Shipwreck of the Fanny, January 1828

Wrecked at Jersey on New Year's Day, 1828; with Guernsey interest. The shock of this catastrophe traumatised the islanders, who were unable to help in any way despite the vessel lying just outside the harbour; the suffering of the passengers and crew was visible to those waiting for them on the quays, and eventually led to the introduction of a Jersey lifeboat. From the Star, 8 January 1828. As more bodies were washed up, the public and courts in Jersey began to turn on the vessel's Captain.

It falls to our lot this week, to record the particulars of one of the most melancholy and distressing shipwrecks that have come under our notice for many years. We allude to the loss of the French cutter Fanny, with fifteen or eighteen souls, which happened at Jersey on New Year's Day. The news of this heart-rending event was received here on Saturday [5th January], and although we had not, like our neighbours, witnessed the fatal disaster, nor subsequently seen the bodies of the unfortunate passengers washed ashore and conveyed to the tomb, yet the sympathy which the bare recital of the particulars excite in the public mind, could not, we are convinced, be much less deep than that evinced by the inhabitants of the sister island.

For the details that follow, we are indebted to the Chronique de Jersey,1 which, as our correspondent informs us, contains a more accurate account of this distressing shipwreck than the other Jersey papers. It appears that Captain Destouches did everything in his power for the preservation of the vessel and passengers:

'We have, at the commencement of the present year, the painful task of publishing the details of a most distressing shipwreck, that of the cutter FANNY, Captain Destouches, with the loss of several lives! The Fanny left St Malo, on Tuesday, 1 January, at half-past nine o'clock in the morning, with 25 or 30 passengers, and a cargo of oxen and provisions. The wind was then blowing favourably from the SSW. At half-past two in the afternoon, the FANNY arrived near the pier of St Helier; but as there was not sufficient water in the harbour to get her in, she made a few tacks, off and on, in the roads. The wind suddenly chopped round to the north, and the blackening horizon, together with the violent squalls of wind which arose, announced the near approach of a storm. The ordnance boat, and that if the S. Street, pilot, boarded the Fanny in the inner roads. Captain Destouches, on beholding the aspect of the sky, repeatedly entreated his passengers to embark in the boats, alleging that if they delayed doing so, it would probably ere long be too late to think of landing. Some of them followed his advice, whilst others preferred staying on board, expecting that the vessel would enter the harbour in the course of half an hour, a period which, alas! most of them never lived to see!

Colonel Fyers, commander of the engineer department in this island, being one of the passengers, embarked in the ordnance boat, which was manned by three men; they pulled with all their might towards the pier, but ineffectually; for suddenly the clouds, which had been for some time gathering, burst over their heads, and, swept along by a violent storm from the north-west, threatened them with immediate destruction; the sea too rose so awfully high that they were compelled to give up all hopes of reaching the pier, and were driven along before the winds and waves. Thanks to the intrepid and judicious conduct of Mr Matthew Amy, the master of the boat, they however landed safe and sound in a small creek, among rocks near the Engineer Barracks.

Whilst this was passing, the boat of S. Street, with the seven passengers who embarked in her, was tossed about at the mercy of the waves. The passengers who had chosen to remain on board the vessel, seeing those who were in the boats thus struggling, amidst the innumerable rocks which surround the coast, lamented their fate, deeming them inevitably lost, and blessed heaven that they had not followed their example; so little did these unfortunate beings dream of the fate which awaited them; Street, however, landed his passengers at the Havre des Pas. A French woman was among this happy number; she was the only female who could be prevailed upon to leave the vessel. The seven persons thus saved were: Mr Lakeman, Mr Sabot, Mrs Be[z]ar, and four Irish labourers sent back by the English consul at St Malo.

But it was on board the Fanny, where about 25 persons remained, that a heart-rending scene of despair and sorrow was about to take place.The fury of the tempest was such at one moment, that the vessel was laid nearly on her beam ends, and some time elapsed before she righted. The captain then ordered two anchors to be cast out, and the cables to be freely veered away; but the vessel drove on both anchors, and struck violently the rocks called the Mangueres. The storm was then ravaging in all its fury, and all hope of being saved soon vanished away! Messrs Fontaine, Carrière, Captain Destouches and three of the crew jumped in a small boat which was fastened astern of the vessel. Mr Roussel, seeing them cut the boat's painter, jumped off the vessel into the sea, and being so fortunate as to swim near enough to the boat to admit those who were in it to lay hold of him, he was pulled on board. They were nearly an hour in this frail boat before they were, so to speak, cast ashore in the Bay d'Azette, at a distance of about two miles from the Fanny. 'On leaving the vessel,' says one of the passengers, 'my last look was naturally cast towards the unfortunate beings who were on the deck. It is impossible to describe the terror and anguish painted on their countenances! Most of them were women! We left there from 15 to 18 persons!'

