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8th NOV 1902



One of the saddest disasters that has happened to the Lowestoft fishing fleet for some time occurred on Tuesday night, when the Lowestoft herring drifter Defender, a smart craft of some 35 tons, was hurled on the south beach, almost at the foot South Slopes wall, and opposite the Empire Hotel. She heeled right over, and in the pitch darkness, and with heavy seas swelling over her from stem to stern, six of her crew were drowned, and only three managed to save themselves. That such a catastrophe could take place within a few yards of the shore, and almost within striking distance of the Harbour, where a lifeboat lay ready at hand, and with rocket apparatus at the Coastguard station not far off seems incredible: but such, is the awful fact. The day did not give promise of the calamity. The morning was fine, if dull. There was no wind, and the sea was comparatively calm. Towards the end of the afternoon, however, the wind freshened and by the evening it was blowing with gusty violence from the east, bring up ugly seas, and causing many boats to run back for shelter.


Up on the South Esplanade all was quiet at half-past six, save for the roaring of the wind, the thunderous dashing of the sea against the South Sloops wall, and the hissing of columns of spray as they rose and fell on the wall decking. Pc Borley was on duty here and there were a few persons making their way to and fro. Suddenly a vessel was observed with her lights burning and making straight for the shore, and to the dismay of those who were looking on she was lifted on the top of a huge wave and hurled to the Beach broadside on within a score yards of the wall, and not far off one of the protecting groynes. Then arose the cries and shouts of men, and figures could be seen swarming to rigging, the mast meanwhile swaying to and fro as the vessel was lifted and buffeted by the waves. Dr. H. M. Evans who lives not far off the scene of the disaster had left his house for the purpose of going to the Hospital, when he was appraised of the disaster and he at once, with praiseworthy promptitude, went back to his house and telephoned the Coastguard. Putting a flask of brandy in to his pocket, he at once hurried to the scene of the wreck to render help should his service be required. By this time the crowd had assumed huge proportions, and latter there must have been two or three thousand people on the Upper Esplanade. Eyes were strained in the direction of the doomed vessel and the calls for the help that could not be rendered sent a thrill of horror through the spectators. Then shouts arose that a boat was on the beach, two forms were seen to literally tumble out of it. Willing bands were stretched out, and they were safe, then another was seen struggling in the breakers, and a second later he was flung onto the shingle. He was speedily rescued, in a terribly exhausted condition, and to all appearances lifeless. Mr. A. G. Body, whose work amongst the fishermen is so well known, and who lives on the Upper Esplanade, was amongst those who were near the Beach, and he with help, took the poor fellow to the Esplanade above, and there Dr. vans gave him brandy, and directed removal to his home. Here the Doctor, Mrs Evans and Mr. Boyd did all they could for him. He was laid in front of a blazing fire rubbed, given stimulants, then wrapped in blankets and put to bed. Beyond being bruised and exhausted, be was little the worse for his terrible experience. His Dame Fred Pipe aged 17 a native of Bury St Peter, in Norfolk, and later on, as will be seen he was able to give a succinct account of what really happened.


As soon as possible after receiving the summons; the rocket apparatus manned by the Coastguard, under Chief officer Johnson was galloped to the Esplanade, and preparations were quickly made. Five lines in succession were fired over the wreck from which cries and shrieks were still coming, but owing to the fact that the masts had gone by the board and that the vessel lifted about with every role of the furious breakers ,it was impossible to get communication. A cart was despatched for more lines but in the meantime the Defender seemed to be completely under water, the heart breaking cries had ceased, and nothing could be but the sides of the vessel, gleaming in the electric light of the Esplanade lamps, as the water ran off her. The two men who had got ashore in the boat were William Barley and Alfred Coleman. The latter is mate, and lives in East street, Beach Lowestoft. He was seen late at night, but refused to say anything of the occurrence. Both these men were driven home by Mr.T.W. Westgate.


