Collision at the Entrance to the Harbour and Loss of Life

About nine o'clock last night, while the steam tug Vigilant, belonging to George Stephenson, steamboat owner, North Shields, was returning from the southward, having been out at sea during the day, and when coming round the Herd Buoy making for the harbour, the weather being very thick at the time, she came in collision with a screw hopper, and foundered in few a minutes afterwards. The statement of those who were on board the steamer is, that the weather was very hazy at the time, with strong easterly wind, that they did not observe the hopper until close upon her, and also that they did not expect to meet such craft so far to the southward. The steamer was stopped and made one turn back, but too late to prevent the hopper striking her on the starboard bow and again amidships. Such was the force of the collision, that the steamer was thrown over upon her beam ends so far that the small boat on the gangway floated off. Two men and a boy belonging to the Vigilant immediately made for the hopper, and getting on board of her called out to the captain to follow them. That he refused to do, however, declaring he would stand by the ship and run her on the sand at the South Pier, and, referring to the hopper people, taunted them with being very clever fellows for doing that. The hopper then backed astern, and the steamer swung clear, but when about 100 yards from the hopper she filled rapidly and went down, taking the master with her. The hopper's boat was put out and went in search of the captain, but nothing could be seen of him; at that time there was about seven feet of funnel standing out of the water. The vessel was insured in the North Shields Towing Association. The Captain, William Ramshaw, leaves widow and five young children to mourn his untimely losse. We understand there were four men on board of the hopper at the time of the collision, two of whom were on deck. Since last night, there being a good deal of sea on, in consequence of the high north-easterly wind, the steamer has broken up, portions of the wreck have floated in at the Trow Rocks, and been washed ashore. The engine and boilers, however, with part of the hull, are still embedded in the place where the vessel went down. The body of the master has not yet been recovered.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 25 April1867

Wednesday 24th April
At 9 P.M. the Steam Tug Vigilant Proceeding with the Harbour when off the South Pier and was run into by one of the Steam Hoppers and was sunk the crew saving themselves by jumping on board of the Hopper.  Unfortunately the Captain Mr Ramshaw would not leave his Vessel and was Drowned.

Source: South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade Storm Book

It is stated that the hopper which sunk the tug Vigilant on Wednesday did not bring the crew to North Shields, but that having left the crew in the hopper's boat to look for the master, the hopper proceeded to sea to discharge her cargo, and left the crew do what they liked.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 29 April 1867

The Wreck of the Steamtug Vigilant

Mr J. B. Wilkie, shipowner, Shields, has undertaken to lift the wreck of the ''Vigilant," consisting of the hull with the engine and boiler, which was sunk a fortnight ago off the South Pier by being in collision with a screw hopper. The weather being fine Mr Wilkie will commence operations to-day.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 8 May 1867

The operations which were commenced last week to raise the wreck of the tug Vigilant, lying near the south pier, had to be suspended on account of the easterly wind.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 14 May 1867

Body Found.—About eight o'clock last night, two boatmen were pulling round the North Pier, at Tynemouth, towards the harbour, when they found the body of a man floating in the water. They brought it to the dead house at the Low Lights, where it was identified as that of William Ramshaw, late master of the steam-tug Vigilant, which foundered off the South Pier on the 24th of last month, after being in collision with one of the Tyne hoppers. An inquest will be held on the body this afternoon.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 31 May 1867

The Fatal Collision at the Mouth of the Tyne

An inquest was held in the Council Chambers, North Shields, yesterday afternoon, before L. M. Cockcroft, Esq., coroner for the ward, touching the death of William Ramshaw, whose body was found floating near the south pier, on Thursday evening.

The first witness called was Mr George Stephenson, steamboat owner, Cobourg Place, North Shields, who said had seen the body now in the dead-house and identified it by the dress as that of William Ramshaw, late master of the steamtug Vigilant, owned by the witness. The deceased was lost in the Vigilant on the night of the 24th of April, when that vessel was run into No. 1 screw hopper, on which occasion she sunk almost immediately

William Bage, Beacon Street, North Shields, a seaman, found the body about eight o'clock on Thursday night, off Shields bar. He brought it to the dead house at the Low Lights. There was nothing in the pockets, it was nearly nude, and was in a very decomposed state.

