Sunday, 13 February 2011

Memorial to Terrible Disaster!

I opened the lid of one of my many treasure chests and found this fascinating piece of history. It is a glass plate negative of an impressive memorial for the 1901 Caister Lifeboat Disaster. Taken shortly after the memorial was unveiled, it is slightly over exposed. An adjustment or two in Adobe Photoshop allowed me to see the words on the memorial and the stones alongside. I publish both here, together with a fine modern day view by photographer, Evelyn Simak. I note that the surrounding metalwork in Evelyn's image if different to the original metal border. Perhaps, a Second World War salvage drive saw the original railings removed for scrap and then restored some time after the War? Click twice on the black and white images for a closer look.

On November 13, 1901, the Caister lifeboat, Beauchamp was launched to go to the aid of a vessel on the Barber sands. It took four hours and two attempts and, as the launching crew watched, the lifeboat was forced back towards the beach. Fifty yards from the shore, it capsized, breaking off the masts and trapping the crew beneath the boat.

Two onlookers - one a 78-year-old former assistant Coxswain, James Haylett - dashed into the sea and pulled three crewman from under the craft. Despite their bravery, the remaining crew members were drowned. Eight bodies were recovered at the scene with another body that had been washed away being recovered four months later. Haylett had saved his son-in-law and a grandson, but failed to save his two sons and another grandson who were in the boat. A good account of the heart-rending tragedy can be found HERE.

The victims were buried in Caister Cemetery where a monument raised by public suscription was unveiled in 1903.

Photograph by Evelyn Sirak


  1. Pretty amazing that a 78 year old guy managed to pull three people out from under the capsized wreck. Hard to imagine the awful drama of shipwrecks over the centuries... sailing on ships remains a perillous business.

    Odd about the railings getting changed too. Do you think they were so desperate for scrap metal as to go and raid cemeteries ?

  2. Thanks, Owen - perilous indeed! Many old cannon and railings round memorials were removed as part of the Home Front scrap drive - saucepans, too! Often, the removal was wartime propaganda and it wasn't used and dumped in tips. Take Brixham in Devon, for example, when William of Orange landed there, prior to taking the English throne, a cannon from his fleet stood on the quayside to commemorate the landing. Some years ago, I met the wartime council worker who removed it and . . . dumped it on a landfill! Walk round any English town or village and you will see stubs of metal on top of walls where iron railings were 'salvaged!

  3. So eery how I opened your post of this article and photos the same day I came across again Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem:
    "Margaret, are you grieving
    Over Goldengrove unleaving? . . ."
    me ♥