Events 1877


1 January

Two separate incidents of people being washed off the pier and drowned.

Another Storm

Two Men Washed off the South Pier and Drowned

Yesterday morning, between eleven and twelve o'clock, we received a telegram from the Meteorological Office containing a storm warning, but on the delivery of the message the gale had actually commenced. New Year's Eve was calm, with a gentle south-westerly breeze, and clear sky. The sea was smooth, with scarcely a ripple to disturb the surface of the water, and the full moon shed her beams upon it, making the sight one of much grandeur. Between six and seven o'clock yesterday morning, however, dull, laden clouds obscured the sky, and a heavy fall of rain ensued. There was at that time a perfect calm, but soon after eleven o'clock the storm suddenly came away. By noon a strong gale from the northeast was blowing, accompanied by heavy rain. The sea rose rapidly, and commenced to break across the North and South Piers at the mouth of the Tyne. There was an unusually high spring tide, and at high water some difficulty was experienced embarking and disembarking at the Market Place and New Quay ferries, where the tide overflowed the gangways, and the passengers were compelled to walk on planks, and horses had to wade almost knee deep through the water. Several of the quays and wharves were also inundated for some time. At the South Pier two melancholy accidents took place during the afternoon, whereby two gentlemen lost their lives. About twenty minutes past three a gentleman was washed off the pier, and carried over to the north side. A huge wave had broke just at the place where he was walking—about 100 yards east of the jetty—and the back-wash carried him away. Mr Hayhurst, of Sunderland, a gentleman interested in the wreck of the screw-steamer Blenheim, noticed the accident, and immediately ran to the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade watch-house to inform the members of what had occurred. The storm had caused a good number of members to muster for duty, and they at once ran down the pier with grappling irons and hand lines. After several efforts they succeeded in landing the man upon the pier, but he was in a very exhausted and almost lifeless condition. He was promptly conveyed to the brigade house, and the usual attempts to produce respiration were tried, but unfortunately without avail, and on the arrival of Dr Crease, the hon. surgeon of the brigade, shortly afterwards, he pronounced life to be extinct. Mr S. Malcolm, the secretary of the brigade, made an examination of the clothes of the deceased with a view to his identification, and from letters found in his pockets it is supposed his name was John Charles Jones, and that he resided at No. 5 Bensham Terrace, Gateshead. The deceased appeared to be about thirty years of age. The body was removed to the dead-house at the Union Workhouse. Between four and five o'clock a similar accident took place, near the same spot, and in this instance also a man was drowned. The brigadesmen were again informed of the occurrence, and ran to the scene of the accident, but never saw anything of the unfortunate gentleman, who had evidently been carried some distance from the pier and sunk. There is no clue to the identification of this person, and the only description given is that he was a tall gentleman, and was carrying a walking stick. The gale moderated in the evening, and was followed by a keen frost, and a clear moonlit sky. The wreck of the Blenheim, at the end of the South Pier, was broken up during the storm.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette Telegraph 2 January 1877

The Drowning Cases South Shields

 An inquest was held yesterday, by John Graham, coroner, the Marine Hotel (Mr W. Armstrong's), Ocean Road, South Shields, upon the body of John Charles Jones, who was drowned on the afternoon of New Year's Day, by being washed off the South Shields Pier. The first witness called was Mr Thomas Adamson Matthewson, one of the managers for Messrs Walker and Emley, Westgate Road, Newcastle, who identified the body seen by the jury as that of John Charles Jones, who resided at 5 Bensham Terrace, Gateshead. Deceased was manager of the hardware department of Messrs Walker and Emley. He was about 34 years of age, and was married. Mr John Rudd, druggist, 157 Dale Street, said he saw the deceased about a minute before he was washed of the pier, between half-past three and four o'clock on Monday afternoon. Deceased was than between the jetty and the "bend" of the pier, about 500 or 600 yards below witness. There were four or five people about 400 yards higher up the pier than the deceased, who was beyond everybody, and alone. It was impossible to render any assistance. After going over towards the north side of the river, the tide seemed to bring him in again, and he was got by means of grappling irons and lines, about half an hour from the time of being washed off. He floated during the whole time with his face downwards. P.C. Lowe, engaged at the pier by the Tyne Commissioners, spoke to the recovery of the body, and of its ultimate removal to the Dead House. Mr S. Malcolm, secretary to the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, who searched the pockets of deceased, produced the articles found upon him. Every means was tried to produce respiration, but without effect, and upon the arrival of Dr Crease, life was pronounced to be extinct. Dr Crease stated that the cause of death was drowning, although the deceased was bruised a good deal.—A verdict that Jones had been accidentally drowned by being washed off the pier was returned.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette and Telegraph 3 January 1877

