstan bars, which, when a lugger is hove up, are manned by twenty or thirty men. When hauled up thus to their position the boats are held fast on the inclined plane on which they rest by a stern chain rove through a hole in the keel called the 'ruffles.' This chain is fastened by a 'trigger,' and when next the lugger is to be launched great flat blocks of wood called 'skids,' which are always well greased, are laid down in front of her stem, her crew climb on board, the mizzen is set, and the trigger is let go. By her own impetus the lugger rushes down the steep slope on the slippery skids into the sea. Even when a heavy sea is beating right on shore, the force acquired by the rush is sufficient to drive her safely into deep water. Lest too heavy a surf or any unforeseen accident should prevent this, a cable called a 'haul-off warp' is made fast to an anchor moored out far, by which the lugger men, if need arise, haul their boat out beyond the shallow water. The arrangements above described are exactly those adopted by the lifeboats, which are also lugger-rigged, and being almost identical in their rig are singularly familiar to Deal men. The introduction of steam has diminished greatly the number of the luggers, as fewer vessels than formerly wait in the Downs, and there is less demand for the services of the boatmen.
There was formerly another class of Deal boats, the forty-feet smuggling boats of sixty or seventy years ago. The length, flat floor, and sharpness of those open boats, together with the enormous press of sail they carried, enabled them often to escape the revenue vessels by sheer speed, and to land their casks of brandy or to float them up Sandwich River in the darkness, and then run back empty to France for more. In the 'good old times' those piratical-looking craft would pick up a long thirty-feet baulk of timber at sea—timber vessels from the Baltic or coming across the Atlantic often lose some of their deck-load—and when engaged in towing it ashore would be pounced upon by the revenue officers, who would only find, to their own discomfiture, amidst the hearty 'guffaws' of the boatmen, that the latter were merely trying to earn 'salvage' by towing the timber ashore.
A little closer search would have revealed that the innocent-looking baulk of timber was hollow from end to end, and was full of lace, tobacco, cases of schnapps, 'square face,' brandy, and silks. There is little or no smuggling now, and the little that there is, is almost forced on the men by foreign vessels.
Perhaps four boatmen have been out all night looking for a job in their galley punt. At morning dawn they find a captain who employs them to get his ship a good berth, or to take him to the Ness. Perhaps the captain says—and this is an actual case—in imperfect English, 'I have no money to pay you, but I have forty pounds of tobacco, vill you take dat? Or vill you have it in ze part payment?' The boatmen consult; hungry children and sometimes reproachful wives wait at home for money to purchase the morning meal. 'Shall we chance it?' say they. They take the tobacco, and the first coastguardsman ashore takes them, tobacco and all, before the magistrates, and I sometimes have been sent for to the 'lock-up,' to find three or four misguided fellows in the grasp of the law of their country, which poverty and opportunity and temptation have led them to violate.
At present a large number of galley punts lie on Deal beach. These boats carry one lugsail on a mast shipped well amidships. These boats vary in size from twenty-one feet to thirty feet in length, and seven feet beam, and as the Mission boat which I have steered for thirteen years, as Missions to Seamen Chaplain for the Downs, is a small galley punt, I take a peculiar interest in their rig and behaviour.
The galley punts are powerful seaboats; when close reefed can stand a great deal of heavy weather, and are the marvel of the vessels in distress which they succour.
All the Deal boats, the lifeboats of course excepted, are clinker built and of yellow colour, the natural elm being only varnished. And it is fine to see on a stormy day the splendid way in which they are handled, visible one moment on the crest and the next hidden in the trough of a wave, or launched or beached on the open shingle in some towering sea.
I have been breathless with anxiety as I have watched the launch of these boats into a heavy sea with a long dreadful recoil, but the landing is still more dangerous.
If you wait long enough when launching, you can get a smooth, or a comparatively smooth, sea. I have sometimes waited ten minutes—and then the command is given 'Let her go,' and the boat is hurled into the racing curl of some green sea.
Sometimes the sea is too heavy for landing, and the galley punts lie off skimming about for hours. Sometimes if the weather looks threatening it is best to come at once, and then, supposing a heavy easterly sea, you must clap on a press of sail to drive the boat. You get ready a bow painter and a stern rope, and the boat, like a bolt set free, flies to the land. Very probably she takes a 'shooter,' that is, gets her nose down and her stern and rudder high into the air, and, all hands sitting aft, she is carried along amidst the hiss and burst of the very crest of the galloping billow. Fortunate are they if this wave holds the boat till she is thrown high up the beach, broadside on, for at the last minute the helm must be put up or down, to get the boat to lie along the shore, but only at the very last minute—otherwise danger for the crew! I have known a boat landing, to capsize and catch the men underneath, and I have been myself tolerably near the same danger.
