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Old Newlyn

CORNISHMAN NEWSPAPER 14th DECEMBER 1911.

GREAT GALE IN MOUNT'S BAY

NORWEGIAN BARQUE WRECKED

BRILLIANT LIFEBOAT RESCUE

 

Watched by hundreds of spectators, the Norwegian barque Saluto was driven ashore close to St. Michaelís Mount on Wednesday morning, and it is likely to become a total wreck. In the teeth of one of the worst gales for a quarter of a century, the crew of thirteen all told were taken off by the Newlyn Lifeboat Elizabeth and Blanche and safely landed at that port amid scenes of great enthusiasm.

The Saluto is an iron barque and hails from Christiansund. She was commanded by Captain Olsen, and carried a crew of thirteen. She was bound from London to the West Indies in ballast. She left the Thames on November 23rd, but experienced bad weather. On Friday last, when in the Bay of Biscay, the vessel sprang a leak and matters rapidly worked towards a crisis. The water mixed with the ballast and thus choked the pumps. The leak was discovered forward on the starboard side, but despite all the efforts of the crew- who tried to plug it with a sail, white lead etc.- it was found impossible to stop it and with the pumps choked, the water rapidly rose in the hold. With the weather continuing bad, the captain recognised the danger of proceeding on his voyage and on Monday he determined to make for Falmouth. Under light sail the Saluto was in the vicinity of the Lizard on Tuesday night, but the wind then increased in velocity and it was found impossible to round the headland. The wind also changed its direction, and the Saluto was driven towards the centre of the Bay. The crew could do nothing more. The signal of distress was hoisted, and they waited patiently for help from the shore.

It was in this state that the barque was observed from Mousehole at about 9.30 on Wednesday morning. The intelligence was immediately sent to Newlyn and at 9.45 the lifeboat crew was summoned by rocket.

With commendable foresight the Elizabeth and Blanche had been kept afloat, and in a few minutes Coxswain T.E.Vingoe and his crew were proceeding out of the Harbour to the rescue of the doomed ship. Some three or four of the lifeboatís regular crew were away from Newlyn on fishing duty, but there was no difficulty in obtaining volunteers.

The report of the rocket attracted to the harbour and to the sea front at Penzance a big crowd of interested spectators, who watched with intense excitement the subsequent proceedings.

At the time the lifeboat left the harbour one of the fiercest gales on record in the Bay was raging from the S.W., and huge seas were running.

The distressed vessel was three or four miles to the South-Eastward of Mousehole, and was rapidly drifting in the direction of Cudden. Under sails the lifeboat put out, her progress being followed with no little anxiety. At one moment she would be sent to the crest of a big wave, and the next she would be lost from view in the trough of the sea. There was no faltering and steadily and quickly she reduced the distance between herself and the barque. Those on board the latter had observed the lifeboatís approach, and had let go both anchors, but so violent was the gale and so great the seas that one of her cables snapped, and the remaining anchor failed to hold the vessel. What actually was happening when the lifeboat had drawn alongside the barque could not be followed by those on shore, as the vessel had reached within a couple of miles of Cudden, and vision was also obstructed by the heavy rain squalls which frequently swept over the Bay, blotting out even the barque itself.

After the lapse of a short  time, however, the lifeboat  was seen coming away from the barque, and as she neared the land it was seen that her human freight had been considerably augmented. Sailing splendidly she quickly reached Newlyn where a tremendous ovation was accorded her plucky crew.

The sirens of all the steam craft gave vent to a triumphant peon, and the throngs on the wharfs waved their hats and shouted enthusiastically.

And let it be said  the plucky lifeboat- men deserved the praise which was bestowed upon them, for on all hands it is admitted it was one of the smartest rescues ever effected in the Bay. So smartly had the whole affair  been carried out that not more than an hour and a half had elapsed  from the time the  lifeboat left the harbour till the return with the whole of the crew of thirteen of the Saluto.

The above is a verbatim report from the "Cornishman" newspaper.

---O---

 Included in the crew that day were three brothers, my Granddad Coxswain T.E.Vingoe III,2nd  Cox's. Alfie Vingoe and  Robert Vingoe.  Also Bob Samson who was T.E.Vingoe's brother in law and Joe P Harvey and Billy Harvey who were his cousins. Others in the boat included Billy Roberts, B. M. Rouffignac, Nicholas Richards and Dick Mathews. I have not traced all the family connections within the wider sense but I remember my granddad telling me he could trust every last "man-jack" as they were all "family". Indeed the trust in each other was as valuable as in their skipper as most Cornishmen do not follow blindly; they have to think the same in the same situation. To a great extent this might be absorbed from their environment but must also be heavily influenced by hereditary traits Altruism is not given to everyone, neither is courage but the skill and power to take on the sea at her most terrifying and unforgiving must be" bred in the bone." This is what must explain the father to son tradition and brother to brother rivalry for the place on the boat. Latterly, more than one member of the same family was not allowed  but in the early days was sometimes necessary as several of the men folk could be away with the fleet.

This is what happened with the Saluto rescue. I have been able to add the name of another crew member on that day, William Kliskey age 17. His father was made a member of the Elizabeth and Blanche crew when it moved to Newlyn from Penzance in 1909 but on the morning of the 11 December 1911 he was working on the old coal hulk in the middle of the harbour. This supplied the Lowestoft steam drifters. She was in danger of parting from her hawsers which secured her in position.