2 January

There is a surviving  photograph of the three vessels, but the photographer is unknown.

Mr J. S. Lambert, Northampton House, Jarrow, has produced a capital photograph of the three stranded steamers which lent to the sands at South Shields so sadly picturesque an  aspect during some the terrible days in December.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette Telegraph 2 January 1877

5 January

There is no record of the purpose of this meeting, although the Annual Supper took place on the same day.


 A SPECIAL MEETING of the Members will be held in the Watch House, on Friday Next, Jan. 5th. at 7 30 p.m. A full muster is requested.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette and Telegraph 3 January 1877

3 January

The campaign for a railing on the pier is successful.

The Railing on the Pier

The Mayor he had received a letter from the River Tyne Commissioners respecting the hand-rail on the pier, which was as follows: — “River Tyne Commission, 4 St. Nicholas Buildings, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 15th December, 1876. Dear Sir,—Referring to your letter of I2th inst. enclosing resolution of Town Council on the subject of placing a railing on the South Pier as a protection to members of the Life Brigade. The subject was brought under the consideration the Piers Committee at their meeting on Tuesday, when Mr Wm. Cay and Mr Malcolm, of the Life Brigade, attended to explain and support the resolution. The Committee agreed as follows viz.:—“It resolved, that it be recommended to the Commissioners to comply with the request of the South Shields Town Council, and that the Engineer be instructed accordingly.” The Commissioners at their meeting yesterday agreed to the recommendation, and the Engineer is instructed to carry the resolution into effect. Will you kindly inform Messrs Cay and Malcolm, as I have not their addresses?—I am, dear Sir, yours truly, James Guthrie, Secretary. Joseph M. Moore, Esq., Town Clerk, South Shields." Seeing the lamentable occurrence that had taken place within the last few days, it might not be out place to state that he had received letter from Mr Messent, the engineer to the Tyne Commissioners, and that a hand-rail had been decided on, though the position had not. Mr Messent had said that he should be glad to meet the members of the Brigade in order to decide the exact position which it should be placed. They would see by the newspapers that a rail 7 feet from the edge of the pier was to be placed; but there appeared to be a difference of opinion on the matter. Mr Messent himself was decidedly of opinion that it should be 7 feet from the edge of the pier; but he was nevertheless willing to meet the members of the Brigade at the Watch House, and have the question fully discussed; and he was further glad if any of the members of this Corporation would also attend.


Mr Duncan thought there should an expression of opinion on the part of Council upon the subject, and that to the effect that the distance of 7 feet should not be approved of. In order that this might be done, he should move the suspension of the standing orders. [This was agreed to.] Resuming, Mr Duncan said that he should move that the Council recommend that the rail should be placed three feet from the north edge of the pier.

Mr Scott seconded the motion. He said on the day of the storm he was down on the pier, and huge wave came across and struck him severely. It did nothing but wet him, but there was no life-buoy there, and he thought it might be a good opportunity to suggest that one should be placed there. (Hear, hear.)

Mr Oldroyd suggested that it should not be three feet, and it should be not more than nine inches or a foot from the north edge of the pier. All that was wanted was to give a solidity to the uprights.


Ald. Strachan was of opinion that the Council should not interfere with the opinions of the engineer, and that the motion should be withdrawn.
Mr Mabane said he was sorry that he was not in the room at the commencement of the debate, but his opinion was that the rail should be placed at a distance not exceeding 18 inches from the edge of the pier. He had no doubt this would be carried.

