(a tale of two parts? by Bill McClure)
This story is as it happened, and recorded by me, on information given by many friends at the time of writing. Among the many notes that I have made over the years, is a reference to a book, called ‘The Story Of The Barrow Lifeboats’ by Jeff Morris, with the date 1988 which may be of some help to the reader. Although the Title is ‘The Wreck’ as you read, you will see it was not as strong as that.
WRECK OF THE ‘DOROTHEA’ JANUARY 16th 1910.
This story starts at about the middle of 1964, when a group of students from the University of Liverpool came to Walney Island to carry out tests of the tidal flow on the sea bed, as part of their university study, and try and reach a solution to the erosion on the west side of the Island, caused by the Irish Sea.
Members of the local sub aqua club were approached to help in the placement and recovery of the markers that were being used, as they had more local knowledge of the sea conditions, and the tidal flow etc. While out on the seabed, at very low water, the divers found what were the remains of a ship but what ship? All that was left were a few steel plates, and the propeller sticking out of the sand. So an expedition was set up to try and lift the propeller. Many large oil drums were obtained by the divers, and large quantities of wire rope, to fasten the drums to the propeller, so that the rising tide would come in, and, hopefully lift the propeller. Although a lot of time was spent in trying to remove as much sand as possible from around the propeller to make the lift easier, after the tide had started to come in, and the drums began to take the strain, we retreated back up the beach to wait and see what the results of all our work would be, unfortunately, the wire ropes were not man-enough to free and lift the propeller, and one by one the wire ropes snapped with a loud bang, thus allowing all the drums to drift away. At the next low water, another dig around the propeller took place, but this time we discovered that the propeller shaft was still attached and could possibly go down into the sand for quite a number of feet, so the project was abandoned.
Not being satisfied and wanting to find out more about this ‘wreck’ and if at all possible, to further find out what it was called, where it came from, where it was heading on this its final journey and what it was carrying, etc. a trip to Roa Island was called for, as the best people to have any knowledge of a ship-wreck were the crew of the Barrow lifeboat, and fortunately, if having been a small boat sailor, on and around the local waters, you soon got to know the crew, one way or the other! It was while carrying out this line of inquiry on the island, that the photograph of the ‘Dorothea’ came to light, hanging on the wall, in the house of Mr Norman Charnley, whose Father was Cox’n, of the lifeboat in the picture, the Cox being Herbert Raby. I was further informed that the ‘Dorothea’ was a Danish Fishing Vessel working out of Fleetwood, and during the rescue eleven people were taken off and the vessel later towed to Fleetwood by the tug ‘Walney’. Kindly I was permitted to take the photograph and produce a copy before the original being returned. The photograph shows the lifeboat of the time, the ‘Thomas Fieldon’ just reaching the ship, note that the picture also shows that they had to sail the lifeboat, or row it, depending on the state of the sea, and the wind conditions.
After studying the photograph for some time, and having seen some of the of equipment available at that time, I then began to wonder how it would have been possible for the photograph to be taken, as in 1910, people did not have small cameras, as they do today, they were all very huge plate cameras, with large bellows on the front, which required big, and heavy, tripods to hold them, so how was it done?
Another trip to Roa island was called for, and this time to Mr Frank Moore, M.B.E. who at one time was mechanic on the more modern lifeboats, and took part in many rescues, but like most members of the R.N.L.I., it was hard work trying to get information out of him regarding his work at sea, he also used to run the ferry across to Piel Island, and was the local postmaster, and he told me how It had been possible for the photograph to be taken. In the days before Bleepers and Radio and such, the only way it was possible to call the crew to the lifeboat was to fire a ‘maroon’, a kind of rocket that went high in the sky, and then made a loud bang, and anyone on the island who was able-bodied ran to the lifeboat house, to see if their help was needed, either to get the boat out, or to man it, if they were short-handed.
One of the crew of the lifeboat at the time when the ‘Dorothea’ was in need of help, was not on the island when the ‘maroon’ went up as he was delivering mail at Rampside, and seeing the ‘maroon’, he immediately made his way back to the island on foot, to lend his hand at the rescue. However, when he reached the island, he was just in time to see the boat setting out on the rescue, so there was nothing else he could do until the boat returned, where his help would be required to pull the boat back up the slipway and into the boathouse. Feeling his services weren’t required he decided to apply his skills elsewhere when he ran to his house on the island, to gather up his photographic equipment, put it all in a small rowing boat, and rowed across Walney channel, in the middle of a gale. He then made his way across Walney Island to reach the west shore, set up his camera and tripod, and be just in time to take what must be one of the finest records of a rescue, at sea, at that time.
I have a note that accompanies the photograph, from Mr Allan Smith, a well-known, talented local artist, and a man who has a great affinity with the sea, and all that happens on it. Whilst visiting me one day, he saw the photograph, and asked if he could borrow it, as he wanted to make a painting of it, as part of his hobby, and he thought it would make a wonderful subject. He also made inquiries on the island, where he has many friends. Allan was also a member of the crew on the R.N.L.I. Lifeboat the ‘Herbert Leigh’ until his retirement from active service as a crewman, and became the Head Launcher of the replacement Barrow lifeboat, the ‘James Bibby’. The lifeboat that is shown in the rescue of the ‘Dorothea’ I have been told, is the ‘Thomas Feilden’ and was at first kept in the hut, which at the time of this report (1993) has been made into a Tea Room for visitors to Roa Island, and the boat was launched into the little bay to the east of the shed, but later a new boat house was built on the land in front of Marine Terrace, and the concrete footings can still be seen, and show up on the photograph taken from the air, and that accompanies this story.
I wonder how many of the people that come to the island in the summer, and sit on these blocks, know what they are sitting on? This boathouse was demolished when its replacement was built In 1927, itself now being removed and replaced. Another little piece of the history of Roa island shows up in the photograph taken from the air, and this time is concerned with the Pilot Boat ‘ARGUS’ in the other photograph, that was used to put the pilot on, or take them off boats that, were entering or leaving the port and in the busy times when the port was being used by all sorts of ships, from all over the world, it was a full time job for the pilots.
Within the aerial photograph of Roa island, on the right hand side of the island, can be seen three black posts that have been put into the hard standing, these are not, as some people think, the masts of a ship, but were put there, by the pilots, so that they could put the pilot boat alongside, let it dry out, and then clean the bottom of the boat, without the boat having to lean over to one side, on one tide, and then lean over to the other side, to have both sides cleaned. Also in the photograph of the island, on the left hand side, can be seen the remains of the old gashouse, so what of the ship that started all this off? I have been Informed that on the coast between St Bee’s Head and Morecambe Bay, over the years, there have been so many shipwrecks, that it would be difficult to pinpoint just which ship that it was, so I have not yet been able to find out what she was called, where she came from, where she was going, and what she was carrying and more importantly, what happened to her crew?But perhaps, one day…
Caretakers Note: Any ideas would be gratefully appreciated and foward accordingly
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