Shipwrecks and other disasters

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Caesarea, 1923
Express, 1859
ss Ibex
The Superb, painted by Ouless

Until the advent of commercial flying in the 1930s, Jersey relied exclusively on the sea for its links with the outside world, and the volume of maritime traffic over the years, coupled with the difficulty of navigating the rock-strewn waters around the Channel Islands, inevitably resulted in a large number of shipwrecks, including disastrous events in which many lives were lost.


An index to reference material contained in the Lord Coutanche Library of La Société Jersiaise includes 44 headings, but this represents just a fraction of the number on record. A website being developed by Jersey historian Doug Ford indicates that almanacs published by Jersey newspapers from 1836 to 1882 show that there were 533 Jersey registered vessels lost at sea during just these 46 years.


  • 23 ships
  • 36 barques
  • 1 schooner
A total of 60


  • 71 brigs
  • 72 schooner brigs
  • 8 brigantines
  • 161 schooners
  • 8 dandys
  • 5 ketches
A total of 325

Single masted

  • 145 cutters


  • 2 steamers
  • 1 unclassified

Major shipwrecks


On 30 March 1899 the London and South-West Region passenger steamer Stella hit the Casquets rocks off Alderney and sank with loss of 105 lives. A further 112 were saved, including 23 crew. The disaster has become known as the Channel Islands' 'Titanic', but it could have been much worse, because the ship had a capacity of over 700 passengers.


The Hilda, which had operated Channel Island routes before the Stella, sailed from Southampton for St Malo late on 17 November 1905 under the command of Captain William Gregory. She had 103 passengers and 28 crew on board. After negotiating Channel Island waters successfully she struck rocks outside St Malo the following night while attempting to enter the harbour in a snowstorm and heavy seas. There were only six survivors.


The Roebuck struck rocks in St Brelade's Bay in thick fog on 19 July 1911. The sea was so calm that there were no casualties, and the vessel was eventually refloated and brought to St Helier Harbour.


The wreck of the Express off Corbiere on 20 September 1859 was captured in a painting by Jersey's foremost artist of the day, Philip Ouless

Fanny Breslauer

The Fanny Breslauer was a brigantine owned by the Jersey cod business Robin, Collas and Company in Canada. She was abandoned in the Atlantic when trying to make it back to Jersey after the death of her master and other crew members in a storm off Halifax. What remained of her crew were rescued by another vessel, which later found the Fanny Breslauer and took her in tow back to Milford Haven. She eventually returned to Jersey and sailed again on the North Atlantic route to Gaspé.

Polka and Superb

While standing in for the Superb on the Jersey to St Malo service on 15 September 1850 the tug Polka became swamped and sank off the Minquiers, with all passengers and crew safely landed and then rescued. Two days later the Superb was back in service under the same captain and when the captain was persuaded to show the passengers the place where the Polka came to grief, the Superb hit rocks, and this time 20 passengers lost their lives and those who survived spent 24 hours on the Minquiers rocks.


The Cuckoo struck rocks outside St Helier Harbour on 15 May 1850 while ferrying new garrison troops from a larger vessel.


Click on any image to see a larger version

Further reading

Shipwrecks of the Channel Islands, John Ovenden and David Sayer
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