Background of the shipwreck

I quote from 'Gower Coast Shipwrecks' by Carl Smith :
'In the days before the telegraph, telephone and radio many vessles were wrecked unknown to more than a few on the shore.
The imperilled crew required immediate assistance from onlookers, it would be hours before the rescue services (such as existed) could be alerted , by which time it may have been too late to save either life or property.
.......the Gower coast was totally without a lifeboat service and rescue depended on the shipwrecked's own efforts, or the initiative and courage of those who were prepared to launch a boat from the shore.'

On the beach at Rhosili Bay in The Gower Peninsula , South Wales, lies the wreck of The Helvetia. The Helvetia was a barque, a sailing ship , from Horten in Norway. It had sailed from Campbelton , New Brunswick on the east coast of Canada and contained a cargo of timber. The captain was a chap named Stevenson.
On the night of Monday 31st of October 1887 the ship , on it's journey to Swansea, reached Mumbles Head, only 5 miles or so from its destination. The captain ordered for 'signals to be burnt' so that a pilot could guide them on the last leg of their voyage into the harbour. However, a 'fresh breeze' sprang up from the South East and they couldn't make it to shore as the wind was blowing against him, so they had to stay where they were in the channel.

By 8am on Tuesday the vessel had been blown back to The Helwick Sands, a good 10 miles away from the harbour and then the wind changed again, this time blowing South west, in gale conditions, which would effectively send the ship back out to sea. The Helvetia was now having difficulty staying put and was drifting towards the shore. Then the current drove her over the bank , she lost part of her deck load and ran aground past Worm's Head and was anchored in Rhossilli Bay.

At low tide the Helvetia got stuck into the sand and the 'Life saving apparatus' (LSA) was called for by the coastguard. One man was brought ashore by the 'breeches buoy' (a lifebuoy running along rope over sea with canvas breeches for the user's legs) and the rest came ashore in their boats. The ship was secured with heavy chains and cables but the wind 'went round to the west' and at 5.30pm she broke free and drove onto the beach where her remains still lie.

Approx 500 tons of cargo was salvaged from the wreck and everything saleable was stripped from the Helvetia. More than 115 years later you can still see the hull of the ship embedded in the beach at Rhosili and this is what I found in the summer of 2002.


Remains of the Helvetia


Remains of the Helvetia



I have included as full an account as possible of the actual sinking of the Helvetia because, as you will see, a lot of what happened then, happened to my provers.
The sense of nearly being at the destination, of being knocked off course but still being hopeful of recovery, of then having to give in to the 'elements' and finally of being run aground, run ashore, wrecked.


Proving Page Three