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George Rowntree

The Reminiscences of George Rowntree
1855 -1940

written during the winter of 1935-36



Arthur Rowntree's History contains the accounts of the principal Shipwrecks that I recollect (see pages 194-199), so I will not repeat. The reasons why there were more wrecks in the sixties than in any decade since are obvious. In the sixties the wooden sailing vessels had not the advantage of any warnings by wireless, had no steam or motor power, but had to rely solely on the seaworthiness of the vessel and more still on the worthiness of the Captain and his crew. There is a story of one Scarborough vessel that owed much to the power of the wife of the Captain, who used to go to sea with her husband for considerable voyages, and there were occasions when the Captain took too much liquor; when this occurred Mrs. Alexander Tindall took command of the vessel and never failed to bring it home safely. With regard to the wreck of the Coupland, I recollect my father going out after seeing the Coupland being helplessly driven across the bay towards the Spa waIl; he helped to rescue from the water one of the crew of the Lifeboat who had been washed overboard and badly bruised on the head against the rocks. I can see now a white basin, brought into the dining room at 47 Newborough, being filled with a hot dinner and sent up Cross Street daily whilst .the man recovered. In those days there was no Council of Social Welfalre, a dispensary with only a very few beds in it, so it ,vas a case of private help or the workhouse.

The special causes of the Lifeboat coming to grief were, first, the boat was one short of its crew, and, secondly, the vessel was so near the Spa Wall that the Lifeboat was thrown against the wall, and then with the backwash it was up against the vessel. The History tells of the death of three Scarborians, who were washed off the slipway at the south end of the Spa and drowned, but it does not relate how Mrs. Tindall, the mother of William (who was one of the three) had an extraordinary experience the same night as the wreck occurred. Mrs. Tindall was living at Sledmere, and had a party staying with her. In the morning, at the breakfast table, she told how during the night she awoke suddenly, sat up in bed and said to her maid, who always slept in the room with her,

"Oh, Mary, I have just seen William dripping wet from head to foot and with a gash in his head." The party received the story by asking her what she had eaten for supper last night; it was not until the news came through from Scarborough, some 30 miles away, that they all felt that there was something more than a dream in what the mother had seen. The bodies of the three were never recovered. This vision, or whatever you call it, is the only record of how the lives were lost, the men being thrown against the rocks and killed rather than drowned.

The story of the wreck of the "Mary" in 1869 is told in a letter that Joshua Rowntree wrote to his mother when he got home after helping with the rocket apparatus on the cliffs at Holbeck. I recollect one sentence in the letter, written in his study, when he concluded by saying to his mother: "Now I must finish and go to bed. I do not know what Bessie ' , (an old factotum in the house) "will say."

The third account of wrecks in 1880 is graphically told by Wilfred Balgarnie. I will not add anything. The next day I was looking over the bay from King's Cliff and met Mr. Hodgson Smith, an old Sea Captain and Harbour Commissioner. I said to him, "What a sad sight, tight vessels on the shore," and he answered, "Well, they are all of them better where they are". He was thinking of their Insurance value on the wooden vessels, which were no longer wanted.

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