EXCEL of Weymouth

Times: January 28, 1858, Issue 22902 – The Excel of Weymouth, laden with Portland Stone, was wrecked approaching Calais, France. Four crew members were drowned. Ship Incident of a Local Vessel. ‘An Eye Witness’:


I have seen the account of this shipwreck in your journal of the 25th instant, but as it is in some respects defective, and yet is of so much importance, I hope the statement of an eye witness will not be out of place. Be it understood I wish to cast no reflection upon the French authorities, beyond that of utter want of means and proper appliances to meet the case of a shipwreck on this portion of the coast. On Wednesday last it blew a very strong gale from the north east, and about 7 o’clock in the morning a brig of 250 tons burden, named the Excel, from Weymouth, laden with Portland Stone, was seen approaching the harbour in evident distress. As she came nearer, the waves running high and the wind tempestuous, it was soon perceived she must drift on the shore. Unfortunately it was nearly low water, and thus she was prevented entering the harbour. Many persons soon assembled on the shore ready to render any assistance in their power. By the telescope it was perceived she had six men onboard, and at 8 o’clock she struck about 500 yards from the pier head. You may well imagine the excitement was intense, and the cry was raised “the lifeboat” The poor fellows could be seen onboard by the naked eye, some in the rigging and other holding to different portions of the vessel. One lifeboat – very old, and utterly unfit for the purpose was launched and manned about 9 o’clock, quite in time to save all the lives, and which with a proper lifeboat, could easily have been accomplished. The crew were a mixture of English and French, and whatever may have been the cause their efforts were failures. A second attempt was made with a like result; but in this latter case it was evident no serious exertion was intended to be made. Thus matters went on until about 12 o’clock, when a larger lifeboat was launched from the east side of the pier, the wreck being on the left side, and this crew was composed also of English and French. At this time it was seen that four men in the brig, previously exhausted in pumping the vessel when in mid channel, were swept off and drowned. Still the crew started in the boat to assist the survivors yet remaining, and all honour be given to the gallant efforts they made.The force of the wind and violence of the waves, however carried her past the wreck and could render no assistance. When they returned, one of the crew was asked the cause of the failure, and his reply was “ why sir, she’s 30 years old and more like a jolly boat that a lifeboat and when she filled it took 20 minutes to bale her. With an English lifeboat all the men would have been saved hours ago” In the harbour were two steamers – one the London boat, and the other her Majesty’s Steamboat Fire Queen. This latter steamer got up her steam in order to tow out the lifeboat, but I am told that all the authorities expressed so doubtful an opinion of the lifeboats capacity that the captain felt he might sacrifice more lives by proceeding to sea, and this step was abandoned. About 3 o’clock the south eastern steamboat, hence to Dover, was to start, and the captain offered to tow out the boat, with the volunteers onboard his vessel, and then, if circumstances permitted, to ship them off near the wreck, so that they might drift down windward. Certainly the strength of the lifeboat thus was tested; for no sooner did she leave the harbour than she parted in two, and afterwards in small pieces drifted on the shore. The south eastern boat, however, made several ineffectual attempts to reach the wreck, but at last was obliged to proceed on her passage to Dover. None now expected any lives would be saved, but the consul and others remained on the shore nearly the whole night. At 11 o’clock pm some volunteers offered to make another attempt in the boat belonging to a London steamer, the Triton, which had been kindly placed at the disposal of the authorities for that purpose. The crew were English, and before they started they earnestly asked for a “grapnel” which was promised, but never forthcoming.”

Day of Loss: 28

Month of Loss: 1

Year of Loss: 1858



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