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.


FREE Guernsey history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Guernsey's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want. We'll also keep you up to date with our latest book releases and early-bird discounts.


Other events that occured in February

Mail ship wrecked on Black Rock 1st
Oil rig stranded at Grandes Rocques
Birth of Generaloberst Friedrich Dollmann 2nd
Death of Sir Charles Hayward 3rd
St Martin’s parish church consecrated 4th
Guernsey suffers its worst storm in 35 years 5th
Guernsey watchmaker helps Stone of Scone manhunt 6th
Guernsey Language Commission formed 7th
Queen Mary executed while wearing Guernsey stockings 8th
Guernsey gets its first postbox
Guernsey Society celebrates its 70th anniversary 9th
Guernsey’s last execution didn’t go according to plan 10th
The last issue of GUNS was distributed 11th
Alderney gets its first full-time radio station 12th
Guernsey’s last duel 13th
Specsavers’ Mary Perkins was born 14th
Blue Islands takes to the skies
Guernsey gets its own flag 15th
Birth of concrete poet Dom Sylvester Houedard 16th
HMS Guernsey launched in Aberdeen 17th
Guernsey’s first Methodist minister arrives 18th
Aurigny Air Services founded 19th
Guernsey Railway Company runs its first services 20th
The Channel Islands were cut off from the outside world 21st
St Sampson was ordained a bishop 22nd
Death of Thomas Fiott de Havilland 23rd
Murder inquiry ends with suicide 24th
Death of occupation resister Marie Ozanne 25th
Guernsey’s first banker dies 26th
Release of Reverend Harry Samuel 27th
Plans for St Sampson power station approved 28th
Second World War bomb detonated 29th