Sunday, 2 September 2012

Rob Gilbert and family

Every gravestone tell a tragic tale of course, but this one is particularly poignant as it refers to a tragedy at sea. Here is the text:

Erected by
Rob Gilbert
In loving Memory of
his daughter Jeanie
who was drowned by the sinking
of the SS Drummond Castle
on 16th June 1896, aged 46 years
the above
Robert Gilbert
died at Hallmyre Cottages 5th Jan'y
1905, aged 80 years
Margaret Steele
his wife who died 7th Nov. 1912
aged 86 years.

From accounts elsewhere it appears that this tragedy happened on the 16th  June although it would have taken some time before Jeanie's parents were informed of the sinking of the SS Drummond Castle. The mail packet and passenger vessel  (built in 1881 in Govan, Glasgow) was on it's way from Cape Town to London when it got into difficulties, hit rocks near the coast of Brittany, France, and sank within the space of 4 minutes. Only 3 people out of  142 passengers and 101 crew were saved. It struck me as specially sad that Jeanie was apparently on her way back home when she so sadly perished. Where she had been and why are pieces of the puzzle that I'll probably never find out about.

Subsequently a book was written by Henri Queffelec called "Les iles de la misericorde" in which these tragic events were described in depth. Apparently the ship was sounding it's horn when it went down but because it disappeared so quickly under the waves French fishing boats coming to its rescue were at first unable to find the exact position.The French fishermen did rescue the 3 survivors as well as bringing back to shore many bodies of the drowned. Silver medals were struck with the approval of Queen Victoria as award for the Breton fishermen and other inhabitants of Brest, Ushant, and Molene who helped in rescuing the survivors  and in the recovery and burial of those lost. A total of 282 medals were struck. 

The wreck was re-discovered in the 30s by Italian divers and then again in 1979 when several objects were brought to the surface and they can now be seen in the museum in Molene. You can see a video and pictures of the wreck here. One simple gravestone but it has led me to research this sad event that I was completely unaware off. One of the reasons why I wanted to know more is that for more than 20 years John was in the Merchant Navy and for the last 2 years that he went away to sea back in the early eighties I sailed with him. Such tragedies still happen and they register on my radar when they do! In 1996 the people of Moshene and Ushant, a poor region of France, commemorated the centenary of this disaster as amongst the many shipwrecks along that coastline this had left the deepest mark, and graves of the victims abound in graveyards along the coast. So one graveyard in West Linton led me to another one in France pictures of which can be seen on the video mentioned above.

Since writing this post and doing some more research I've now bought a print about the disaster on Ebay as well as the book Les iles de la misericorde on Amazon! Somehow the story of the SS Drummond Castle has gripped me.

1 comment:

Linda said...

After looking at the information you've gathered, I find it hard to understand a ship that large or modern looking would sink that quickly. Interesting history.