The lifeboat tragedy of November 2nd,1861 was perhaps the most memorable in Scarborough's RNLI history. It took place just yards off the Spa Walls. It was witnessed by many who watched the drama unfold.
It was a scene of afwul grandeur. In the years to come Henry Redmore, Ernest Roe (Scarborough Art Gallery), Paul Marny and JN Carter all painted the tragedy. They caught the mountainous waves, the heroism of the Lifeboatmen and watching spectators on the Spa. The scene was truly immortalised.
Before the lifeboat was called out the storm had already caused a lot of damage. The town itself was hit by hurricane strength winds. Houses in New Queen Street had their roofs blown off. Similar damage occurred in Falsgrave and the Marionettes theatre.
The huge seas nearly rose above the level of the West pier nearly sweeping away the salesmens offices. Many boats moored in Sandside were moved to the streets beyond to protect them.
Tragedy and loss of life had already occurred that night before Amelia was called out. A pilot named William Leadley had already escorted in "The Wave". [His local knowledge was vital as Scarborough is a tricky port to enter. There are cross currents on the entrance to the harbour and boats can easily miss the turn.] The master of the "Wave" described two other vessels in trouble. William Leadley went back to sea to help. He was never seen again. Also, Mr Appleyard, the Harbour Master had already reported that a merchant ship or collier had foundered on rocks 3 miles to the south.
At 12 Noon "The Coupland", a schooner from south shields attempted to gain entry to the harbour but failed. As it headed for the Spa promenade Walls the Lifeboat was called out. The breaks were so huge that stones had already been dislodged on the parapet. The Lifeboat soon got into trouble as her coxswain was thrown overboard.
"The Lifeboat floated on the water like a cork, but never capsized. In returning from the spa walls after she had struck a second time, she lay partly on one side, a heavy sea washed several of the crew overboard, they not being lashed to the boat,and some of the oars were also lost. Thomas Brewster was washed overboard and drowned. Nothing but the great excellence of the boat could have saved her from going to pieces, with the repeated dashings against the Spa."
Notable deaths occurred in the crowd. Ropes were thrown from the spa promenade to the boat. The Lifeboat was pulled to some calmer water. But as the Lifeboatmen jumped into the surf they were dragged out to sea in receding waves. Lord Charles Beauclerc died trying to help those in the sea. At the subsequent inquest (held on Sunday 3rd) the Jury came to the verdict "That the deceased, Lord Charles Beauclerc, lost his life accidentally while generously and nobly endeavouring to save the imperished lives of several of his fellow men." Mr William Tindall, the 25 year old son of John Tindall esq died as he was dragged out to sea. John Isles also died wading in to help those in the sea.
Mr Sarony and Mr Rutter recovered the body of Lord Beauclerc. They were nearly lost in the process. Mr Sarony was carried by the waves out of sight of the spectators. He was thrown a lifebelt. Three hours passed before circulation to his body was fully restored.
Two of the Lifeboats crew were lost - Thomas Brewster and John Burton. The Coxswain Thomas Clayburn was swept away. He was saved but he was "much injured and has been confined to his room ever since." The remaining crew were James Banks, Thomas Ward, William Chambers, Isaac Morley, William Ruston, Robert Maltby, Richard Harrison and William Larkin. Several of these were also injured. The kindness of the Cliff Bridge Company and the Music Hall was noted as they provided clothing and comfort to those rescued.
"During all this excitement the poor fellows on board the riggings of the "Coupland" were not forgotten. The rocket apparatus was speedily put into practise, and it worked beautifully, a line was successfully thrown from the spa over the vessel and the whole crew of six in number were landed on the promenade, and as quickly conveyed in cabs to Mrs Morley at The Dolphin Inn, where by order or Mr Stop, Chief officer of the coast guard, and agent for the shipwrecked mariners association, they were comfortably provided for. The men saved nothing belonging to them and the vessel became a total wreck."
After the storm the loss of life was counted. Leadley the pilot died probably on board the Harbinger. This was another ship to have gone down that night (out of sight of the crowds). In the incident with 'The Coupland' two of the Lifeboat crew perished. Lord Charles Beauclerc and William Tindall and J Hiles died being dragged from the shore attempting to rescue those in the sea with lines. In total 24 lives were lost that day. Also, a Scottish vessel "The Gainsborough Packet" perished with all crew on board 4 miles south of Scarborough.
The funeral of Lord Beauclerc was held on the 8th November, 1861. Lord Charles was described as a most amiable man who was much liked by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance. Lord Charles was said to bear a remarkable resemblance to Van Dykes celebrated portrait of Charles I. Lord Fredrick Beauclerc attended the funeral along with Lord George Beauclerc. Bravery seems to have run in the family for Lord Beauclerc as his brother Lord Fredrick was also awarded a silver medal previously. He had jumped into the harbour at Kingston on a bitter November night to save a woman.
At Least Lord Beauclerc had a funeral. A reward of £20 was offered for the recovery of William Tindalls body. But it was never found. The bodies of John Burton and Thomas Brewster were also not recovered. The sea takes ferociously but sometimes never gives back its victims.
The RNLI awarded a memorial Silver medal to Lord Charles Beauclerc and Mr William Tindall. The RNLI also awarded silver medals to Mr Oliver Sarony and Mr Joseph Rutter for their efforts.
Mr Oliver Sarony, was a famous photographer who in later years made as much as £10,000 in a year. He used some of his wealth to commission a painting called "The Shipwreck" by Paul Marny which was based upon the tragedy involving the "Coupland and the Amelia". It is paintings like this which have brought to life the tragedy and heroism. The hearts of those men who ventured into the sea in rowing boats. Pictures truly speak a thousand words. It allowed many who would never read a historical account to witness the scene which riveted so many onlookers on that fateful day in 1861.
- Scarborough Mercury 1861
- Gazette 14th November 1861
- Marine Paintings in Hull through three centuries by Arthur Credland.
- The Story of the Scarborough Lifeboats by Jeff Morris.