20th September 1859

The mail packet ‘Express’ is wrecked

The rocks around La Corbiere have been the cause of many maritime disasters over the years, including the loss of the Express in 1859, en route from Jersey to Weymouth via Guernsey.

Nobody could have imagined that she would run into trouble. Visibility was good, and no doubt the 200 passengers (and three horses) aboard were enjoying the view. However, the Express stayed close to shore as she worked her way west from St Helier – close enough for some of the passengers to remark on that fact.

Harbourmaster worried

As it happened, the St Helier harbourmaster was among them, and contemporary reports suggest that he commented that he’d never seen any boat follow the exact course they were taking, at precisely the moment they struck the first – and soon after the second – of the rocks that were to tear a hole in her hull. Corrections printed later stated that the course was, in fact, commonly used, although it saved less than five minutes on the average time of a crossing.

Some of the passengers lowered one of the lifeboats into the water and climbed down into it, but this was the worst thing they could have done. Three of them were killed in the process.

Parked close to land

Despite taking on water, the Express’ engines were still running and the captain was able to turn the ship and park it between rocks a close to land. At this point, the rest of the lifeboats were lowered into the water and the remaining 197 passengers made it safely ashore.

Later reports in several papers revealed that the Express had a notable history, being the vessel on which King Louis Philippe of France escaped to England in 1848 when forced to abdicate at the outbreak of the French Revolution.


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