Part of the Acorn Archive

Hearts of Oak





Wreck of the SS SUFFOLK

Salvage, The Law and Inhumanity



2,924 grt; 1,294 nrt; 300 ft x 40.2ft x 22.25 ft

Built 1881/2  R & H Green, Blackwall, London

Schooner rigged, three masted iron steamer.

Engine 275 hp twin cylinder. 6 bulkheads ( two watertight )

194 ft Double bottom.

Owned by Messrs Hooper, Murrell & Williams Co of London

( The Suffolk Steamship Company, London ).

Sister ship to SURREY and SUSSEX


S.S. Surrey

ON. 82855; 2,949 grt; 330 ft x 40.2 ft; 250 nhp, 10 knots.

Engine Inverted compound; Blair & Co, Stockton on Tees

Built 1881 William Gray & Co, West Hartlepool; Yard Nr 235

1884 Damaged in collision with the URANUS

Later named MICHIGAN; then renamed HARRY LUCKENBACH

6th January 1918: Torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-84, in the Bay of Biscay about 6 miles from Ar-Men, 2 miles north-northwest of Penmarche; 8 killed.


S.S. Sussex

2,795 grt; 330 ft x 40.2 ft; 250 nhp, 10 knots

Built 1882 Wigham Richardson, Newcastle upon Tyne

Engine Inverted compound; Wigham Richardson

17th December 1885  Wrecked  Bryher, Isles of Scilly.




SS SUFFOLK was under command of Captain W H Williams, and left Baltimore on one of her regular runs to London, 14th September 1886. Due to bad weather around the Isles of Scilly, they sustained some damage, and set a course through the fog, which was calculated to ensure a safe passage past the Lizard. As Captain Williams headed for the bow lookout he saw the rocks looming ahead. Putting engines full astern, and the helm at full they hit the rocks at 6 knots. Already they were taking in water badly.

The rest of the story is told well in The Times.


SS Suffolk under Lizard Head



The Times 29th September 1886

A Telegram from Lloyd's signal station at the Lizard, dated Sept 28, 5.35pm, reports that the SUFFOLK steamer went ashore at the Lizard Head and would become a total wreck.


A later telegram from the Lizard states that the SUFFOLK steamer of London from Baltimore for London, with cattle and a general cargo, lies directly on the rocks under the head abandoned, full of water and with sails set, deck cattle being washed by the sea, and will probably be dead in the morning. The crew took to their own boats and three boats were distinctly seen proceeding seawards. Cadgwith and the Lizard lifeboats and shore craft are searching. The rocket line from the shore has been successfully fired across the SUFFOLK, but no communication has as yet been made. The dense fog still continues with a rough sea, and the steamer will no doubt become a total wreck. Wind west south west freshening.


A telegram from Lloyd's agent at Falmouth states that tugs have gone to the wreck. Wind west strong thick. the SUFFOLK is an iron screw steamer of 2,924 gross tons, built in London in 1882, owned by the Suffolk Steamship Company, London and classed 100 A1.


A later telegram from Lloyd's signal station timed at 10 pm Sept 28, states that the captain and crew of the SUFFOLK, 42 are all saved, and landed at the Lizard. the steamer is in a critical position. The vessel struck right under the lighthouse during a dense fog. The captain and officers all report that no fog signal was heard.


The Times 30th September 1886

The Shipwreck at the Lizard

As was briefly announced in a telegram in The Times yesterday morning, the steamship SUFFOLK, of London, bound from Baltimore to London, with a general cargo and cattle, ran ashore close under the old Lizard Head at 10 past 4 on Tuesday evening. The steamer, which is about 2,000 register, left Baltimore about a fortnight since, and all proceeded well until Sunday, when a lifeboat was carried away in a heavy sea. the Scilly Islands were sighted about 10 o'clock on Tuesday  morning, but soon after this the weather became very thick and foggy.


The steamer proceeded on her voyage, and all was though to be well until suddenly, without the slightest warning, the vessel struck the rocks. The crew at once realised their position, and the captain gave orders to have the boats lowered, and three were launched, into which the crew, of 41 hands, and two passengers, were taken. The sea at the time was very heavy and was washing over the fore part of the vessel, where a portion of the cattle lay. the crew pulled seawards, as the night was intensely thick, and although soundings were taken they could only find that they were surrounded by rocks.


Meanwhile the disaster had been witnessed from ashore, and with great promptitude both the Cadgwith and Lizard lifeboats were launched and pulled to the scene. After much difficulty the three boats were fallen in with, but it was not until after the shipwrecked men had been knocking about upwards of two hours in a heavy sea that the lifeboats succeeded in getting them safe on shore, and before that could be done two of the boats had to be abandoned and the occupants received into the lifeboats. It was expected that most of the cattle in the forepart of the vessel would be drowned. The SUFFOLK is owned by Messrs Hooper Murrell & Co of London.


