1st February 1898

Mail ship wrecked on Black Rock

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were a perilous time to be sailing to Guernsey. Many ships – and mail ships in particular – floundered on the route, ending up a wreck. The Channel Queen was among them.

A steel-hulled paddle steamer, she was wrecked on the Rocque Noire (Black Rock), a mile and a half off Guernsey‘s north coast Just three years into service, she had 65 passengers onboard when she struck the rock in thick fog at around 5am.

Off course, in shallow water

She’d left the mainland at 10pm the previous evening with 18 crew. By 5am the following morning, she was a mile or so off course. The captain ordered that one of the engines be cut and the other slowed so they could drop a deep-sea lead over the side to see how much depth they had.

The answer, was not enough.

Although she wasn’t moving on full power, the Channel Queen continued to drift on the strong current until she hit the rocks.

Most of the passengers were French, many of whom drowned in their cabins where they’d been sleeping. In all, around 20 who were onboard when it left Plymouth died before reaching their destination. Some were killed when the first of the lifeboats was overcome by the waves, and sank alongside the Channel Queen.

Several passengers and the chief engineer drowned when she slipped off the rocks and sank. None of the rockets and flares she was carrying would light, so it wasn’t possible to notify anyone on Guernsey that the vessel was in trouble.

The Sheriff of Jersey, who was onboard, saved himself by hanging on to part of the bridge. Others were saved by two local fishermen, Beway and Gaudion, who were alerted to the disaster by the occupants of the first lifeboat to make it safely to shore. They headed out in their boats and dragged some of the floundering passengers back to dry land.

Assigning blame

The court of enquiry convened later in the month suspended Captain E J Collings’ license for three months. This was lenient, on account of his past career and the way he conducted himself following the collision. The Court also recommended that a lighthouse and fog signal be installed on the rock.


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Other events that occured in February