Loss of emigrant ship Lockwoods 1839

Lockwoods
Foundered Tuesday 8th Jan 1839 on banks off Liverpool.
British registered; 872 tons;
Captain: Sproule; 25 crew (1 lost)
86 passengers (52 lost)


From painting by J. Buttersworth of the emigrant ship Lockwoods aground during the Liverpool hurricane of 1839 with the P. S. Victoria giving assistance.

The Lockwoods was a Liverpool owned ship of 872 tons with 25 crew which was transporting 86 passengers (4 cabin and 82 steerage) to New York. Many passengers were family groups emigrating to America. Under the command of Captain G. Sproule, she sailed from Liverpool at 1pm on Sunday and headed for Anglesey. Around 10pm the storm commenced and her topsails were blown out. On Monday the storm was still raging from the NW at hurricane strength and, at midday, her foresail was blown out of the bolt rope. The wind eased somewhat on Monday night and the crew were able to get some sails set and make back for Liverpool. Arriving on Tuesday morning off the entrance to the Rock channel, they flew a flag to request a pilot and searched for the Northwest Lightship which marked the channel entrance. Seeing a mast with a flag flying, the masterdecided it must be the lightship and headed for it. [The lightship had been driven from its mooring by the storm - a fact not known to the Lockwoods]. Instead it was a sloop that had been wrecked on the sandbank with some tattered sail flying from its mast. Realising they were not in the correct channel, they let go the anchors. By now it was midday and the seas were very steep in the shallow water. The anchor cables parted and the ship was driven onto the sandbank about 3 miles north of Leasowe.

The seas broke over her and filled the ship. Pilot Boat No. 5 was seen nearby and Captain Sproule decided to go for assistance. The Captain's gig was lowered, it overturned on launching but was righted by the carpenter. The Captain, carpenter, steward and 2 cabin passengers set off in the gig to the Pilot Boat to seek assistance. The paddle tug P. S. Victoria was nearby and the Pilot Boat transferred them to the tug. The pinnace of the Lockwoods with more of her crew and two passengers then set out. The pinnace was in danger of being swamped so the P. S. Victoria came alongside it and took everyone aboard just before the pinnace sank after getting under the paddle wheel of the steamer. The P. S. Victoria had set out with the Magazines lifeboat in tow. If this had been available it would have facilitated getting the rest of the passengers and crew off the Lockwoods. The lifeboat had already participated in saving men from the St. Andrew and the man in charge refused to remain at sea. The pilots aboard the P. S. Victoria had offered to man the lifeboat but the offer was refused, the tow rope was cut and the lifeboat returned to its station under sail.

The P. S. Victoria, at great risk to herself, went in close to the starboard quarter of the Lockwoods so that people could jump to safety. Attempts were made to secure her alongside but the hawser broke. As the tide level fell and darkness came, it became more and more dangerous to attempt any more rescue and the P. S. Victoria returned to Liverpool with 56 persons saved from the Lockwoods and St. Andrew. For those remaining on the Lockwoods, the situation was grim. Waves were breaking over the deck and there was a bitingly cold wind. The mate Thomas Fleck with two crew and many passengers were still aboard, mostly in the mizzen rigging, but at 3am the ship began to break up so, fearing the mast would fall, they got down onto the poop deck. Here the seas washed over them and many of the passengers perished from the cold or drowned. The scene on the Lockwoods was pitiful with bodies hanging lifeless in the rigging and over the side.

The P. S. Victoria returned before daybreak to lend assistance as soon as practicable. She had two gigs in tow but the sea state was too rough for them. A Hoylake fishing boat came out and, with two extra hands aboard, it was towed by the P. S. Victoria to the wreck and took 22 off the Lockwoods in two trips. One man refused to leave the wreck as he had his unconscious wife in his arms. They were taken aboard the Hoylake lifeboat which came out later.

While 24 of the 25 crew were rescued, only 34 of the 86 passengers were saved. The first mate, Mr. Fleck, stayed aboard until last and was highly praised. Captain Sproule was criticised for leaving first but it was pointed out that taking the gig was risky and that he returned aboard the P. S. Victoria to assist rescue operations. Captain Eccles of the P. S. Victoria was most highly praised and the pilots were commended for volunteering. Of the Magazines lifeboat, nobody had a good word to say, while the Hoylake lifeboat only ventured out when shamed by a fishing boat.

