La Jetée des Fontaines

La Jetée des Fontaines

The steam tug “Polka” sailed from St.Helier on Monday 15th of September 1850, with Captain Priaulx in command. Although the “Polka” was only a tugboat she carried fifty passengers and crew bound for St. Malo, she had been pressed into service in place of the “Superb” which was undergoing repairs in that port. When the tugboat was about halfway to her destination she sprung a leak and when some five miles of the Minquiers reef she began to sink. Having no pumps the master decided to hold his course and try to reach the reef.

         The vessel was nearing Maitre Ile when she was almost swamped and the Captain with great coolness ordered passengers and crew to abandon the ship, the two lifeboats were lowered and as they pulled away from the ship she disappeared beneath the waves. Arriving safely on the Maitre Ile, the survivors that night light a fire hoping to attract someone to their rescue. The next day running short of food, and no rescue in sight, the Mate, John Fleming rowed out to sea and drew the attention of the SS “Southwestern”. They were picked up and landed in France later that night and in gratitude to the Captain and his crew for their gallant bearing, the passengers made a collection among themselves.

Reports were sent back to Jersey and the people of St. Helier were waiting to welcome back Captain Priaulx and his gallant crew. On September the 17th the steamer “Superb” now fully repaired left St.Malo with sixty passengers and crew, among the passengers were several survivors from the earlier wreck. On approaching the Minquiers, some of these passengers asked Captain Priaulx to show them where the “Polka” sank, rather reluctantly he agreed and the Mate, John Fleming steered the vessel through the eastern passage, only to strike a rock known as “La Pointue du Blanc Roc” which ripped open the steamer and she foundered.

The "Superb" from a print in the Illustrated London News

The “Superb” from a print in the Illustrated London News

As before two lifeboats were lowered but this time there was a great panic and neither the master nor the mate did very much to help. The first boat capsized after the passengers and crew crowded into it, the second one also capsized upon a large lady jumping into it from the deck of the vessel, and most of the twenty persons who were in these boats were drowned. Help was on its way, at 10 a.m. a distress signal was hoisted on Fort Regent and the cutter “Jupiter” immediately set sail for the wreck. At 11.30 a.m. the “Collier” newly arrived in the roads from Shoreham, with Captain Doke in command, also made for the Minquiers.

On arrival at the wreck, Captain Doke found the “Superb” left high an dry on the rock and those persons, including Captain Priaulx, who were still on the vessel’s deck were taken off safely. This second wreck had taken place only 400 yards from that of the “Polka”, but some twenty persons had lost their lives. The “Jupiter” rescued M. Finch, a seaman, Philip Mollet and Philip Cunning, the ship’s carpenter and recovered the body of Mrs Gosset.The other survivors were brought back to St. Helier by the “Collier”.

            At the inquest on the bodies of Mr Issac Gosset and Mrs Gosset (Nee Julia Nicolle) the jury was composed of P.Hemery, J.Godfray, George Ph., Benest, J.Ph.Aubin, Chas Sullivan, P. Bichard, Ph.Rive, F.Le Maistre, Ph.Arthur, Thos.Gray, Nicolas Robillard and Ph.Jenne. Evidence was given by Joseph Johnson, Engineer, Philip Amy, seaman Philip Mollet, seaman Edw.Gaudin, 2nd Mate, Thomas Hamon and John Le Riche, fisherman, Mons. Achille Quera, Henry Lomas and James Harris, passengers and others. The jury brought in a verdict that the wreck of the “Superb” was the result of culpable imprudence on the part of Captain Priaulx, in taking the vessel in a dangerous place, without knowing it, out of its ordinary course on its way from St. Malo to Jersey, and Mr John Fleming who was Mate on board the said steamer, was also guilty of imprudence, in attempting to take the said vessel by that course. Besides Mr Gosset and wife, other persons who lost their lives were:- Mr.Rattenbury, Mr Jackson, his son and daughter, Mr Willis and his niece , Henry Bellot, cook, W.Palmer, Chauffeur, Wm.Craney, cabin boy, Mr Sedgwick, Mr Pinson, Mr Nott of Gorey, Mrs Baker and child, Miss Fanny Price, Miss Watson, Miss Wright and an unidentified gentleman. Five bodies were recovered. Forty persons were saved namely:- J.Terry and his son, J.Hamel of St.Malo, Col.Brock, Achille Quera of Argentan, Geo. Bowerman of Jersey, Dr. Harral, Emile Peigney of Paris, —- Le Gros of St.Malo, John Currier of Birmingham, Benjamin Johnson of London, Robert T. Montieth, Caroline Hambly, Charlotte Maule, Charles Bastin of Paris, G. Pinch of London, Ellen Willis of London (er Uncle and sister were drowned), Alfred De Bailieu of St.Servan, J.B.Hamilton, his wife and two children, Mrs Norman and her daughter, James Harris of Jersey, Henry Lomas, the stewardess (not named), John Frost, William Johnson (engineer), John Steward (seaman), John Bellot (steward), Charles Amy (seaman), Edward Gaudin (second mate), Philip Cunning (carpenter), Philip Mollet (seaman), W.Cox, Nicolas Dupont (pilot) of Guernsey and the Captain and the Mate.

