From: Sea Breezes The P.S.N.C. Magazine Edited by F. W. Siddall No. 91, Vol. X. June, 1927
Article by G A Cockell written in 1903
The casualty which overtook the four-mast barque Hougomont on 27th February 1903, when she stranded on the front doorstep of the little village of Allonby, is not yet forgotten in West Cumberland. This fine vessel, 2,240 tons net register, built in 1897, was a unit of Messrs. John Hardie’s fleet of big sailers, many of which bore names reminiscent of Napoleonic battlefields.
The Hougomont left San Francisco on 9th October 1902 bound for Liverpool with a crew of thirty under the command of Captain C. Lowe, who was accompanied by his wife. The cargo consisted of 1,000 tons of wheat and 1,000 tons of barley in bags, together with 1,900 tons of tinned fruits and salmon in cases.
After an uneventful passage of 123 days Hougomont arrived off Point Lynas but was unable to obtain either tug or pilot. The weather being southerly and dirty at the time she was driven to leeward. On the morning of 25th February 1903, Maryport people were treated to a magnificent sight as a lofty four-master came sailing up the Solway Firth with nearly every stitch of canvas set. The crowd watched her reduce sail and saw her smartly rounded to an anchor in Maryport Roads, there the await a tug boat.
Speculation was rife as to her identity as no such vessel was expected in Cumbrian ports. It was the Hougomont. The owners sent the Brilliant Star to tow her to her destination and they set off at 4pm on the 26th but destiny had prepared adventure for the Hougomont, as we shall see.
The weather broke that night. A sou’west gale of hurricane violence which was experienced throughout the British Isles, sprang up and scattered desolation on land and sea. During the night tug and tow parted company. The Brilliant Star managed to reach Maryport Harbour in a battered condition and reported the loss of her charge.
Meantime Hougomont drove up the Solway at the mercy of wind and tide. Captain Lowe, who had commanded big ships for over 30 years, stated that in all his long experience he had never spent such a night afloat. Rockets were sent up and distress signals displayed but the weather conditions prevented their being seen. Finally, the vessel stranded at six in the morning at Allonby Bay, but she was not observed until day broke, when her towering mizzen and jigger masts showed up above the haze which enveloped her.
Soon after she struck, her fore topgallant mast carried away bringing down the top hamper, which, in its train, brought down the main top-gallant and royal masts, leaving a tangled and swaying mass to add to the terrors of the situation. Daylight revealed the forms of the crew clinging to the after-rigging, where they had to remain until the lifeboat from Maryport could reach the stranded vessel.
The wind hauled to nor’west and continued to rage with unabated fury which, combined with the rising tide, drove the vessel higher and higher up the strand on each successive roller until she came to rest near the Grapes Inn. Wind and sea were now broadside on and presented an indescribably grand but awesome spectacle as the great waves swept continuously over the decks of the stricken ship and spent themselves in multi-coloured spray.
Havoc was wrought about the decks, and everything movable washed overboard. The cabin and crew’s quarters were gutted, while the hatches were burst open and thousands of cases of tinned fruits and salmon were strewn along the beach. To the watchers on shore, who were powerless to render assistance, it looked as though the ship must go to pieces and drown every soul on board.
Owing to the conflicting orders reaching the lifeboat station at Maryport, it was high tied – about 11 am – before the lifeboat reached the vessel and rescued the crew from their perilous and nerve-racking position, many of them being quite exhausted. On reaching the shore the rescued, every one of whom was soaked to the skin and chilled to the marrow, were shown great hospitality by the villagers, who supplied them with clothing, boots and food, all of which were doubly welcome after their terrifying experience. The following day, which was gloriously fine, the crew paid off, left for Maryport and there entrained for their various homes.
