Wrecks and rescue

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Robert Bence

Shipwrecks have always fascinated me, Stephen Guy, since I first explored one at low tide on holiday at Llanddona, Anglesey, as a five-year-old. Stood inside the remains of the hull, I felt like Jonah in the whale.

Liverpool Bay is littered with the remains of ships that have come to grief over the centuries.

Until quite recently one of the sights at the mouth of the Mersey were two half-submerged shipwrecks, their masts and decks at crazy angles, clearly visible from ferries crossing the Irish Sea.

Shifting sands on the coast between Liverpool and Southport occasionally reveal the remains of ships that ran aground on this treacherous shore.

When disaster strikes at sea, the saving of life is paramount – an area where Liverpool has had many achievements. Lifeboat stations, Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society, HM Coastguard and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board have all played their part.

Liverpool can justly claim to have had the first lifeboat station in the world. About 1775 a boat was set aside at Formby for the sole purpose of saving people from shipwrecks.

Merseyside Maritime Museum has collections looking at many aspects of saving life at sea. They include shipwrecks where everyone on board was rescued. One such was the emigrant ship Dakota outward bound for New York when she struck the notorious Skerries rocks off Anglesey in 1877.

About 580 passengers and crew were taken safely shore. Items include a food plate recovered from the wreck.

A map shows original lifeboat stations at Southport, Formby, New Brighton, Magazines (an explosives store on the Wirral), Hoylake and West Kirby.

There is a model of a lifeboat called Manchester and Salford Sunday Schools because she was paid for with money collected by the schools in 1868.

The Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society was set up in 1839, evolving from the grimly-named Liverpool Institution for the Recovery of Drowned Persons.

Among the Society’s awards in the collections is a pair of binoculars and certificate presented to Robert Bence, relating to an incident in 1881.
He was the first officer of the White Star liner Germanic which came across the steamship Hurworth in distress in a mid-Atlantic storm.

The gallant Mr Bence led volunteers in a lifeboat through tumultuous seas to successfully rescue the crew of the Hurworth.

Other items include a dock rescue hook, standard equipment used for rescuing people who had fallen into Liverpool docks 100 years ago.

My uncle, Alfred Guy, a police officer on the docks, would relate gruesome tales of fishing bodies out of the water using similar hooks.

Merseyside Maritime Museum is open seven days a week, admission free. A new Maritime Tale appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.

Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo.