ONE of the UK’s oldest maritime charities has marked a major milestone.
The Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society (Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society for short) has celebrated its 175th anniversary on Tuesday May 6 by returning to the traditional North Devon fishing village of Clovelly where in 1838.
During the reign of Queen Victoria, the tragic loss of nine fishing vessels and 21 men prompted the Charity’s formation the following year.
To mark the occasion the Society’s Patron, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, unveiled a special plaque commemorating the Charity’s historic and continuing role supporting UK fishermen, mariners and their dependants in need.
As well as speaking to the descendants of those mariners originally lost in the 1838 disaster and local fishermen, she met some of the Charity’s supporters and volunteers who play such a vital role in the work of the Society which has helped support hundreds of thousands of mariners and their families in need over its 175 year history.
Cornish singers ‘Stamp and Go’ - famed for their sea songs - composed a special anniversary song written to mark the occasion, which was performed for The Princess Royal and guests.
The song – entitled ‘In Bideford Bay’ - refers to the terrible disaster in Clovelly in October 1838 - the dangers faced at sea, as well as the devastating impact on those left behind and the wonderful work of the Society.
Still a traditional fishing harbour, the village of Clovelly is one that remains close to the heart of the Charity and its work. On Sunday October 29 1838 eleven fishing vessels manned by 26 men left Clovelly to fish in the Bristol Channel.
Following a dreadful storm, only two vessels returned and 21 men were lost.
This prompted Mr Charles Gee Jones a former Bristol pilot and landlord of the Pulteney Arms in Bath to suggest to John Rye, a medical man of the city that something should be done to help those affected.
On 21 February 1839, a meeting was held “for the purpose of forming a fund for the relief of shipwrecked mariners and fishermen, or in the case of loss of life, for the widows and orphans...” and from this the Shipwrecked Mariners Society was born.
Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society, Chief Executive, Commodore Malcolm Williams, said: “This anniversary is an important landmark for the Charity and we were delighted to share this special day with our Patron, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, as well those who have both historic and current links to the Society.
"We are also very excited about having a specially composed song by ‘Stamp and Go’ and hope people enjoy it as much as we do. The work of the Charity has made a difference to people’s lives for 175 years and as long as we are an island we expect to be providing support to those in need from the seafaring community.”
Over the years, the Society has provided financial assistance to hundreds of thousands of people. During the first half of the 19th Century, when the loss of shipping fleets was a common occurrence, the Charity would help around 12,000 people a year. In 1859 nearly 1,416 ships were lost around Britain’s coast and with them 1,645 lives.
Nowadays, the Society’s prime role is supporting financially those retired seafarers struggling to make ends meet or who are below retirement age and unable to work due to ill health, an accident or for compassionate reasons.
In the last year, the Charity helped in over 2,200 cases of need amounting to an expenditure of £1.4 million and received 650 new applications for assistance.
The Society also recognises bravery and heroism displayed at sea, and since 1851 the Charity has made annual awards for outstanding acts of skill and gallantry to those who risk their lives to save others.
To find out more information about the charity, visit www.shipwreckedmariners.org.uk, www.facebook.com/shipwreckedmariners or follow on Twitter @ShipwreckedSoc.