The Benvenue

written by Fred Moore

Sandgate had been brought to the notice of the country years ago by reports of the wreck of a sailing ship, Benvenue. This tragedy happened on November 11th, 1891. In hurricane conditions the three-masted sailing ship Benvnue, 2033 tons bound from London to Sydney N.S,W. with a general cargo sank a couple of hundred yards off Gloucester Terrace, halfway between Sandgate and Seabrook.

Twenty seven of the crew took refuge in the rigging of the mizzen mast, which was one of the three masts above the great waves, after the vessel had sunk.

The captain, his wife and nephew were drowned. Great efforts were made to rescue the crew, and local and national newspapers reported in great detail the wreck and the final rescue of the 27 crew members. Several other ships that were wrecked during this great November storm of 1891 were also given newspaper coverage. The Folkestone Herald dated November 14th 1891 gives this graphic account of the wreck and rescue:

“From the top of the hill, by the Martello Tower, the tall masts of the Benvenue could be seen standing above the white fom of the sea. On one of the yard-arms there is a little black group. What is it? We look through a powerful telescope and find that the black mass is made up of human beings holding onto the rigging for their lives.”

The Benvenue had left London on Monday last in tow of two tugs, one of which left her in the Downs, the other keeping her in tow until she struck when the hawser parted. The rock apparatus was at once brought into service by the Sandgate coastguards but their efforts were unavailing. In the meantime the lifeboard, “Mayer de Rothschild” had been taken from her station (which was situated at Battery Point, Seabrook where the petrol station now stands) to Hythe and launched, but it had only proceeded a short distance before the boat was upset.

One poor fellow, by the name of Fagg, perished. My father Mr Tom Moore and his brother Albert had joined the crew, but when they were told the lifeboard was to be launched at Hythe, without a draw-off hawser, these two local fishmen refused to crew the boat. They had told the coxswain that it was too much of a risk to launch the boat at that point as the risk of not clearing the breakers was most likely. Later an attempt was made to fire the shot, with a chain attached, from a cannot, but this failed with the chain breaking through the great velocity of the shot.

The sun set in a clear sky and the afterglow was beautiful sight. The moon now threw its rays across the angry waters and still that little band could be seen in the mizzen mast of the ship. A cheer was heard, caused by the arrival of anothe rocket cart from the west. A rocket was fired, followed in its course by thousands of anxious eyes. It falls short of its mark and further rockets were fired with the same results. How cold and hungry they must feel in that rigging

“What can be done” – this and similar ejaculations are heard from the crowd. “Why don’t they try the lifeboat again?” A mighty cheer is heard amid shouts of “Make way for the volunteer crew”. My father and Uncle Albert had joined this volunteer crew which had been made up of many local men, and the boat was launched from the beach at Battery Point, Seabrook, opposite the boathouse.

The Crowd now makes its way to the lifeboat house and here the volunteers are ready to go on their errand of mercy. When the preparations were completed the boat was pulled out on her carriage and after several attempts, she was successfully launched. In a few moments, the boat was on its way and its position could be clearly defined in the bright moonlight when the lifeboat arrived under the mast bearing its human burden.

As a child, my Father would relate to me the story of the rescue, and he told me that after rowing out to the Benvenue a kedge anchor was dropped to the west of the wreck and the lifeboat allowed to drift until it was under the mizzen mast. The great risk was that the lifeboat would foul some of the rigging in the troughs of the waves the spokes of the ship’s wheel could be seen and there was a risk of them piercing the lifeboat.

However, one by one the frozen members of the Benvenue’s crew dropped into the lifeboat until all 27 men were safely aboard, the anchor rope was cut and the oarsmen pulled away from the wreck.

We now continue the story as it was published in the Folkestone Herald of 14th November 1891.

“The cheering again broke forth, renewed again and again. The lifeboat now drifted away from the wreck amidst cries of “They’re saved! They’re saved!” The lifeboat rowed into Folkestone harbour and the rescued crew were taken to the Queen’s Hotel which stood on the corner of Guildhall Street and Sandgate Road where Burton’s the outfitter’s premises once stood.

At a later date each lifeboatman who took part in this rescue was presented with a silver medal and thirteen pounds – presented, I believe, by an anonymous donor. On the front side there is a head and shoul.ders of Queen Victoria and on the reverse side a wreath of laurels with the name of the crew member and the words “He bravely did his duty, 11th November 1891”.

The story, as it was told to me, was that the donor of the medal did not have permission to use the head and shoulders of Queen Victoria on the medal and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution instructed the recipients of these medals to return them to the donor when they would receive the R.N.L.I bronze medal for their bravery. None of the lifeboat crew were prepared to part with their silver medals so did not receive the R.N.L.I medal. My Father was very proud of his medal and from that day whenever he was seen with his boats on the beach at the Parade, Sandgate, would be wearing the medal on his left breast.