NOSTALGIA: Crewman recalls a paddle steamer tragedy in the Solent

The paddle steamer Whippingham showing her lifeboats seen alongside Portsmouth Harbour landing stage we see the Whippinghams lifeboats.
The paddle steamer Whippingham showing her lifeboats seen alongside Portsmouth Harbour landing stage we see the Whippinghams lifeboats.
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We are lucky that we do not hear of too many people falling overboard from the many ships that enter and depart Portsmouth Harbour.

The entrance is so busy you would think there would be many more incidents of lost passengers and the cry going out of ‘man overboard!'.

You might wonder what the position would be of the boats' crews during such incidents.

One man who knows is Mike Nolan of Paulsgrove who worked on the ferries in the days of British Railway for 10 years. 

Mike told me that in 1958 he was part of the crew of the paddle steamer Whippingham when an old man jumped from the ship on the Isle of Wight side of the Solent.

A lifeboat was lowered and they managed to reach the man and drag him into the boat where Mike gave artificial respiration but, alas, it was to late, the man had died. 

Mike told me: 'The 36ft-long boat had to be rowed back to Ryde. There were five in the boat, including the dead man.

'There should have been three of us rowing and the mate on the tiller. One of the crew was so overcome on seeing the dead body he was physically sick and could not do anything.'

That was not the end of a very heavy day for Mike and his mates. They had to get back to Portsmouth, of course, and the Whippingham had finished for the day.

Mike went on: ‘We returned to Pompey on another ferry and the lifeboat was brought back back by a workboat.

'We had to wait for it to be returned so we could place her back on board Whippingham.  

'Because she had finished work for the day the engineers shut the boilers down. This meant there was no steam for the capstans so we had raise the lifeboat by hand.

'It took the whole crew to get it up.  We had to lift each end a bit at a time and when we finally got the boat up we found the keel band (A strip of steel to protect the boats keel) was half ripped off.

'We did it when we were launching it so no wonder it was so hard rowing it.

'We had to swing the boat in and leave it off the deck so they could bring some burning gear up from Broad Street to cut it off.

'The boat had about a foot of water in it which made it even heavier.'   

In the photograph we see the Whippingham alongside Portsmouth Harbour station.

  The passengers give some estimation of the size of the lifeboats.

The crew members in the attempted rescue never heard anymore about the incident. It was all part and parcel of a day's work.

n This is a date for the diaries of those with an interest in Southea Rock Gardens.

Jackie Baynes the publicity officer for Friends of Southsea Rock Gardens, will be giving a talk on the gardens and their history, from 1928 to 2018.

It takes place in the History Centre on Tuesday, March 20 at 10.30am.

 The centre is located on the second floor of the Central Library, in Guildhall Square.   

n  Robert Aquillina has dropped me a line.

He tells   me: 'My f ather was stationed in Egypt where I, my sister and two brothers were born.

'In 1952 we were evacuated from Egypt on the troop ship SS Asturias to Southampton, we also had to endure travelling to Blackpool and living  in a bed and breakfast.

'The only trouble was we had to stay there until we were found army accommodation in Yeovil, Somerset. 

'My father was in the REME at the time.

' He was Maltese and my mother Italian although both born in Egypt as we were.

'I have been trying to find out more about why we ended in Blackpool but to no avail.’

If anyone of our readers can  assist Robert in his quest please let me know.    

Birthdays for Saturday, March 10

Chuck Norris, actor, 78; Garth Crooks, broadcaster and former footballer, 60; Sharon Stone, actress, 60; Neneh Cherry, singer, 54; Prince Edward, 54; Edie Brickell, singer, 52; Chris Sutton, former footballer, 45; Colin Murray, radio and television presenter, 41; Rafe Spall, actor, 35; Olivia Wilde, actress, 34.