19th December 1918

Guernsey shipwreck results in starvation

Iris was an 83-ton iron ketch carrying china clay from Fowey, Cornwall. Wherever it was heading to wasn’t widely publicised in the papers of the time, but what was made clear was the fact it didn’t arrive.

Telegrams from Guernsey sent back to the mainland reported that the ketch had struck rocks off the island’s north coast on 19 December 1918. It had been so badly battered against the outcrop that it was close to entirely destroyed. The captain and crew couldn’t be found and it was assumed that they had drowned.

A gruesome discovery

That news must have been bad enough for the crew’s families but, for one of them, worse was to follow in January the following year when one of the crew – a ship’s mate called Manning – was found dead by a fisherman on a small island north east of Herm. Around a dozen islets, barely more than rocks, are strewn along a rough path stretching away from the island in that direction. Many of them clustered no more than a mile from the end of Shell Beach.

A strong swimmer might have been able to make it to Herm unaided, particularly at low tide, but Manning, it seemed, was not such a man. Instead, he lived like a “modern” day Robinson Crusoe.

Having been swept to the islet from Guernsey, he made himself a shelter using rocks fixed together with sods of turf, and settled down to await his rescue. He survived for a while by catching and eating shellfish – until the shellfish ran out.

Manning was killed slowly, through starvation and exposure, at the end of which the only way he could be identified was by the tombstone tattooed on his chest.


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Other events that occured in December