from "The Dailygraph"
8 August (pasted in Mina Murray's Journal)
One of the greatest and suddenest storms
on record has just been experienced here, with results both strange and unique.
The weather had been somewhat sultry, but not to any degree uncommon in the month
of August. Saturday evening was as fine as was ever known, and the great body
of holiday-makers laid out yesterday for visits to Mulgrave Woods, Robin Hood's
Bay, Rig Mill, Runswick, Staithes, and the various trips in the neighborhood of
Whitby. The steamers Emma and Scarborough made trips up and down the coast, and
there was an unusual amount of 'tripping' both to and from Whitby. The day was
unusually fine till the afternoon, when some of the gossips who frequent the East
Cliff churchyard, and from the commanding eminence watch the wide sweep of sea
visible to the north and east, called attention to a sudden show of 'mares tails'
high in the sky to the northwest. The wind was then blowing from the south-west
in the mild degree which in barometrical language is ranked 'No. 2, light breeze.'
coastguard on duty at once made report, and one old fisherman, who for more than
half a century has kept watch on weather signs from the East Cliff, foretold in
an emphatic manner the coming of a sudden storm. The approach of sunset was so
very beautiful, so grand in its masses of splendidly coloured clouds, that there
was quite an assemblage on the walk along the cliff in the old churchyard to enjoy
the beauty. Before the sun dipped below the black mass of Kettleness, standing
boldly athwart the western sky, its downward way was marked by myriad clouds of
every sunset colour, flame, purple, pink, green, violet, and all the tints of
gold, with here and there masses not large, but of seemingly absolute blackness,
in all sorts of shapes, as well outlined as colossal silhouettes. The experience
was not lost on the painters, and doubtless some of the sketches of the 'Prelude
to the Great Storm' will grace the R. A and R. I. walls in May next.
than one captain made up his mind then and there that his 'cobble' or his 'mule',
as they term the different classes of boats, would remain in the harbour till
the storm had passed. The wind fell away entirely during the evening, and at midnight
there was a dead calm, a sultry heat, and that prevailing intensity which, on
the approach of thunder, affects persons of a sensitive nature.
but few lights in sight at sea, for even the coasting steamers, which usually
hug the shore so closely, kept well to seaward, and but few fishing boats were
in sight. The only sail noticeable was a foreign schooner with all sails set,
which was seemingly going westwards. The foolhardiness or ignorance of her officers
was a prolific theme for comment whilst she remained in sight, and efforts were
made to signal her to reduce sail in the face of her danger. Before the night
shut down she was seen with sails idly flapping as she gently rolled on the undulating
swell of the sea.
"As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean."
before ten o'clock the stillness of the air grew quite oppressive, and the silence
was so marked that the bleating of a sheep inland or the barking of a dog in the
town was distinctly heard, and the band on the pier, with its lively French air,
was like a dischord in the great harmony of nature's silence. A little after midnight
came a strange sound from over the sea, and high overhead the air began to carry
a strange, faint, hollow booming.
Then without warning the tempest broke.
With a rapidity which, at the time, seemed incredible, and even afterwards is
impossible to realize, the whole aspect of nature at once became convulsed. The
waves rose in growing fury, each over-topping its fellow, till in a very few minutes
the lately glassy sea was like a roaring and devouring monster. White-crested
waves beat madly on the level sands and rushed up the shelving cliffs. Others
broke over the piers, and with their spume swept the lanthorns of the lighthouses
which rise from the end of either pier of Whitby Harbour.
The wind roared
like thunder, and blew with such force that it was with difficulty that even strong
men kept their feet, or clung with grim clasp to the iron stanchions. It was found
necessary to clear the entire pier from the mass of onlookers, or else the fatalities
of the night would have increased manifold. To add to the difficulties and dangers
of the time, masses of sea-fog came drifting inland. White, wet clouds, which
swept by in ghostly fashion, so dank and damp and cold that it needed but little
effort of imagination to think that the spirits of those lost at sea were touching
their living brethren with the clammy hands of death, and many a one shuddered
as the wreaths of sea-mist swept by.
At times the mist cleared, and the
sea for some distance could be seen in the glare of the lightning, which came
thick and fast, followed by such peals of thunder that the whole sky overhead
seemed trembling under the shock of the footsteps of the storm.
the scenes thus revealed were of immeasurable grandeur and of absorbing interest.
The sea, running mountains high, threw skywards with each wave mighty masses of
white foam, which the tempest seemed to snatch at and whirl away into space. Here
and there a fishing boat, with a rag of sail, running madly for shelter before
the blast, now and again the white wings of a storm-tossed seabird. On the summit
of the East Cliff the new searchlight was ready for experiment, but had not yet
been tried. The officers in charge of it got it into working order, and in the
pauses of onrushing mist swept with it the surface of the sea. Once or twice its
service was most effective, as when a fishing boat, with gunwale under water,
rushed into the harbour, able, by the guidance of the sheltering light, to avoid
the danger of dashing against the piers. As each boat achieved the safety of the
port there was a shout of joy from the mass of people on the shore, a shout which
for a moment seemed to cleave the gale and was then swept away in its rush.
