The steamer Busby broadside on to the Pendeen cliffs
28 June 1894

Pendeen Wrecks & Rescues

28 June 1894

Clive Carter 1970,
Cornish Shipwrecks: The North Coast.
Pan books, London and Sydney

The Busby a Steamship of 3276 tons was on her second voyage headed for Civitavecchia, when she ran into the cliffs in thick fog near the Coastguard station at Pendeen. All the crew were rescued some by breeches buoy and others by the ships boat.

The ship remained aground for another three weeks until she was floated by salvours, after being towed out to deeper water it was discovered the pumps could not keep up with the leaks. And after being cut loose she sank 1 mile off the lighthouse in 30 metres of water.

The epitome of the steamer wrecks at Pendeen was the Busby, lost on a foggy June morning almost alongside the sunken hulk of the Scheldt. Big and new, the 2,070-ton Busby was launched in February 1894 at Stockton as a steel screw schooner-rigged steamer for the general Indian trade of Ropner & Co of West Hartlepool. She had made only one Indian voyage when she sailed from Newport on the evening of 22 June 1894, bound for Bombay, though loaded with 600 tons of coal as an intermediary cargo for Civitavecchia. At 7.30 next evening, off Trevose Head, Captain Sherwood altered course to pass five miles off the Longships, and ordered the patent log to be streamed. Two hours later Godrevy light was sighted three points off the starboard bow. It was fairly clear to seaward, but the sky was heavily overcast, and second officer Brand was unable to get a routine fix on the light because of a sudden bank of thick drizzle. Course was altered again as the Busby passed St Ives, but not until to p.m., when visibility was really poor, was speed reduced from nine to four knots, and then to slow ahead.

At 11 p.m. Alfred Bowell, the bow lookout, saw a brief flash of light ahead as the weather suddenly improved. Captain Sherwood, believing they were nearing the Longships, ordered full speed, and warned Mr Brand to be ready to take soundings. But even as he went aft to get the deep-sea lead, breakers were sighted off the port bow; the Busby was already well inside the Three Stone Oar. Captain Sherwood rang down for `stop engines', then `full astern', but with a low grating rumble the steamer's port bilges ran over the rocks. Chief engineer Thompson blew off all steam and led the `black gang' on deck as water poured across the stokehold plates. Every-body gathered on the bridge, and while the boats were being manned rockets were fired and flares burned. Within half an hour the coastguards had landed twelve men and a dog by breeches-buoy, the rest of the crew pulling ashore in the port lifeboat. Captain Sherwood, chief officer Thomas and Mr Brand stayed on board until 4 a.m., but there was nothing they could do to save their ship.

Daylight found the Busby listing slightly to starboard, firmly held from bows to bridge and already half flooded. The Liverpool Salvage Association began work, pinning their hopes on the spring tides and continuing calm weather. To speed up the work, large square ports were cut in the sides, through which a score of local men shovelled the coal cargo overboard. Patching, pumping and shovelling continued unceasingly until, at noon on 16 July, two Falmouth tugs and a Liverpool salvage steamer refloated the Busby on the flood tide. But the salvors had not chosen their weather for such a delicate operation. A fresh north-westerly gale sent heavy seas tumbling over the Busby's low-lying decks, hurling many of the forty salvage men into the scuppers, and leaving those down in the holds stunned or breathless as water cascaded through the temporary coal ports. The Busby, already drawing twenty feet, began to settle, fast, and as salvage hands frantically got two divers out of their cumbersome suits the tugs ranged alongside. The last men to jump clear were John Nicholls and George Chirgwin who had been at the helm, and Harry Nicholls and John Tucker, pumping hands, all of whom came from Penzance.

Gradually the steamer's poop rose higher until, with a rush of air, oil and debris, the Busby foundered in twenty fathoms, leaving only her masthead visible midway between the headland and the Three Stone Oar. This final disaster came only four days after Captain Sherwood had been found guilty by a Board of Trade inquiry at Falmouth of not having navigated the Busby with due care and in a proper and seamanlike manner. His previous record was unblemished, the Busby being the third new steamer he had commanded for Ropners, so his certificate was suspended for only six months. The Busby lay beyond salvage, and on 6 December 1894 divers recovering valuable gear from her reported her to be in three pieces and slowly settling into the sandy bottom.