               Four persons who had been saved from the earlier wreck of the “Polka” were aboard the “Superb” and were lost in the second sinking. On their return to the Island, Captain Priaulx and John Fleming had a charge of “criminally causing death” laid against them and they were not allowed to sail again, although John Fleming was back at sea not long after. Later the boilers of both vessels salvaged and brought to the Island, that of the “Polka” was installed in the new steamer “Don” of 24 tons, and that of the “Superb” was used to power the 84 ton “Rose”. Both vessels were built by F.C.Clarke of West Park, and were the first steamers to be built in Jersey. Thomas Rose was the owner of these new ships. At the time of the wreck Thomas Rose owned the “Superb” while the tug “Polka” was owned by a company of fifteen persons, mostly shipowners of course.

 The Wreck of the “polka” steam tug: report in the Jersey Times, Friday, September 20th, 1850

“We have the painful task of recording the loss of the “Polka” steam tug, of this Island; On Monday morning last she left t.Helier, at 11 o’clock, for St.Malo, in the place of the Superb, then undergoing repair, and had about fifty passengers on board. When some six or seven miles this side of Les Minquiers, it was found that she had sprung a leak, and was rapidly filling. She had no pumps and under the circumstances of the case Captain Priaulx, who was in command, deemed it prudent neither to put back for St.Helier nor to go on to St.Malo, but resolved to run the vessel direct for Les Minquiers, and when within about a quarter of a mile off the eastern most rock (Maitre Ile) she was still making water with fearful rapidity, and her fires being out, commenced landing his passengers in the boats- one belonging to the “Polka”, and the other to the “Superb”, which latter Captain Priaulx had the meritorious foresight to take with him, a precaution which in all probability was the preservation of many lives as no sooner was the “Polka” finally cleared of her ? Human freight (with nearly all passengers baggage) than she sank and totally disappeared in the water, as it was high tide at the time. Everyone was safely landed on the rock; It being about one o’clock in the afternoon.

The “Southwestern” steamer, Captain James Goodridge senior, left St.Helier on Tuesday at noon for St.Malo. At between 2 and half past 2 o’clock her look out, a seaman named John Williams observed a number of persons on Maitre Ile, and a small boat pulling out with a white (improvised for the occasion, of very delicate material). This being reported to Captain Goodridge, he by means of his glass made out the persons on the rock, the boat, and the ensign and a white sheet flying as a signal of distress. All hands were called, sail was taken in, and the “south western” bore down towards the boat, which they found with Mr.Fleming (Mate of the “Polka”) and one of the “Polka’s” crew in her, they having volunteered to put off on the lookout for the “South-western”. These and the boat she took on board, then laid in close to the rock, lowered her boats, and took Captain Priaulx, the rest of his crew, and all his passengers, off the rock with the baggage and a small dog: and then proceeded to St.Malo, where she arrived in total safety.

