The Ketch ‘Premier’

Written by S. Ablott
First Published


The Premier was a ketch rigged fishing smack built by John Wray & Son in 1877 for James W Fellows, 28 Kingston Street, Hull. She was 73 feet long, 76 tons and registered at the port of Hull with the fishing number H1074.

Collisions at Sea

With the North Sea fishing industry rising massively in the later nineteenth century, the seas around the favourite fishing grounds were becoming increasingly busy. As a result collisions between fishing smacks were a very common occurrence. These could sometimes be slight knocks, but on other occasions could cause damage to the vessels, at worst they could cause the sinking of a vessel and loss of life.

The Premier was involved in a number of collisions during her time at sea, the earliest and worst we know about was with the Hull smack Lady Elizabeth (H571) on the 1st of November 1885.

The Lady Elizabeth

The Premier sailed out of Hull on the 26th of October 1885 for the fishing grounds of Dogger Bank. She was captained by Edward Webber with a crew of five including him. On the evening of the 1st of November they were about 90 miles off Spurn Head sailing on the port tack, heading North-North-West. The vessel was wrongly displaying only a mast head light.

At about 20:00 Webber noticed a white light ahead of them on the starboard bow. He assumed it to be a smack with fishing gear down on the same tack as him. It was in fact the Lady Elizabeth which was sailing toward them with the intention of speaking with them. The Lady Elizabeth was also wrongly displaying only a mast head light, so both wrongly thought the other had gear down. The vessels while sailing should have been displaying side lights without the mast head.

After a few minutes Webber perceived the vessel to be crossing his bow and when on his port bow, appeared to be starboarding her helm. Seeing a collision coming he ordered Hard-a-starboard. But the action was too late, the Premier struck the Lady Elizabeth on the starboard quarter just before the mizzen, breaking off the Premier's bowsprit. They heard cries of We're sinking coming from the Lady Elizabeth. Webber immediately called all crew on deck and ordered the boat to be launched.

The crew of the Lady Elizabeth cut free their own boat, but the vessel was sinking too quickly for them to launch it, so it was pulled aft onto the deck and the crew of five men got in. But as the smack went rapidly down, stern first, the main boom fouled the boat, flipping it right over and throwing the men into the sea.

Three of the crew managed to cling to the upturned boat until the Premier's boat picked them up. But the skipper, John Evans and his 15 year old son of the same name, who was the ships' cook were nowhere to be seen.

The Inquiry

A formal investigation was held by the Board of Trade at Hull Town Hall on the 2nd and 3rd of December. The court found that the accident occurred because of neither vessel complying with the regulations as to lights for British fishing vessels when underway. Neither carried side lights and both improperly exhibited a white mast head light.

Both vessels also failed to comply with the regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea with regard to their movements. The Lady Elizabeth did not keep out of the way of the Premier, only altering her helm when it was too late. The Premier was wrong in porting her helm when the Lady Elizabeth was on her starboard bow, instead of keeping her course. These bad manoeuvres were most likely as a result of the improper display of lights.

When the vessels first sighted one another neither perceived any risk of collision, so no action was taken to avoid one.

The court found the master of the Premier, Edward Webber in default. His certificate was suspended for four months.

Before concluding this report, the Court feels compelled to remark upon the reprehensible manner in which the Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea were in this case disregarded by both vessels, whereby such lamentable consequences have ensued.

Had they been observed in all probability the collision would never have occurred, two human lives would have been spared, and a very serious loss to property would have been avoided.

E C Twiss Judge
Board of Trade Wreck Report 1885

Further Troubles

On the 26th of January 1887 about noon the Premier was in collision with the smack Mystery from Hull. There was just slight damage to the top of a covering board on the port side. This was due to the neglect of watch by William Scott, the 4th hand.

Two crewmen were lost on the 27th of August 1887. The Premier was on a fleeting voyage, the 2nd and 3rd hand were taking the smacks boat to the cutter to board fish when it capsized. William Augustus Hussey and William Johnson both drowned.

On the 30th of November the same year they had another collision with a Hull smack named Starbo.

Stranding at Sandlemere

The following text is taken from the Wreck Report for the Premier, the result of a formal investigation by the Board of Trade dated 7th April 1888.

Report of Court

PREMIER. The Merchant Shipping Acts, 1854 to 1876. IN the matter of a formal Investigation held at the Town Hall, Hull, on the 6th and 7th days of April, 1888, before E. C. TWISS, Stipendiary Magistrate, assisted by Captain HARLAND and Captain BAKER, into the circumstances attending the stranding of the British fishing smack PREMIER, of Hull, at Sandlemere, Yorkshire, on the 15th of March last, whereby she sustained material damage.

