5th February 1887
Fishermen discover an unexpected coffin
When a boat-load of fishermen spotted a coffin floating in the sea off Alderney, they couldn’t help but be curious. That curiosity deepened when they noticed that a label had been fixed to the outside, bearing the name and address of a Jersey undertaker. Whether they were simply intrigued, or they believed it their civic duty, they dragged it onto their boat and delivered it to the intended recipient who, opening it, discovered the body of a certain Miss Marechaux inside.
The unfortunate corpse had been on her way to Jersey aboard the Brighton, a paddle steamer that had run aground the previous month on its way to Jersey. The 20-year-old steamer had been carrying 23 passengers, 24 crew and around 40 tons of cargo when she struck rocks at Grande Braye, near Guernsey. None of the passenger or crew were killed, but the already dead were naturally a lower priority.
The Brighton, flagship of the Weymouth and Channel Islands Company’s fleet, had been sunk in thick fog. Visibility had been poor, and although initial reports suggested that the captain had been running the steamer at “dead slow”, a later investigation recorded that she had been making 10 knots an hour, which was close to her full speed. Thus, when she struck the rocks, they shattered her bow and the water rushed in.
This makes it all the more remarkable that everyone got out alive, considering it was then seven in the morning and most of the passengers had been in beds below deck. They got into the lifeboats and watched as the boat tipped on one end and went down. She had still been afloat just twenty minutes earlier, and nobody would have imagined what was about to happen.
At the subsequent investigation, the master, Captain Painter, had his certificate to sail suspended for six months and he was demoted to first mate. He had made the crossing between the mainland and Channel Islands 816 times and, suggested the court, “he thought, therefore, no doubt that he might dispense with the ordinary precautions observed by seamen when they are ignorant of the vessel’s position”.
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