Mr Duncan said he declined to adopt the suggestion of Ald. Strachan to withdraw the motion, as it was a very important matter; and his opinion was that the Council should express a decided opinion on the matter.

Mr Wylie was in favour of the adoption of Mr Oldroyd's suggestion.

Mr Oldroyd then submitted his suggestion as an amendment, and in this form it was put to the meeting and carried, "That the Council are of opinion that the hand-rail should be placed at a distance from the north edge of the pier not exceeding 18 inches."

Source: Shields Daily Gazette and Telegraph 4 January 1877

9 January

Mr Messant reports on the damage done to the pier works by the wrecks the previous month.

The staging and cranes have suffered severe damage from vessels running into them.

The first was the schooner “Russell” which in the middle of the night of the 15th December in a South East Gale ran onto the South Slope of the South Pier- onto which the crew escaped- she was afterwards driven through the staging from the south to north breaking 18 piles which with the framework supported two large travelling cranes and which were consequently thrown down and broken, the two bells and machinery being submerged. Three of the remaining cranes left in danger were brought from the south to the north side for safety.

On the night of the 20th and morning of the 21st the gale and sea still increasing the screw steamer “Tyne” which became a total wreck with loss of all hands and the steamer “Fenella” afterwards stranded-went through the outer staging from NE to SW throwing down about 125 feet of completed staging with some framing still left hanging from the damage of the “Russell”.

In the afternoon of the same day the screw steamer “Blenheim” of Hartlepool came over the rubble base side on to the end of the masonary when she broke in two one half going to the south and the other to the north of the Pier and drifted against the remaining north piles alongside the finished work breaking them and throwing down the three cranes that had been placed there for safety when saved from the wreck of the “Russell”. The sea on this day was terrific.

Source: Piers Committee 9 January 1877

19 January

This is a first-hand account of one of the busiest periods in the historyof the Brigade.

The Late Gales
Report by the South Shields Life Brigade

The following letter has been received by the Board of Trade from Mr S. Malcolm, the hon. secretary to the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, giving an account the proceedings of the brigade during the gales which prevailed on the north east coast in December, 1876

"South Shields, Dec. 30, 1876”

