The Ketch ‘Speratus’

Written by S. Ablott
First Published


The Speratus was a 76 ton, ketch rigged fishing smack, launched in July 1876, for Edward R Cobley of Hull.1 Registered in Hull, her fishing number was H1008.2 The name Speratus is a Latin word, meaning: hoped for, longed for, expected or awaited.

Stunt Gone Bad

On the 30th of July 1879 the Speratus was out at sea. During a period of calm, the crew had some time for recreation. Two of the boys employed on the smack were amusing themselves by capping one another. In a time long before video phones and Youtube, they were each trying to out-do the other by performing increasingly daring feats. Having climbed the main mast rigging, both the boys had found themselves on the main gaff. One of the boys, Charles Bryant, thought he would impress his companion by descending the lee (the rear edge) of the main sail. He got as far as the third reef, which caught on his trousers, causing him to slide down the sail out of control. He fell hitting his temple on the top rail. The blow left the boy insensible. On arriving back in Hull, he was taken to the infirmary, but died a few days later.3a

Schooner In Distress

On the 16th of September the same year, the Speratus went to the assistance of a foreign schooner in distress. The schooner was on passage from Hartlepool to The Baltic with a cargo of bricks and cement. The skipper of the Speratus took the schooner in tow and put his second hand onboard to assist their crew. At about nine o'clock that night the schooner suddenly sank without warning, taking with it the second hand of the Speratus and her own crew of six hands.4


On the 18th of July 1884 three crewmen on the Speratus conspired to steal from the smack while out at sea on the fishing grounds. While the skipper, Charles Tully, was aboard another smack and the mate was asleep, Thomas Howchin amused the boy apprentice, Samuel Tully, the skipper's son, in the cabin. This was a distraction, while William Morley and Charles Cummins stole nearly a ton of rope and two jib sails from the smack. They were sold to a German Coopering ship for 20 bottles of grog and a quantity of tobacco.

The crew were drunk for about a week and were not found out until December that year. Charles Cummins had been prosecuted for destroying the ships' log. On his release from Gaol, he confessed the theft to Thomas Hamling, the agent to Joseph Broclesby, who was then owner of the smack.

The coopers were vessels that hung around the fishing grounds selling drink and tobacco to the fishermen. This case was considered an important one at the time, as it highlighted the practices of the coopers and the effect they had on the crew of fishing smacks. In an already dangerous enough industry, coopering and drunkenness was likely the cause of many problems regarding the safety and misconduct of crew at sea.3b

Forget The Log

The Speratus set off on a fishing trip from the Humber Hull Dock at 6am on the 19th of March 1885 under skipper John Johnson. They got as far as Paull when he realised he had forgotten the log. He cast the anchor and went ashore with the second hand, leaving the third hand in charge. As they headed for Hull, they left the vessel anchored on calm water.

They returned the following morning on the train to Hedon, then walked to Paull. Arriving about 7am, the wind had risen. The smack had dragged her anchor and driven on shore at the top of the tide. They put the anchor out astern and waited for the next tide. They were fortunate enough to manage to pull her off without damage, despite the tides knocking, and continued to the fishing grounds.2

Another Boy Dies

In January 1887, the Speratus set off from Hull on another fishing voyage, this time under skipper John Jewsbury. The crew of five hands intended to stay out until Good Friday, which would be the 8th of April that year.

On about the 23rd of January, the second hand, George Thomas Cobley, saw the fifth hand apprentice boy, Edward H Cook, come out of the hold crying. What are you crying for?
I've fallen down the fore-hold, and knocked my head and hurt my back on the anchor.
The 14 year old did not seem too bad, he was not bleeding and carried on his work as usual as if nothing had happened. But on the 31st he had another accident, while in the fore-hold coiling the warp. He got his heel trapped in the grating in the bottom of the warp pound and sprained his ankle. The skipper applied some linseed, he got from the steam cutter, to the swollen ankle and bandaged it up.

