Pierre Des Femmes

Pierre Des Femmes

 

Many will be aware of the largest rock on the south eastern side of Les Ecrehous called Pierre des Femmes which translates into Ladies rock, it is common knowledge about how the rock came about its name, but I had never come across an account of it until I stumbled upon it last year when I was googling for something else and to my surprise there is an account in French which I will roughly translate: The passage between France and and the Channel Islands was a passage for commercial vessels plying their trade between Portsmouth and the islands. The cutters would leave for the Channel Islands and often stop at Cherbourg before tackling the Alderney Race (Le Raz Blanchard), the current would carry them between the islands and sometimes past the Ecrehous before making for the main Jersey port of St Helier. In this period of time things were not good in Liverpool with epidemics and unemployment etc., at the same time Jersey was maunfacturing clothes and pottery and taking on workers. Many young and elderly women left their homes and family to seek work and provide for them. emmigrated to St Helier. One year at the end of summer the brig “Minot’s Light” as usual took on some forty women bound for Jersey They were making good way with a north east wind and were passing Les Ecrehous when the rudder became damaged, perhaps it broke under strain as it passed the shoals, or hit a submerged object, nobody did or will ever know. The Captain called for the ships carpenter to fix it, and this was not the best time for this to happen as they were now being driven towards the Ecrehous reef, the sails were let fly so as to allow the rudder to be fixed, and the flapping of them caused some alarm among the passengers. The captain went below and found the carpenter and his assisant strugglig to repair with the bar flying around in the confined space and their faces were bloodied where they had been struck by it. The captain called for the experienced boatswain to see if he could fix it. The captain went back on deck and then there was an awful shudder and he ran up onto the bridge and saw the sea foaming around them with the out of site rocks below them, he decided to haul in the sails in the hope that the boat would heel over and clear the reef, but it only pushed them more onto the rocks, panic amongst the women set in. A large wave bigger than all the others pushed them hard against the rocks and the dreaded sound of water entering the damaged hull was immediately heard. This was the end and the captain gave the order to lowere the boats in the hope they would get off before the mastes broke and fell down upon them, the boats though were stuck with on one side they were stuck onboard and the other they were being hit by the waves and the rock, they did manage to get one in a useable condition. The ships carpenter was no where to be seen and presumed lost below, two women had been crushed and killed by a falling boom, and one of the crew had been lost trying to free a boat. The sea settled slightly and the second in command ordered everyone to try and make their way onto the nearby rock, half of the women had been washed away and weighed down by their waterlogged garments. Eventually some of the younger, fitter or just lucky ones managed to mount the rock, and the boat was continually being bashed on the rocks and then their was a large crashing noise as the main mast broke and fell. In all 23 women and 9 crew had survived on the rock that was out of reach of the waves but had no vegetation upon it. The women starting drying their clothes although it was not cold but night time was not far away, the crew were concerned as they watched their vessel break up as they had no fire or water and no apparent means of gaining safety.

The young officer suggested they swim to the vegetated island visible not far away stating that the rock they were on would be covered by a couple of metres of water, and that it would not be too difficult a swim as the tide would take them that way, then the women stated most of them could not swim, and even some of the crew admitted likewise. With the “Minot’s Light” breaking up and becoming covered by the tide those that were able had no option but to strip to their underwear and attempt the swim and the others sat their desolate and sobbing awaiting their fate. They made good progress over a short distance but the women were not accustomed to swimming in such a sea and were soon lost to it, eventually only six of the men managed to reach the shingle and the island. Then men tried as best they could to dry their clothes and warm themselves, then tried to get some sleep, not long after the cries and screams of those being taken by the sea could be heard, eventually the survivors fell asleep and awoked in clear sunshine with not a sign of anyone else or the remains of “Minot’s Light”  Nothing reamined to be seen at Pierre des Femmes and no one would ever want to venture near this site of such an unfortunate tradegy.

The author was never sure of the tradegy that is related above but one day he related the story to friends father from Morlaix who had been a Merchant seaman and he said it is true as he had seen a plaque in Liverpool which commerated those on the “Minot’s Light” lost off the French coast.

translated from an account by Gilles Letournel  http://www.la-mer-en-livres.fr/pierre.html

The version I have heard but from whom I do not recall was that there was an English vessel that struck a rock and was taking in a great deal of water and expected to sink, and so the captain put the women on Pierre des Femmes thinking it would not be covered by the tide, and during the night the vessel managed to make its way into the sheltered waters of the reef and remained afloat but the woman had been washed from the rock never to be seen again. Given that this was such a disaster it is surprising that I have not come across any substantial record or mention of this episode, but given the name of the rock has lasted one suspects the account must be true, as is the rock La Balance at les Dirouilles which happened in 1816 when a French transport ship “La Balance” on its way from St Malo to Canada met its fate and 40 perished and 70 survived and reached the barracks at Rozel where they were given food and shelter.

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