The Coxswain and crew of the RNLI lifeboat ‘Lady Leigh’, ably assisted by the ‘rocket apparatus’ of the Coastguards, spent two days and nights in ferocious seas to save crews of the stricken vessels caught in the raging storms of late October 1880.
The storms were reported in the ‘Scarborough Mercury’, 30 October 1880:
As soon as daylight appeared, crowds of people thronged the cliffs, gasping with anxious eyes across the wild expanse of water, which for miles around was foaming and seething with terrible fury.
Seeing the danger to the crew of the wrecked vessel however, their better feelings prevailed, and with a hearty cheer the Lifeboat was launched amid the roaring breakers. On more than one occasion she was in danger of being capsized, and her crew thrown out into the water, but with skilful handling she managed to right herself.
The crew of five were safely taken off the ‘Black Eyed Susan’ of Bideford. The journey to the schooner was very dangerous. At one point ‘when about midway past the Spa, a tremendous sea struck the ‘Lady Leigh’, sweeping the oars out of two of the crew, and breaking the oar of a third.’
The lifeboats and coastguard provided assistance to many vessels including brigs, ‘Mary’ of South Shields and ‘Lily’, a French brig ‘Jeune Adolphi’ of Nantes, a Dutch galliot ‘Herbruder’ and the schooners ‘Glastry’, ‘Bosphorus’ and ‘Arun’. Some of the crews brought safely ashore, as well as those drowned, were from France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway. Local fishing families had to wait for news of missing vessels. Whilst the Scarborough smack ‘Achilles’ weathered the storm, losing her top mast but coming ashore with a full crew and good cargo of fish, others perished, with three skippers lost.
John Robson, smack ‘Diligent’, James Pardon, ‘Denison’ and John Race, smack ‘Alexandria’ were all swept overboard and drowned. Mr W Rowntree of St Nicholas Street launched an appeal for the families. People could contribute at numerous places including all the banks. One of the fishermen was single but the others had families with 11 children between them. It was reported that ‘Both [families] are without resources and are objects of the deepest sympathy.’
The Scarborough Gazette, 2 December 1880, reported a meeting at the Town Hall when dignitaries gathered to pay tribute to the Lifeboat. The Coxswain, John Oxson, was awarded a silver medal by the RNLI and a reward of £10 was given to crewmembers for their services. ‘It will be remembered that during that terrible time the Lifeboat went off five times, and returned with twenty eight lives from the vessels stranded here.’
The coastguard were not forgotten. Mention was paid to their use of the rocket apparatus in saving the crews from two Dutch vessels
This extract is reproduced, with permission, from a longer article by the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre.