27th December 1836

Seneca sinks off the Jersey coast

Although – or perhaps because – she went down two days after Christmas, it took until late in the first week of January for the loss of the ship Seneca, just off the coast of Jersey, to reach the British papers.

Setting off from Newcastle, she had almost completed her voyage to the island when she was abandoned in a sinking state 15 miles from the French island of Ushant, which lies off Brittany, somewhat south west of the Channel Islands. One of the crew died in the evacuation, but the remainder were rescued by the Mountaineer and put ashore at Falmouth.

Seneca had been on her approach to Jersey when a storm had made it impossible to enter port. She was nine miles from Corbiere when the winds rose, snow began to fall, and she’d been blown further away from the island. So fierce were the winds and waves that they swept her cargo off her decks and stressed the superstructure to the point where it started to open up and let in water.

Crew rescued

Mountaineer, under the command of Captain Griffin, had been en route from Liverpool to Rotterdam when the crew spotted Seneca’s distress signal. Like Seneca, they were considerably off course, but they nonetheless went to help the stricken ship. There was no chance of getting a lifeboat across, so the Mountaineer crew instead threw across lines. Having tied them around their waists, the Seneca crew were hoisted across, but disaster struck when the line supporting James Hook slipped down to his legs, swung him around and caused such serious injuries that he died the next day.

Tragic though that was, it could have been much worse. The crew of Seneca had been using pumps to try and keep the incoming water at bay, but just two hours after they had abandoned the ship she sank beneath the waves. Had that happened any sooner, they might all have drowned.


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