25 Lives Lost in Gorleston, Suffolk – 3 December 1867

Upsetting of the Gorleston Salavage Life Boat at Yarmouth

Upsetting of the Gorleston Salavage Life Boat at Yarmouth Source: The Illustrated London News – Dec. 14th 1867 – page 20

25 Lives Lost in Gorleston, Suffolk – 3 December 1867

On the 3rd December 1867, 25 men drowned off Gorleston Harbour during a life boat rescue, at least two members of my family were named as those that drowned.

The disaster hit hard on many of the Gorleston families and the news hit nationwide, the story can be found in every single British newspaper and was published periodically for more than a month or two. I haven’t read them all.

Below are the details of the disaster, the boats and people involved, 25 people are known to have died, My family connect Thomas Leggett Morley (1st cousin, 5x removed), and James Leggett (Distant Cousin).

The George Kendell (full-rigged ship/brig of 1,300 tons, sunk on the Cross-Sand)

The men that drowned.

  • Captain Hurst
  • Mr Gibson
  • The Mate (a foreigner)
  • The Steward
  • Matthew Duncan
  • Alexander Duncan
  • Francis Gaul
  • Thomas Gaul
  • Thomas Robertson
  • William Heigel
  • William Wetherell
  • Edward Hopper
  • William Crabtree
  • William Ogle
  • M. Atkinson
  • S. Bonlard
  • Mr F. Haigh
  • Unknown man
  • Unknown Man

The men that were saved.

  • Henry Heath
  • William Harold
  • James Best
  • Henry Smith

Rescuer (lifeboat, sent to rescue the crew of the George Kendell, capsized on her return to shore.)

Coastguards/local rescuers all drowned.

  • Thomas Leggett Morley
  • James Leggett
  • Nathaniel S Spurgeon
  • Charles Hannant
  • William Moss
  • John Sheen

Christopher Childs, Robert Woods and one other Ranger survived.

James and Ellen (Fishing lugger, struck the lifeboat Rescuer and capsizing the boat)

Andrew Woodhouse (Steam-tug, sent out to help pick up survivors)

Picked up all seven survivors.

Refuge (Lifeboat, sent out to help pick up survivors)

Picked up the dead body of John Sheen

Below is the transcription of two of the published articles, one from the Yarmouth Independent – published 7th December 1867 and the other from the Newcastle Journey, published 6th December 1867.

The Terrible Lifeboat Disaster at Gorleston.

Newcastle Journal – 6th December 1867

The following additional particulars respecting the melancholy catastrophe will be read with great interest: – On Monday morning, during a gale from NNE, with a heavy sea, the Gorleston lifeboat Rescuer went out to the assistance of a brig on the Scroby Sands. They rescued seventeen of the crew, and were returning to the harbour, when, just as the lifeboat was about to enter, and close of the bar, a fishing lugger, named the James and Ellen, struck her on the quarter. The lifeboat, which was under full sail at the time, at once capsized. The lifeboat’s crew consisted of sixteen men. She at once turned bottom upwards. Most of the crew of the wrecked vessel as well as of the lifeboat, in all twenty-six men, were drowned. Only seven men were saved by clinging to the capsized boat. They were taken onboard a small boat, and transferred to the steam-tug Andrew Woodhouse, which brought them into harbour. Most of the Gorleston men were married, and had children depending on them for support, The lifeboat drifted to the beach. She was followed by the lifeboat Refuge, which picked up one of the men, John Sheen, aged thirty years. He was quite dead. The Rescuer, which belonged to a private company, was capsized on the spot ion January 1866, when thirteen beachmen were drowned. Crowds of people, with the wives and families of the drowned men, lined the pier at the harbour’s mouth, and as the Refuge returned the scene was heart-rending. The George Kendell, which was lost on the cross-sand, and which was the indirect cause of the dreadful disaster, was a full-rigged ship of 1,300 tons. She was of and from Liverpool for Hull, with a cargo of cotton seed, &c., and was commanded by Captain Hurst. One of the owners – Mr Gibson – a young man about twenty-three years of age, was on board. There was a crew of twenty-three hands, including the captain. All the crew, with Mr Gibson, were in the lifeboat when it capsized. Nineteen of the crew of the ship were drowned – in all, twenty-five souls. Amongst those last are Capt. Hurst, Mr Gibson, the mate (a foreigner), the steward, and the following seamen: – Matthew Duncan and Alexander Duncan (Brothers), Francis Gaul and Thomas Gaul (Brothers), Thomas Robertson, William Heigel, William Wetherell, Edward Hopper, William Crabtree, William Ogle, M. Atkinson, S. Bonlard, &c. The men saved were Henry Heath, William Harold, James Best, and Henry Smith. The six Gorleston men lost were T. Morley, leaving a wife and four children; J. Leggett, single; N. S. Spurgeon. wife and one child; C. Hannant, wife and one child; W. Moss, wife and three children; and J. Sheen, wife and four children. In addition to the body of Sheen, another body was washed on shore on Tuesday evening, but it has not been identified. The body of a well-attired man, supposed to be that of Captain Hurst, has been driven on the beach near Lowestoft. In the pockets of deceased were several sovereigns and other moneys. It is asserted that great carelessness was exhibited in the management of the fishing lugger, otherwise the catastrophe might have been avoided. The loss of George Kendell has caused a profound sensation in Hull. Amongst those onboard was Mr F. Haigh, formerly of Hull, who was well-known and respected as a partner in the firm of R. Ash and Co., the owners of the vessel. Mr Haigh went with the vessel from Liverpool, contrary, it is said, to the advice of his friends , and was lost through the capsizing of the Gorleston boat, which was taking the crew from the ship to the shore. The deceased was a young man highly esteemed on ‘change, and was an ensign in the Hull Rifle Volunteer Corps, where he will be missed, as he had distinguished himself both at Wimbledon and in Belgium as a crack shot.

