The Desperate Plight of the Atlas

Atherfield Ledge
The Desperate Plight of the Atlas

“At 7 a.m. on November 25th 1880 the Austrian barque “Atlas” of 400 tons, loaded with maize, and on it’s way from New York to Papenburg, was driven onto the infamous rocks at Atherfield Ledge. The Coastguards quickly alerted the lifeboat station at Brighstone and the brand new boat “The Worcester Cadet” was brought down Grange Chine to the sea. The new coxswain, Moses Munt, was a great seaman and leader but that day was to prove too much for him and his crew. The launch was successful but the journey to the crazed white waters of the Ledge was a long and bitter struggle in the face of direct headwinds. After 3 miles of hard pulling, the exhausted crew failed to reach the wreck and Munt decided he had no alternative but to return to station where two of the crew had to be almost carried from the boat.

The Atherfield Coastguards tried next. Five lifesaving rockets were fired, but each was thrown aside by the gale. They also launched their own boat into that terrible sea but it was soon swamped and several of the coastguards were washed out of her. It was as much as they could manage to save themselves and get back to the beach alive.

Things were getting desperate aboard the Atlas. Her back was broken and great seas were sweeping her decks. Her torn sails testified to the violence of the gusting wind. Her main topmast was carried away and it was apparent to all that he crew, who were sheltering in the rigging, had little time left to get off the ship alive.

Seeing that the people ashore could do nothing, one of the crew came down to the deck and tied a tub to a long piece of rope and threw it over the side. As he had hoped, the tub washed towards the shore but it caught on some rocks before reaching the beach. It seemed that the attempt had failed until Coastguardsman Jimmy Fairweather “plunged into the surf and after a struggle secured the tub and brought it to land amid the cheers of the spectators”. The rope was tied to a hawser and hauled back to the ship by its crew. Under the able direction of Captain Vidulich the hawser was attached to the main mast and a bosun’s chair hoisted out to the ship. One by one the crew of 14 were hauled across the angry surf, many being injured as they were thrown out by the leaping waves. Vidulich was the last man ashore. It had been a brilliant rescue,

There was never much chance of saving the ship or it’s cargo. The ship quickly commenced to break up, the shore being strewn with maize and wreckage of all descriptions. The “Atlas” completely disappeared in two days and the crew lost all their belongings. The ugly black rocks of Atherfield had claimed yet another victim.”

A Testimonial, instrumented by Dr W.J Jolliffe of Yalford House, was subscribed for by the public and presented to the Atherfield Coastguards for their bravery. Chief Coastguard, George Sweetingham, was presented with a silver tea and coffee set inscribed –

“Presented by subscription to Mr George Sweetingham for his gallant rescue of the crew of the barque “Atlas”. November 25th 1880”

This account was taken from news paper articles of the time along with extracts from an unknown book.
Most of the tea and coffee service still exists.
Jimmy Fairweather lived next door to George at the Atherfield Station.
It is believed that Dr Jolliffe was the Headmaster of the Chale school.
Munt was drowned during the rescue of the “Sirenia” in 1888.

1 Comment · 6770 Reads · Print  -> Posted by threefunnels on August 14 2009


#1 | Philip on 14/08/2009 15:42:05
Thanx for this, keep 'em coming Wink

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