No.81 Gallipoli

Diary of the War No.9

To commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli landings, which commenced on 25 April 1915, today’s post takes as its theme two wrecks in English waters: one which participated in those landings, and another transporting Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), so closely associated with the Gallipoli campaign.

Colour poster of a swimming man, captioned 'It is nice in the surf but what about the men in the trenches'
‘Win the War League’ poster promoting Australian recruitment during the First World War. IWM PST 12232. http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/25051

The Fauvette was constructed in 1912 for the General Steam Navigation Company, and employed on the London-Bordeaux run, from which she evacuated British nationals when war broke out. Like so many other civilian vessels, she was requisitioned for war service, becoming HMS Fauvette in February 1915, and heading straight for the Dardanelles. By April 1915 she was carrying stores for the Allied landings. On 21 April, the crew of HMS Fentonian, a requisitioned trawler, had difficulties offloading Fauvette‘s buoys: ‘the sinkers were enormous blocks of cement weighing 35 cwt.’ (1) Fauvette continued to see service in and around Gallipoli, Mudros and Suvla Bay until the following year.

On her return to England on 9 March 1916 she struck two mines laid by UC-7 approximately 1.75 miles NE of the North Foreland and sank with the loss of 14 lives. Her position has been securely recorded since 1916 and she was earmarked for post-war dispersal, achieved by 1921. She lies within half a mile of the Emile Deschamps, whose story is told in a previous post, also mined close to home but in a different war.

A few weeks later, 25 April 1916 saw the first Anzac Day commemorating the contribution of Australian and New Zealand troops in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign. Ironically, it was on the second Anzac Day on 25 April 1917 that today’s second featured wreck was lost. The Ballarat, a P&O liner built for the Australian emigrant service, was another requisitioned ship, serving as a trooper, shuttling to and from Australia.

On her final voyage the men were being mustered for an Anzac Day service when a torpedo, or “Tinned Fish” as one survivor put it, struck her aft on her port side, tearing off her propeller. (2) She began to settle by the stern, so the order was given to abandon ship, but when the engineer reported that the vessel was capable of limping on, the men were recalled and volunteers requested to man the stokehold. As luck would have it, the Ballarat was carrying men of the Railway Operating Division, who were well used to stoking steam engines, albeit on the rails rather than on the high seas!

However, the engine was flooded, so once more all were lined up to abandon ship. Well over 1,500 people were safely evacuated, including the hospital cases: the Times reported that the two nurses and three chaplains aboard assisted the men to fasten their lifebelts. The parade itself, and the continuous boat muster drill they had practised during the voyage, could be said to have prevented this from becoming another tragedy of the Great War. The men were allowed to take photographs, including one extraordinary view of serried ranks of soldiers awaiting evacuation and during the evacuation itself, leaving behind a well-documented wreck. Efforts to save the ship continued, and she was taken in tow, only to sink 7 miles SW of the Lizard, Cornwall.

Wartime censorship meant that the loss was only officially announced on 2 May. The press and the Australian High Commission praised the orderly evacuation, and the sang-froid of the survivors who sent ‘representatives to London to get a souvenir of the event printed in the form of the last number of the Ballarat Beacon, which was being distributed when the ship was torpedoed.’ (3) And a final word: the Times took care to note that 15 of those rescued were also survivors of the ordeal at Gallipoli.

More Gallipoli news: Historic England has just listed war memorials associated with Gallipoli.

Hand-drawn black and white magazine cover depicting the Ballarat steamship at sea, flanked by two beacons, and a cartouche in contemporary lettering with the title 'The Ballarat Beacon'
Front cover of the Ballarat Beacon, Vol.1, No.1, 1917, National Library of Australia, http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn3304869

(1) “Dardanelles: Narrative of Mine-Sweeping Trawler 448, Manned by Queen Elizabeth: the landing at “Z” Beach, Gallipoli” Naval Review, Vol.IV, No. 2, 1916, pp185-197. URL: http://www.naval-review.com/issues/1910s/1916-2.pdf 

(2) Memoirs of Hector Creswick, 15 Company Railway Operating Division, http://www.australiansatwar.gov.au/stories/stories_war=W1_id=103.htm

(3) The Times, No.41,468, 3 May 1917, p6

No.80 The Strange Case of the Madonna del Rosario . . .