" Sir,—ln further reply to your letter of the 23rd instant, I have the honour to report that on Tuesday, the 19th instant, a most terrific gale from the south-east commenced on this part of the coast, and was attended by most disastrous results both to life and property, as the following condensed account will show. The South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, as usual on such occasions, mustered in force at their watch-house to be ready for any emergency that might arise. The gale increased, and the sea rapidly rose on Wednesday to an alarming extent. On Thursday morning, about two o’clock, the look-out observed a vessel, the steamship Claremont, of Newcastle, making for the harbour. On nearing the bar, a succession of heavy seas struck her, and she became unmanageable, eventually stranding about two hundred yards on the south side of the pier. Meanwhile, the apparatus was taken along the pier, and in a few minutes a rocket line was thrown right amidships, but falling on the stays out of reach of the crew, a second was fired abaft the mainmast, by means of which the other gear was got on board, and all the crew, with a woman and child, numbering 21, safely landed They were taken to the watch-house and supplied with dry clothing and refreshments. As the morning advanced the wind and sea increased, with heavy rain. Shortly after six o'clock, the lights of another steamer were descried through the darkness, and in a very short space of time she was driven against the end of the pier. The apparatus was all in readiness and a rocket line fired on board. By this time the vessel had become submerged and the crew had taken to the rigging. The scene was now most heartrending, rocket after rocket went over the ship, the crew being unable to leave their positions to take advantage of them. Shortly after striking very little was to be seen but the bridge and masts. The former soon washed away, and the latter followed in rapid succession, carrying with them the poor fellows who had gone there as a last refuge. She proved to be the steamship Tyne, of North Shields, with a crew of seventeen hands, one of whom was member of this brigade. They were all drowned. Just as the last rocket was fired over the Tyne, another screw-steamer struck the end of the pier. After backing off she was run full speed ahead to the beach, just clearing the sunken wreck, which had she struck might have been attended with serious loss of life. Two rockets were fired, both of which took the lines over the ship. They were not used; the crew, 20 in number, remaining on board till low water, when they got ashore and were supplied with necessary food and clothing the watch-house. This steamer was the Fenella, of London. After the breaking up of the Tyne a detachment of the brigade was told off to go along the beach in search of any bodies that might wash ashore. It was while in performance of this duty that one of the members was knocked down by a wave and had his leg broken. Other members also had narrow escapes. The storm still continued to rage, and at 3 o'clock in the afternoon the steamship Blenheim, of Hartlepool, struck the pier, and immediately parted amidships, the after part remaining fast and the fore part washing round the north end of the pier. The men on this piece of the vessel jumped on to the pier staging and were saved, except one who fell short and was drowned. A rocket was fired over the stern, and the remainder of the crew, six in number, safely landed. The total on board was twenty, nineteen of whom were saved and taken to the watch-house, where they were treated in the usual manner. The gear was collected together and kept at the end of the pier to be ready for any other emergency. Soon after the wreck of the Blenheim, a small schooner named the New Cornwall, of Barnstaple, got among the broken water, was capsized, and all the five number, perished. We could render no assistance, the melancholy sight being over in three or four minutes. Saturday the sea continued very high, with blinding showers of sleet. The members of the brigade were on duty, and about midnight another screw-steamer was observed making very bad weather near the end of the pier. She was struck by heavy seas, and eventually stranded near the other vessels. The apparatus was taken down the pier and the first rocket fired right amidships. No action being taken by the crew a second was fired, by which the whip line was hauled on board. From some cause this got foul, and other three rockets were fired, by which a second whip line was hauled off, and also a hawser, but these also got entangled by the heavy sea and the large quantity of wreckage floating about. After working with the lines for two hours it was determined to try the lifeboat. This proved successful, and all the crew safely landed and taken the watch-house. One of the life boat men got his leg broken while assisting to get the lifeboat launched. This vessel was the Herman Sauber, of Hamburg, with a crew of 19. By this time most of the members were nearly worn out with the exertions of the last two or three days, but as the weather still continued stormy some remained on duty all through Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning about half-past three o'clock, the brig Mary, of Whitby, was observed to go ashore on the Herd Sand. The signal was instantly given to the lifeboats. The brigade ran along with heaving lines and life-buoys, but the crew was taken out by the lifeboat. Such is a brief account of the most fearful and disastrous gale that has occurred, here since the formation of this brigade, and one that will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. We have landed by the apparatus 27 people, besides assisting the others to the best of our ability. We have also received 80 shipwrecked persons into the watch-house, providing them with all necessary comforts, for which they have been very grateful. In conclusion, I think it my duty to add that the officers of coastguard have been most assiduous and attentive to their duties, and are well worthy of special recognition. I would also respectfully suggest that the regulation quantity of stores at this station should be increased.—l am, &c,

S. Malcolm Hon. Sec.

“The Assistant Secretary, Marine Department, Board of Trade."

Source: Shields Daily Gazette and Telegraph 19 January 1877

20 January

The incidents in December were referred to in an illustrated article in "The Graphic".

The South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade

Illustration from "The Graphic" 20 January 1877

The stormy weather of the last few weeks has given plenty of work to the brave fellows engaged in the noble task of succouring distressed vessels upon the most dangerous parts of our coasts; and none have been more constantly on the watch than the Volunteer Rocket Brigades of North and South Shields. The mouth of the Tyne is a highly dangerous locality in rough weather, and this coupled with the fact that when a storm threatens ships run to the river for safety, renders it easy to understand the great number of wrecks that take place thereabouts. If a fugitive vessel once clears the harbour bar she is safe, but failing that she is almost inevitably cast upon the beach and wrecked. It is then that the services of the Rocket Volunteers are required, and so efficiently are they performed that since the establishment of the corps some ten years ago it has been the means or saving nearly 200 lives. The rocket apparatus is often effective when the violence of the waves renders it impossible to launch a lifeboat. The modus operandi, as most of our readers are doubtless aware, is to fire a rocket from the shore over the ship; this carries with it a stout line, the end of which the sailors make fast to the mast or some other part of the vessel, and then a cradle or basket is run out upon this line and hauled back to shore with one of the passengers or crew, the process being repeated until all on board have been saved. During the violent storms of December the South Shields Volunteer Brigade were unceasingly occupied in their noble work, and though many lives were unfortunately lost almost within their sight on those fearful nights, they were yet able to land no fewer than twenty-seven people by means of the line, besides assisting many others. Their gallant behaviour on those occasions has been acknowledged by the President of the Board of Trade, who sent a special letter to the secretary, Mr. S. Malcolm, thanking them for their services.

