Ship’s crew attacked by ‘wild savages’

A sailing ship about the time Richard Bell occupied Bone's Hall.
A sailing ship about the time Richard Bell occupied Bone's Hall.

Just a few weeks ago, residents of what was Bone’s Hall (now Wellesley Court, Green’s Place) in South Shields, got in touch asking for information about the history of this wonderful old building.

At the time, Jim Bartnett revealed some details of the life and times of the building and one of its possible owners. Now local historian Dorothy Ramser has been in touch with more details about the people who lived there – and the fate that befell them.

“In June 1869,” says Dorothy, “the Shields Gazette published an advertisement concerning an auction of what was described as a ‘very desirable marine residence’.

“The auctioneer had received instructions to sell the property, a freehold mansion known as Bone’s Hall, which, was then occupied by Richard H. Bell, and which they described as being most delightfully situated in Green’s Place on the banks of the Tyne, with a grand view of the German Ocean, Tynemouth and the River.

“The property was described as being in the healthiest locality in South Shields and would be a most desirable residence for a respectable family. However it did not sell or did not reach the reserve price as Mr Bell continued to live there.”

Richard Hansell Bell was born in 1807 in South Shields to parents Errington Bell, a Ship Owner and Sarah Hansell.

In October 1832 Richard married Frances Marshall in South Shields, but tragedy struck in 1847 when Frances died.

In the 1861 Census, Richard was described as a widower, with an occupation of copper merchant and ship owner living in Bone’s Hall with his children, Sarah, Frances, Robert William Henry, Charles, George, Elizabeth and two female servants.

Dorothy reveals that until 1833, when the company was dissolved, Richard had been in partnership with Forsyth & Co shipbuilders and repairers. They had dry docks on Spring Lane which had originally been purchased from Mr Temple in 1806. Their offices were in Thrift St, South Shields.

She said on July 20, 1839, a local newspaper reported the arrival of one of Richard’s ships, called the Richard Bell, into the Port of Tyne, laden with cargo from Calcutta in the East Indies.

This consisted of sugar, seed, rice, pepper, hemp, camphor, mace, borax, opium, rum, saltpetre, linseed and various other spices. The ship had left Calcutta on the 7th February and had completed the voyage in 158 days.

The following year, the paper reported the loss of the Brig, from South Shields, which had been wrecked on a reef near the Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal when on a voyage to Calcutta.

The crew however made it to Madras, and the commander Captain Millman wrote the following report.

“On the morning of the 17th January the ship was hove on her beam ends by a hurricane and when she was righted her sails were all blown away and her masts went overboard.

“The tiller was disabled and rendered her quite unmanageable. In this condition she was driven at the rate of nine knots per hour and went upon the Nicobar Islands.

“She had scarcely been aground one hour when the ‘wild savages’ came down, armed with long knives, and would have taken possession of the ship had not we been prepared to resist them.

“Finding no chance of saving the ship, we got the jolly boats over the side and got into them a small supply of bread and water, and lay close to the ship all night to guard her from assault and in the morning went on board again and found the water making a fair course through the ship.

“Before we could send the boat a second time, the natives had mustered their canoes and boarded the vessel, bidding defiance to all in the boats.

“To save our lives we were obliged to leave with the boats, and after struggling for a week to get through St George’s Channel to reach Moulmein (in Myanmar, previously Burma), we were compelled to bear away for Madras (Chennai) which we reached in safety after being 23 days in the open boats, enduring all the privations of hunger and thirst under a tropical sun.

“The chief mate and one man were so exhausted that they were obliged to be carried to the hospital where the mate died in five days.”

They had travelled about 900 miles.

Tomorrow: Misfortune brings bankruptcy to Bone’s Hall resident.