Peter Bailey - From the files of Newhaven Museum - April 13,2012

Peter Bailey 2012
Peter Bailey 2012

STORIES relating to the sea and what happens thereon have had a respite of late, but reference was made recently to the loss of the P&O liner Oceana, which foundered off Eastbourne in 1912.

She had been struck in fog next to the German P Line four masted sailing vessel Pisagua.

Peter Bailey 2012

Peter Bailey 2012

This large craft had scraped along side the liner causing serious damage to deck gear including lifeboats. This a dramatic collision. So great was the destruction that the liner began to sink.

The Newhaven channel steamer the Sussex on her way home, became involved with the rescue of the liner’s passengers, using members of her crew to man lifeboats and bring survivors to the Sussex.

One of those involved was Ted Davis, originating from Bishopstone, Tide Mills. He used to relate the drama many years later when he did his stints at our seafront museums. The Newhaven tug the Alert (Capt Len Pascoe) attended the scene and attempted to tow the sinking liner to beach her near Eastbourne. A small coaster assisted the tow but the vessel sank some way from the shore as can be seen in the first of the group of four pictures.

A buoy denoting the presence of a wreck is floating near her masts. Continuing with the picture, number two showed the Pisagua with her bowsprit gone and her bow well and truly pushed in, but bulkheads held and she did not sink. A twin funneled tug is at her stern leading her into Dover.

The Oceana, very much a long distance liner, is shown here when visiting Bombay. It has always made me consider how much was achieved in such circumstance with fog and no radio as we so casually expect it today.

The fourth picture shows lifeboats on Eastbourne beach. These are of course from the liner. Ted had told me that with the rescuing of the passengers, they switched to using the liner’s boats as they were larger than those of the Sussex and therefore carry more survivors per trip. Some of the dead were brought into Newhaven and one of the liner’s boats was still at that port in the 1930s. With a motor fitted, it used to be seen quite frequently about the harbour. Another interesting feature of this tragedy was the fact that the liner was carrying silver bullion.

A picture exists of the salvage vessel displaying several samples of her recoveries, with crew members admiring their find. It is a strange coincidence that another wonder vessel of the P Line, the German Preussen of 5,000 tonnes, largest five masted sailing ship ever built, bound for South America, also got into trouble. This magnificent craft, as was the usual procedure, had been towed from Hamburg and not let loose until about off Eastbourne but many miles out from shores as having to tack under sail would put these sort of craft in great peril in the area of the shipping lanes. So now this magnificent creature was free to go her way, when she meets our night ferry to Dieppe, the Brighton IV.

The sailor lost her bowsprit, which severely wrought damage to the Brighton’s superstructure, one funnel flat, the other dented and much more. It was dark, no radio. The Brighton had to return to port. The tug Alert was despatched to tow the Preussen to Southampton, but although all sails had been furled, it made poor headway, so turned for Dover. The tug cast off and Preussen dropped first anchor. The chain broke. It dropped second anchor and that chain also broke. The magnificent vessel finished on rocks and never came off. The end of an eventful Lewes Bonfire Night.

Picture 2 shows Newhaven’s main harbour tug, the Alert c1910. Is that Capt Len Pascoe on the roof of the wheel house? She is towing out the Newhaven-built Sussex Maid to fetch another cargo of house coal for Newhaven’s Co-op.