Articles: Shipwreck

Fisherman, deep-sea mariner, boatman, smuggler and pilot

WH Stanton took on virtually any seafaring job available…

Deal native William Henry Stanton (1803-1878) first went to sea at the age of 11.

By the time he passed his examination as a Cinque Ports pilot around the age of 30, he had been a fisherman, deep-sea mariner, boatman, smuggler and pilot. We know much of this story from his autobiography, written during the winter of 1860-61, now in Deal Museum. It is an intriguing if curious volume, containing episodes from his life, interspersed with observations, songs, poetry, even the occasional illustration.

In 1826, after a series of overseas voyages to India and South America:

‘He left of foreign voyages entirely and stuck to the boating business for some years and bought the sixth part of a set of boats. The largest of these was called the Ox, a second class boat call’d the Fox, together with a galley, a punt and materials of all descriptions for working at wrecks on the Goodwin.’

The Ox was a Deal lugger built in 1807, registered to Thomas Cottle. This section of the autobiography contains many colourful accounts of shipwreck and salvage over a period of about 15 years. From these stories we can see that several large Deal vessels were often in action together. On New Year’s eve 1830, the Dart and Stour luggers worked with the Ox to rescue the crew and salvage the cargo of the Alexander of Hamburg. There are many references to the hazards of life as a boatman, the poor rewards for salvage, and the wear and damage to boats often up to 20 years old.

Perhaps this lack of reward tempted William to try smuggling. Goods (tea, silks and satin ribbon) were brought from Calais in a French boat. After several successful runs, the vessel was seized by the coast blockade soon after landing, with William escaping arrest. He was tempted again three years later, when he was asked to recover spirits sunk in the anchorage off Deal. He was captured but was able to persuade the magistrates that he was innocent, claiming he had been fishing for smelt.

By early 1832, the conditions of Deal boatmen and their dependents became so desperate that a petition requesting relief was made to both Trinity House and the House of Commons. William was prominent in pleading the case, which resulted in a House of Commons enquiry into the local conduct of pilotage. The boatmen argued that allowing them to bring vessels into the Downs and to be paid the same fees as pilots would resolve many of their problems. The enquiry recommended in favour of the boatmen.

Encouraged by this outcome, William applied for a pilot’s examination. After a direct appeal to the Duke of Wellington, then Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, he succeeded and was admitted in 1835. He remained a pilot until his retirement about 30 years later.

The King of Italy’s gratitude

What was a certificate written in Italian, awarded to local man Mathew Hoile, doing in the Museum collection?  Once translated, it revealed the story of an amazing rescue that took place in 1916. Whilst the First World War raged across Europe, merchant vessels had to brave the dangers of the seas and enemy action to get goods home. Deal & Walmer’s lifeboats worked throughout both world wars. The storm that started on Friday 17th November 1916 was the worst for years. The sea was so rough that the Kingsdown boat failed to launch. It called on the North Deal boat, The Charles Dibden, which headed out to the Goodwin Sands at 10pm on the night of the 19th to aid the Italian steamer Val Salice, en route from Sunderland to Italy with a cargo of coal. Despite the huge swells and the difficulty of evacuating 30 crew, none of whom could speak English, the lifeboat was kept steady in the appalling conditions and all crew were saved, although sadly not the ship itself. It wasn’t until 3am on the Monday morning that the lifeboat made it back to shore.

The war’s aftermath meant it was eight years before the Italian Government was able to show its gratitude for this amazing rescue. On 24th August 1924 they sent Captain Raineri-Biscia, the Italian Naval Attaché, to Deal. On behalf of the King of Italy, the Captain presented all 15 members of the crew with a certificate and a medal in a ceremony at the Town Hall.

The Cox at the time of the rescue had by then retired but was at the ceremony to collect his medal. So was the new Cox, William Hoile Jnr, brother of the holder of the certificate.

The Museum doesn’t have the medal that accompanied the certificate, but they were described at the time:

‘The medals are of bronze, inscribed with the name of the recipient, with the further inscription Al Valore di Marina Mars del Nord, 19th Novembre 1916. On the reverse is the Italian cross surrounded by a wreath of laurel leaves.’

We wonder if anyone in Deal still has one of these medals?