The North Sea is renowned for its storms, which could spring up from nowhere, leaving few safe havens along the north east coast for the fishing fleets of Scarborough. This extract describes the great storm of December 1874 and is published with permission from the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre. The photograph shows some of the ‘herring girls’ who travelled with the fleets down the coast.
At Scarborough the gale sprung up most suddenly. The seamen who noticed the change described the north-easter as plainly discernible on the water some distance off, “coming on with the rush of a galloping horse.” At three o’clock in the morning the smack ‘Yorkshire Lass’ came into the harbour. At about four, the smack ‘Mary Anne’, the property of Mr. Jas. Sellers, of Scarborough, was observed some distance from the port, showing torches, and evidently making for the harbour. The storm was by this time very violent. When near the harbour she became unmanageable, in consequence of her jib and foresail sheets having broken. She then began to drift to the rocks, south of the town.
Her crew dropped anchor, and paid out about 130 fathoms of cable. The anchor, however, did not hold, and the vessel still drove towards the cliffs. They got into their boat, which was then floated off the deck of the smack by the sea. Just then the smack’s mizen-mast went by the board, and fell across the boat, submerging it and causing the men, five in number, to be washed out. The master, Jas. Oakley, and a young man named Drisdale, were washed away and drowned. The other three, named Charles Chase, Wm. Trueman, and John Edwards, were washed to the cliff, where they secured a precarious footing. In the meantime, the coastguard were firing rockets in the hope of rendering assistance, but the poor fellows were not found till daylight, when they were brought to the town much exhausted.