On This Day in Trinity House History – 12 November


The East Goodwin Lightvessel Incident

The East Goodwin Lightvessel breaks adrift from her Assigned Position, endangering the lives of the men onboard.

21 LV East Goodwin (1973)

No. 21 Lightvessel at East Goodwin (1973)

From Trinity House’s Flash magazine at the time:

“When the first news about the East Goodwin [Lightvessel] breaking adrift was heard, the hearts of all members of the Service, no matter what the rank or job, must have gone out towards the crew in what turned out to be days of struggle against the elements. The fact that all was well in the end was indeed welcome news throughout the Service. The Light Vessel crew and the crew of Vestal must have lived through many anxious moments during the four days when the Light Vessel was off station. In the following articles both Mr. Harvey, Master of the Light Vessel and Mr. Tarrant, Commanding Officer of [THV] Vestal, have set down the sequence of events as seen from their own particular points of view.”

The Lightvessel

“On the night of the 12th November 1961, almost to the month of the seventh anniversary of the tragic episode involving the South Goodwin Light Vessel, one of her sister ships the East Goodwin was parted from her moorings in a North Easterly gale. When this news became a known fact, the crew were alerted to their various break-adrift positions. This operation was carried out with alacrity, the speed and the drift of the vessel was checked, and eventually she rode securely at 130 fathoms in 15 fathoms of water 2 miles E.N.E. of the South Goodwin Light Vessel. The Ship’s position was made known to the Chief Superintendent, Harwich, via Deal Coastguard.

By this time the Walmer Lifeboat was in attendance, and remained by the Light Vessel the whole of Sunday night. In the meantime a new cable was being put aboard the T.H.V. Vestal at Harwich to be transferred to the Light Vessel on arrival at her position.

The weather by this time had worsened, and the T.H.V. Vestal’s passage to the Light Vessel from Harwich was made in a Force 8 North Easterly gale, and it must have been a most uncomfortable trip for her crew, but they carried on despite the elements, and arrived at the position of the Light Vessel at 1400 on the Monday. The new cable for the Light Vessel had to be clenched together and this involved quite a lot of work. T.H.V. Vestal had to proceed to Trinity Bay to effect this in quieter waters.

In the meantime the Lifeboats in turn — Walmer, Dover and Ramsgate — stood by the Light Vessel and all concerned hoped that the weather would soon moderate and the operation of getting the Light Vessel back on her assigned position would be under way. The weather decided otherwise, and on Monday night the wind had increased to reach Force 10 in the north Easterly squalls. The Light Vessel had dragged to the Southwold, changing her bearings slightly, but was still secure on the Tuesday morning, and constant checks were being made on her position.

On the Tuesday afternoon the weather had moderated sufficiently to allow T.H.V. Vestal to come alongside the Light Vessel and to pass her the new cable, and place the anchor in position, after the Lightship had been towed to Trinity Bay and quieter waters.

On Wednesday the 15th of November, the Light Vessel was towed and relaid to position ½ cable to the Eastward of her charted position, to enable T.H.V. Vestal to grapnel for the lost anchor. This operation was successful and the Light Vessel was then placed on Station, and the drama was over.

Thanks are due to all who took part in this operation for its merciful conclusion.”

The Tender

“The first news of the East Goodwin having broken adrift reached Harwich just before 10 p.m. on Sunday, November 12th, during the Royal Command television programme. Deal Coastguard telephoned to say the Light Vessel appeared to be drifting South and a few minutes later confirmed this by a radio call to the lightship.

Immediate action was taken to call out the crew of T.H.V. Vestal by the ship on stand by for any emergency.

All hands were on board by 11 p.m. some of them turning out in response to the news flash on television, without waiting for the messenger to call. In the meantime T.H.V. Vestal had made R/T contact with the East Goodwin and we were relieved to learn that she had dropped her spare bower anchor and stopped her drift.

The Walmer Lifeboat had reached the Light Vessel by then and was standing by to take the men off if need be. She had been driven almost 6 miles from her station, and fortunately the direction had been parallel to the Sands and not on to them.