Three or four men man these galley punts, and the hardships and perils they encounter in the earning of their livelihood are great. The men are sometimes, even in winter time, three days away in these open boats, sleeping on the bare boards or ballast bags and wrapped in a sail.
They cruise to the west to put one of their number on board some homeward-bound vessel as 'North Sea pilot,' or they cruise to the north and up the Thames as far as Gravesend, a distance of eighty miles, to get hold of some outward-bound vessel with a pilot on board, which pilot is willing to pay the boatmen a sovereign for putting him ashore from the Downs, and they are towed behind the vessel, probably a fast steamer, for eighty miles to Deal and the Downs. I have done this—and it is a curious experience—in summer, but to be towed in the teeth of a north-easterly snowstorm from Gravesend to the Downs is quite another thing; but it is the common experience of the Deal boatmen. And every day in winter they hover off Deal in their splendid galley punts, rightly called 'knock-toes,' for the poor fellows' hands and feet are often semi-frozen, to take a pilot out of some outward-bound steamer going at the rate of ten or fifteen knots an hour. It means at the outside about 5s. per man; perhaps they have earned nothing for a week, and hungry but dauntless they are determined to get hold of that steamer, if men can do it. On the steamer comes full speed right end on at them. The Deal men shoot at her under press of canvas, haul down sail, and lay their boat in the same direction as the flying steamship, which often never slackens her speed the least bit. As all this must be done in an instant, or pale death stares them in the face, it is done with wonderful speed and skill. While a man with a boat-hook, to which a long 'towing-line' is attached, stands in the bow of the galley punt and hooks it into anything he can catch, perhaps the bight of a rope hung over the steamer's side, the steersman has for his own and his comrades' lives to steer his best and to keep his boat clear of the steamer's sides, and of her deadly propeller revolving astern, while the bowman pays out his towing-line, and others see it is all clear, and another takes a turn of it round a thwart.
The steamer is 'hooked,' and, fast as she flies ahead, the galley punt falls astern, this time, thank God, clear of the 'fan,' into the boiling wake of the steamer, and at last she feels the tremendous jerk—such a jerk as would tear an oak tree from its roots—of the tightening tow-rope.
Then the boat, with her stem high in the air, for so boats tow best, and all hands aft, and smothered in flying spray, is swept away with the steamer as far perhaps as Dover, where the pilot wants to land. Then the steam is eased off and the vessel stopped, but hardly ever for the Deal men.
This 'hooking' of steamers going at full speed is most dangerous, and often causes loss of life and poor men's property—their boats and boats' gear—their all. Sometimes a kindly disposed captain eases his speed down. I have heard the boatmen talking together, as their keen eyes discerned a steamer far off, and could even then pronounce as to the 'line' and individuality of the steamer: 'That's a blue-funnelled China boat—she's bound through the Canal: he's a gentleman, he is; he always eases down to ten knots for us Deal men.'
Even at ten-knot speed the danger is very great, and it is marvellous more accidents do not occur, in spite of the coolness and skill of the boatmen. Accidents do occur too frequently. The last fatal accident happened to a daring young fellow who had run his boat about six feet too close to a fast steamer; six feet short of where he put her would have meant safety, but as it was, the steamer cut her in two and he was drowned with his comrade, one man out of three alone being saved. Just half an hour before he had waved 'good-bye!' to his young wife as he ran to the beach.
Another boat has her side torn out by a blow from one of the propeller's fans, and goes down carrying the men deep with her; one is saved after having almost crossed the border, and I shall long remember my interview with that man just after he was brought ashore, appalled with the sense of the nearness of the spirit land, and just as if he had had a revelation—his gratitude, his convulsive sobs, his penitence. Another man has his leg or his arm caught by the tow-rope as it is paid out to the flying steamer; in one man's case the keen axe is just used in time to cut the line as it smokes over the gunwale before the coil tears his leg off; in another's case the awful pull of the rope fractured the arm lengthways and not by a cross fracture, and the bone never united after the most painful operations.
Owners and captains and officers of steamships, for God's sake, ease down your speed when your poor sailor brethren, the gallant Deal boatmen who man the lifeboats, are struggling to hook your mighty steamships! Ease down a bit, gentlemen, and let the men earn something for the wives and children at home without having to pay for their efforts with their precious lives!
