On this Day 21st July 1927

Disaster Averted, Lost Miners Return......from the sea......

All’s well in St Just. The four miners are home, safe and sound - and none the worse for their scare.

Out they went yesterday, just as most folks were settling down for a spot of tea. Out on the open sea in Eddy’s 16-foot rowing boat, to try their hand at catching a nice bit of fish. Eddy, Nicholls, Thomas Ninnis and Valentine James. Landsmen, one and all: used to being underground. Out onto the Brissons, “on a flood tide”. Perhaps they thought it a great treat; imagined themselves lulled gently by the waves, looking up at the stars. Well, if so, they were in for a shock.

Pendeen Light, about to have a wash (courtesy: Wolverson PhotographyThe tide ebbs, and the wind drops. They watch the coast grow hazier, the familiar landmarks unreadable. Before they realise what’s happening, they’re two miles out. They try to pull for shore, pull for all they’re worth, but they can’t fight that tide. Despite all their efforts , they end up three miles west of Pendeen light.

There’s some folk out on the Cape, and they notice the boat. They note the freshening wind; the rising sea. They run to Colonel Oats’ place at Porthledden, tell him what’s on. Well Colonel Oats takes charge, as you might expect from a military man. He telephones the Pendeen coastguard, and they get on to Sennen, who call out Coxswain Pender and his lifeboat crew. At last darkness – even this far west, even on this summer night – becomes complete, and the lifeboat launches forth into the murky night.

Pender Lifeboat (courtesy Cornwall County Council Clive Carter Collection, via cornishmemory.com)For it’s not just the tide and the choppy water that’s causing concern. What began in the cool of the afternoon air, ends with the miners “enveloped in a dense fog”. It’s “scarcely possible to see a yard ahead at sea”. The lifeboatmen know what they’re about, and it takes them only half an hour to reach the spot where the boat was last seen. But there’s “no trace…… of the little craft, or of the men.” They do what they can; send up rockets and flares. Just before dawn they come back to port, hoping to hear that the miners have returned, safe and sound. But there is no such news , and off they go again. Eight hours the tireless lifeboat crew spend at sea, passing to and fro, around the Brissons, even as far as Gurnard’s Head once it’s light. Only when they return for a second time are they able to return home and rest.

For there is a happy ending to the story. This morning, the miners came back into Priest Cove in their little boat, none the worse for wear. Soon after three this morning – “just as the day was breaking and with the turn of the tide”—the miners found themselves gradually washing back in. They managed to reach Priest Cove, by all accounts in “an exhausted state”. Said they’d had no idea the lifeboat crew were out looking for them. Hadn’t seen the flares and rockets – or perhaps hadn’t known want to make of them. This boating: not as easy as it looks, is it lads?

A bit quieter than usual though, I would imagine, as they walked home: Eddy, Nicholls, Thomas Ninnis and Valentine James. Subdued. Embarrassed. Everyone relieved to see them, of course. But one or two comments about seamanship, from one or two quarters.

Perhaps they’ll stick to their own trade in future. Heaven knows, that carries dangers enough.


Cornishman, Wednesday 27th July 1927, page 7

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Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

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