Belford Museum

 

The Paddle Steamer Pegasus

 

The Paddle Steamer Pegasus was built  on the Clyde in 1835. At the time, her builders, the Barclay brothers, hedged their bets - she not only had an engine and paddles, but also three masts and sails. At the time, she was considered to be at the forefront of ship building development. For the next seven and a half years she was to sail the Leith Hull route carrying both passengers and goods between the two ports.

At the time, before railway lines reached as far north as Scotland, and the condition of even main roads was often poor, the sea route made a major contribution to the development of both Scotland and England. Fleeces from the Borders provided wool for the Yorkshire mills; whale oil from Hull contributed to the developing chemical industry in Glasgow. Fine glassware and china from the midlands could reach Scottish purchasers unbroken. The ship carried the mail north and south, military regiments between Scottish and English barracks, horses to compete in the St. Leger at Doncaster, travelling theatre companies and menageries, even post coaches built in Perth to deliver mail in Lincolnshire.

All this came to an end when, on 19 July 1843, a calm, clear night, the Pegasus hit the notorious Goldstone Rock, off Holy Island, shortly after midnight. When her captain attempted to free the ship from the rocks, the movement of the paddles capsized the two ship’s boats which had been lowered, and the gaping hole in her side meant that the ship sank rapidly.  In all, almost 70 people drowned. There were only six survivors, two passengers and 4 crew members. At the time, it was the worst merchant shipping disaster in British waters, and became the subject of a parliamentary Inquiry.

The aftermath of this disaster impacted directly on Belford. It was to Belford that relatives of the drowned came seeking information about their loved ones. Several arranged for notices to be printed, offering rewards for information about the missing persons. The Postmaster and Thomas Hunt, the landlord of the Blue Bell both undertook to collect and pass on such details as could be found.  For the next weeks and months, all along the coast, bodies and luggage were washed up. The majority of the burials took place on Holy Island and at Bamburgh, where memorials to some of the dead can still be found.

There has never been a good explanation why the ship struck the rock that night, though, when an inquest on two of the bodies was held at Berwick in August 1843, the general conclusions were that the route being sailed was risky, and that the accident resulted from the inattention of the Captain and his crew.

The wreck of the Pegasus, is far less well known than that of the Forfarshire, which occurred five years earlier, but which achieved fame through the heroism of Grace Darling and her father in rescuing stranded passengers and crew. There were no such heroes when the Pegasus went down, but she did achieve her ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ when in 2013, the BBC made an episode of Who do you think you are? about the ancestors of the comedian Sarah Millican, one of whom was one of the divers who worked on the wreck in the weeks immediately following the sinking. James Hoult helped raise the bodies of passengers who had been trapped below deck when the ship sank, as well as luggage and cargo.

The book not only covers the successful voyages of the ship, details of the sinking; the Inquiries which followed; attempts made to improve safety on board ship in the wake of the disaster; but also accounts of the men, women and children who lost their lives when the ship sank.

 

The full story of the Pegasus has now been told in Jane Bowen’s book From Triumph to Tragedy - The Story of the Paddle Steamer Pegasus and her people 1835 - 1843; ISBN 978-3-99107-708-4.

Priced at £12.90, it can be obtained from any good bookshop, or on line from Waterstones or Amazon. An ebook version is also available from the publishers Novum Publishing.

A new book has just been published outlining the tragedy of the Paddle Steamer 'Pegasus' that struck the Goldstone Rock, off Holy Island and sank on the night of 19th July 1843, with the loss of seventy lives.

'From Triumph to Tragedy' has been written by Jane Bowen who was one of the people instrumental in setting up the Belford Museum. Full details as to where copies of the book can be obtained are at the bottom of this page after an outline of the book.