The very same men who work the galley punts I have just described are the 'hovellers' in the great luggers when the tempest drives the smaller boats ashore, and they also are the same men who, in times of greater and extremer need, answer so nobly to the summons of the lifeboat bell.
Pritchard's most interesting chapter, in which the best authorities are quoted at length, is convincing that the word 'hoveller' is derived from hobelier (hobbe, [Greek] hippos, Gaelic coppal) and signifies 'a coast watchman,' or 'look-out man,' who, by horse (hobbe) or afoot, ran from beacon to beacon with the alarm of the enemies' approach, when, 'with a loose rein and bloody spur rode inland many a post.' Certainly nothing better describes the Deal boatmen's occupation for long hours of day and night than the expression so well known in Deal, 'on the look-out,' and which thus appears to be equivalent to 'hovelling.'
In 1864 the first lifeboat of the locality was placed in Walmer by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. In 1865 another lifeboat was placed in North Deal, a cotton ship with all hands having been lost on the southern part of the Goodwins in a gale from the N.N.E., which unfortunately the Walmer lifeboat, being too far to leeward, was unable to fetch in that wind with a lee tide.
This splendid lifeboat was called the Van Cook, after its donor, and was very soon afterwards summoned to the rescue for the first time.
It was blowing 'great guns and marline-spikes' from the S.S.W. with tremendous sea on Feb. 7, 1865, when there was seen in the rifts of the storm a full-rigged ship on the Goodwin Sands. The lifeboat bell was rung, a crew was obtained, and the men in their new and untried lifeboat made her first, but not their first, daring attempt at rescue. A few moments before the Deal lifeboat, there launched from the south part of Deal one of the powerful luggers which lay there, owned by Mr. Spears, who himself was aboard; and the lugger was on this occasion steered by John Bailey. The Walmer lifeboat also bravely launched, and the three made for the wrecked vessel.
The lugger, being first, began the attempt, and in spite of the risk (for one really heavy sea breaking into her would have sent her to the bottom) went into the breakers. But the lugger, rightly named England's Glory—and the names of the luggers are admirably chosen, for example, The Guiding Star, Friend of All Nations, Briton's Pride, and Seaman's Hope—seeing a powerful friend behind her in the shape of the lifeboat, stood on into the surf of the Goodwins to aid in saving life, and also for a 'hovel,' in the hope of saving the vessel.
It was dangerous in the extreme for the lugger, but, as the men said, 'They was that daring in them days, and they seed so much money a-staring them in the face, in a manner o' speaking, on board that there wessel, that they was set on it.'
And when Deal boatmen are 'set on it,' they can do much.
When the lugger fetched to windward of the vessel she wore down on her before the wind. She did not dare to anchor; had she done so, she would have been filled and gone down in five minutes, so hauling down her foresail to slacken her speed, she shot past the vessel as close as she dared, and as she flew by, six of the crew jumped at the rigging of the wreck, and actually caught it and got on board. The Walmer lifeboat sailed at the vessel and tried to luff up to her, hauling down her foresail, but the lifeboat had not 'way' enough, and missed the vessel altogether, being driven helplessly to leeward, whence it was impossible to return.
In increasing storm and sea, more furious as the tide rose, on came the Deal lifeboat, the Van Cook, Wilds and Roberts (the latter now coxswain in place of Wilds) steering. They anchored, and veering out their cable drifted down to the wreck; then six of the lifeboatmen also sprang to the rigging of the heeling wreck, and the lifeboat sheered off for safety.
The wreck was lying head to the north and with a list to starboard. Heavy rollers struck her and broke, flying in blinding clouds of spray high as her foreyard, coming down in thunder on her deck, so that it seemed impossible that men could work on that wave-beaten plane. She was also lifted by each wave and hammered over the sand into shallower water, so that the drenched and buffeted lifeboatmen had to lift anchor and follow the drifting vessel in the lifeboat, and again drop anchor and veer down as before. All this time three powerful steam-tugs were waiting in deep water to help the vessel, but they dared not come into the surf where the lifeboat lay.
To stop the drift of the wrecked Iron Crown was her only chance of safety, and it would have probably ruined all had they dropped anchors from the vessel's bows, as she would have drifted over them and forced them into her bottom. The Deal men, therefore, with seamanlike skill and resource, swung a kedge anchor clear of the vessel high up from her foreyard, and as the vessel drifted the kedge bit, and the bows of the vessel little by little came up to the sea, when her other anchors were let go, and in a few minutes held fast; then with a mighty cheer from the Deal men—lifeboatmen and lugger's crew all together—the Iron Crown half an hour afterwards was floated by the rising tide on the very top of the fateful sands; her hawser was brought to the waiting tug-boats, and she was towed—ship, cargo, and crew all saved—into the shelter of the Downs.
