Robert Stephen Hawker

Robert Stephen Hawker

With the Harvest Festival time here I thought I would mention Robert Hawker author of the Cornish anthem “The song of Western Men” (1828) who created the church festival we know today in 1843, in the previous year he helped with the plight of my GG Grandfather Captain Edward Le Dain whose account was recorded by Hawker in his “Footprints of former men in far Cornwall”

On a ridge of rock, just left bare by the falling tide, stood a man, my own servant; he had come out to see his flock of ewes, and had found the awful wreck. There he stood, with two dead sailors at his feet, whom he had just drawn out of the water stiff and stark. The bay was tossing and seething with a tangle mass of rigging, sails, and broken fragments of ship; the billows rolled up yellow with corn, for the cargo of this vessel had been foreign wheat; and ever and anon there came up out of the water, as though stretched out with life, a human hand and arm. It was the corpse of another sailor drifting out to sea. “Is there no one alive?” was my first question to my man. “I think there is sir,” he said, “for just now I thought I heard a cry.” I made haste in the direction he pointed out and on turning a rock, just where a brook of fresh water fell towards the sea, there lay the body of a man in seaman’s garb. He had reached the water faint with thirst, but he was too much exhausted to swallow or drink. He opened his eyes at our voices, and as he saw me leaning over him in my cassock shaped dressing gown he sobbed, with a piteous cry, “Oh, mon père, mon père!” Gradually he revived, and when he had fully come to himself with the help of cordials and food, we gathered from him the mournful tale of his vessel and her wreck. He was a Jersey man by birth, and had been shipped at Malta (actually Rio de Janeiro, after recovering there from illness), on the homeward voyage of the vessel from the port of Odessa with corn. I had sent in for brandy, and pouring it down his throat when parishioner, Peter Barrow arrived. He assisted my request, in the charitable office of restoring the exhausted stranger…..Then ensued my interview with the rescued man. His name Le Dain. I found him refreshed, collected, and grateful. He told me his tale of the sea. The Captain and all the crew but himself were from Arbroath, Scotland. To that harbour the vessel belonged, she had been away on a two years voyage, employed in the Mediterranean trade, in Malta the Captain engaged a Portuguese cook, and to this man, as one link in a chain of causes, the loss of the vessel might be ascribed. He had been wounded in a street quarrel the night before the vessel sailed from Malta, and lay disabled and useless in his cabin throughout the homeward voyage. At Falmouth, whither they were bound for orders, the cook died. The captain and all the crew, except the cabin boy, went ashore to attend the funeral. During their absence the boy, handling in his curiosity the barometer, had broken the tube, and the whole of the quicksilver had run out. Had this instrument, the pulse of the storm been preserved, the crew would have received warning of the sudden and unexpected hurricane, and might of stood out to sea. Whereas, they were caught in the chops of the Channel, and thus, by this small incident, the vessel and the mariners found their fate on the remote headland in my lonely Parish. I caused Le Dain to relate in detail the closing events.

“We received orders,” he said “At Falmouth to make for Gloucester to discharge”……”We rounded Lands End,” He said “that night all well, and came up the channel with a fair wind. The Captain turned in. It was my watch All at once, about nine at night it began to blow in one moment as if a storm had burst out by signal; the wind went mad; our canvas burst in bits. We reefed fresh sails; they went also. At last we were under bare poles. The Captain had turned out when the storm begain. He sent me forward to look for Lundy Light. I saw your cifff.” “I sung out land, I had hardly done so she struck with a blow, and stuck fast. Then the cabin boy sung out, “ All hands to the maintop,” and we all went up. The captain folded his arms, and stood by silent.”

Here I asked him, anxious to know how they expressed themselves at such a time, “But what was said afterwards Le Dain?”

“Not one word sir; only once, when the long boat went over, I said to the skipper, “Sir the boat is gone.” But he made no answer.”

How accurate Byron’s painting: Then shrieked the timid, and stood still the brave

“At last there came a dreadful wave, mast top high, and away went the mast by the board, and we with it, into the sea. I gave myself up. I was the only man on the ship who could not swim, so where I fell into the water there I lay. I felt the waves beat me and send me on. At last I saw there was a rock under my hand. I clung on. Just then I saw Alick Kant one of our crew, swimming past. I saw him lay his hand on a rock, and I sung out, “Hold on, Alick!” but a wave rolled over and swept him away, and I never saw his face no more. I was beaten onward and onward among the rocks and tide, and at last I felt ground with my feet, I scrambled on. I saw the cliff, steep and dark above my head. I climbed up until I reached a kind of platform with grass,… I lay there for a long time and when I awoke it was just break of day. There was a little yellow flower just under my head, and when I saw that I knew I was on dry land.” This was a plant of the Bird’s foot clover, called in old times Our Lady’s Finger.

The nine remains of the nine crew were eventually found over the coming days and buried in the church yard with the ships figurehead making the grave.

At the end of about six weeks Le Dain left my house on his homeward way, a sadder and a richer man. Gifts had been proffered from many a hand, so that he was able to return to Jersey, with a happy and grateful mien, well clothed and with thirty pounds in his purse….three years afterward he returned to the place of his disaster accompanied by his Uncle, Sister, and affianced wife, and he had brought them that, in his own joyous words, “they might see the very spot of his great deliverance:” …Nor was the thankfulness of the sailor a barren feeling. Whenever afterwards the Vicar sought to purchase for his dairy a Jersey cow, the family and friends of Le Dain rejoiced to ransack the island until they had found the sleekest, loveliest, best of that beautiful breed, and it is to the gratitude of that poor seaman and stranger from a distant abode, that the herd of the glebe has long been famous in the land.

Strange to say Le Dain has been twice shipwrecked since (at Sandyhook, NY, and the Caribbean) since his first peril; similar with loss of property, but escape with life: and he is now master of a vessel in the trade of the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean)

"Caledonia" figure head and Edward's descendants

“Caledonia” figure head and Edward’s descendants

Note: Edward Le Dain 1821-1885 named his son Edward Robert Hawker Le Dain 1854-?, he also named his house in Rouge Bouillon “Stuart Lodge”  in memory of the colleagues he lost.

Further reading:

Robert Stephen Hawker (By Angela Williams) – http://www.robertstephenhawker.co.uk/

Hawker Society – http://www.hawkersociety.org/

Arbroath timeline – http://www.arbroathtimeline.moonfruit.com/#/morwenstow/4530408841

Old Vicarage Morwenstow Guest House – http://rshawker.co.uk/the-old-vicarage-bed-breakfast-and-self-catering-cottage/

Morwenstow Church on wordpress – http://morwenstowchurch.wordpress.com/

Hawker of Morwenstow: Portrait of a Victorian Eccentric by Piers Brendon  ISBN: 0224011227

Treachery at Sharpnose Point by Jeremy Seal  ISBN-10: 0156027054

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