Robert Stewart, Beacon Street, was fireman on board the Vigilant. There were four hands— the master, engineer, himself, and boy. On the 24th of April last, about nine p.m., when returning from Sunderland, they were making for Shields harbour, the master being at the helm; coming round the south pier a collision took place with a hopper, which was steaming outwards. We had a red light hoisted on the steamer's mast. The night was hazy, but not very dark. He was standing near the engine looking backwards. He did not see the hopper coming. He was looking in the direction of the north pier when the collision occurred. The steamer was struck on the starboard bow near the forepart of the gangway. The hopper had a white light at her mast and a green light the starboard bow. He did not hear any one hailing. The engineer, Westgarth, was at the engine, and the boy below. He had been standing near the engine for a quarter of an hour before that. Immediately after the steamer was struck the engineer himself and the boy ran forward and jumped into the hopper. The master stayed by the helm, and got the steamer away a couple of yards from the hopper, after which she went down. He did not see the master after the collision. The steamer was at full speed. The hopper was laden; there was no red light on the port bow. He looked for it on board the hopper, but could not see it. Getting on the deck of the hopper, the first person he saw was the mate, with a lantern in his hand, but not lighted. Suspecting that was the lantern for the red light, witness inquired if it was so, but got no answer. They then called out for the captain to come away, but he would not leave the steamer, expecting to run her ashore. They were all quite sober on board the steamer. She was about an hundred yards to the offing of the Herd Buoy on passing it; that course would bring her into mid-channel. The hopper stayed for a time at the spot, but saw nothing of the master. Witness got ashore in the hopper's small boat.

The jury remarked why he could see the buoy 100 yards off and not see the steamer until the collision.

Witness could give no further  explanation than that the weather was thick.

Robert Mould was boy on board the Vigilant. He was below, and had been so for a quarter of an hour previous to the collision. On hearing it he came up on deck and got into the hopper. The steamer had a red light on the mast, he did not observe the Hoppers lights. He was on deck when the steamer passed the outer buoy, after which he went below, I did not hear any shouting or hailing. They were all sober on board the Vigilant. They passed the Herd Buoy on the left hand. The night was not very dark, but thick. Witness supposed the master might have got on board the hopper if he had been willing to leave, but did not see if he made any effort to do so.

Owing to the absence of the engineer Westgarth, who is at sea, but was expected home by Saturday evening at farthest, the coroner said it would be necessary to adjourn, and further it was essential that some one who was board of the hopper at the time of the collision should also be examined; for that reason would now adjourn the inquiry until Monday at 5 p.m., to afford time for the production of these witnesses.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 1 June 1867

