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 The Josephine Willis' 1856

New Zealand Bound
The Fatal Collision off Folkestone

The 786-ton New Zealand packet ship, collided with the s.s. Mangerton, 3˝ mi. SSW of Folkestone and sank. The Josephine Willis did not sink until upwards of an hour after she was run down by the Magerton steamer, and yet seventy lives in consequence of the confusion, or something else, that prevailed on board both vessels after they came into collision.

Daily Southern Cross, 13 May 1856, Page 2

The 'Josephine Willis' was a first-class ship of 1000 tons burthen. She belonged to Messrs. Fletcher, of Limehouse, and was chartered by Messrs. Willis and Co., who run a regular monthly line of packets to New Zealand, for a. voyage to Auckland. She cleared out from St. Katherine's Docks, laden with a valuable and miscellaneous cargo, ten-class passengers, amongst them Mr. and Mrs. Ray and a brother, relatives of the owners, about sixty steerage passengers, and a crew, officers and men, of some 35 in number, upwards of 100 on board, all told. She was towed down the river from Gravesend out to sea, and the pilot left her off Deal at six o'clock on Sunday evening. The weather was fine and clear, with a moderate fair wind E.N.E., favourable for her run down Channel. She had passed the South Foreland, and was proceeding as satisfactory as could be wished, when about half-past seven o'clock, Sandgate bearing S.S W. nine miles distant, a cry was raised by the look-out forward of a light a head. The steamer came on, and struck the ship amidships with such tremendous force as to cut her down to the water's edge. A scene of the most painful description immediately ensued amongst the passengers on board the Josephine Willis,' and a rush was made to get on board the steamer, which as then ascertained to be the 'Mangerton,' Captain Boucher, from Limerick to the Thames. Unhappily, from some unexplained cause, Captain Boucher almost directly backed his vessel out from the wreck. He may have had some good reason for doing so but it is alleged that, had he remained or stood by, the larger portion of those onboard the ship might have been rescued. Only a few managed to scramble on board the steamer ; others were accidentally picked up some time afterwards Captain Canney, who, throughout the whole of the trying scene exhibited the most noble and seamanlike conduct, endeavoured to pacify the terrified creatures by assuring them that if they only attended to his orders all would be saved. He called to them to come aft, where the bulk of the passengers were last seen. The ship then heeled over with the end of her yards in the water. The 'Mangerton' steamer appears not to have made any attempt to go in search of the ship she had run into.

Why did the Mangerton backed away from the Josephine Willis in her wrecked state?


Passengers saved, 13 ; officers and crew, 22: Kester Clayton, chief officer, steward, passenger's cook, boatswain's mate - John Trill, one midshipman, one apprentice, three boys, two sailors - William Grindle, James Newman and the ship's butcher); total, 35.

Chief Cabin — George Andrews [of St. Austel, Cornwall], Henry Grey Ray, Mrs. Henry Ray, of Milton, near Sittingbourne.
Second Cabin — Chas. C. Fleming, Wm. Ripley.
Steerage — Walter Wright, George Horner, William Ford, Wm W. Wallis, Jas. S. Scott, David Garside, George Sutton [a boy], Miss Catherine May.


Cabin passengers lost, 20 : steerage ditto, 36 ; crew. 14 ; total lost, 70.

Captain Edward Canney
Cabin Cabin — Fredk. Golding, Stanhope Vickers, Herbert G. Ray, Miss Emma J. Logan, Master A. H. Logan.
Second Cabin — John Hamilton, Mrs. Jane Hamilton, Robert, Alexander, Samuel Hamilton, Mrs. Sarah, Master W. James, Samuel, Agnes, Mr. Hamilton, Miss Susan Nicholls, Charles Stuart, Mrs. Harriet Stuart, Sydney [Sidney] Wm. Beck.
Steerage. — Henry Davis, Mrs. Hannah Davis, Rebecca and Cresswell A. Davis, Sarah Lamb, Elizabeth Lamb, Wm. Lloyd, Margaret Egan, Arthur Lawler, Catharine Gibbons, Catherine Bunke, Elizabeth May, Sarah Walters, Margaret Sharp, Caroline Gore, John and Jane O'Neil, James Sutton, Harriet, William, and Francis Sutton, Elizabeth Austin, John George Austin, Henry Guttersen, Margaret Guttersen, Mary De Kruger, Henry De Kruger, Edward De Kruger, Robert De Kruger, Frederick De Kruger.