Source: The Graphic 20 January 1877

22 January

David Cleat was one of the original members of the Brigade.

Drowned by the foundering of the screw-steamer Tyne, on Dec. 21st, 1876, David Cleet, aged 29 years, member of the South Shields Life Brigade much and deservedly respected by all who knew him.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette and Telegraph 22nd of January 1877



8 March

The Eliza Mary was in trouble in the harbour near to the South Pier. The Brigade successfully made contact with the rocket apparatus, but the captain declined to make use of it.

19 March

Mr Malcolm spoke at a meeting in Sunderland which had been called to consider the formation of a life brigade for the town.

Mr. Malcolm, the hon. secretary to the South Shields Brigade, next spoke. He had often wondered how a go-ahead place like Sunderland had no life brigade. He had heard it pleaded as an excuse that no person of influence could be got to take the project up; this excuse was certainly not available on the present occasion, and should the meeting eventuate in a life brigade, he had no doubt the Mayor would look back upon the gathering as one of the most pleasing incidents of his life. (Applause.) At South Shields, the brigade (comprising the maximum number, 100 members) was divided into four companies, each being under the command of a captain, who had sub-captain to act in his absence. They had twelve regular drills in a year, and member who attended five of these was regarded as efficient. Each member received a storm cap, which enable members to distinguish each other in the dark during a wreck; and when they had been two years efficient they obtained a guernsey, and when three years a pair of trousers. They had a very comfortable watch-house; the principal room was 54 ft. by 18 ft. then there was a room with baths and bunks for use by shipwrecked mariners; and overhead was a room where they kept a look-out for ships making for the port There was no pecuniary outlay on the part the members, and they found it easy to keep the brigade up to the maximum number. They had spent £700 since the brigade was formed eleven years ago, and they found no difficulty in obtaining money when they required it, from the public and the Board of Trade; in fact, they had only to give a hint they required to carry out any particular project, and they received more than they required. (Applause.) Members of the brigade, he reminded the meeting, must be prepared to watch all night, to turn out their warm beds at all hours and in all sorts of weather, and to undergo much fatigue and risk great dangers; but in doing this they had the knowledge that they could not be engaged in a more honourable and praiseworthy occupation, and they had for their reward the pleasure—and he knew no pleasure equal to it—of feeling that by their efforts they had assisted to save the lives of many poor fellows who would otherwise have gone to a watery grave, and to restore to their trembling wives and children the loved heads and breadwinners of families. (Applause.) The life brigade, he maintained, was one of the greatest institutions which England could boast of —one of the institutions which raised it above the other countries of the world. (Applause) Sunderland had been long about the formation of a brigade, but "better late than never," and he hoped she would soon have a brigade equal to those at neighbouring ports. (Applause.).

Source: Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette 20 March 1877

25 March 1877

Another gale results in the Brigade being on “look-out”.

Gale on the Coast

During yesterday a heavy gale from the southeast, which commenced on Saturday forenoon, prevailed on the north-east coast, and was accompanied by a continuous fall of rain. Several vessels made for and entered Shields harbour in safety, amongst them being several laden ships which sought shelter from the storm. The sea broke heavily across bar and along the coast, and the progress of the various vessels as they drew near the harbour was watched with keen interest by a large assembly of persons, who had congregated on the piers and other places where a view of the bar could be obtained. The members of the Volunteer Life Brigades at Tynemouth and South Shields, as well as the crews of life-boats on both sides of river, were on the look-out, but fortunately their services were not required. The gale had somewhat abated this morning, but the weather still wore an unsettled and threatening appearance.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette and Telegraph 26 March 1877


7 April

A meeting in Sunderland on the 19 March resulted in the formation of a Life Brigade for the Wear.