Shortly after the departure of this boat, the foresail of the Fanny was hoisted up, and an attempt was made by those on board to bear away between the rocks, probably with the intention of running her ashore in the Bay d'Azette; but she filled with water, and sunk at about half-past three o'clock, on the rocks lying at about a quarter of a mile from the point des Pas. Every living creature on board then perished! Fifteen, perhaps twenty passengers were swallowed up by the waves! Thus were the hopes of several families cruelly disappointed. And that too, at the very moment when the unfortunate passengers were about to enter the harbour and be safely landed, at the moment, when after an absence more or less long, the they anticipated the pleasure of embracing their parents, children, or friends, at this moment, death was hovering over their heads, and the pitiless storm hurried them from this state of existence! O Providence! Who shall attempt to scrutinize thy decrees?

This melancholy catastrophe has created a deep sensation in the public mind. The inhabitants sympathise with the inconsolable families who have lost their relatives.

Among the individuals who thus unfortunately perished were:

Lord Harley, son of the Earl of Oxford, aged about 30. (This young noble man was well known in Guernsey, having resided here several months last year[s?]; he lived at the house, occupied by Mr Dumaresq, at Haut Pavé [Mill Street].)

Master Collins, only son of Mr E Collins, of St Helier's, printer, aged 11 years. This young lad, the hope of his parents, was returning from his school to pass the time of the vacation in Jersey. His body was found on Wednesday at the Greve d'Azette, and buried on Friday.

Major Fitzgerald and his lady, (late Miss Leaviss),² with a young girl named Robinson, whom they had taken under their care. This ill-fated couple had been married only a few months. Mrs Fitzgerald belonged to Guernsey, whither they were returning from Paris. Their bodies have not yet been found. Their travelling trunks have been picked up by boat from La Rocque.

Miss Murray, aged 18 years, daughter of Dr Murray, a resident in this island, an accomplished young lady, the loss of whom plunges as respectable family and a numerous circle of friends in a state of the deepest distress. Her body has not yet been found. Her travelling trunk was picked up at sea, six miles from the roads, by boats from La Rocque.

Madame Duval. She is said to have been a native of Jersey, and had married a Frenchman residing at St Malo. Her body was found at sea, on Wednesday by boats from La Rocque, and was buried on Thursday.

Mr Dubreuil, from St Malo. His body was found on Thursday evening.

Mrs Mary Lemé, a French woman. Her body was found on Wednesday and buried on Thursday.

An English young woman, supposed to have been Major Fitzgerald's servant.

Two Irish labourers, sent over by the English consul at St Malo.

A sailor and a cabin-boy belonging to the vessel. This sailor, who was named Clouar, refused to embark in the boat, alleging that he might as well perish with the vessel as be drowned in the boat.

It is certan that at least 14 persons have perished; but it is generally believed that there were three or four more who cannot at present be recalled to mind.

The individuals saved are: Colonel Fyers, Messrs Lakeman, Roussel, Fontaine, Carrière, Destouches, Morvan, Pillet, Poltrait, Sabot, Mrs Bezar, and four Irish labourers—in all, fifteen. The letter bag was found at sea on Wednesday, and the letters it contained were delivered on Thursday morning.

We are sorry to add, that some villains have endeavoured to get aboard the Fanny, in order to rob what they could of the sails and rigging, the hull being yet under water.

The house of 'De St Croix, brothers' have undertaken to weigh the vessel. They have, for this purpose, had two immense rafts constructed; but it is feared they will not succeed, unless the weather moderates soon. There were 16 bullocks on board belonging to Mr Fontaine; three of them have been found near Mont Orgeuil Castle.

It is rather a mournful coincidence with this shipwreck, that the same vessel, three years ago, on the 7th January 1825, struck and foundered within half a mile from the spot where she now lies. On that occasion 6 lives were lost.