Today’s wreck holds the record, I think, for having the longest name on our database of shipwrecks around the English coast: normalised to the modern spelling as far as I can make it, she was the Madonna del Rosario Sant’Antonio di Padova e la Stella delle Mare.

Ongoing research means that we often have to substantially revise our records for documented wreck events. This usually entails adding more detail or narrowing down the area of loss to a more specific location from the initial vague reports ‘near’ or ‘off’ a particular place. The length of the name in this case gave me room for some doubt since it is not unknown for the names of ships lost in company in the same location to be run together, particularly if they were foreign, and I had wondered if this long name masked more than one wreck event. It did, but not in quite in the way that I expected!

The first we knew about this wreck was a report that the ‘Catharina . . . and Madonna del Rosario and St Antonio de Padova e la Stella delle Mare, Captain Mellin, are both lost in Bristol Channel.’ (1) I had hoped that we would be able to revise their location to somewhere more specific, but what I was completely unprepared for was to find that the specific position for the Madonna del Rosario would be on the other side of the country!

She next turns up in the press in the Ipswich Journal, which states that a ship of that name (so we are clear that there were no multitudes of vessels hiding behind the one name), a Venetian, had struck on the Shipwash on 29 December 1781, on the approaches to the Thames off Suffolk, and that the crew had escaped and landed at Aldeburgh. (2) This was the preamble to an appeal to salvors from the area to come forward to receive ‘legal salvage’, but it also warned that there was a reward of ‘Five Guineas’ (£5 5s, or £5.25) for the discovery of any person concealing salvaged goods.

This is all very specific, so why did she end up being reported in the Bristol Channel instead? The confusion probably arose because of another Venetian vessel that was indeed lost off the Bristol Channel coastline of Wales, on Friday 28 or Friday 21 December 1781:

‘Extract of a Letter from Swansea, dated Jan. 5.

“Last Friday Se’nnight in the morning (3) a large Venetian Ship, laden with Cotton, Marble, and Coral, was stranded on the Skerr-Rocks, in this County. Soon after the Accident, the Country People commenced the barbarous Practice, usual on such Occasions, of plundering the Distressed and Helpless . . .’ (4)

I haven’t yet traced the Catharina in the contemporary press, although her voyage, also from Livorno to London or Ostend, suggests that she was also more likely to have been lost in the North Sea rather than the Bristol Channel, but there is the possibility that she can indeed be identified with the ship lost off Wales. There is no record of a Catharina or of a Venetian ship indexed in the region in the Shipwreck Index of the British Isles, Vol. 5: West Coast and Wales (Larn and Larn, 2006), nor are the arrivals and departures lists in Lloyd’s List any help (although often very helpful, they are selective at best, and the distinctive name of the Madonna del Rosario was absent).

Can anyone help with either vessel? If the Catharina is distinct from the Welsh wreck and was also lost on the east coast, then it would also be great to relocate the record for this wreck and help build up a more accurate picture of the archaeological potential around the English coastline. At the moment it looks as if she may be ‘lost’ in the other sense in the Bristol Channel . . .

(1) Lloyd’s List, 4 January 1782, No.1,324

(2) Ipswich Journal, 12 and 19 January 1782, No.2,242 and 2,243, both p3

(3) Se’nnight, that is, ‘seven-night’, cf. fortnight, still in use. January 5 was a Saturday so it might mean either ‘a week [counting from] the Friday just gone’, i.e. ‘a week ago yesterday’, or ‘a week ago on Friday last week’ depending on local usage. Interestingly newspapers of this time often copied news items verbatim from other papers, and the date of loss can vary by a week or two depending on how many times it was copied, and whether or not the local editors changed the date accordingly, or how they understood ‘Friday last’!

(4) Oxford Journal, 12 January 1782, No.1,498, p3