The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons stated in the annex hereto, that the stranding of the said vessel was owing to the lead not having been used with sufficient frequency; and the Court finds that great blame attaches to Mr. Robert Bird, her master. The Court is not asked to make any order as to costs.

Dated this 7th day of April 1888.

(Signed) E. C. TWISS, Judge.

We concur in the above report.

(Signed) ROBERT HARLAND, C. H. J. BAKER, Assessors.

Annex to the Report

The Premier, official number 77,472, is a ketch-rigged fishing vessel, built of wood at Burton Stather in 1877, and she is owned and managed by Mr. James William Fellows, of Hull, at which port she is registered. Her length is 73 5/10 feet, breadth 20 feet, and depth of hold 10 feet, and her registered tonnage 75.88 tons.

The Premier left Hull on the 16th of January last, bound for a fleeting fishing cruise in the North Sea with the Red Cross fleet, under the command of Mr. John Bird, who holds a certificate of service as skipper, and with the usual crew of five hands all told. Upon leaving Hull her draught was about 7 feet forward and 11 feet 6 inches aft.

The fleet was joined on the tail of the Dogger Bank on the 19th of January, and the Premier fished in company with it until the 13th of March last, upon which day at about 8 a.m. she left the fleet to return to port.

When she set sail Spurn, in the opinion of the master, bore about W. by S. ½ S., distant some 220 miles. The weather at the time was showery, the wind being from the eastward, and in force varying. A course W. by S. ½ S. was set, and the vessel proceeded under whole mizen and mainsail, and working topsail and small jib, until 8 o'clock on the morning of the 14th, when the topsail was taken down and the mainsail double reefed and one reef taken in in the mizen. After this soundings were obtained in 20 fathoms with rough bottom, which indicated, as the master stated, that he had been taken to the southward, and that the smack was then on the Outer Well Bank, whereupon he altered the course to W. by N. and W. by N. ½ N., and made for the Humber. This course was steered until 8 p.m., when the smack was luffed to, and a cast of the lead taken, which showed 13 fathoms with stones, from which the master was satisfied that he was off Dimlington, and he therefore put the vessel about on the starboard tack heading from N.E. by E. to E.N.E., the wind being from the southward and eastward, accompanied from time to time with heavy snow showers, the vessel being under the same canvas as before.

The master then went below, giving instructions to the second hand to let her lie so until about 1.30 a.m. on the 15th, and then to put her about, and in the meantime to keep a good look-out, and in the case of his seeing any lights, or in the event of any change in the wind taking place, to call him. On this tack the smack was kept until about 1 a.m., and at 1.30 a.m. the second hand went below and reported to the master that he had taken soundings in 26 fathoms, that he had put the vessel about, and that she then was heading about S. by E. on the port tack. The third hand had come on deck at 1 a.m., and he told us that the vessel was then lying dead on the port tack, there being a little breeze from the southward and eastward, the weather being thick. The vessel continued to lie dead until between 2.30 a.m. and 3 a.m., when the third hand took a cast of the lead in, as he stated, 20 fathoms.

At 3 a.m. the master came on deck, and the third hand reported to him the soundings he had just previously obtained, whereupon the master told him to lash her along on the port tack. This was done, and the vessel was kept on the port tack heading about S. by E. and making about four knots, the wind being from S.E., and the weather very thick. At 4 o'clock the master, who had been walking the deck since 3 a.m., ordered the third hand at the tiller to keep her in a bit, on a course about S.W. by W., thinking, as he said, that he should see something of the land by daylight.

He remained on deck keeping a look-out, and at about a quarter before five, on looking over the vessel's side, he noticed that the water appeared smooth, and he at once ordered the third hand to put the helm down for the purpose of taking a cast of the lead. As soon, however, as the tiller had been put down the smack took the ground by the heel. The helm was then, by the orders of the master, lashed hard-a-port, and the main and mizen sheets let out, but the vessel did not come off, but drove further up the beach. Orders were then given to get the anchor out, and the crew endeavoured to do so, but the wind increasing rendered it impossible. The sea was at this time breaking over her, and she still continued to drive further up the shore. Signals of distress were then exhibited, and answered by the coastguard, and some time afterwards the crew were all safely landed by means of the rocket apparatus. When they were taken off the smack had driven up to within 10 or 12 yards of the wash of the beach, which proved to be near Sandlemere, on the Yorkshire coast.