Mrs. Harriet Sutton, Miss M. Parkhouse, Mrs. Agnes Davis, Master Asher Davis.
De Kruger and Jane De Kruger, A. O'Neil, J. O'Neil, J. O'Neil.

A further inquiry was instituted on the 9th before the Coroner of Cinque Ports, which ended in a verdict of manslaughter against Richard Bouichier, the Captain of the steamer. The Coroner accordingly issued a warrant for his apprehension. The evidence on that occasion is embodied in that taken in the following official inquiry, held on the 14th.

This shocking catastrophe created the most painful interest along the coast.

OFFICIAL INQUIRY. (From the Times, 15th February.)

The captain of the steamer was charged with, manslaughter as the result of the investigation ; but the police were unable to trace him. At the resumed inquiry, the jury, after more than an hour's deliberation, returned the following verdict ; "We come to a unanimous conclusion that George Summers, and others, came by their death in consequence of a collision between the ship 'Josephine Willis' and the steamer 'Mangerton,' owing to an error in judgment on the part of the" chief officer of the ship, mistaking the light of the steamer for Dungeness Light, and star boarding the helm. We also agree, that if a proper look-out had been kept on board of the steamer, the collision might have been avoided. We feel it our duty also to state that there appears to have been a great want of humanity on the part of the crews of both ships, in not sending assistance to the passengers of the ship while they had it in their power to do so ; and we believe that, if proper efforts had been made, many more lives would have been saved. The annexed list of the unfortunate creatures who are believed to have gone down in the ship and perished, has been furnished by Messrs. Willis and Co., the brokers, of Crosby Square, the charterers of the Josephine Willis.

Why there was not a watch better kept on board both vessels?

Otago Witness, 31 May 1856, Page 2

The scene on board the Josephine Willis just before she careened over and went down is described by the survivors to have been truly horrible. Capt. Canney, the unfortunate master, was below at the time, marking out his course on a chart he had on the cabin table ; the chief officer (Mr. Clayton) having charge of the watch on deck. William Grindle, a seaman, was at the wheel, and two look-out men (John Sheen and another man) were forward. Sheen, in his deposition before the Receiver of Admirality Droits at. Ramsgate, stated that the ship was going about 6 knots at the time, on the port tack, the wind being S.E., and not E S.E., as reported. Seeing a steamer approaching, he notified the same to the mate, who immediately called out to the man at the wheel to put her helm a starboard. The mate at the same time shouted to the steamer, but no notice was taken, the steamer continuing her course, and in less than five minutes the collision took place. Captain Bouchier of the steamer Mangerton, in his report of the occurrence to Lloyd's agent at Deal, stated that he observed the Josephine Willis apparently starboard her helm, he (Capt. Bouchier) having just previously put his helm hard a port, and before there was time to reverse the engines the vessels met, the ship striking them on the port bow, and the steamer striking the ship abaft the fore rigging on the starboard side. Upon hearing the terrible crash Captain Canney rushed up on deck. His first order was to sound the pumps; and, on the steamer backing out, which might have occurred some eight or ten minutes afterwards, he called out to the man at the helm to keep her due north. The helm was put up, but by this time she was careening over and would not steer. The poop deck was crowded with passengers, and the captain, seeing that the ship was foundering told them to throw the hencoops over board and hold on to them. All the boats were gone ; they were capable of holding all hands, but they were sent adrift with only a few people in them. The last that was seen of the captain was after the ship had fallen over on her beam ends, with her topgallant yards in the water. He was then clinging to a hencoop in the water, together with two females. Throughout the trying scene he is reported to have behaved with the greatest coolness and bravery.
    The enquiry opened on Tuesday week before fore Mr. East, the Folkestone coroner, respecting the death of three of the unfortunate sufferers in the wreck of the Josephine Willis, was resumed on Tuesday at the Guildhall of that borough. The evidence was almost the same as given at the Deal inquiry. The jury, after more than an hour's deliberation, returned the following verdict :— " We come to a unanimous conclusion that George Summers and others came by their deaths in consequence of a collision between the ship Josephine Willis and the steamer Mangerton, owing to an error in judgment on the part of the chief officer of the ship, mistaking the light of the steamer for Dungpness Light and star boarding the helm. We also agree that if a proper look-out had been kept on board the steamer, the collision might have been avoided. We feel it our duty -also to state that there appear to have been a great want of humanity on the part of the crew of both ships, in not sending assistance to the passengers of the ship whilst they hid it in their power to do so ; and we believe that if proper efforts had been made, many more lives would have been saved."

