Daily Event for May 3, 2012

Tragedy struck the passengers of the bark John on May 3, 1855 off the coast of Cornwall when the ship ran on to the Manacles. Built in 1810 the 465 gross ton ship was under the command of Edward Rawle and was carrying emigrants from the U.K. to Canada. She left Plymouth in the morning, but at 10 p.m. she ran across the well known rocks. Her rudder was carried away and her hull was breached. Rawle ran her aground and it was now that the tragedy began.

Within her decks were about 282 people, only 19 being crewmen. Among the passengers were over 100 children and infants. Not being in imminent danger of sinking there should have been sufficient time and expertise for everyone to get off the ship, but the master and his crew (less three men) seemed to be concerned only with themselves. In the inquiry it was found " the conduct of the captain was most reprehensible in every respect. He appears to have taken no active means to save the lives of the passengers, did not assist them to leave the ship, quitted her himself while many passengers were still in the rigging, and he and the mate were the only two persons who secured anything for themselves - the captain saving his cloak, and the mate his quadrant".

Rawle apparently sent a messenger to Porthoustock, which was only 3 miles away, but in the darkness would not allow any of the lifeboats to be launched. He thought that he could get the passengers off in the morning, but during the night the wind came up and the ship began to settle further and further into the sea. As the evening progressed the situation continued to grow worse. Waves began to crash across the deck washing dozens of people into the sea. As the terror stricken passengers took their children into the rigging to avoid being washed overboard, the master and crew were little help. Nobody knows how many parents watched their helpless children drown unable to reach them, and at some point Rawle and almost all of his men left the ship and the passengers to fend for themselves.

Rescue came from the Porthoustock lifeboat and some local fishermen in the morning, making several trips to the wreck, they took off about 75 to 90 people, the remainder of the passengers perished. In all between 190 and 200 people were lost in the disaster. The exact number of people on the ship and those saved will never be known as there seem to have been no accurate count to begin with.

Rawle was convicted of manslaughter for his actions, but he was acquitted in a later appeal, how this could be I don't know. Many of the bodies were interned at St. Keverne church, Cornwall.
© 2012 Michael W. Pocock

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