Introduction

Many people visit the Lookout and write in the Visitors Book. A recent dramatic entry recorded that the writer was “Great-grandson of William Rogers drowned on 27 January 1803 on RNLI Wolverhampton, Mumbles (lifeboat) and great-grand-nephew of Thomas Rogers, Coxswain of the Mumbles lifeboat, drowned in a rescue of 1903.”

The tragedy of having two members of the family, both of them lifeboatmen of the Mumbles Lifeboat, both drowned in separate incidents 20 years apart, demanded investigation. It turned out that they were first cousins: William had been a young man, drowned and his body never recovered, in the 1883 disaster; and Thomas, by then Coxswain of the Mumbles lifeboat, a well-known local figure making his way to rescues, always with his pipe in his mouth. There is an audio-tape of an old man's recollection of watching, as a young lad, Thomas Rogers with his pipe clenched in his teeth, running down to the boat that day, never to return alive.

What follows is the account of the two disasters from Kate Jones, secretary of the Oystermouth Hisorical Association, who is writing an illustrated history of the Mumbles Lifeboat to be published by the RNLI in March 2017.

Audrey Frank

The Wreck of the Admiral Prinz Adalbert and the First Mumbles Lifeboat Disaster 1883

Jenkin Jenkins first coxswain Mumbles lifeboatOn the morning of Saturday 27 January 1883 the Mumbles Lifeboat Wolverhampton went to the aid of a German barque, Admiral Prinz Adalbert, which had been driven onto the rocks of Mumbles Head in a terrible gale. The lifeboat, manned by Coxswain Jenkin Jenkins and 12 men, capsized in rough seas off the lighthouse island and all the men were swept overboard. Some were thrown by the waves against the wrecked ship and jagged rocks sustaining severe injuries. Two were pulled from the sea by the combined efforts of a soldier stationed at the island’s fort and two daughters of the lighthouse keeper – Jessie Ace and Margaret Wright. These were to be known as the Women of Mumbles Head – immortalised in Clement Scott’s contemporary poem of the same name. Other lifeboatmen managed, despite their injuries, to scramble ashore, but two of the coxswain’s sons (John and William Jenkins) and his son-in-law (William Macnamara) drowned. Their fellow crewman William Rogers also lost his life - his body was never found. One of the barque’s crew perished when the lifeboat capsized but the rest survived. The disaster left four Mumbles widows and 19 fatherless children. Two other ships were wrecked on the Gower coast that weekend – the Agnes Jack off Port Eynon and the James Gray off Porthcawl – in total 44 lives were lost. The loss of the Agnes Jack led to the establishment of a lifeboat at Port Eynon.

The Second Mumbles Lifeboat Disaster 1903

L-R Coxswain Tom Rogers, Second Coxswain Daniel Claypitt, crewman David John Morgan, c1899Twenty years later six more lifeboatmen lost their lives in the second Mumbles Lifeboat disaster. On the afternoon of Sunday 1 February 1903 the lifeboat James Stevens No. 12 launched to go across Swansea Bay to stand-by a Waterford schooner, SS Christina, which had gone aground in bad weather the previous day. The Christina was high and dry with her crew in no danger and it was hoped to re-float her on the next high tide. The Mumbles lifeboat, manned by Coxswain Tom Rogers and 13 men reached Port Talbot before high tide and the coxswain decided to enter the harbour. Crossing the bar the lifeboat was caught by heavy seas and capsized. Her crew fought for their lives in icy waters. Despite heroic efforts by lifeboatman Samuel Gammon (who saved four of his comrades) and the Harbour Master and sailors on the breakwater, six men were lost - Coxswain Tom Rogers his deputy, Daniel Claypitt, David John Morgan, Robert Smith, George Michael and James Gammon. Five were married with 35 children between them. Mumbles was a small community and many of the village families were closely related - William Rogers and Tom Rogers were first cousins, their deaths 20 years apart.

Notes and Citations

  • Photo: Jenkin Jenkins, first coxswain of the Mumbles lifeboat, photo: Henry Chapman, 1883, RNLI/The Mumbles
  • Photo: L-R Coxswain Tom Rogers, Second Coxswain Daniel Claypitt, crewman David John Morgan c.1900; photo: unknown, RNLI/The Mumbles.
  • Kate Jones, secretary of the Oystermouth Historical Association, is writing an illustrated history of the Mumbles Lifeboat, to be published by the RNLI in March 2017.