Fairbairn Family

Berwickshire News Report

TUESDAY, 18 October, 1881

berwickshire news

Eyemouth is a scene of unutterable woe. Many families are bereft of husbands, fathers, and brothers, whilst there is hardly one in the village who does not mourn the loss of some relative. The grief of those who bewail the dead, and the stony despair of the relatives of the missing ones, is terrible to witness; and the town is full of heartrendering scenes. Of one family named Fairbairn the father and three sons are lost, of another named Cribbes the father and two sons have also been drowned, and four brothers named Burgon have perished. These are instances of losses which have caused such terrible grief, but the entire place is plunged into deep sorrow. The inhabitants appear to be unable to realise the extent of the disaster - home wrecked, husbands, fathers and brothers lost, and the means of gaining a livelihood gone - and a dull misery sees to have settled upon all. Nearly the whole fleet of boats belonging to the town was at sea, and among them the gale would seemed to have worked terrible havoc. A few succeeded in gaining shelter; others were swamped in sight of the town; more dashed to pieces on the rocks of this wild coast, and great loss of life took place. The streets were thronged during the day, and until late at night, with men, women, and children, eager to learn the latest news respecting the missing boats, and the Post Office was fairly besieged with anxious inquirers. Many of the women dreading the worst had happened remained in the seclusion of their own houses. Great was the joy felt when news arrived in the afternoon that the Iona, one of the Burnmouth fishing boats, had reached the Tyne in safety. It was hoped that some at least, of the Eyemouth boats might have been equally fortunate, and this conjecture, in the case of several proved correct - word being received in the course of the evening that the Enterprise, the Success, the White Star, and the Economy had also arrived at South Shields. To the mourners these telegrams were indeed tidings of great joy. The family of the skipper of "Enterprise" had been sorrowing over his supposed loss, but their joy on learning his safety can be better imagined than described. The same remark applies equally as well to the relatives of all whose safety was announced. In every sense the town has received a blow from which it will be long ere it will recover; the fleet is wrecked and the flower of the fisherman have perished.
Notwithstanding a warning which the fisherman had received, and the extremely low reading of the barometer, deceived by the appearance of the weather, the whole of the boats in the harbour, numbering 41, - the other five being at Yarmouth, - went off, and when the storm began they were about an hour's sail from the land. The sea rose with the wind, and the fleets of boats was shortly in great difficulty. Most of the lines which were out had to be let go, and a general effort would be appear, from what has since transpired, to have been made by the fisherman to return to the harbour. On shore great excitement prevailed. The force of the hurricane had startled the inhabitants, and a general move was made to the pier, the sea wall, and the top of the adjoining cliffs, to endeavour to discover the wherabouts of the fleet. In consequence of the blinding rain which accompanied the wind, the gloom which prevailed in the atmosphere, and the driving clouds of spray from the crest of the breakers, nothing could be seen five-hundred yards from land. Intense anxiety prevailed in the circumstances fo the safety of the boats, and the gloomiest forebodings were entertained.
The following gained Eyemouth harbour:- The "Father and Sons" William Maltman, skipper; the "Onward" Andrew Dougal, skipper; the "Alabama" William Dougal, skipper; the "Brittania" James Lough, skipper. Besides these, two Coldingham boats got safely in, the others from Coldingham gaining their own harbour without mishap. Others, however, were not so fortunate. The sea was running "mountains high" though it was low water, and the surf inshore was exceedingly dangerous. About this time, through the gloom and the mist, a boat was observed nearing the bay, and her movements were watched with painful interest. As the craft drew nearer the crew were unable to beat up to windward, and the boat was carried by wind and waves behind the break water which guards the entrance to the harbour on the south side of the river, and dashed to pieces among the rocks. The whole thing occurred so suddenly that nothing could be done to save the crew. People on the rocks heard them speaking, but they were out of sight in the surge before a rope or the rocket apparatus could be brought into requsition. It may be said that there is a lifeboat at Eyemouth, the Richard Grindlay, but it was not taken out of its house, as most of its crew were at sea, and it was also considered that it could not have lived even if it had been launched. The rocket apparatus was also ready, but was equally unavailing to save life. Six men were lost in this