On this Day 17th February 1839

Victory wrecked off St Ives

Sunday 17 February 1839 saw the loss of the Victory on the Ridge just off St Ives. A more modest vessel than Nelson's famous flagship, this Victory was a smack from Bristol carrying freestone and metal castings, bound for Exeter. She came ashore on the Ridge at 1pm and just before she struck the crew got off in a ship's boat and all made it through the surf to the shore.

John Tregerthen Short reported in his diary that the Victory sank and became a complete wreck. He was however a bit premature in his judgement for on April 13 he reported that the Victory was floated into St Ives harbour with her cargo of stone on board.

No further details were given but the voyage of the Victory reminds us of how important the coasting trade was at this time. In the Midlands a cargo like this might have gone by canal and a few years later rail might have been considered but in 1839 the 380 mile sea voyage was preferred to the 65 mile overland trip from Bristol to Exeter. Bristol to Exeter by sea would have taken probably a minimum of 5 days and the vessel and cargo would probably have been uninsured.

The north coast of Cornwall was a notoriously dangerous seaway without a harbour of refuge, shipping losses were great but so was the volume of shipping as coal and ore passed between the mines of Cornwall and the ports of South Wales. The letterbooks of the Jenkin family of copper agents make it clear that these vessels were often under-manned, under-maintained and that drunkenness was a severe problem. While most of the 'Welsh Fleet' of ore and coal carriers were brigs and schooners they also carried other cargoes when available and there is no reason to assume that 'Welsh Fleet' conditions were better or worse than those on other coasting vessels of the time.

Sources

The Jenkin letterbooks can be found in the Courtney Library at the Royal Institution of Cornwall in Truro.

The loss of the Victory is described in the diary of John Tregerthen Short.




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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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