The GDT in St Aubin's Bay
From an article in The Islander in 1939 by R Le R Boudreau, believed to be the son of one of the survivors of the GDT’s Atlantic crossing
It is surprising how many a slip of paper has a story behind it. As I write this I have before me a discharge paper of a sailor in the GDT. It is simple in form and just gives the bare details, yet behind it is a story that should never be forgotten as long as Jersey does any shipping trade.
The GDT was a brigantine engaged in the Jersey to Newfoundland trade and other trades – her voyages were very much the same as the tramp steamer of today.
During the month of November 1883 the GDT was at anchor, riding on the heavy swell of the North Atlantic near the island called L’Ile au Loup off the coastline of Paspebiac. She was loading fish from the boats alongside. When the Bismark, last of the boats, had finished unloading, the sails were set and the brigantine headed for the open sea en route for Oporto in Portugal, heavily laden with some hundred tons of fish.
On 3 December a storm arose, which started the chain of misfortunes which was to follow. The gallant little ship heeled over from side to side – one moment on the crest of a wave, the next in the trough. Anyone who has crossed the Atlantic in rough weather – maybe in a luxury liner – can have some small conception of what it was like in a sailing ship of 56 years ago.
The ship took a particularly heavy sea, and the second mate, Le Quesne, went overboard with the wheelhouse and neither was ever seen again. Le Quesne, who wore his oilskins and sea-boots, probably sank and very likely never came to the surface at all. The captain was thrown between the pumps used for pumping water out of the ship, and was so badly lacerated about the head that he was in his cabin for three or four days like a raving madman with the agony of his wounds.
The ship on the starboard side from the main riggings to the quarter deck, had all her stanchions broken off, level with the deck. Three of her four 120 gallon casks went overboard, leaving her seven crew with 120 gallons of water for the rest of the trip. Her boy went over the side with one wave and came back with the next. Unfortunately for the crew this proved to be only the start of her troubles.
Steamer in distress
At 3pm on 6 December the GDT sighted the Belgian steamer Plantyn in distress. The steamer lifeboats were picked up at 8pm and the Plantyn finally sank at 10pm. One of the steamer’s crew was so badly injured that there was hardly a sound bone in his body left, and he died a few days afterwards.
For the 19 days until the GDT reached Oporto on Christmas Day 1883, the crew and rescued sailors had to exist on a wineglass of water and less than a quarter of a ship’s biscuit once every 24 hours. On arrival at Oporto the rescued seamen were to fid still more trouble, as the authorities wished to place the ship in quarantine. However, the Belgian captain went ashore and told the story of the rescue and a tug was then sent out, and the ship was towed up the river to Oporto.
Once the ship was moored, the rescued men made for the nearest water and had to be forcibly restrained from drinking to excess, while wine was brought for the ship’s crew.
After a rest in an Oporto hotel, while the cargo was unloaded and thip went down the river for repairs, the GDT set sail anew for Jersey, her home port.
Storm off Jersey
She arrived off the island on 26 January 1884, at about 6 pm, and cast anchor in St Aubin’s Bay. The tug Wonder was engaged to town her in, but the wind had risen and became a gale from west and south-west, and the GDT had both her anchors down.
On the arrival of the tug, preparations were made to tow her to St Helier, but on raising one anchor, the chain parted. The captain decided to lay on the single anchor and trust to luck rather than parting with the remaining cable and trusting to the towline. The Wonder returned to the harbour and reported the position of the GDT and the lifeboat was got ready for any emergency that might arise.
During the interval the GDT dragged her chain, lost her anchor and finally became stranded on the beach near Beaumont. When this happened, the storm was so bad that the crew had to take to the riggings to prevent themselves being washed overboard.
News morning they were taken into St Helier and lodged at Tom Queree’s Sailors’ Home, the site of which is now occupied by the Swan Hotel in Wharf Street, and it was here on 28 January, two days after the stranding, that the crew were discharged.
There is a sequel to this story which I should like to quote verbatim from the Jersey Express of 1884
Batter late than never
- ”The officers and crew of the GDT have at length been rewarded, as will be seen by the annexed translation of a letter just received by Mr H C Godfray, vice-consul for Belgium.
- 18 September 1884
- Foreign Office
- Subject: Wreck of the Plantyn
- Monsieur Le Consul
- I have the honour to forward a copy of the Moniteur Belge of 6 August containing a royal edict dated 31 July last, granting honorary distinctions to the officers and seamen of the brigantine GDT, as recompense for the courage and devotion which they manifested in those who had been wrecked in the Belgian steamer Plantyn. In conformity with custom, I have instructed the King’s Legation in London to cause to be conveyed to those interested, through the British Government, the diplomas and decorations intended for them.
- Vte de Moreau
- Acts of Bravery
- Leopold II, King of the Belgians, to all present and at home
- In presence of our edict of 21 July 1867 of the institution of civil decoration; desiring to acknowledge the English brigantine GDT of the port of Jersey mainfested in rescuing and received on board the 53 surviving passengers of the Belgian steamer Plantyn which foundered in open sea on the night of 6 December 1883.
- On the motion of our Minister for Home Affairs and Public Instruction, we have decreed and hereby decree
- Article 1 The civil decoration instituted by our decree of 21 July 1867 is granted, namely
- The First Class Civil Cross to Mr John J Carcaud, Master of the English Brigantine GDT of the Port of Jersey
- The Second Class Civil Cross to Mr Charles Hamon, mate of the same vessel
- The First Class Medal to Messrs Daniel Boudreau, James Farral, John Gunny, George Becquet, seamen; and Charles Connor, steward of the same vessel
- Article 2 Our Minister for Home Affairs and Public Education is required to execute the present decree.
- Given at Ostend, 31 July 1884