No.84 A family concern

This week’s post approaches wrecks from the viewpoint of family history and local heritage, which are often closely intertwined: today’s case study concerns a number of wrecks which all belonged to the same family with a very distinctive name, the Isemongers of Littlehampton, Sussex.

They seem to have been specialists in the coal trade between Sunderland and Littlehampton, with four collier brigs that we know of, associated with the family and lost within a 30-year timespan.

In 1842, the Economy struck near her home port ‘between Rustington Mills and the Hot Baths’ of the nearby resort, while waiting for a suitable tide to come in. The initial report that the crew had all drowned was later reported as false, and the very specific location described above, in a version in which all the crew survived, lends credence to the report of their survival. She was owned by one Thomas Iremonger (sic), and captained by his brother.

The Peacock of Arundel was lost on the coal route at Caister-on-Sea, Norfolk, on the 12th. On the 25th the Oswy of Littlehampton was beached to discharge her cargo of coal, at Worthing, as was common on the shores of Sussex, and was wrecked when the wind shifted and the weather became stormy – a fairly common manner of loss locally, too.

The Oswy was among the effects of ‘R & P Isemonger’ advertised in a bankruptcy sale in 1851, but the Admiralty Register of Wrecks of 1852-3 attributes her ownership to an Isemonger: did they manage to retain her after all, or buy her back, or was she bought by a relative? (1)

It is 1872 before we hear again of a collier brig owned by an Isemonger of Arundel in another loss incident. The Russell was driven ashore at Hauxley Point, Northumberland, in wind conditions SE force 9. She illustrates another typical manner of loss, for she was outbound from Sunderland for Littlehampton with coal. A severe SE gale could force vessels leaving, or making for, the east coast ports of Shields and Sunderland off course, driving them north to be wrecked along the Northumberland coast.

Patterns of family history are often revealed through wrecks, typically through the names of masters and owners, whose names are those most often recorded in the sources used to tell the story of wrecks. (We do sometimes receive information from people who have traced ancestors as crew members, but that is another post for another day!) There must once have been many families like this, based in coastal towns or villages, who owned a number of ships, usually specialising in a particular trade, and they would have been hit hard by the loss of any one ship. Their story ripples out beyond family and local heritage to become a microcosm of a ‘typical’ 19th century trade route, illustrating characteristic loss patterns at both ends of the voyages they undertook.

(1) Brighton Gazette, 4 December 1851, No.1,597, p1; Admiralty Register of Wrecks, 1852-3, in Parliamentary Papers, Vol.61, pp194-195(197)

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