Laurel

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Vraicing tragedy


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Early on a July morning in 1844 the cutter Laurel left Gorey on the falling tide for the five-mile sail out to the Conchiere Rock. Capt Jean Pallot was to take out a party to cut vraic during the low tide interval in the vicinity of these rocks. Seaweed has always been very important in the lives of our Channel Island ancestors. Dried, its use as fuel for cooking fires and heating is known from ancient times and equally well recorded is its considerable use as soil fertiliser. This importance has been reflected in numerous Acts of the States, and Seigneural Rights giving control of vraic gathering and ownership. There are many instances when the need for vraic has resulted in loss of life. Taken from the contemporary newspaper, Chronique de Jersey, a translation of the report of Captain Pallot's misfortunes on that summer's day in 1844


Appalling Catastrophe

A terrible catastrophe last Tuesday morning plunged many families in Grouville parish into bereavement

On Tuesday morning the 12-ton cutter Laurel, commanded by Jean Pallot left Gorey harbour with 19 people, to cut vraic. Arriving at the Conchiere almost opposite La Rocque, the anchor was dropped and the cutter swung into wind off the rock. Using the cutter's small rowing boats, the vraic cutters went on to the rocks and started collecting vraic.

With the wind starting to rise and gusting from the WNW, one of the crew suggested he move the cutter downwind of the rock but Capt Pallot said it was not necessary. At about three oclock, with the party still on the rock a gust of wind put the cutter hard into the rocks and it quickly began to take in water - settling on the bottom. With four men and four women on the Conchiere reef, Capt Pallot put another six people on to other rocks of the reef that were well above water, but one man and one woman preferred to remain on the cutter by standing in the shrouds, as the deck was already awash.

These events were seen from the shore and Philippe Marie, an experienced pilot, could see with his telescope six people on the Conchiere holding hands in a circle. He went to collect two friends and, with his son as well, was able to launch his boat and row out to the Conchiere.

Rising tide

With the rapidly rising tide, before he was able to reach the rock, six people had been swept off and drowned. The sea was now very rough, but he went to the cutter, now with just the mast and rigging above water, and could see Jean Carrel and Mrs Romeril, who had been clinging to the shrouds for three hours.

On the approach of the boat, Mrs Romeril jumped or fell into the water to be saved but disappeared from view and was not seen again. Mr Marie called to Mr Carrel, who was a seaman, to take a rope that he would throw but Mr Carrel was too exhausted and could hold on no longer. He, too, fell into the water and was drowned.

The others on the rocks had pulled up one of the small boats from the Laurel clear of the breaking waves. One of the men then attempted the re-launch, but the tiny craft was dashed among the rocks and broke up and the man drowned. Mr Marie had to cut his rope to the Laurel and was unable to remain in such a dangerous position with the ever-rising tide and increasing wind.

Capt Pallot had reached the shore with five people in his two boats, but was so exhausted as to be unable to help further. There was no hope for the remaining people on the rock and all were drowned. At the inquest on the following Thursday evening it was shown that the victims' bodies were washed ashore in various locations on the south coast, Le Vesconte found in St Brelade's Bay and Le Brun found in St Ouen's Bay.

Witnesses

Philip Mollet, who had taken another party in his own cutter to cut vraic, told how he witnessed the unfolding tragedy, eventually throwing all his load of vraic overboard and attempting a rescue, but thwarted by the rough seas and surging tide among the rocks. Philippe Marie told how it was 5 o'clock when the rising tide reached La Rocque harbour and he was able to launch his boat, and he returned to harbour at 10 oclock in very high seas.

Philip Huquet, a survivor, mentioned that he thought Capt. Pallot had been drinking and Mr Coutanche confirmed that Pallot was drunk at the time and if he had taken the advice to re-position the Laurel, the accident would not have happened.

The Grouville register recorded 15 burials for the same day:

  • Jean Carrel, 42, marin
  • Francois Le Brun, 24 charpentier
  • Nicholas Pallot, 20, couturier
  • Jean Le Vesconte, 55 labourer
  • Edouard Le Vesconte, 52, tavernier
  • Nicholas Le Vesconte, 15
  • Jean Le Vesconte, 18, charpentier
  • Charles P Le Brun, 22
  • Catherine Rachel Le Vesconte, 17
  • William Mallet, 18, cordonnier
  • Anne Elizabeth Falle, 18, couturiere
  • George Le Brun, 55
  • Charles Mallet, 56, journalier
  • Edouard Le Sueur, 14
  • Esther Le Boutillier, 21, wife of Abraham Romeril
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