The names of this the first crew of the Deal lifeboat are given below, and their gallant deed was the forerunner of a long and splendid series of rescues, no less than 358 lives having been saved, including such cases as the Iron Crown, by the North Deal lifeboat and her gallant crew, and counting 93 lives saved by the Walmer lifeboat Centurion, and 101 lives saved by the Kingsdown lifeboat Sabina, a total of 552 lives have been saved on the Goodwin Sands.
The next venture of the Deal lifeboat was not so fortunate. It was made to the schooner Peerless, wrecked in Trinity Bay, in the very heart of the Goodwins. The men were lashed in the rigging, and the sea was flying over them, or rather at them; but all managed to get into the lifeboat except one poor lad who was on his first voyage. He died while lashed on the foreyard, and was brought down thence by Ashenden, who bravely mounted the rigging and carried down the dead lad with the sea-foam on his lips. Among the rescuers of the Peerless crew were Ashenden, named above, Stephen Wilds (for many years my own comrade in the Mission Boat), brave old Robert Wilds, Horrick, Richard Roberts, and ten others.
I have told of the first rescue effected by the Deal lifeboat—let me describe one of the last noble deeds of mercy done on November 11, 1891, during an awful gale then blowing. In the morning of the day two luggers launched to help vessels in distress, but such was the fury of the gale, and so mountainous was the sea, that the luggers were themselves overpowered, and had to anchor in such shelter as they could get.
At 2 p.m., tiles flying in the streets, and houses being unroofed, it was most difficult to keep one's feet; crowds of Deal boatmen in sou'-westers and oilskins were ready round the lifeboat, and in the gaps of the driving rain and in the smoking drifts of the howling squalls which tore over the sea, they saw that a small vessel which had anchored inside the Brake Sand about two miles off the mainland had parted her anchors, and, being helpless and without sails, was drifting towards and outwards to the Brake.
Then the Deal lifeboat was off to the rescue, and with eighteen men in her, three being extra and special hands on this dangerous occasion, launched into a terrible sea, grand but furious beyond description. Hurled down Deal beach by her weight, the lifeboat was buried in a wild smother, and the next minute was left dry on the beach by the ghastly recoil. The coming breaker floated her, and she swung to her haul-off warp.
Then they set her close-reefed storm foresail and took her mizzen off. Soon after an ominous crack, loud and clear, was heard in her foremast, and such was the force of the gale that Roberts—the same brave man who, having been second coxswain and in the lifeboat in the rescue of the Iron Crown above described in 1865, on this perilous day in 1891 again headed his brave comrades as coxswain, with his old friend and brother in arms, so to speak, E. Hanger, as second coxswain—hauled down the foresail and set the small mizzen close-reefed on the foremast, and even then the great lifeboat was nearly blown out of the water.
With unbounded confidence in their splendid lifeboat, under this sail, and indeed they can only work their weighty lifeboat under sail, they literally flew before the blast into the terrific surf on the Brake Sand, six men being required to steer her!
By this time the little vessel named The Thistle had struck the Sand, but not heavily enough to break her in pieces, and hurled forwards by a great roller, she grated and struck, and then was hurled forwards again, seas breaking over her and her hapless crew. So thick was the air with the sea spray carried along in smoking spindrifts that the Deal men lost sight of the wreck while they raced into the surf of the Brake.
In that surf—which I beheld from the end of Ramsgate Pier, being called there by imperative business, and thus deprived of the privilege of being with the men—the lifeboat was apparently swallowed up. She was filled over and over again, and sometimes there was not a man of the crew visible to the coxswain, who stood aft steering in wind which amounted to a hurricane, and, according to Greenwich Observatory, representing a velocity of eighty miles an hour.
At this moment I was witness of the fine sight of the Ramsgate tug and lifeboat steaming out of Ramsgate Harbour, brave coxswain Fish steering the lifeboat, which plunged into the mad seas behind the tug, while blinding clouds of spray flew over the crew. Those splendid 'storm warriors' also rescued the crew of the Touch Not, wrecked that day on the Ramsgate Sands; but just while they were steaming out of Ramsgate, away on the horizon as far as I could bear to look against the fury of the wind and rain, struggling alone and unaided in the surf of the Brake Sand, I beheld the Deal lifeboat engaged in the rescue of The Thistle.
