One of the UK’s oldest maritime charities has marked a major milestone.
The Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society (Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society for short) celebrated its 175th anniversary on Tuesday 6 May 2014 by returning to the traditional North Devon fishing village of Clovelly where in 1838, during the reign of Queen Victoria, the tragic loss of nine fi shing vessels and 21 men prompted the Charity’s formation the following year.
To mark the occasion, the Society’s Patron, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, unveiled a special plaque commemorating the Charity’s historic and continuing role supporting UK fi shermen, mariners and their dependants in need. As well as speaking to the descendants of those mariners originally lost in the 1838 disaster and local fishermen, she met some of the Charity’s supporters and volunteers who play such a vital role in the work of the Society which has helped support hundreds of thousands of mariners and their families in need over its 175 year history.
Cornish singers ‘Stamp and Go’ - famed for their sea songs - composed a special anniversary song written to mark the occasion, which was performed for The Princess Royal and guests. The song – entitled ‘In Bideford Bay’ - refers to the terrible disaster in Clovelly in October 1838 - the dangers faced at sea, as well as the devastating impact on those left behind and the wonderful work of the Society.
Still a traditional fishing harbour, the village of Clovelly is one that remains close to the heart of the Charity and its work. On Sunday 29 October 1838, 11 fishing vessels manned by 26 men left Clovelly to fish in the Bristol Channel. Following a dreadful storm, only two vessels returned and 21 men were lost. This prompted Mr Charles Gee Jones a former Bristol pilot and landlord of the Pulteney Arms in Bath to suggest to John Rye, a medical man of the city that something should be done to help those affected. On 21 February 1839, a meeting was held “for the purpose of forming a fund for the relief of shipwrecked mariners and fishermen, or in the case of loss of life, for the widows and orphans...” and from this the Shipwrecked Mariners Society was born.