Tag Archives: shipwreck

Silver, Survival and Salvage

Here, at last, is the information on the Gibraltar £20 coin I mentioned a few days ago.

There is a tradition in Numismatic circles for collecting coins from shipwrecks, indeed we had a talk on this subject just a few weeks ago at the Numismatic Society of Nottinghamshire. Sadly, I had one of my senior moments and completely forgot about it, even though I had intended going. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of shipwreck and treasure and it’s a collecting field that has always interested me. However, you can’t collect everything.

There has also been a fascination for collecting relics of ships. It is still possible, if you go round antique centres, to pick up small barrels and oddments like paper knives made from the deck timber of ships like the Warspite, Iron Duke and Ajax. Copper from Nelson’s Victory has also been used to make souvenirs, such as this copper fob from the British and Foreign which we currently have for sale on eBay.

Despite the photos, it’s only about an inch across.

 

More recently, I bought some key rings made from the bronze of the Queen Mary’s propellers, and also have some copper cash coins from the Admiral Gardner, which sunk on the Goodwin Sands in 1809.

This year, I have seen mementoes made from the silver recovered from the SS Gairsoppa.

The Gairsoppa, originally built as the War Roebuck, was completed in 1919 by Palmers of Jarrow, just in time to miss the Great War, and was named after the city of Gerusoppa in the state of Mysore. She had one touch of drama in her career in the Merchant Fleet, with just one touch of adventure when she ran aground  at Fulta Point on the South Eastern coast of India in 1930.

Palmers closed in 1933 after a long struggle to stay in business during the depression, and the unemployment this caused precipitated the Jarrow March.

In early 1941, whilst carrying a cargo of pig iron, tea and silver, she joined a convoy at Freetown, Sierra Leone to complete a voyage from India to the UK. Running short of fuel, she had to reduce speed, drop out of the convoy and head for Ireland to take on coal. On 16 February 1941, she was spotted by a Focke-Wulf Condor aircraft and was attacked by U-101 later that day, being sunk by a torpedo attack.

There were 82 men on board. Only one lifeboat launched successfully and out of the six men on board three died in the next two weeks. The boat capsized on the fourteenth day and the Lizard lifeboat was only able to rescue one survivor, Second Officer R. H. Ayres.

Sunk by submarine, fourteen days in an open boat, five men dying before rescue…

I can write the facts, but I can’t come up with anything that remotely does justice to the experience. While writing this post I found this item on an on-line forum – amazing to read the words of the man in question. His account doesn’t match up with the Wiki entry, but I suspect it’s more accurate.

The researcher who contacted him did a fine job, as modesty could have prevented us ever knowing the full story.

The eleven British casualties are recorded on theTower Hill Memorial, or, in two cases, on  a headstone in the cemetery at Landewednack. The seventy one Indian seamen are commemorated on the Chittagong War Memorial.

The epic nature of the story does not end there, because in 2011 an American salvage company located the wreck and, under licence from the British Government, began lifting the silver. So far they have recovered 61 tonnes, or just over half of the 110 tonnes known to be on board. At 15,000 feet deep (half a mile deeper than the RMS Titanic) this is the record for a salvage operation.

Of course, if the ship didn’t contain silver this would be considered plundering, piracy or desecration of a war grave. It’s amazing how a mountain of silver can make the moral compass swing.

In 2014 the Royal Mint struck 20,000 Quarter Ounce Britannias, using some of the silver.

The Gibraltar Mint followed up in 2016 with a specially made £20 coin, featuring a seafarer design and containing Gairsoppa silver.

The title of the coin is taken from a John Masefield  poem, For All Seafarers. It isn’t, in my opinion, one of his best, but it does make a number of telling points.

For all Seafarers

Even in peace, scant quiet is at sea;
In war, each revolution of the screw,
Each breath of air that blows the colours free.
May be the last life movement known to you.

Death, thrusting up or down, may disunite
Spirit from body, purpose from the hull,
With thunder, bringing leaving of the light,
With lightning letting nothingness annul.

No rock, no danger, bears a warning sign,
No lighthouse scatters welcome through the dark;
Above the sea, the bomb ; afloat, the mine;
Beneath, the gangs of the torpedo-shark.

Year after year, with insufficient guard,
Often with, none, you have adventured thus:
Some, reaching harbour, maimed and battle-scarred,
Some, never more, returning, lost to us.