Harwich Depot staff had also been called out and they proceeded to load T.H.V. Vestal with a complete new Light Vessel riding cable, 270 fms. in 15 fm. lengths, and a 5 ton anchor. This was all on board by 2 a.m. on the Monday morning.

By that time the wind had increased to almost Force 9 from the N.E. and this, coupled with the flood tide, made it impracticable for the ship to leave at once without grave risk of damage.

At 4.30 a.m. conditions had improved a little, with the ebb tide, and T.H.V. Vestal got away safely.

The trip to the East Goodwin normally takes about 5 to 6 hours, but it was a very unpleasant 9 ½ hours before she was reached this time. T.H.V. Vestal then fixed her position as being 2 ½ miles East of the South Goodwin Light Vessel and this was reported in order that shipping could be warned about the situation.

Conditions at the Light Vessel were far too rough to take her in tow, and T.H.V. Vestal sought the comparative shelter offered under the lee of the Goodwins, some 5 miles away, in order to start the work of clenching up the new cable. The Walmer Lifeboat was relieved at 2 p.m. by the Dover Lifeboat, having been guarding the Light Vessel since 11 p.m. the previous night. The Dover boat kept watch until 10 p.m. when she was relieved by the Ramsgate boat for the night watch. These crews had a most unpleasant task, and all praise is due to them for sticking it out. The sea was so bad that they were continually soaked by spray and were not able to smoke or make a hot drink at any time.

THV Vestal spent a very uncomfortable night at anchor with the wind reaching Force 10 in gusts and a heavy sea running, even on the lee side of the Goodwins. The Light Vessel was even more uncomfortable of course, and nobody on board had much sleep.

On Tuesday morning, the weather had improved slightly and T.H.V. Vestal was able to stay near the Light vessel, although it was still not fit to take her in tow. About mid-day it was apparent that the weather had moderated sufficiently so that T.H.V. Vestal could lower her boat if it should be necessary, and so the Lifeboat was recalled to her station.

When the Light Vessel’s position had been determined by T.H.V. Vestal it seemed highly probable that she was hooked on to a submarine telephone cable which was known to run close by. In consultation with the Post Office authorities it was decided by Trinity House that the Light Vessel’s anchor and cable should be slipped if necessary, rather than risk damage to the telephone cable. In such cases the Post Office pays for the lost gear as it saves them a greater expense should damage be done in trying to clear the foul anchor.
On Wednesday morning the wind was still fresh, but conditions were fit to take the Light Vessel in tow. T.H.V. Vestal anchored ahead of her and passed a line aboard before weighing the Light Vessel’s anchor. This was found to be foul of something, as suspected, and the anchor cable was cut at 15 fms. and then slipped.

In order to transfer the new cable and anchor T.H.V. Vestal took her in tow into the shelter of the Goodwins and commenced this work on the Wednesday afternoon. By nightfall the new cable and anchor were on the Light Vessel and the remains of her old cable had been removed. Both ships then stayed at anchor in order to catch up on some lost sleep.

Early on Thursday morning the wind and sea had dropped right away and the Lightship was soon back on station. She was laid slightly away from her Assigned Position in order to give room for a search by grapnel for the lost moorings.

This search continued from about 10.15 a.m. until the old cable was hooked at 3.30 p.m. During the search another lost anchor with about 90 fms. of cable attached was recovered, and also an aircraft propellor was dredged up. The anchor and cable had been on the bottom for a long time, and it would be interesting to know under what circumnstances it was lost.
Recovery of the Light Vessel’s anchor with the remnant of cable took about 2 hours hard work. When it was all on board, the Lightship was moved into her proper position, and by 6 p.m. she was finally back home, and watching over the Goodwin Sands once more, having been “absent from duty” for almost 4 days.”

Tribute from HRH Prince Henry Duke of Gloucester, the Master of Trinity House

“Now that you are back on Station I wish as Master of Trinity House to thank you and your crew for your exceptional devotion to duty which has earned the admiration of your fellow countrymen and has been a fine example to us all. The Duchess and I have shared the feelings of your families and of all the Trinity House Service during those anxious days now mercifully passed.”

