Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Shipwreck reports for genealogy: wreck of the Jane Davies 1872

The Jane Davies (given in some sources as Davie), was wrecked off East London, South Africa, on 26 May 1872. The Captain, Le Gallais, who had suffered an unknown accident previously during the voyage which resulted in paralysis of his arms, had his pregnant wife and child roped together and tied to a stanchion to keep them from being washed overboard, and they remained like that for three nights.

The report on the wreck, originally published in the E P Herald, was relayed in The Natal Mercury June 11 1872. The Capt Walker referred to was George Walker harbour-master of East London. The Bismarck, mentioned in the extract below was herself wrecked south of East London in 1873.

WRECK OF THE JANE DAVIES Natal Mercury June 11 1872

By the German screw-steamer Bismarck, Captain Staats, we are in receipt of the intelligence of the total wreck of the ship Jane Davies, Capt P Le Gallais. From the report made by Capt Staats, and an account furnished by one of the passengers by the Bismarck, we glean the following particulars:

The Bismarck left Port Natal about half-past 6 on Sunday morning, the weather being fine, and the bar extraordinarily clear. Three vessels were at the outer anchorage, one of them being the Durban.

About three hours after leaving port, the vessel got into the tail end of a cyclone, the wind being light, but a tremendous and confused sea. In the afternoon the wind shifted from south-west to north-east, blowing a heavy gale. During the night, it gradually wore round to the north-west again, blowing a heavy gale. About 8 o'clock on Monday morning, when about three miles off Cape Morgan, the starboard quarter-boat was washed away, and Capt Staats deemed it prudent to stand off out to sea, which he did until 7 in the evening, when he stood in again and arrived at East London at 10 o'clock on Tuesday morning, where he found all the shipping - six sailing vessels and one steamer - had gone ashore. We are informed that the crews of all the vessels were landed in safety with two exceptions - a man on board the Sharp was killed by a block falling on his head, and a boy was drowned from the Queen of the May. A signal was hoisted from the shore, 'Can you assist vessel in distress to the eastward?' It was then discovered that a large ship was in the breakers to the eastward of the port apparently in a disabled condition.
The Bismarck immediately steamed to the scene of disaster, and when abreast of the ship saw the crew clinging to the rigging. The vessel was lying with her bow inshore, her mainmast gone by the board, and evidently breaking up. Mr Buchardt, the second officer, and a volunteer crew took the starboard lifeboat, and proceeded to the wreck, but found it impossible on account of the heavy sea running, to render any assistance, and returned to the steamer. The crew of the Jane Davies say that when they saw the life boat going away their hearts sank within then, as they feared no further attempt would be made to rescue them from their perilous position.

However, Capt Staats was not the man to desert his brother seaman in their hour of need, and returned to East London at two p.m. where he signalled, 'Send the life-boat and I will tow her down to the wreck.' The bar being impassable, it was impossible to bring the life-boat out, but early on Wednesday morning it came, commanded by Capt Walker, and was towed out opposite the wreck. Another and more successful attempt was made to rescue the ship's company and the life-boat returned to the Bismarck with Capt P Le Gallais and child, and seventeen of the crew. Mrs Le Gallais (who is within a month of her confinement) was completely overcome, and sank fainting on deck, but was quickly conveyed to the cabin, and carefully attended to. The child, a bright little fellow of two years, beyond complaining bitterly of cold, seemed none the worse for the disaster, and was soon running up and down the deck as cheerful as could be. Capt le Gallais had the misfortune to get his arms paralysed about a month after leaving Liverpool, and was completely helpless. All the ship's company were treated with the greatest kindness by the officers and crew of the Bismarck who gave them their clothes and everything requisite. The crew had been on the wreck from Sunday evening at seven p.m., until Wednesday morning at half-past eight a.m., with the sea constantly washing over them. They were able to get a little wine and spirits from the cabin, but could not obtain water, which was the first thing they asked for when they arrived on board the Bismarck.

When the steamer left, the vessel had parted amidships, her mainmast was gone, and the cotton was washing out of her. The chief officer, second officer, and three seamen left the vessel on Monday morning, and struck out for the shore, but one of the sailors - the best swimmer in the ship - was drowned.

The Jane Davies was an iron ship of 806 tons built at Glasgow in 1868 for Mr James Galbraith of Glasgow. She was bound from Rangoon to Liverpool, with a cargo of rice and cotton, when the disaster occurred. Too much praise cannot be awarded to Capt Staats and his officers for their exertions to save the crew of the wrecked vessel, and also to Captain Walker of East London, whom Capt Staats in his report describes as 'always the same plucky old man'.

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