Those who live and work on the Holderness coast know only too well the dangers to be faced when storms blow up, seas swell and treacherous tides put life and ships at risk. The seabed along this coast is littered with wrecks. Down the southern half of the coast alone, between Aldbrough and Spurn Point at least 500 shipwrecks have been recorded.
One of the better known wrecks is that of The Earl of Beaconsfield, a four-masted, iron sailing barque. She started life in 1864 as Cuba a 3-masted passenger steamer of the Cunard Line and made her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York in December of that year. She continued to make the Atlantic crossing until 1876 when Cunard decided she was too small to be economical (carrying 160 passengers) and she was sold to D Brown of London. She was subsequently converted to a 4-mast sailing ship and renamed The Earl of Beaconsfield after Queen Victoria’s favourite Prime Minister. In 1877 the ship made a record run from London to Hudson Bay in 78 days.
In 1887 whilst bringing a cargo of linseed and wheat from Calcutta she foundered on a sandbank off the coast near Aldbrough. Three tugs were brought out to assist her and tow her off ; the captain jettisoned the cargo to assist the refloat but the weather deteriorated and a heavy swell developed as the wind got up. It was to no avail. Her thirty seven crew members were taken off the ship by the lifeboat.
At the subsequent Inquiry the ship itself was valued at £25,000 and her jettisoned cargo at £35,000 – no mean sums in those days. The figurehead from the Earl of Beaconsfield was retrieved by a local family and finally handed over to the Hull Maritime Museum where it is now restored and on display.
After she foundered, her bones were put to good use by the local bird population. In a book –The Birds of Yorkshire, published in 1907 it was recorded that cormorants:
“…appropriated on the wreck of a sailing ship, the “Earl of Beaconsfield,” that went ashore near Aldbrough in 1887. One of the masts is left standing to warn fishing cobles of the danger to navigation, and on the crosstrees of the main mast several pairs of Cormorants have established themselves ; in 1893 it was reported that a pair had nested and brought off young, and since then they have been regularly observed ; sixteen were seen on 3ist August 1900, and nestlings have been recognised. In winter some return to the ship at sunset, but in early autumn they are ” at home ” after the tide begins to flow, when contests frequently take place for the post of honour.”
Today, at low tide her bows can be seen and her stern lies just a few feet under water and she proves a popular dive site.