On This Day in Trinity House History – 18 September


THV Vestal is launched

THV Vestal is launched from the Bristol yard of Charles Hill and Son, to become the Swansea district tender.

After a long and varied career (for a full history of Trinity House’s tenders, readers may wish to pick up Captain Richard Woodman’s Keepers of the Sea) she was sold out of service in 1975.

THV Vestal

THV Vestal

On This Day in Trinity House History – 14 July


Samuel Pepys is elected Master (again) of Trinity House

Trinity Monday: Samuel Pepys is elected Master for the second time, under the terms of James II’s Royal Charter.

Samuel Pepys FRS MP JP (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament (for Harwich) who is now most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man. Although Pepys had no maritime experience, he rose by patronage, hard work and his talent for administration, to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and subsequently King James II. His influence and reforms at the Admiralty were important in the early professionalisation of the Royal Navy.


Elder Brethren Drowned on Duty

A Committee of Elder Brethren attempted to land at Trevose Head Lighthouse in a boat from the Vestal. The weather was too bad to permit of landing; on returning to the Vestal, owing to some confusion, the boat was run down by the steamer, resulting in the deaths of Captain Richard Drew and Captain Jenkin Jones, whose bodies were recovered.

The following excerpt of an Elder Brother’s diary is reproduced here from our recently-published history Light Upon The Waters:

“Early on Monday we weighed anchor and steamed out of Penzance Roads, round the Land’s End… towards Trevose Head. It was a brilliant morning, little or no wind, but rather a heavy ground swell. At 9 o’clock we lowered the cutter, Captain Drew (chairman) proposing to land and inspect the outer Quay’s Rock to which Probyn and I urgently dissented, seeing it would be attended with danger.

Drew replied ‘Let us attempt it, at all events,’ and perceiving his obstinacy and apprehending some accident, I advised Captain Jones, who was a very stout man, to remain on board, as four of us were quite sufficient to do the needful, should we succeed in landing, which was very doubtful. This he would not listen to and on approaching the rock we found it impracticable to land, so Drew ordered the boat to return. By this time the steamer was very near the rock, and as we were also close to it, had we struck we must all have perished.

At this moment the steamer struck the cutter midway between the five Elder Brethren and the seamen [rowing], the latter were fortunate in laying hold of different parts about the [Vestal’s] figurehead and got safely on board. We were carried under the steamer’s bows and poor Jones and Drew were drowned. Captains Probyn and Maddan were soon all right, but I was with great difficulty brought to, owing to my long immersion in the water, which completely exhausted me.

Although my health did not suffer from this accident, it caused the total loss of my right eye, the nerves having completely given way.

It was a sad sight to see the two dear fellows cold in death, who but an hour before had been in high health and spirits, and there was not a dry eye on board when the last sad duties were performed.”

After landing the bodies at Bristol, Captain Alexander Weynton joined the ship and the voyage continued.



Bishop Rock stone-laying ceremony

Bishop Rock Lighthouse: The first stone (one of the fifth course) was laid in a ceremony attended by the Master the Duke of Wellington and the Deputy Master Captain Sir John Henry Pelly. The lowest stone was afterwards laid in the chasm of the rock, at one foot below the level of low water spring tide on 30 July 1852. The stone work of the tower was finished 28 August 1857, without loss of life or serious accident.

Bishop Rock Lighthouse internal plaque

Bishop Rock Lighthouse internal plaque

On This Day in Trinity House History – 19 June


Trinity House Evacuates Alderney during the Second World War

In June 1940 the Cowes District relief by THV Vestal (formerly the first Patricia) was in progress, when she was suddenly ordered to the Channel Islands to evacuate “all Lightkeepers and their families and anyone else who wished to come.”

With no other means of evacuation promised, several islanders also came on board. The unaccompanied men occupied the lightsmen’s berth; couples occupied the officers’ berths or the large officers’ mess room; groups of young women kept together in spare cabins and the officers’ cabins.

