Isle Of Wight Shipwrecks: Eider, Alcester

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The S.S. Eider

The largest shipwreck of the 19th Century on the Island was the S.S. Eider, the most spectacular shipwreck of the Victorian era. The S.S. Eider was a giant 4,179 ton German luxury passenger liner. She was a four masted, two funnelled steamer over 430 foot long and a crew of 167 with 227 passengers. She also carried over 500 sacks of mail, as well as just under 10 tons of gold and silver.

On the 31st January 1892 the liner entered the channel sailing from New York to Bremen when she entered a dense fog bank. The Captain ordered the crew to take regular soundings, but the ship carried on as the ship's orchestra was giving a concert for the first class passengers in the saloon. At 10pm, those onboard felt a bump. The ship had run aground, but the Captain was sure that the liner
would ride off with the tide. Some of the cargo was jettisoned and the new Atherfield lifeboat approached, but the Captain refused their offer of help, asking instead for tugs. The lifeboat left, but the coastguard kept watch on her as she became more embedded in the rock below her.

At 7am, the lifeboat again approached the Eider to warn that a gale looked likely, but the Captain felt sure that the tugs would arrive in time, and asked the lifeboat to carry some of the mailbags ashore instead of the passengers.

The lifeboatmen sadly complied.

Although the tugs did approach the Eider, when they did the gale made it impossible for them to get close for fear of striking the rocks themselves. At 10am the Captain decided to evacuate the passengers, but it was now too rough for the small Atherfield lifeboat to launch. The larger lifeboats at Brook and Brighstone launched, but they were much further away. The Brighstone lifeboat arrived first, and carried a dozen women and children to safety. The Brook lifeboat eventually reached the Eider 5 hours after launching, and rescued more women and children.

By this time the Atherfield lifeboat was finally launched, and by 3pm the wind had died down sufficiently to allow the three lifeboats to begin evacuating the ship successfully. By nightfall, the 3 lifeboats had made 18 trips, with the Atherfield boat having rescued 55 people, Brook 90 and Brighstone 88. After a good night's sleep the lifeboatmen returned to the wreck, only for the storm to increase. Despite this, the three lifeboats in 11 trips managed to bring ashore
the remaining 146 crew onboard, all the mailbags, and, over the next two days, brought all the silver and gold to safety as well.

The passengers were sent to Southampton where they were able to continue on another Nord-deutscher ship to Bremen. The lifeboatmen, though, received letters of thanks and congratulations for their bravery from Queen Victoria, congratulated in person by the Prince of Wales and Prince George, and the coxswains of the lifeboats each received a gold watch from the German Emperor Wilhelm II inscribed with his congratulations. They also received many RNLI honours and awards as well.

The Eider was eventually hauled off Atherfield Ledge on the 29th March and taken to Southampton, where she was declared by her owners, the Nord-deutscher company, to be a total loss.

The Alcester

The last big wreck of the Nineteenth Century was the Alcester, an iron, full-rigged 257 foot long ship of 1,596 tons built in 1883. In October 1886 she sailed from Calcutta heading to Hamburg, and entered the English Channel on the 19th February. At 3:30pm the ship entered a thick fog bank. The Captain estimated he was past St. Catherine's Point, only to discover the ship was rapidly heading ashore. Although the wheel was spun to turn her round, it was too late, the Alcester ploughed on to Typit Ledge, Atherfield.

The Atherfield lifeboat was launched at 7pm, but the Captain declined the offer of help, asking instead for tugs. The tug arrived at 9am, and began to drag the Alcester back to the open sea. Despite its best attempts, the Alcester only proceeded to get further wedged onto the rocks, eventually her hull gave way and she filled with water.

At Noon the tug left the Alcester, and at 1pm the Atherfield lifeboat was called for. The crew of 22 were taken ashore, only the Captain and First Mate stubbornly remaining onboard. The lifeboatmen tried to warn of the dangers of further storms, but were ignored. By 9pm, a storm had come and the two onboard the Alcester signalled for the lifeboat, but the storm that had come was too strong, and each attempt to launch the lifeboat failed. The lifeboat eventually launched and rescued both men, but the ship was a total wreck - even the stove had been removed from the cookhouse.


One of the first wrecks of the 20th Century was that of the Auguste, a three-masted iron 1,300 ton German barque sailing from Australia to London. She was caught by a storm and forced onto the Atherfield Ledge at 4:30pm on the 15th February 1900.

The Atherfield lifeboat was unable to launch due to the storm until 5:30pm, when the storm was so violent that 19 men onboard the barque were forced into the rigging as the deck was suffering too heavy punishment after the hull was ruptured. Despite all attempts to reach the Auguste, the lifeboat was unable to make headway against the gale, and was forced back to shore. The Brighstone lifeboat also failed against the storm, being driven aground on a sandbank.

Eventually, at 2:30 am the Atherfield lifeboat was finally able to fight the storm and rescue the whole crew from the Auguste without injury.

Isle Of Wight Shipwrecks

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