Following on from the last post about Melcombe Regis Cemetery, I thought it would be interesting to find out more about some of its Victorian “residents.”
It did not take long before one headstone grabbed my attention.
The Lanoma Barque( a three mast ship ) was built for Thomas Boss Walker, of London in 1876. Walker was a prominent ship owner in London, & for many years was Chairman of Lloyd’s Register.
The vessel was an iron 665 ton clipper barque used in the wool trade and linked London with Launceston, Tasmania. It was a speedy ship and once completed the Australian run in 63 days.
On December 23rd 1887, under the command of Thomas B. Whittington, the vessel left Launceston for London. Its cargo consisted of 2,000 bales of wool, 800 skins and leather. The total value was £45,548 18s 6d and was heavily insured.
In early March 1888 the Lanoma had reached the English Channel. The weather had become hazy with a thick blowing south-westerly wind which meant no positional readings could be taken.
We are able to piece together what happened the night the Lanoma sunk, with the help of the inquest notes for the Chief mate William Cruse, who drowned during the sinking of the vessel.
The 8th of March had started well for the crew of Lanoma. They consisted of Captain Whittington, two mates, cook, steward, carpenter, six able sea-men (one being Herbert Rhys Jones) and six apprentices. They were experienced sailors and had confidence in Captain Whittington, who had been in charge of the Lanoma since 1881. They had been at sea for over ten weeks but where now nearing the end of their journey, only 200 miles to go, and would have been looking forward to getting back on to dry land.
The weather for that day was cloudy with a thick blowing south-westerly wind, which meant it was difficult to take accurate positional readings but there were no undue concerns and Captain Wittington claimed they were off the Lizard and predicted they would have passed Portland by night.
At around 10.00pm the calm was shattered. The rain and wind set in and the sea mist thickened. Through the fog a light was spotted and reported to the Captain. It’s at this point that the fate of Lanoma and her crew was sealed. Whittington thought they had passed Portland and so mistook the light for a ship lamp and decided there was no need to change course. In fact it was the light from Portland Lighthouse warning not to venture to close to the rocky shores.
At about 11.30pm the lookout reported breakers ahead. Ernest James Arnold at the wheel put the helm down and brought the ship to the wind but it was too late and the vessel went onshore broadside. The Sea swept over the ship carrying away the four lifeboats boats. The ship immediately began to break up. Captain Whittington ordered for blue lights to be lit to inform coastguards of their predicament. The crew must have been relieved to hear rockets being fired a few minutes later from the coastguard telling them help was on its way.
It is here that we first hear of Able Seaman Herbert Rhys Jones. With an apprentice named Edward Allen, they both volunteered to jump overboard with a line and attempt to swim to shore. The waves pounded down on them and only Allen managed to make it to shore but without the line. Jones returned exhausted back to the ship. Heroically he made three more attempts to reach the shore with the line but was over powered each time by the ferocity of the sea. Finally he collapsed with exhaustion and was hauled back onto the dying ship.
The crew then made several attempts to float several lines to shore but to no gain. As the blue lights were extinguished the ships bell is rung in a haunting desperate attempt for help.
The coastguards arrived and shouted to the crew to stay aboard while a rocket was fired and a breeches buoy rigged. Four crew members were rescued in succession by being pulled to the shore but the fifth time two men got into the buoy, it was only intended for one, and a ferocious wave broke over the buoy sweeping away the men who were not seen again.
Yet another wave broke over the ship smashing it to smithereens. Jones, exhausted and dazed, was washed overboard.
The coastguards refused to give up and went along beach and shone torches to find anyone. They heard the sound of a man crying out. It was Ernest James Arnold, who had been at the helm of the boat. He too had been washed out of the boat but was unable to reach the shore as bales of wool blocked him. Exhausted he found a plank to cling too. He was more dead than alive at this stage but was pulled out of the water and survived.
A lifeless body was seen floating about 300 yards from the wreck. A rescuer with a line attached went out and pulled the heavy body of a sailor back to shore. Even though there were no signs of life the coastguards spent 2 hours in a desperate attempt to restore life. But to no avail. He had died at sea. His name was Herbert Rhys Jones.