15th April 1859

Ship sinks after crew gets drunk

It was perhaps inevitable that the cutter Ouragan would end up sinking. Aside from the captain, her whole crew was drunk, so he had no choice but to pilot her into the harbour alone. This would have been bad enough on its own – but perhaps manageable – had it not been 2.30am and the captain not fighting a storm. “The sea was then running mountains high,” reported journalists from the Jersey Independent and Daily Telegraph.

Holed below the water line

Ouragan struck rocks in St Aubin’s Bay and almost immediately started to sink. One man, a St Malo sailor called Rabion, was drowned below deck, but the rest of the crew started to climb the rigging to get out of the water. Rabion was the only fatality.

Police and spectators came onto the beach and two brothers called Bottomley headed out to save as many souls as they could. Their boat turned over as they brought back the captain, throwing them out, but all three men climbed back in and made it to shore.

An award for bravery

As well as declaring the cause of death, the jury that witnessed Rabion’s post mortem recommended that the Bottomly brothers be rewarded for their bravery – and a fund was started on their behalf.

However, not everyone was feeling entirely charitable. In a letter to the Jersey Independent, which had reported the wreck in the first place, “six pilots and eight experienced boatmen” pointed out that by the time help arrived the tide had been ebbing for an hour, so in another 90 minutes the Ouragan would have been entirely out of the water. Taking the captain into a rescue boat was entirely irresponsible. Other rescues, it was pointed out, had been far more valliant.


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