He only came on deck one time again, when he complained of feeling soft. On Thursday the 3rd, the boy became delirious and was breathing hard. On Friday a mustard plaster was administered. On Saturday the 5th, he had got so bad that sail was made for home. The skipper stayed up with the boy through the night. At about 4am on Sunday morning the boy said to the skipper and third hand, Lawrence Christopher Johnson, I shall bid you all goodbye at half past five today.
At 5:35 he was dead.

The smack arrived back in Hull about 6am on Wednesday the 9th. Edward's body was taken to the mortuary. A post mortem examination carried out by Mr H Thompson, surgeon, concluded that his death was due to inflammation of both lungs and pleurisy.

An inquest was held on the Thursday, where members of the crew gave evidence into the circumstances of the death. Second hand, George Cobley described Edward as a smart lad, who did his work well. Edward's mother identified her son's body, her husband, being a sailor was at sea. She was satisfied that her son was well treated and looked after by the skipper and crew. She said that she would not have allowed her son to go to sea, if he were not with a good skipper. The jury returned a verdict of death from natural causes.5ab

The Abo's Boat

Later that year on the 9th of August the Speratus was with the fleet on Holman Bank in The North Sea. At around 5pm, the smack Abo (H606) was boarding fish to the cutter. The Abo's second, third, and deck hand took the smack's boat and boarded 20 boxes of fish. On the return, as they pulled for the smack, a wave capsized the boat, throwing the three men into the water. The men got on the keel of the upturned boat, but it only caused the boat to turn over again, throwing them off.

The boat of the Speratus headed toward the men to assist. On arriving they found only the third hand, John Turner, clinging to the boat. He was picked up and taken back on-board the Abo. The second hand, John Stephenson, and deckhand, Edward Bee, both 19 years old, were drowned.5c

Another Death

On the morning of the 9th of December 1889 at about a quarter to nine, the second hand on the Speratus, George Julyan, was on the boom. A sudden lurching of the vessel caused him to fall off, landing on his head and killing him.2

Collision With Unity

The Speratus was lost on the 12th of march 1896, while fishing in the North Sea. The skipper was Samuel Shawl, he had left the deckhand on watch while he rested. The smack collided with the Unity (H1455) belonging to the Hull Steam Fishing & Ice Co. The Unity got away with only breaking her bowsprit, but the Speratus sank five hours after the collision. The loss was said to be due to the neglect of the deckhand on watch, for not rousing the skipper in time.2

Vessel Details for Speratus

Official Number:75330
Fishing Number:H1008
Vessel Name:Speratus
  • Edward R Coleby of Hull 1880
  • Moses Brocklesby of Hull 1890
  • David George Brown 1892
  • John Goy 1893
  • J W Haley 1895
  • John William Naylor 1884
  • Charles Tully / John Johnson 1885
  • John Jewsbury 1887
  • James Gale 1889
  • Edward Durbin 1895
  • Samuel Shawl 1896
  • Hull
Trade:North Sea Fishing.
Incidents:Edward Cook, 5th Hand. February 6th 1887. Died, cause unknown inflammation of lungs. December 9th 1889 8.45am. George Julian 2nd hand. Fell off the boom on to his head killed himself. The fall was due to the sudden lurching of the vessel. September 4th 1889 Danish Coast. Smack Invincible of Hull ran into us.
Fate:Sunk five hours after collision with the smack Unity of Hull 12th Feb 1896. Owing to the neglect of the deck hand who was on watch and did not rouse the skipper in time.


  1. The Mercantile Navy Lists.
  2. Hull History Centre.
  3. Shields Daily Gazette
    1. 27th August 1879
    2. 23rd December 1884
  4. Hartlepool Mail 2nd October 1879
  5. Hull Daily Mail
    1. 9th February 1887
    2. 11th February 1887
    3. 10th November 1887

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© Background Photograph by Steve Smith.