The unnamed sailing vessel at the Battle of the Falkland Islands
Readers of 'Midshipman Gardner's Journal' in Maritime South West #17, will have noticed the mention of an unnamed sailing vessel [that] passed between the combatants, on the track chart of the Battle of the Falkland Islands, on p95.
This incident was fully described in a letter to Sea Breezes magazine published in April 1963, by Cmdr Claude L A Woolland RN, FRGS. It was also the subject of a painting by Henry Scott. The sailing ship was positively identified by an English apprentice who was on board in 1914 and still alive in 1963, as the full-rigged ship Fairport, completing her first voyage under the Norwegian flag. Contrary to all reports in scores of books . . . she was not outward bound, but on her way home from Tocopilla, having left that port on October 3, 1914 and reaching Falmouth on March 5, 1915.
Cmdr Woolland provided a map that shows the Fairport crossing the tracks of the battle fleets at about 2.50 pm; which appears to be consistent with the position shown on the chart published in MSW.
Cmdr Woolland also mentions a second sailing ship, a four masted barque . . . seen by HMS Kent . . . just before dark. The identity of this ship was not known to him. He asked if any readers could provide authentic information.
This elicited one reply, in the June 1963 issue of Sea Breezes, from
H Conway-Jones. He thought that it could have been the barque Metropolis, owned by Wm Thomas of Liverpool [which] would have been somewhere in the vicinity at the time. However, Mr Conway-Jones's brother was in the Metropolis for that voyage, and reported that he never saw or heard anything of the battle and in fact was not aware of any warships in the area.
Mr Conway-Jones still thinks that in the fading light, the barque could easily have been seen by an operational look-out . . . without the crew of the latter being aware of the presence of warships. The shooting late in the day had certainly subsided, and may have stopped altogether, so that is certainly a possibility.
The only problem with this summary is that it may be missing something significant from other issues of Sea Breezes, as I do not have a complete set; for instance, I don't have Sep 1962 & Jan 1963, which Woolland mentions at the beginning of his letter.
Woolland's article gave rise to a few letters to the editor that may have prompted him to research the subject more fully. He followed up his original letter with a two part article published by Sea Breezes in Nov and Dec, 1964. It was entitled: 'Fifty Years Ago. The story of the sailing ships captured or sunk off the West Coast of South America and Cape Horn in 1914-1915. He also gave further details of Fairport's involvement, although she was neither captured nor sunk!
I draw my comments to the attention of the Bartlett Library in Falmouth, who supplied the track chart on p95 of MSW. They might want to make some form of cross reference so the name of the sailing ship will come to the surface when next the chart is consulted, especially as Fairport was bound for Falmouth, and hence of local interest.
Oddly enough, her first glimpse of action in these waters was at dusk on November 1, 1914, when she was off Coronel: One of the apprentices, an RNR midshipman by the name of Rogers (now Air Commodore A D Rogers CBE, AFC, RAF) who was acting as third mate and keeping watch on the poop, was investigating the characteristics of a light reported ahead. It grew into an enormous flare. Rogers called another officer to come on deck, and they watched the flare until it faded away. It was not until they arrived in Falmouth early in March that they realised the distant flare . . . was undoubtedly HMS Good Hope or Monmouth on fire and blowing up during the closing stages of the Coronel action.
Fairport thereafter fell in with another sailing vessel, the Tamar and they proceeded in company to round the Horn, about twenty miles to southward of the German squadron, then heading for the Falkland Islands.
On December 8th, they heard what they first thought was thunder, and shortly thereafter a number of vessels hove in sight, apparently firing at each other with heavy armament, and the nearest of these vessels was heading as if to pass across Fairport's weather quarter. . . . Rogers recognised the battle cruisers as Invincible and Inflexible and two German members of the crew, one of whom was a reservist, identified the battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.
Tamar was about ten miles to the eastward, and her crew saw flashes that they took for lightning, and heard rumbling.
Woolland also claims that a third sailing vessel has been proved by eyewitness and log book entries to have been in the near vicinity of the battle; but her identity had not been definitely ascertained.
He goes on to relate the subsequent career of Fairport, which was renamed Spangereid by her Norwegian owners. She survived WW I, but came to a sad end in 1920, catching fire when anchored off St Helena and sinking at her moorings.
Our final view of her is from a skin diver, in his letter to Sea Breezes published in April 1965. But his examination of the old wreck was cut short, when he discovered that she lay uncomfortably close to Jamestown's refuse dump and sewage outlet!
However, at least one relic was preserved. A more recent letter to the editor of Sea Breezes (July 1980), reported the finding of a small ship's bell, clearly marked Fairport amongst garden rubbish in a Jamestown garden.
It would be interesting to know if the bell - and its history - are still preserved in Jamestown, St Helena.
From John Allan
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AT LAST i KNOW DETAILS ABOUT THE GOST SHIP WHICH CROSSED THE LINES OF THE SQUADRONS DURING THE BATTLE.THE HISTORIANS OF THE 20S THOUGHT SHE WAS THE FLYING DUTCHMAN'S SHIP....IF WAGNER'D HAVE BEEN STILL ALIVE HE COULD HAVE REWRITTEN HIS ROMANTIC DRAMA !
But,as it often happens,the reality can be more romantic and tragic than fiction. GABRIEL CHISTONI
Robert A. Wilson
I have now removed the picture of the FAIRPORT from my website as I like to keep things updated.
There is an update in this article recently added to our website.
Dave Hills Webmaster
Thanks Bob for clearing up that confusion.
I see that the Vice Chairman is Bob Wilson - although we have the same name, we are not related! I am retired MN officer.
Further to my last entry, I have now posted a photograph of the full-rigged ship FAIRPORT on my website.
The FAIRPORT eventually became the SPANGEREID & it is probably under that name that she was involved in the battle. The wreck is still clearly visible in James' Bay, St. Helena, it seems to have opened out rather like a kipper, but various features are still recognisable such as one of the masts, donkey boiler & stern frames. It is in shallow water, about 20 feet. The block in the Consulate Hotel is the fish tackle block which was used for hoisting the anchor. I believe the island's flax mill engines used the coal cargo for over twenty years after SPANGEREID was scuttled. The SPANGEREIDs motor lauch was still in use at the island in the late 1970s & may still be there. The wheel in the Consulate bears the name FAIRPORT on the brass hub. Years earlier, FAIRPORT was caught on a lee shore off Sennen Cove, UK. With both anchors down & dragging, she was saved when they snagged in the Soith Atlantic cable running down to St. Helena. The cable broke, but the FAIRPORT was saved.
I dont know very much about the bell and what happen to it, what I can tell you is that the stering wheel of the Fairport is in the Consulate Hotel Here On the Island, there is also a block and the original mask also told from the Fairport??
Nice post, it could have been a bit more elaborate, but it was a good read nevertheless. :)
I believe the above mentioned vessel was sunk on fire after at St Helena after having put in on fire while on passage from Africa to Gothenborg