But, if you ‘scape, tomorrow, you will steer
To peril once again, to bring us bread,
To dare again, beneath the sky off ear,
The moon-moved graveyard of your brothers dead.

You were salvation to the army lost,
Trapped, but for you, upon the Dunkirk beach;
Death barred the way to Russia, but you crosst;
To Crete and Malta, but you succoured each.

Unrecognised, you put us in your debt;
Unthanked, you enter, or escape, the grave;
Whether your land remember or forget
You saved the land, or died to try to save.

John Masefield

Cromer Pier

We manged to find a parking space within striking distance of the pier this time, though I decided not to go all the way down the ramp to the pier. Downhill walking isn’t good for bad knees – I know this from past experience. And then there would have been the problem of getting back up to the top.

I like Cromer, but I do think they could have built the pier in a more convenient place. Next to a car park, for instance. (This, if I’d known, was to become something of a motif over the next few days).

About 500 yards from the end of the pier a very strange shipwreck took place on 9th August 1888 when the paddle steamer Victoria  hit a church tower. Yes, that’s right, a ship sank after hitting a church tower. It actually wedged itself on the tower of the lost village of Shipden – originally lost to the sea in the late 13th century. Even then, it didn’t actually sink until they used dynamite to remove the tower and blew a hole in the bottom of the steamer.

That has little to do with the pier, but it’s such a great piece of trivia I felt you’d excuse me.

There have been a number of piers in Cromer. The first one known was mentioned in a document of 1390. Several have been destroyed – one by a storm and one by a ship. The current one was opened in 1902.

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Cromer Pier – a fine looking pier

It’s a fine looking pier, even from a distance, and a tribute to the owners (North Norfolk District Council) and the amount of work they have done to keep it up to standard. It’s recently been cut in half by a drifting barge (1993) and damaged by a storm surge in 2013.  Other people obviously like it too, it’s been Pier of the Year in 2000 and 2015.

It claims to be “One of only five UK seaside pier’s with a full working, flourishing theatre and home to the only end of pier show of it’s kind in the World!”.  I don’t want to get into an argument about it, as I don’t have any evidence one way or the other, or know what the definition of an end of the pier show is. I’m also suspicious about anything using the words “of it’s kind”.

Apart from the obvious problem of weasel words being used by a marketing team there’s the problem of apostrophe abuse. If they can get their apostrophes wrong, what else can you get wrong?

Even without the pier Cromer would be an interesting place. This is the Hotel de Paris. After photographing the pier all I needed to do was turn round and take this picture.

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Hotel de Paris – Cromer

It was originally opened in 1830 by Pierre le Françoise, who had come to England as a child when his family fled the revolution in France.  It was successful and several notable people stayed – including Edward VII and Oscar Wilde (though probably not together).

I looked it up on the Internet – prices seem quite reasonable. We may be back.

 

 

Christmas in Suffolk

We have just spent Christmas in Suffolk, though I didn’t say so at the time in case there are any burglars who follow the blog. I have a lifetime accumulation of tat in the house and you can’t be too careful. It would be virtually impossible to replicate the collection these days, particularly the shelves of 1970s paperbacks that fall apart when you open them up.

It started badly when my leg started playing up in the week before we left. Then I started sneezing. And coughing. By the time we got down to Suffolk I was ready to convalesce.

At that point my arthritic finger came into play. At first it just ached, then I caught it in a cupboard door on Christmas Day. That made my eyes water. It also rendered me fairly useless, and one-handed, for Boxing Day. Fortunately everything is recovering now and the leg and finger are back to imperfect normality.

The cottage itself was wonderful and the owners had put up Christmas decorations and left gifts (a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates). Despite my various trials we had and excellent dinner and a fun visit from Julia’s brother and his wife. We also had time for jigsaws, chess and dominoes (all provided). The jigsaw had all its pieces but the chess set and dominoes didn’t, which can be a bit tricky.

The unusual name comes from the name of a shipwreck which provided the timbers for the building in the seventeenth century. Unfortunately I can’t find further details, though there are some interesting wrecks of this name, including three around Australia  and one in the North Sea (when a U-Boat sank over a dozen trawlers).

After the first day the weather was wet and wintry until it was time to come home.

Looks like we’ll have to go back when the weather is better.