Saturday, February 23, 2019

Souvenir Saturday: wreck of the Fascadale

The Fascadale was wrecked at Southbroom in the early hours of 7th February 1895. It was carrying 3,000 tons of sugar from Mauritius to Lisbon.
A Cheltenham paper published an account of the disaster by the late C.H. Mitchell (Terry Mitchell’s grandfather) who came from that part of England:

“On Thursday February 7th a four mast iron barque with a crew of 28 came ashore here; Mr. Barton (afterwards Dr Barton of Murchison Plains) was the first to hear of it and sent for me. I took some ropes and hastened down to the shore (time about 8am). The vessel was on the rocks about 100 yards from the shore - her back broken - the two centre masts gone. The sea was making a clean sweep over her amidships and every high wave covered her. At the stern were about 18 men which the RMS Norham Castle had sent boats to take off. On shore were Mr. Barton, some natives and a seaman named Bloom who had managed to swim ashore during the night. The bodies of two men which had been found, were also there. We were soon joined by two mounted police who had lately been stationed near here (present day San Lameer), and another man who happened to be passing the night with them. Two of them rode off to Umzimkulu (Port Shepstone) to give notice and the other, named Ottley, remained with Barton and myself on the beach.

After the last man had been taken off the stern, the boatmen tried to get the men off the bowsprit but were unable to. They shouted out to the men on the wreck that they could not help them. The five men then prepared to swim ashore, but their chance looked bad as the sea was fearfully rough and the coastline was one mass of rocks. As soon as they began to get ready to start we got ready to receive them. I had a long thin hide line with me and as soon as the first got into the water, Ottley, who was the best swimmer, flung off his things, grasped the line and went out amongst the breakers to meet him. He seized him and we hauled them in very well; but the next one nearly drowned him; and while getting out of my clothes to go in for them, two of the kaffirs (one a witch doctor and one a Christian) managed to reach them with the line which Ottley had let go and we landed them safely, both half dead. The other three quickly followed and we managed to save them all. As soon as they were all safe we started for my place, sending on word to my wife to be ready for us. They slept at our place two nights and started the next day in an ox cart to Umzimkulu. They then went on by boat to Durban”

That the Hibiscus Coast was indeed a wild and sparsely inhabited place in those days is evident from the words of Seaman Bloom. After describing how he clung to a piece of wreckage and found himself on the shore he said:

”It’s true, mister, that I was landed alive, but, I wasn’t very sound. I felt bruised all over and pretty well scratched to bits. Run? No, if you‘d given me a sack of golden guineas I couldn’t have run twenty yards for I felt as if I had got my number on my back and was booked for Davy’s locker. So, I just crawled up the sand out of reach of the water. Then I sat down. There wasn’t a sign of a living thing. There was the sand and the cliffs at the edge of ‘em. It’s true I was mostly dead and I began to get colder and colder, when I says to meself, Bloom, you’re on shore somewhere - you don’t know where, it’s true, but look about ye’.
I just was shivering, like a half-drowned rat, for I had only the smallest quantity of clothes of me. At last I pulled myself together a bit and when I had walked a little way I spied a sail that had been washed ashore. Fortunately I had my knife in my trousers pocket - they warn’t much of trousers but the pocket portion had held good. So all of a shiver, I outs with my knife and rips off a bit of the sail which I puts over my head. The other bit I wraps around me. After that I walks about. I hadn’t gone many yards afore I came across the dead body of my mate, the sailmaker. It made me almost go yaller. Further down the shore I see’d something else. I made by way to it. What do you think it was mister? Why, it was the dead body of t’other chap. I can tell you I warn’t happy. There were the two dead ‘uns and meself - that was all. I sat down and was miserable. Then, presently, the morning came, and I saw a black man creeping down the cliff - then another - then another. There was about half a dozen of ‘em and I could see as they had their spears - assegais, I think you call ‘em, in their hands, I says to meself, “it’s all up with you, Bloom, make ready for the New Jerusalem. You is among black savages”. They came peering right close up to me. Then they jabbered and jabbered in their own lingo and I can tell you I shivered like a cat. Then they began to pat the ground and to pat me, but I couldn’t tumble as to what they meant. One lay down on the ground and motioned me to do the same. But, I wouldn’t. It was quite light now and looking along the shore where the cliffs was lower I saw some cows . I didn’t quite know what to do”.

The Fascadale broke in half and was lodged between the two rocks - the waves were dashing in with tremendous force causing the men to be thrown about against the rocks. The aft half of the ship broke outwards and fortunately the following morning (8th February) a passing ship on her way up to Durban stopped and set a boat to take these people on board. The gap in-between the two halves of the ship could not be crossed so those still on board eventually had to swim ashore.

The wrecked vessel was the Fascadale, Captain Gillespie, from Java to Lisbon, with sugar. Mr Whitehead was presented with an address by the passengers of the Norham Castle, and also with an illuminated address by the inhabitants of Durban in recognition of his heroism.

Frank Whitehead, chief officer of the Norham Castle (later Captain Whitehead), and the Fascadale's apprentice, Robert P G Ferries, were subsequently awarded the Board of Trade medal for bravery at sea. Sergeant C R Ottley of the Natal Police also received a bronze medal for his contribution in saving the lives of crew members of the Fascadale.

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