Stricken steam coaster, SS General Havelock

SS General Havelock model. Picture by Tony Bartholomew
SS General Havelock model. Picture by Tony Bartholomew

Written by Jeannie Swales

This beautiful little model depicts the SS General Havelock, a steam coaster which sailed regularly between Sunderland and London in the late 1800s, calling at Scarborough to drop off and pick up passengers and cargo.

Built in 1868, the General Havelock was wrecked on September 27, 1894. She had left London at noon the previous day, with a crew of 21 hands and 50 passengers. She arrived in Scarborough just before 2pm, where she landed some passengers and took others on board, then headed up to Sunderland.

By 8.30pm that evening, she was abreast of Seaham Harbour, only half a dozen miles short of her destination, when those on board heard a grating sound and water was found to be rushing into the forehold.

Distress signals were sent up, and four lifeboats lowered, into which the passengers climbed and waited until the tug Norfolk Hero came out of Sunderland to pick them up.

The chief mate, with the help of a passenger named Todd, had checked the General Havelock before leaving, but found no one, despite their calls, and the fact that all the electric lights on the vessel were still burning – so they had concluded that the ship was empty.

But when the tug reached Sunderland, a passenger named James Davis was missed. The tug returned with the master and officers to the General Havelock and hailed her several times, to no avail. By this time, the deck of the stricken ship was level with the water and the waves were breaking over her, so it was considered unsafe to go back on board.

The body of poor Mr Davis later washed ashore at Seaham Harbour.

When the formal investigation was held at the Sunderland School Board Offices a month later, questions were inevitably asked about him, and the following, to modern eyes rather callous, conclusion reached:

“This man appears to have been imbecile, and he was put in charge of the steward by his friends in London; he was brought on deck after the vessel struck, and a life-belt fastened on him, and he was told to remain near the main hatch until the boats were ready, it appears he made two attempts to get into the boats, and it was supposed that he had got into one of them, but in the darkness it could not be ascertained, and he was not missed until the passengers were all disembarked at the dock.”

How times have changed – thank goodness.

This fine wooden model came into the Scarborough Collections in 1952, having previously been on display in the Harbour Museum.

For further information on the Scarborough Collections, please contact collections manager Jennifer Dunne on or 01723 384510.