Page Updated:- Sunday, 07 March, 2021.

Published 1 March 2001


From ‘down under,’ in Queensland, Australia, the Herald has had an appeal for help from Ambrose Burton who wishes to get in touch with anyone who was in the choir of St Mary’s parish church with him, back in the mid-1920s. Ambrose says the photographer Hawkesworth Wheeler took a photograph of the choir, choirmaster and clergy and, he wonders if there is a copy in the church, possibly in the vestry. There were about 25 trebles and 22 men. Choirmaster was George Norman Butcher, who was greatly admired by the boys. “I am on the extreme right, front row, gripping my knee. I left England in 1959 and came to Australia in 1970,” he said. Ambrose Burton lives at 514 Mt Mellum Road, Mt Mellum, Queensland, Australia 4550. His fax/phone number is + 61 7 5494 8644
400 left to drown by rogue ship

SHIPPING disasters like that of the massive liner Titanic capture the public imagination and so it is with some of those which have taken place closer to home.

I am referring in this case to one of the most distressing tragedies of the 19th Century, in the English Channel, details of which were revived for me recently by a phone call as I was working on a Memories page in the office.

It concerns the running down and sinking of the emigrant ship Northfleet carrying hundreds of people bent on starting a new life in Australia.

The vessel, at anchor, was smashed by the Spanish steamer Murillo, in Dungeness Bay, early in 1873. At night, this ship backed away in the darkness and continued its voyage, leaving 400 people struggling for their lives in the water. Only 85 were saved, 10 of them crew and 75 passengers.

Sadly, the Northfleet's six pounder gun normally used to fire a distress signal jammed. And, tragically, distress rockets were at first ignored, as being merely a signal for a pilot, and 293 people drowned. Several were just babies.

The Murillo was identified when Samuel Bell, a
passenger on board and two engineers, spoke up and told of a collision and hearing cries for help.

Master of the Northfleet was Captain Edward Knowles who went down with his ship. His young wife Frederica, aged 19, was rescued.

Queen Victoria contributed to a disaster fund which was launched to help survivors and approved the proposal of the Prime Minister that the master's heroic conduct in trying to save the women passengers should be recognised by granting his widow a pension of £50 a year.

In 1873 a well produced and illustrated hardback book about the disaster was published, called simply "The Loss of the Ship Northfleet," all proceeds going to a national memorial in New Romney. The author's name is not given but the book preface was written at Dover, in February 1873.

Jeff Marshall, of Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, who rang me, says he plans to reproduce a story from the Herald, of 1989, about divers exploring the wreck of the Northfleet, in the Kilvert Society Journal, of which he is editor.

The Herald feature in 1989 was about a group of divers who were planning to explore the wreck, which caused some controversy among those who consider such wrecks should be respected like a grave.

The tragedy is commemorated by a striking stained glass memorial window in New Romney Church, outside which passenger Samuel F Brand, 23, the son of a doctor, lies buried. At Capel a tombstone records the drowning of Ellen Tough, another of the passengers. Her body was found between Dover and Folkestone. Other victims are buried in churchyards all around the coast.

The book includes a picture of the Northfleet taken at Gravesend a few days before she sailed, photographs of Capt and Mrs Knowles and Samuel Brand, who stood by the captain as he tried to control the passengers. There are also names of all victims and survivors, and a report of an inquiry held into the tragedy.

First news of the loss of the 895 ton Northfleet in
the Channel ports came from Kingsdown lugger Mary which landed 30 survivors at Dover.

They told of a violent collision which shook the ship soon after 10.30pm, on January 22, 1873, as the majority of those on board were in their berths -fearful cries of alarm, from the sailors on watch, coming seconds before the impact.

An important witness at an inquiry after the disaster was John Stanley, mate of the Deal pilot cutter Princess, who said there were from 200 to 300 sailing ships sheltering off Dungeness the night of the tragedy. He was commended for saving 21 people.

The number of lights sent up by the emigrant ship told him something was wrong and the cutter launched two boats immediately. He saw the Northfleet sink, leaving masts above water and rescued men desperately clinging to the rigging. Taking them to the cutter, he went back for more and then cruised about looking for others until daylight.
Another witness, the boatswain, John Easter, told how desperate passengers hindered the launching of the ship's boats after the collision. He tried to follow orders and get the women first into one of the six boats, but it was hopeless. And the steamer backed off - and ignored cries for help.

The Northfleet's six boats would probably have taken everyone on board, had they been able to launch them safely, he said.

One positive outcome of the disaster was a maritime agreement on better distress signals - and a requirement, in future, that all ships must display a recognizable name or number.

