Tragedy highlighted the dangers of navigating east coast

The tragedy highlighted the navigation dangers for sail and steam.
The tragedy highlighted the navigation dangers for sail and steam.

It has been a case of getting there in the end for the family of seaman Charles Kent, who have struggled in recent years to find out where and when he died.

In fact, it turns out to have been in a shipping tragedy that, at the time, highlighted the dangers there were in navigating the east coast, for the likes of the array of vessels seen here in a photo compilation by James Cleet.

I’m obliged to Cynthia Kent for the details. Charles Kent was her husband’s great great grandfather, born in the 1830s.

At the time, in 1870, he had been a fireman aboard a Sunderland collier, the Earl of Elgin, which was outward bound down the east coast on a spring night when, shortly after 11pm, off the Yorkshire coast, lights were spotted. They turned out to be those of another ship, the Jesmond, which was in ballast. It was too late. Despite the Earl of Elgin trying to take evasive action, she was struck by the Jesmond twice, the first time amidships, almost going half way through the ship, and then a second time as she tried to clear the stricken vessel, which began to fill with water and went down within minutes.

There were terrible scenes in the water, not least that of the skipper with his daughter, aged about six or seven, clinging to him, only to eventually to lose her hold and sink. Her father only survived by clinging to a piece of wreckage.

The mate and his wife, who were seen embracing on deck, also both perished.

In all, eight lost their lives, including a foreign captain and his wife who were being taken to Bordeaux to join his ship, and Charles Kent, who was found drowned off Staithes.

Charles, who lived at Boldon, was only 31 and left a wife and small son.

The tragedy led to a comment in the Gazette: “What will most concern the seafaring community will be the increasing danger of the navigation of this coast, and the apparent hopelessness of laying down any rule of the road ...”