NOSTALGIA: Three dead, 17 children left without dads in freak storm

Eastoke beach today in much the same condition as when the Edith first hit the beach. Picture: Ray Stanton
Eastoke beach today in much the same condition as when the Edith first hit the beach. Picture: Ray Stanton
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I have recently been given a book of newspaper cuttings by Roger Allen of Hayling Island. They date from 1885 to 1925 and are a fascinating social history.

One story relates to an evening in 1898 when a barge was wrecked while loading shingle off Eastoke beach. Three Portsmouth men died leaving 17 children.

A rigged ketch of the period.

A rigged ketch of the period.

The ketch-rigged barge Edith was owned by coal merchant JT Crampton of Portsmouth and on  April 7 left Milton at noon with four hands. The lone survivor and master was William Symonds of The Chestnuts, Milton.

The three men who died were David Collins, 52, of Warren Lane, Milton who left eight children; James Bone, 50, of Pye Street, Landport, who left nine children, and Henry Newland, 34, also of Warren Lane, Milton.

After leaving Milton for Hayling, Edith reached the south-east corner of the island at 2pm and ran up a shingle bank close to the entrance of Chichester Harbour. The barge was about 500 yards from shore and waiting for the tide to recede for the men to start loading. 

By 10pm the moon was high and the sea calm when, while loading, a great swell rose. The barge could not be moved until there was sufficient depth of water. A dense fog came up and the shore disappeared. With no wind the barge could not move off. They hoped the barge would drift into the harbour but it didn't. The swell increased and swept the deck with a wave washing off the hatches and the barge filled with water.

Bone and Collins went aft to get into a boat used to get from the barge when tied up offshore but were knocked overboard by the tiller. Newland managed to get into the boat which capsized. He hung on to a rope and Symonds tried unsuccessfully to drag him back on board. He then threw a rope to Newland but was washed over the side himself.

At the inquest he told the coroner if he had not grabbed the rope he would have drowned as the sea was so heavy.

The rope took Symonds around the bow of the barge where he lost his grip and the surf carried him up the beach. No signal was made for help as, until the hatches were washed overboard, he hoped to save the vessel.

It was no use climbing the rigging as the seas were so big – waves were breaking half way up the main mast. Symonds was found exhausted on the beach by coastguard Henry Cooper.

The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death by drowning. Symonds was commended for trying the save his shipmates who were interred in Kingston Cemetery, Portsmouth.

• My friend Barry Jefferies, a former chief petty officer, tells me about the time he was serving in aircraft carrier HMS Triumph in 1966. They were standing off Karachi, Pakistan, as the carrier was too big to enter. A liberty boat took sailors ashore for leave.

One evening Barry was Duty Petty Officer at the top of the companionway on duty with the Officer of the Watch when the liberty boat drew alongside and sailors reported back on board. One was naked.

The officer looked at the sailor trying not to grin. Barry also stifled a laugh. The officer asked: ‘What can I do for you sailor?’ 

‘Please sir, I’ve lost my ID,' he replied.

The officer turned to Barry and shrugged. ‘Petty officer, take this man below. I’ll sort him out later.’

Barry says the sailor was taken to his mess and asked for an explanation.

It appears it was so hot he jumped from the boat for a swim. His tropical uniform of white shorts and white front got waterlogged so he stripped off. His mates hauled him back on board.

When he appeared before the commander to explain the loss of his ID no mention was made of the loss of uniform.


David Irving, military historian, 80; Patrick Malahide, actor, 73; Archie Gemmill, coach and former footballer, 71; Lord (Alan) Sugar, businessman, 71; Nick Lowe, musician, 69; Tommy Hilfiger, fashion designer, 67; Kelly LeBrock, actress, 58; Lara Flynn Boyle, actress, 48; Alyson Hannigan, actress, 44; Jessica Chastain, actress, 41; Lake Bell, actress, 39.