In modern times a small syndicate of Folkestone divers bought the Northfleet wreck for £50 from the Salvage Association of London and have explored the interior of the boat, a task made difficult by an extremely strong current.
was run down by a steamer and lost with 293 passengers and crew.
FROM a page of the Northfleet book -portraits of the master, Capt Knowles, left and his teenage wife, Frederica.
Compiled by Bob Hollingsbee
Coast erosion appeal as Resignations as bus talks

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From Our Files


Coast erosion appeal as marine gardens eroded

«| Q/%-4 CALLING for an urgent plan to improve .L9UX sea defences Herald writer Felix writing of the havoc wrought by the sea, said the marine walks in Lower Sandgate Road were only a shadow of what they used to be. Some had disappeared altogether, others eroded every time there was an exceptionally high tide, and the road itself was under threat. The Folkestone cargo boat Achille Adam in blinding sleet and snow ran down and sank the schooner Maid of Mona, of Plymouth, near the Varne lightship. Fortunately the crew of five was saved and brought into Folkestone. A horse had a narrow escape at the port during loading of chalk ballast on Folkestone collier Mary Ann. The horse and cart was backed up too close to the shoot, down which the chalk was shot, and both plunged into the ship's hold. Amazingly it was not hurt. Hoisted out by crane it calmly walked away! St Paul’s Church, Sandgate was so packed with people, both sitting and standing, for a memorial service for Queen Victoria that; some simply couldn’t get in and stood outside. At Hythe parish church the congregation for a similar service was estimated at 800.

Resignations as bus talks fail to improve services

Q<J/» CHAIRMAN and vice-chairman of the town’s Watch Committee plus four of its members resigned over the state of the local bus service. Services in Folkestone were in turmoil, with 50 buses owned by a variety of groups, vying for business. The situation improved a little, with services introduced by the East Kent Road Car Co, but rivalry between owners caused friction, sometimes ending in court: action against drivers. Local authorities joined in holding meetings to try and thrash out the problem, but with little result. Hardres Court, an estate dating back to the Domesday Survey, and including a mansion and six farms, in all: totalling nearly 1,000 acres, was put on the market by Sir Robert Gardiner. Previous owners included the Hardres family, Thomas Hardres accompanying King Henry VIII to the siege of Boulogne, after which he was given the gates of Boulogne which were erected at Hardres Court in 1544. A small landslip after heavy rain completely blocked the Road of Remembrance 50 years ago. An estimated 30 cart loads of earth covered the road but was speedily cleared so that only one side remained closed for any length of time.
Snub for dance ieader-after Starlight success

<1 QCi “SUNDAY Starlight” dances at the JL«79JL Leas Cliff Hall were proving a great success with the public. On a night hit by one of the worst Channel storms for some time, a dance attracted 900 people, including 3-400 teenagers But the Entertainments Committee wanted the dance orchestra cut from 12 to eight musicians and proposed that tenders be invited. Band leader Jan Ralfini would have none of that and gave in his notice! And he immediately accepted a new contract to play at a newly-built ballroom just outside London, for a much higher fee. A “Folkestone Can Make It" trade exhibition was planned as part of Festival of Britain celebrations In the town. Mr R Harding, Chairman of the town’s Chamber of Trade, said it was time to show the world what Folkestone could do. The Mayor called for donations from businesses and the public for a guarantors’ fund, as insurance against loss. The Town Council’s finance committee was recommending the town should give a civic reception if Folkestone was chosen to stage a planned world hockey tournament It was hoped to bring the conference and tournament of the International Federation of Women’s Hockey Associations to the town over a two week period in October 19S3.
Demands growing for the completion of M20 road

*\ Q7C PRESSURE was growing in the district for the 1 O completion of the M20 extension to relieve pressure on local roads. Traffic and coast erosion were two problems worrying Sandgate residents and, 25 years ago, they packed the Chichester Hall for a public meeting to discuss the future. Officers of the District Council presented a special report, first of a series of planning studies prior to production of a new Kent Structure Plan. During the meeting it was admitted there had once been a proposal for a widening of the main street, where speed was already a problem. Originally, it was revealed, 70ft had been suggested. This had been modified to 50ft but, conceded Trevor Greening, technical and planning services director; it was not only totally impractical and too costly, but public opposition would be too great. Residents pressed for completion of the M20. Rail passengers in the Hythe and Saltwood area were demanding action, with a petition, over poor services at Sandling Station. Not only was there no bus service but, they complained, there was often no public telephone service -because of vandalism and they called for a vandal-proof phone to be installed. Villagers told of a bus pulling away from the station just as a party of 20 schoolchildren got off a tram, claiming it was not an isolated incident. But the bus company said it had received no such complaint.

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