There indeed before my eyes was a veritable wrestle with death for their own lives and those of the wrecked vessel's crew. The latter had beaten over the Brake Sand, and was anchored close outside it, the British ensign hoisted 'Union down,' and sinking. Sinking lower and lower, and only kept afloat by her cargo of nuts, her decks level with the sea which poured over them. In the agony of despair her crew of five had taken to their own small boat, being afraid, from signs known to seamen and from the peculiar wallowing of their vessel, that she was about to make her final plunge to the bottom.
But now the great blue lifeboat rode like a messenger from heaven alongside them, and their brave preservers dragged them over her sides into safety from the very mouth of destruction.
Amidst words of gratitude and with praise on their lips to a merciful God, the utterly exhausted crew saw the Deal men set sail and fight their way again through the storm landwards.
Looking back for an instant, all hands saw the appalling sight of the vessel they had left turn on her side and sink to the bottom of the sea.
With colours flying, with proud and thankful hearts they reach Broadstairs, whence I received the coxswain's telegram—'Crew all saved; sprung foremast. R. Roberts.'
This gallant rescue was effected under the leadership of R. Roberts and E. Hanger, the very same men who were foremost in the saving of the Iron Crown. Their names should not be passed over in silence, nor those of the brave fellows who back up with their skill, their strength, and their lives the efforts of their coxswains.
In very truth the Deal boatmen (Deal, Walmer, and Kingsdown all included) as a class of men are unique. As pilots, boatmen, and fishermen they, with the Ramsgate men, stand alone, in their perils around and on the great quicksand which guards their coast, and they must always be of deep interest to the rest of their fellow-countrymen by reason of their hardships, their skill, and their daring, and above all by reason of their generous courage, consistent with their ancient fame. Faults they have—let others tell of them—but it seems to me that these brave Kentish boatmen are worthy descendants of their Saxon forefathers who rallied to the banners of Earl Godwin and died at Senlac in stubborn ring round Godwin's kingly son.
To them, the lifeboatmen and coxswains of Deal, Walmer, and Kingsdown, friends and comrades, I dedicate these true histories of splendid rescues wrought by them, the 'Heroes of the Goodwin Sands.'
 Crew of the Deal lifeboat on her first launch to the rescue of the Iron Crown:—R. Wilds, R. Roberts, E. Hanger, G. Pain, J. Beney, G. Porter, E. Foster, C. Larkins, G. Browne, J. May, A. Redsull, R. Sneller, T. Goymer, R. Erridge.
THE AUGUSTE HERMANN FRANCKE
A brave vessel, Who had, no doubt, some noble creatures in her Dashed all to pieces! Oh, the cry did knock Against my very heart! Pool souls! they perished.
All day long April 20, 1886, it had been blowing a gale from the north-east, and a heavy sea was tumbling on the beach at Deal. On the evening of that stormy day I was making my way to the Boatmen's Rooms, at North Deal, where the boatmen were to assemble for the usual evening service held by the Missions to Seamen chaplain.
On my way I met a boatman, a valued comrade on many a rough day in the mission-boat. Breathless with haste, he could at first only say, 'Come on, sir, quick! Come on; there's a man been seen running to and fro on the Goodwins!'
Seeing that immediate help was needed, it appeared that the coxswain of the lifeboat proposed signalling a passing tug-boat, and wanted my sanction for the measure. Had she responded to the signal, she would have towed the lifeboat to the rescue of the mysterious man on the Goodwins in an hour or so. As Hon. Secretary of the Lifeboat Branch, I at once authorised the step, and a flag was dipped from Deal pierhead, and blue lights were burned; but all in vain. The tug-boat went on her way, taking no notice of the signals, which it is supposed she did not understand.
It was plain some disaster had taken place, but what had happened on those gruesome sands I could only conjecture until I reached the Boatmen's Rooms. Outside the building I found in groups and knots a crowd of boatmen and pilots, and also Richard Roberts, the coxswain of the Deal lifeboat.
Roberts had that evening, about five p.m., been taking a look at the Goodwins with his glass, a good old-fashioned 'spy-glass.' After a long steady search—'Why,' said he to the men round him, 'there's a new wreck on the sands since yesterday!' The gale of the morning part of the day had been accompanied by low sweeping clouds of mist and driving fog, and as soon as the curtain of thick vapour lifted, Roberts noticed the new wreck.
The other boatmen then took a look, and they all went up to the high window of the lifeboat-house to gain a better view of the distant Goodwins.
The point where the wreck, or the object they saw lay, was the outer part of the Goodwin Sands towards the north, and was quite eight miles distant from the keen-eyed watchers at Deal.
'That's a wreck since yesterday,' said one and all.
Roberts, gazing through his glass, now cried out, 'There's something, man or monkey, getting off the vessel and moving about on the sand!'
