The wrecks of the Polka and the Superb
Tug boat Polka
The steam tug Polka sailed from St Helier on Monday 15 September 1850, with Captain Priaulx in command. Although the Polka was only a tugboat, she carried 50 passengers and crew bound for St Malo. She had been pressed into service in place of the Superb which was undergoing repairs in that port. When the tugboat was about halfway to her destination, she sprang a leak and, when some five miles off the Minquiers reef, she began to sink. Having no pumps, the master decided to hold his course and try to reach the reef.
The vessel was nearing Maitre Ile when she was almost swamped, and the Captain with great coolness ordered passengers and crew to abandon the ship. The two lifeboats were lowered and as they pulled away from the ship she disappeared beneath the waves. Arriving safely on the Maitre Ile, the survivors that night light a fire hoping to attract someone to their rescue. The next day, running short of food and no rescue in sight, the Mate, John Fleming rowed out to sea and drew the attention of the ss Southwestern.
They were picked up and landed in France later that night and in gratitude to the Captain and his crew for their gallant bearing, the passengers made a collection among themselves.
Reports were sent back to Jersey and the people of St Helier were waiting to welcome back Captain Priaulx and his gallant crew. On 17 September the steamer Superb, now fully repaired left St Malo with 60 passengers and crew, among them several survivors from the earlier wreck. On approaching the Minquiers, some of these passengers asked Captain Priaulx to show them where the Polka sank. Rather reluctantly he agreed and the Mate, John Fleming steered the vessel through the eastern passage, only to strike a rock known as La Pointue du Blanc Roc, which ripped open the steamer, and she foundered.
As before, two lifeboats were lowered, but this time there was a great panic and neither the master nor the mate did very much to help. The first boat capsized after the passengers and crew crowded into it. The second one also capsized upon a large lady jumping into it from the deck of the vessel, and most of the 20 persons who were in these boats were drowned.
Help was on its way. At 10 am a distress signal was hoisted on Fort Regent and the cutter Jupiter immediately set sail for the wreck. At 11.30 am the Collier, newly arrived in the roads from Shoreham, with Captain Doke in command, also made for the Minquiers.
On arrival at the wreck, Captain Doke found the Superb left high an dry on the rock and those persons, including Captain Priaulx, who were still on the vessel’s deck were taken off safely. This second wreck had taken place only 400 yards from that of the Polka, but some 20 persons had lost their lives. The Jupiter rescued M Finch, a seaman, Philip Mollet and Philip Cunning, the ship’s carpenter and recovered the body of Mrs Gosset. The other survivors were brought back to St Helier by the Collier.
At the inquest on the bodies of Mr Issac Gosset and Mrs Gosset (Nee Julia Nicolle) the jury was composed of P Hemery, J Godfray, George Ph Benest, J Ph Aubin, Chas Sullivan, P Bichard, Ph Rive, F Le Maistre, Ph Arthur, Thos Gray, Nicolas Robillard and Ph Jenne.
Evidence was given by Joseph Johnson, engineer; Philip Amy, seaman; Philip Mollet, seaman; Edward Gaudin, 2nd Mate; Thomas Hamon and John Le Riche, fisherman; Achille Quera, Henry Lomas and James Harris, passengers and others. The jury brought in a verdict that the wreck of the Superb was the result of culpable imprudence on the part of Captain Priaulx, in taking the vessel in a dangerous place, without knowing it, out of its ordinary course on its way from St Malo to Jersey, and Mr John Fleming who was Mate on board the said steamer, was also guilty of imprudence, in attempting to take the said vessel by that course.
Besides Mr Gosset and wife, other persons who lost their lives were:- Mr Rattenbury; Mr Jackson, his son and daughter; Mr Willis and his niece; Henry Bellot, cook; W Palmer, chauffeur; William Craney, cabin boy; Mr Sedgwick; Mr Pinson; Mr Nott of Gorey; Mrs Baker and child; Miss Fanny Price; Miss Watson; Miss Wright and an unidentified gentleman. Five bodies were recovered.
Forty persons were saved, namely:- J Terry and his son; J Hamel of St Malo; Col Brock; Achille Quera of Argentan; George Bowerman of Jersey; Dr Harral; Emile Peigney of Paris; Le Gros of St Malo; John Currier of Birmingham; Benjamin Johnson of London; Robert T Montieth; Caroline Hambly; Charlotte Maule; Charles Bastin of Paris; G Pinch of London; Ellen Willis of London (her uncle and sister were drowned); Alfred De Bailieu of St Servan; J B Hamilton, his wife and two children; Mrs Norman and her daughter; James Harris of Jersey; Henry Lomas; the stewardess (not named); John Frost; William Johnson (engineer); John Steward (seaman); John Bellot (steward); Charles Amy (seaman); Edward Gaudin (second mate); Philip Cunning (carpenter); Philip Mollet (seaman); W Cox; Nicolas Dupont (pilot) of Guernsey; and the Captain and the Mate.
