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Lost in the Irish Sea
The Ellan Vannin has been a part of Manx folk lore since December 1909 when she went down in Liverpool bay during a violent hurricane. The sense of loss can still be felt 100 years on.
On the morning of 3rd December 1909 the SS Ellan Vannin left the Isle of Man just after 01.00 bound for Liverpool. She was carrying 15 passengers, 21 crew plus mail and 60 tons of cargo.
In command was Captain James Teare from Douglas, a man with 18 years of experience. Though the weather was stormy at time of departure, the Captain did not expect any problems. Charles Guard from the Manx Heritage Foundation says, as the ship neared Liverpool the weather took a turn for the worse.
“It was one of the worst storms of the century. The waves were over 25 feet and the winds were well in excess of 80mph. Four or five people would have been hanging on the wheel to try and steer her in the right position.
“It was pitch black, driving sleet and 2 degrees Celsius. They were impossible conditions and a confluence of the most extraordinary circumstances that very few boats of the time would have survived.”
The Ellan Vannin was an old ship and she was also the slowest and smallest of the Steam Packet fleet. But she had given tremendous service and the Board of Trade inquiry proved that she was in perfect condition on the night she sailed.
The crew were top class and the much respected Captain Teare managed to get her across the Irish Sea in terrible conditions. But what happened in quarter of an hour, between 06.30 and 06.45, was to result in the worst shipping disaster the Isle of Man had ever had to deal with.
She was broken in two when she was found the next day in 30 feet of water. The lifeboats had gone which means there had been an attempt to launch them. It’s a heartbreaking image which Charles Guard says gave false hope to the relatives of those who had been onboard.
“Only 3 people were found in the ship when the divers went down. The rest had vanished. For quite a while there were rumours that they had all been rescued and were in Ireland.
“Enquiries were made all around Britain to the tragic end that people’s hopes were again dashed. It gradually became apparent what happened on that dreadful night and that everyone had been drowned.
“The sinking of the Ellan Vannin had an extraordinary impact here on the Isle of Man. You’ve got to imagine an Island with very few telephones, no radios and no way of communicating except for the newspapers.
“Two days after the Ellan Vannin went down the Ramsey Courier and Northern Advertisers offices were besieged. It’s said that 3000 people crowded around the square in Ramsey desperate for information about what had happened.
“It was 24 hours before they found the ship and tragically it was 5 weeks before they began to find any of the bodies.”
An event of such magnitude, says Charles Guard, has spawned many incredible stories, some about those who were onboard and some about those who weren’t, but should have been.
Mr Quayle almost avoided his destiny
“Mr. Quayle from Pear Tree Cottage in Andreas went to bed early that night having decided he wouldn’t be going to Liverpool in the morning because it was too stormy. He was due to go over for medical treatment.
“At midnight he woke up and thought the weather had improved enough to travel and he cycled from Andreas to Ramsey managing to meet the boat before she sailed. As Daniel Defoe said, ‘Even the greatest men cannot forgo their destiny.’ Mr. Quayle bought a return ticket.
“Captain Teare had only started his month’s service that night. He was given a month’s service in the winter because Steam Packet Captains were usually laid off when the tourist season came to an end. That was his destiny; he had to be on the ship that night.
A telegram from the Bishop
“After the Ellan Vannin sank there were 58 children left without either one or two parents. Can you imagine the impact of that on a small Island like ours?
“There was an extraordinary outpouring of grief. A fund was set up and the King and Queen donated money along with the Governor of the time, Lord Raglan. This fund was actually administered for decades afterwards for the families of those affected.”
To mark the centenary of the sinking of the Ellan Vannin the Isle of Man Post Office has issued a First Day cover with images drawn by artist, Peter Hearsey.
last updated: 07/10/2009 at 10:50