Written by S. Ablott
First Published


The Ethel was a ketch rigged fishing smack, launched in the March of 1884 for smack-owner Robert Hellyer. The managing owner was Henry Toozes of Hessle Road, Hull. She was 78 tons and 76.2 feet in length, registered in Hull as H1389.


As with many of the Humber smacks, the Ethel had her share of incidents while fishing in the North Sea, with various collisions, accidents to crew and heavy seas.

On the 29th of January 1885, Ethel was fishing 70 miles SE of Spurn Point when she collided with the Hull smack Oak (H919) while the two vessels were harding up to each other.

On the 31st of January 1888 the Ethel was on a fleeting voyage. While boarding fish to the cutter in the smacks' boat, the third hand, John E Abramson, severely crushed his finger. It was trapped inbetween his and another boat while alongside the cutter.

The Apprentice

Toward the end of that year the smack had a new apprentice on board; Charles Hawkins was employed as apprentice cook on the Ethel. On the 26th of December the skipper, John Holroyd punished him for using insulting language toward him. Hawkins was thrashed across the back with a two foot length of line.

This kind of punishment was not unusual on the smacks as a means of maintaining order among the crew; Though there were some instances where the right to punish was abused, one of the worst cases being that of the Gleaner (H678), another Stather built smack.

Nearly a year later, on the 9th of December 1889, Charles Hawkins absconded from the Ethel. Again, it was not uncommon for apprentices to abscond from smacks. Many were coerced into the work, or had little idea what they were letting themselves in for when they signed a term of indenture. Many hated the hardships of life at sea and ran away; those caught faced prison, but for some prison was considered a more comfortable option. The prisons of the day near the Humber region were full of smacks' apprentices.

Hawkins was committed for 21 days. As the smack was ready for sea, lying in St Andrew's Dock on the 9th, Hawkins did turn up with his bag of sea clothes, which were provided by his employer. But instead of boarding, he threw the bag down on the roadway and ran off. It was then noticed that the sea boots were missing from the bag of clothes; it transpired that the 16 year old had sold the boots for 2s 6d.

Further Accidents

Earlier in 1889, on the 7th of May, the Ethel had her bowsprit carried away by the smack Gracie (H1402). This was put down to neglect of watch on the Ethel.

The Cumberland of Grimsby

On the 13th February 1890 the Grimsby smack Cumberland (GY454) headed out for the fishing grounds of the North Sea; the Ethel left Hull the same day. On the 17th at 3pm the Cumberland was about 40 miles ENE of Spurn, beating on the port tack. The weather was clear with a fresh breeze. The skipper of the Cumberland spotted another smack about four miles off the starboard bow. The other vessel remained on the same course for some time, as the two drew closer.

The same afternoon, skipper of the Ethel went below leaving the fourth hand in charge, telling him to call if he were needed. About 4pm the fourth hand spotted the Cumberland, but expected that they would clear. Only at about 4:30 when the two were about 200 yards apart, did the fourth hand see a collision inevitable, he then put the helm hard up, eased off the mizzen and went to call the skipper. As the skipper came up the cabin steps, the Ethel struck the Cumberland on the starboard bow, cutting right into her. The crew of the Cumberland jumped onto the Ethel and as the smacks parted the Cumberland sank.

A Board of Trade inquiry into the collision was held at Hull Town Hall on the 21st and 23rd of May that year. The court found that the Ethel was not close hauled and did not comply with article 14, subsection A of the regulations for preventing collisions at sea. The skipper of the Ethel was blamed for leaving the fourth hand alone in charge of the deck; though the deck hand only was found in default and no order was made against him.

Also in May that year, on the 12th, there was another finger injury to a crew man. Fourth hand, C Zimmock lost the end of the second finger of his right hand when it got trapped in the capstan while heaving the boat.

On the 10th of November 1892 the main mast broke. It was said to be due to a flaw in the mast.

On the 22nd of December 1894 about 9pm, the Ethel shipped a heavy sea which carried away the boat, jibs and bulwarks.

The Silver King

The Silver King (H1448) was another Hull smack, both smacks now belonged to the Hull Steam Fishing & Ice Company. On the 2nd of March 1895 both were fishing with the Red Cross Fleet, about 220 miles ENE of Spurn.

At about 2am it was dark with a strong wind blowing. Both smacks had their gear down when the fleet Admiral gave the order for jibing over, to turn around on the starboard tack. Robert Right, the mate on the Ethel, failed to notice the signal. The Silver King struck the Ethel on her bow with her starboard quarter, displacing her stem on the port side.

The two smacks were alongside for about twenty minutes, only when they parted did the crew of the Ethel discover that their vessel was making water and they set to work with the pumps. In spite of their efforts with the pumps, the water level inside the smack was increasing, rather than diminishing; by 3:30 they were showing flares as a signal of distress. The signal was spotted by another smack, the F de Maerschalk, but she had her gear down, so was unable to give immediate assistance.

By 7 o'clock the water in the hold was about two feet off the deck. The crew of five decided to launch the boat and risk making their own way to the F de Maerschalk, through the heavy sea.

When about half way between the two smacks, the boat was hit by a large wave, the crew feared she would capsize. The small boat was almost filled with water, but miraculously managed to stay afloat just long enough for them to reach the smack. As they boarded the F de Maerschalk the Ethel went down.

The crew were then transferred onto the steam cutter Europe (H1276), which landed them in London as they delivered the fish. On the 5th the Europe set off from London taking the crew home to Hull, arriving in the morning of the 6th in St Andrew's Dock.

Vessel Details for Ethel

Official Number:88173
Fishing Number:H1389
Vessel Name:Ethel
  • Robert Hellyer
  • Henry Toozes of Hull
  • Hull Steam Fishing & Ice Co.Ltd 1895
  • Robert Nicholson 1884
  • George Harvey 1887
  • James Jones 1888
  • John Holroyd 1889
  • George Beaumont 1890
  • E Dixon 1891
  • Thomas Pearce 1892
  • James Gibbs 1893
  • G Richmond 1894
  • H Brown / W Giles 1895
  • Hull
Construction:Iron Bolts
Trade:North Sea fishing.
Incidents:On the 29th Jan 1885, in collision with Oak a smack. Crew J Wordingham 2nd hand, Morris Sultan 3rd hand apprentice, W Ramsey 4th hand. On 7th May 1889 North sea, carried away bowsprit smack Gracie of Hull came across our bows.
Fate:Lost in collision with Hull smack Silver King 2nd March 1895. Crew escaped in the boat.

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© Background Photograph by Steve Smith.