Olaf Kyre

Stranding Of A Brig At South Shields
Perilous Position Of The Crew
Brigade Services
Rescue By The Lifeboat
Thrilling Scenes
Narrative Of A Survivor

As was experienced on Monday evening, the force of the wind lulled considerably yesterday afternoon after four o'clock, and came away at somewhat long intervals in squalls, hail showers became also less frequent. There was no hope, however, for any change from the weather of the previous night—a renewal of the gale, the barometer remained unmoved. About eight o'clock the storm broke forth again with renewed vigour, and the accompanying downfall was marked by hoarier falls of snow and large hailstones—the squalls being of increased duration. Hourly the weather increased in fury, and at high water the state of the sea was appalling. No shipping was seen until about eight o'clock, when, during a brief clearance of the atmosphere, a “flare up" was suddenly noticed some two miles seaward, and bearing about thirty fathoms south of the pier. After flashing brightly for several moments it vanished. The coastguard and brigadesmen were instantly on the alert, and eyes and glasses eagerly scanned the surface of the seething waters. No vessel's lights could be made out, and the theory of a screw having burned a light for a pilot and turned to sea was accepted. Shortly, however, the flare-up appeared and disappeared. The men in charge retired to the pier, and got the rocket van ready. After this time, and until fully 10 o'clock, the glaring light was seen and lost again—in various positions bearing with the pier end. The hour of ten had just turned when the spectators were startled by seeing a rocket rise from the pier, and the glare of the coastguard blue light. This signal was immediately answered by a brilliant flash of light and the boom of cannon from the Battery Cliff. A scene of wild excitement ensued. A heavy squall of blinding snow and hail darkened the atmosphere, and was for many moments known only to the coastguard and brigade that a sailing vessel, without lights of any kind, was drifting on to the beach south the pier. On the shower abating a little, the vessel was espied by the crowd grounding up the beach, some four hundred yards from the pier.

There was a tremendous rush of people along the sands, many stumbling against the rubble blocks near the lifeboat house, throng being augmented every minute by crowds brought from the town by the report of the guns. Wending its way from the Coastguard station, a dark procession, moving first quickly, then stopping, then slowly along the sands, attracted attention. This was the brigade with the Board of Trade cart, struggling against a terribly bad road along towards the helpless vessel. After a tremendously laborious task, the cart was halted opposite the wreck, which now could be better seen, her dark sails and rigging rolling helplessly to and fro, whilst the hull remained hidden in a huge pile of foam. A rocket soon went roaring seaward, and just as the line appeared to drop on the vessel, a mighty cheer rose from the crowd, then the only sounds heard were the voices of the brigade and the terrific roar of the breakers. A long pause ensued, during which the apparatus was prepared—it must be added, prepared as well as it was allowed to by the throng of spectators, which was suddenly transformed into a perfect rabble. It was utterly impossible to keep order. The crowd broke into the rings as soon as formed, seeming in fact to find great gratification getting entangled in the lines, and to look upon the whole affair as a scene specially got up for their entertainment.

But we are digressing. The brigadesmen waited anxiously for fully five minutes, but there was neither light nor sign of any kind from the vessel. A scene of confusion with the crowd, and nearly an hour elapsed before it was ascertained that anybody remained on board. Three rockets had been fired, but still no response. Then the brigadesmen seemed fully of opinion that all the hands had been washed out before the vessel stranded, and they did not fire again for some time. Several members meanwhile seized blue lights, and, running along the edge at the surf, scanned the water in search of men or bodies. Just before this was completed, the rocket line was tightly pulled, with a view of seeing whether it had been made fast, suddenly, and the utmost amazement of all, there  came with the howling wind a prolonged piteous weird cry—evidently that of the united voices of the crew for help. The effect of this was electric. The excitement the mob was intensified, and the brigadesmen hurriedly prepared for another shot. Meanwhile the cries from the vessel, now stronger, now weaker, all thoroughly heartrending to hear, continued without cessation. Another rocket went over the stern of the vessel a little to windward, the line appearing to strike the poop and then fall off. Again another wait, but no motion of the line, many in the crowd during the interim expressing most unkindly opinions of the brigadesmen. After a sixth rocket had been tried with equal ill-luck, a cry was raised for the lifeboat. The brigadesmen concluding that the men were either lashed to the rigging and could not reach the lines, or that they did not understand the apparatus, desisted from further operations. The ungenerous expressions from the crowd now increased both in force and frequency, until it seemed probable that some of the recipients of this undeserved might physically demonstrate the fact that they had lost their tempers. The cry for the lifeboat drew large numbers in the direction of the lifeboat house. Owing to some misunderstanding about the key of that building, the doors were broken open by a crew, and the task of hauling out that veteran boat—the Tyne—commenced. The work of launching proved most arduous, and it was some considerable time before the feat was accomplished. About this time, a forward young man is said to have paid, dearly for an unfavourable expression of opinion regarding the lifeboat's crew—one of the party levelling him on the sand in what is known as “one straight from shoulder. An inebriated individual, who expressed an opinion that "he was master of himself," voluntarily essayed to walk aboard the wreck. He was knocked down and carried along on his back by a large wave, and was timely caught hold of by a brigadesman.

