Index

Narrative

Crew Lists for the Avalanche

Passenger Lists for the Avalanche

Crew Lists for the Forrest

The Inquiry

The Rescuers

 
The Loss of the Avalanche and the Forest on the night of 11 Sep 1877


On the evening of Tuesday, 11th September 1877,  with a south-westerly gale blowing,  seas rough and visibility bad, two ships were proceeding down the English Channel to the south-east of Portland and within sight of the Shambles Lightship, Dorset.

The Avalanche saw the red light of another ship close-hauled on the starboard tack and should have given way,  but remained on course while the master of the Forest watched the green light until he lost sight of it taking immediate action little knowing that at that moment, the Avalanche also moved off course in a desperate manoeuvre to avoid the collision, but it was too late and placed her broadside across the Forest's bows which were high in the water and rebounded and continued to strike the iron vessel along her port side and caused overwhelming damage.

The Avalanche sank within a few minutes and only 3 members of her crew managed to leap onto the forecastle of the Forest:   3rd Mate Sherrington, ABs Mills and McCarthy:   Ship's Carpenter Jamieson was picked up later.

The damage to the Forest was also severe and it was soon noted that the pumps were unable to cope with the incoming water and depending on which report one reads within fifteen minutes or within the hour the order was given to abandon ship and 3 boats were launched:  one of the boats picked up  the Avalanche's ship's carpenter.

However, by morning only one boat survived with Captain Lockhart in charge who took the advice of  Avalanche survivor  AB Mills, a local man, from Bridport, Dorset who advised standing off  shore until daylight in the hope that they might be sighted by local fishermen who would then help them to land safely.

The following morning on Portland Thomas Pitt was beach-combing at dawn, as is the custom for some following a storm, and with the wind still strong and the sea very rough and he found a body and broken boat and sought help from those living nearby in Chiswell, the village which backs onto the Chesil Beach.

John Gibbs and his neighbours searched for survivors but only found five more bodies, but at about 0800 a boat was observed some distance off-shore and fisherman Joe Shaddock called for volunteers to launch a Lerret, a boat especially designed and locally built to suit the unique conditions encountered on the Chesil Beach.  When the boat reached the Forest's boat they found twelve exhausted men aboard and realized they would be unable to land with more than 6 extra men, so signalled for assistance.

A second Lerret soon set off and having overcome the dangers of transferring the survivors to the lerrets they returned to the beach and having overcome the difficult and sometimes dangerous task of landing in a heavy surf,  the twelve survivors were taken into local homes, where they were welcomed and given much needed help and comfort.

[On a personal note:  having watched one of the last of the Lerrets being rowed out through the surf in order to go fishing and then return later back through the surf in a light sou' westerly on-shore blow I must admit to being more than impressed by the skill, fitness, strength and timing of the exercise, which at one time would have been carried out several times a day, weather permitting]

The loss of the Avalanche dealt a sad blow to many communities in New Zealand as many of the passengers onboard were returning home.

^ back to top ^