boat - The Harmony - one of these, Peter Ward, brother-in-law of the skipper, was on his first voyage as a white fisher. The Radiant came next, and was swamped within a stone cast of the pier. All on board to the number of seven likewise perished, the crew including three brothers - David, John and Alexander Fairbairn. The terrible sight created a profound impression on shore, where now women and children, realising the perilous position of husbands and sons and brothers still at sea, were running about weeping in wild distraction. Eyemouth boat "Pilgrim," Thomas Fairbairn, skipper, in attempting to make the harbour was driven on shore a little to the north, but with the assistance of some of the villagers the crew were all safely landed. A new boat called the Press Home, at sea for the first time, was also swamped in sight of the distracted people on the beach, who could render no help. As she neared the Hurcars a heavy sea struck her, and the ballast apparently shifting, she heeled over, and all her crew were thrown into the boiling surf. When she turned on her side some of the crew were for a few minutes seen clinging to her, in their death struggles, while another man managed to get on to a piece of rock near by, to which he gripped with great tenacity. When successive seas which washed over him receded he was seen to cling with one hand and wave the other for assistance. How these men must have felt, after surviving such terrible suffering and risk that they were for hours subjected to far out on the raging billows, that it was a cruel aggravation of the severity of their fate to be thus brought to perish within reach of the harbour and within sight of crowds of grief stricken friends whose heart yearned for their safety, but whom alas! the enraged elements prevented making the slightest effort for their safety. In a few minutes the gallant men dropped into the surging sea to rise no more. Of this boat Andrew Collin was skipper, and he had on board with him three brothers named Stot, one of whom was married last week. It is impossible adequately to describe the feelings of those on shore, as boat after boat approached thus within hailing distance, within a few yards of the haven of refuge, only to be broken or sunk on the treacherous rocks of that rugged coast. His would have been a heart of adamant which could without a pang witness those scenes, and hear unmoved the plaints of the helpless bereaved ones. Widows were ringing their hands, fathers and mothers moaned over the loss of their sons from whom they had parted in the morning. Little children, scarcely yet fully conscious of the calamity which had made them orphans, cried because their mothers or sisters wept; and strong men inured to hardship and familiar with every kind of peril and danger, furtively passed their rough horny hands over their weather-bronzed faces and removed the traces of unwanted tears. It was touching to see some of those hardy veterans trying to convey their sympathy to the bereaved ones; leading some away from the heartrending spectacle, or administering hope to those who had friends in other boats still adrift. No one might distinguish between the sufferings of those who knew the worst and those who were still in suspense. Certainly the latter suffered accutely, the alternations of hope and dread which chased each other in their minds keeping up a mental tension almost unsupportable. Fearing the worst, they yet conjured up hopeful imaginings, which were again driven forth with every fresh outburst of the wind's fury. "Nae boat could stand a blast like that," was the remark which occasionally passed among these women, and even the old salts there inwardly believed that it expressed the truth. But for all on shore the hours were long and anxious ones because of the enforced inactivity. Had it been possible, scarcely a man in that sorrowful group but would have volunteered his services; but to launch a boat in such a sea would have been foolhardy tempting of Providence.
Conspicuous gallantry in endeavouring to rescue the crews of the above mentioned boats were displayed by the following:- Messrs Janes Gibson, Robert Weddell, David Dougal, fish curer; Aitchison, tailor; John Johnston, fish curer; and George Hair, merchant - the first named being nearly drowned in rescuing the crew of the "Pilgrim."
Most of the boats are insured in the East of Fife Insurance Club, the secretary of which, Mr Dickson, is in Eyemouth making inquiries as to the various losses. It may be mentioned that the tide in Friday morning in this part of the coast after rising fifteen feet did not rise any more for two hours, and at the ebb it did not fall more than three inches for three hours.
While these painful scenes were in progress at Eyemouth, word was received from Burnmouth that several of the boats had been wrecked there, and many lives lost - information that only deepened the gloom that now settled down upon the hearts of these people. These turned out to be the Wave, the Good Intent, the Invincible and the James and Robert, of which an account will be found elsewhere.
