Heroic rescue of crew of French schooner disaster to be retold

Michael Kneale in front of the Thousla Cross at the Sound, which commemorates the tragedy and heroism surrounding the Jeune St Charles shipwreck

Michael Kneale in front of the Thousla Cross at the Sound, which commemorates the tragedy and heroism surrounding the Jeune St Charles shipwreck

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Anyone with stories or memorabilia relating to the heroic rescue of the crew of the French schooner Jeune St Charles is asked to contact Rushen Parish Commissioners.

Jeune St Charles was wrecked in the Sound on April 8, 1858. In horrendous conditions, the ship was blown towards the rocks, so the crew abandoned her and their longboat capsized leaving them stranded on Thousla rock in the Sound. Battered by towering waves, two boys, one the captain’s young 13-year-old brother, lost their grip and were swept to their death leaving four crew men who clung to the rocks for several hours.

Witnessing this ordeal, local men launched a remarkable rescue. Fresh in their memories was the disastrous Brig Lily incident six years earlier, when a ship wrecked in the Sound loaded with gun powder exploded during a salvage operation killing 29 men from Port St Mary.

The first rowing boat was carried from Port St Mary and launched in the Sound, it was unable to reach the crew. A second boat, having learned from the experience of the earlier boat, made an attempt and rescued the four men and landed them, battered and very bruised, on the Calf.

A newspaper report at the time said: ‘The poor fellows were seriously injured and almost in a state of nudity, their boots and clothing were scarcely hanging together and their bodies, especially their hands, arms, legs and feet were scratched, bruised and swollen, and the very nails on their fingers worn to the stump with the desperate efforts to hold on to the rock as every wave broke over their devoted heads.’

There the skipper wrote his account of the disaster and this was translated by Port St Mary resident Angela Kneale, who was French and found the original account in Brittany, from where the ship set sail.

A cross commemorating the incident was originally placed on the Thousla rock in 1904 by the Northern Lighthouses Board and was replaced by an iron beacon in 1980.

Rushen Parish Commissioners rescued the cross from the builders’ yard of Kinrade and Corrin and re-sited the cross on land overlooking the Sound in 1981. The spelling on the cross is incorrect, discovered Angela, and the ship was not Jeane, but Jeune St Charles.

Captain Jegou wrote: ‘We could see that the ship would go through the channel and break up on the rocks, so we abandoned it ... The wind and current were so strong that before we had time to ship the oars, both the Jeune St Charles and the longboat went aground on a rock awash in mid-channel.

‘The first wave took away our oars, the second wave capsized the longboat and all six of us clung to the rocks. One minute later, Yves-Marie Jegou and Francois Ave (the first from Lezardrieux and the other from Ploezal) could no longer hold on and disappeared in the waves. The four of us were left cleaving to the rocks, every wave breaking over us, our clothes and flesh being torn from us.

‘A rowing boat came to our rescue but after a first attempt it had to give up, leaving us in a state of mortal fear. Half an hour later, another boat, with a crew of five skippered by John Watterson appeared, risking their lives to save ours. They managed to take us aboard their open boat, the four of us being more dead than alive.’

Angela’s son Michael, full time second coxswain on Port St Mary lifeboat, wrote an account of the disastrous voyage from a sailor’s view and this will be printed in a guide to the Meayll peninsular produced by the local authority.

Commissioners’ clerk Gill Kelly explained the booklet is very popular and has sold out, so it will be reprinted with increased coverage of this rescue.

The men from the second boat – Thomas Harrison, Joseph Harrison, John Watterson, Daniel Lace and John Karran – who were successful in rescuing the crew members, were awarded a medal by Napoleon III; those in the first boat – Henry Qualtrough, Thomas Taubman, Edward Fargher, Thomas Kegg and John Maddrell – despite showing the same level of heroism, were not.

To contact Gill, phone 834501.

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