The Premier was afterwards got off by the Withernsea beach-men and towed round to Hull, where she is now undergoing repairs in St. Andrew's dry dock. We have been told by Mr. Vivian, the secretary to the Hull and Grimsby Mutual Fishing Vessel's Insurance Company, that the cost of the repairs rendered necessary in consequence of the stranding would be 265l., so it is evident that very serious and material damage must have been by her sustained.

At the conclusion of the evidence Mr Saxelbye, who represented the Board of Trade, submitted the following questions upon which the opinion of the Court was desired:-


  1. Whether a safe and proper course was set and steered from the fishing grounds on the 13th March, and whether due and proper allowance was made for tide, currents, and leeway?
  2. Whether safe and proper alterations were subsequently made in the course, and due and proper allowance made for tide, currents, and leeway?
  3. Whether the lead was used with sufficient frequency?
  4. Whether a good and proper look-out was kept?
  5. What was the cause of the stranding of the vessel, and whether she was materially damaged through such stranding?
  6. Whether the vessel was navigated with proper and seamanlike care?
  7. Whether the master is in default The Board of Trade is of opinion that the certificate of the master should be dealt with.


The master having briefly addressed the Court on his own behalf, judgment was given in the replies to the various questions as follows:-

  1. A safe and proper course was set when the vessel left the fishing ground on the 13th of March last, but it does not appear to have been made good, seeing that the master found himself on the morning of the 14th on the Outer Well Bank, which was far too much to the southward.
  2. A proper course was then set by him for the Humber, and proper alterations were made from time to time thereafter, until 4 o'clock on the morning of the 15th; but having regard to the then proximity of the land, the course set at that hour cannot be said to have been safe or proper. Due allowance was made for tides.
  3. The lead was not used with sufficient frequency.
  4. A good and proper look-out was kept.
  5. The cause of the stranding of the vessel, which resulted in material damage to her, was owing to the lead not having been used sufficiently often.
  6. With the exception that the lead was not used so frequently as it should have been, the vessel was navigated with proper and seamanlike care.
  7. When the master came on deck about 3 o'clock on the morning of the 15th, it was reported to him by the third hand that he had just taken soundings in 20 fathoms. The master, assuming this sounding to have been correctly ascertained, naturally estimated his then position at a much greater distance from the land than as was afterwards proved it really was, and he therefore took no further cast of the lead, which he certainly ought to have done, as in all probability had he done so the casualty would have been avoided, and for this omission the Court finds him greatly to blame; in other respects he appears to have been particularly attentive to the navigation of his vessel from the time of his leaving the fishing ground.

Before we conclude this report, we would observe that in the course of his evidence the third hand most positively affirmed that the soundings he obtained about 3 o'clock on the morning of the 15th were actually in 20 fathoms; but having regard to the courses steered and the vessel's speed thereafter, up to the time of the stranding, in all of which he entirely concurred with the evidence of the master, it seems quite impossible to come to any other conclusion but that he is mistaken, for on reference to the chart it is abundantly clear that no corresponding soundings are to be found within some miles of the spot where the "Premier" at the hour named must in fact have been. There can also be but little doubt but that the master was mislead by the sounding so reported to him, and that had he not believed it to be correct he would in all probability have taken a cast of the lead before he hauled the vessel to the southward and westward as he did at about 4 o'clock. At the same time the Court considers that this does not exonerate him from having failed to have had more frequent recourse to the lead when standing in towards the land, especially considering the very thick weather which at the time prevailed.

Vessel Details for Premier

Official Number:77472
Fishing Number:H1074
Vessel Name:Premier
  • James W Fellows of Hull
  • Charles Manning 1884
  • Richard Ainsworth 1886
  • John Mussard 1887
  • James Taylor 1887
  • Robert Bird 1888
  • Louis Barnsey 1889
  • Thomas Lewis 1891
  • Charles Behm 1892
  • Benjamin Radge 1893
  • Hull
Notes:Fishing number H1074 changed in 1888 to H42. Register closed 1897.
Trade:North Sea Fishing.
Incidents:November 1st 1886 90 miles East half South from Spurn about 9.15 pm. Collide with the Lady Elizabeth of Hull. Who sunk 2 hands drowned. Broke our Bowsprit. Mistook the vessel to have her gear down as she had her white light up. On 27th Oct 1887 2 crew were lost, William Augustus Hussey 2nd hand, and Walter William Johnson 3rd hand both drowned by capsizing the smacks boat whilst making for the Cutter to board fish. 28th August 1893 Collision with Ulysses of Hull.


  1. The Mercantile Navy Lists.
  2. Fishing Vessel Crew Agreements Hull History Centre
  3. Board of Trade Wreck Report for Premier, 1885
  4. Board of Trade Wreck Report for Premier, 1888

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