The Atherfield Ledge on the SW Coast of the Isle of Wight became the graveyard of many ships, one of which was the SV Auguste. MAT volunteer Roger Burns relates the history and wrecking of this vessel.


The Ship

Launched as the Victoria Cross on 16 September 1863 and completed just a few weeks later on 29th October. The ship was constructed by Pile, Spence & Company of West Hartlepool for the Cayland Brothers, Liverpool; the iron hulled was fully rigged, built for general cargo, and was a 3-masted sailing ship destined for the East India trade. The Victoria Cross was in the vanguard of iron hulled construction, and although a number of these small vessels had been built previously, iron hull construction accelerated from about 1862. This was both in numbers and tonnage, peaking in the mid-1870s after which steel hulls from the mid-1880s became the norm.

Figure 1: SV Auguste. Unknown date.
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Victoria Cross was registered at Liverpool with ON47578 and was 66.38m long with 12.2m beam, 6.92m internal depth, 1,262 gross registered tonnes, and allocated V.P.F.S. as its International Call sign. Ownership changed to John Coupland, Goscote Hall Leicester between 1875 and 1888, when it was sold to J.H.C. Nicolai of Brake, Germany, reregistered in Germany, and renamed the Auguste, Figure 1. Here, it was re-rigged as a 3-masted barque, 1,298 gross registered tonnes, and allocated a new Call sign of N.G.F.M.


Voyage History
Its voyage history is unclear as available records, with some exceptions, do not clearly differentiate it from a contemporaneous vessel of the same name, also Liverpool registered.

Despite this, there are some known instances of the vessel when it was known both as the Victoria Cross and Auguste. On 10th March 1872, during a voyage from Bombay to Liverpool, The Victoria Cross’ captain Alfred J. Cowley died at sea. The vessel’s next record of note was on 7th November 1881, when The Manchester Evening News reported a special cable message had been received from San Francisco that morning. The news reported the ship had arrived with the ‘cargo on fire’, and large quantities of water were being pumped onto the vessel to extinguish the flame*. In July 1896, now known as the Auguste, the vessel was bound for Plymouth from Dantzic with a cargo of wood. On route, it became grounded in Dunkirk Roads, dismasted and waterlogged, before being towed into Dunkirk. By February of 1899, the Auguste was subjected to a Lloyd’s Report of Survey for Repairs consisting of a dry-dock inspection in London. The ship was inspected from top to bottom, with thorough assessment of the ships bottom, cleaning and recoating, and installation of a new bow anchor, the overall assessment following repairs classified as “good” prior to sailing to Algoa Bay.


The Loss

The Auguste with 18 crew commanded by A. Ammerman had departed Freemantle, Western Australia, for London with a cargo of Jarrah wood which is a hard wood, grown only in Western Australia, and its uses include marine applications. In the final stage of its voyage, the Auguste was driven ashore at Atherfield Ledge, Figure 2, on the SW coast of the Isle of Wight at about 4.30 pm on 15 February 1900 during a southerly force 9 gale, with violent squalls and driving rain.

Figure 2: On Atherfield Ledge. Showing the lifeboat launch line, the “out-haul warp”
Source: © Kind permission of Carisbrooke Castle Museum

Emergency services were mobilised in what subsequently was regarded as one of the more dramatic rescues from wrecks around the Isle of Wight. The open Atherfield lifeboat, Catherine Swift, was launched but the ferocity of the seas prevented rescue of the Auguste crew who had taken to the ship’s rigging as seas broke over the Auguste; these waves also threatened to swamp the lifeboat, so it returned to shore. The Brighstone lifeboat, Joe Jarman, also tried and failed, going aground on a sandbank; and rocket lines were fired but did not reach the Auguste. At 2.30 am the next day with the wind moderating from the south-west, the Catherine Swift succeeded in taking all 18 crew to safety and by this time, the hull was full of water and all deck fittings had been swept away. Later in the morning, when the wind had changed and the weather became calmer, several of the crew returned to the wreck to save personal possessions, and some of the cargo. It was not until 28 February 1900 that a salvage steamer docked in Portsmouth with the first portion of stores salved from the Auguste. The Quarterly Journal of the RNLI, Vol. XVII–No 198 issued on 1 November 1900 recounts the rescue.


The Aftermath

An auction was held at the Camber dock at Portsmouth of “a quantity of serviceable ship’s stores” salved from the wreck of the Auguste. Announcements were placed in the local newspapers that local auctioneers Messrs Marvins would hold an auction to be held on 10 May 1900, of approximately 8,000 ft (c. 2,400m) in assorted lengths of Jarrah planking, 9in wide (c. 23cm) and 3 in thick (c. 7.6cm). The lots would be sold at the Clarendon hotel, Chale, salved between Brighstone and Rocken End, and at the Buddle Inn, Niton, salved between St. Catherine’s Detachment, and Steephill Cove, Ventnor, which gives an indication of how widespread the cargo had floated from the wreck. Marvins advertised that on the same day, the hull in the then as-found condition would also be auctioned. Details of the buyers and auction prices were not found.

Limited artefacts were recovered, consisting of some pieces of Jarrah, a number of deadeyes, and, in Figure 3, the remains of its steering wheel displayed in the Shipwreck Centre and Maritime Museum.

Figure 3: Remains of Auguste’s Steering Wheel
Shipwreck Centre and Maritime Museum

The remains of the wheel, the larger one in the foreground, are portrayed with a variety of artefacts not associated with the Auguste and is typical of wreckage sometimes found jumbled on the seabed.

Also displayed at the Shipwreck Centre and Maritime Museum is a piece of Jarrah, Figure 4.

Figure 4: Jarrah wood from SV Auguste’s cargo
Shipwreck Centre and Maritime Museum

It is unfortunate that such a good-looking sailing vessel is reduced to little by which it can be remembered but the fact that all the crew were saved despite the arduous conditions is testimony to their efforts and particularly by the endeavours of the crew of the RNLI lifeboat Catherine Swift.



* This report also illustrates that sailing ships of the period would often circumnavigate the globe to take advantage of prevailing winds – often there were cargoes of grain from west coast America and nitrates from Chile, but records only occasionally identify cargoes.

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