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Cygnus in Jersey

The paddle steamer Cygnus, which was painted by Philip Ouless (top left) was a regular operator in Channel Island waters in the second half of the 19th century. Did Ouless get the height of the funnels wrong, or were they extended between his painting and this photograph?

Painting by Philip Ouless

New company

In 1857 a new company commenced running from Weymouth to the Channel Islands and France, the Weymouth and Channel Islands Steam Packet Company, mainly financed by the Great Western Railway Company, who commenced with two vessels Cygnus and Aquila.

The Cygnus, an iron paddler, was built in 1854 by Henderson and Sons of Renfrew. She had a length of 182ft and a breadth of 20ft, with two funnels and a clipper bow. Her maiden voyage to Jersey was on 11 April 1857. Cygnus earned £10,000 in salvage for the Weymouth and Channel Islands Steam Packet Company when she rescued and took into tow a newly built vessel called the John Dixon, loaded with cargo, which was disabled off West Bay while on her maiden voyage.

Pilot boat crushed

12 June 1857: [1]

An accident took place today in Weymouth harbour as the Weymouth pilot boat rushed to meet the PS Cygnus from the Channel Islands, ahead of the Portland pilot boat.

In their haste to the steamer, the boat carrying three men became drawn in by the turning paddle wheel and smashed to pieces.

Thanks to quick action by the crew of the CYGNUS, the engines were stopped and the three men rescued. Of the pilots Mr Grant received a severe blow to his arm. Mr Tizzard was struck on his head and received a broken collar bone. He climbed between the now stationary paddle wheel and the box and clung to safety. Mr Perks was picked up some distance from the steamer.

Albert Pier accident

18 May 1859: [2]

A serious accident has occurred to a young man, Charles De Ste Croix, son of Philip the owner of the Victoria auction rooms in Library Place.

He was standing on the Albert Pier watching the departure of the Cygnus steamer to Weymouth, near to where the steamer was tethered to the quay by a rope. As the steamer departed, the tension on the rope increased and the hook suddenly slipped its hold. In a violent whiplash the rope shattered Mr De Ste Croix's leg, and its energy threw him across the pier, landing on his head.

Mr De Ste Criox has survived serious head injuries, but he has lost a leg, amputated under chloroform by Dr's Fixott, Jones and Crayton.

St Helier Regatta

19 August 1861: [3]

A huge crowd turned out to see the St Helier regatta, lining piers and every vantage point available. Cygnus steamer brought 200 to 300 excursionists to the event from the UK and Guernsey.

Authorities were on high alert as only days before two died at the St Catherine regatta when two boats collided. The St Helier regatta passed with only one incident as Cygnus, on leaving the Harbour, collided with the steamer Alar. To loud cheers and great amusement of the crowds Alar carried away the figure-head and bowsprit of the Cygnus.

A model of Cygnus photographed by Mark Pulley

The tidal problem

10 June 1863: [4]

The activities within our harbour over the last two days have brought ship owners and agents to loggerheads with the States of Jersey. Ongoing discussions regarding a new wet dock or deep water harbour at Noirmont have come to nothing.

Agents of the railway companies are furious. The London and South Western Railway Company reports their steamer PS Southampton had to leave the harbour at 2 am and anchor off Noirmont in the gale, because of the falling tide.

She returned to the small roads at 6 am, where passengers were embarked in boats. With the wind still high this was a daunting experience for the unlucky travellers.

George Orange, who is a director of the Weymouth company, was outraged.

"Our Cygnus arrived on time yesterday but had to disembark her passengers in boats from the small roads. She could only get to her berth at 9 pm, when we had sufficient water. We unloaded the cargo, reloaded, but then had to dash out of the harbour due to the falling tide at 3 am".

Tons of perishable goods were left on the quay. Like the Southampton, Cygnus had to return to the roads to embark her passengers in the teeth of the gale.

Wrong direction

24 July 1866: [5]

On her departure from Guernsey, Captain Falle of the Weymouth Steamer Cygnus stopped her engines to allow a late passenger to board the vessel. A Frenchman and his baggage boarded and Cygnus headed out into the Little Russel bound for Weymouth.

Passing the Casquets there was a commotion on deck. On investigation Captain Falle discovered that the late passenger has boarded the wrong ship. The Frenchman's intended destination was Jersey.

Amid much arm waving and shouting by the passenger, Captain Falle refused to turn his vessel around. To defuse the situation the Captain promised to return the passenger to his intended destination from Weymouth, free of charge.

Late passenger falls into harbour

9 May 1868:[6]

Captain Brache reported that one of his passengers fell into the water while boarding Cygnus as the Weymouth steamer departed Jersey for Guernsey on Saturday morning.

