A sailing ship that went ashore on Wembury Beach.
Sailing ship, barque
The Norwegian barque August Smith went ashore in Wembury Bay on 15th November 1895. The saling vessel was built 1881 at Tvedestrand in Norway and was owned by Johan Smith of Tvedestrand.
At 3:30pm on the afternoon of Friday 15th November, the coastguard watchman Mark Northmore saw a large sailing ship in distress in Wembury Bay. The ship was the barque August Smith on a voyage from Buenos Aires to Rotterdam with a cargo of logwood under Captain Fløreness. It was blowing a gale and visibility was very poor, but Northmore could see the vessel sail into the bay and drop two anchors, presumably with the intention of riding out the gale. Wembury Bay is enclosed by rocks on three sides and is no place for a big ship in bad weather. Northmore watched as the anchors dragged and the barque drifted ashore about 30 minutes later. At the time it was a high spring tide so the ship grounded far up the beach, fortunately not on the rocks but surrounded by reefs. Once stuck the crew cut away the foremast to reduce windage and hopefully prevent the ship drifting further inshore. As the foremast went over the side it carried the maintopmast with it so only the mizzen and the lower mainmast remained.
The watchman warned the Yealm coastguard station, Chief Officer Weeks and Chief Boatman Johns called the lifeboat and telephoned Mount Batten for the rocket apparatus so they could attempt to rescue the crew. The barque was surrounded by broken water and the wind was blowing a gale so the only hope was the rocket apparatus. Even so, the lifeboat manned by Coxwain W. Hockaday tried to get near the ship, but the watchers thought that if she got in amongst the rocks and breakers ther would be no hope for the crew so the coastguard signalled for the lifeboat to return.
About 9pm that day the wind dropped and the tide ebbed sufficiently for the ship to be accessible, Captain Grey, the commanding officer of the coastguard arrived from Plymouth and went on board the ship and took off all of the eleven crew. The rocket apparatus did not arrive in time to be useful, it took hours to arrive from Mount Batten because no horses were available initially. The rocket crew dragged the cart as far as Fort Stamford before finding horses that could take over.
The crew of the barque were taken care of by Mr Weeks at the Yealm coastguard and later they were moved to the sailors' Home in Plymouth. The captain of the Norwegian ship, A.S.Fløreness, said the cause of the wreck was the thick and heavy weather. The ship had passed the Lizard on the south Cornwall coast in daylight but the visibility reduced and he saw no land till he reached the Mewstone. Uncertain of his position and thinking that the Mewstone was Rame Head, he alstered course to the north to gain the safety of Plymouth Sound. Much to his surprise he found himself embayed in Wembury Bay so dropped two anchors to hold the ship once he had relised their predicament.
Salvage operations on the ship started immediately as the wind had veered to the north and the sea around the wreck was calm. The ship had broken her back on a low reef once the tide had gone out so there was no hope of moving her. One of the long spars was rigged as a boom attached to the stump of the mainmast and this jury rigged crane was used to unload the cargo and larger ship fittings. Later, the crew got back on board and retrieved their personal effects.
The cargo, fittings and any portable objects from the ship were stacked up on the beach. On December 6th at 2pm low water, Skardon & Sons Ltd sold the hull of the August Smith at an auction on the beach, bought as seen with a broken back and just two masts standing, along with separate lots for groups of cables, anchors, boats and spars which covered the beach. At the time the barque was more or less intact, she was well built and the metal fittings were practically new having only been supplied the previous year so there was money to be made in the salvage, particularly in the yellow metal sheathing and fasteners.
There was such an outcry that the Mount Batten rocket apparatus had taken five hours to reach Wembury that the Yealm Coastguard were issued with their own rocket in 1900.
The August Smith was lost on the day before the topsail schooner Bulla went ashore at Yarmouth.
Nothing now to be seen of the wreck except a pile of anchor chain that can be found on the rocks at low tide.
From Wembury village, head down to the beach and the National Trust car park. The wreck went ashore opposite the mill which is now a cafe.
Last updated 03 Jan 2021
Position OS: SX 51682 48348
Position GPS: 50.316371, -4.084616
Martin Eldrup, Tvedestrand, Norway
636 GRT, 598 Net
Wrecked 1895, broken up
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