The Lyme Regis Mariner, Part III

Pictured top, the 1852 wreck of The Heroine and, the 1853 self-righting lifeboat

BY the mid-1800s William Bridle was serving as mate on the Honiton Packet engaged in the ‘London trade’. However, it was on December 27 1852 that William followed the custom of the sea, going to the aid of survivors from a sinking passenger ship.

The ship was the Heroine, a wooden, three-masted Barque, square-rigged except for the rear mast which carried a fore and aft sail. She had sailed from London on September 29 1852, in addition to a cargo of bricks (acting as ballast) she was carrying emigrants to Australia.

The voyage saw her put into Portsmouth for urgent repairs and then, while sheltering from a storm in Torbay, she had to cut her anchor to avoid a vessel drifting towards her. This resulted in her striking a rock which holed her hull and disabled her rudder.

It is almost impossible to imagine the state of passengers, after three months they had only sailed some 180 miles and were now facing death by drowning.

Elanor Waring, the daughter of a Lyme solicitor, wrote an account of the incident. As a 13 year old she was walking along the Sidmouth Road and described the wind and sea as “fierce with a sickly sunlight”.

She noted that the tide was ebbing and that there were “no sails to be seen because no ship would carry sail in such a storm”.

She wrote of hearing several dull thuds and realised it was gun fire from a ship in distress, so she ran to the Cobb to raise the alarm.

Elanor found that, despite waves sweeping over the Cobb, a boat was being prepared to render assistance. William Brindle, along with four other men (three from the Revenue Cutter Frances), were getting the vessel’s rowing boat ready to aid the Heroine’s boats that were trying to land both passengers and crew from the stricken ship.

William, in an interview given to the Bridport News, states that “the Heroine’s boats did not know which way to come into the harbour”. He and his companions set out to guide them to safety as they were too far eastwards.

However, heavy seas capsized the boat. Of the five men, only Brindle survived. Fortunately, he could swim, managing to survive in the bitterly cold water by hanging onto the boat for over an hour.

William states: “Everyone thought I was drowned until someone on the Church Cliffs noticed my head above water off the Bathing Steps.”

Pulled from the sea he found his pregnant wife in a terrible state; she gave birth to a son the next day!

Helene’s account tells how, as the storm lifted, she was amazed to see two boats making for the shore, they finally drifted in below Church Cliffs. The boats contained all the passengers and crew (totalling 48 men, women and children); not a soul was lost from the ill-fated Heroine.

They had lost everything, so the “ladies of Lyme ransacked their wardrobes” to provide them with clothing.

Helene writes: “It was decided to collect a fund so that each family could return to its parish. The money was distributed in the Town Hall and Dr Hodges (the vicar) presented each person with a Bible.”

They then adjourned to the church for an act of thanksgiving. The bodies of the four men were recovered and draped in the Union Jack they were “reverently taken to the Pilot Boat Inn (a temporary mortuary) before a funeral with full honours”.

William was awarded the RNLI silver medal, became a captain and bought his own ship, which by misfortune was lost in the Portland Race. He survived and in December 1891 an accident ended his sea-faring days.

In September 1853 Lyme had its first purpose built two-masted lifeboat, it could self-right in seven seconds.

Peter Lacey
Local author and historian

Signed copies of Peter Lacey’s novel ‘Touching the Past’ are now on sale in Lyme Regis Museum shop priced at £5.99.

Read all of Peter’s previous ‘Tales of Lyme’s Past’ columns here

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