long the searchlight discovered some distance away a schooner with all sails set,
apparently the same vessel which had been noticed earlier in the evening. The
wind had by this time backed to the east, and there was a shudder amongst the
watchers on the cliff as they realized the terrible danger in which she now was.
her and the port lay the great flat reef on which so many good ships have from
time to time suffered, and, with the wind blowing from its present quarter, it
would be quite impossible that she should fetch the entrance of the harbour.
was now nearly the hour of high tide, but the waves were so great that in their
troughs the shallows of the shore were almost visible, and the schooner, with
all sails set, was rushing with such speed that, in the words of one old salt,
"she must fetch up somewhere, if it was only in hell". Then came another
rush of sea-fog, greater than any hitherto, a mass of dank mist, which seemed
to close on all things like a gray pall, and left available to men only the organ
of hearing, for the roar of the tempest, and the crash of the thunder, and the
booming of the mighty billows came through the damp oblivion even louder than
before. The rays of the searchlight were kept fixed on the harbour mouth across
the East Pier, where the shock was expected, and men waited breathless.
wind suddenly shifted to the northeast, and the remnant of the sea fog melted
in the blast. And then, mirabile dictu, between the piers, leaping from wave to
wave as it rushed at headlong speed, swept the strange schooner before the blast,
with all sail set, and gained the safety of the harbour. The searchlight followed
her, and a shudder ran through all who saw her, for lashed to the helm was a corpse,
with drooping head, which swung horribly to and fro at each motion of the ship.
No other form could be seen on the deck at all.
A great awe came on all
as they realised that the ship, as if by a miracle, had found the harbour, unsteered
save by the hand of a dead man! However, all took place more quickly than it takes
to write these words. The schooner paused not, but rushing across the harbour,
pitched herself on that accumulation of sand and gravel washed by many tides and
many storms into the southeast corner of the pier jutting under the East Cliff,
known locally as Tate Hill Pier.
There was of course a considerable concussion
as the vessel drove up on the sand heap. Every spar, rope, and stay was strained,
and some of the 'top-hammer' came crashing down. But, strangest of all, the very
instant the shore was touched, an immense dog sprang up on deck from below, as
if shot up by the concussion, and running forward, jumped from the bow on the
Making straight for the steep cliff, where the churchyard hangs over
the laneway to the East Pier so steeply that some of the flat tombstones, thruffsteans
or through-stones, as they call them in Whitby vernacular, actually project over
where the sustaining cliff has fallen away, it disappeared in the darkness, which
seemed intensified just beyond the focus of the searchlight.
It so happened
that there was no one at the moment on Tate Hill Pier, as all those whose houses
are in close proximity were either in bed or were out on the heights above. Thus
the coastguard on duty on the eastern side of the harbour, who at once ran down
to the little pier, was the first to climb aboard. The men working the searchlight,
after scouring the entrance of the harbour without seeing anything, then turned
the light on the derelict and kept it there. The coastguard ran aft, and when
he came beside the wheel, bent over to examine it, and recoiled at once as though
under some sudden emotion. This seemed to pique general curiosity, and quite a
number of people began to run.
It is a good way round from the West Cliff
by the Draw-bridge to Tate Hill Pier, but your correspondent is a fairly good
runner, and came well ahead of the crowd. When I arrived, however, I found already
assembled on the pier a crowd, whom the coastguard and police refused to allow
to come on board. By the courtesy of the chief boatman, I was, as your correspondent,
permitted to climb on deck, and was one of a small group who saw the dead seaman
whilst actually lashed to the wheel.
It was no wonder that the coastguard
was surprised, or even awed, for not often can such a sight have been seen. The
man was simply fastened by his hands, tied one over the other, to a spoke of the
wheel. Between the inner hand and the wood was a crucifix, the set of beads on
which it was fastened being around both wrists and wheel, and all kept fast by
the binding cords. The poor fellow may have been seated at one time, but the flapping
and buffeting of the sails had worked through the rudder of the wheel and had
dragged him to and fro, so that the cords with which he was tied had cut the flesh
to the bone.
Accurate note was made of the state of things, and a doctor,
Surgeon J. M. Caffyn, of 33, East Elliot Place, who came immediately after me,
declared, after making examination, that the man must have been dead for quite
In his pocket was a bottle, carefully corked, empty save for a
little roll of paper, which proved to be the addendum to the log.
said the man must have tied up his own hands, fastening the knots with his teeth.
The fact that a coastguard was the first on board may save some complications
later on, in the Admiralty Court, for coastguards cannot claim the salvage which
is the right of the first civilian entering on a derelict. Already, however, the
legal tongues are wagging, and one young law student is loudly asserting that
the rights of the owner are already completely sacrificed, his property being
held in contravention of the statues of mortmain, since the tiller, as emblemship,
if not proof, of delegated possession, is held in a dead hand.
It is needless
to say that the dead steersman has been reverently removed from the place where
he held his honourable watch and ward till death, a steadfastness as noble as
that of the young Casabianca, and placed in the mortuary to await inquest.
the sudden storm is passing, and its fierceness is abating. Crowds are scattering
backward, and the sky is beginning to redden over the Yorkshire wolds.
shall send, in time for your next issue, further details of the derelict ship
which found her way so miraculously into harbour in the storm.