Written by S. Ablott
First Published
Code flag - QuebecCode flag - SierraCode flag - FoxtrotCode flag - Bravo H1353


The ketch Lena was originally built as a fishing smack for North Sea trawling from Hull. Launched on the 12th of March 1883, she belonged to William John Robins of Fountain Street, Hull.1 Registered at Hull with the fishing number H1353.2

Perils of the North Sea

During this time she saw the loss of a number of crewmen, something all too common in the industry.

The Lena arrived back in Hull on the 30th of October 1884 with reports of a severe storm on Dogger Bank. On the night of Monday the 27th, they were 140 miles off Spurn Point, when the vessel shipped a heavy sea, filling the deck up to the rails and sweeping away the third hand, Richard Ganell. They were unable to rescue him in the dark, the sea being rough and the bowsprit broken off by the sea, making the vessel unmanageable.3 Richard had just finished his apprenticeship on the 20th of September, and after a week at home, was taken on again as third hand on the 27th2.

In January the following year they lost another third hand.2

On January 12th 1885 about 2.30 am Spurn bearing SW about 250 miles on the great Fisher Bank. Whilst in the act of getting on board our fishing gear all hands being on deck at the time we shipped a heavy sea. Washing overboard our third hand Albert Brooks. Also our boat, fishing gear life buoys, oars. Boat hook and boom also washing away Bulwarks and broke our foresail & jib. We heard our 3rd hand shout twice astern among the wreckage. Being dark we could not see him and the boat being gone could do nothing to save him as our ship unmanageable.2

Memoranda by Skipper
Robert Morgan

The dangers faced by a smack's crew on a daily basis, where death was never far away, must have hardened these men into fearless souls. This was shown by the crew of the Lena in the December of 1887, when they put their own lives in great danger to save the crew of a stricken steam ship during a violent North Sea storm.4

The SS Tyne Queen

The SS Tyne Queen was an iron screw steamer built in 1865 by the Tyne Iron Shipbuilding Co at the St Peters yard in Newcastle on Tyne.5 She was 238 feet long and 626 tons net register with a 140hp engine. From 1884 onward she belonged to the Newton Brothers of Prince's Dock Side, Hull and was registered in Hull.1

On Thursday the 8th of December 1887, at about 9:30, the steamer left the Tyne with a crew of 17 hands, bound for Copenhagen carrying 788 tons of coal, 420 tons of coke and another 198 tons in her bunkers. She was under the command of Captain Charles Rawson. The voyage began well, with the wind being moderately strong from the WSW, the steamer had her trysails up. But it was noted that the barometer was falling rapidly and the wind increasing. By 4pm the master took down all but the fore trysail. As darkness fell, the wind increased further and came round to the NW and blew away the remaining fore trysail.6

The Storm Grows

By 7am on Friday, conditions were so bad that Captain Rawson decided to bring the ship around, head to wind with the engines at half speed. A heavy sea broke over the ship breaking the starboard wheel chain, the vessel falling into the trough of the sea. The captain managed to keep head to wind while the crew attempted to fix the wheel chain. By 10am they had mended the chain, but the second mate and two able seamen had been injured in the process, having been thrown across the deck by the lurching of the vessel. Also the glass of a cabin skylight, and the companions of the engine room and galley were smashed by waves, allowing water inside the hull.

By 4pm the gale had lessened and the captain considered he may make his intended port, rather than making a run for Cuxhaven in Germany.6 Hopes of an end to the storm were not however realised, during the night the winds again increased. Captain Rawson remained on the bridge throughout.4

Damage Astern

At about 4 o'clock Saturday morning, the mate, Henry Charles Shaw, came on the bridge and reported to Rawson that the ship had been swept clean aft. A cabin skylight, two aft companions, the starboard lifeboat and the jolly boat, had all washed away. They now had only the port lifeboat left. With the broken skylight and companions, water was filling the cabin and officers quarters aft, a problem that snowballs. As more water comes inside, the lower the stern of the ship sinks, and so more waves break over the stern, putting more water below, and so on. The situation had become desperate.6

Lifeboats Lost

Captain Rawson gave orders to clear the one remaining lifeboat. As the crew proceeded to get the boat ready, a wave crashed over them, smashing the boat and washing away a crewman named Yates, who had them joined at Shields. There was little hope that the vessel could be saved, and with no lifeboats there was no escape for the remaining crew. An improvised flare was burnt in the hope of attracting the attention of another vessel in the area, but throughout the rest of the night, no help came.

