16th April 1897

Great Western steamer sinks at Noir Montaise

The Great Western’s fleet of steamers were a lifeline for the Channel Islands, shuttling both cargo and passengers between them and the mainland. This was never more true that during the holiday season, which in 1897 began with mid-April’s long Easter weekend.

Locals came to the harbour to welcome the first visitors from Weymouth who should have been stepping off Ibex. But Ibex didn’t appear. She had offloaded half of her passengers at Guernsey as planned, then headed for Jersey, apparently without any problem.

Bad news arrives

Then came the news that she’d struck Noir Montaise (black rock) at 20 knots and been forced to offload her 300 remaining passengers at Portelet, from where they caught the train to town. Upon their arrival, some alleged that Ibex had been racing its sister ship, Frederica, and this had been the cause of the collision. She’d been holed below the water line and started to flood.

The captain kept powering forward in the hope of making it to St Helier before the ship sank, but her bow soon started dipping below the water and he was forced to beach her. It’s a good job that he did, as the engine room flooded, making further self-propulsion impossible. As the nose sank deeper, the tail rose out of the water, revealing that she’d lost seven of her eight propellers in the collision. At the subsequent inquiry, Captain Le Fevre was declared responsible for the accident and his certificate to captain boats was suspended.

An accident-prone ship

Ibex was still a young ship at the time of the accident. She’d been launched five years earlier and she suffered more than her fair share of mishaps in her short life. Three years after her crash off Jersey, she had a second collision off Guernsey. This was more serious than the accident at Noir Montaise, and she sank in just ten minutes, killing a passenger and one crew member.

Despite being entirely submerged on that occasion, she was raised and repaired, but scrapped in 1925, having spent less than 35 years at sea.


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