The following letter from Lieutenant-Colonel Fyers, commanding engineer at Jersey, appeared in several British local and national newspapers:

I am happy to inform you of my safe arrival here on New-Year's Day, after another most providential and extraordinary escape. I sailed from St Malo in the Fanny, about half-past seven o'clock, with a fine fair wind, a heavy sea, but nothing to be alarmed about; we arrived about half-past two in the great roads, when they called me to say a boat was waiting for me. I did not move then, as in the very small portion of my cabin left free for passengers, I could not step out of my berth without annoying a lady, Mrs Fitzgerald, who was very ill, and on a locker outside of my berth. Half an hour later, Anley came down, and told me that we could not get into the pier in less than one hour and a half, and I had better land with them; I therefore scrambled out of my berth. The other cabin passengers—Mrs Fitzgerald and her husband, married three weeks before; a very pretty girl, a Miss Murray, daughter of a Dr Murray; and a French woman—all resolved to remain until they could reach the pier. I jumped into Anley's boat, who, with the cockswain, pulled for the pier; the town boat shortly followed with five or six more; but when within about two hundred yards of the pier, the wind suddenly shifted to the northward, blowing a perfect hurricane, more violent than has been known here for many years, blowing down trees &c.; it rained also furiously. We of course lost ground, and he wished to go round to Le Dicq; but I desired them to pull for the new landing-place, and I threw off my cloak, fully expecting every moment to be dashed upon the rocks; however, they skilfully ran up the little creek under the Magazine, and landed me comfortably under Simon's garden. The other boat got round to St Croix, with great risk. During this time De Touche anchored under the Hermitage, close to his former disastrous spot; the Fanny drifted—he jumped into his boat—a French gentleman after him into the sea, and swam to him; the others were left to their fate, and about ten minutes after I landed, I had the horror of being informed that she had struck upon a rock near the Little Green Island off the Fold, and sunk immediately. The unfortunate passengers in the cabin were all drowned; also Lord Harley, son of Lord Oxford; young Collins, of the Library; Mr Miller, and others, in all eight or nine. Indeed, I have providence to thank for my most wonderful escape.

1The Library has bound copies of the Chronique de Jersey, including those from the year 1828.

2 'Melancholy Occurrence. But a few posts back we announced the marriage of a fellow-citizen, Lieutenant William Star Fitz-Gerald, late 72d Regiment, and brother to Captain Fitz-Gerald, of Richmond-place. He was married at the British Ambassador's at Paris, on the 8th of December, to Frances, eldest daughter of the late Major Leavis, Northumberland Militia, a truly amiable, interesting, and accomplished young Lady, and possessing in an eminent degree all those inestimable qualities, which could not fail to have rendered their union a happy one. On New Year's Day, that is, but three weeks and two days from their bridal one, both bride and bridegroom were consigned to the same watery grave, in the Fanny Packet, which was wrecked in Aubin's Bay, Island of Jersey, and not far from the haven where they would be. The conduct of the Master of the vessel is represented as highly reprehensible, and will, we understand, be made the subject of public investigation. Limerick Chronicle.'

Frances Leaviss was born in Sunderland in 1804, daughter of Major William Leaviss and the wealthy Frances Longridge. Her father was the son of William Leaviss of Willington House, Wallsend (d. 1812), and Mary Robson. The Miss 'Robinson' who was under the Fitzgerald's protection might possibly therefore have been a relative. Frances and William Fitzgerald were married by licence in the Ambassador's Residence in Paris on December 8th, 1827. The Library's Army Lists tell us Fitzgerald, who had been an ensign in the 72nd Highland Regiment of Foot since 1812, had been on half-pay since 1822; he had been promoted to Lieutenant two years earlier. The 72nd, who had spent the years of Fitgerald's career in Mauritus, India, and in particular, Cape Town, do not appear to have been stationed in Guernsey before they were reorganised in 1823, when they were split between the island of Guernsey and Jersey and later that year named the 'Duke of Albany's Own.' This reorganisation is probably why Fitgerald was retired on half-pay; perhaps he followed the regiment to Guernsey, which would have been a reasonably inexpensive place for him to live.

Frances' father and mother, who had eight children, had moved to Guernsey in 1820, when Frances was sixteen, hoping that the climate might be beneficial to Frances' mother's health. Unfortunately Mrs Leaviss, at only 38, died in a carriage accident shortly after their arrival, in September, 1820; her youngest child was only two or three. Major William Leaviss died in May, 1827. Frances and William Fitzgerald were buried in the recently opened Green Street Cemetery in Jersey.

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