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Man saves sailors from sinking boat

Year 1833

Read by Justina Gilbert – Trustee, Royal Humane Society

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Prescot, 6th Dec, 1833.

Sir, — In reply to your inquiry of the 9th inst. respecting the meritorious conduct of Mr. Richard Sumner, Surgeon, on the late melancholy occasion of the wreck of the pilot-boat “Good Intent,” I beg leave to state, that the village of Formby, situated about thirteen miles from Liverpool, on the north shore, has presented, since Friday 9th December 1833, a most melancholy and heartrending scene, from the distressing wreck of No. 1. Pilot-boat, with the loss of the greater part of her efficient crew, four of whom were picked up dead, and deposited in an out-house adjoining Formby Church, to await the result of a Coroner’s inquest, which took place this day ; the bodies of the remaining nine of the crew, who fell victims to the tempestuous and unruly storm, which visited this part of the country on Thursday and Friday last, have not yet been washed ashore.

On Sunday the scene witnessed was very affecting, from the circumstance of the mourning relatives of the deceased crew pouring into the village to seek their own, some weeping bitterly for the loss of fathers, and others for the loss of brothers and husbands, and many without even the gratification of finding their mortal remains, four only being rescued from a grave in the deep. The boat, which was exceedingly well manned and rigged, was one of the class of pilot-boats belonging to this port, having a complement of twenty-one men for her crew, which had been engaged on the night of Thursday last in piloting vessels outward bound, and, in consequence of the foggy state of the weather, they were unable to ascertain their true situation, at which time the storm raged terrifically, the sea rolling mountains high.

In this dangerous situation the vessel was driven towards the Lancashire shore near to Formby. About half-past six o’clock on Friday morning signals of distress were perceived by the inhabitants on shore, but the state of the weather was such that no person durst venture out to their rescue. About seven o’clock the sea broke violently over the vessel, and washed overboard Edward Webster and Henry Hughes, who, although good swimmers, sank to rise no more. At this time the punt got adrift of the chocks, and the sea washed away or unshipped the main boom, which was thrown across the deck, and the main sail, in consequence, became of no service. The hapless crew, having thus been deprived of the management of the vessel, did all they could to keep her before the wind, in order to endeavour to re-ship the main boom, and clear the decks ; but although manned (it is said) as well as any boat on the river, they failed in doing so, as the sea was running strong and mountainous. Suddenly another terrific sea broke violently over the vessel, washed away the skylight, and filled the cabin with water. The exhausted crew immediately applied their feeble strength to the pumps, in the hope of baling her out, but without avail. They were then before the wind, the gib and foresail were blown to fragments, and shortly afterwards she struck upon Formby beach. This was at no great distance from the shore, and the inhabitants could plainly perceive the whole of the devastating and distressing work of the raging elements, which now appeared more boisterous than the most experienced seaman or pilot of the river ever recollects it to have been.

Immediately on the vessel striking, which was between eight and nine o’clock, the inhabitants on shore perceived seven of the unfortunate men climbing to the rigging, to which they appeared to cling, and about twelve others contrived to get the punt (a small boat attached to the vessel) alongside, into which they jumped, but they were no sooner in it, than it swamped, and eight of the number perished. Four, with great difficulty, succeeded in swimming to shore, and at the edge of the water they were dragged out more dead than alive by the villagers.

Shortly after the punt sinking, the unfortunate men who had been clinging to the rigging dropped from exhaustion into the water, and were never seen again ; one of them, named Bates, who had stationed himself at the top of the rigging, was seen to jump overboard into a raging sea, and it is considered by some of his surviving companions that he did so in a fit of delirium ; the people on shore, when he plunged into the water, fancied he had left the top of the rigging to speak to the men in the lower rigging. At this period (about two o’clock) six were seen apparently alive, still holding fast to the rigging, in which situation, with the heavy seas continually washing over them, the wretched sufferers had remained since half- past eight o’clock in the morning, no one daring to brave the tempestuous billows to succour them ; and when the storm began to subside, although nearly one hundred spectators stood gazing at the wreck and the sufferings of the crew, none seemed inclined to proceed to their rescue.

At length Mr. Richard Sumner, a surgeon of Formby, stripped himself, and, with a bottle of rum tied round his neck, plunged into the sea and swam towards the wreck, which, with great difficulty, he reached. On boarding the wreck, Mr. Sumner found one man lifeless, enshrouded in the rigging (Underwood), and the rest (excepting Lancaster) almost dead, and foaming at the mouth. With the assistance of Lancaster, a stout man, who appeared quite fresh, he administered rum, from the effects of which they partially revived, but remained quite senseless. He then got the punt righted, and, by its aid, succeeded in bringing the sufferers to shore. During the whole time Mr. Sumner was exerting himself, the listless spectators did not appear anxious to lend the least assistance, and, even when the rum was required, he had to pay sixpence to a person to fetch it from a neighbouring public-house. On being brought to shore, the seamen gradually recovered ; but they had previously been in such a torpid state of insensibility, that they were not aware by what means they had been got ashore.

There were none of the survivors examined in consequence of the precarious state of their health from the effects of cold, and other injuries sustained in. the wreck. The Coroner, in summing up the evidence, paid a well-merited compliment to Mr. Sumner, the surgeon, for his almost unexampled exertions and humanity on behalf of the survivors, which the master pilot present cordially joined in. — Liverpool Standard, Dec. 3, 1833.

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