Tea Clipper 'Gossamer'
The picture above right is of the ‘Sovereign of the Seas’. This was very similar to the ‘Gossamer’, being built as a composite with wood and steel in the mid 1800’s. The Gossamer, painted in the above picture, was a China Tea Clipper of 735 Tons with a length of 181 ft and breadth of 30 ft. On her final voyage in 1868, it was owned by George Kipsel and six others. She was carrying a general cargo from Adelaide in Australia to London when the captain, on board with his wife, handed over control to the pilot and retired to his cabin. They had had a discussion about whether or not they could tack past Start point and, despite the pilots concerns, Captain Thomson told the pilot to hold course. The result was the ship hit the shore just to the east of Prawle Point in South Devon. Out of the 30 people on board only 17 survived. Captain Thomson and his wife are buried in a local church.
The actual location of the site is very little known and not dived but in the 1970’s Stephen George dived the wreck site and recovered some items that are now in the Salcombe Museum.
The period this ship was built is key in the transition from wooden sailing ships to steel powered ships. She was a composite built by company Alexander Stephen and Sons (AS&S) in the Kelvinborough, Glasgow in 1864.Built of wood around a steel frame, this construction did present some challenges to the designers due to corrosion but also offered a greater stowage area. The design was eventually accepted by Lloyds and the first built by the AS&S, the 'John Lidgett' was built in six months and launched in 1862.This composite design only lasted until 1876 when steel ships took over the seas. The Gossamer registration number was 50265,311 and she was classed as a 'full square rigger'
The ships bell
Above photo taken by "Bonhams 1793 Ltd"
The following article is from Kingsbridge Gazette 19-12-1868
"The total loss of the Gossamer clipper ship bound for Adelaide from London has already been notified by telegram in the papers. Further particulars of the disaster unfortunately show the loss of life to be greater than at first anticipated.
The Gossamer, a china tea clipper ship of 735 tons registered, was built in 1864, by Stevens of Glasgow. She was owned by Messrs Potter and Brown of Liverpool, and was dispatched from London last week for Adelaide, Australia with a general cargo. She left the downs on Wednesday in charge of a London pilot. On Thursday, during a strong south westerly breeze, Gossamer was wending her way down the channel in the pilots charge. The captain, who had only then been three weeks married, and who had been on deck all the previous night, lay below with his wife. Midway between the Bill of Portland and the Lizard there is a promontory which stands far out in the channel which has three principle heads, Start Point, Prawle Point, and Bolt Head. Approaching the centre of these headlands, the mate told the pilot what he thought but the pilot, it is said, still kept on a starboard tack, the ship having to put into Plymouth for passengers. When within half a mile of the shore, the pilot gave orders to put the ship about, but owing to the flood tide and wind setting on shore she missed stays. The captain rushed on deck and two anchors were let go, but they would not hold and the ship was driven onto the rocks some hundred yards from the shore and soon began to break up.
The coastguards were soon on the scene with the rocket apparatus, and by its means a number of lives were saved. Several of the crew, however, jumped over board to endeavour to swim to the shore, and these were nearly all drowned. The captain and his young wife both perished. A black man, one of the crew, and a noted swimmer offered to take the lady on this back, but unfortunately the offer was declined and the sailor swum ashore with ease. Shortly afterwards a tremendous sea washed the poor woman overboard and her husband springing into the sea after her, they both drowned being washed ashore two hours afterwards. Five other bodies had also been recovered.
The Gossamer had on board in all thirty souls and it is defiantly ascertained that seventeen only had been saved, whilst thirteen had perished.
Large quantities of cargo have been washed ashore and Lloyds agent of Dartmouth has taken charge of the wreck, and in this office he assisted by a body of coastguards and police who have had enough to hold the pilfering propensities of visitors in check. At the inquisition Monday, the jury viewed the bodies which were indentified as those of captain Thompson and Barbara his wife, Grarver, second steward, Sherry, Moore, Chapan and Wallstream, able seaman, and J.Dycker, Threw an apprentice,(To be continued)
The tombstone of the captain and his wife is in the Chivelstone Church yard
Below is a remarkably well preserved boot from the wreck