24th September 1850

The Superb is wrecked on Minquiers

Despite good visibility and flat seas, the captain of the Superb still managed to drive his steamer onto Minquiers – an accident in which almost two dozen passengers lost their lives. To compound the error, the Superb’s mate had been mate on the Polka, another boat that had run aground in just the same place a week earlier. It was revealed at the later inquest that the Polka’s demise may even have been the cause of the Superb’s loss.

The Superb was en route from St Malo when she hit the rocks at around half past nine in the morning. She struck the reef so hard that water started to rush in to her hold with such force that she lurched to one side and the captain immediately ordered that its two lifeboats be lowered into the water.

Lifeboat damaged

Unfortunately, one of the lifeboats was holed and it, too, started to take on water. Everyone in it was killed. They would have done better to have stayed on the Superb, which was soon beached by the falling tide and came to rest on Minquiers, described by The Examiner of 12 October 1850 as “the most formidable reef in the Channel. It is about thrice the extent of the Owers, and with a strong tide setting through it”.

The remaining passengers had no option but to sit and await rescue from a pair of steamers, which got them to St Helier after dark, by which time they’d spent the whole day on the Superb. Those in charge of the stricken boat were bailed on a bond of £100 by Jersey’s attorney-general to make sure they were available when called upon for an inquest.

Captain blamed

When the inquest was convened in October, the court heard that the captain had deliberately steered his vessel into the channel that would bring him towards the rocks, despite this being an unusual course. The 12 October edition of the Examiner explained that “the danger of this reef, so extensive and in so hot a tideway… [means that] a wide berth generally is given to it, or the greatest care and caution exercised in approaching it. Captain Priaulx, however, for the idlest curiosity, ran his vessel for a supposed channel, at the rate of fifteen knots an hour, with the disastrous result so many have to deplore… a mad thing was done in the maddest way.”

Several local boat owners and fishermen testified that it was an entirely inappropriate course for a vessel the size of the Superb to take. One fisherman told the court that the captain had chosen that course so that he could show the passengers the wreck of the Polka.

Lloyds Weekly Newspaper of 6 October 1850 reported that, in the words of the attorney-general upon summing up at the end of the inquest, “the wreck of the Superb was the result of culpable imprudence on the part of Captain Priaulx in taking the Superb in a dangerous place, without knowledge of its ordinary course.” The same verdict was passed on John Fleming, the mate.


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Other events that occured in September