Shipwrecks near lighthouses
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Royal Oak (18th January 1666)
Schiller (7th May 1875)
This is just a small section about the Schiller tragedy. There is a full version available in Bishop Rock by Martin Boyle available from B & T Publications (See Books & Publications Section)
The Schiller left New York bound for Hamburg in Germany on the 27th April 1875. The first port of call for this grand liner would be Plymouth in Britain.
Originally the 3421 gross tonnage Schiller was built by Napiers of Glasgow Scotland and was launched in August 1873.
On the 7th May 1875 the Schiller was proceeding at about 4 knots towards the Ilses of Scilly attempting to navigate through a dense blanket of fog. Her commanding officer Captain Thomas asked the passengers to volunteer as look outs for the Bishop Rock lighthouse. Whoever spotted the light first would receive a Magnum of champagne. There was also a similar reward for anyone who heard the sound of the lighthouse fog bell.
However as time passed by Captain Thomas believed the Schiller was too far to the east and changed to a more westerly heading. This action proved to be disasterous, when at 10 pm the Schiller hit the Retarrier Rocks a short distance from the Bishop Rock lighthouse.
Distress flares were sent up but it is reported by the keepers on the Bishop Rock that they mistook them for the customary rockets normally sent up on the safe arrival of a ship into port. It appears that even the St Mary's Island coastguard was also of the same opinion.
In order to gain control of his passengers who were in a total state of panic, Captain Thomas was forced to fire his revolver over their heads.
A gigantic wave then smashed two crowded lifeboats with the loss of everyone in them. From eight lifeboats only two were successfully loaded with passengers and set adrift.
Fifty people ( mostly women and childern) gathered near the midship saloon, were hit by a succession of gigantic waves which washed all of them into the cold sea.
It was not until nearly 5 am on the 8th May that a Cornish fishing boat from Sennen arrived on the disasterous scene and sent up its distress flares. Within an hour a fotilla of small vessels, coastguards and the steamer Lady of the Isles joined in the desperate search for survivors.
Two exhausted men were found suffering from exposure but still clinging to a rock close to the stricken liner. Twelve hours after they were set adrift, the loaded lifeboats came into Tresco with a total of 26 men and on woman on board.
From a total complement of 355 passengers and crew only 42 people survived.