The Smack ‘Burton Stather’

Written by S. Ablott
First Published


This was the second vessel launched at Wray & Son's yard in 1866 called Burton Stather. This 67 foot, single mast fishing smack was for Captain William Exon of Hull.1 Launched on the 16th of July, she was registered with the fishing number H583.2 There is a painting of her by C Richardson at Hull Maritime Museum.3

Fishing for Lead

On the 15th of August 1867 the Burton Stather landed in Hull carrying 22 pigs of lead.4 The cargo had been salvaged from the wreck of the James Cruikshank of Shields (ON: 2024) which had burnt at sea on the 2nd of that month. The 320 ton barque was on voyage from Carboneras to Aberdeen with a cargo of lead and esparto grass. The grass caught fire off the Outer Dowsing light and spread through the ship, forcing the crew of 12 into the boats. They stood by the burning vessel in case any cargo could be saved, but the lead went down with the ship. The crew were landed by the smack Golden Fleece of Lowestoft.5


By 1880 the smack belonged to James Woods of Tenby House, Hessle Road, Hull.1 It was not long before Woods found himself in trouble.

In November of 1880 the Burton Stather was in the Albert Dock, ready to go out for a fishing trip. A young boy named William Gardiner, 10 years of age, arrived on the promenade to see off his brother who was to start as cook on board the smack. The brother it seemed had not shown up, it was thought that he had absconded. James Woods, who was also on the promenade called to the mate Will this boy do?
and seized hold of the boy and forcibly handed over the struggling child to the mate on board the smack. As the tug towed them out, Woods called out to the skipper, William Wooton Keep that boy until I send another one out.

When William Gardiner's mother found out he had gone to sea, she went to Woods for his wages, but he refused to pay. It was then that she threatened to report him to the School Board Authorities. After the authorities had contacted Woods, a letter was sent out to the smack ordering them to bring the boy home. The boy was brought back on a steam cutter after three weeks at sea.6

James Woods, owner and William Wooton, skipper, were summoned to Hull Police Court on the 14th of January 1881 for employing a boy against the provisions of the education act. They appeared before Mr E C Twiss, Stipendiary Magistrate. Mr J D O'Donoghue, clerk to the Hull School Board, appeared for the prosecution.7

Mr. Twiss said that it seemed a monstrous thing to take a boy of that age to sea against his will for several weeks, who had never been to sea before, and who was quite unprepared. The charge was for employing the child under 14 years of age, and as he was bound to come to the conclusion that the boy had been employed in contravention of the Act, he must fine him 10s and costs.

Mr. O'Donoghue said that no evidence would be offered in the case of Wootton, the skipper, the charge against whom was dismissed.

Portsmouth Evening News
25th January 18817

Wilful Disobedience

Mr Woods and his skipper were back in the Police Court again in March, this time for the prosecution. The defendant was one of their crew men, Bernard McManus, charged with wilful disobedience. The skipper alleged that after a spell of bad weather, McManus was ordered to work the pump, but did so for only three minutes, after which he refused to work any longer. As a result, the fishing trip had to be cut short and the smack brought home.

The defendant claimed that the vessel was in an un-seaworthy condition and leaked very badly and that he had refused to work because he had been pumping for a full 14 hours and could not work any longer.

The second hand said the smack was not leaky, but the cook, called by the defendant said that water did come through the deck. Mr Woods said that the Burton Stather was one of the best smacks in Hull and was seaworthy in every respect. He went on to complain about how the new apprentice act caused great inconvenience to smack owners. They were obliged to employ men such as the defendant who came to sea unprepared, without proper things and when bad weather was experienced, they could not work. He said that before the act came into force he employed 21 apprentices, he now had only 2.

The magistrate said that from the evidence, it appeared that there was no good reason for McManus to refuse work and it was a very serious thing for the smack owner to cut short a voyage through his disobedience. McManus was committed to gaol for 30 days.8

Bearer of Bad News

In March 1882 while at sea, crew from the Burton Stather boarded another Stather built smack, the Greyhound H728, to hand some papers to one of their crew. Richard Rycroft was handed a newspaper with a report of the examination of Osmond Otto Brand, skipper of the smack Rising Sun, who was in custody for the murder at sea of 14 year old apprentice boy William Papper. An infamous case of extreme cruelty, not unlike the murder of Peter Hughes of the Stather built smack Gleaner. Rycroft was previously Brand's second hand on the Rising Sun. He was also handed a statement that a warrant had been issued for his arrest in connection with the murder. He did not sleep for the rest of the voyage.9

The Great Storm of March 1883

The end of the smack Burton Stather came in one of the worst ever storms to hit the East Coast fleet, on the 6th of March 1883. The vessel was lost in the North Sea with all hands.2