Her starboard side was stove in, and she was thrown over on her beam-end.

Daily Southern Cross, 13 May 1856, Page 2

Mr. Kester Clayton was the first witness called. He said, in answer to questions by Mr. Yardley,— I was chief officer of the 'Josephine Willis,' a passenger ship of 786 tons burden, bound from London to Auckland, New Zealand. She left London on Saturday morning, the 2nd of February, and passed through the Downs and by the South Foreland, the latter at 6 p.m. on Sunday, the 3rd. The crew, 40 in number, consisted of a captain, three officers, an assistant-surgeon, and able bodied seamen and apprentices. There were also about 65 passengers on board. The ship was in all respects in an efficient state when she left London. When we passed the South Foreland the wind was south-east. The atmosphere was beautifully clear overhead, but hazy on the water and the horizon. My watch was from 6to 8 o'clock that evening The accident happened a little after 8 o'clock, and when I had charge of the ship. I was on the poop at the time. A man named Grindle had charge of the wheel. About 7 o'clock the wind changed to the S. S. E. ... When the steamer struck us she backed away. After the collision, and not before, the steamer  reversed her engines. I saw that by the back water coming up the ship's side. She backed astern, and then went on ahead for about half a mile. I reported  to the captain that the ship was rapidly filling with water through the breach in her side made by the steamer, and he ordered the boats to be lowered. The two quarter-boats were then lowered, and one of them was stove in while being lowered by the passengers. I returned to the poop with Mr. Mahon, the third mate, where I found the captain pulling his coat off. He directed me to throw the hencoops over broad, which I did, so far as I was able. The passengers and crew were then mostly on the poop, but I could not in the confusion distinguish passengers from crew. I noticed a man and his wife in their night dresses on the poop. The captain called out for all persons below to come on to the poop, but I cannot say whether any effort was made to get them up, except calling out. About the panic time or a little after, the captain ordered the quarter boats to be lowered ; he also ordered the lifeboat to be lowered I went to endeavour to get the longboat ready, but I found the water on the quauter-deck knee deep I returned to the poop, and the ship heeled over and I went overboard. By chance I got hold of a rope end, and hauled myself into the rigging of the mizentop. The ship was then lying on her beam ends in the water. There were four or five others in the rigging besides myself, one of whom was the carpenter, and several of the passengers and crew — calling out for assistance to the steamer, but she did not' return. The steamer's boat at length came with two passengers in her, but with none of the steamer's crew, and took myself and the others off the rigging, and conveyed us to the steamer, about half a mile distant. Before being taken into the boat I was so benumbed that I fell into the water, and I was hauled into the boat by the carpenter. The steamer was then lying to with no sails set, and without her machinery in motion, and the crew were engaged in removing the cargo from the fore part of the ship. I went to the captain of the steamer, and asked him if he was going back to the ship ; he replied that he had to remove the cargo from the fore part of his vssel. I was then ill and benumbed with cold, and went down below to warm myself After an hour or two I returned on deck and assisted in removing the cargo. When I was down warming myself the machinery of the steamer was not put in motion at all, and on my returning on deck she was lying in much the same position, except that she had drifted a little. No effort, that I know, was made on the part of the steamer to return to the ship ; but she let off rockets and blue lights. The steamer eventually returned to Ramsgate harbour. We had finished removing the cargo before the machinery was set in motion to return to Ramsgate. By Captain Robertson— When I saw the green light, the red light, and the bright light at the same time, I did not alter my helm. When I lost the green light, and saw only the bright light and the red light, the head of the steamer was then coming directly towards us. By my losing sight of the green light I knew the steamer must have ported her helm. I never altered my helm until I saw the collision was inevitable, considering if the steamer kept in the course she was then going we should steer clear. When I saw the three lights I knew there was no risk of a collision ; and if I had then ported my helm I should have run right into her. When the captain came on deck he could do nothing to avert the collision. I consider my evidence as to what took place on board of the steamer after I got there as with nothing, as I was then in a state almost insensible for a time. We had on board the Josephine Willis, fixed on the bowsprit, one lamp, showing three different coloured lights. I have a certificate of competency from the Trinity Board. I consider the light earned by the Josephine Willis to be a proper one. I don't know that the act of Parliament says that no vessel except a steamer should carry a bright light, a red light, and a green light. When I passed the Trinity Board the present rules of the board were not in existence.

