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Cuckoo hits rocks
outside Harbour

From the Illustrated London News, 1850

The Cuckoo awash inside St Helier Harbour

In the Jersey Times of 16 April 1850 appeared a letter of grave remonstrance on the subject of the non-placing of the beacon on the Oyster Rocks (Les Huitrieres) at the entrance to the small roads in St Helier, which beacon had been swept away by violent storms some three months previously.

26th Regiment arrives

On 15 May, one month from the publication of this remonstrance, her Majesty’s steamer Cuckoo, Captain Dumaresq, justified its forebodings of danger. The Birkenhead, Queen’s steamer of 1200 tons, Captain Stevens, having anchored in the large roads on Tuesday evening, under the charge of Mr Gallichan, Queen’s pilot, with the depot 26th Regiment on board, from Queenstown, Ireland, for the Jersey garrison. The Cuckoo, on this station, proceeded to her early on Wednesday morning and took on board 300 of her troops, with whom she was steaming inwards Victoria Harbour at about half-past five o’clock, being at the time in charge of Mr Payn, Queen’s pilot, when her starboard bow suddenly struck upon the dangerous and unbeaconed rocks in question.

Just previously, Captain Dumaresq, hearing some doubt expressed to Mr Payn by Mr Gallichan (who had come on board from the Birkenhead as a mere passenger to shore) as to the safety of his course, gave the order 'Ease her!', an order which fortunately mitigated, although it was too late to prevent, the violence of the strike. The consternation of all on board at the moment of the collision was great; but owing to the coolness of Captain Dumaresq and his officers, the exertions of Major Hogarth and the officers commanding, and to the disciplined obedience of the men, they remained in their places.

Captain Dumaresq then got all the Cuckoo’s steam up, ordered the troops en masse astern, to keep her bows as much as possible from the water, and happily succeeded in driving her just beyond the harbour’s entrance, into shallow water, the vessel slightly canting over towards her larboard side as she took the ground. All the troops on deck were then safely landed in boats.

Fortunately the wives and children and baggage had not been taken on board from the Birkenhead.

Extensive damage

On the fall of the tide it was found that the Cuckoo had received extensive injury in her starboard bow, in which a hole of considerable size had been made, low down, and her copper was scraped some distance along her starboard side. No time was lost in rendering the aperture, by means of hides ets, as watertight as possible, and as soon as the rising tide permitted in the evening she was floated into the inner harbour.

The crew of the Cuckoo, we are happy to learn, had time to secure most of their clothes, etc, before the tide washed over her decks in Victoria Harbour.

Now that the late serious accident to a Queen’s vessel – an accident which, but for the admirable presence of mind and promptitude of action of her commander, might have been attended by a dreadful loss of human life – must have convinced the authorities that the re-erection of the Oyster rocks beacon is necessary for the safety of vessels entering or leaving the harbour, we trust that they will at once re-erect it, if they have not already replaced it, and that they will also forthwith cause beacons to be placed upon every other rock from which the least danger can be reasonable apprehended for such vessels.

We have to thank a Jersey correspondent for the accompanying sketch.

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