The Ketch ‘Bonnie Lass’

Written by S. Ablott
First Published


This ketch rigged fishing smack was built by John Wray & Sons in 1873 for Grimsby smack-owner James Plastow. The 70 ton vessel was registered at Grimsby as GY446 and was skippered by Edwin Charles Plastow.


We first hear of the Bonnie Lass being damaged in a collision at sea in February 1876. During a spell of bad weather a number of smacks had been damaged and suffered losses. The Bonnie Lass returned to Grimsby having sustained damage in collision with an unknown brig.

Assaults by the Skipper

Edwin Plastow, the skipper of the Bonnie Lass, appeared in Court in Lincoln on the 21st of May 1880. He was charged with assaulting an apprentice named John Marr while at sea on the 9th. Plastow said that on that day the weather was fine and he told Marr to take off his dopper top, but he refused. He said to him If you don't take it off I'll take it off for you. He then got hold of him to take the dopper off, but never struck him. Marr said he was about to take the top off when Plastow struck him inflicting a wound on his right cheek.

In court, Alderman Veal said to Plastow You skippers think you can do what you like with these poor fisherlads. Dr Keetley who was on the bench examined the wound. He said it was a very serious affair. If the cut had been a little lower, it could have been fatal. The Magistrates decided that this was a very serious assault and Plastow was fined £2 12s. They thought this may serve as a warning to him.

Then in March 1883, Plastow was in court again charged with assaulting a deck-hand named Paulson while at sea on the 10th. It was alleged that Plastow had hit Paulson with his fist blackening both of his eyes. Mr Mason for the defence said that Paulson was not the innocent, harmless, angelic being that he appeared to be in the witness box, but was an unruly self-willed lad. He said the Plastow had chastised him too severely under provocation.

Paulson said that he had never drawn a knife on another of the crew, nor was his conduct generally bad.

Alderman Veal said there was scarcely a week that passed when they did not commit lads to prison for disobedience. In all cases they told the boys that if they had any complaint against the skipper, that they should come to the bench and they would be protected.

Because Plastow had been fined for a similar offence in the past, if it were to happen again he would very likely face prison. On this occasion he was fined 53s including costs.

The Loss of the Bonnie Lass

On Wednesday the 17th of September 1884, the Bonnie Lass was off Spurn, returning to Grimsby after being at sea for a fortnight. She carried a crew of five hands, including skipper Edwin Charles Plastow and mate Henry John Plastow. At about 10:30 that night they were lying becalmed when a steamer was spotted to the SSW, about half a mile away, it appeared to be steering toward them.

Although the smack was showing the regulation lights, the skipper went below to fetch a flare and warn the rest of the crew. While below he heard the mate call to him that the steamer would go clear, so he did not return with the flare after all. When the skipper did return to the deck, both he and the mate heard the order shouted on the steamer Hard-a-port! Immediately after the steamer changed course it struck the smack amidships on the port side, cutting straight through her and the smacks' boat.

Within five minutes the smack was sunk and the five crew in the water. The steamers' crew acted quickly, throwing a hawser over the side. After some difficulty, each of the five crew of the bonnie Lass grasped the line and was hauled aboard the steamer. The steamer proved to be the SS Telesilla of London, travelling from London in ballast for Newcastle for coal.

The crew from the smack were landed back in Grimsby on Friday the 19th. The Bonnie lass was thought to have been carrying from £70 to £80 worth of fish.

The SS Telesilla was lost on the 14th of September 1896 when she struck the Macintosh Rock in the Firth of the Forth, near North Queensferry. The wreck obstructed the building of the Forth Road Bridge, as it was sunk at the position where they were to build the north pier.

Vessel Details for Bonnie Lass

Official Number:67726
Fishing Number:GY446
Vessel Name:Bonnie Lass
  • James Plastow of New Clee 1880
  • Edwin Charles Plastow
  • Grimsby 1873-84
Trade:North Sea Fishing.
Incidents:In collision with an unknown brig Feb 1876. Skipper twice charged with assaulting crew.
Fate:Lost in collision with SS Telesilla 25 miles SSE of Flamborough Head 17th Sept 1884. Crew saved.

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© Background Photograph by Steve Smith.