The Stranding of the Steamer ‘Huntcliffe’ February 1894

The 'Huncliffe' stranded on the sands near Star Gate, image from the collection of Barry Shaw

On Sunday the 11th February 1894, the ocean-going steamer ‘Huntcliffe’ departed from Liverpool after discharging her cargo of cotton from the American Deep South, heading to Barry in South Wales, where she was to load a shipment of coal for Aden.

Built in 1891, the 2000 ton ship with a crew of 27, including six runners and two stowaways, left the port of Liverpool at 2pm in the face of stiff wind. By the time she reached a point four miles off the Great Ormes Head the wind had reached gale force.

Without a cargo and with treacherous weather it was difficult to keep control of the vessel. A tremendous amount of the ship’s hull was exposed to the violence of the wind and waves and, under these circumstances, it was impossible to keep her head to the seas. The ship anchored in Llandudno Bay while another plan for fighting the gales was decided upon.

The anchor could not be hauled up, so 120 fathoms of chain had to be sacrificed. Still in the teeth of the gale, getting broadsides, on she rolled fearfully with heavy seas, and consequently started to drift. In the darkness no-one fully realised the danger.

Between the hours of 5pm Sunday and 2am Monday, the stricken ‘Huntcliffe’ was blown across the turbulent waters of the Irish Sea, finally grounding just twelve hours after leaving port. Intact and without loss of life, she was stranded on the sand dunes opposite the former Blackburn Convalescent Home, between Squires Gate and St Anne’s.

News of the stranding hit the headlines, with many people climbing rope ladders to see on board. Had the Captain of the ‘Huntcliffe’ charged for admission to the vessel he would have made a small fortune from the many hundreds who made the steep ascent onto the deck. The beach nearby was transformed into a miniature fairground with sweets, gingerbread, fruit stalls, jugglers, Punch and Judy men and a variety of hawkers selling their wares.

Quite a busy ‘air’ was lent to St Anne’s, owing to hundreds of visitors arriving by rail. Clifton Drive was an animated spectacle with all kinds of transportation, including hoards of cyclists resting their bicycles on the sand dunes. Blackpool also contributed to the large crowds by offering cheap fares to the scene by proprietors of landaus and horse-drawn wagonettes.

After all the festive excitement, the serious business of re-floating the grounded ‘Huntcliffe’ began. The ship was owned by Messrs George Horsley and Son of West Hartlepool, with an insurance value of £35,000.

The underwriters took charge of the vessel and employed a labour force of navvies to cut a channel for the ship’s passage into deeper water. There were about 30 men clearing shingle from the seaward side of the ‘Huntcliffe’, but the navvies were continually getting in one another’s way and one could tell from their leisurely manner that the pay was not enough. Nine pence (old pennies) an hour was the recompense offered.

Considering this amount to be insufficient, they stuck out for an increase of three pence an hour. The salvage company gave most of the gang the sack for their temerity, and fresh help was recruited.

Captain Howell of the ‘Huntcliffe’ was blamed for attempting the journey in the teeth of a storm. However, because there was a pilot on board, the ship was entirely under his orders and the captain had to take a back seat.

The crew described St Anne’s as a one-horse town. Nevertheless, some of the crew were in trouble for over indulging in alcoholic beverages. Police had some difficulty restraining the pugilistic tendencies of two drink sodden men. Mattinson bit a policeman’s finger, whilst Mikkolson put two Arab crewmen to flight. An Arab lost in Blackpool was found wandering around Lytham Road in a forlorn condition, his teeth chattering in the cold. Shouting ‘me lost ship!’ he was provided with a ‘shakedown’ in a hayloft and sent away rejoicing with a full stomach the next morning.

Meanwhile, with the help of Liverpool tug boats ‘Pathfinder’, ‘Wrestler’ and ‘Toiler’ and the gunboat ‘Reaper’, the ‘Huntcliffe’ was finally hauled to safety into deeper water on 23rd February (11 days after beaching). Some of the officers were sorry to leave, as their wives had been staying in St Anne’s during the week of the rescue.

In 1914, the ‘Huntcliffe’ was based in Andros with Greek owners and renamed ‘Violetta’. In 1915, she was based in the Romanian Port of Galatz. She was commandeered by the Imperial Russian Navy in 1916 and renamed ‘No. 107’. She was finally broken up in 1920.

Barry Shaw

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