 The shipwrecked Captain, crew and passengers were thus on Les Minquiers for a full 24 hours, living on two 4 lb loaves which they had on board, and some biscuits and water supplied to them by the two or three poor fishermen resident in huts on the rock, who showed them the up most hospitality. During the night they kindled a blazing fire, without, however, attracting the notice, which they coveted; the materials for the fire being a quantity of fisherman’s baskets and driftwood found among the rocks. The persons whose lives were preserved subscribed ten pounds for the inhabitants of the rocks, and 10 shillings each to the “Polka’s” crew, and at St.Malo presented a bracelet to a lady passenger to whom had been committed the distribution of the rations.

 On the “South Western’s” arrival at St.Malo Captain Goodridge found the harbour and place in a state of great excitement and anxiety, the inhabitants having heard from a cutter, which had arrived from Jersey, that the “Polka” had left St.Helier for their port at the usual hour on Monday. Their delight on the safe arrival of all the passengers in the “South Western” was therefore extreme.

The “Polka” we regret to state, was uninsured. We with pleasure give insertion to the following letter on the subject of the “Polka” wreck:-”

 To the editor of the “Jersey Times”.

 Sir, — Allow me to take advantage of your widely circulated journal for the purpose of contradicting the reports which are currently afloat as to the cause of the above unfortunate catastrophe, which it is asserted would not have occurred had not Captain Priaulx touched her on a rock in trying to “cut” a passage through the Minquiers; and in such false assertions would if uncontradicted, prove highly detrimental to the good name Captain Priaulx has hithero claimed  by the long experience, and personal knowledge of all dangers surrounding our coast, I avail upon your medium for stating that the accident occurred solely from the vessel having sprung a leak, and had it not been for the judgement of Captain Priaulx and his mate, Mr John Fleming, who ran her close into la Maitre Ile (on which every passenger was landed safely) the consequences might have been of a different nature.

As to Captain Priaulx trying to cut a passage, when he had at the time upwards of fifty souls under his charge, it is utterly false, for I may merely mention that the principals of his commandership are of the “older school” which is to proceed by known and safe passages, and not for cutting out new ones; which principal has without doubt met the approbation of those who have had the pleasure of crossing with him, a subscription being now on foot for presenting him with a testimonial for his long services on this station and which already figures with the names of our influential merchants.

I must not omit to mentioin that the passengers impressed their grateful thanks to Captain Atkinson and also to Mr John Fleming, for their arduous exertions, in organising the disembarking of the passengers on to the rock, Mr Fleming not allowing a single male passenger in the boat until every lady had been landed in safety.

 I remain       Frederick   ?

 The following is a list of the passengers on board the “Polka” at the time of the wreck:

Messrs. Cox and lady, Jessicall and four young ms, Walters and lady, Noton, Le Sueur, Middleton, Litre, Nicolle, Lewis, Stickland and a lady,   ?  ,  Pelisee, Slade, Germain, Duge, Barnes,  ?  ,  ?  , Millen, Gould, Nermain, Jackson and two children, Dunbey, Ledantu, Mrs Hariengue and two friends, Misses Labey, Sammard, besides five in crew, Stewards and Stewardesses

List of survivors of the Wreck of the “Superb”     Tuesday September the 24th, 1850

Charles Amy (Seaman), Charles Bastin  of Paris & Belgium, George Bowerman of Jersey, Colonel Brock, Philip Cunning(Carpenter), Alfred De BaillIeul of St. Servan, John Currier ( or Cumer) of Birmingham, Nicolas Dupont  of Guernsey  (a Pilot), William Finch, John Fleming(Mate), John Frost, Edward Gaudin  (second Mate), Daniel Girard(Fisherman, Caroline Hambly, Joseph Hamel of St.Malo, Joseph Bellow Hamilton his wife and two children, Dr.Harral,  James Harris of Jersey, Benjamin Johnson of London,Joseph (William)Johnson(an Engineer), Desire Le Gros of St.Malo,Mrs Le Sueur(stewardess), Henry Lomas (a Seaman), Charlotte Maule, Philip Mollet (Seaman), Robert T. Monteith, Mrs Norman ( Moorman?) and daughter), Emile Peigny of Paris, G. Pinch of London, John Priaulx (Captain), Achille Queru of Argentan, John Steward (Seaman),  John Trery (or Terry/Ferry) Distiller from St.Servan and son. The boy aged 14 climbed the mast to hoist a distress signal, and also built a raft for the ladies and joined some casks and said to his father “the casks are for you and me, and if we go, we will go together.” Ellen Willis of London, her Uncle and sister drowned,