Mr. Henry Grey Ray, examined by Mr. Yardley, said, — I was a passenger, with my wife and brother, on board the Josephine Willis. I was on deck about 20 minutes before the collision took place, and I was on the poop when it occurred. The look-out man reported a light ahead. After that I saw a red light. The order was then given to luff, and the mate ran forward. I then saw a green light, and the order was given to luff again  afterwards lost sight of the green light. I think, the mate had gone forward before we lost sight ol the green light, but lam not sure. After I List sight of the green light I saw all three lights again; and the green light was insight until just a few seconds before the steamer struck us. I heard no order given to the man at the helm after the mate went forward. The steamer took a sweep just before the collision and came right into the Josephine Willis, as if she (the steamer) had pointed her helm. Immediately after the collision I heard the captain give order to lower the boats. I saw several persons lowering one of the quarter boats, which was stove in in the process. I had previously put my wile and another woman into the boat. The doctor, a man named Smith, the second mate, myself, and two others were also in the boat. The boat at length got clear of the ship, and on tacking the water a coat was put into the hole, and kept her from sinking. After putting off from the ship we came up with the lifeboat of the Josephine Willis, in which were about 20 persons, but I could not say who they were, and I put my wife and the other woman into her. On getting on board the Mangerton I saw the boatswain of the Josephine Willis, and I volunteered to go with him to the wreck in the lifeboat, to afford assistance to any of the passengers who might be alive ; but he refused to go, alleging as a reason that in the state the steamer then was she might go down, and if he did not keep the lifeboat near her, the persons who had already been saved might go down with her. That gave me a notion of the dangerous condition of the Mangerton, and I did not further urge the boatswain to go to the wreck, nor did go myself with any one else. The captain of the steamer said he must remove the cargo from the fore part of the vessel, to insure her safety and all on broad, before he could go to the assistance of the Josephine Willis. The whole of the crew of the steamer were then engaged in the removal of the cargo. Before the safety of the steamer was ascertained a boat was sent from her to the relief of the ship, and she returned about half-past 9, bringing Clayton and several others ; but four of the crew of the Josephine Willis, who had got on board the steamer, had previous to that time refused to go on that errand when it was proposed to them. A little after 10 those men and others left the steamer in the lifeboat of the Josephine Willis, with the intention, as we thought, of going to the assistance of any one who might be floating about the scene of the wreck ; but I did not see anything of them afterwards. I believe they landed at Deal. A Deal lugger was also hailed by the captain of the Mangerton, and sent out to the assistance of the Josephine Willis. That lugger would have carried 50 or 60 persons, and the lifeboat from 20 to 30. I think some portion of the crew and some of the boats of the steamer might have been spared to go to the succour of the Josephine Willis. The sea was calm, and I saw nothing to prevent them. We heard a great cry of distress from a number of persons on the Josephine Willis just as the Deal lugger came alongside the steamer, and she and the lifeboat went away to their relief. It did not occur to me at 10 o'clock, when the steamer was ascertained to be safe, to despatch some of the boats of the steamer to the assistance of the crew and passengers of the ship, because I thought the lugger and the lifeboat which had gone away on that errand were amply sufficient. There would have been no danger whatever in going away in the boats of the steamer in search of any of the crew and passengers who might be floating about on spars or any part of the wreck. It was safer to be in the boats than on board the steamer herself. The witness was cross-examined at some length, but nothing material elicited. Corroborative evidence was given by William Grindle, the man at the helm of the Josephine Willis at the time of the collision; James Smith, a seaman ; and John Trill, the boatswain's mate and the inquiry was adjourned at half past 4 o'clock, until this morning at 11.