'Let's have a look, Dick,' said another and another, and then all cried out,
'Yes; it's a man! He's waving something—it's a flag!'
'No, 'tis n't a flag,' said Roberts, 'it's more like a piece of canvas lashed to a pole; it blows out too heavy for a flag.'
Just about the same time, watchers at Lloyd's office had seen through a powerful glass the same object on the Goodwins, and they sent word to the coxswain of the lifeboat that there was a man in distress on the Goodwin Sands, and wildly running to and fro.
The wind, however, being north-east, and the tide having just commenced to run in the same direction as the wind, thus producing what is called a lee tide, it would have been worse than useless for the Deal lifeboat to have launched. No boat of shallow draft of water, such as a lifeboat is, can beat to windward over a lee tide, and had she been launched, the Deal lifeboat would have drifted farther at each tack from the point she aimed at.
As before explained, the Deal lifeboat was unable to attract the attention of the passing tugboat, and it was therefore decided to wire to Ramsgate to explain that Deal was helpless, and ask the Ramsgate lifeboat to go to the rescue.
By an extraordinary combination of misfortunes the Ramsgate lifeboat and tugs were also helpless, and having been suddenly disabled were laid up for repairs. We then anxiously discussed every alternative, and it was sorrowfully decided that nothing more could be done until the lee tide was over, which would be about 10.30 p.m.
It was now dark, and the hour had come for the boatmen's service which I was to hold. The men as usual trooped in, and the room was crowded; the scene was a striking one. Fine stalwart men to the number of sixty were present—free rovers of the sea, men who never call any one master, with all the characteristic independence and even dignity of those who follow the sea. There was present the coxswain of the lifeboat, and there were present also most of the men who manned the lifeboat a few hours afterwards. In every man's face was written the story of dangers conquered, and a lifelong experience of the sea, on which they pass so much of their lives, and on whose bosom a large proportion of them would probably meet death.
On all occasions and at all times those meetings are of overwhelming interest, by reason of the character and histories of each man among that unique audience, and also it may be added on account of their rapt attention to the 'old, old story,' which, 'majestic in its own simplicity,' is invariably set before them. But, on this occasion, add to the picture the distant and apparently deserted figure just seen through the rifts in the mist, 'wildly running to and fro on the Goodwins,' the eager and sympathetic faces of the boatmen in their absolute helplessness for a few long hours—hours that seemed centuries to all of us. Observe their restrained but impatient glances at the clock, and listen to their deep-throated responses to the impassioned petitions of the Litany of the Church of England.
I am only recording the barest facts when I say that the response of 'Good Lord, deliver us,' following that most solemn of all the petitions of the Litany, was touching beyond the power of words to describe. In the midst of the service I stopped and said, 'Has any man another suggestion to offer? Shall we telegraph for the Dover tug?' It was seen after a short discussion that this would be unavailing, and the service went on.
The hymns sung at that service were three in number, and perhaps are familiar to those who read this story:—
Light in the darkness, sailor! Day is at hand,
being the well-known 'Life-boat' hymn;
Rescue the perishing;
Jesu, lover of my soul.
No man present could fail to think at each part of the service, and as each hymn was sung, of the poor forlorn figure seen on the Goodwins, and now in the most dire need of help. Nor do I think that service will ever fade from the memories of those present on that Tuesday evening.
Service over, we all went to the front of the lifeboat-house, and the coxswain and myself once more consulted. We stood just down at the water's edge, where the white surf showed up against the black night, and fell heavily on the shingle, resounding.
We asked, 'Had Ramsgate gone to the rescue?'
'Why was there no flare burning if there were any one or any vessel on the Goodwins?'
'Why the dull oppressive silence and absence of all signs of signals of distress?'
Looking up the beach we saw the black mass of boatmen all gathered round the door of the lifeboat-house, and we heard their shouts, 'Throw open the doors!' 'Let us have the key!' 'Why not give us the life-belts now?'
Finally we decided to launch at exactly nine o'clock. I went home to dress for the night, having arranged to go in the lifeboat. Meantime the bell was rung, and the usual rush was made to get the life-belts. So keen were the men that the launch was made before the time agreed upon, and the lifeboat rushed down the beach just as I got in sight of her—to my great and sore disappointment—and soon disappeared in the night.
They stood on till they reached the inner edge of the Goodwins, along which they tacked, being helped to windward, and swept towards the north by the weather-tide, which they met about eleven o'clock. As they worked their way into Trinity Bay, a sort of basin in the very heart of the Goodwins, the coxswain felt sure they were drawing near the spot where the wreck had been seen, but it was absolutely dark. They could see nothing, no flare, no light, and they could hear nothing but the hollow thunder of breaking surf.