Fatal Collision Case
Adjourned Inquest

The adjourned inquest into the cause of the death of William Ramshaw, late master of the steam-tug Vigilant, whose body was found near the south pier on Thursday night last, was resumed in the Council North Shields, yesterday afternoon, before L. M. Cockcroft, Esq., coroner. Forrest Sharp, Union Street, North Shields, master of the screw hopper No 1, said they passed Shields from Pelaw Main, about half-past eight o'clock on the night of the 24th April, proceeding seaward. They had the three Admiralty lights burning, viz., a red light the port, a green light on the starboard side, and bright light on the mast. They were lighted at Pelaw Main. There were other three men besides himself on board. He saw the tug Vigilant coming round the South pier when they were abreast of the Herd Buoy, a quarter a mile distant. The night was not very dark. He was steering east by south. His mate was the lookout forward, and called out that a steamer was coming round. He ported and altered his course half-a-point farther to the southward, that fetched the steamer's stern the port bow. They were then 260 yards apart as near he could guess. He kept that course. As the vessels neared each other, it was evident from the rapid way in which the steamer came round, that her helm had been put hard a starboard, as if to cross their bow and pass them on the south side. When the steamer altered her course then saw her red light for the first time. The witness said it was his impression the steersman of the steamer did not see the hopper, or, if he did, that the lights the hopper were mistaken for the lights on the north pier. That supposition was founded on the fact that the boat's head was brought round so rapidly to the southward. Seeing the steamer coming on from the hopper he blew the whistle and stopped the engine. Then stopped the whistle and fetched the hopper astern. The tide was ebbing. They received the steamer's starboard foregangway on their port bow, in the thinnest part of the boat. He did not see nor hear any one on board the steamer until the fireman, engineman, and boy leapt on board. When the fireman came on board and asked where their lights were, the mate took him and showed him the lights on both sides and pointed out the light on the masthead. The red light was in its place, but when the steamer fell square on to the hopper it smashed their red light. Seeing that a breakage was inevitable he called out to the mate to lift it, but he was too late to save it; it was crushed by the steamer. The tug had no lights but one on the mast. He called and entreated Mr Ramshaw to come on board, but the latter refused, and said he would take the The vessels were from three to seven minutes together on the north side of them. It would be ten minutes after the collision before the steamer sank. There was no hailing from either vessel. It was their duty to pass each other on the port side. In answer to a juryman the witness said would adhere to that rule no matter what might be the position of a easel coming from the opposite direction; he would not alter his course, even though it should avoid a collision, but would adhere to the Admiralty regulations, whatever might be the consequences. A juryman here explained, however, that the Admiralty regulations made allowances for an emergency to alter his course, where a collision was inevitable. He kept the south side of the mid channel with the Shields lights a little open. When the fireman came on board he wanted to take charge of the hopper; was not sober, but smelt strongly of liquor; he insisted on having the helm. He told the fireman to go and help his mate to get the boat out and endeavour to save Captain Ramshaw. The engineer behaved more quietly; he was the more sober of the two. When the fireman saw the two vessels separating he shouted to the master, “That's right, Bill, that's right; take her into the harbour”. Immediately after the collision another steam-tug came round the south pier and they entreated the crew of it to lend assistance saving the captain of the Vigilant. That steamer came between them and the Vigilant, so that he did not see the Vigilant, go down. The engineer and fireman went ashore by a boat, but the boy continued on board the hopper, which excited surprise and he enquired of the boy why he had not taken the opportunity to go ashore with the men. The boy answered; No no I have had enough of them; if they had be all sober this would not have happened. We went out with a foreign brig from Sunderland, and our men got from that ship two bottles of spirits. The master, engineer, and. fireman have been drinking all the afternoon. They wanted me to drink with them, but I would not, and they then threw it at me, —smell my jacket." The witness said, Now I will take you up to my superintendent, and you will make your statement to him. Further, the boy told him that the engineman was sitting on the grating, the engineer was lying over the engine house, and the master was steering with lines, and standing behind the funnel. None of them were a situation to see what was before them. The weather was a little rough; there would be about three feet sea on. When the fireman came on board, his language was most frightful. The rules for the Tyne are to go out by the south and return by the north side of the channel. The captain of the Vigilant had full opportunity to get  aboard the hopper if he had chosen to do so.—William Atkinson, Milburn Place, North Shields, mate of No. 1 hopper, was on the look-out on the night the 24th of April a quarter to nine o'clock, when the collision took place, Their three lights were burning. Most of what followed was corroborative of what had been stated the previous witness. He saw the tug coming from the southward when they were abreast the Herd Buoy, and warned the master. They altered their course a little to avoid her. Then the steamer came round rapidly, and he remarked to the master she was making for them. It was only then he saw the light of her mast. The hopper engine was stopped, the whistle was blown, and then the engines reversed; they would then be about 300 yards apart, but the steamer came on at full speed. The engineer and fireman leapt on board; they were drunk. The fireman was worst, and conducted himself rudely, swearing, and demanding where the lights were. Witness showed him both the lights. The port light was broken by the steamer ere he could get it unshipped. He implored the captain to leave the steamer, and tried to get a rope from him to make his vessel fast to the hopper, the fireman all the while raving, "That's right, Bill, take her into the harbour." The captain was like a man out of his senses, stamping upon the deck with his hands up. The boy Mould told him they had all been drinking. The captain offered him drink, which he refused, and it was thrown in his face. The boy also told witness he saw the hopper a quarter of an hour before the collision, or at least before he went below to the fires.—Westgarth, the engineer of the steamer, who resided at Jarrow, had been summoned, but did no; attend. It was stated, that he had gone to Cardiff.—The coroner then summed up, and after some consultation in private, the jury returned a verdict "That the deceased was drowned on the 24th of April last, in the river Tyne, by the sinking of his vessel, the steamtug Vigilant, owing to a collision with the screw-hopper No. 1, belonging to the River Tyne Commissioners.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 4 June 1867


MESSRS PURVIS and FORREST will SELL BY AUCTION, at the Coble Dene, North Shields, Tuesday, 16th July, 1867, the whole of the WRECK, ENGINE, and BOILERS of the STEAMTUG VIGILANT, South Shields, 7 years old, the Boilers and Engines having been thoroughly Repaired last year. Sale to Commence at 10 o'Clock in the Forenoon, it being Low Water.

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 13 July 1867

The Destruction of a Steamtug by  
A Collision in the Tyne
Stephenson v. The River Tyne Improvement Commissioners

Mr Littler appeared for the plaintiff; and Mr Davison, Q. C., and Mr Bruce for the Commissioners.

