As we know, the ‘Back of the Wight’ was certainly a dangerous place for mariners. But casualties also occurred off the Ventnor Coastline.
In September 1871, the fully rigged ship “Underley” came ashore between Bonchurch and Dunnose Point. The ship was built in 1866 for the Australian trade. The owner was a Captain Chambers, who traded as the Liverpool and Lancaster line. The vessel was build in Lancaster and was regarded as a ship of fine lines with a tonnage of 1200 tons and carried passengers as well as cargo.
The ship sailed from the Thames bound for Melbourne, but only two days later came to grief at Bonchurch. On the night of 25th/26th September she drove ashore in a south-easterly gale. On board were thirty passengers, the cargo included cotton goods, machinery and gunpowder. The captain was Captain Tidmarsh, but it transpired that a pilot from the Thames was in charge. Why was the ship so close into Bonchurch, which with a south-easterly gale would have made it a lee shore? The Court of Inquiry blamed the pilot for absence of care, and the captain for negligence in leaving his ship in charge of a pilot whose responsibilities ended at Dungeness.
Tugs were sent out from Portsmouth but could not move her, as by now she had broached broadside on to the waves. The Ventnor coastguard stood by with their rocket line. All her passengers and crew were saved, except for a steward, a Mr Richard Tatton-Groves, who foolishly re-boarded the vessel, it is said to rescue his pet bird, and was washed overboard as the vessel began to break up. The crew were taken to ‘East Dene’ to recover, the pilot and the captain were accommodated at the Commercial Inn at Ventnor.
This fine vessel became a total loss. For many years its ornately carved name board was to be seen affixed to a barn wall on the Landslip path close to where the wreck took place. We understand the board is now kept safely at a nearby property.
Graham Bennett, September 2012