Roberts now decided to run the lifeboat right through the breakers which beat on the outer part of the sands, and thoroughly to search that part of the Goodwins.
Some said, 'The Ramsgate lifeboat has been here and taken the man off.'
Others, 'If there are people alive on the wreck, why is there no light or flare?'
And then they ran her, in that pitchy blackness, into the surf; she went through it close hauled, and beyond it into the deep sea the other side, and searched the outside edge of the sands, but to no purpose. Then, having shouted all together and listened, they stood back again through the surf, running now before the wind.
The broken and formidable sea raged round the lifeboat like a pack of wolves. It broke on both sides of the lifeboat right into her, and literally boiled over her as she flew before the gale and the impulse of the swell astern. Nothing could be seen in this stormy flight except the white burst of the tumultuous waves, and all around was midnight blackness.
Some were of opinion, after the prolonged search, that the wreck had disappeared; but Roberts carried all hearts with him when he said, 'We're not going home till we see and search that wreck from stem to stern!'
Then they anchored in Trinity Bay in four fathoms of water. They each had a piece of bread, a bit of cheese, and a smoke; and with every faculty of sight and hearing strained to the utmost, they longed for the coming of the day.
We may now return to the wrecked vessel, and describe the fate of her captain and crew. She was a Norwegian brig, the Auguste Hermann Francke, bound from Krageroe to sunny San Sebastian with a cargo of ice. She had a crew of seven all told, and the captain's name was Jargersen.
He had been running his vessel that morning before the gale, and at eight o'clock in the forenoon struck on the Goodwins, having either failed in the thick weather to pick up the lightships or the Foreland as points from which to take a safe departure, or being carried out of his course altogether by the strong tides which run around and over the Goodwins, and which, if not allowed for, are a frequent cause of disaster. It was on the shallower northern part of the Goodwins that the Norwegian brig struck in a north-easterly gale.
The brig struck the Goodwins about high water with a terrific crash, and was lifted up by successive billows and thumped down and hammered on the hard sand. Contrary to the popular idea, ships sink but slowly in the sand, which is practically very hard and close. When she took the ground the crew rushed to the main rigging and the captain to the fore rigging. The sea beat in clouds high over the vessel, and the seven men lashed themselves in the rigging to prevent themselves being shaken into the sea by the shocks. Again and again the heavy vessel was lifted up and thumped down; while the weather was so thick that neither could she be seen from the nearest lightship or the land, nor could they on the vessel see the land, or form the least idea as to where they were; conjecturing merely that they were aground on the Goodwins.
At last the mainmast went by the board, carrying with its ruin and tangle of sails, spars and cordage, six of the crew into the terrible billows. As each man unlashed himself he was carried away by the sea before the eyes of the captain. The last of the crew was the ship's boy, who, just as he cast off the fastenings by which he was lashed to the rigging, managed to seize the jib sheet, which was hanging over the side, and called piteously to the captain to save him. A great wave dashed him against the ship's side, and his head was literally beaten in. He too was carried away, and the captain was left alone.
The foremast shortly afterwards gave way, but the captain saw the crash coming, and lashed himself to the windlass, where, drenched and half drowned, he was torn at by the waves which were hurled over the ship for hours.
At last the tide fell, and still, owing to the thick driving mist, no one knew of the tragedy that was being enacted on the Goodwins.
Alas! many similar disasters take place on the Goodwins, the details of which are covered by the black and stormy nights on which they occur, and nothing is ever found to reveal the awful secret but, perhaps, a few fishermen's nets and buoys, or a mast, or a ship's boat.
With the falling tide the sands round the wrecked vessel became dry for miles, and the captain, half-crazed with grief and terror, climbed down from the wreck and ran wildly about the sands. His first thought was not to seek for a way of escape or help, but to find the bodies of his crew, and to protect them from the mutilations of the sea.
But he found none of them, and then he walked and wildly ran and ran for miles, and waved his hands to the nearest but too-distant lightship. Sick at heart, he then fastened on the wreck a pole with a piece of canvas lashed to it, and, as we know, he was seen by God's mercy about that time at Deal.
As the tide again rose, evening came on, and again the captain had to return to his lonely perch, and to lash himself again as before on the little platform, barely three feet square, over which the sea had beaten so fiercely a few hours before. What visions—what fancies, what terrors may have possessed his soul as the cruel, crawling sea again lapped against the vessel's sides in the darkness of that awful night!
