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THE BRIXHAM FISHING FLEET DISASTER

Updated by Judy Rowse

 

From the Devonian Year Book 1912:

 

During the fearful gale of December 16th 1910, in the Bristol Channel, four Brixham smacks - Eva, Speedwell, Marjorie and Vigilance - were totally lost with all hands, and two hands were swept overboard from the smack Friendship and drowned. The total loss of life was thus eighteen, of whom ten men were married, leaving to mourn their loss ten widows and thirty children under fourteen years of age. There were many casualties in other boats belonging to the fleet, the total loss of property being estimated at about £6000.

 

The Friendship and her two apprentices were saved by the heroic efforts of Captain A. S. Gempton and the third hand, Tidmarsh, of the Brixham trawler Gratitude, who have both been awarded the silver medal for gallantry*.

 

The Friendship was on the port tack off Lundy about 3 p.m. when the sea swept Captain Richard Foster and his mate Charles Stokes to a watery grave. Two apprentices, Keatings and Cheadle, managed to hold on, and hour after hour they laboured at the pumps in fear that the smack would founder. At 3 a.m. Captain Gempton observed the Friendship with only a piece of the mizzen sail standing, and he manoeuvred his craft close to the derelict. Above the turmoil was heard the cry of the apprentices:

"We are sinking - can you save us?"

The pleading was immediately answered by Captain Gempton:

"I'll try my best, with God's help!"

 

The third hand, Tidmarsh, volunteered with that alacrity which characterised his skipper. The boat was launched, and each took a lifebuoy. Before entering the boat, Captain Gempton kissed his son Samuel (who was on his first fishing voyage) and said:

"Good-bye, you may not see your dad again;  I am going to try to save two lives."

The Gratitude was manoeuvred into a windward berth, and the boat dropped down to the Friendship, the sea being mountains high at the time. Once the boat was washed right on to the derelict's rail and twice she was nearly filled with water.

 

But the rescuers found no response to their labours. The lads, prostrated through pumping had abandoned all hope. The stentorian call "Come on, my sonnies, we are come to save you!" aroused them. They replied "Thank God for that!"

 

They were soon in the boat, and were thankful when they reached the Gratitude. With the aid of the Varuna's crew, the Friendship was then boarded, and pumps set to work and preparations made to tow her to Brixham which proved to be a lengthy and difficult task.

 

This was the third occasion on which Skipper Gempton rendered similar service. During the famous blizzard of March 1891, he saved nine sailors from the perils of the sea, and two or three years ago, he gallantly snatched a French trader from drifting ashore in Bigbury Bay and towed her safe to Brixham harbour.

 

Albert Stooks Gempton was born in Brixham in the December Quarter of 1859. He married Susan Ann Tucker in the June Quarter of 1889 and two sons have been traced so far - Albert, born in 1894 and Samuel, born in 1896. Susan died in 1909 at the age of 43 and in 1914, Albert married again - his second wife was Mary Dart of Galmpton.

On  4 January 1918, 8 miles SE by E from Berry Head, the Gratitude was captured by a U-boat and, sunk by bombs. It is believed the crew were able eventually to reach safety but were questioned by the Germans for some time.

 

*Albert Gempton and John Tidmarsh were awarded the Board of Trade Sea Gallantry Medal for their bravery on the night of 16th/17th December 1910.

 

The following information has been researched and

compiled by Judy Rowse who writes

"It seems wrong to me that the names of the men are not listed, and I feel it would be

fitting if you would add this list to the page please."

From the smack BM 191: EVA

George Elijah Perrett.

William Buley

Thomas Clapton of Cheltenham

Frank Blackhall of London.

From the Smack BM246 : MARJORIE

James Henry Stockman

John Batho

Fred Greet

John Snell

From the smack BM 213: SPEEDWELL

Samuel Burgoyne

G. Hayman

G. Bully

George Wilson

From the smack BM 218: VIGILANCE

Frank Coaker

W. Corder

J. King

Alphonse Hendle

 

 

 
 
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