The officers and crew slept where they could. In the stewards’ two-berth cabin were put a crippled girl, a heavily pregnant woman and the Alderney District Nurse. In the biggest spare cabin, formerly the state room of the Elder Brethren, were put six small children, three at each end of the big double bed, while their mothers slept on the deck beside them.

THV Patricia (later Vestal) c1930 lifting a buoy

THV Patricia (later Vestal) c1930 lifting a buoy

On This Day in Trinity House History – 11 January


Trinity House and the Royal Navy

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Trinity House to the Duke of Buckingham. Petition to prefer a Bill to Parliament for increase of pay to men in the King’s ships, by ancient allowance 4d. per day.”


Trinity House By-Law ‘Against Scandalous Words’

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Notice of a by-law that if any Elder or Younger Brother speak scandalous words against an Elder Brother, for the first fault he was to pay 20s., and for the second fault be expelled.”


Electric Light  First Exhibited at Souter Point Lighthouse

Extract from The Newcastle Courant of 12 January 1871:

“The important lighthouse on the north-east coast was opened last night and there were present at the ceremony a deputation from the London Trinity House, consisting of the Deputy Master (Captain Sir Frederick Arrow), Admiral Collinson, and Captain Nesbit; Professor Holmes, of London, the patentee of the electric light; Mr. Douglass, the chief engineer of the London Trinity House. There was also a select party of visitors, including Sir Hedworth Williamson, Bart., M.P., Lady Williamson, and the Dowager Lady Williamson; the Rev. Mr. Hitchcock, Rector of Whitburn, Mr. and Mrs. Hodgson; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Harrison, Mrs. Green, & c. For the purpose of giving further protection to the growing commerce of the Tyne and Wear, and to facilitate the navigation of that part of the coast, the Trinity House determined to place another powerful light in this neighbourhood.

An excellent site has been selected on Souter Point, about midway between the two rivers where the light will be comparatively free from the dense masses of smoke that are ever sent from these busy centres of manufacturing industry. The tower is based at a distance of 315 yards from the edge of the cliff; it is 75¾” feet high from base to vane and shows at an elevation of 150 feet above high water, a revolving electric white light of great brilliancy at intervals of 30 seconds; the duration of flash to interval of darkness is in the ratio of 1 to 5, thus giving 5 seconds for the duration of each flash, with 25 seconds for each interval of darkness. Each flash will differ somewhat from that of an ordinary apparatus for oil light, inasmuch as it will appear and disappear suddenly and be of nearly equal intensity throughout.

This apparatus has been manufactured expressly for the purpose, and consists of a portion of dioptric apparatus of the third order for fixed light; around this is rotated a hexagonal drum of glass, consisting of eight panels of vertical lenses; by three lenses the divergent and continuous sheet of light from the fixed rotation of the apparatus is gathered up so as to form distinct beams which successively reach the observer as the panels pass in succession before him. It is a remarkable piece of optical skill requiring the utmost care both in mathematical calculation and manufacture; the perfections in both are due to the scientific attainments of Mr. James Chance.

A lower light also electric is shown from the same tower at a distance of 22 feet below the upper light, for marking dangers in Sunderland Bay. Directly this light is opened from seaward it will show white, and seamen will know that while it continues so they are on the line of Mill Rock; standing further into the shore it will change to red, indicating that they are then in the line of the Hendon Rock and the White Stones. As Mill Rock is a very short distance from the lighthouse it will be safe to navigate in the White Beam unless close to, but when the Red Beam is opened except seamen be going to Sunderland they should not go further in shore. If bound to Sunderland the Red Beam, with the assistance of the Sunderland pier light, will enable them to avoid the Hendon Rock and White Stones.