As time went on and it became 8 o'clock, over an hoar after the vessel struck there was considerable enquiry about the lifeboat. Why had she not come out? A few minutes later, however the summoning rocket was fired, and this attracted an enormous addition to the huge crowds on the Esplanade. The lifesaving craft under Coxswain W. Mewse) was towed out by the tug Lowestoft, as it was impossible to sail out in the teeth of the Wind. She was taken down abreast of the wreck, but owing to the fact that this lay in shallow water, there was no chance of getting near, even had there been any of the crew alive, for by this time probably they had all been drowned. After remaining for some time the lifeboat returned to the harbour.


The "Lowestoft Journal" representative was the only pressman to have an interview with Henry Pipe, the lad who swam ashore. He was found lying in blankets before a blazing fire at Dr. Evans house. He was sufficiently recovered to tell about what had happened although he did so in sentences broken evidently by thoughts of his terrible experience, his marvellous escape, and the dreadful fate that had over taken six of his contrades. He said that the Defender, which was owned by Mr. Fred Sterry of 22 reeve Street, who also sailed as skipper, had been out since Saturday, and was returning to Lowestoft on tuesday evening. Owing to the darkness the Pakefield light was not sighted, and when the vessel turned for the Pakefield Gat she was considerably out of her course, and bumped over the Barnard Sand. This caused the Defender to leak, and the pump was manned and kept going. The water gained quickly, however, and the skipper saw there was nothing but to run the vessel ashore. But she became unmanageable, and instead of going on what night be called a safe beach, she drove in front of the wind right opposite tht Empire Hotel, within a short distance of the sea wall and near the groynes.
"What happened then?" the lad was asked
Well, he said, the boat was gone out, and two or three got into her. They reached the shore all right, so I'm told.
Where were they?-William Barley and James Donnington I think.
(In this Pipe made a mistake, which was excusable under the circumstances. It was Alfred Coleman, the mate, who was with Barley- not Donnington, who was drowned.)
What did you do?-I and another named Henry Stannard started to swim ashore and was thown up on to the Beach.
What became of Stannard?-I don't know. I never saw him. He must have drowned.
Pipe had nothing more to say, and bidding "Good-night" to him, and to Mr. Boyd and Dr. Evans, the "Journal" representative, left once more for the scene of the wreck, greatly impressed by the kindness and care which were being shown by the worthy doctor to the shipwrecked man.


The following are the names of the six men who have been drowned:-

Fred Sterry, skipper and owner, Reeve Street, married with children
Henry Hall, hawseman, North Beach, married.
Henry Stannard, a lad Police station road.
Robert Ayres, the boy North Beach
Donald Kerridge, Wenhaston, single
Jame Donnington Earl Street, Beach
The survivors are:-
William Barley, of Lowestoft, married.
AIfred Coleman, Whapload Road, married.
Fred Piper, of Burgh St Peter, single.


The morning after the wreck was beatifully fine and throngs went down to the scene of therein after. The Defender had been turned completely over, and had been hurled close up against the sea wall. All around her floating in the surf, were her nets and on the wall at the foot of the cliff were bowels, timbers and other things that had been secured. Crowds visited the scene during the day, and there was but one feeling of sadness at the disaster, and of sympathy for those left behind.


Early in the morning when p.c. Norman was on duty near the wreck, he decerned a body in the water, under the stanchions of the boat. With assistance he secured it and had it conveyed to the Mortuary. The body was fearfully battered, but the tattoo marks on the hand in was subsequently identified as that of HENRY George Wall, one of the crew of the wrecked vessel, who had lived at 13 Stanford Street Lowestoft.


It is a curious coincidence the father of Mr. Fred Sterry, the drowned skipper and owner of the Defender, was lost off Lowestoft on the same date, November 4th in 1863 in the Lowestoft drifter William Clifford.


The inquest on the body of Henry George Hall was held at the Police Court on Thursday morning, by the County Coroner (Mr. C.W.Chaston ) His age was given as 32, and his address, 13 Stanford Street Lowestoft.

Mr. Arnold Chamberlin, solicitor, had been retained to represent the East Suffolk Boatowner's Protection Society, and the widow of Mr.F Sterry, owner and skipper of the wrecked vessel, being intrusted by Mr.A.B. Capps, secretary of the society.

As Mr.Chamberlain was detained in the Police Court, various quettions were put by Mr. A.B.Capps. Mr James saddeen was foreman of the jury.


