Logo for St. Mary's Lighthouse

Shipwrecks off St. Mary's Island




Map of the Island
'The new lighthouse is part of a scheme to light up the whole of the coast of the United Kingdom.' With these words the new lighthouse on St. Mary's Island was officially opened in 1898.

There has always been a need for lights along the coast of Britain, to guide mariners into safe harbours and to give warning of treacherous rocks. The St. Mary's light was built because an earlier light at Tynemouth was frequently obscured by industrial smoke. It was also intended to ensure a safe passage to the ports of Blyth and Tyne.

Wreck of the Lovely Nelly:

Before the lighthouse was built there were many wrecks, often small fishing boats, but the saddest wreck on Whitley sands occurred on New Year's Day 1861 when the 'Lovely Nelly' from Seaham was driven onto rocks at Briadene in a blizzard.

The women of Cullercoats pulled the lifeboat over the headland and all the crew were saved except for the little cabin boy, Tommy, who was too frightened to jump from the rigging. An oil painting by John Charlton called 'The Women', commemorating the courage of the people of Cullercoats, hangs in the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle.

Wreck of the Gothenburg City:

In intense fog, on a June day in 1891, the 'Gothenburg City' from Montreal struck the rocks to the north of the island. She carried a crew of 44 men, 476 head of cattle, and a cargo of pit-props and phosphates. Luckily no lives were lost but the ship could not be refloated in spite of most of the cargo being thrown overboard. The cattle were taken off by the Tyne penny ferries and the wood and coal, washed up on the shore, kept the coal residents warm for months!

Wreck of the California:

Unable to avert shipwrecks, the lighthouse keepers, nevertheless, were there to help when tragedy struck. In January 1913 the Russian four-masted iron barque the 'California' was driven onto the rocks on the south of the island in a sudden storm before she could set her sails. Valiant efforts were made to get a rescue rocket aboard but the ship broke up and the rescuers could only save the men who were washed ashore - the captain and seven crewmen. Eight sailors were drowned and the captain lay seriously ill in the island cottage for a week after his ordeal. The remains of the ship can still be seen at low tide.

"The eight survivors were accommodated at Crisp's Cottage on the Island. The women had prepared hot coffee for those capable of taking it. Stimulants were administered to those unconscious, and soon only the captain remained too ill to look after himself. He was put to bed while the others were supplied with blankets in which to wrap themselves after they had removed their sodden clothes. A couple of good meals were served to them." Extract from the Illustrated Chronicle, Thursday, January 16, 1913.

Wreck of the Jane (T) Clark:

In the early hours of Monday 24 December 1894, the Jane Clark of Glasgow was wrecked on the southern point of rocks at St. Mary's Island. The steamer had been at sea for thirteen days in severe gales. The crew of thirteen had been without food for four days. During the gales the wheelhouse and bridge had been carried away the compass swept overboard. Without a compass or lights the vessel had been at the mercy of the waves. The vessel, having grounded, broke completely in two amidships. The crew landed on the Island and were afterwards taken to Blyth.

Wreck of the Confidence:

In 1898 the ketch Confidence was wrecked on St. Mary's Island.

Grounding of the Ganton:

In December 1979, turbulent weather conditions caused the Ganton to run aground on the rocks at St. Mary's Island. Three men were rescued by the Tynemouth lifeboat, but attempts to refloat her at high tide failed. The Ganton remained stuck on the rocks for several days. Consequently the whole of the bottom of the vessel needed replacing at the cost of a six figure sum.


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August 3, 2007 © North Tyneside Libraries 2007-8