"My steamer had left her moorings when a gentleman raced to the end of Albert Pier in a cab". He hailed the boatmen who rowed him at as quick a pace as possible in pursuit of the Cygnus.
"I heard a call, and stopped my steamer. However, the water was still in turbulence from the paddles.
"The gentleman and the boat came alongside and in his haste to board Cygnus he lost his footing and fell into the water. A rope was thrown from Cygnus which the struggling passenger grabbed. However, the rope was let go on board the steamer.
"Eventually, the boatmen succeeded in pulling the man from the water into their boat, transferring him in a cold and wet state to the steamer. "
Cygnus in Guernsey

Another late arrival

7 August 1871: [7]

An unusual incident happened this morning as the Weymouth steamer took her departure from Jersey to England. The hawser had been thrown off and Captain Falle began to steer the Cygnus out of the pier heads and into the small roads.

A late arrival, a gentleman passenger who had intended to sail, was brought up alongside the departing steamer at the stern of the vessel with the aid of a boatman. A rope hung from the rear of the with the aid of a boatman, and springing from his craft, the passenger seized it with a firm grip.

He attempted to board by climbing the rope but could not do so. Cygnus steamed into the small roads with the passenger dangling in unpleasant suspense. Passengers and crew aboard the steamer noticing the peril began to pull him upwards, but at first to no avail. Eventually the passenger was grabbed by his hands and clothing and hauled aboard the departing vessel.

Cygnus in 1885

Shipping manager attacked

24 August 1872: [8]

John Wimble, Jersey manager of the Weymouth and Channel Island Steam Packet Company, operators of the Cygnus, has been attacked by three soldiers on his way home from work. The incident happened in Library place, St Helier.

The soldiers were arrested and charged. Throughout the hearing in front of Jurat Neel, Mr Wimble struggled to contain his anger and at times used very strong language while giving evidence.

Mr Wimble left his office in Bond Street shortly after midnight. His walk home took him through Library Place. Here three soldiers dressed in their red coats were strategically placed for a robbery.

Thomas Walters, of the 16th regiment, and James Webb, an artilleryman, carried out the attack while a third soldier kept watch from the corner of Library Place and Church Street.

An attempt was made to grab Mr Wimble's watch, he put up a fight and was beaten to the ground. On hearing footsteps all three solders ran off in the direction of Brook Street. Mr Wimble, along with PC Marie - whom he met on the way - gave chase.

The soldiers were later found in a drunken state in a pub in Sand Street. They resisted arrest and had to be handcuffed.

The Two soldiers who carried out the attack, Walters and Webb, were both sentenced to seven years in prison.

Mr Wimble was badly bruised about the head and for a few days confined to his bed. The soldiers had used some kind of weapon, probably a cane, and as the victim had put up a fight, the attack had been sustained.

After the trial Mr Wimble's anger had not relented: "I work long hours, sometimes I leave my office very late at night and have to walk past the pub in Bond Street. Quite often there are at least 30 soldiers in there the worse for drink. They congregate in Broad Street. Only the other day a friend of mine had to defend himself with a pistol".

John Wimble has since made a full recovery.

Cygnus breaks down

2 May 1879 report from Captain Blampied, master of the Weymouth and Channel Island Steam Packet Cygnus, from Cherbourg to Weymouth 0130.

"After leaving the pier I gave orders to reverse the engines in order to clear the West pier. The engines took longer than expected to reverse. The vessel struck the pier. carried away her jib boom, and damaged her figurehead.

After getting away all went well until 0620.

"25 miles from Portland, travelling NNW at full speed of 9 knots, the intermediate shaft broke. I immediately stopped the engines," continued Captain Blampied, who was on quarter deck at the time. He rushed to the engine room and ascertained the cause, the engineer informing him of the problem. All sails were then made available and signals were hoisted for assistance.

At 0930, a smack Rival came alongside and offered to go to Weymouth for assistance. Several steamers passed within sight but offered no assistance.

Captain Blampied said:

"The chief engineer asked if he could disconnect the engines, and proceed on one engine only. I refused, saying it would tear the frame to pieces. I then asked the engineer if he could disconnect the paddle wheels from the engine so they could move around by themselves. The engineer replied this was impossible".

Cygnus laboured heavily and shipped water. At 1130 the weather moderated; at noon the Captain ordered three paddle wheel floats on either side to be removed. This took an hour. At 1445pm Cygnus was approached by the Hull steamer Sappho. She agreed to tow Cygnus into Portland. They arrived at 2005. The steam tug Commodore then towed Cygnus into Weymouth harbour. [9]

Notes and references

  1. From Facebook group Maritime Jersey, by Mark Pulley
  2. From Facebook group Maritime Jersey, by Mark Pulley
  3. From Facebook group Maritime Jersey, by Mark Pulley
  4. From Facebook group Maritime Jersey, by Mark Pulley
  5. From Facebook group Maritime Jersey, by Mark Pulley
  6. From Facebook group Maritime Jersey, by Mark Pulley
  7. From Facebook group Maritime Jersey, by Mark Pulley
  8. From Facebook group Maritime Jersey, by Mark Pulley
  9. From Facebook group Maritime Jersey, by Mark Pulley
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