The Coroner, in opening the inquiry said - We all, I am very sure, deeply deplore the sad calamity which has suddenly converted the gladness at the prospect of a good fishing season into sorrow and gloom. The event of last Tuesday night is one of a very terrible nature. By it six of our fellow mortals have lost their lives. We all I am sure, deeply sympathise with the widows and others of the families of the deceased in their terrible her bereavement. I feel with reference to the official part of the case that at this stage I need not make many remarks. It is one which will require very careful investigation and your finding will embrace not only the actual cause of death, but it will be necessary to go into the surrounding circumstances, and to know if all practicable was done by the rocket apparatus and lifeboat. Other matters will be brought in all of which will require full and careful consideration at your hands. I am sure you will give such consideration and arrive at such a conclusion as will give satisfaction. Mr. Chamberlin will appear for the Boatowners Protection Association and for the widow of the skipper, and evidence will be called in order that all the various circumstance may enquired into.


Mrs Charlotte Burgess living at Inkerman Cottages, Beach, lowestoft, identified the body as that of her bother, Henry George Hall, aged 32 who lived at 13, Stanford Street. He was one of the crew of the fishing boat Defender. She recognised the body by the tattoo marks "H.H" on the back of the right hand, and by an earring in the left ear. His life was not insured. He was only in a lodge.


Alfred Coleman, living at Coleman Square North Beach Lowestoft, said- I was mate in the Lowestoft fishing boat Defender. We went to sea on Saturday. Everything was right with the boat and gear when we went to sea. We had been herring fishing, we had caught about ten or twelve months of herring.

The Coroner- When did you sail for home? on Tuesday morning, about 11 o'clock.
Did all go well with you ? - Yes till we got to the Barnard.
How was the weather? Sea rough with a strong wind from the S.E.
Was the weather clear ? - It was clear enough to see the Lowestoft Light before striking the Barnard.
Was it clear enough to see Pakefield Gat light ? - No; not till alter we got off the Barnard.
Why did you get on the Barnard?- Because we missed the Pakefield Gat light I suppose.
Were you running up to the. Pakefield Gat light ?- Yes we were running to make it, but did not see it.
And not seeing it you stuck the sand ?- Yes.
What time was that? - Six o'clock in the evening.
What happened then? - We showed flares, and after she knocked the Barnard, after being on ten minutes, we rigged the pumps we had sprung a leak.
What happened then?- We worked the pump till it broke.
Was there only one pump? No; only one.
After you broke, did the boat fill ? - Yes very rapidly.
How far up was it ?- There was water enough on the deck to float the boat off,
Was that after you struck the South Beach? -Yes
But after you got off the Barnard, was anything said about running the boat ashore?- yes; the skipper said that the only thing to do was to run her ashore.
You heard the skipper say that? Yes.
Was it not a dangerous place'? - Yes but she could go no further.
When the Defender struck the Beach what happened? - The boat washed off the deck, and Barley and I got in. The boat got entangled with the mizzen, and then the big painter broke and the boat got a drift. We had got the painter on the Defender, but the crew could not hold on.
No one got in the boat? -No
Did anyone get hold of the painter on the Defender- Yes.
Who was it? - Harry Hall the deceased.
Then what happened when the boat got a drift!- we were washed ashore.
Could you not get back ?-If a rope had been fast to the Defender I believe we might have pulled back again.
Did you and Barley try to get back again,?- We shouted to them to catch the boats painter.
Did you make any effort to go back to the Defender?- It was impossible for us to do so. We were anxious to get ashore.
How' many lifeboats were there aboard ?- Only one.
You and Barley were thrown on to the sea wall?- Yes.
And the little boat broke up?-Yes.
What was done to save those on the Defender ?- nothing till the Rocket apparatus came.
How long was that?- About an hour and half after we got ashore.
What was done?- a rocket was fired.
Did those aboard understand the working of the apparatus ?- The skipper did.
Were the lines fired over the boat ?-I don't think they went over the boat at all.
Not one ?- Except it was the last one.
Did you stop till after the apparatus left ?- Yes till it all was over