North Otago Times, 15 February 1881, Page 2
It is just a quarter of century yesterday (says the New Zealand Herald of February 3rd), since the wreck of the ship Josephine Willis, bound from London to Auckland, which was run into by the Limerick steamer Mangerton in the English Channel. On that sad occasion about seventy lives were lost. Among the saved, and one of the very few who afterwards came on to Auckland, was Mr Ripley, owner of the York Hotel, Newton. Mr Ripley was one of the seven who clung for hours to the spars after the ship went down, and has good reason to remember the sad occurrence. One of the most distressing episodes of the wreck was the drowning of two of the children — son and daughter — of Mr W. R. Logan, of Otihtihu They had been left in Scotland to finish their education, and were on their way out, in charge of Captain Canney, to join their father at Auckland. The young lady, aged seventeen, was well nigh saved, as two passengers and one of the officers gallantly rescued her when the ship went down, and got her to a spar after clinging to it for some time Miss Logan succumbed to exhaustion, and was swept away as the sea broke over it.

The Mangerton had her bows and stem completely driven in and in sounding the pumps it was ascertained that she was making water.

The Wesleyan missionary notices - 1856. Page 47
A Schoolmaster for Aotea, New Zealand with his whole family, Lost at Sea.
Mr Hamilton, formerly Schoolmaster in Sheffield, and subsequently at St. John's Newfoundland, which place he was compelled to leave for the recovery of his health, was one of the passengers by the "Josephine Willis", bound for New Zealand, the vessel which was destroyed, off Folkstone, on the evening of Sunday, February 3rd, by collision. His entire family perished - wife and four children.

The Primitive Church Magazine - Page 76. 1856  In the Parish of St. Faith, under St. Paul's city of London.
Mr George Lamb, his wife, and daughter, who were members of the Baptist church, Windsor, and he a deacon thereof, sailed on Saturday, February 2nd, for New Zealand in the "Josephine Willis" from St. Katherine Docks. On Sunday afternoon he wrote a letter by the pilot, who left the ship in the Downs, to say, how very comfortable they were, and what a bright prospect they had of getting through the Channel in a few days. But how uncertain are all things here below! At eight o'clock the same evening, when about six miles off Folkstone harbour, they were run into by a large Irish steamer and sunk to the bottom of the sea, Mr Lamb and family not having time to reach the deck, but are supposed to be even now shut in their cabin, to which they retired before the collision took place.     Their pastor, the Rev. S. Lillycrop, improved the solemn event by preaching a funeral sermon on the following Lord's day evening to the largest congregation that ever assembled in Victoria Chapel, from Habakkuk iii 15 16.
    O what a loud call is this to all who hear the solemn account! It seems to echo the language of inspiration with redoubled energy, "Be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not, the son of Man cometh.' There is no doubt upon the minds of those who knew the departed, but that they were ready for the summons. Few men bore stronger evidence of grace in the heart than Mr Lamb, as a private Christian, a deacon, and a preacher of the gospel. Mrs L. had, from her youth, given a living testimony to the power of Divine love in drawing her affections to Christ; and the daughter had been a teacher of the first class in the Sunday school, as well as an exemplary member of the church.
    Sudden death is sudden glory. "these are they who came out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made tham white in the blood of the Lamb."

Mr W.H. Ripley, went back to London, and came out on the Lord Burleigh in 1856 to Auckland where he died in 1926.

