The Ketch ‘James Smith’

Written by S. Ablott
First Published


This ketch rigged fishing smack, built by Joseph Garside, was launched at Burton Stather on the 25th of November 1886, belonging to Mr Samuel G Smith of 34, Hainton Street, Weelsby.1 Registered first at Grimsby with the fishing number GY61.2

The Heartless Skipper

We know little about the vessel until it's eventual loss in 1897. But a report in the Hull Daily Mail from 1887, tell us that she must have been working in the north of the North Sea and landing the catch in Aberdeen in December 1886 when the vessel was new. It also gives us an insight in to personal life of one of her first skippers.3

Heartless Desertion by Intended Husband

Allegations Against a Grimsby Skipper

A case of desertion that presents some features of heartlessness on the part a Grimsby skipper has come under the notice the detective department, the Hull Police and the Hull Vigilance Society during the last week. It appears from the statement of the young woman that sometime about last Christmas she was engaged at a refreshment bar in Aberdeen, when Alexander Cuttings, skipper of the smack James Smith, of Grimsby, made her acquaintance.

Cuttings at the time was cruising off the coast of Aberdeen, and for some time afterwards paid Helen Grant (for such is the young woman's name) regular visits as he landed his catches to be sent to London. After a while he hinted that he wished to take back to Grimsby a Scotch lassie as his wife and Miss Grant being asked consented be his wife.

Arrangements were made accordingly, and it was decided that the marriage should take place in England. Cuttings placed in Miss Grant's hands sufficient cash to convey her to Sunderland. She then gave her situation, took a cabin passage to Newcastle, and went from there to Sunderland. There she was met by her affianced, who directed her and proceed to Scarborough, and she complied with his request. Here she was again joined by Cuttings, and the banns were duly published in one of the churches of that town. The marriage was to have taken place shortly afterwards, but in the meantime the skipper took sail for Grimsby, and left Miss Grant to her fate.

The dilemma in which she was thus placed, she took counsel with the clergyman who had published the banns. He asked her why she had not been married before she left the land of her birth, and she replied I did'na want to be bought for English gold in mi country. Finding she could obtain no redress at Scarborough She proceeded to Grimsby, where she found Cuttings at breakfast in his lodgings.

He refused to fulfil the obligation which he had bound himself, and furthermore objected to reinstate her in the place from which she had been enticed in his protestations of affection.

Thus deserted almost penniless, Miss Grant came to Hull, where she has met with every kindness from of the Sheltering Home, Mason-street, and will be sent home from the Alexandra Pier to night, Mr Priestman and the Detective-Inspector having procured her the passage.3

Hull Daily Mail
6th of May 1887

New Owners

In 1889 she was sold back to Joseph Garside, who had built her. In 1894 she was sold again to Messrs Hewett & Co of London, to join their Yarmouth fleet of smacks.1

The Final Voyage

The James Smith left Gorleston on the 16th of December 1896 for Dogger Bank with a crew of six men. At Dogger Bank she joined Hewett's fleet, and began trawling and boarding fish to the cutter into the new year.

On the 7th of January 1897 the sea was too rough to safely board the fish, so the fleet would lay to on the starboard tack and await better weather.

The Henry and Lydia

Another Smack belonging to Hewett's fleet had got her trawl at 8 o'clock that morning, but was unable to board the catch because of the weather. That was the Henry and Lydia, built by Fredrickson & Fawcett at Barton on Humber in 1878. They spent the morning clearing the deck and after breakfast, which they had around noon, the skipper, John Barber, went below leaving the third hand, Henry Johnson, in charge and the fourth hand on look out. It was normal practice in Hewett's fleet, when the skipper was not on deck, for the third and fourth hands, or the second and fifth hands to take turns on watch. The wind was a south easterly gale and the smack was sailing on the port tack, heading South-by-West (191°) with sails reefed, making about 4 knots.

At about 3pm, the skipper had been up on deck, they could see the tail end of their fleet about one or two miles off their starboard bow. As the Barber went back below, he told Johnson to Let her come up to the fleet, then tack. The third hand spotted a smack about a quarter of a mile off the starboard bow. The fourth hand also spotted it, but did not see any need to report it and they continued their course. Only when the smack was about three ship lengths from them, did Johnson put the tiller hard up and ordered the fourth hand to slack the mizzen sheet and call the skipper up. As Barber came on deck he saw the smack about two lengths off and exclaimed Good God! We are going to sink one another. But it was too late to do anything, they struck the smack on the port bow with such force that it knocked her round onto the port tack. The Henry and Lydia's bowsprit had broken off making it difficult to manoeuvre, but they got onto the starboard tack when clear of the other smack.


They then noticed the crew on the other smack getting their boat on the rail and the smack setting down in the water. They did their best to approach the smack to offer assistance, but ten minutes after the collision it sank and on reaching the spot where she went down, there were only fish boxes and life belts floating in the water. No sign of the crew or the boat. They cruised the area for about an hour, but found nothing.

The smack that sank was the James Smith. The six men on board who all drowned were A E Jarmin, W Hatch, C Denton, G Earle, W Woolnough and C Canott.

The Inquiry

The Board of Trade held a formal investigation into the incident at the Town Hall in Yarmouth on the 2nd and 3rd of February 1897. The court found the third hand, Henry Charles Gilbert Johnson in default for gross negligence, considering him solely responsible for the loss of life and property.4

Vessel Details for James Smith

Official Number:93922
Fishing Number:GY61
Vessel Name:James Smith
  • Samuel G Smith 1886
  • Joseph Garside of Worksop 1889
  • Messrs Hewett & Co 1894
  • Alexander Cutting 1887
  • John William Green 1887
  • John T Raby 1888
  • S Smith 1889
  • Charles Pettifor 1889
  • Frederick William Davies 1891
  • Harry Bellamey 1891
  • Matthew Smith 1891
  • James Westrup 1892
  • G Thompson 1893
  • W G Rouse 1894
  • Grimsby 1886-94
  • William White 1888
  • Yarmouth 1894
Trade:North Sea fishing.
Fate:Sank near Dogger Bank after a collision with Henry and Lydia 7th Jan 1897. All 6 crew lost.


  1. The Mercantile Navy Lists.
  3. Hull Daily Mail.
  4. Board of Trade Wreck Report for James Smith and Henry & Lydia, 1897

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© 2024 Burton upon Stather Heritage Group

© Background Photograph by Steve Smith.