The Terrible Lifeboat Disaster at Gorleston - 6th December 1867

The Terrible Lifeboat Disaster at Gorleston – 6th December 1867

Disastrous Gale. Great Destruction of Life and Property.

The Yarmouth Independent – 7 December 1867

The gale of Sunday night and Monday last will be remembered on this coast for many years for the sad loss of life with which it has been attended, as well as for the large amount of property, both at sea, and on shore, which it destroyed.  The barometer had given more than ordinary indications of the coming storm.  Between nine o’clock on Saturday morning and the same hour on Sunday evening it fell from 31.1 to 28.7, or nearly two inches and a half in 36 hours.  So great a variation in so short a time is unprecedented on our coast.  The variation in the temperature was nearly as great.  On Sunday the weather was comparatively mild, though wet, with the wind from the S.W., but at night when the glass again began to rise the wind flew round to the N.W., sending the thermometer down to freezing point and bringing up thick squalls of snow and sleet.  During the night the wind blew with great violence, and at daylight on Monday the ground was covered with snow.  As the day advanced the gale increased in force, the squalls became more thick and frequent, and the tide urged on by the furious gusts sweeping round the receding coast to the north, continued to rise hour by hour, till the water had accumulated on the beach and in the haven to a height never before known within memory.


But the effects of the storm on shore sink into insignificance compared with the terrible disasters that befell at sea.

About ten o’clock on Tuesday morning, when the wind had lulled and the sea though rough, was not wild, at the very entrance to the harbour and in the sight of scores of strong and willing men, a catastrophe occurred as appalling in its consequences as it was sudden and unlooked-for.

The lifeboat Ranger was returning with a ship-wrecked crew of twenty-three men, her own the crew numbering twelve more, when she was run into and upset, and 25 souls were instantly, without one moment’s preparation, literally swept from time into eternity.

The particulars of this fearful accident, for such indeed it was, are as follows –

At daylight that morning the Rescuer, which belongs to a company of Gorleston boatmen known as the Rangers, left the harbour for the purpose of rendering assistance to vessels in distress or shipwrecked crews who, having lost their vessels, might as a last chance have betaken themselves to their boats.  The lifeboat was worked down through the roads without meeting with any vessel or crew requiring her aid, and at length she was headed back to the harbour.  On her return she passed under the stern of a brig riding at anchor when the Rangers were hailed and told that a ship’s crew were in a boat about two miles distant.  The lifeboat was at once rounded to and proceeded in search of the shipwrecked crew.

In a short time the unfortunates were discovered, and proved to be the crew, pilot, and one of the owners (Mr. Gibson) of the ship George Kendall of Hull.  They were 23 in all, and had been buffeted about in their open boat since 3 p.m. of the previous day.


All the shipwrecked men, with the exception of the pilot James Best, were at once transferred to the lifeboat, but two of the Rangers – Christopher Childs and Robert Woods – were put into the longboat to assist Best in managing her.  The longboat was then taken in tow, and the lifeboat was headed for the harbour, which was reached about ten o’clock.  At that time there was much broken water upon the North-sand and a heavy roll over the bar.

The most conflicting statements have been given as to the cause of the catastrophe.  It seem that the steamtug Andrew Woodhouse was towing from the southward towards the harbour a dismasted brig.  The lugger James and Ellen, belonging to Mr. James Frosdike, of this port, was approaching the harbour from the N.E., and the lifeboat was coming in from the S.W.  The two boats met on the bar, and came in collision, some say because the master of the lugger put the helm to starboard, and others that the lifeboat took a sudden sheer, and ran under the lugger’s bows.  Which ever way it was, the lifeboat was struck on the starboard quarter, and was turned with her living freight completely over.  Immediate help was afforded by the three men in the longboat and the men in charge of the steamtug, who threw off the schooner and steamed to the spot.  Two or three of the submerged men succeeded in getting onto the bottom of the capsized lifeboat, and were rescued in the most gallant manner by Best, at the risk of his own life, and taken into the longboat, and four or five were rescued by means of ropes from the steamer.

Sad to relate, however, Mr. Gibson and eighteen of the shipwrecked crew and six of the lifeboat crew – in all twenty-five stalwart men – were lost.  We have been unable as yet to obtain a correct list of the shipwrecked men who were thus drowned, but the six Gorleston men who thus met an untimely end whilst engaged in rescuing others were – Thomas Morley, John Sheen, James Leggett, William Moss, Charles Hannant, and Nathaniel Spurgeon.  All of these were comparatively men in the prime of life, and each of them, with the exception of Leggett, who was single, leaves a widow and from two to five children.

People of a superstitious temperament would say that a fatality attends this lifeboat.  But two short years ago a somewhat similar accident occurred to it, and on that occasion, as our readers will remember, no fewer than thirteen gallant men met with untimely death.  The coxswain of the boat at that time was one Mr. Spilling, and singular to say his widow was being married again at Lowestoft at the very time that the accident we have just described was taking place.