The weather had been wild and stormy for a few days, but on this particular morning gales of over 100 miles per hour were blowing from the north west. Properties along the Fylde coastline were damaged, chimney pots blown off, windows blown in and trees blown over! It is reported that even the sand froze. There was also the mysterious tolling of a bell, deep and sombre, breaking through the sound of the storm. It proved to be the buoy-warning bell, broken loose from its moorings in the Barrow Channel and driven across the bay to be found later opposite Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
The date was Saturday 22 December 1894, and there were two ships that would become grounded in the stormy waters of the Irish Sea that day. The first was a fishing smack from Fleetwood, the Petrel. It was driven ashore close to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and the Blackpool lifeboat under Coxswain Cartmell was called to rescue the crew of four. Sadly, the skipper of the Petrel, Richard Wright of Fleetwood, had been washed overboard and drowned. The wind was blowing so strongly that the lifeboat had to be taken to the Gynn to be launched. Once there, the Petrel was lying on its side in shallow waters and the lifeboat men waded out and brought the crew safely to shore.
The second was the Abana, a three-masted wooden barque built in 1874. The Abana was sailing from Liverpool to Florida in the US carrying 500 tonne of ballast to be unloaded for a cargo of timber. The Abana was first spotted close to North Pier with its canvas sails torn to shreds. The crew had mistaken Blackpool Tower, completed and opened earlier that year, for a lighthouse. It is reported that Captain Danielsen had decided their only hope was to “run with the wind” as the “sea ran mountains high” (reported in the Wreck Depositions volume).
Fortunately, the stricken ship had been spotted and the alarm was raised by Robert Hindle, landlord of the Cleveleys Hotel. He sent a messenger on horseback to call out the lifeboat. Due to the adverse weather conditions the Blackpool lifeboat, the Samuel Fletcher, was hauled by six powerful horses through Bispham village before it could be launched. By now it was gone 5pm; it was high tide and the Abana was stranded about 150 yards from shore between Little Bispham and Anchorsholme. The lifeboat was launched, and once out to sea reports state, “it was a stiffish pull to the barque but it was soon accomplished by the eager lifeboat men, and the rescuers were soon alongside” (newspaper report from 6th December 1928).
The Abana’s crew of seventeen were all taken on board the lifeboat, it is said “some sliding down ropes and others jumping the distance” (newspaper report from 6th December 1928). Not only the men, but the Captain’s dog and the ship’s cat were also rescued by the brave lifeboat crew. However, the rescue was far from straightforward! With seventeen rescued seamen, a crew of sixteen lifeboat men, a dog and a cat, the weight of passengers grounded the lifeboat on a sandbank while returning to shore, so some of the crew members pushed it afloat again and eventually they reached the shore and safety.
The crew of the Abana were met by Robert Hindle, the man who had originally raised the alarm, and taken to the Red Lion Inn to recover from their ordeal. The ship’s bell and the Captain’s dog were given to Robert Hindle in thanks that he raised the alarm.
The remains of the Abana can still be seen today at low tide, trapped in the sand like the ribs of an enormous skeleton. Many will remember the MS Riverdance, which beached on 31t January 2008, very close to the site of the Abana shipwreck. The Abana itself is listed on the Shipwreck Memorial installed on the Promenade at Cleveleys in 2012.
The ship’s bell was later donated by Robert Hindle to St Andrew’s Church in Cleveleys, built in 1910. There it remains, displayed in the Baptistry, close to the large stone font - a most appropriate home as both items speak of being saved through water.
2019 marked the 125th anniversary of the Abana shipwreck and St Andrew’s Church opened this little bit of history up to children from local schools. They heard the story, learned of the bravery of the lifeboat crew and the dangers of the sea, had fun “rescuing” a toy dog and created a clay bell of their own. But, most poignant of all, they rang the bell, listened to its peal and touched a piece of history for themselves.