Eyewitness report, from the inquest, by Thomas Fleck:

I was 1st mate on board the Lockwoods, burthen of which was 872 tons, with a crew of 25, captain and officers included, and the ship properly equipped for a voyage to New York. We sailed on Sunday between 1 and 2pm, the wind being moderate from the S.S.E, we went down the new deep with a pilot on board. About dark there was every appearance of a storm approaching and we then commenced reefing our sails. About midnight it blew a hurricane, the last land we saw was between Point Lynas and the Great Ormes Head. The next morning we could not tell exactly where we were, we had been drifting down the Lancaster coast, about 3pm we found ourselves off Black Combe. We hoisted the fore-top-mast staysail and the ship wore round and we made for Liverpool. After leaving Black Combe the next land we made was about the Ormes Head, the gale still blowing. It was then about 10am on Tuesday. As we had no canvas to take the ship out, we bore towards Liverpool. We kept the lead constantly going, and by the means of that and the run we had made, we expected to have seen the floating-light about 12 noon, or else a pilot-boat. We had a jack flying for a pilot. About 1pm clock we struck on a bank, which I think is the North Bank. Not seeing the light-ship to guide us we were all abroad in our calculations. About half an hour before we struck I saw a steam-boat plying about to windward, but I do not know her name. After we had struck on the bank I saw a pilot-boat and a steam-boat, the latter of which proved to be the Victoria. I went forward to get the pinnace ready, the captain being then aft on the poop, the pinnace was lying bottom upwards, on top of the long-boat, and we had this canted ready for use. After some time I returned aft, and found that the captain and some men had left the ship in the captain's gig. After the captain had gone I waited to see if the steam-tug or pilot-boat would render any assistance before I launched the pinnace. The crew got very uneasy, and the seas began to wash over the ship, the crew were determined to launch the pinnace, and I said they might do so if they would take some of the people with them. The 2nd mate and some of the crew left in the pinnace, together with two of the passengers, and were taken up by the steam-tug. As soon as it was practicable the steam-tug ran under our starboard quarter, and many people on board the Lockwoods jumped on board the steam-tug. The steam-tug struck against us once or twice, once very heavily.The people on the steam-tug used every exertion to make fast a hawser, and threw us a small line, and I made fast a hawser to it, but as soon as they were made fast, they broke. The steam-tug remained with us until about 7pm, and then left us. There were as many got on board up to her leaving as could, but, had she remained longer, more might have been saved. If the steam-tug had remained in the channel till low water, the sea would then have been calmer. The steam-tug however could not have got alongside of us before, but a small boat could have plied betwixt us. Had the life-boat remained with the steam-tug, I think all hands might have been saved. At daylight the next morning I saw the steam-tug, and at 8am she came nearer to us in the channel, and the Hoylake boat was coming off from the main. It was about 3am on Wednesday that the ship began to break up, and several passengers on board were washed away. Before the ship began to break up, part of the passengers were in the mizzen rigging and part in the mizzen-top, and fearing the mast would fall, we all came down again to the poop. The sea at this time was washing right over us, and there was only two of the crew besides myself left on board, all the rest, excepting one who was drowned during the night, having been taken away by the steam-tug. From the time the steam-tug left us on Tuesday night, till the following morning a great number of the passengers perished. I counted about 30 dead on the poop in the morning, all of whom, I think, died of the cold and the sea washing over them. The Hoylake boat, on Wednesday morning, took the remainder of the survivors from the wreck. There was one passenger who would not leave the wreck, as his wife was then nearly dead, I did all I could to persuade him, and even got a rope tied around him, and got him to the side, and after all he would not leave. Excepting him, I was the last man to leave, and before doing so I overhauled every part of the wreck to ascertain if there was anyone else alive on board, and I would not even then have left without the woman, but the boatmen said they would not have any half-dead people on board, and if I did not come they would leave me too. I was then taken on board the steam-tug, and I immediately informed them of the two I had left on board. They then towed up the life-boat abreast of the wreck and the man and woman were taken away by the life-boat. I believe there were between 80 and 90 passengers. During the night of Tuesday I went down to the cabin, and found some ale, porter and spirits, which I distributed amongst the survivors.

Note that the same hurricane caused many wrecks in the Irish Sea. The Northwest Light Vessel was driven from its moorings which resulted in the grounding and loss of Trans-Atlantic Passenger vessels St. Andrews and Pennsylvania ( nearby to the site of the wreck of the Lockwoods): see Liverpool Hurricane of 1839.

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