Mr. AB.Capps - Do you think any more could have been done ? - I think that if the coastguard had let the lifeboat men known, I believe everyone might have been saved.
Did you see the life boat in tow of the tug go past the wreck ? - Yes
Was a light shown to it?- The light was out when it went past.
How far do you consider she went to the southward before she come back ?- A good way.
Was a light shown after she went past ?- Yes the coastguard light was put up again.
Were there any light or lights shown from the lifeboat as she went past? - one
And was there any response from those on shore? - I never noticed.
Do you consider it the duty of the Coastguard to let the lifeboat know ? Yes.
Do you consider that if the lifeboat had been on the scene of the wreck every life might have been saved?
Mr. A.B.Capps here said that the reason for the question was that evidence would be called as to the time the telephone message was sent to the Coastguard, and when the lifeboat called.
A Juryman- When did you strike the beach?- About 6.30.
When did the lifeboat go past?- I don't know exactly, but it was a long time after.
Was it over an hour ? -Yes; over an hour.

Mr. Doughty (anothrr juryman) -How was the boat steering before you struck the Barnard ?- About W.N.W
Do you see the Southwold Eight? No.
You said you showed two flares when you were on the barnard ? Yes.
Why didn't you show more when you came off? -Because we were afloat.
But your boat was filling. -Why didn't you show more? - Because we thought we could get the boat into the harbour.
Mr A.B. Capps - If you could have got the flares, would they have been wet ? -Yes, the cabin was three parts full of water.


William Barley, of Middleton near Saxmundham one of the survivors, said be agreed with what Coleman had said.
The Coroner - How many worked the pump?
Witness Eight at the pump.
Do you not think the extra strain caused the pump to break ?- Yes.
Mr. A.B.Capps - you had a spare box ? Yes; but we could not get it
The Coroner - Do you consider everything best was done ? No.
What about the lines - did they catch ? - I don't think the lines did catch the boat.
Didn't one catch her ? - Only the last one. I don't think the others went over the boat.


Have you any opinion as to the lifeboat? I consider that if the lifeboat had known at the time the coast guard knew every man would have been saved.
Mr. A.A.. Capps- When you got ashore out of the small boat you climbed up the cliff ?- Yes and I shouted for the rocket apparatus.
Did a gentleman see you ?-Yes; he said he would telephone for the coastguard apparatus.
Is it your opinion that if the coastguard had given information to the lifeboat as soon as they received information there would have been sufficient time to save the crew ? Yes.
Have you any idea what time it was when the lifeboat passed the wreck ?- No; but it was a long time.
Was any light shown to the lifeboat? - No; and I complained bitterly to Mr. Jenner.
And in consequence of that did the boat go passed the wreck? Yes.
Was no light shown to the lifeboat? A flare was shown after she went past.
Then she came back to the northward ? Yes.
Everything was then over? Yes.
Did you see a rocket from the lifeboat? - Yes.
Was there any response? No; not of my seeing.
Mr. Doughty - If the lines had been thrown over the boat could they have been made fast?
Witness - No; I don't think any one dared leave hold to make the line fast.
The Coroner - do you think anyone was alive when the lifeboat left the harbour? Yes; one.
How do you know that ? - Because when the last line was thrown and a question shouted as to whether they had got it, there was a cry of "No".


Pc Norman said that about 5.30 on Wednesday morning he recovered the body of Hall from the wreck. It was lying face down wards beneath the stanchions. The body was not buried in the sand it was quite free.

The Coroner - there may be other bodies entangled in the wreckage.
Mr.A.B.Capps - Yes, very likely as the boat had turned turtle.
The Coroner said that at that stage he would adjourn. The question of the lifeboat not being summoned had been gone into, but of course what had been said was a maner of opinion, as was that of the lines not going over the boat. These questions would be further investigated.

The enquiry then stood adjourned till Tuesday at 11.15 am.

With much thanks to Peter Sterry of Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, England.
Peter comments: "My father told we that his father Frederick George Allen Sterry was on the cliff tops with his future wife Lily May Alexander and they saw the complete episode. It is strange that since the time of John Sterry of Southwold who died in 1858 no Sterry has been alive at the same time as his grand son who carried on the family name. My father died 5 weeks before my son Michael was born!!!!!"