The Brigantine ‘Harriet Williams’

Written by S. Ablott
First Published
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The Harriet Williams, launched on the 4th of August 1866, was originally rigged as a brigantine, registered at Llanelli belonging to Thomas Stone. Her hull was sheathed with zinc for the Mediterranean trade.

Wreck and Recovery

In February 1874 the Harriet Williams went ashore in Dunnycove Bay, Co Cork, Ireland. The crew of seven men were all rescued by the Chief Officer of Her Majesty's Coastguard, William Taylor and his men, in the Coastguard gig. The ship was feared to be a total wreck, but evidently she was recovered and repaired, and continued to sail for many years after.

The Schooner Paulus and Hernts

On Friday the 25th of June 1880, it was reported that the ship landed in Plymouth carrying five sailors from the Dutch Schooner Paulus and Hernts. The Dutch schooner was taking fire bricks from Briton Ferry to St Petersburg. On Friday the 18th they were mid-channel off the Eddystone Lighthouse in foggy weather when they were hit by a large three masted steamer. The crew hailed the steamer, asking for help and the ships' name, both of which were refused. The steamer, which was moving slowly at the time, increased speed and disappeared into the fog. The crew of the schooner took to their boat, just in time as the pressure of trapped air beneath the deck of the sinking hull blew out the deck, causing her to go down suddely, head first. As the crew pulled toward Plymouth, they saw hope in the Russian barque Mahino. Pulling alongside and asking to be taken on board, they were again refused. After several hours in the boat they were eventually picked up when the Harriet Williams crew spotted them.

Rough Weather

The Harriet Williams saw more bad weather in November 1884. After leaving Brake, Germany, for Newcastle in ballast, she had to put into Cuxhaven. She had lost some sails, was leaking and the pumps were choked. Then in March 1886, after leaving Shields, she had to be towed into Yarmouth through stress of weather.

Crew Lost

On the 10th of December 1891 the Harriet Williams was moored in Shields Harbour at the Mill Dam, laden with coal. Two crewmen, George Jacobs and Philip James Brown obtained shore leave and went ashore about 7pm that evening. Returning to the landing at about ten to eleven, they hailed their ship, but got no reply. They then asked a sculler man to take them aboard, but were refused because they had been drinking. They then took a small boat that was moored at the landing which had no oars. Taking to the water, they tried to paddle the boat with the bottom boards, but were caught in a westerly squall. The boat drifted with the wind and the water became rough, eventually capsizing the boat, throwing the two men into the water.

George Jacobs was rescued by a sculler man, John Hurst, and taken ashore. After being brought round, he was then taken to the River Police Station where he was looked after. Philip Brown was not seen until the following morning when William Harris found his body, along with the boat just below the penny ferry, about a quarter of a mile from the Mill Dam. Ordinary Seaman Jacobs said that the 22 year old, from Fowey, had sunk immediately after going in the water.

Damage in Grangemouth

In July 1895 the Harriet Williams had arrived at Grangemouth from Rotterdam with scrap iron. On entering the harbour, she collided with the quay wall, causing her anchor to damage the bow. She was towed up river and put on the ground for repairs.

Girl Rescued by Crewman

The ship was in Exeter in August 1905. On the 18th a young girl was playing by the canal, near the basin when she fell into the water. A boy who saw her struggling raised the alarm. A sailor from the Harriet Williams plunged himself into the canal, and with some difficulty, recovered the girl from the water. After artificial respiration was applied, she showed signs of life, and was then taken home.

The Smack Myrtle

In 1909, now belonging to her final owner, Edward Stephens of Fowey, the Harriet Williams was herself involved in a collision at sea. On the morning of Saturday the 6th of February she was carrying a cargo of coal from Newcastle to Guernsey when she collided with the Lowestoft fishing smack Myrtle, which sank about three miles north of the Outer Gabbard Lightship.

The owners and crew of Myrtle tried to claim against the owner of Harriet Williams for damages and loss of property. The action was dismissed, the court ruling that the accident was due to poor look-out on the part of the smack.

Collision With a Steamer

In January 1910 the Harriet Williams had left Dunkirk, bound for Cork with a cargo of manure. She collided with a steamer, the name of which was unknown, that was travelling east. She was towed into Dover on the 7th with a broken bowsprit and considerable damage to the starboard bow.

World War One

By the time of World War One there were precious few merchant ships from Wray’s yard remaining. Many of the remaining fishing smacks had been sold abroad. As if seafaring was not already a perilous enough occupation, the outbreak of war meant it got a whole lot worse, with this war seeing the beginning of a new threat to shipping.

Looking at the half yearly agreements for the year 1915, held at the National Maritime Museum, we see the Harriet Williams sailing around the UK coast under Captain George Bishop.

