Ryde Lifeboat Disaster 1 January 1907
The Selina Lifeboat Disaster – New Years Day 1907
In the early afternoon of New Years Day 1907, Augustus Jarrett, master of the 56 ton barge “Jane”, complained to Mr Brooks, Chief Officer of the Coastguards, that a boat belonging to the barge had been stolen and he was referred to the police. It was later thought the boat had not been tied up properly and the rising tide and wind had carried her away.
Later in the afternoon a man was seen to put off from the Dover Street slipway in a small boat and was observed sculling, with some difficulty, near the Sewer Buoy. If he had realised it was low tide, he could have waded ashore as he was only in about three feet of water. On seeing the man adrift, George Jeffery, one of the lifeboat crew who was employed on the pier, put off in a boat but was unable to reach the man and turned back. He reported to the coxswain, William John Bartlett, and the signal to call out the lifeboat “Selina” was given just after five o’clock.
The “Selina”, a 30 foot wooden non self-righting lifeboat of the whale boat class, was specially designed and constructed with a view to rendering assistance in relatively smooth and shallow waters to yachts when anchored off Ryde in stormy weather. She was never intended to be a sea-going lifeboat. Stationed at Ryde in July 1905, she was provided with all the proper equipment and manned by a crew of nine men. When under sail, she carried a small jib, a lug-sail and a small triangular mizen; the whole canvas area totalling 173 square feet. She also pulled eight oars and was steered with a yoke.
The “Selina” left Ryde at about 5:30 pm on Tuesday 1st January 1907 with the full complement of crew on board: William John Bartlett, coxswain, George Jeffery, bowman, Ernest Cotton, Alfred Linington, senior, Alfred Linington, junior, Daniel Reeves, Albert Reeves, Henry Heward, second coxswain, and Frank Haynes, commissioned boatman of Coastguards.
Under sail, the boat behaved well going eastwards towards the Sandhead buoy and then to Horse Sand Fort and Norman Fort in what turned out to be a futile search as the crew saw nothing. After communicating with the “Warner” lightship and finding no further information they decided to return to Ryde. The sea was choppy and the weather squally. Close to the Bell buoy, about 200 yards from the pier, and having passed the No. 6 chequered buoy, the “Selina” was struck by a sudden and heavy squall and capsized immediately throwing the crew into the icy cold water. They had nothing to hold on to and nothing to signal with.
In the darkness, the boat drifted at the mercy of the wind and tides across the Solent with the crew clinging to its keel and finally beached at Southsea some 20 yards from Southsea Castle at about 1:30 am. A policeman on duty, P.C. Vines, seeing her and hearing the cries of the crew, summoned the Coastguard and finally the survivors were rescued although in an exhausted state. Unfortunately two of the lifeboat crew, Frank Haynes and Henry Heward, died after succumbing to exhaustion and exposure in the cold seas despite the efforts of their colleagues to hold them above the water. Their bodies were washed up at Southsea later that night.
The man they set out to rescue, who turned out to be Augustus Jarrett himself, had managed to scull across the Solent landing opposite Eastney Barracks at Southsea earlier the same evening and it would appear at no time was he ever in any real danger. When interviewed Jarrett stuck to his story the boat had been stolen and said he later found it at the Dover Street Slipway. He set out to return to his barge but was soon in difficulty, breaking two of his thole-pins. He got out of the boat on the sands but did not have sufficient power to move it. He got back into the boat to try again and eventually sculled across the Solent.
The funeral of Frank Haynes and Henry Heward took place in Ryde the following Monday afternoon and was attended by huge crowds of people who lined the streets and literally filled the Cemetery. The funeral cortege, passing through Pier Street and Union Street to St. James Church, was lead by a firing party of the Coastguards from the Cowes Division who marched with arms reversed. Flags were flown at half-mast at the Town Hall, the Pier, The Coastguard Station and the Castle as well as at many private houses while shutters were up and blinds down along most of the route.