This lower light is a novelty in lighthouse illumination on a principle adopted by the Trinity House engineer and is from the same electric spark as the upper light. To obtain this result, the light of the landward side of the spark, which is usually imperfectly utilized, is collected and condensed into a small cylinder beam of great intensity, and is sent, by reflection, down the centre of the tower to the required distance below the upper light, where it is again reflected and sent through a lower window over the required sector of sea surface. At this lower window a simple but important contrivance has been introduced for cleaning the glass externally in all states of weather, without the necessity of opening the window or for the lightkeeper in charge to go outside the tower.

The electricity for the production of the spark is generated by one of Professor Holmes’ magneto-electric machines, worked by a steam-engine of 6½ indicated horse-power. The magneto-electric machine contains 56 compound permanent steel magnets, and is driven at a speed of 400 revolutions per minute. The steam-engine, boiler, and magneto-electric machine are all duplicated in case of accident or repair to any part, and during such states of the atmosphere as lights are imperfectly visible, both magno-electric machines will be worked, this doubling the power of the current of electricity and consequently the intensity of the light.

But as a further precaution against accident an oil lamp, is placed in position and is always in readiness to take the place of the electric light at any moment. The machinery was exhibited at the International Exhibition held at Paris in 1867 with which an electric light was shown every night during five months of the period during which the exhibition was open the light receiving high commendation from the international jury.

During foggy weather a powerful fog horn, also the invention of Mr. Holmes, will be sounded. This horn is placed 97 seaward of the lighthouse, at an elevation of 85 feet above high water and is blown by air compressed by the stern engine, and sent through a pipe underground to an iron receiver on which is placed an automatic apparatus which causes the horn to traverse to and fro and send its sound to every part of the adjacent sea, and regulate the number and duration of the blasts. It is arranged that the number blasts be two per minute, the duration of each blast being five seconds, with an interval of twenty-five seconds corresponding with the flashes and intervals of the light.

The building comprises dwellings for five light keepers (one principal, who is a duly qualified mechanical engineer and four assistants), engine house, boiler house, coke store, workshop, and store-room these are specially arranged for securing the utmost efficiency in the service of the establishment. As no spring of water could be found at or near the site arrangements have been made by collecting and storing a large supply of rain water for the service of the steam engines and establishment generally. The works have been designed by Mr. Douglass, engineer to the Trinity House and have been executed by the following firms:- Electrical apparatus and fog horn, Professor Holmes and Messrs. Buckett Brothers London; optical apparatus, Messrs. Chance Brothers and Co. near Birmingham; steam engines and boilers, Sir Joseph Whitworth and Co., and the Fairbairn Engineering Co. Manchester; and building, Mr. Robert Allison builder, Whitburn.

The whole of the scientific portion of the work has been carried out under the advice and personal inspection of Professor Tyndall, who has taken a great interest in the work. The Deputy Master of the London Trinity House opened the proceedings by referring to the origin of the light which he characterised as a most powerful one. He stated that on its construction and illumination the highest lighthouse engineering talent of the day had been brought to bear; and he made bold to say that no lighthouse in any port of the world would bear comparison with it. He alluded to the dangerous character of the coast, and expressed a hope that the light now about to be inaugurated would be instrumental in saving life and property.

Sir Hepworth Williamson endorsed the remarks of the Deputy Master adding that he himself had urged on the Trinity House the necessity of erecting a lighthouse to guard the shoals that lay in the vicinity of Whitburn. The Rev. Mr. Hitchcock then offered up a suitable prayer, after which Lady Williamson gracefully performed the inauguration ceremony by starting the engines, when a brilliant light was produced. The fog horn which was subsequently tested, was found to work satisfactorily and the interesting proceedings terminated. The Souter Lighthouse could be seen with very great distinction from Tynemouth, and it had a very brilliant effect, notwithstanding that the weather was very unfavourable. The light at Tynemouth was changed to red, and Coquet light was altered last night.”


Tragedy for THV Vestal Workboat

A workboat from the Trinity House lighthouse tender THV Vestal (formerly the first THV Patricia) is dashed upon the Eddystone Rocks, killing seven crewmen. Mr. E G Middleditch, a Post Office Engineer who was on board the Vestal establishing a radio-telephone link between Eddystone Lighthouse and the mainland, was a witness to the tragedy that took the lives of R W E Gibbs, J V Briggs, T G Reynolds, W E J Hammersley, E G R Stephens, R W Wyatt and W R Trenoweth.