George Dale-Skipper
Charles Tattersall25Second Hand
Charles Marshall18Deck Hand
Robert Good-Cook
The crew of the Burton Stather, March 18832

Huge Losses

There were heavy losses to many ports on the east coast, in what was considered one of the worst disasters ever to have hit the North Sea fishing fleet. The Humber ports of Hull and Grimsby suffered the heaviest losses. Hull lost 32 smacks and 231 fishermen, leaving 65 widows and over 200 orphans and aged parents. Grimsby lost 12 smacks and 96 fishermen, leaving 34 widows and 67 orphans under 14 years old. The national total was said to be 982 men lost, 146 widows and 400 orphans. Not to mention losses to the European fleets such as Denmark.

There have been many dreadful gales on the North Sea within living memory; but that March breeze is always spoken of as being the worst as far as smacksmen are concerned. The heaviest loss fell on Hull and Grimsby, and when on that sorry Sunday I got the Uncle Tom safely into Hull, I went to see the crippled smacks which had managed, like myself, to run back to safety, I found that they entirely filled four docks, and some of them were so badly beaten and damaged that it was wonderful that they escaped at all. It was pitiful to see the battered craft - but even that was easier to look on than to go into streets where nearly every house had orphans and a widow. You can patch up ships well enough, and make them as strong as ever they were - sometimes stronger; but you can't do much with broken hearts - and there were plenty of 'em after that big breeze in March.

Walter Wood
From the book North Sea Fishers and Fighters10

The Burton Stather was one of five smacks built on the Stather to be lost that day. The others were the Bernice (H1052), North Sea (H926), Harrier (H703) and Grimsby smack Emu (GY239).

Extreme Weather

The first days of March in 1883 saw normal temperatures. On the 5th there was a broad airstream from WNW coming into the North Sea from the North Atlantic. To the west of Ireland was an anticyclone (1043mb). Pressure was falling quickly through the day with the depression moving SE. In Hamburg pressure fell 34mb in 24 hours. On the morning of the 6th the low was about 984mb in the SE Baltic; pressure on the west of Ireland was 1038; this created a great northerly gale in the North Sea. A force 9 was recorded on the west of Norway, force 10 at Wick, and 9 at Aberdeen. Wind speeds between Hull and Dogger Bank would be from 80 to 90 knots. There was a severe frost with hail and snow showers, the temperature in Scotland did not exceed zero all day.11

Weather charts for 6th of March 188313

One witness to the conditions on the Dogger Bank that day was Alfred Vine, former admiral of the Red Cross Fleet. He said that the wind was strong, though he had seen worse gales on the North Sea, it was not exceptionally strong. But the sea was extremely heavy, he had never seen a sea like it before, he had never seen it curl so high and break in the same way. He believed this was caused by the tidal wave being accelerated by the northerly wind, hitting the rising shallow ground of the northern edge of the Dogger Bank with great force. Many of the smacks were lost in the shallow broken waters of the Dogger Bank; the waves being high enough to fall upon the vessels, smashing in hatches and tearing away masts and the decks with them.12

This cold stormy weather set the precedent for the rest of March that year, with frequent hard frosts and wintery showers. There were strong winds prevailing from the north and east through the rest of the month with a mean temperature of just 1.9°C. This was recorded as one of the coldest Marches for 300 years in England, with only 1785, 1674 and 1667 being colder. After several days of strong gales, ranging from NE to NW unusually high tides were recorded on the 10th and 11th, 1.3 meters above normal spring level in boston.11

Vessel Details for Burton Stather

Official Number:56227
Fishing Number:H583
Vessel Name:Burton Stather
  • William Exon 1866
  • Tom Shawler of Hull 1876
  • James Wood of Hull 1880
  • Henry Toozes
  • William Exon
  • David Andrews 1868
  • William Wooton 1881
  • George Dale 1883
  • Hull
Trade:North Sea fishing.
Fate:Lost 6th March 1883 in a storm, North Sea. All 4 crew lost.
Image:View Image Picture


  1. The Mercantile Navy Lists.
  3. BBC Your Paintings
  4. Shields Daily Gazette - 19th August 1867
  5. Hull Packet - 16th August 1867
  6. Hull Packet - 28th January 1881
  7. Portsmouth Evening News - 25th January 1881
  8. Hull Packet - 11th March 1881
  9. Leeds Mercury - 20th March 1882
  10. North Sea Fishers and Fighters - Walter Wood
  11. Historic Storms of the North Sea, British Isles and Northwest Europe - H H Lamb, Knud Frydendahl
  12. Hull Packet - 1st June 1883

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© 2024 Burton upon Stather Heritage Group

© Background Photograph by Steve Smith.