Charterhouse Returns - The History
This section details the history of the Charterhouse and of the committee formed to arrange its return to Fishguard.
During 2008 I bought two photographs of the Charterhouse lifeboat. On discussing these with Philip Rees (Fishguard Lifeboat crew) I decided to research the history of this particular lifeboat. I contacted:-
Fishguard Harbour (STENA)
Fishguard Lifeboat Station (Coxswain Paul Butler & Mechanic Stephen Phillips)
Charterhouse School (Mrs. Mardall)
Fishguard and Haverfordwest Libraries and Record Office
Rhian Peters and Gerry Lewis (Grandchildren of Tom Perkins – crew member 1920)
The Lomas Family, the owners of the Marian (Charterhouse) since 1946.
During the final stages of the book preparation, the Lomas family offered to donate the Marian (Charterhouse) to the towns of Fishguard & Goodwick. John Butler and I travelled to meet the Lomas Family and the Charterhouse in January 2009. It was a beautiful day (it could have been mid-summer) and the tide was full - a perfect setting for photographic shots as can be seen below.
Charterhouse 1909 (ON 563)
In 1909 the lifeboat Charterhouse was ‘a gift of old and present Carthusians’, at a cost of £2,949.
The Charterhouse was one of the first motorised lifeboats, 40ft long, l0ft 6ins beam, 5ft 6.5ins depth keel to gunwale.
Built at Blackwall on the Thames by Thames Iron-works Ltd. who were at the time the RNLI’s principal builders. She was primarily a sailing life-boat with a drop keel and oars for use when necessary. Her auxiliary 4 cylinder, 4-stroke petrol motor was approximately 30 nominal horsepower.
In August 1909 she was sent to Harwich for ten days of sea trials which happened to coincide with very heavy weather but she came through with flying colours. Similar weather prevailed during her passage to her station, nearly 600 miles, which commenced on 14th of October, during which she was inspected by the crew at many intermediate life-boat stations.
The Charterhouse was on station from October 1909 to 1931. During this time there were 20 service launches with 47 lives saved.
Technical details:- 10 tons 17 cwt., 24 bhp, consuming 22 pints of petrol per hour with a 50 gallon tank, and a top speed of 6.79 knots.
Fishguard’s Motor Lifeboat -
Presentation, Dedication and Christening.
The triple ceremony of presentation, dedication and christening in connection with Fishguard's new motor lifeboat ‘Charterhouse’ took place on Wednesday 15th December 1909 in the presence of a very large and representative gathering, embracing the elite of the locality.
The Rev. Gerald Henry Rendall, M.A., Litt.D., LID., Headmaster of Charterhouse School, the past and present scholars of which are the donors of the boat arrived by the afternoon Irish Express, being accompanied by Mrs. Rendall, the Rev. G. S. Davies (Master of Charterhouse) and Mrs. Davies, together with half-a-dozen of the scholars, and were welcomed on the platform by Mr. Walter J. Vaughan (the local hon. secretary) and other gentlemen.
The Famous Rescue
The most famous of all rescues at Fishguard involved the Charterhouse and happened in December 1920 on a clear dark night with heavy seas running. Coxswain John Howells, nearing 66 years of age, commanded the lifeboat Charterhouse as it sped across the bay under motor power, heading towards a three-masted schooner that had sent up a distress flare.
The distressed vessel was the Hermina, a Dutch motor schooner which was making her way to Rotterdam but had returned to Fishguard for shelter from the NW gale. Anchoring outside the breakwater her anchors had started to drag and, fearing for the safety of his crew, Capt. Vooitgedacht had ordered a flare to be fired. It was already dark when the lifeboat crew ventured out into the tremendous seas to aid the Hermina which was still dragging her anchors in the centre of the bay.
The lifeboat anchored 50 fathoms (300ft) to windward of the schooner and veered alongside, and then difficulties arose. So big were the waves that they had great difficulty in securing a line to the stricken vessel. The seas were lifting the lifeboat right into the ship’s rigging and it took an hour of strenuous effort to get seven of the ten men off. The captain, chief officer and second mate refused to leave despite the pleading of the coxswain John Howells who knew that there would be no chance of a second lifeboat rescue and he knew that if the schooner dragged any more it would soon break up on the Needle Rock. He implored them to change their minds but they refused and the coxswain made plans to return without them. During the rescue the lifeboat was drenched, and consequently the engine refused to start and they were compelled to rely on their oars, sails, courage and seamanship to get away from the sheer cliffs behind them.
Having retrieved the anchor then the mizzen sail was caught by the wind and ripped to pieces. It became unhooked and was lost overboard. Their situation was now desperate. The coxswain ordered the second coxswain and a volunteer to set the jib sail. Tom Holmes together with Tom Davies crawled across the bow air tank and succeeded in setting the sail despite heavy seas breaking over them. With the port oars the lifeboat was manoeuvred so that it could tack away from the cliffs. They sailed for two miles on a dead beat before they had sea-room to return to Goodwick. In all, it took the lifeboat three hours to return.
No sooner had they got to the harbour more flares were sent up from the Hermina. The rescue of the three men remaining aboard her now lay with the cliff rescue team as it was impossible to return by sea. As the schooner rapidly broke to pieces at Needle Rock the third mate was washed away and drowned. The captain and his chief officer succeeded in reaching the base of the cliffs where they were rescued by William Morgan who was lowered by rope to save them.
On the first anniversary of the rescue, the Queen of the Netherlands and the Dutch Government showed their appreciation by awarding gold watches to coxswain Howells and William Morgan and silver watches to the life-boatmen. The RNLI awarded their highest honour, a gold medal, to coxswain Howells for his skill and courage. Tom Davies, Tom Holmes and Robert Simpson were each awarded silver medals, and bronze medals were awarded to life-boatmen T. Perkins, I. Rourke, P. Whelan, T. Duffin, J. Gardiner, W. Devereux, H. W. Mason, W. Thomas and R. Veal. William Morgan who was the hero of the cliff rescue received the thanks of the Institution on vellum.
The Later Years
After her Service at Fishguard from 1909 to 1931, the Charterhouse was renamed Marian.
Here is an account from Ian Lomas which appeared in the Motor Boat and Yachting .
‘After her service at Fishguard, Charterhouse was purchased by a man from Shrewsbury, who did an excellent conversion at a boatyard in Essex, after which she sailed considerably on the south and west coasts of England and Wales. At the outbreak of war, the owner was called to active service and Marian spent the war years sitting on the beach tied to a tree. Most of her neighbouring boats were summoned to the service of the Admiralty, but presumably one look at her engine put ‘Their Lordships’ off Marian, so, with the exception of a coat of flat grey paint overall, she spent a lonely war.
In 1945, while holidaying nearby and on a chance visit to Conway, Marian caught the eye of my father. For the next 14 years Marian became our weekend and holiday houseboat. Father's hobby was painting wood with Cuprinol (we must have used dozens of gallons) and applying red lead paint rather ‘at random’ so she always seemed to have ‘measles’. By that time the engine was well and truly seized up, but over the years, bit by bit it was freed, and on one memorable day, assisted by four local lads winding the handle, it started, ran terribly for about 15 seconds, backfired, set the drip tray a fire, burnt Father's eyelashes and forelock, and stopped and that was that. I found a pair of Dorman diesels, stripped one down, gave it the ‘treatment’, and installed it; and in1958, after a period of 19 years, Marian left her spot on the beach, under her own power.’
He also re-counts the return of the ‘Charterhouse’ to Fishguard. The following photographs are of her alongside the Howard Marryat (the new lifeboat) on the slipway.