 Mr Pinson missed the boat because of a prior accident, and was originally reported lost

Those who lost their lives: Mrs Baker and child,   Henry Vine Bellot(Cook), William Craneyage approx. 16(Cabin Boy)  from Dublin, Mr Frost(Engineer)buried in France, Mr Issac Hilgrove Gosset buried at St.Saviour, Mrs Julia  Gosset  nee Nicolle  buried at St.Saviour, Mr J. Reginald Jackson, and son and daughter, they were also on the  “Polka” Mr Jackson’s was found at Hagon, and he was interred in the Family vault in England, Miss Jackson was also found in France and buried in England, Mr Knott of of Gorey (“The Courier” Hobart states a Mr Knott aged 20 of Portsmouth), Mr Henry Lloyd,found on the coast at St.John, John Palmer  (Stoker), Mr Pinson, Miss Fanny Price   daughter of Captain Price R.N. of Guernsey body believed to be buried in England, Mr Richard Freeman  Rattenbury  Junior,was also on “Polka”,  Mr Sedgwickburied in France, Miss Watson, Mr Willis and niece, Miss Wright.

Court Case Details: The inquest jury comprised of the following:  John Philip Aubin, Philip Arthur,  George Philip Benest, Peter Bichard, John Godfray, Thomas Gray, Peter Hemery (Foreman), Philip Jeune, Francis Le Maistre, Philip Rive,  Nicolas Robillard, Charles Sullivan.

Those who gave evidence: Philip Amy, Charles Bastin, Philip Cunning, Edward Gaudin, Daniel Girard (Fisherman/Pilot of the Westward of Jersey), Joseph Hamilton, Thomas Hamon, Philip Hamon (Le Rocque Fisherman of 33 years) James Harris, Joseph Johnson,  Desire Le Gros, john le riche, Henry Lomas, George Marie  (Master of the “Jupiter”), Philip Mollet, Philip Noel, Emile Peigney, Thomas Rose (Owner of “Polka” and “Superb”)

As a result of the inquest Capt John Priaulx and Mate John Fleming were arrested and charged with “Culpable imprudence”  equivalent to manslaughter. Bail was set at 100 pounds, George Priaulx remained security for his uncle, and Messrs. Gallichan and Jouault for John Fleming.

"Superb" by Philip John Ouless. Courtersy of Bonhams

“Superb” by Philip John Ouless. Courtersy of Bonhams

Bonhams picture and details of the “Superb” : http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/10693/lot/79/

Newspaper reports:

http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/2961424 “The Courier” Hobart, 29th January 1851

http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/4775943 “The Argus” Melbourne,  1st February 1851

My personal interest is in that Mate John Fleming sailed vessels owned by my GG Grandfather Julien Andre Jouault of St Helier and Granville, and Fleming’s daughters married two Le Dain brothers. John Fleming born 1807 in Sark died Jersey 1875 buried at Almorah cemetry, lived Southampton Place, Pomona Road, St Helier. Jane Fleming 1836-1909 married Captain Thomas Le Dain 1822-1898 after career at sea he became Deputy Harbourmaster. Eliza Fleming 1820-? married Captain Nicolas Le Dain 1828-1908 had a long career at sea, whilst loading some chain onto his vessel he trapped his thumb and he walked to the hospital and had it amputated and returned to the vessel as if nothing had happened.

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