The lifeboat commenced her perilous journey cross a terrific beam sea, amidst the greatest expressions of enthusiasm. Owing to heavy squall making the darkness intense, she was soon lost to view. In time, however, a faint trace of her form rising and falling over the billows could be descried, and when this happened the crowd cheered tremendously. It appears that the passage was a most tedious one, the boat, after making headway, being repeatedly knocked astern. When she at length reached the vessel and made fast, the graplines broke and she drifted away again. The men were in the forerigging, and their embarkation was a lengthy and risky operation. The lifeboat was nearly an hour and three quarters in landing the men. The vessel proved to be the Norwegian brig Olga Kyree, of Fredrickshaldt, put back to the Tyne. There were eight hands on board. The whole of the time the boat was in the neighbourhood of the wreck, the spectators, now numbering many hundreds, continued to cheer at intervals. They gave the men a hearty reception on returning with the ill-fated mariners. The rescued men were found be in a very exhausted condition, several of them being perfectly helpless from cold and fatigue. They were hastily conducted into the Brigade House; the master and mate being unable walk, were carried by several men, The others of the crew had each to be assisted by two men. The names of the men who manned the boat and performed this gallant rescue are:—Andrew Purvis and B. Chambers, coxswains; and Richard Harrison, Ralph Harrison, Thomas Harrison, Mat Heslop, James Cairns, John Blair, R. Flett, James Purvis, Martin Purvis, jun,, Robinson Bell, John Whale, and Arty Hogg.

The rescued were at once handed over to the care of Dr Crease and a posse of Ambulance men who were awaiting their arrival. They were instantly stripped of their wet and stiffened clothing, and, having been well rubbed down were put to bed. Here they were provided with hot coffee and biscuits, which they showed signs of relishing immensely. Following this, the poor fellows, after being allowed to settle down somewhat, were each provided with a pipe and tobacco, and the atmosphere of the Ambulance room would have greatly discomfited anti-tobacconist.

After the scene out of doors only a short while before, the sight of these eight poor fellows, now comfortable and enjoying their pipes, was interesting and gratifying in the extreme. For hours they had undergone the horrors of momentarily expecting miserable death. They now rested, body supported by elbow, and leaning half out of the bunks, evidently enjoying the company, although only one of the eight could speak English of a number of brigadesmen in the room. Several pieces of wreckage, including two books, one a Bible in Swedish, which had washed ashore, were shown them and immediately recognised as their property. They stated that they all fully expected death. In explanation of their not given any sign to the brigadesmen from their vessel, they stated that they were afraid to do so as they thought that the brigadesmen would imagine that the lines had been secured. All imagined that they had been abandoned to their fate when the rocket firing ceased, and the blue light was carried along the shore— and so they immediately decided to cry for help. Their hearts were considerably lightened when they saw the lifeboat putting off. On being told that the Tyne" had been the instrumental in saving 1,009 lives, they were struck with admiration. The English-speaking member of the crew stated that the Olaf left the Tyne on Sunday, with grindstones, bricks, and coals for Fredrickshaldt. The wind was fair until midnight on Sunday, when a heavy storm, accompanied with blinding snow showers, came away from the east. They struggled on, however, until eleven o'clock on Tuesday morning, when a tremendous sea broke on board, carrying away both the boats, the whole of the bulwarks and side lights, besides shifting the cargo, and springing a leak,

For a considerable time the brig was unmanageable, but as soon as she was got round, the captain ran before the gale. Having first unsuccessfully tried to make Leith Roads, they made Souter Light. After dark last night, at seven o'clock, he made an attempt to enter the Tyne, and flashed lights for a pilot, when a heavy squall came away from the north, and drove the vessel to the south of the pier. They had no other lights. Finding it impossible to make the harbour, the captain, in the disabled state of the brig, ran for the beach. There were then five feet water in her hold, and the crew were exhausted by working at the pump all day. The crew at once took to the main rigging, but directly after she struck the brig turned round, bow on to sea, and the master ordered the crew to the fore rigging, he being afraid the mainmast would not stand. There the crew were constantly washed by the seas, and for three hours watched efforts to save them. Three lines went over the rigging, but the crew could not get them. Another line they got, but the sweep of the sea broke it. They were loud in their expressions of gratitude to their rescuers.

This morning, when day dawned, wreck was seen to be still holding together. She had altered little in position, beyond that she lay more on her broadside. She broke in two, it appears, as soon she stranded. Little wreckage had come ashore from her, but the beach was thickly strewn with boards, chests, casks, and like wreckage, evidently from the wreck of the "Catherine and Mary." The stern post and part of the keel of a small sailing vessel also lay high and dry on the sand. There were number of people moving about, examining the articles which had been cast up. The "Tyne" Lifeboat lay opposite the wreck and away in the north corner of the sands, the carriage was also lying.

Source Shields Daily Gazette 6th of December 1882