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Ouless painting of Waverley's shipwreck

The paddle steamer Waverley was used on the Southampton-Channel Islands route from 1868 until she was wrecked five years later

Waverley in St Aubin's Bay

In August 1868 the London and South Western Railway Company bought an iron paddle steamer, the Waverley, from the North British Railway Company. Waverley was built in 1865 by A and J Inglis of Glasgow. She was of 529 tons, 222 feet long, her engines developing 280 hp and giving her a top speed of 13 knots.

Her lounge was fitted with coloured glass scenes of Sir Walter Scott's novels. She was refitted at Northam and put on Southampton-Channel Islands mail service, setting off for the first time on 21 December, and taking two days to make the crossing in bad weather. She was under the command of Captain Goodridge, who was only master for three voyages before his retirement.

On 5 June 1873, on a voyage from Southampton, Waverley struck the Platte Boue rock off Guernsey and was wrecked, fortunately without loss of life. The mail was brought to Jersey from the Waverley by HMS Dasher the old mail ship which was then a fishery protection vessel. There was an enquiry but Waverley's master, Captain Mabb, was exonerated.


19 July 1870: [1]

As a fog covers the Channel - thicker and lasting longer than usual - islanders were getting worried as none of the mail steamers had arrived in Guernsey until this evening.

Those who continued on to Jersey again got caught up in fog and did not arrive until the early hours.

Waverley had a 30-hour adventure. She met the fog five miles north of the Casquets. She drifted and set anchor half a mile off Alderney breakwater. After hours of being stranded, provisions ran low, so a boat was sent out for supplies.

While Waverley was at anchor a rowing boat appeared out of the gloom. It carried 14 sailors who had just lost their ship Broomielau on nearby rocks. She had been bound for the North of England with coal from Bordeaux.

With the relief of passengers and islanders a like, Waverley entered St Peter Port pier heads at 6.30 pm, with no reports of injury or damage. Resupplied and with the ps Southampton's passengers transferred to her, Waverley continued her journey to Jersey. Again she got caught in fog off Corbiere resulting in a journey time between the Islands of five hours.

Shipwreck report

5 June 1873: [2]

The Waverley paddle steamer belonging to the London and South Western Railway Company has been wrecked this morning on the Platte Boue rocks, Guernsey.

The eight year old vessel, 67 Meters in length was traveling at a slow speed in a fog bank. The sea was calm. All passengers and crew have been saved.

There has been some criticism of Captain Robert Mabb's conduct prior to the accident, but there is no doubt his actions after the steamer struck saved many lives. Should Captain Mabb have dropped anchor when visibility closed to only feet?

As his steamer ground to an abrupt halt on the Platte Boue rocks, Captain Mabb immediately launched his boats and transferred his 70 passengers to the Grande Amfroque, a substantial outcrop of rocks which remain dry. Passengers waited the best part of the day for rescue, but were never in danger, and rowing boats from Guernsey conveyed provisions on what was now a lovely summers day.

The company steamer Brittany sailed out of St Peter Port to perform the rescue, all passengers were transferred safely from the rocks by boats.

Captain Mabb and his crew remained at the wreck in a boat and rescued what they could. His conduct after the accident has been looked on favourably. He organised his boats, transferred his passengers to safety, and sent to Guernsey for help.

The Waverley became a total wreck.

A passenger's story

The Rev W R Ick, of Seymour House, Gorey, gave the following account of the shipwreck in John Bull magazine:

I never rememer to have had a more lovely passage across the channel than we had last Wednesday night; the sea was like glass, the ship as steady as if we were on shore, no one sick, and with every prospect before us of making a very rapid passage.

As the morning was so bright and tempting I went on deck at 5am and fully enjoyed the glorious sea and sunshine upon it, reflecting on its bosom the greatness of its Creator.

When at 8 o'clock the bell for breakfast had rung, I expected with confidence that when we had finished it, we should have arrived at Guernsey.

But not long after a mist arose and though the speed of the vessel was diminished and at last entirely stopped, we struck upon a sunken rock at the entrace of a dangerous channel leading to Guernsey called the Little Russel, about six miles from the harbour.

I need not tell you the consternation of all on board, and the danger was fully realised when the captain's order followed immediately – 'Lower the boats, women and children first, fire the gun!' This order given so rapidly showed us our extreme peril, lest by the rising tide our ship, then half full of water, shuld glide from the rock and founder in the deep water around.

But though the danger was imminent, yet the conduct of the captain and his crew inspired confidence and the men cheerfuly saw to the safety of the women and children before their own.

I persuaded Mrs Ick, afteer some difficulty, to leave me and I had to force her into the boat, and I placed with her the children and nurse, and finding that there were no more women to be attended to, I lowered myself down by a rope into the crowded boat and took an oar, which I managed to pull with great difficulty owing to the crowded state.

We pulled to a rock nearly two miles off, and reached it the second, and our boat returned for others, so that when we all were placed in safety, about 70 were congregated upon the rock. I suggested that as we had been so mercifully preserved from imminent and unexpected danger we should return thanks to Almighty God for our deliverance. This was readily responded to, and we had a solemn and impressive service on that friendly rock, which was to us the type of that everlasting refuge 'the Rock of Ages'.

Happily for us the weather was very fine and also the mist gradually cleared away and enabled those in Guernsey to see that some disaster had occurred. A steamer came to our aid and, after being four hours on the rock without shade from the heat or shelter of any kind, nor a drop of water, we were rowed nearly three miles to the steamer which came for us, as it dared not approach closer.

As the Waverley, our steamer, did not founder, enabled the crew to get up the luggage, which being in the after compartmen, had not filled, but was quite dry. And such were the good order and discipline of the crew that we did not lose a single article of the minutest kind.

I may mention that cook and Harriet got out by the first boat. I was afraid that such a long exposure would hurt Miss Madgie, or Mrs Ick, who nursing her infant is more susceptible to such a trial, but I am thankful to say all are quite well, though not likely soon to forget the danger we have escaped from.

Our good ship the Waverley, which has so often sailed across in safety, has become a perfect wreck

Notes and references

  1. By Mark Pulley
  2. By Mark Pulley

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