|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.
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
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
[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
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