Mr. Littler, in opening the case, said that Mr George R. Stephenson was the plaintiff, and the River Tyne Improvement Commissioners were the defendants. The declaration stated that defendants had carelessly managed a steam hopper of theirs, and that it had ran against and sunk steamtug belonging to the plaintiff. The collision took place on the 24tb of April, 1867. The tug, which belonged to Mr Stephenson, was called the Vigilant. She was so much damaged by the collision that she sunk about three minutes afterwards, and the master of her (Mr Wm. Ramshaw) was drowned. The Vigilant was worth £1,100, and it was sought to make the Commissioners responsible for the negligence of their servants the matter. An inquest was held upon the recovered body of the captain of the tug, and it was said that all the people on board of the Vigilant were drunk, but that was not the case. Out of the four persons who formed the crew, one was drowned, and of the other three, two were immediately—or shortly afterwards—taken into the service of the Commissioners. Whether some ingenious individual had thought it better to engage them in that way to end the case or not he did not know. Although it had been said that "Corporations had no souls to be saved or bodies to be kicked," he did not think that any body so respectable as the Tyne Improvement Commissioners would do anything of the kind. A man, named Stewart, and a boy, named Mole, who were on board of the Vigilant that time, were, however, subsequently taken into the service of the Commissioners, whose hopper was charged with having run them down. Mole received, he believed 10s a week as board wages, and was kept in the employ of the Commissioners until the last Summer Assizes, but now he was in Her Majesty's gunboat Surly. He should show that the accident was chiefly caused by the absence of the red light, and the steering of a wrong course by the hopper, and that there was no ground for saying that the men in the tug were unfit for, or not at their post of duty.

The following evidence was then adduced support of the plaintiff's case. Mr Joseph Westgarth said he was engineman board of the Vigilant steamtug, and on the 24th of April, 1867, they towed a foreign brig from the Coquet Island to Sunderland, and returned at night about eight o'clock. They kept look out for the Herd buoy in order to make way into the river Tyne, and sighted it at a distance of five yards. The lights of the harbour were on the starboard casing. They were then 150 yards from the south pier, and kept their steamer's head straight up. They saw approaching a green and white light, the latter being at the masthead. There was no red light. He was standing by the engine, and called to the master that the vessel which they perceived must be going to the northward. The captain, who was steering, therefore starboarded the helm, so as to get more to the south shore. The hopper, at the time, seemed to have her helm a-port, and soon after came close to them, blew her whistle, and struck them on the stern. He jumped on board the hopper, and told the mate that their light was out; he said that the "bat" had knocked it out. The red lamp was in the mate's hand unlighted; it did not smoke as though the light had recently gone out. If the hopper had kept a straight course, or had starboarded her helm, she would have cleared the tug. The captain, William Ramshaw, was drowned, and an inquest held upon him.

On being cross-examined, witness said had been away from Newcastle in charge of a yacht belonging Mr G. Stephenson. The captain of the foreign vessel which they towed to Sunderland gave the tug crew about a pint of Hollands gin in a tin can. That quantity of spirit was divided amongst five or six of them. They were between 200 and 300 yards within the Herd Buoy when they noticed the screw hopper, and they were steaming at the rate of seven knots an hour. The hopper came stem into them and struck them on the starboard sponsons, so if any one said that the screw hopper had received a violent blow on the port side, the Vigilant must have twisted round and scraped along the hopper after the collision. The hopper seemed to have been trying to make over to the starboard side, but happened to catch the fore sponsons of the tug on the starboard side.

Robert Mole, a youth, now on board H.M. gunboat Surly, stated that he was on the tug Vigilant on its return from Sunderland on the night referred to. They passed on the north side of the Herd buoy which was placed at the north of the Tyne where the present bell buoy was, and soon after saw a green" light and a bright white light, which were borne by a hopper. A collision took place, and he jumped on board of the hopper, and found the mate with the red lamp in his hand, but it was not lighted.

On being cross examined, witness said that after the accident was going to the Mediterranean, but the Tyne Commissioners kept him ashore and gave him board wages. They had a pint of Holland's gin on taking the vessel in tow at the Coquet Island, and the members of the crew —with the exception of himself—had a glass of some sort of liquor at Sunderland. They were not drunk; if they had been they could not have brought the vessel from Sunderland as they did.

Mr Lawrence Burn stated that he was a coastguardsman, and on the night in question, whilst on the Spanish battery, he heard a cry and then a crash. It was dark at the time, but from the description given, the hopper was too far to the south of the river.

Mr Gilbert Young, Tyne pilot for upwards of fifty years, having given corroborative testimony.

The plaintiff—Mr Stephenson—said he valued the tug at £1,000, and she was insured for £600.

On being cross-examined, witness stated that he had employed a London solicitor in this case.