Early on Sunday morning a boat called the Aerial Gazelle unexpectedly turned up in the harbour having been 45 hours at sea. The skipper was Alexander Burgon, and he and his crew of six men were safe. The reunion of the storm-tossed mariner with their relatives and friends was a touching scene. The men were all greatly exhausted from the exposure, anxiety, and toil they had undergone, and were taken off to their respective homes without delay. It appeared after being caught in the storm, the Aerial Gazelle had held off to the sea for twenty-two hours before attempting to make for the land. Her sails had been blown to ribbons, but by patching and lacing them as best they might her crew were enabled to weather the gale. In the course of the day, the men who had put into Shields came on to Eyemouth, and were gladly, though quietly, received by their friends. The men themselves, on being apprised of the state of matters in the village, were greatly distressed. The crew of the White Star reported that they had seen one of the Eyemouth boats, the Myrtle, founder about two miles off Eyemouth, and that all her crew were drowned. The Enterprise men reported that they had lost a comrad named James Windram when off Berwick - the sea having washed him overboard. Another of the crew James Paterson, had also been washed overboard, but getting hold of a rope which was hanging over the side, those on board were able to draw him in again, The Economy lost its skipper, Alexander Maltman, the sail having hove him overboard. Several bodies have come ashore at Berwick, among others those of Peter Patterson, of the Wave, Wm. Nisbet and Wm. Scott, from the Forget-Me-Not, and James Cribbs from the Good Intent. Some of these bodies were in the course of Sunday brought to Eyemouth.
In all the churches in the place on Sunday there were only small congregations. There were no regular services, the clergymen being unable to trust themselves to speak of so recent a disaster. Prayer was engaged in, and special petitions offered for the bereaved widows and orphans. A large number of strangers visited Eyemouth on Sunday, having come there on curiosity from other fishing places; not a few others had come by train to pay visits of sympathy to relatives. Since the disaster the various ministers have been unremitting in their attention to those who have lost their friends.
By telegram we learn that another of the missing boats, the Fisher Lasses, has arrived at Shields with the loss of one of the crew - Wm. Young; the rest are all safe.
From the list of casualties that has been made up it appears that it is known for certain that sixty-four men belonging to the port have been drowned.
The following is a list of those known to have been drowned:-
The "Radiant," lost in Eye Bay (7) - John Windram, married, with family mostly grown up; John Fairbairn, married, 3 children; William Gray, married, 3 children; David Fairbairn, single; Alexander Fairbairn, single; John Burgon, single; and James Crombie, married, 3 children.
The "Harmony," lost in Eye Bay (6) - William Angus, married, 6 children; Peter Angus, married, 5 children; Henry Angus, married, mostly grown up family; James Ward, married, 1 child; George Cribbes, married, grown up family; Alexander Craig, single.
"Wave," lost near Berwick (6) - Peter Patterson, widower, 5 children; John Patterson, single, his son: John Hastie, married, 6 of family; Robt. Johnstone, married, 8 or 9 of family; David Johnston, son of above, single; and Peter Burgon, single.
The "Blossom," ashore at Goswick Sands (5) - George Dougal (Dove), married, 3 of family; Wm. Crombie, married, 3 children; William Young, married, family grown up; John Burgon, single; Robert Young, single.
"Forget-Me-Not," supposed to have foundered off Berwick (5) - William Nisbet, married, no family; Alexander Nisbet, married, 6 children; Andrew Dougal, married, 3 children; William Scott, married, 3 children; Alexander Cribbes, married, 2 children.
The "Press Home," lost in Eye Bay (6) - Andrew Collins, married, no family; Robert Stott, married a week ago; John Stott, single; James Stott, single; Leonard Dougal, junr., single; George Windram, single.
"Lily of the Valley," lost near Burnmouth (6) - Thomas Miller, married, 5 children; Robt Lough, married, 5 children; David Ritchie, married, 4 children; James Lough, married, family partly up; Anexander Swanston, jun.,single; and James Dougal, single.
The "Janet," lost near Burnmouth (6) - John Maltman, married, family grown up; Alexander Maltman, son of above; Robert Maltman, son of above; George Maltman, nephew; Harry Young, married; Thomas Swanston, single; Robert Collin, single; James Simpson, single.
"Onward," Eye Bay (1) - Washed overboard, Alexander Wood Dougal, single.
"James and Robert," lost at Burnmouth (1) - Andrew J. H. Dougal, married.
"Invincible," (1) - John Dougal, married, family principally grown up.
"Good Intent," (2) - John Lough, married, 6 of a family; and James Cribbes, married, 4 of a family.
The "Myrtle," lost at sea (7) - William Hood, wdower; John Hood, son, single; George Bonn, married, family; George Bonn, jun., son, single; Thomas Collin, single; James Collin, his brother, single; and James Purvis.
The "Enterprise," (1) - Washed overboard, James Windram.
The "Economy," (1) - Washed overboard, Alex. Maltman.
The "Fisher Lasses," (1) - Washed overboard, WIlliam Young.