People travelled from near and far to see the way the elements had played with the big ship which presented a most unusual sight. Many of them did not go empty away for they retrieved not only tins but cases of fruit and salmon. It is recorded that one worthy came with his horse and cart and secured a goodly supply of the delicacies of the Pacific slopes and waters. One night his premises were raided and stocks depleted considerably. The depredation was promptly reported to the police, who informed the Receiver of Wreck. One can readily imagine the chagrin of the salver on being relieved of the whole of his “catch”. Nevertheless, then and for long afterwards, there was no scarcity of those tasty viands in the vicinity of Allonby.
Captain (now, Sir) Frederick Young, of the Liverpool Salvage Association, appeared early on the scene and as a result of his labours Hougomont was refloated on 15th March; but it took two ten-inch pumps going full bore to keep the ship afloat. She again anchored in Maryport Roads, this time with a view to divers stopping the leaks, but bad weather came on before the task was completed. The following day Captain Young decided there was only one course left open to him if the Solway was not yet to claim his prize, and that was to put into Maryport.
Action was prompt. With the tugs Cruiser and Wrestler assisting, the harbour was successfully negotiated at high water. The excessive draft of the water-logged ship left only a few inches under her keel. As she wallowed along before a whole gale from West-North-West it is safe to assume that Captain Nelson, the harbourmaster, and Captain Dawson, his deputy, both had a bad five minutes until the big ship was clear of the channel and in a position of safety, which was achieved only by the skill and daring of those in charge of the respective undertakings working harmoniously together. In these circumstances Hougomont figured largely in the re-insurance market at Lloyd’s.
After discharging a large part of her cargo at Maryport Hougomont was repaired temporarily and sailed on 31st March, in tow of the salvage steamer Ranger, for Liverpool, where she completed discharge and then proceeded to Greenock to refit. This done, in a few months she set out for Victoria, B.C., in all the glory of her former rig and made an average passage of 139 days.
Five years later Hougomont was again very much in evidence at Lloyd’s. After discharging a cargo at Coquimbo, she was ordered to Tocopilla to load, and sailed accordingly on 9th July, 1908. She never reached there that voyage- and thereby hangs a tale. The passage meant simply a drift of 500 miles up the coast. Unfortunately, the wind fell away when the barque was off her port and the current whisked her northward as far as the latitude of Callao. After striving vainly for a month to get back Captain J. Macmillan – who is not to be confused with the D. S. Macmillan who commanded the big sailers Corunna, Nivelle and Vimeira of the same firm and was afterwards torpedoed and lost in their steamer Caldergrove – gave it up and bore away for Australia.
Meantime no little anxiety was felt for the safety of ship and crew, which was reflected at Lloyd’s where up to 80 guineas per cent. were paid on her for re-insurance. Making a fairly good passage across the Pacific Hougomont arrived off Sydney Heads where she signalled. With the reading of her numbers came the solution of what had up till then been another of the mysteries of old ocean. Great was the commotion in the shipping world, and great the joy among the relatives of the crew, when the report was flashed to this side. She was ordered to Newcastle to load for the West Coast, and while lying there was known as ” the ship that came back.”
Yet another little adventure of the Hougomont may be of interest. On 22nd December 1014, she left the Thames for New York with a cargo of chalk. During a dense fog on 6th February 1915, she stranded on Fire Island, just outside New York, as portrayed in the photo.
Fortunately, she was refloated a few days later little the worse for her experience. Having discharged her chalk cargo, she loaded general for Melbourne and tripped out in 104 days.
Two years ago, Hougomont was sold to Finland and is still sailing under original name. At the beginning of last year, she arrived at London from Lobos Isles via Panama Canal and so dodged the rigours of Cape Horn for once.
The foregoing remarks serve to show that the fortunes of the barque Hougomont varied no less than did those of the old Chateau on the Field of Waterloo, after which she was named.
G. A. COCKELL. 1903
Source: Sea Breezes The P.S.N.C. Magazine Edited by F. W. Siddall No. 91, starts Vol. X. June, 1927