Mr. Middleditch described the tragedy as follows:

“The boat 22′ 6″ long, 6′ 10″ beam and 2′ 9” deep, driven by a 9hp engine, was scheduled to carry 24 persons for life-saving purposes. On the trip she carried the second officer, R W E Gibbs, coxswain, bowman, two midship hands and a landing party of three, eight men in all but no stores. The intention was to go in and see what landing conditions were like and to return if unsafe. The boat dropped its grapnel, laid out its creep rope, made a perfect approach and took aboard boat ropesand hauling off rope. Up to this point there was no sign of danger, but before the boat ropes could be made fast, a sea entered the boat and stopped the engine. The boat became unmanageable and the crew were forced to abandon attempts to make fast and try instead to get out stern first on the creep rope. The officer ordered “Start bailing, it’s only up to your knees” – a lot of water in a boat only 2′ 9″ deep. From the deck of the tender it was difficult to see exactly what was happening the light was awkward –  alow sun dead ahead – rocks betwen and the swell hiding the boat in the troughs. The boat’s crew continued to do what they could without panic, and might have saved the situation but for the set of the wind and the stump rocks. Here they were in a desperate position and the bowman made a last unavailing effort to bring the boat head to wind by taking a turn round the bollard with a heaving line which had somehow remained aboard, but at this moment a heavy backwash from the rocks dropped staright into the boat and it sank immediately. The last impression seen from the Vestal was of about five of the crew standing in their boat just before it foundered, silhouetted against the glare of the white water and the light of the sun behind them.

As soon as it was seen that the boat was in difficulties the starboard quarter boat, previously launched ready for ferrying stores, was ordered away in charge of the first officer, who was heard exhorting his crew to “bend to it, there’s men in the water.” Directly this boat had been got away I went up to the bridge to enquire of Captain McCarthy – who was just ordering  second boat away – if there was anything we could do to assist him. As his crew of 37 had been considerably depleted and he was not aware if any first aid men remained aboard he accepted the offer to attend to any survivors who might be picked up. While rescue attempts were proceeding hot blankets and bottles were prepared, and we watched, through glasses, the fforts of the rescue crews, and could see that the lightkeepers were also making attempts from the set-off. Unfortunately only one survivor was picked up, the coxswain, C H Pike, a man of 42 years of age and of heavy build. He had been seen to wash up twice on to rocks, on each occasion lying quiet until floated off with the back-wash finally swimming strongly with the tide clear of the rocks. When brought aboard the tender he seemed to be in a bad state, but was quickly relieved if the water he had swallowed, and was soon breathing normally again. He had no physical injuries, but was extremely cold and complained bitterly of attempts to restore circulation; the skin seemed painfully tender. He was made as comfortable as possible in hot blankets with plenty of hot water bottles and at once fell into a deep sleep, from which he awoke about half an hour later, anxious to talk, but was given a hot drink and encouraged to sleep again.”

Although Mr. Pike survived the tragedy, it is regretted that he never really recovered from the effects of his ordeal and he died in the following year after a sever attack of chronic pleurisy.

Patricia (1) later Vestal

Patricia (1) later Vestal


The Texaco Caribbean Disaster

THVs Siren and Ready rush out to mark the wrecks of the tanker Texaco Caribbean and the Peruvian cargo ship Paracas in the Dover Strait off Folkestone. The tanker collided with the cargo ship and had blown up, sinking in two parts close to the Varne Bank, creating a major hazard to navigation to outward-bound traffic in the shipping lane. The German cargo liner Brandenburg and the Greek cargo ship Niki would soon join the casualties piled upon the wreck site. The severity of the disaster led directly to the formulation of the 1977 IALA Maritime Buoyage System, an improved means of marking safe passage using buoys of different type, colour and markings.