When The ‘James and Elizabeth’ Went Down – 1886

Written by Fred Moore

Before i continue with more of my fathers brave rescues I feel it is worth recording a disaster which occurred in 1886. It is the loss of the Hastings fishing boat “James and Elizabeth” off Dymchurch on December 8th 1886. This boat capsized in a heavy gale while attempting to make shore. There was but one survivor out of a crew of seven, he was Mr C White.

The story of this drama in that grim stretch of water between Dungeness and Hythe was told in an interview by Mr White some years after this disaster.

“We launched in a very rough sea on December 7th” he said, “between 9 and 10pm, at the full moon. We had a hauling rope at the bor and a pole shoving us off as well. The “James and Elizabeth” was a decked craft, 27 feet on the keel, but we took that much water aboard that we had to set a double-reefed foresail while we pumped the water out of her as soon as we were4 clear of the land.

“Our skipper was William Bumstead; there were two Brasiers, father and son and the names of the others, so far as I can remember, were Dunstead, Vaness and William Leppard. We were herring catching and in shooting our nets we came foul of another fishing boat. whose skipper i remember was nicknamed ‘hard times’. A Fresh nor’wester was blowing and to avoid driving over the other man’s nets we hauled in our own and, settling a small jib, we shot again to the eastward towards Hook’s Point.

The watch was set with the elder Mr Brasier. They soon reported that the weather was very foul and the wind had opened to the south. All hands were called and we began to haul the nets in again, all the time the wind working more southerly and increasing to full gale.

“We were in Rye Bay by the time the nets were aboard and it was hopeless to try and get back to Hastings we decided to run round the ‘Ness it was blowing a hurricane, wind, and rain, too, and we had to lower the foresail right down. In the height of the gale, we rounded the ‘Ness under jib and mizzen only. Then we let out our best anchor and cable and we lay there a while, riding to mountainous seas.

As day broke on December 8th the anchor cable parted. What were we do to? There was too much wind and seas to make Folkestone Harbour. Would the boat carry us safely to the Downs? The thought passed through our minds, but we knew it as a thousand to one chance.

“We had a conference there, tossing madly in the half-light of the dawn, which revealed such seas all round as I have never seen before or since. We decided to run for the shore and beach the boat. The smaller jib was set and the little craft paid off and shot away like an arrow before the seas. Every sea that swept astern breached her too, and solid water swept over her deck. it was a marvel how a man jack of the crew remained on the deck at all. I lashed myself to the bowsprit for fear of being washed overboard.

“Then as we hove up on top of a sea, one of the men cried out; “Dymchurch was right ahead!” instantly the help was put to port and we bore to the east to try and clear the wall, for it meant death to us and the boat too, to strike there. She lay there in a trough of the sea, mountainous waves stroking her broad on the beam, knocking her flat.

“She was tossed about there like a wind ball – then came the end. A sea struck the boat as she lay there nearly on her beam ends and rolled her right over. It is hard to say what happened in that instant, but I remember the mad scramble to get to windward as the boat turned over. Luckily I had unleashed myself as soon ss we bore to the east.

“For a few seconds we were there clinging to the Dan bouy we carried, I found myself with the skipper, both of us clinging to the plank that formed the steering seat. Not a word passed between us, we both wanted all our breath to fight for our lives in that boiling seas, I can tell you.

“After a time – I have no idea how long but it seemed a lifetime – the skipper groaned and let go the plank. He flung up his arms and disappeared. I was becoming gradually insensible when I saw the beach and some soldiers standing there. I made one final effort to attract attention, after that I don’t know what happened.

I can remember nothing more until I came back to life in Dymchurch Redoubt – the sole survivor of the crew of seven. I learned afterward that one of the soldiers had saved me.

My father told me of that disaster when I was a small boy. He and his brother Bill were at sea that night, herring fishing in the Hythe Bay in the hurricane realised their only hope was to run for shore and beach their small sailing boat. They also realised the danger of sudden death if they beached at Dymchurch so they steered eastwards to clear the dreaded Dymchurch wall.

The two brothers lashed themselves to the small mizzen to save getting washed overboard. They saw the shore and by the grace of God were clear of the wall and beached their craft, being helped clear of the breakers by willing hands who had been watching their small craft heading for the breakers.