Four persons who had been saved from the earlier wreck of the Polka were aboard the Superb and were lost in the second sinking. On their return to the Island, Captain Priaulx and John Fleming had a charge of “criminally causing death” laid against them and they were not allowed to sail again, although John Fleming was back at sea not long after. Later the boilers of both vessels were salvaged and brought to the Island, that of the Polka was installed in the new steamer Don of 24 tons, and that of the Superb was used to power the 84 ton Rose. Both vessels were built by F C Clarke of West Park, and were the first steamers to be built in Jersey. Thomas Rose was the owner of these new ships. At the time of the wreck Thomas Rose owned the Superb and the tug Polka was owned by a company of fifteen persons, mostly shipowners.
The Wreck of the Polka steam tug: report in the Jersey Times, Friday, 20 September 1850
- “We have the painful task of recording the loss of the Polka steam tug, of this Island. On Monday morning last she left St Helier at 11 o’clock for St Malo, in the place of the Superb, then undergoing repair, and had about 50 passengers on board. When some six or seven miles this side of Les Minquiers, it was found that she had sprung a leak, and was rapidly filling. She had no pumps, and under the circumstances of the case, Captain Priaulx, who was in command, deemed it prudent neither to put back for St Helier nor to go on to St Malo, but resolved to run the vessel direct for Les Minquiers, and when within about a quarter of a mile off the eastern most rock (Maitre Ile) she was still making water with fearful rapidity, and her fires being out, commenced landing his passengers in the boats, one belonging to the Polka, and the other to the Superb, which latter Captain Priaulx had the meritorious foresight to take with him; a precaution which in all probability was the preservation of many lives as no sooner was the Polka finally cleared of her Human freight (with nearly all passengers baggage) than she sank and totally disappeared in the water, as it was high tide at the time. Everyone was safely landed on the rock; It being about one o’clock in the afternoon.
- "The Southwestern steamer, Captain James Goodridge senior, left St Helier on Tuesday at noon for St Malo. At between 2 and half past 2 o’clock her look out, a seaman named John Williams, observed a number of persons on Maitre Ile, and a small boat pulling out with a white (improvised for the occasion, of very delicate material). This being reported to Captain Goodridge, he by means of his glass made out the persons on the rock, the boat, and the ensign and a white sheet flying as a signal of distress. All hands were called, sail was taken in, and the Southwestern bore down towards the boat, which they found with Mr Fleming (Mate of the Polka) and one of the Polka’s crew in her, they having volunteered to put off on the lookout for the Southwestern. These and the boat she took on board, then laid in close to the rock, lowered her boats, and took Captain Priaulx, the rest of his crew, and all his passengers, off the rock with the baggage and a small dog: and then proceeded to St Malo, where she arrived in total safety.
- "The shipwrecked captain, crew and passengers were thus on Les Minquiers for a full 24 hours, living on two 4 lb loaves which they had on board, and some biscuits and water supplied to them by the two or three poor fishermen resident in huts on the rock, who showed them the upmost hospitality. During the night they kindled a blazing fire, without, however, attracting the notice which they coveted; the materials for the fire being a quantity of fisherman’s baskets and driftwood found among the rocks. The persons whose lives were preserved subscribed ten pounds for the inhabitants of the rocks, and 10 shillings each to the Polka’s crew, and at St Malo presented a bracelet to a lady passenger to whom had been committed the distribution of the rations.
- "On the South Western’s arrival at St Malo Captain Goodridge found the harbour and place in a state of great excitement and anxiety, the inhabitants having heard from a cutter, which had arrived from Jersey, that the Polka had left St Helier for their port at the usual hour on Monday. Their delight on the safe arrival of all the passengers in the South Western was therefore extreme.
- "The Polka we regret to state, was uninsured. We with pleasure give insertion to the following letter on the subject of the Polka wreck:”
Letter to editor
- To the editor of the Jersey Times.
- 'Sir — Allow me to take advantage of your widely circulated journal for the purpose of contradicting the reports which are currently afloat as to the cause of the above unfortunate catastrophe, which it is asserted would not have occurred had not Captain Priaulx touched her on a rock in trying to “cut” a passage through the Minquiers; and in such false assertions would if uncontradicted, prove highly detrimental to the good name Captain Priaulx has hithero claimed by the long experience, and personal knowledge of all dangers surrounding our coast, I avail upon your medium for stating that the accident occurred solely from the vessel having sprung a leak, and had it not been for the judgement of Captain Priaulx and his mate, Mr John Fleming, who ran her close into La Maitre Ile (on which every passenger was landed safely) the consequences might have been of a different nature.
- 'As to Captain Priaulx trying to cut a passage, when he had at the time upwards of 50 souls under his charge, it is utterly false, for I may merely mention that the principals of his commandership are of the “older school”, which is to proceed by known and safe passages, and not for cutting out new ones; which principal has without doubt met the approbation of those who have had the pleasure of crossing with him, a subscription being now on foot for presenting him with a testimonial for his long services on this station and which already figures with the names of our influential merchants.