Captain Rawson went below to see the chief engineer, David Rowland. He and the men in the engine room stuck to their posts, keeping the engine running and doing their best the keep the ship afloat with the pumps.4

The Light of Day

As daylight broke, the crew welcomed the sight of a fishing smack. But the ships' stern was now completely under the water, and the smack had her trawl down, so would not be with them any time soon.4

Now, it is a significant fact that the smack was trawling when she hove up in sight of the collier. The sea was enough to make a strong steamer founder, and yet those fishermen were going on with their ordinary work. That is the North Sea fashion, nothing short of a hurricane interrupts the steady routine of the smackmen's toil.7

Thames Advertiser
10th of April 1888

The steamer in her disabled state, was however still in command, and was steered in the direction of the smack. As they steadily approached they were pleased to see the smack's crew hauling their gear. But there would be a further delay to their rescue. The Lena of Hull, while fishing in the stormy conditions had shipped a sea which knocked off their boat, smashing a hole in the bottom big enough for a man to get through. But the fishermen, being a resourceful sort, will find a way. They brought out some beef tins, which they tore up and nailed the resulting tinned sheets over the hole in the boat. They then lathered the inside with plenty of grease to seal any gaps.4

Rescue Underway

And in this little patched up vessel, the second, third and deck hand, took to the mountainous sea, making their way, with some difficulty, to the sinking steamer. On coming alongside they took on half the crew of the Tyne Queen, putting them back onto the smack. A second trip was made for the remaining crew, Captain Rawson being the last to leave his ship. Once onboard the Lena, the crew of the Tyne Queen were shown every kindness given dry clothes.4

The Tyne Queen sank at 11:30am on Saturday the 10th of December 1887, about 70 miles WNW of The Horn Reef off Denmark.6 The Lena arrived back in Hull on Tuesday the 13th of December.4

Crew's Rewards

The following day Captain Charles Rawson wrote a letter to William Lawson, skipper of the Lena.4

I have been to the Custom House here about this affair of the Tyne Queen, and the gentlemen advised me to write to the Board of Trade about your bravery in rescuing the crew of the said Tyne Queen. I explained all the circumstances to him, and have got my owners here to write me a letter to the Board of Trade, and it is most likely they will reward you and the crew of the Lena for your conduct and bravery. My owners here say they shall reward you, I hope you will get recompensed of goodness and kindness to the crew of men that, without your help, must have certainly shared the same fate as the man that went. Give my best respects to Mike, and the second hand and third hand, and also to that Black Sam, and accept the same from Yours sincerely,4

C. Rawson,
Master S.S. Tyne Queen
Dec 14th 1887
Board of Trade Silver Medal for Gallantry.

On the 19th Messrs Newton Bros. owners of the Tyne Queen, hosted a presentation at their offices on Prince's Dock Side, in recognition of the bravery shown by the captain and crew of the Lena. Mr George Beaforth Newton presented them with cash rewards.4

There was further recognition, in February 1888 silver medals were ordered for the men and presented at the Hull Local Marine Board. Skipper William Lawson received the Board of Trade Silver Medal for Humanity, and Michael Ganger (Geoghegan), John Thompson and Charles Hickford, each were awarded the Board of Trade Silver Medal for Gallantry in Saving Life at Sea with a gratuity of £2.8

This feat of the smacks-men will strike most people as being a very plucky one, and the gallantry shown will be appreciated thoroughly by those who know what a North Sea storm is really like. It is bad enough to face a cross grained sea in a good sound boat; but to risk such a trip in a boat coopered up with rags of tinned iron requires courage of first rate quality. It is a pleasure to say that such daring deeds are not uncommon, and it is only the reticence of the smacks-men that prevents us from learning many things that would make us proud to hear of.9

Jame's Gazette,
December 1887

Another Rescue

There was another rescue on the 15th of March 1888. That morning another Stather built smack, the Diamond H1191 collided with the smack Valiant H1144. As the Valiant foundered as a result of the collision, they raised a distress signal to which the Lena responded, taking the crew on board before the vessel sank. The crew of the Valiant were later transferred onto the cutter America and landed in London.10

Back To Work

Loading fish to the cutter

After all the glory it was business as usual for the Lena, and the loss of more crew. On the 2nd of September 1891, when a heavy sea struck the vessel while hauling gear. The jib was damaged, the bulwarks, ship's boat and fish-room hatch were all washed away along with deckhand Thomas Lamb.2

On th 18th of December 1892 another life was lost. Henry Fry, the third hand, drowned when the ship's boat capsized returning from boarding fish onto the cutter Columbia.2