Telegrams from Lloyd's signal station at the Lizard, received yesterday morning state:- "Just returned from scene of wreck of the SUFFOLK, vessel still holding together, and some of the cattle are still alive, but sea too heavy to go near the ship. About 3,000 bags of flour have already been saved, having washed ashore. At high tide the spar deck was all awash. the captain and a portion of the crew have proceeded in Falmouth tugs to endeavour to save cattle etc., no hope of saving ship. West fresh fog lifting". The Salvage Association, at the owner's request, have despatched a special officer to the wreck.


The owners received the following telegram from the captain at midday yesterday :- "No hope of saving the ship. She opened during the night through amidships five to six inches. Cattle still standing on the after deck. the hulks and tugs lying off are waiting a chance to save them. A heavy surf is running, and the ship is full of water".


A telegram received yesterday afternoon stated that the SUFFOLK was lying in the same position, and that a large rip was visible in the port side, just abaft the foremast, from which sacks of flour in great numbers were floating away. There is sand under her bows and stern, but the centre of the ship is firm on the rocks. the sea was moderating, and there was reason to hope that some of the cattle would be saved.


The Times 2nd October 1886

A telegram received yesterday morning from the Lizard Signal station stated:- "The SUFFOLK is now a complete wreck, with mizzenmast only standing. At high water the hull is completely covered with water. Everything movable is washing away, and the coast for miles around is strewn with sacks of flour, seed, dead cattle, casks of flour, resin, tobacco, and provisions of all kinds. Salvage operations on the coast are in full progress, the salvors to receive one third for salvage. About a score of cattle have been saved alive.


The Times 4th October 1886

A telegram received yesterday morning from the Lloyd's  Signal station at the Lizard, timed 9 am Oct 2, states:- " The steamer SUFFOLK has entirely disappeared, the cargo, with dead cattle, floating all around. gangs of men are employed saving cattle still alive from dangerous places. The cattle have been kept alive by fodder and water lowered down from the top of the cliff".


However, the following letter was written to The Times.

The Times 5th October 1886

The wreck of the SUFFOLK

To the editor of The Times

Sir, Allow me at the request of many of the spectators of the wreck of the SUFFOLK to supplement your notice of it in your issue yesterday. I was an eye witness of it from first to last.


Efforts were made, as stated in your report, by the tugs and lighter from Falmouth to save the deck cargo of 162 prime fat bullocks, in perfect condition for the butcher, the pick, as reported, of a herd of 600. Only seven were thereby saved. then followed a most pitiable scene. the men on shore, the officers and men of the Coastguard, the crews of the lifeboats who had just so gallantly the shipwrecked crew and passengers, the skilled fishermen of the Lizard Coast - all maintained earnestly, again and again, that they could have rescued and brought on shore every head of cattle in a few hours. But no, the law forbade it, and so the poor beast were left before our eyes for hours staggering, falling, struggling on deck, lashed and knocked down and washed overboard by the waves, to swim and fight with the breakers and broken wreckage, to be dashed on and off horrible rocks of the Lizard, till all but twelve were slowly done to death by drowning, by wounds and broken limbs, or by exhaustion.


This sort of thing went on more or less from noon on the 29th to midnight. On the 30th six still remained alive in the bows, battered and half drowned by the waves which were now breaking clean over them, and were washed overboard just before sunset, to struggle on to death amid the breakers.

If 12 could get ashore unaided, surely with the aid of strong and skilful men, the whole herd might have been rescued?


I submit, Sir, on behalf of those who have asked me to write to you, that the law to prevent the introduction of cattle diseases could never have contemplated such an exceptional case as this, which does no credit to the wisdom or humanity of our law makers.


Under the circumstances, as the law would not allow the beasts to be landed, and only allowed special officials to attempt rescue, when these failed surely they should have been obliged to slaughter the cattle as they stood on deck?


When the few survivors got ashore it seemed nobody's duty to rescue them from the perilous spots whither they had been washed.


The law forbade any help on the wreck but what came from officials. But on shore a few were saved on the rocks by the shoremen. A few were stranded on the rocks, with wounded limbs and bodies, only to be hopelessly washed to sea again. One poor beast was washed high and dry with two broken hind legs. Everybody pitied it but none dare offend the law of salvage by killing it, but one gentleman - believing that humanity was higher than law, shot it through the head with a rifle.


The whole thing was a legalized case of unparalleled inhumanity, and surely and Order in Council could provide against the recurrence of such stupid blundering unintentional cruelty.


Faithfully Yours,

Septimus Hansard

Rector of Bethnal Green

The Lizard Sep 30.




Raymond Forward