The Schooner ‘Oxford Eight’

Written by S. Ablott
First Published


The Oxford Eight was a schooner rigged fishing smack. Unusual in that smacks were more commonly ketch or dandy rigged. She was launched on the 8th of March 1870 at Burton Stather and registered in Hull. She was at that time Hulls biggest fishing smack.

On the 8th instant a fine trawling schooner, named the Oxford Eight, was launched from the yard of Messrs John Wray and Son, Burton Stather, Lincolnshire. She is the longest and largest vessel which has yet been built for the trade, and will be fitted with patent reefers, patent capstan, and all the most recent improvements. She is owned by Mr John Harrison, Belle Vue House, Hull.

Hull Packet
18th March 1870

In April she had river trials before joining the fishing fleet in the North Sea.

Mr John Harrison, smackowner, has just added to his fleet of smacks the schooner Oxford Eight of over 60 tons register, built by Messrs Wray and Son, of Burton Stather, she is the longest fishing vessel belonging to the port. Fore and aft schooners of her class are now being brought into use for fishing purposes, three or four having been added to the port during the past few months. The Oxford Eight had a trial trip on Tuesday to Spurn and back, and fully realised the expectation of her.

Hull Packet
8th April 1870

Disaster at Donna Nook

By 1874 the schooner belonged to Josiah Furn of Hull, who was also skipper. In February that year they were fishing on the Dutch Coast with a crew of five hands. On the 24th they set sail for home, heading for the Humber. At 9pm on the 25th they were 2 miles east of the Outer Dowsing lightship. It was hazy with a fresh south easterly breeze of about force 5 of 6. On reaching the lightship a course of NW by W was set and maintained.

The crew kept watch for the lights of land, knowing they were getting close, they saw no lights but did not use the lead to test the depth. At about midnight the vessel struck the sands of Donna Nook and grounded. The sea washed right over the vessel, washing away the main hatch and filling her with water and sand. The crew climbed the rigging to escape the waves and stay above water, except the boy apprentice, a lad under 18, named Brooks. He was frightened to go up, fearing the mast would fall. The other crewman tried to get him to go up the rigging, but they failed; the boy was washed away and drowned.

The surviving four crew remained on the mast until daylight, suffering the cold February night, before being taken off by shore horses. The vessel was recovered from the beach on the afternoon of Sunday the 1st of March by Marshall Parkinson and towed to Hull by the tug Spurn of Grimsby. The salvors got £90 for the ship and £25 for saving the stores. The hull was not too badly damaged about £100 covering repairs.

There was of course a loss of life, an inquiry would be held into the incident. This was on the 2nd of May. Mr T H Travis, Stipendiary Magistrate, on delivering judgement said the master, Mr Furn had not committed any act of cruelty or neglect leading to the boy's death. But it was considered an act of great imprudence for the skipper to hold fast as he did so close to land. Not seeing the lights on shore, he should have used the lead and approached with more caution, at a slower speed with less press on the sails. For this reason the master was to blame for the loss. With Furn having no master's certificate, no action was taken against him.

To Scarborough

By 1880 the Oxford Eight was the property of Charles Gibson of Hull and re-registered at Scarborough.

Aground Again

On the 26th of January 1882, she went aground again on the return from the fishing grounds. This time she ended up stranded that night opposite the Coastguard Station at Robin Hood's Bay. Again this was not the end of the schooner, as she continued fishing for some years after.

Injured Crew

In 1885 she belonged to William Thomas Sellars of 10, Princess Street, Scarborough.

In 1893 one crewman, named John Henry Howes of Scarborough, was severely injured on board during a storm on the 26th of February. A heavy sea broke on board, lifting him off his feet and smashing him against the capstan. He suffered a severe scalp wound and had badly bruised right leg and shoulder. On arrival back on port, early in the morning of the 4th of March, he was taken immediately to the hospital for treatment.

A New Trade

In 1897 the Oxford Eight had a new owner and a new trade. The new owner was Mr Wilknson, a shipbroker from Sunderland, the managing owner being John Scott of 24, Stansfield Street, Monkwearmouth, Sunderland. She ceased fishing and was now a collier, working mostly in the North East of England and East Scotland, between Sunderland and Aberdeen.


On Wednesday the 4th of May 1898 the Oxford Eight left Granton, Edinburgh, with a cargo of 100 tons of coal for the gas works at Stonehaven under Captain Lamb. On the evening of the 5th she reached Stonehaven. But on entering the Harbour at half tide, she grounded at the entrance and filled with water. At high tide she was completely submerged. On the 9th men worked to remove the coal from the wreck so it could be raised and removed from the harbour entrance. This time the schooner would not recover to sail another day, she was a complete wreck.

Vessel Details for Oxford Eight

Official Number:60200
Vessel Name:Oxford Eight
  • John Harrison of Hull 1870
  • Josiah Furn of Hull 1875
  • Charles Gibson of Hull 1880
  • William Thomas Sellers of Scarborough 1885
  • John Scott of Sunderland 1898
  • Josiah Furn 1875
  • Thompson 1893
  • J Lamb 1898
  • Hull 1870
  • Scarborough 1880
Trade:North Sea Fishing, later cargo.
Incidents:Ran aground at Donna Nook on the 25th Feb 1874. Apprentice Brooks drowned, the rest of the crew were saved and vessel later recovered. Stranded at Robin Hoods Bay 26th Jan 1882. Crewman John Henry Howes seriously injured in a storm 26th Feb 1893.
Fate:Wrecked entering Stonehaven Harbour on the 5th of May 1898. On voyage from Bridgeness to Stonehaven with coal.

Last updated

© 2024 Burton upon Stather Heritage Group

Creative Commons. Background Photograph by Bruno Girin. Used with modifications under license.