Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The Birger tragedy October 22nd. 1898

It was exactly 113 years ago today that the Finnish Barque loaded with a cargo of salt got into trouble as far away as the Dogger Bank and as her condition worsened, she hoisted distress flags whilst off the coast of Scarborough.( no Radios, Radar or GPS in 1898 )

She was at the mercy of a strong Easterly gale and it was thought that she might head for the safety of Whitby harbour. The story was that rockets fired to alert the Whitby Lifeboat crew were misinterpreted by the skipper as warning shots, so he ran with the gale heading further north.

The first sighting of the Birger was as she first struck the Saltscar rocks where the Captain ( Karl Nordling) and First Officer were killed by the collapse of the masts and rigging.
Redcar's old Lifeboat 'United Free Gardeners' that had given such good service to the town for many years had been retired for almost 10 years, but on that afternoon was manned by local fishermen and set out to help.. Unfortunately her years of neglect took it's toll and as they tried to row through the huge breakers, oars snapped and the boat was smashed back to the shore, luckily with all crewmen still aboard.

The National lifeboat “Brothers” fared better with the crew hauling the lifeboat along the beach, putting to sea, and able to row through the Mountainous seas to look for survivors.
Some of the Birger's crewmen were seen in the water by locals who had assembled on Coatham Pier. One of the crew was hauled ashore and another managed to grab a rope thrown from the Pier,,this one survived but 13 of the 15 man crew perished as they were overcome by the mountainous seas.

A little time later the Birger smashed through Coatham Pier almost scattering spectators as she began to break up on the shore.

Due to casualties being scattered over a large area it was not unusual for some to be buried in Coatham Church,( Redcar) St Germains (Marske) and The Holy Trinity Church ( Hartlepool)

The Pier never did get repaired and later was dismantled,
The only signs of the pier are now are the base of some of the legs which can be still seen at low water.

The Birger anchor stands on the Esplanade on the site of the Redcar Pier and is a stark reminder of the dedication of Redcars' Lifeboatmen and the volunteer fishing community.

Content from Fred Brunskil

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