Reader tells of trawler tragedy which claimed the lives of two Shields men

The Coral Isle.
The Coral Isle.

The recent article, told to us by Terence Grewcock, concerning the tragic disappearance of the steam trawler Jeanie Stewart, with the loss of all nine crew, including two men from South Shields, 80 years ago this year, brought back sad memories for another reader, June Rutherford.

For she too lost family at sea, in another example of just how dangerous the fishing industry can be.

Mural on Commercial Road, South Shields.

Mural on Commercial Road, South Shields.

This is what June wrote after reading how the Jeanie Stewart left Tyneside on Wednesday, December 14, 1938, headed for the fishing grounds off the coast of Aberdeen, never to return – leaving behind heartbroken family and friends.

“With reference to your article about the Jeanie Stewart, my father-in-law Mr John Rutherford, of Tynemouth, owned a similar vessel registered in North Shields, the Coral Isle SN22.

“Like the Jeanie Stewart, it mysteriously disappeared with the loss of all crew at Christmas time 1970. No trace was ever found.

“My father-in-law never recovered from the shock and distress of having to call on the families of the crew, who were from the Aberdeen area, with the news and condolences.”

Despite the fact that the sea would appear to have claimed yet more victims with the loss of the Coral Isle, it played and continued to play an important role in the lives of the Rutherford family, as June goes on to explain.

“Mr Rutherford, known as Jack, and most of his family were fish merchants on North Shields Fish Quay from the 1930s,” she reveals.

“In the 1920s and 30s, Jack’s father owned a fish and chip shop in Gateshead and he used to take his horse and cart to North Shields to collect his supplies.

“This led to Jack and his brother setting up Rutherford Brothers wholesale fish merchants. The brothers eventually split up and Jack was joined by two of his three sons, and they supplied shops throughout Durham and Northumberland.

“As landings at North Shields dwindled, Jack started travelling regularly to Aberdeen to source supplies, eventually moving there with his wife and daughter.

“For that reason the Coral Isle was based in Aberdeen and was crewed by men from that region. Meanwhile his two sons in North Shields decided that the future lay with frozen fish and they pioneered imports from Germany.

“Jack’s daughter is the only surviving member of the family and she still lives in Aberdeen. Her daughter, Mrs Emma Scott, recently saw details of the Coral Isle crew in a Fisherman’s Museum in Buckie.

“She also has an interesting tale of a message in a bottle thrown by a crew member two years before the ship sank. This was picked up in Norway but only when the finder died recently was anything done about it.”

Both June and Terence Grewcock commented on the unveiling of a memorial statue at Fiddler’s Green, North Shields Fish Quay, in honour of those fishermen who have died over the years.

Terence said: “The Fiddler’s Green memorial statue is a fitting tribute to the men working and losing their lives in this most dangerous of occupations.”

Joan said: “Jack Rutherford would have really admired the recently erected fisherman statue.”