After the service at the Church, the procession reformed in Lind Street which was thronged with people. The service was made more poignant by the presence of a little white coffin containing the body of Haynes’s three month old daughter, Edith Louisa Haynes, who predeceased him on 30th December 1906. The Church bell rung out as the long line proceeded through the High Street and Hill Street to the Cemetery. The Rev. R R Cousens gave an address at the graves which were side by side, three volleys were fired and the “Last Post” sounded. The crowd slowly filed past the graves in a mark of respect for the gallant lifeboatmen who perished in the terrible tragedy of the “Selina” lifeboat. The graves are marked by headstones and anchors.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution made a grant of £200 with “an expression of deep regret and with the sincere sympathy of the Committee” to the fund opened by the Mayor of Ryde, Albert J Coombes, for the benefit of the dependant relatives of the two lifeboatmen. Special grants were also made to the survivors and to those who gave valuable assistance on the day of the accident.
Inquest and Inquiry
The inquest into the deaths of Haynes and Heward was held at the Town Hall, Portsmouth on Friday 4th January 1907 before the Coroner, T A Bramsdon, M.P. Much of the examination was made to determine why the crew did not use a self-righting boat but the Coroner was satisfied the crew selected the “Selina” as being the right class of lifeboat to be stationed at Ryde and they had every confidence in her.
After hearing all the evidence the Coroner summed up at some length saying the case was “sad indeed because these poor fellows went out as volunteers to try and save the life of another person. As it happened the duty was unnecessary, as the man was saved in another way, but they went out with a noble purpose. The disaster was due to a very heavy gust of wind which struck the boat on her way home.”
Looking at the whole case from beginning to end he said he could not see that there was the slightest blame to attach to anyone, and “a very great deal of praise should be accorded the crew who so gallantly went out to save life, and to the members of the police force and coastguard service who, with equal gallantry, prevented a further disaster.” He also commended the efforts of the Bembridge Lifeboat which had spent three and a half hours searching up and down the Solent for the “Selina” and the row boat.
After a brief deliberation, the Jury returned verdicts of “Accidental Death” on the two lifeboatmen and commended the conduct of the Coastguard and police who provided such valuable aid.
At the Board of Trade inquiry held on 12th February 1907, Commander Warren F Camborne, C.B., R.N.R., said “All sailing boats are likely to capsize under certain conditions if they are not handled with great nicety and judgment at critical periods, and having taken all the evidence and having inspected the “Selina,” I am of the opinion that the disaster was primarily due to her being suddenly struck by a heavy squall too strong for the amount of canvas that was then set, and that, owing to the confidence she had inspired by her previous performances, she was permitted to incline to an angle from which recovery was impossible before the sheets were let go, a manoeuvre which was no doubt executed an instance too late. The loss of life was occasioned by the subsequent exposure to the weather of the crew, who for several hours were clinging to her bottom.”
A poem was written as a tribute to the “Selina” by M A Spencer. It was reproduced as a postcard giving the names of the surviving crew and the two who died.
Ryde Lifeboat Disaster, Jan 1st, 1907.
God bless our gallant lifeboatmen!
Who dared the stormy wave,
Risking their lives, they launch their boat,
A stranger’s life to save.
Wild was the wind, icy the blast,
They strove with might and main,
Long was the search, Alas! they found,
Their search was all in vain.
Returning shorewards, on the pier
The lights of “Home” they see,
The boat capsized! Nine gallant men
Were struggling in the sea.
Through the long watches of the night,
Those gallant seamen bold,
Clung to that upturned, drifting boat,
The strong, the weaker hold.
“Father in Heaven help, and save!”
They cry in grief and fear,
When life and hope are wellnigh gone,
He heard, and help was near.
For willing ears had heard their cry,
And willing hearts and brave,
Stretch willing hands to rescue them,
From death beneath the wave.
But two brave hearts had ceased to beat,
Before they reached the shore,
Two cheery voices, silenced now,
Silent for evermore.
Then let this cry, ascend on high,
From people great and small,
God bless our gallant lifeboatmen,
God bless them! Heroes all!
Sources: Isle of Wight County Press, Board of Trade Inquiry Report.
With thanks to Brian Bosley, great grandson of Alfred Linington senior, for photographs and other information.