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Chris Scott Wilson                   Writer                                             

©2010 C.J.S.Wilson

Brig Griffin wreck01A chris scott wilson


A version of this article was originally published as A Dark And Stormy Night in Middlesbrough's Evening Gazette

9th December 1874 - the brig Griffin ashore after breaching the brand new and as yet incomplete Coatham pier. The only reminder in the 21st century of the pier is the new Regent cinema, which stands  where the original entrance to the pier had been.

On the night of December 8th 1874, one of the worst storms in living memory occurred. Mountainous seas lashed at the North-east coast while a northerly gale spilled slates and tumbled chimneys.

     By early evening Redcar's locals gathered to watch the threatening sea. No doubt the pier companies’ shareholders were anxious too, lest the North Sea rob them of their investment. The twin towns of Redcar and Coatham, unable to agree on a site for a joint pier, had each decided to build one. Redcar pier was already complete while Coatham pier had reached 1700 of its planned 2000 foot length.

     The alarm was raised shortly before midnight. Thomas Picknett, of the famous fishing family, was checking his boats when he spied a dismasted ship through the rain and sleet. By then the raging sea was breaking over both piers. He warned the coastguard before beating a tattoo on the lifeboat drum to summon help. The ship was Garibaldi, a brig of 198 tons. Offshore, the shrieking wind had shredded some of her canvas, and the master, John Guy, ordered the foremast cut free. It also took the mainmast and bowsprit. Both anchors with 120 fathoms of cable were let go, but Garibaldi rushed onto the rocks 20 yards east of Coatham pier.

     While the Redcar lifeboat Burton-on-Trent was putting off, a hole was stove in her side so the launch was aborted. However, the Coastguard were able to rescue Garibaldi’s seven man crew using a rocket apparatus.

     Meanwhile, farther out to sea, the brig Griffin of Southampton had sailed from Whitby three days earlier with a valuable cargo of Elm, bound for Sunderland. Close-hauled, she battled north, her skipper William Mundy unaware he was being driven relentlessly towards the rocks of the obscured coastline. After being almost becalmed at 9 in the evening he shortened sail at 11 p.m. in hope of weathering the approaching storm. By the time Griffin reached Redcar the wind and sleet were so bad the crew had given up hope and taken to the rigging. At 4 am, Griffin smashed into Coatham pier. As she breached the new girder work the frightened sailors were able to jump to safety on the pier, then forlornly watch their brig blunder unmanned into the night. The morning of December 9th revealed her beached only yards away.

     Griffin's crew were not the only men to be shipwrecked by Coatham pier that night. A Dundee schooner, the 91 ton. Corrymbus, bound from Bologne to Shields slewed into the incomplete seaward end of the structure two hours later. Her bowsprit and, rigging carried away, Corrymbus eventually went ashore in the Tees estuary, her crew under Master Alexander Petrie able to walk ashore at low tide. Although not badly damaged, she was a total loss, buried deeply in sand.

     After being hit twice Coatham pier also experienced a narrow miss that same night. The brigantine Express, 300 tons, sailing from Bologne to Blyth found herself in distress, driven ashore between the two piers on Lye Dams Scar, her crew saved. The fifth vessel to come ashore at Redcar that fearful night was the brig Robert & William, which managed to avoid the main traffic snarl-up by beaching at Tod Point, opposite the Warrenby Steelworks.

     In all, some thirty vessels came ashore on the Cleveland coast during the storm. Many of the skippers were unqualified, claiming to ‘smell’ their course from port to port, in vessels often unseaworthy and loaded to the gunnels with cargo. It is surprising loss of life was not higher, nor little wonder that local church services regularly included the hymn:

     ‘Oh hear us when we cry to thee, For those in peril on the sea.’


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