Thanks to a younger son, Alfred J. Kliskey born 1906, I have some idea as to my grandfathers thoughts on that eventful day. Alfred Kliskeys biography written 1980 "A Newlyn Towner"  recalls his brothers part in the drama. It obviously made a lasting impression on him and I am grateful that he committed his and his brothers recollections to print .He records that comments were passed that the lifeboat would never get out of the harbour if needed as the sea was coming over the green. When the rocket went up his brother William realised that their father was stuck on the coal hulk and that the lifeboat may be short as many of the fleet were still out on the fishing grounds. He was a fisherman of some years having been asked to join Capn' Blewetts boat when he was a hand short and found the life to his liking. Alfred account says 

"He ran to Coxswain Vingoe, realizing this and asked  'can I take father's jacket?' Cox Vingoe answered 'You're too young to go in a lifeboat in weather like this'   'I go to sea William replied. The coxswain said 'Stand over there and I will think about it '. A few seconds later  he said 'William, That's your fathers jacket there, take it'. One of the crew helped my brother to strap on the life jacket and they went aboard. The boat was soon launched by scores of eager launchers." He then goes on to give an account of the rescue as told in his brothers own words.

"Soon we got clear of the pier head but could see nothing, the waves were so big. After a while, and when the lifeboat was on the crest of a wave, they saw the vessel out in the bay being driven broadside before the wind, with her sails in ribbons. As we approached her. the coxswain had to decide how he would take off the crew. If he went on the windward side he was afraid  the lifeboat would be thrown on top of the drifting ship, so he decided  to get in as close as possible to the lee side. He ordered every man to take his oar to fend off the ship's side, but when it was tried, every oar snapped off like match sticks, so that maneuver failed. It was then decided to make roundabout trips and to get as close as possible  to the ship's side. The Cox would shout through the megaphone when he wished the ship's crew to jump. At the first trial some landed in the lifeboat and others fell in the water, but were hauled aboard  the lifeboat by ropes thrown to them  After four or five trips all the ships crew were taken off and they made for home. On arrival at the north pier a great welcome awaited them and the Salvation Army band played welcoming music "

A newspaper report of the time stated that that William Kliskey was the youngest member ever of a lifeboat crew and I believe that record still stands. I also believe it is part of the reason that none of the crew had any recognition whatsoever from the RNLI for their selfless efforts. Incredible as it may seem, the next day the captain , mate and cook of the Saluto went back on to the wrecked ship off Cudden Point having persuaded a Customs man to row then out through the surf. He had seen them attempting to launch a jolly boat and were in danger of capsizing They persuaded him that they wished to get some ships papers and the log which were still on board. When he took them out to the stranded ship they said it would only take them a matter of minutes. They were below for over and hour and the customs officer was begging them to leave when he was tossed out of the boat into the waves.  Two men on shore saw the dangers and they rescued those stranded on the ship and in the waves. They received £2 each and a certificate from the RNLI for their bravery.

The last account is from the Cornishman and is a part of the story never told to me. I knewGrandad had been awarded a medal by the Norwegian government in recognition of the lifeboats rescue of the crew but I believe the whole episode left the family very bitter. I do know that he was reprimanded by the powers that be in Penzance for taking the life boat  to sea without their authority. He was known to  remark in later years "If you waited for they 'e would be still waiting; No one behind a desk is going to tell me when and where to risk my boat: Skippers' in charge" He did not consider the RNLI owned the boat and could give him orders. All in that boat put their trust in God first -Skipper next -then their crewmates. Authority was won, not appointed by a committee. When  those saved were foolhardy enough to risk their own and others lives again and those who were considered their bosses gave them rebukes instead of praise the die was cast for the Vingoe family and the sea to part company. Granddad also probably  got a dressing down for taking one so young as William to a rescue, despite being short- handed. He chose to acknowledge Williams seamanship and experience gained by working every day in the elements. Although others in power stood in judgment of his skill, his friends and neighbours thought highly of him. Others only young when the event took place were inspired to join the lifeboat later. The move to Penlee probably masked the fact that members of the immediate family never made up the crew again. His brother Alfred was killed off the coast of France in 1917. Younger brothers Richard and Hugh went to the USA in 1912 and never came back. Their cousin Alfred whent with them but came back to serve on trawlers. At the end of the war he again left with all his family for USA .The next year Thomas Ellis Vingoe age ten, eldest of the children of my grandparents died of scarlet fever The house at "Penwith " must have been very gloomy although another Thomas Ellis was born in 1913. None of his four sons went into the fishing; far from it for three of them. My father was the only one to even stay  in Newlyn. or even the west-country. There was always a reticence to speak of the past and especially the" Saluto" affair

 Despite this, my father had a deep love of the sea and boats and would take me out with any of his many friends who all seemed to have access to this wonderful way of traveling around the Cornish coastline. He was able to go against grandfathers wishes only when those of the King and Country had precedence and he was called up for Royal Navy duty and was based in Newlyn for a great deal of the time. We used to have many photographs of the lifeboat and of Granddads own boat "Carina" PZ 473 which featured in a painting of boys swimming from the slip at Newlyn by Dame Laura Knight. Unfortunately my father lent them to an exhibition at Newlyn, held in some wooden huts in the old fish market site beside the Post Office. This was shortly before he died  suddenly and we never got them back as the buildings were closed and everything gone. I am now searching records to try and find copies. How I wish I had also paid more attention when young to those treasures that are priceless : other peoples memories

Old Newlyn

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Revised: January 31, 2002 .