Shipwreck – SS Priestfield
May 10th 1912 Devon and Exeter Gazette
The Priestfield Refloated
Considerable excitement was caused in North Devon the day before yesterday, when the news spread that a steamship had run aground on the Slipper Rock, Morte Point, Morte-hoe, in a thick fog during the night, The vessel, a tramp steamer, named the Priestfield, 2,700 tonnage, and belonging to the Beckenham line, Newcastle, was on its way from Antwerp to Barry for orders when the unfortunate incident occurred.
Captain Loads is the officer in command, and the crew number about 20. Morte Point is on of the most dangerous on the coast, and has been the scene of many a wreck, as it testified by inscriptions on the white headstones standing sentinel in the little graveyard facing the sea.
There is no coastguard at Mortehoe, the nearest being Croyde, but a vigilant watch is kept, on nights when storms are raging or fogs are thick, by members of the Board of Trade rocket life-saving brigade at Morte-hoe. Mr. J. Dyer, who has charge of the apparatus, was on watch until midnight on Tuesday. While on duty, he heard the steamer off the coast sounding its fog siren, but no signals of distress were shown. He was later relieved by Mr. T , Parker, but the insistent sounding of the steamer’s fog-horn led him to return, when he found that Parker had gone down to the shore and discovered that the vessel had run on the rocks. The crew were immediately summoned, and the rocket apparatus was sent out, and remained at the spot, in case of need, from 1.15am until noon. The Ilfracombe coastguards were also communicated with, and the lifeboat was put out. The lifeboat was launched in a quarter of an hour, and arrived on the scene about 4.15 and stood by, through the night, until 10 am. The crew were in charge of Coxswain J Comer and Second Coxswain G Corner. The dense fog increased the difficulties of the lifeboat crew, and made it hard from them to pick up the steamer, her lights being almost invisible.
Mr. Dyer was able to hail the vessel from the shore at about 1.15. The captain replying to his questions as to whether he should put a line aboard, said there was no immediate necessity, but requested that the life saving crew should remain in readiness. During the morning the mate’s wife descended the rope ladder at the ship’s side and came ashore over the rocks from which the sea had then receded. The captain and crew stayed aboard. The mate’s wide was taken to the Chichester Arms.
The vessel, when the “Gazette’s” North Devon representative arrived on the scene was resting firmly on the jagged rocks, well in shore. Her bow pointed to Woolacombe, and she had a slight list to starboard. Her bow and stern were resting on two rocky pillars, other ledges of rock supporting the steamer at intervals, while the ebbing tide swirled in a clear spact at the centre of her keel. It was stated that she had sustained little or no damage, but this was more or less a matter of conjecture, for the position of the vessel rendered a thorough examination difficult. The Devonia, a cargo boat plying between Bristol, Bideford and Ilfracombe made an attempt to pull the steamer free, but, this proving unsuccessful the Devonia left, taking with her the Ilfracombe lifeboat, whose kindly services were now found not to be required. Scores of sight-seers, coming by road and rail visited the scene during the day, and there were innumerable photographers taking snapshots. From enquires made it was found that the Priestfield struck the rocks at 11:10 on Tuesday night, the fog having made it difficult to decide her whereabouts. Fortunately the vessel was floated off with the assistance of four Cardiff tugs, at midnight and Wednesday and subsequenbtly proceeded up the Bristol Channel to Barry under convoy of the tugs.
Extract from Coastguards Log May 8th 1912
S.S.Priestfield of Newcastle from Antwerp, bound to Barry in Wales for orders. Stuck on Slipper Rock (south of Morte Point) and remained. Her keel being visible from the shore broadside on. The watchman heard unusual sounds at 12-10 a.m. The watchman J.Parkerson and Samuel Yeo climbed round the rocks and found the position of the Steamer. Returned and called Rocket Brigade. I notified the coastguard at Ilfracombe at 12-5. Started with waggon at 1 a.m arriving at the ship 1-15a.m.
Weather very thick fog and rain. Asked if they required a line, they answered ‘not yet’. We stood by her until noon. Returned at 12-15 noon. A small tug (the Devonia) tried to tow her off. The steamer used her own propellers at the same time. She was unsuccessful. At 9-30 p.m resumed towing by four large tugs that had arrived from Cardiff and got her off at 11-5 p.m.
The chief mates wife left the ship and came ashore over the rocks.