Falmouth Lifeboat Station continues to honour and commemorate the commitment the sacrifice made by its past lifesavers, by looking back at a famous rescue that happened 110 years ago today.

Today they are looking back at a service that occurred on this day (February 1), 110 years ago, following one of the worst sailing ship wrecks in the Falmouth area and described by the RNLI as a ‘commendable rescue’.

𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗛𝗲𝗿𝗮 𝘀𝗵𝗶𝗽𝘄𝗿𝗲𝗰𝗸 𝟭 𝗙𝗲𝗯𝗿𝘂𝗮𝗿𝘆 𝟭𝟵𝟭𝟰

The 1,994 ton German steel barque Hera fully laden with nitrate, was making landfall off the Lizard after a 91 day passage from Pisagua, Chile.

Falmouth Packet:  Falmouth Lifeboat Coxswain Samuel Hingston Falmouth Lifeboat Coxswain Samuel Hingston (Image: David Barnicoat Collection)

For three days her tired Captain had been relying on dead reckoning navigation without a precise position due to poor weather conditions and a faulty chronometer. He deliberated as to when he should alter course towards the land.

Somewhere off Lizard Point, heavy weather forced Captain Lorenz to shorten sail as he altered course to pick up St. Anthony’s lighthouse; a course which would ultimately take him and 18 of his crew to a watery grave.

Falmouth Packet: Wreckage from the HeraWreckage from the Hera (Image: David Barnicoat Collection)

Shortly after midnight the young Second Officer reported ‘rocks ahead’ and despite valiant efforts to turn the ship she struck the rocks. The Hera had overshot Falmouth by several miles before coming to grief on The Whelps Rocks near Gull Rock, off the pretty fishing village of Portloe.

Minutes later after distress rockets had been fired the four masted barque settled by the head before rolling over to port, capsizing the lifeboats and throwing crew members into an icy sea.

Heavy seas swamped the sailing ship’s deck forcing the first mate and five of the crew into the rigging where they climbed onto a jigger mast and remained for three hours.

Falmouth Packet: The five rescued crew membersThe five rescued crew members (Image: David Barnicoat Collection)

Falmouth Lifeboat Honorary Secretary Mr F.A Lelean wrote his Return of Service for this rescue: ‘At 1am I received a message from the Coastguard Station via Falmouth Post Office and Superintendent of Police “rockets being seen 2 miles SSW of Portloe, Station Officer, Portloe.”

‘I at once hurried to the Coxswain and instructed him to launch the boat. At 1.35am the first warning mortars were fired – at 1.55am the boat left the slipway. As soon as the Police messenger had given me the message I asked him to advise the manager of the Falmouth Towage Company of what was happening.

Falmouth Packet: Able Seaman Bessie and his whistleAble Seaman Bessie and his whistle (Image: David Barnicoat Collection)

He dispatched the tugs Triton and Victor.’ Falmouth lifeboat coxswain Samuel Hingston and his 15 man crew in the 37 foot self-righting pulling and sailing lifeboat Bob Newbon, were towed to the scene of the shipwreck by the harbour tug Perran.

Numb with the cold the Mate of the Hera succumbed to the terrifying ordeal. Just before he slipped from the rigging to his death the Mate handed his pea whistle to a young able seaman called Bessier.

Coxswain Samuel Hingston later described the rescue: ‘On the way we encountered heavy seas. When about a mile offshore we slipped the Perran and went in between Gull Rock and Nare Head to speak with the Coastguards who were on the shoreline.

‘All at once I heard a whistle blowing. We heaved in our anchor and got underway. Then we saw a speck on our lee bow and later we made out five men hanging on a spar. We experienced considerable difficulty in rescuing the men because of the heavy seas. Our bowman William Leuty badly crushed his finger in the rescue.’ In gale force winds and a rough sea, five men were rescued from the topmast of the barque. As soon as the men had been saved, the lifeboat was towed back to Falmouth and the exhausted survivors were taken to the Sailors' Home to be cared for.

Falmouth Packet: Falmouth Lifeboat Bob Newbon, in a picture taken at Custom House Quay after the rescueFalmouth Lifeboat Bob Newbon, in a picture taken at Custom House Quay after the rescue (Image: David Barnicoat Collection)

The rescue was reported in the May 1914 edition of The Lifeboat magazine and included the following about bowman William Leuty: ‘In connexion with this case, it is very pleasing to be able to record the pluck and courage displayed by the bowman of the lifeboat.

"Shortly before the lifeboat rescued the men, he had his hand considerably injured, which eventually resulted in his losing the top of one of his fingers, but notwithstanding the very great pain he was suffering, when the Coxswain expressed his willingness to return ashore after rescuing the five men from the spar, the bowman desired him to continue his search along the rocks in case any other survivors might be floating about.

"He also displayed the same pluck after the boat had returned ashore by refusing to be attended to by the doctor until after the shipwrecked men had been cared for.’ The 19 German seamen who perished were buried in an unusually shaped grave, almost 120 feet in length and three feet wide, in a tranquil corner of Veryan Churchyard, near Portloe.

The photos show Falmouth Lifeboat Coxswain Samuel Hingston, Falmouth Lifeboat Bob Newbon, including one taken at Custom House Quay after the rescue, wreckage from the Hera and the five rescued crew members including Able Seaman Bessie and his whistle. Photographs: David Barnicoat collection.