Friday, 1 August 2008
The Caledonian was a Scottish brig of some five hundred tons built in Arbroath. During September 1842 she was homeward bound from the Black Sea port of Odessa, when she had to call into Falmouth in order to bury a crewmember who had died of his wounds after being stabbed in a knife fight in Constantinople. ( Istanbul) The Caledonia then left for Gloucester in order to discharge her cargo of wheat. As she left Falmouth a fierce north westerly gale was raging. Around one o'clock in the morning of the 8th of September the look out saw huge waves breaking on Sharp nose Point close to leeward.
The Captain, Peter Stevenson, shortened sail and tried to stand clear, but he was too late. The ship refused to come up and soon smashed onto the rocks at Sharp Nose Point. When they hit, the Captain ordered all the crew into the rigging, but no sooner had he done so than the mast smashed down throwing everyone into the raging sea where they all perished. The only survivor of the crew of ten was Edward le Dain from Jersey who miraculously managed to scramble ashore and collapse on the rocks where a farmer fond him, and a tortoise in the awakening dawn.
The people of the local village of Morwenstow gave the crew a Christian burial by Rev Hawker, and the figurehead of the Caledonia, which depicts a Scottish Amazon complete with sword and shield, Tam'o shanter, and sporran was recovered and moved to the graveyard to mark the graves.
In a rather bizarre twist, the figurehead weighing over one hundredweight was stolen in October 1968. It was later found slightly damaged abandoned in a field at Abbottham Cross, Bideford. No reason for the theft was ever found but at the time it sparked memories of the figurehead's legend that supposedly said she would rise up with her crewmen and strike the offenders down with her sword.
So what's the point in telling this story? Well the good people of Morwenstow have, for some time been raising funds to restore the figurehead of the Caledonia, and have not only succeeded in doing so, they intend to move it into the church for safe-keeping and placing a replica figurehead over the graves.
A service of dedication and celebration to mark the completion of the project and the figurehead’s return to the Parish will take place in Morwenstow Parish Church at 3.00pm on Sunday 7th September 2008 - the 166th anniversary of the sinking of the vessel.
The service will incorporate hymns and prayers appropriate to the occasion, as well as readings from the works of the Rev.Hawker who, was a renowned cleric, poet - and eccentric.
Prior to the service - weather permitting - a very brief act of remembrance of the loss of the ‘Caledonia’ and her crew will take place at 2.30pm on the cliff-top near Hawker’s Hut. It is intended that in honour of the Scottish sailors who lost their lives - as well as the one young man who survived - a piper will lead the group as they walk along the cliff and across the fields to the Church.
Stories like this really don't come around very often these days, and I think it is extremely touching that the people of Morwenstow have worked so hard to remember and honour those who lost their lives in the wreck.
Perhaps there is a lesson in there for us all.