- 'I must not omit to mentioin that the passengers impressed their grateful thanks to Captain Atkinson and also to Mr John Fleming, for their arduous exertions, in organising the disembarking of the passengers on to the rock, Mr Fleming not allowing a single male passenger in the boat until every lady had been landed in safety.
- 'I remain Frederick ?'
The following is a list of the passengers on board the Polka at the time of the wreck: Messrs. Cox and lady, Jessicall and four young ms, Walters and lady, Noton, Le Sueur, Middleton, Litre, Nicolle, Lewis, Stickland and a lady, Pelisee, Slade, Germain, Duge, Barnes, Millen, Gould, Nermain, Jackson and two children, Dunbey, Ledantu, Mrs Hariengue and two friends, Misses Labey, Sammard, besides five in crew, Stewards and Stewardesses
List of survivors of the Wreck of the Superb, Tuesday 24 September 1850:
Charles Amy (Seaman), Charles Bastin of Paris & Belgium, George Bowerman of Jersey, Colonel Brock, Philip Cunning(Carpenter), Alfred De BaillIeul of St. Servan, John Currier ( or Cumer) of Birmingham, Nicolas Dupont of Guernsey (a Pilot), William Finch, John Fleming(Mate), John Frost, Edward Gaudin (second Mate), Daniel Girard(Fisherman, Caroline Hambly, Joseph Hamel of St.Malo, Joseph Bellow Hamilton his wife and two children, Dr.Harral, James Harris of Jersey, Benjamin Johnson of London,Joseph (William)Johnson(an Engineer), Desire Le Gros of St.Malo,Mrs Le Sueur(stewardess), Henry Lomas (a Seaman), Charlotte Maule, Philip Mollet (Seaman), Robert T. Monteith, Mrs Norman ( Moorman?) and daughter), Emile Peigny of Paris, G. Pinch of London, John Priaulx (Captain), Achille Queru of Argentan, John Steward (Seaman), John Trery (or Terry/Ferry) Distiller from St.Servan and son. The boy aged 14 climbed the mast to hoist a distress signal, and also built a raft for the ladies and joined some casks and said to his father “the casks are for you and me, and if we go, we will go together.” Ellen Willis of London, her Uncle and sister drowned. Mr Pinson missed the boat because of a prior accident, and was originally reported lost
Those who lost their lives: Mrs Baker and child, Henry Vine Bellot(Cook), William Craneyage (Cabin Boy) from Dublin, Mr Frost(Engineer), buried in France, Mr Issac Hilgrove Gosset buried at St Saviour, Mrs Julia Gosset nee Nicolle buried at St Saviour, Mr J. Reginald Jackson, and son and daughter, they were also on the “Polka” Mr Jackson’s was found at Hagon, and he was interred in the Family vault in England, Miss Jackson was also found in France and buried in England, Mr Knott of of Gorey (“The Courier” Hobart states a Mr Knott aged 20 of Portsmouth), Mr Henry Lloyd,found on the coast at St.John, John Palmer (Stoker), Mr Pinson, Miss Fanny Price daughter of Captain Price R.N. of Guernsey body believed to be buried in England, Mr Richard Freeman Rattenbury Junior,was also on “Polka”, Mr Sedgwickburied in France, Miss Watson, Mr Willis and niece, Miss Wright.
Court Case Details: The inquest jury comprised of the following: John Philip Aubin, Philip Arthur, George Philip Benest, Peter Bichard, John Godfray, Thomas Gray, Peter Hemery (Foreman), Philip Jeune, Francis Le Maistre, Philip Rive, Nicolas Robillard, Charles Sullivan.
Those who gave evidence: Philip Amy, Charles Bastin, Philip Cunning, Edward Gaudin, Daniel Girard (Fisherman/Pilot of the Westward of Jersey), Joseph Hamilton, Thomas Hamon, Philip Hamon (Le Rocque Fisherman of 33 years) James Harris, Joseph Johnson, Desire Le Gros, john le riche, Henry Lomas, George Marie (Master of the Jupiter), Philip Mollet, Philip Noel, Emile Peigney, Thomas Rose (Owner of “Polka” and “Superb”)
As a result of the inquest Capt John Priaulx and Mate John Fleming were arrested and charged with “Culpable imprudence” equivalent to manslaughter. Bail was set at 100 pounds, George Priaulx remained security for his uncle, and Messrs Gallichan and Jouault for John Fleming.
My personal interest is in that Mate John Fleming sailed vessels owned by my great-great-grandfather Julien Andre Jouault of St Helier and Granville, and Fleming’s daughters married two Le Dain brothers. John Fleming born 1807 in Sark died Jersey 1875 buried at Almorah cemetry, lived Southampton Place, Pomona Road, St Helier. Jane Fleming (1836-1909) married Captain Thomas Le Dain (1822-1898) after career at sea he became Deputy Harbourmaster. Eliza Fleming (1820- ) married Captain Nicolas Le Dain (1828-1908) had a long career at sea, whilst loading some chain onto his vessel he trapped his thumb and he walked to the hospital and had it amputated and returned to the vessel as if nothing had happened.