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Shipwreck: ss Roebuck


ss Roebuck struck rocks off St Brelade in July 1911. Crowds visited the Roebuck beached in St Brelade's Bay

The Roebuck in July 1911, stuck fast on the Kaines reef

On 19 July 1911 the Great Western Railway steamer Roebuck, which had been on the Channel Islands route for 14 years, left St Helier Harbour for Guernsey on what should have been a routine voyage.

Calm conditions

There was no wind, the sea was calm, but there was a thick sea mist and after rounding Noirmont Point, the ship, with experienced Captain John Le Feuvre at the helm, struck the Kaines rocks off Fliquet Bay, between St Brelade's Bay and Corbiere.

Capt Le Feuvre had miscalculated his position and maintained a speed of 17 knots despite the visibility. His crew lookout spotted swirling water which was the tell-tale sign of submerged rocks, but he turned too late towards open sea and the ship struck the rocks and stayed there, 200 of its 280 feet firmly stuck to the reef, and a 100 foot gash in its side.

Shore out of sight

Ladies and children in their finest dresses visited the wreck and had their photograph taken

The shore was less than 300 metres away, but out of sight in the dense mist. Distress flares were let off and the ship's lifeboats were launched and soon joined by the lifeboat and States tug Duke of Normandy from St Helier. Within an hour all the passengers were safely ashore and so calm was the sea that the Duke of Normandy went alongside the stricken Roebuck to take off the passengers' luggage.

A further 20 tons of cargo were taken off the ship, which remaind stuck fast on the Kaines for eight days. The ship was a sensation for locals, who flocked to see it. Vain attempts were made for four salvage vessels to pull it clear of the rocks on high tides from 21 to 23 July, but a pinnacle of rock was penetrating the hull and making it impossible to move.

Beached in St Brelade's Bay

Temporary repairs were made to the hull with wood and cement to allow it to float higher and on 28 July it was finally moved to a safer position on the sands of St Brelade's Bay, enabling curious residents to walk around the massive hull at low tide and have some amazing souvenir photographs taken, many of which survive to this day.

Further repairs were made but on the first attempt to tow the Roebuck back to St Helier she took on too much water and had to be beached in Belcroute Bay. It was not until the middle of August that she reached St Helier Harbour, eventually to be towed to Southampton for permanent repairs.

After a Board of Trade inquiry Capt Le Feuvre's master's ticket was suspended for only three months, despite this being the second time that a Great Western steamer under his command, had hit rocks off Jersey's south coast. Fourteen years earlier he lost his ticket for six months after the Ibex, which had apparently been racing a rival vessel, hit a rock off Corbiere.

Naval service

The Roebuck returned to the Channel Islands route in 1912 and was then recquisitioned by the Navy in 1914, and renamed HMS Roedean. She sank a year later in 15 fathoms of water at Scapa Flow, after dragging her anchor.

Passengers leave the boat train at Weymouth ready to board Roebuck


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