South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade.— At the ordinary monthly practice of this brigade, on Saturday afternoon, Mr B. Gain and several members of the newly-formed Sunderland Life Brigade were present. The drill was a highly satisfactory one, the first man being landed in 10 ½ minutes. The companies were under command Captain Cottew, Captain Mabane, and Captain M. Cay, and those who witnessed the practice were Captain Johnson, R.N., Commander of Coastguard for the Northern Division; Col. Scott Thompson, Sunderland, formerly of the 14th Hussars and Mr S. Malcolm, hon. sec. of the brigade.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette and Telegraph 9 April 1877

21 April

The Amphritite came ashore on the Herd Sands. The Brigade offered their services, but the captain decided not to use them.




26 July

The Annual Meeting took place in the Watch House.


8 August

The Brigade provides shelter for spectators at the Swimming Club Annual Gala.

South Shields Swimming Club
Annual Gala

The competitors were not long commenced before dark, leaden, clouds began to obscure the sun, and shortly afterwards heavy rain, accompanied by frequent flashes of forked lightning, and loud peals of thunder, altered the appearance of scene by causing the immense concourse of spectators assembled on the pier to run for the nearest place of shelter. It may be here stated that great consideration was shewn by the officials of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, who threw open their spacious watch house, and gave shelter to several hundreds of persons. This was perhaps a trifling matter, but it will assuredly raise the character of the brigade in the estimation of a grateful public.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 9 August 1877


22 September

Another incident involving the firing of the signal guns.

The Alarm Guns at Tynemouth

To the Editor of the Shields Daily Gazette

Sir, To-day, at 12 o'clock at noon, I was rather startled by the booming of three guns and you must know as well as our friends the other side of the water that is a signal to us on the south side of thel river that a ship is on shore, and is very alarming to those that their motto "Always Ready" to help the poor distressed sailor from a watery grave. I, with other officers, hurried down to our pier to render assistance, and found a very heavy sea running, with strong north-east wind blowing, and no ship on shore. If our friends want to fire guns for pleasure I hope they will not fire three guns, as it only causes a false alarm, and we may have lives lost by our men not taking-notice of the firing of the guns.

I am Sir, yours, &c,

T. A. Wilson,

One of the General Committee of
South Shields Life Brigade.

South Shields, Sept. 21st, 1877

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 22 September 1877



28 November

More concerns about safety on the pier.

The South Pier and the Life Brigade

To the Editor of the Shields Daily Gazette.

SIR,—The winter storms are again upon us, playing havoc with the lives of our sailors, and in one or two cases lately with extreme danger to those who try to save them. The Tyne Commissioners, I believe, kindly promised to place a railing on our pier (though why Tynemouth should have one years ago and we not I can't tell) for the benefit of those who, when the signal guns fire in the dead of night, run down the pier with the life-saving apparatus, striving what man can do to save life from the fury of the elements. But I notice that the worst part the pier, namely, from the gates to the staging, there is no protection whatever. The pier there is quite perpendicular, and if any member of the Volunteer Life Brigade made a false step, crossing over the lines & slipped over the edge there would be no hope for him. And again, why is all the pier from the wooden jetty to the policeman's cabin left entirely unprotected? I have seen seas break over there in a NE gale and dash against the brigade with great force and ran off between the Brigade House and the Rocket House, as witness last New Year's Day, when it was impossible to walk at high tide from the policeman's cabin to the Brigade House without going through the Commissioners’ works, and a gentleman was swept off the pier and drowned, to the westward of where the railing terminates now. Would it not be beneficial to the brigade to have a gate across the pier to keep the crowd back in case of shipwreck? I observed more than once last winter they were hindered in their duties by an unruly crowd-duties which sure they ought to be assisted by the spectators instead of hindered.—Yours Truly,


South Shields. Nov. 28, 1877.

Source:  Shields Daily Gazette and Telegraph 30 December 1877