A Souvenir of the Wreck of the Steamer Forfarshire in 1838
A silver-plated stuffing spoon has recently appeared on the market from the Steam Ship Forfarshire- one of the most famous shipwrecks of the nineteenth century and the subject of many articles in the newspapers and books ever since. The rescue on 7th September 1838 of the 13 surviving passengers and crew (from a total of the 61 who embarked) saw the rise of Grace Darling, daughter of the keeper of the Longstone lighthouse on the Farne Islands, to the status of a national celebrity.
Grace Darling (1815-1842) managed to see the few survivors of the wreck on the Farne island of Big Harcar and then persuaded her father to attempt a rescue during the storm. The two of them, operating a boat designed for the use of three men, were successful and were the first recipients of the Silver medal issued by the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck (the future RNLI). In addition to this, the family received the Gold medallion from the Royal Humane Society and also Silver medals from Glasgow Humane Society and the Edinburgh and Leith Humane Society. In addition, there was a subscription on behalf of Grace Darling to which Queen Victoria gave £50 .
Even four years later when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert passed the Farne Islands, during the journey to Scotland for their first visit, the memory of the event caused an officer in the Royal Yacht Squadron to 'offer up silently, yet fervently, a prayer that no harm might happen to the precious freight intrusted to our charge' .
Plate 1: Postcard of the wreck of the Forfarshire.
The Forfarshire had been launched in Dundee in December 1835 and was described as 'being the first attempt of building a thorough sea-going steamer at this port, great anxiety was manifested regarding Mr. Adamson's labours; and unbounded satisfaction was expressed when it became apparent that the fine mould and general architectural excellence of this vessel would entitle her builder to be ranked amongst the leading marine architects of the day' . The ship was reported as measuring ' 330 tons per register, and will be propelled by two engines of 90 horsepower each; capable of being wrought up to 190- horsepower. The length of the keel is 127 feet; the length of the deck 140 feet; breadth, 40 and a half feet; with a large poop-deck. The Forfarshire is to be altogether fitted out in a very superior style, so as to render her, at once, a first rate vessel both for passengers and goods' .
By April 1836, the owners of the Forfarshire were advertising 'their Splendid, Powerful, and entirely new steam ship Forfarshire' as 'the fastest on the East Coast' and as having 'cabins and sleeping appartments have been fitted with every possible attention , so as to combine elegance with convenience... Provisions, wines and spirits, &c provided by the Steward , on the usual terms; and a Female Attendant is engaged expressly for the Ladies State room... Fares: Chief cabin, one pound; second cabin, Ten shillings; Deck, five shillings; steward's fee included' .
The last description sadly does not describe the internal decoration and fittings of the ship in detail but this silver plated stuffing spoon appears to be the only one recorded outside the Grace Darling Museum in Alnmouth. The Museum also has an identical spoon (with the same apparently unrecorded set of pseudo hallmarks) ─ as well as a soup ladle, a tablespoon, table knife, table fork and two parts of tea set.
Plate 2: Front of stuffing spoon.
Plate 3: Engraving on stuffing spoon.
Plate 4: Pseudo hallmarks on stuffing spoon.
In 2015 Charles Miller Limited sold a transfer-printed ceramic vegetable tureen from the Forfarshire, that would presumably have been used with a spoon like this, for £2000 (plus auctioneer's charges)
The Forfarshire sailed up and down the East Coast of Britain from early 1836 and on 5th September 1838 she left Hull on her return trip to Dundee. Just after passing Flamborough Head the ship hit bad weather and sought shelter behind the Farne Islands- sadly she struck one of these '[Harkars Rock] in eight or ten fathoms water, from the paddle wheels forward, right through the main hatchway...The anchors and some of the stores were safely brought to North Sunderland... [and] other parts have been thrown ashore at Amble, Hauxley etc... A part of the wreck is also lying sunk a little to the south of the Harkars rock, but a rope has been attached to it with the expectation of being able to raise it” .
On October 2nd 1838, The Times recorded some of the objects from the Forfarshire 'which the crew had picked up off the Farne [Islands] on the morning the vessel was wrecked... as also a number of silver spoons [author's italics] etc' . An alternative source for the spoon could be the 'Sale of the Wreck of the Forfarshire ... for the benefit of the underwriters' held on 17th October 1838 at North Sunderland where 'the deep interest which has attached to the vessel's melancholy fate, and the remarkable incidents connected with it, drew together a numerous company, including many persons from a considerable distance. The sale was attended by Mr. Just, the manager of the company at Dundee, and by the agent and sub-agent at Lloyd's. Mr. Adamson, ship builder, Dundee was a purchaser to a considerable amount, and numerous purchases were made of articles belonging to the vessel by persons who intended to preserve them as relics (author's italics). The splendid ship bell of the vessel was purchased by Mr. Clark, of Belford-hall. The wreck sold altogether for about [£500], a sum which we understand is considerably larger than was anticipated' .
No catalogue for the auction of the wreck appears to have survived, if one were ever printed, so it is not possible to know whether any spoons were among the lots sold or whether this could be one of those pulled from the sea in the aftermath of the storm in September 1838.
Luke Schrager FSA
P.O Box 227, London N6 4EW, England.