THE TREVESSA LIFEBOAT AT WEMBLEY.
of Wembley cards will be aware of the card showing the lifeboat from the SS Trevessa, which was on display in the exhibition grounds
during both 1924 and 1925. The lifeboat could be found by crossing eastward
The Lifeboat outside the
Here is the story of the lifeboat, it's sister boat, and the men who sailed some 1750 miles in 25 days across the Indian Ocean in them to reach the safety of Mauritius.
The story is from the book "Adrift as
far from land as possible" by Len Ortzen, and is
reproduced with the kind permission of the publishers Arthur Barker Ltd., of Weidenfeld and Nicolson of
Trevessa, a freighter of 5,004 tons gross, had
sailed through a hurricane in the North Atlantic on the voyage out from
was safely reached on 24 May, the Trevessa took on about four
hundred tons of bunker coal and sailed again the following morning in fine
weather. Captain Foster shaped course for
The ship had sprung a leak, but the cargo of concentrates had the consistency of half-set cement, and due to this and the method of stowing the cargo, the water entering the hold could not reach the bilges and tanks and therefore could not be removed by the pumps. In the past years, hundreds of vessels had loaded concentrates at Port Pirie and all had been stowed in the same manner as in the Trevessa; only one ship had ever been known to meet trouble, and she had successfully put back for repairs.
The ship was already well down by the head, and heavy seas were breaking right over the hatches making it impossible to open the holds to investigate the damage. Less than an hour had passed since the alarm had been given, but the water was up to the top of No.1 hold.
Captain Foster on the bridge, turned the ship round so as to run before the wind and sea, thus easing the pressure on the bulkheads. But he realised the ship was doomed and at 1 a.m. ordered all hands to the boats and told the radio officer to send SOS. Three replies were received, but all from ships a long way off. The Tregenna was 350 miles to the east, and the Trevcan (both sister ships of the Hain Line) was 272 miles to the south.
The two starboard lifeboats were quite sufficient for the whole company, forty-four officers and crew. The two stewards began putting some provisions in them, working as fast as possible against time. The ship was settling fast by the head; the collision bulkheads had started to give way and water was rushing through the forecastle into the forepeak. One of the Indian firemen fell into the water as the boats were being launched, but he was got safely into the chief officer's boat. The ship was lying at an angle, the engines stopped and the stern high out of the water. Foster ordered 'abandon ship'.
two lifeboats stood off, keeping their heads to the sea by using the oars;
Captain Foster was in command of one, First Officer J. C. Stewart Smith the
other. Half an hour after they had left her, the Trevessa floundered, standing
almost on end. It was then 3 a.m. on 4 June. They were adrift in a heavy sea
and about as far from land as it was possible to be: the west coast of
boats lay to all that day, a sharp lookout being kept for the smoke of a rescue
ship. By evening they had drifted some distance from the position where the Trevessa had
floundered, and Captain Foster had to come to a decision: to remain in the area
or to set course for land. They were in mid-ocean, at about latitude 28 degrees
45 minutes south, longitude 85 degrees 42 minutes east. The nearest islands
Foster reckoned that it would take three weeks to reach one of the
The daily rations issued by the two boat commanders were exactly the same - starvation rations - one biscuit per man, about four teaspoonfuls of condensed milk, and about three teaspoonfuls of water.
two boats were alike in size and each had on board the equipment required by
the Board of Trade regulations, but there was one important difference: the sail
on the captain's boat was larger than that of the other. Consequently, it was
difficult for the two boats to keep company. After nine days (on 9 June) Foster
decided that it would be better for the boats to proceed independently. They
parted at 8 a.m. and by mid-afternoon the chief officer's boat was far astern, and soon afterwards was lost to sight.
At this time two boats were searching for the
crew of the Trevessa.
They had reached the scene of the sinking on 6 June, when the two lifeboats
were about one hundred miles away on their course westwards. One ship continued
searching to the eastwards and the other, the cargo vessel Tregenna, to the westward. On 9
June she was zigzagging on a course about one hundred and fifty miles behind
the lifeboats, but then she turned north-east and maintained this direction
until 13 June, when she again proceeded on her westward course to
Type 1 back, 'POSTCARD' measures 37mm
Type 2 back, 'POSTCARD' measures 45mm
had been no time to collect chronometers before the Trevessa sank, so Foster was
unable to calculate latitude accurately; but by keeping to the latitude of
Rodriguez, the most easterly of the
the First World War Foster had spent ten days in a lifeboat after his ship had
been torpedoed in the Atlantic, and twelve of the thirty-one men in it had died
from exposure before reaching the north coast of
By the end of a week everyone was looking haggard and was suffering from the shortage of food and drink - water was the dominant thought on everyone's mind. Late on the morning of the 14 June they sailed into a big squall, and they caught enough rainwater for everyone to have a good drink.
was sailing almost as fast as Foster, but his track was some distance to the
south of the other boat, and they never sighted one another again. Speeding in
the same direction but about two hundred miles south of Smith's track was the Tregenna, bound for
both lifeboats were meeting heavy weather. This brought more rain, which was
very welcome; but the crews were kept busy baling, which made great demands on
their little remaining strength. Moreover, for several periods the weather was
so bad that it became necessary to heave to and ride to a sea-anchor. Foster
was having great difficulty in keeping on the desired latitude, and he had only
a very approximate idea how far west he was. But by his reckoning they
should sight land in a week's time.
chief officer's boat was almost keeping pace with the captain's but was well to
the southward, too much so to make Rodreguez Island.
The conditions of wind and sea were making it impossible to steer an exact
compass course. On 22 June Smith reduced the rations by half as a precautionary
measure, as there still remained enough water and biscuits for another week. No
land was sighted, and Smith held on his course westward to
Foster reduced the rations in his boat at almost the same time as Smith, also as a precaution against missing Rodreguez.
25 June, in mid-afternoon, land was sighted to the south-west. By four o'clock
they were close enough to land for there to be no doubt that it was indeed
island's doctor had the four weakest sent to hospital; the others were taken
into homes and given every attention. There was an Eastern Telegraph Company
station on the island, and Foster telegraphed to
days later Foster received a telegraph that the chief officer's boat had
British naval vessel sailed from
British survivors of the Trevessa
sailed for home on a
was built in
have looked at the cards in my collection and the lifeboat is visible on one of
the Aerial View cards and Beagle 696G, which appear to have been taken before
the Exhibition was opened as the greenhouse has not yet been built, and the
lifeboat is alongside the Pavilion. Valentine's XL series card number 91132
shows a front view of
The cards have been found with two backs, and it is possible that these reflect the two years it was there.