The Ketch ‘Vigilant’

Written by S. Ablott
First Published


The Vigilant was built by John Wray & Son in 1880 for John Gilliat, of Devon Villa, Hessle Road, Hull. The 75 foot ketch was registered at hull with the fishing number H1286.

The Perils of The North Sea

North Sea fishing was fraught with danger and loss of life not uncommon, this vessel saw an number of crew lost over the years.

On the 4th of March 1881 deckhand Albert Roberts was stood near the mast as the smack was sailing up the Humber, near Killingholme. A large wave swept over the deck, carrying the 20 year old with it, back into the river. The weather was too rough to attempt a rescue by either bringing the ship around or by launching the boat. His body was never recovered.

The Vigilant survived the Great Storm of March 1883, going to the assistance of Grimsby smack Zingra, belonging to John Guzzwell. The smack under Captain James Loades was found with only one mast still standing and was towed in by The Vigilant.

As well as temperamental weather conditions, the skipper also had to put up the misconduct of young crew. In February 1884 Apprentice Robert Curtis was charged with doing wilful damage by cutting a trawl warp. He confessed to cutting the warp, saying he did so because he was tired of working with it. They had only been at sea seven days and had to return to port early. Many young apprentices of the Humber fleets, sometimes press-ganged or coerced into the job resented the hardships of life at sea and found the gaol more a comfortable place.

Loading fish to the cutter

On October the 28th of that year, more grear was lost when a gale of wind hit the vessel, taking away with it the main sail, the boat and fishing gear. Another crewman was lost on the 2nd of July 1888, not in the North Sea, but in Billingsgate, London. 40 year old fireman, Richard Smith of South Ferriby fell overboard and drowned. There were further losses in 1890


William Sullivan, married, 38 years of age, residing at 36, Liverpool Street, second hand on board the smack Vigilant, and George Allen, 18, third hand on board the same vessel, were conveying 21 boxes of fish in their boat to the steam cutter Northward on the 19th inst, when the boat capsized, and both men were drowned. Their bodies were not recovered.

Hull Daily Mail
24th March 1890

Owner John Gilliat and skipper Thomas Sykes were summoned to court for breaches to Section 10 of The Merchant Shipping Fishery Boat Act 1887, which regulates the conveyance of fish from trawlers.

On the 7th of January 1893 Vigilant was in collision with The Cornflower of Hull, another smack built by Wray. There were more losses in 1894.

DISASTER ON A HULL SMACK, Two Hull Fishermen Drowned.

By Sunday afternoon's tide there arrived in Hull the fishing smack Vigilant, owned by Mr John Gilliat, 291, Hessle Road, when the second hand (George Scarlett) reported the loss of the skipper, James Thomas Cockroberts, aged 32, living at 8, Massey Street, and the deck hand, George Watson, aged who lived with Mr Gilliat.

It appears that on the 27th January, whilst engaged fishing about 168 miles E.N.E. off, the skipper and the deck hand of the Vigilant, the remainder of the crew being below. Suddenly heavy sea struck the vessel, causing her to lurch fearfully. As soon as possible the second hand ran on deck, and found that both the skipper and deck hand had been swept away.

Hull Daily Mail
5th February 1894

The End for The Vigilant

Weather charts for December 1894

The last of the deaths on The Vigilant came on Saturday the 22nd of December 1894, in a great storm which shook the British shipping fleet. A large depression passed over the British Isles from the Atlantic, across to the Baltic creating terrible conditions in the Irish and North Seas and numerous shipping casualties around the nation. The Hull fishing fleet alone lost 9 smacks and 6 steam cutters that day, with 108 fishermen drowned, making 55 widows and 128 fatherless children. The Vigilant of Hull was one such vessel, lost with all hands in the North Sea. Another Hull smack, The Romantic, and Barrow registered ship Doctor, both built by Wray at Burton Stather, were also lost to the storm that same day.

Vessel Details for Vigilant

Official Number:82483
Fishing Number:H1286
Vessel Name:Vigilant
  • John Gilliat of Hull 1890
  • Francis Augustus Syer 1884
  • Richard Williams 1885
  • William Crawley / John Gilliatt 1888
  • Thomas Sykes 1890
  • James Thomas Cockroberts / John Fletcher 1894
  • Hull
Trade:North Sea Fishing.
Incidents:2nd July 1888, Richard Smith 40, Fireman of South Ferriby, fell overboard and drowned in Billingsgate London. 19th March 1890 about 3pm North Sea, William Sullivan and George Allen 2nd and 3rd hands, Drowned by the capsizing of the boat whilst returning from boarding. 7th Feb 1893 North Sea, Collision with smack Cornflower of Hull. 24th Jan 1894 about 4.30am North sea, James Thomas Cockroberts, skipper and George Watson, 4th Hand apprentice, Vessel shipped a heavy sea which washed them both overboard they were drowned.
Fate:Lost with all hands in the North Sea 22 Dec 1894, another Great Storm with many vessels lost. John Fletcher 38 Skipper, Joseph Brocklesby third hand, H Sharp 19 deckhand, James Fletcher second hand, Walter Hames forth hand, W Harman deckhand, William Ovencraft cook, Charles Suffling deckhand. Lost the same day as Brig Doctor and Ketch Romantic.


  1. The Mercantile Navy Lists.
  2. Hull History Centre.
  3. Hull Packet.
  5. Hull Daily Mail.

Last updated

© 2024 Burton upon Stather Heritage Group

© Background Photograph by Steve Smith.