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How the Ellan Vannin sank in 1909 enroute to Liverpool
The Ellan Vannin
The Ellan Vannin was the slowest and smallest of the Steam Packet fleet

Over one hundred years ago, the SS Ellan Vannin left the Isle of Man bound for Liverpool but she never arrived.

The small ship was carrying 15 passengers, 21 crew members, 60 tons of cargo and mail from the Isle of Man.

Though the weather was stormy Captain Teare, a seaman with 18 years experience, did not anticipate any problems during the voyage.

But on the approach to Liverpool the weather deteriorated and the Ellan Vannin sank killing everyone onboard.

Charles Guard from the Manx Heritage Foundation told the BBC Isle of Man it was one of the worst storms of the century.

"The waves were over 25 feet and the winds were well in excess of 80 MPH. Four or five people would have been hanging on the wheel trying to steer her in the right position," he said.

"It was pitch black, driving sleet and two degrees Celsius. They were impossible conditions and a confluence of the most extraordinary circumstances that very few boats of the time would have survived."

The Ellan Vannin was the slowest and smallest of the Steam Packet fleet. But she had given tremendous service and the Board of Trade inquiry proved that she was in perfect condition on the night she sailed.

Captain Teare courtesy of the Manx Heritage Foundation
Captain Teare did not anticipate any problems during the voyage

The crew were top class and the much respected Captain Teare managed to get her across the Irish Sea in terrible conditions. But what happened in quarter of an hour, between 0630 GMT and 0645 GMT, was to result in the worst shipping disaster the Isle of Man had ever had to deal with.

She was in two pieces when she was found the next day in 30 feet of water. The lifeboats had gone which means there had been an attempt to launch them. That heartbreaking image, said Charles Guard, gave false hope to the relatives of those who had been onboard.

"Only three people were found in the ship when the divers went down. The rest had vanished. For quite a while there were rumours that they had all been rescued and were in Ireland.

After the Ellan Vannin sank there were 58 children left without either one or two parents
Charles Guard

"Enquiries were made all around Britain to the tragic end that people's hopes were again dashed. It gradually became apparent what happened on that dreadful night and that everyone had been drowned."

He added that after the tragedy 58 children were left without either one or two parents and the island was in shock.

"The sinking of the Ellan Vannin had an extraordinary impact here on the Isle of Man. You've got to imagine an Island with very few telephones, no radios and no way of communicating except for the newspapers.

"Two days after the Ellan Vannin went down the Ramsey Courier and Northern Advertisers offices were besieged. It's said that 3000 people crowded around the square in Ramsey desperate for information about what had happened.

"It was 24 hours before they found the ship and tragically it was five weeks before they began to find any of the bodies," he said.

An event of such magnitude, said Mr Guard, spawned many incredible stories, some about those who were onboard and some about those who weren't, but should have been.

Image courtesy Manx Heritage Foundation
Mr. Quayle from Pear Tree Cottage in Andreas

"Mr. Quayle from Pear Tree Cottage in Andreas went to bed early that night having decided he wouldn't be going to Liverpool in the morning because it was too stormy. He was due to go over for medical treatment," he said.

"At midnight he woke up and thought the weather had improved enough to travel and he cycled from Andreas to Ramsey managing to meet the boat before she sailed. As Daniel Defoe said, 'Even the greatest men cannot forgo their destiny.' Mr. Quayle bought a return ticket.

"Captain Teare had only started his month's service that night. He was given a month's service in the winter because Steam Packet Captains were usually laid off when the tourist season came to an end. That was his destiny; he had to be on the ship that night."

Following the disaster financial aid was given to the families who had lost loved ones as the island came to terms with the magnitude of the tragedy.

"There was an extraordinary outpouring of grief. A fund was set up and the King and Queen donated money along with the Governor of the time, Lord Raglan. This fund was actually administered for decades afterwards for the families of those affected," Mr Guard said.




SEE ALSO
Shipping disaster stamp tribute
01 Oct 09 |  Isle of Man
Island's maritime heritage marked
16 Sep 05 |  Isle of Man


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