A Change of Trade

The Lena continued fishing until 1898 when she was bought by Albert Reece of Sharpness in Gloucestershire for £200. Reece registered her at Gloucester and had her converted from trawler to coaster at a cost of £560. In 1902 a further £300 was spent having her class renewed in Lloyds for 6 years A1.11

The End of The Lena

What we do know is that the Lena was lost in a fire around the 21st of January 1904, beached in the Bay of Almeria, Southern Spain. How this came to happen however, is not entirely certain. A Board of Trade inquiry into the vessels loss, held on the 31st of May 1904 at the Cardiff Town Hall, heard two conflicting versions of events given by different witnesses. From the crew of four at the time of loss, the Master and Mate give one story, and an Able Seaman, named Kitcher gives another story, the other Able Seaman was not available to give evidence.11

The Final Months

Lena left the port of Cardiff on the 27th of April 1903 bound for Cadiz in South Western Spain with 100 tons of coal. She was under the command of Mr Edward Couch Enon, with a total crew of five hands. She remained in Cadiz for six weeks, until the 4th of June, then taking a cargo of salt across the Atlantic to St Johns, Newfoundland. A pilot left Cadiz with them until clear of the buoys, on leaving he instructed the master to keep well clear of the land. At 3:30 that afternoon, she went aground, and stayed fast until the flood tide. A tug then towed her back to Cadiz, where a Lloyds survey found her to be sound and not making any water. The voyage to St Johns commenced four days late, arriving there on the 22nd of July.

It was early November when the Lena left Newfoundland, sailing out of Conception Bay with a cargo of salted cod bound for Gibraltar, where they would receive further orders. It is here that the stories first begin to deviate.

The mate claims he discovered one of the lanyards of the main rigging was cut, when he pointed it out to the master, he said it was caused by the deadeye, and a new lanyard was rove. AB. Kitcher says the mate told him that the master himself had deliberately cut the lanyard.

The Master's Testimony

On reaching Gibraltar they were ordered on to in Cartagena, South East Spain to discharge the cargo. Her next cargo would be collected at Cadiz, so she left Cartagena after a stay of three weeks, on the 19th of January with 25 tons of ballast, and now just four crew. The dunnage from the previous cargo, which was mainly brush wood and fir poles, was stowed forward and aft.

On the 21st of January they were sailing past Almeria Bay with a fresh ENE gale behind them. About noon the master took the tiller and told the cook to get dinner ready, as he wanted to take in a second reef afterwards. He claims to have stayed on deck while the crew ate and about 1 or 2 o'clock they were on a course about 288° six miles off the coast. He then called all hands to come up and take in the second reef in. The vessel was brought two points to the north to steady the sail, but causing the vessel to pitch and roll more. The mate went down to the lazarette to fetch the second reef earing and left the hatch half open. As they had almost finished reefing, the master noticed smoke coming from the companion, but thought little of it, thinking it was just down-draught. When the reefing was complete, he asked someone to take the tiller while he looked below. He then found the coal fired bogey, used for heating in the cabin had fallen over, setting fire to the stores in the lazarette, which had spread, through an opening in the bulkhead to the dunnage in the hold. Due to the heat and smoke he was unable to enter the cabin. Water was taken in the two buckets they had, and thrown into the lazarette, but they were unable to extinguish it. He then closed the hatches in an attempt to smother the fire, but this did not work either. He then headed to land with the intention of beaching the burning ship.

They grounded about 100 to 150 feet from the sandy shore of Aljamilla Bay, dropping an anchor as they beached. The boat was then lowered and the crew got in, leaving the master on board. Several boats came out to them and the master sent for the nearest consul, which arrived promptly from Adra. The consul advised that they work to salvage as much as possible. They recovered the chronometer, sextant, charts and compasses, ect. and most of the sails and rigging. One notable item of value was not recovered. In a canvas bag, nailed down under the master's bunk was £28 worth of gold (equivalent to about £3000 today) which belonged to the ship. The master claims he could not recover this because of the heat, and presumed it was lost. The Lena burnt at the waters edge over night. The salvage items and hull were sold at auction for 900 pesetas. The master made no mention of the gold to the consul, until after the auction. He also failed to mention the loss to the ship owners, claiming he did not think it necessary to do so.

AB. Kitcher's Testimony

Here we see a different course of events from the Able Seaman, with the same consequence. According to Kitcher the master was constantly drunk during the three weeks stay in Cartagena. Which the master denied, admitting only that he was drunk on Christmas Day.

The second reef was taken in the day before the fire, not as the fire started, as stated by the master. Also the day before the fire the master had stated that he owed money to the ship and he would throw her away. The master attempted to run the vessel ashore, but Kitcher prevented him.

