The Wreck of the Schooner Dart

The gale which swept across England on the 29th. March 1916 was almost without parallel, leaving a tract of ruin and devastation as has rarely been seen in what we might term our temperate climate.

By the evening of this awful day, the wind over Great Yarmouth and Gorleston had increased to hurricane force and with the onset of darkness came blinding snow, which blotted out everything, whilst the wind shook houses to their foundations, damaged roofs, smashed telegraph and telephone lines and poles and leveled hoardings.

On such a night the thoughts of townsfolk living in coastal towns such as Great Yarmouth and Gorleston would have gone out to the mariners who would have been fighting their desperate battle to survive against the fury of the elements.

At 1-30 A.M. a large flare was sighted off Corton, while another vessel was seen to be burning flares and drifting north of the St. Nicholas light-ship. Coxswain Harris of the Mark Lane lifeboat, which was stationed at Gorleston, had been standing by, and at once took steps to secure the services of a tug. This done, he launched the Life-boat at 2-50 A.M. and proceeded to the vessel which was burning flares near the St. Nicholas light-ship .He found that she had lost both anchors but was able to carry on under her own steam and required no assistance. Harris then proceeded to Hopton where he and his crew found the schooner Dart sunk. Only her masts could be seen above the water, with her crew of four lashed to the rigging. Coxswain Harris then dropped anchor and veered down to the vessel, the lifeboat actually passing over the wreck, an incident always attended with the gravest possible danger. The crew then hauled the boat back into position again and after some difficulty got close to the spars of the wreck. Here they found two men in the main rigging, their legs being rove in between the ratlines. The problem was how to release the men and get them into the lifeboat. One of the crew Edward Bensley at once jumped into the main rigging and succeeded in getting the master and mate into the life-boat, although these men were quite helpless, having been exposed to the bitter cold and driving sleet and snow for twelve hours. Ted Bensley could not get onto the foremast, so he returned to the lifeboat, and Coxswain Harris then maneuvered the boat into position for the fore rigging. Ted Bensley then leapt into the rigging once again and bent a rope on to Charles Samuel Kent, a man of eighty-one years, and assisted him into the lifeboat. He then attempted to get a line onto the remaining man in the fore rigging, but the poor man fell backwards on being released from the lashings, Bensley then called on his old mate William Newson, another member of the crew, to jump into the rigging to help him. With Newson’s assistance the fourth man was lowered onto the deck of the Mark Lane.  All four men were in an unconscious or semi conscious state. Having been exposed to the hard frost, driving sleet and icy wind for many hours. The Coxswain at once hauled away from the wreck, and the men were then well rubbed to stimulate their circulation and given brandy, two of them regained consciousness one being the grand old man of eighty one, whilst the other two remained unconscious. On arrival at the quay a doctor was sent for. He found that one of the men was dead, but there was still a possibility of saving the other mans life, and this was fortunately achieved.

The service was rendered in a N.N.E. gale force eight, with a heavy sea, thick snow and heavy frost. The committee of management were of the opinion that the whole service was a magnificent one, and they marked their appreciation by awarding Coxswain Harris the Fifth Service Clasp. This was probably a record being the equivalent of five silver medals. It was another tribute to the courage and seamanship of a man who two years previously had been selected by the Committee of Management for recommendation to the American Board of Honour, for the American Cross of Honour, a distinction accorded only every two years to some individual recommended by the Institution for special and distinguished bravery in saving life. The occasion being the wreck of the Egyptian of Glasgow on 26th August 1912 in a  W.N.W. wind of hurricane force when 33 person’s lives were saved.   The committee of management also marked their appreciation of Edward Bensley’s gallant conduct by awarding him the Silver Medal. It was undoubtedly due to his courage and tenacity that the men were actually taken off the rigging so promptly, thereby saving their lives.

At the inquest held on the death of the one man, who unfortunately died of exposure, the jury expressed a wish to see Charles Samuel Kent, the uncle of the master. The old man, a well-built and sturdy old fellow, with snow-white hair and beard, stepped forward and the coroner said to him “We are very pleased to see you, and trust you are feeling much better. I suppose you must go to sea, but wont want to go again now?” To which the old man replied with a twinkle in his eye, “ I go to sea for the benefit of my health.” “But I don’t want to go again.” Asked whether he did not suffer from the cold, he said, well, my hands were numbed, but I had my sea boots full of water and this helped to keep my feet warm. This caused some laughter. I mean it he said, and I am not joking, because “I have often found that sea water in my boots keeps the feet warmer than rain or fresh water would do.” It may be added that this was a common practice, and that in bitterly cold weather lifeboatmen would often dip their gloves in the seawater, and use their wet gloves as a means of keeping their hands from getting frost bitten. (I might add here that this was many years before the introduction of the wet suit, if, on reading this report at the coroner’s inquest, someone had taken it up. We may have had the underwater wet suit many years earlier. Perhaps we had to await the introduction of the facemask? )

My Grandfather Edward Bensley stated he had never seen such a man in his life as old Kent. Truly a case of the Old Man of the Sea .It was not his time to die, and he knew it! 

Arthur Edward Bensley.

 

 

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