Saturday, June 27, 2015

Lighthouse: the Smalls calamity

Smalls Lighthouse

In 1801 one of two lighthouse keepers on the offshore Smalls Light, near the Welsh coast, died.The men on duty were Thomas Howell and Thomas Griffith.
It was found impossible to land on the rock for four months, though attempts were made, storms made landing, or even sailing within hailing distance, dangerous. A distress signal had been hoisted at the lighthouse.  The dim outline of of one of the keepers could be detected standing on the gallery of the lighthouse. It was not clear enough to tell which of the men it was.
The keepers' relatives, during the long delay, were extremely anxious about the men's well-being. Strangely, the light burned brightly as usual during this period giving no indication of what might be amiss on the rock.
Author Ivor Emlyn wrote about the Smalls incident thus:
A day or two before the signal was hoisted, Griffith complained of being unwell, and the means employed by his companion of affording relief proved ineffectual, recourse was had to draw the attention of those passing the Channel, who could either render assistance themselves, or make the emergency known at the proper quarters. No help came! After weeks of extreme suffering poor Griffiths breathed his last; and then perhaps, commenced the worst chapter in the surviving Light-keeper’s experience of that sad time. 
Decomposition would quickly follow; and the “body of death” would vitiate the atmosphere of the too confined apartment. The body could not be thrown, to find its grave, into the sea; suspicion with her thousand tongues would point at Howell as the author of foul play – that to hide a lesser fault he had committed the greater one of murder! The world is too apt to condemn ere it judges!
Howell’s skill as a cooper (which was his normal trade), enabled him to make a coffin for his dead companion, out of boards obtained from a bulk-head in the dwelling apartment. After a great deal of labour the body was carried to the platform and firmly secured to the railing. For three weeks – weeks apparently as long as months – it occupied this position, before the weather moderated. A Milford boat at last landed two Light-keepers, and brought away Howell and the body of his companion; but the wind not being fair for Solva, they made Milford. Howell’s attenuated form demonstrated the sufferings, both mental and physical, he had undergone; his friends, in some instances, failed to recognize him on his return home. Four months in such a place, and under such circumstances, what would it not effect?
From the time of this calamity it was determined that three Lightkeepers should inhabit the structure at the same time; and three continue to be the number employed on this and other isolated lighthouses.
Chart 1861 showing (at left) position of Smalls rock off Welsh coast

Further information at:

1 comment:

andrew van rensburg said...

Tragic and yet inspiring:

“You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

Howell's endurance was extraordinary. Thanks for the series, Mole.