Even now a gleam of mercy shone on him, for though the cold waves again tumbled over and around him, they did not break up the little square platform upon which he stood, and upon the holding together of which his chance of living through the night depended. None may tell of the workings of that man's mind during that long night. It is said that in moments of great peril sometimes the whole course of the past life, past but not obliterated, is summoned up in the most vivid minuteness. Thrice blessed is the man who in that dread moment can trust himself wholly to Him who is 'a hiding-place from the wind and a covert from the tempest.'
And yet, though he knew it not—though hope and faith itself may have burned low, nay, been all but quenched in that poor wearied Norwegian seaman's breast, though grim despair may have shouted in his ears, 'Curse God and die,' all that long night the lifeboat was close to him. The dauntless coxswain and crew, though wearied, drenched and buffeted, were 'determined to see the wreck before they went home.' To use their own simple words, 'They hollered and shouted both outside and inside them breakers, but you won't hear anything—not out there—the way the sea was a roarin'.'
At last morning broke. When the wind is easterly you can always see the coming morning much sooner; and about 3.30, when the birds in the sweet hedgerows were just beginning to twitter, the first soft, grey dawn stole over the horizon in the east.
The weather was clearing fast and 'fining down' when the coxswain roused all hands to 'get up the anchor.' The foresail was set, and then a man in the bows cried out, 'I can see something there—there's the wreck!'—and, indeed, there it was, not more than four hundred yards distant.
Now the sky was lighted up a rosy red, so fast came on the 'jocund morn a tiptoe' over the waves.
'There's a man running away from the wreck!' said the coxswain.
He had descried the bright blue lifeboat with the red wale round her gunwale, and was running to meet her in the direction she was heading. But the lifeboat was making short tacks to windward, and the coxswain taking off his sou'-wester waved it to the running figure to come back and follow the lifeboat on the other tack.
Back again came the solitary man, and then at last was given the final order from the coxswain, 'Run straight into the surf to meet him!' and the lifeboat, carried on by a huge roller, grounded on the sands.
Running, staggering, pressing on, the rescued man came close to the lifeboat, and then fell forwards on his knees with face uplifted to the heavens, and his back to the lifeboat.
'They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. . . . Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses. . . . Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!'
Now rose the glorious sun, darting his golden javelins high up into the blue majestical canopy; and cheerily into the water, now burnished by the sunbeams, sprang Alfred Redsull, danger and hardship all forgotten, with a line round his waist, to guide and help the exhausted man away from the deadly 'fox-falls,' which were full of swirling water, and at last into the lifeboat. Then with bated breath they learned the story,—that all the rest were gone, and that the captain himself was the solitary survivor. His hands were in gloves; they cut those off, and also his boots, so swelled were hands and feet. They gave him a dry pair of long stockings and woollen mittens, and they let down the mizzen and made a lee for him under its shelter, for he was half perished with the cold of that bitter night. After a few minutes he insisted on again searching the sands for his lost crew, and the coxswain and others of the lifeboatmen went with him.
The lifeboat was by this time high and dry, for the water was falling with great rapidity, and there was a mile of dry sand on each side of her. The company of men now searched the sands, and a long way off the coxswain saw a dark object.
'What's that?' he said.
That's my ship's rudder,' replied the captain, 'and I walked round it yesterday evening when death was staring in my face.'
Then they came to the wreck; her decks were gone, every atom of what had once been on board her was swept clean out of her: she was split open at her keel, and lay in halves, gaping.
Inside this wrecked skeleton ship lay her foremast, and so crushed and flattened out was the vessel that the men stepped from the sand at once into the hollow shell—and there they saw, still holding together, the little spot of planking, ten feet above them, on which the rescued man had stood, and where he had been lashed: and they took down and brought away as a memento the piece of canvas which he had fastened to the pole, and which had caught the eyes of the boatmen at Deal; but the bodies of the drowned crew were never seen again.
When the tide rose the lifeboat got up anchor and made for home. Crowds were assembled at the beach, expecting, as the British ensign was hoisted at the peak, to find a rescued crew 'all saved' on board; but, alas! only one wearied, overwrought man struggled up the beach.
I led him to get some hot coffee and to give him a few minutes' repose; but he could eat nothing, and he laid his head on his arms and sobbed as if his heart would break for the friends that were gone, and overwhelmed by the mercy of his own preservation.
All honour to the brave coxswain and his lifeboat crew who sought and searched for him through and through that dreadful midnight surf, and stuck to their task with determined resolution, and who found and rescued this poor Norwegian stranger from the very grasp of death!