Falmouth --- 12/1/1915
Guernsey 20/1/1915 12/2/1915
Poole 11/3/1915 30/3/1915
Fowey 29/5/1915 9/6/1915
Glasgow 8/7/1915 10/7/1915
Fowey 11/8/1915 24/8/1915
Preston 8/9/1915 11/9/1915
Fowey 2/10/1915 8/10/1915
Preston 22/10/1915 26/10/1915
Fowey 1/12/1916 8/12/1915
Preston 17/1/1916 ---
Voyages of the Harriet Williams in 1915.
CrewAgeBirthplaceLast ShipDate SignedPlace SignedCapacity Engaged Date LeftPlace LeftCause Left
George Bishop 49 Torquay Same Ship 10/7/1915 Glasgow Master 18/1/1916 Preston Discharged
J Parsons 29 Guernsey Same Ship 10/7/1915 Glasgow Mate --- Preston Discharged
E Martin 43 Guernsey Same Ship 10/7/1915 Glasgow Able Seaman 14/8/1915 Fowey Discharged
J Jorgensen 49 Norway Same Ship 10/7/1915 Glasgow Able Seaman 11/8/1915 Fowey Deserter
G Marshall 18 Liverpool Same Ship 10/7/1915 Glasgow Ordinary Seaman 17/1/1916 Preston Discharged
C Perren 15 Poole Same Ship 10/7/1915 Glasgow Cook 18/1/1916 Preston Discharged
A Mortensen 55 Denmark Milderred 24/8/1915 Fowey Able Seaman 8/9/1915 Preston Discharged
James Hurst 16 Wigan Cormendie 11/9/1915 Preston Able Seaman 2/10/1915 Fowey Discharged
Ben Vermen 36 Belgium Emogene 4/10/1915 Fowey Able Seaman 17/1/1916 Preston Discharged
James Radcliff 65 --- Ben B 8/10/1915 Fowey Seaman & Cook 22/10/1915 Preston Discharged
Phillip Humphrys 27 Liverpool Jane Slade 26/10/1915 Preston Able Seaman 1/12/1915 Fowey Discharged
John Murphy 38 St Johns Pedestrian 8/12/1915 Fowey Able Seaman 18/1/1916 Preston Discharged
The Crew of the Harriet Williams in the latter half of 1915.

The Harriet Williams was the first of two Stather ships to become the victim of German submarines in 1917 during World War One. The other was the schooner Florence Muspratt in September of that year.

Claus Lafrenz.jpg
Claus Lafrenz of UB-18

The ship, now rigged as a schooner, was travelling from London to Le Havre with a cargo of pitch, when on the 28th of February, she was stopped by UB-18 under the command of Kapitänleutnant Claus Lafrenz, and scuttled 15nm NNE of Cap d'Antifer. There were no fatalities.

UB-18 was a prolific destroyer of vessels, with a count of 128 ships sunk, totalling 131,565 tons, in a short career of just under two years. This came to an end on the 9th of December 1917 when the U-boat met an unlikely nemesis in the form of the British trawler Ben Lawer which rammed and sank the submarine with the loss of all 24 crew.

Vessel Details for Harriet Williams

Official Number:53355
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Vessel Name:Harriet Williams
  • Stone & Co Honner 1874
  • Michael Flanagan of Youghal Cork 1880
  • George H Bate of Fowey 1882
  • J E Hocken 1894
  • Henry John Newman 1899
  • Edward Stephens of Fowey 1907
  • Gurnett Gosnell 1874
  • John Smith 1894
  • H J Newman 1899
  • George Bishop 1915
  • Llanelli
  • Fowey 1888
Notes:Appears earlier in Lloyds register as a Brigantine, but 1882 onward as a schooner.
Construction:Sheathed with felt and zinc. Iron bolts. Damage repairs in 1872 and 1875.
Trade:Llanelli, France and Mediterranean.
Incidents:Feb 1874, wrecked at Dunnycove Bay, Co Cork, later recovered and repaired.1909, While carrying coal from Newcastle to the Channel Islands, Harriet Williams collided with the Lowestoft fishing smack Myrtle, sinking her about three miles north of the Outer Gabbard Lightship in the North Sea.
Fate:Sunk by German Uboat UB18, 28th Feb 1917 15 mile NNE off Cape dAntifer. Travelling from London to Le Harve. No fatalities.


  1. Lloyd's Register of Ships. - 1869 to 1899.
  2. The Mercantile Navy Lists.
  3. Shields Daily Gazette.
  4. Sheffield Independent.
  5. Northern Echo.
  6. Western Times.
  7. The Merthyr Telegraph - 25th June 1880.
  8. The Dundee Courier - 8th February 1909.
  9. Dover Express.
  10. Half-Yearly Agreement and Account of Voyages and Crew - Harriet Williams 1915, National Maritime Museum.
  11. - Ships hit during WWI.

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Creative Commons. Background Photograph by anoldent. Used with modifications under license.