Daily Southern Cross, 11 July 1856, Page 2

Among the passengers by the Sandford are four -of those who survived the wreck of the ill-fated Josephine Willis : Miss May (related, we believe, to Mr. Joseph May,) who was saved in the ship's boat ; Mr. Fleming (related, we understand, to Mr. S. Fleming, of Onehunga) Mr. Wright, and Mr. Garsides. There is now on hoard the Sandford, a man, a native of Prussia, whose escape from a watery grave may be said to have been almost miraculous. The Sandford, on her way down the channel, took her departure from Start-point, at 4a. m., on the 11th March. At noon on the same day, a singular object was descried on the surface of the water, which, on coming up to it, proved to be a human being floating on a small portion of a ship's poop. The ship was hove-too, a boat lowered and the man rescued, literally, from the jaws of death. He proved to be a seaman belonging to a Prussian vessel, which had been run into by an English brig, and which had sunk immediately. All hands were lost but himself.

Hunt's Yachting Magazine - Page 187
Trinity House, London, February 7th, 1856.
Wreck off Folkstone. —Notice is hereby given, that a Green Buoy, marked with the word "Wreck" has been placed 20 fathoms south-west of the ship Josephine Willis, sunk about 3 ˝ miles off Folkestone. The Buoy lies in 14 fathoms at low water spring tides, with the following compass bearings, viz:—Folkestone Church N.b.E.  ˝ E ; Extreme Point of the South Foreland E.N.E.
By Order, J. Herbert, Secretary.

Reports of Cases Decided in the High Court of Admiralty of England: - Page 124
June 1856 As to the facts of the present case, it appears from the evidence of Clayton,
the chief mate, who was in charge of the Josephine Willis at the time, ...
The Josephine Willis was to blame for not porting her helm when the red light of the steamer was seen; that her own light was not in accordance with the Admiralty regulations for vessels under way, and that this contributed to bring about the collision; if she had shown a proper light, the iron screw steamer Mangerton might have ported her helm, or stopped her engines sooner.

The Nautical Magazine - Page 162
The Mangerton steamer — the vessel that run into the Josephine Willis — remains at
Ramsgate. She has been seized under Admiralty warrant for the loss of the "Josephine Willis."...

There is evidently something wrong in such a system of night signals as allowed a ship like the Josephine Willis to lose seventy lives in about an hour, ...

The sailing vessel, Josephine Willis, was carrying at the time a lamp fastened to her bowsprit end showing three lights, a bright light in front, a green light to the starboard, and a red light to the port.

The United Service Magazine By Arthur William Alsager Pollock v.84 (May-Aug. 1857)
Another instance of the disgraceful state of the present system of signals in
use to express distress, is exemplified in the fate of the Josephine Willis, ...It is positively a disgrace to the scientific age in which we live, that if a vessel is in imminent peril at night she may fire rockets and guns if she has them; and although these signals may be both seen and heard by people on shore, yet the chances are ten to one against her obtaining any assistance.

Mr Ray was not at the time the 'Josephine Willis' chief officer. He did serve in that capacity on the ' Josephine Willis's' first voyage, and all who then sailed in her will remember with pleasure whatever connection they had with him. Mr Ray was a passenger to New Zealand with his wife and brother, and was conversing with Captain Canney under the poop awning when the collision took place. When on board the steamer 'Mangerton' he volunteered to return to give assistance to the wreck.

 The Josephine Willis and a screw steamer, the Progress, proceeded down the River Thames in company, their captains being old school fellows and friends. Where was the Progress steamer all this time? She was about five or six miles off standing down channel. The captain of the screw saw the rockets fire by the Mangerton, and imagined that some vessel wanted a pilot, as sometimes rockets are fired for such a purpose or a friendly farewell, sent up rockets in reply but took no further action. Impressed with this idea he did not go to the assistant of his friend, neither did the boatmen on the beach at Folkstone put off in their boats.

Daily Southern Cross, 17 October 1854, Page 2
The new ship Josephine Willis, sister ship to the Joseph Fletcher, was to sail for this port in all August.

The 'Josephine Willis' was a new ship and had only made previous voyage to New Zealand and that was to New Plymouth and Auckland in 1854-1855.