The evidence or behalf of the plaintiff having thus terminated,

Mr Davison, in defence, said it was not right for Mr Littler to have insinuated anything against the course taken the River Tyne Commissioners, so far as regarded the employment, subsequently, of two the crew of the Vigilant, or against the Messrs Clayton, who had practised in Newcastle for many years with unsullied honour. It had been alleged or inferred that Mr N. G. Clayton had caused the boy Mole to be kept on board wages in the district in the service of the Commission—when he would otherwise have gone to the Mediterranean—in order that he might give evidence, but he would remark, in reply, that the boy was not in the defendants' employment at the present time, and the man Steward was accepted with other men to do extra work for the Commission without the person who engaged him knowing at the time that he had been before on the Vigilant. He should show them, so far as regarded the circumstances under which the collision took place, that the hopper had white, green, and red light at the time, and that as the boy Mole had admitted the red lamp was crushed, there was every reason to believe that it was by the contact. The hopper was leaving the harbour south of mid-channel, and keeping on in her proper course out to sea when the tug from Sunderland hugged the South Pier in order to save distance, and so caused the danger and the accident. If she had not been rounding the Herd Buoy so closely, she would have seen the hopper's red light and not have ran into her.

Mr Forrest Sharp stated that the No. 1 screw-hopper, of which he was master, left the harbour on the evening of the 24th of April, on the south side of the channel, at half speed, and carrying red light her port side, a green one on the starboard side, and a white one at her masthead. The mate shouted that a tug was coming round the Bell Buoy, and he put the helm two spokes round to the port, so as to pass her to the southward at a period when they would be about 600 yards distant from each other. When first seen the Vigilant was running with her head almost north, and nearly across the course of the hopper. The north side was clear, but the tug, when about 260 or 270 yards off the hopper, starboarded her helm and brought her head to the southward. The whistle was blown, and the engines stopped and reversed, and he did all he could to avoid a collision. However, the starboard sponson of the steamer came into collision with their port bow. The fireman, and engineman, and the boy on board the tug jumped on the hopper. The first of them asked were the hopper's lights were, and he (witness) told the mate to show them. The starboard and masthead lights were shown, and whilst he was calling out to the mate to look after the port light, the tug came round and smashed the lamp which contained it. He shouted of the master of the Vigilant to get on board the hopper; but, though there was ample time, he would not do so. The barge and tug, having been aside each other three minutes, parted with the wind and tide, and the Vigilant sank. When the engineman and fireman got on board the barge they began to curse and swear, and seemed the worse of drink. Mole said they had had two bottles of gin, and because he would not drink its much as the rest they threw some on his jacket, which he offered him (witness) smell of, and which he found bore out his assertion.

In reply to his lordship, witness said the red light was crushed just after the men got on board from the tug.

Mr William Atkinson, mate of the hopper, who was standing on the port side of the fore deck the time of the collision, declared that the red light was burning, and that the lamp was smashed by the renewed force of the collision after the men from the tug had got on board. The engineman of the hopper deposed that they were going at half speed, and that he instantly obeyed his instructions as telegraphed to him to stop, and put on full speed astern, but the accident occurred within half a minute.

Mr Jacob Legge, master of the steamtug Commissioner, which was towing two lighters the harbour not far from the scene of the collision, testified that the hopper was coming down south of the mid-channel, and was carrying a red light, as well as a green and a white one.

On being cross-examined, witness said he knew the vessel was a hopper, on account of the distance between the side lights, which were very fine ones.

Mr Henry Stobbs, one of the members of the Steamtug Insurance Club, said they had the Vigilant insured for £600. Before paying the money he made an examination of the hopper and tug, and found that the hopper had been struck six feet from the stem on the port bow, and a piece of hard oak near the sponson had been carried away, and the side scraped. The £600 insurance money was paid, as they considered the steamer in fault; otherwise, they would have entered an action: or the recovery of the amount from the Commissioners.

Mr Nathaniel George Clayton, solicitor with his uncle, who acted for the Tyne Commissioners, said that the boy Mole was received by them in to their employment on a statement made by the River Tyne Commissioners, and on being examined, with a view to an understanding the circumstances connected with the collision being arrived at, he said that the fireman and engineman were drunk, and the master was in liquor at the time.

Mr Hugh Atkinson, superintendent of dredgers, stated that Stewart was employed by him on the 4th May, 1868, with 68 other men, and worked several months, and was discharged at the end the double shift.  He (witness) did not know until five weeks after that Stewart had been on board of the Vigilant.

Mr Davison then summed up, and Mr Littler replied.

His Lordship left the jury to say on which side there was negligence, and after an absence of about half hour they returned a verdict for the defendants

Source: Shields Daily Gazette 25 February 1869