At just after 9:30am on December 13 1911, the Elizabeth and Blanche lifeboat – a far cry from the Ivan Ellen that serves Penzance today – battled mountainous seas in Mounts Bay. The Norwegian Barque Saluto was driven ashore close to St Michael’s Mount, leaving it a total wreck.
A report in The Cornishman newspaper the next day described the scenes with headings including ‘Great gale in Mounts Bay’, ‘Norwegian Barque Wrecked’ and ‘Brilliant Lifeboat Rescue’.
The Saluto, commanded by Captain Olsen, was an iron Barque and hailed from Christiansund. She was bound from London to the West Indies in ballast and left the Thames on November 23, but experienced bad weather.
“On Friday last, when in the Bay of Biscay, the vessel sprang a leak and matters rapidly worked towards a crisis”, read The Cornishman report.
“The water mixed with the ballast and thus choked the pumps. The leak was discovered forward on the starboard side, but despite all the efforts of the crew- who tried to plug it with a sail, white lead etc.- it was found impossible to stop it and with the pumps choked, the water rapidly rose in the hold.
“With the weather continuing bad, the captain recognised the danger of proceeding on his voyage and on Monday he determined to make for Falmouth.
“Under light sail the Saluto was in the vicinity of the Lizard on Tuesday night, but the wind then increased in velocity and it was found impossible to round the headland. The wind also changed its direction, and the Saluto was driven towards the centre of the Bay.
“The crew could do nothing more. The signal of distress was hoisted, and they waited patiently for help from the shore.”
It was in this state that the Barque was observed from Mousehole at about 9.30am on Wednesday. The intelligence was immediately sent to Newlyn and at 9.45 the lifeboat crew was summoned by rocket.
“With commendable foresight the Elizabeth and Blanche had been kept afloat, and in a few minutes Coxswain T.E Vingoe and his crew were proceeding out of the Harbour to the rescue of the doomed ship”, continued the report.
“Some three or four of the lifeboat’s regular crew were away from Newlyn on fishing duty, but there was no difficulty in obtaining volunteers.
“The report of the rocket attracted to the harbour and to the sea front at Penzance a big crowd of interested spectators, who watched with intense excitement the subsequent proceedings. At the time the lifeboat left the harbour one of the fiercest gales on record in the Bay was raging from the S.W., and huge seas were running.”
At the time the distressed vessel was three or four miles to the South-Eastward of Mousehole, and was rapidly drifting in the direction of Cudden.
Under sails the lifeboat put out, her progress being followed with no little anxiety. At one moment she would be sent to the crest of a big wave, and the next she would be lost from view in the trough of the sea.
The Cornishman report stated that there was no faltering and steadily and quickly she reduced the distance between herself and the Barque.
“Those on board the latter had observed the lifeboat’s approach, and had let go both anchors, but so violent was the gale and so great the seas that one of her cables snapped and the remaining anchor failed to hold the vessel”, it read.
“What was happening when the lifeboat had drawn alongside the Barque could not be followed by those on shore, as the vessel had reached within a couple of miles of Cudden, and vision was also obstructed by the heavy rain squalls which frequently swept over the Bay, blotting out even the Barque itself.”
After the lapse of a short time, however, the lifeboat was seen coming away from the Barque, and as she neared the land it was seen that her human freight had been considerably augmented.
“Sailing splendidly she quickly reached Newlyn where a tremendous ovation was accorded her plucky crew”, it continued. “The sirens of all the steam craft gave vent to a triumphant peon, and the throngs on the wharves waved their hats and shouted enthusiastically.
“And let it be said the plucky lifeboat- men deserved the praise which was bestowed upon them, for on all hands it is admitted it was one of the smartest rescues ever effected in the Bay.
“So smartly had the whole affair been carried out that not more than an hour and a half had elapsed from the time the lifeboat left the harbour till the return with the whole of the crew of thirteen of the Saluto.”
Original watercolour, signed lower left, mounted and framed.
Image size 10 x 14 inches (26cm x36cm)
Frame size approx 17.5 x 21 inches
A dramatic rescue, painted in brilliant detail. Exhibited 2012.