Bad day for trio of destroyers

HMS Thrasher pictured in happier times

HMS Thrasher pictured in happier times

First published in In Port

September 29, 1897 proved to be a bad day for the Senior Service when three Royal Navy torpedo-boat destroyers came to grief beneath Dodman Point in fog.

The 30-knot destroyers Sunfish, Thrasher and Lynx had left St Ives bay bound for Falmouth in the early hours of September 29 on a routine training exercise off the south coast of Cornwall. Off the Longships lighthouse fog descended separating all the ships. Shortly before noon HMS Sunfish was making slow speed when her lookouts and commander spotted a headland ahead of the ship.

Ordering full astern the commander recognised the land as the Dodman. Sunfish turned around heading for the safety of Falmouth. Lynx and Thrasher were not as lucky as they struck the steep sided headland in extremely poor visibility. Lynx grounded but managed to free herself before steaming to Devonport for repairs.

Thrasher hit the rocks at 12 knots badly damaging her bottom. The impact fractured the destroyer's main steam pipe which filled the boiler room with steam badly scalding five stokers. Three men died immediately from their severe burns. The remaining two were taken ashore to Gorran Haven where they died in the local Coastguard house. Watertight doors leading to the stokehold were closed to prevent flooding.

The tug Triton sailed from Falmouth to assist in the salvage of the Thrasher, where she was joined by the naval tug Trusty and the destroyers Ferret and Spider.

Thrasher, the lead ship in the group, was refloated on the high tide and brought to Falmouth where she moored in what was then called the Tidal Basin (basin in front of the dry-docks).

The bodies of the three stokers were removed to a mortuary in Mylor and later taken to Plymouth by gunboat. Thrasher was eventually dry-docked in Devonport with Lynx.

Thrasher's commanding officer admitted hearing the Lizard fog signal but agreed that the ships had over run Falmouth before altering course to the north.

The accident happened just a year after the Rev G Martin, rector of St Michael Caerhays, had a large granite cross erected on Dodman Point as a navigational aid for seafarers. He slept beneath the cross for the night after the dedication service. The inscription read: "In the firm hope of the second coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and for the encouragement of those who serve HIM, this cross is erected AD 1896."

Naval exercises off Falmouth during May 1910 resulted in the village of Flushing being plunged into mourning when news reached the shore that the 40 ft trawler Olivia with five local men aboard had been sunk by the Royal Navy destroyer Quail, a sister ship to HMS Thrasher. Quail hit the trawler at 21 knots off Porthallow drowning four of the fishermen. In 1908 she had suffered extensive bow damage in another collision.

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