On the day of the fire the Kitcher had dinner with the master and mate in the cabin, contrary to the master saying he stayed on deck alone at dinner time. After dinner Kitcher went to his bunk, leaving the master and mate in the cabin. Shortly afterward, he was called on deck by the other AB. On reaching the deck he found the master at the tiller and the ship heading straight for the land. There was at this point no sign of any fire or smoke, or even any mention of a fire. According to Kitcher, the bogey that the master claimed had capsized and started the fire, was not lit. It was in fact not even set up, but stowed away in the lazarette.

When the ship beached they took to the boat, bags with the crew's effects and valuables such as the chronometer were loaded to the boat. Only after this was done, about 15 minutes after landing did the AB see any smoke, which came from the side near the starboard rigging. The vessel was then on fire.

The Findings of The Court

In spite of the obvious suspicions thrown up by Kitcher against the master, the court decided to side with the master's version of events. The main reason being that his story was corroborated closely by that of the mate. Whereas Kitchers version of events was not corroborated by any person, only the fact that the master's story did seem somewhat improbable to the court. Without evidence given by the other AB or the consul at Adra, there was no way of knowing if they would confirm Kitckers story.

The Court recognised that Kitcher had no motive for making any false accusations against the master, and had given the same story to the Receiver of Wreck in April. It was also noted that the master was exposed to some suspicion by his conduct regarding the missing gold. Failing to notify the owners or consul of its' loss and not taking any great measures to recover it from the wreck.

there is not such evidence of motive as, in the opinion of the Court, to constitute an adequate motive for destroying the vessel. Again, the master's evidence as to the accident to the bogey, improbable as it appears to the Court, is nevertheless, substantially corroborated by the mate, and although neither the evidence or demeanour of either at the inquiry inspired confidence, there is insufficient ground to warrant the finding that these witnesses conspired to state what is false and committed a felonious act rendering them amenable only to a court of criminal jurisdiction.

Board of Trade Wreck Report for The Lena
27th of April 1904

In the end the court decided that the loss of the vessel was due to the capsizing of the bogey, as described by the master and mate. The master was found to be in default for not ensuring that it was secured with proper and seamanlike care. As a result, the master of the Lena, Edward Couch Enon had his certificate suspended for six months.11

Vessel Details for Lena

Official Number:82548
Code Flags:QSFBCode flag - QuebecCode flag - SierraCode flag - FoxtrotCode flag - Bravo
Vessel Name:Lena
  • William John Robins of Hull 1890
  • Albert Reece of Sharpness 1898
  • W Marlow
  • Robert Morgan 1884
  • William Lawson 1887
  • George Hogben 1889
  • James Wilde Millray 1893
  • Frank Level 1895
  • Frederick Nowark 1896
  • H B Barstow 1898
  • George Rutter 1899
  • Edward Couch Enon 1903
  • Hull
  • Gloucester 1904
Notes:Fishing Number H1353.
Construction:Built as a smack for trawling. Later converted to a coaster.
Trade:North Sea Fishing. Coaster
Incidents:On January 12th 1885 about 2.30 am Spurn bearing SW about 250 miles on the great Fisher Bank. Whilst in the act of getting on board our fishing gear all hands being on deck at the time we shipped a heavy sea. Washing overboard our third hand Albert Brooks. also our boat, fishing gear life buoys, oars. Boat hook and boom also washing away Bulwarks and broke our foresail jib. We heard our 3rd hand shout twice astern among the wreckage. Being dark we could not see him and the boat being gone could do nothing to save him as our ship unmanageable. September 2nd 1891 North Sea. Thomas Lamb deck hand. Heavy sea striking vessel whilst hauling gear, by which deceased was swept away drowned. 181292 10am Henry Fry, 3rd hand. Drowned through the capsizing of the boat when returning from boarding fish on the cutter Columbia.
Fate:Destroyed by fire in the Bay of Almeria, Spain 21st Jan 1904.


  1. The Mercantile Navy Lists.
  2. Hull History Centre Fishing Vessel Crew Agreement Yearly Returns
  3. Hull Packet. 31st October 1884
  4. Hull Daily Mail. 14th 16th 19th December 1887
  5. www.tynebuiltships.co.uk
  6. Board of Trade Wreck Report for SS Tyne Queen, 1988
  7. Thames Advertiser. 10th April 1888
  8. www.searlecanada.org
  9. James's Gazette. December 1887
  10. Board of Trade Wreck Report for Diamond and Valiant, May 1888.
  11. Board of Trade Wreck Report for Lena, 1904

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© Background Photograph by Steve Smith.