South Shields
Ship Ashore at Frenchman’s Bay
Soldiers' Valuable Aid

While the gale was at its height, a large Dutch steamer named the Sliebrecht, belonging to Rotterdam, went ashore at Frenchmen's Bay, a couple of miles to the south of the Tyne. The vessel was seen about two o'clock steaming northwards, but something went wrong with her steering apparatus or the rudder, for she got out of control and drifted shorewards, eventually stranding close to the cliffs on the north side of the bay. A number of the soldiers, stationed in the vicinity who witnessed the casualty, ran to the cliff top to render assistance, and they were able to do valuable service.

Rigging a “boatswain s chair”, they lowered it down to the vessel, which was only about five yards from the cliff side, and by means of it they brought the crew one after another, until the whole of them, 26 number, were saved. The shipwrecked men were taken to some huts near, and found a shelter for the night. The vessel swung round broadside to the seas, which broke heavily over her. She is a steamer of, about 7,000 tons.

Source: Newcastle Journal 19 March 1915

Stranded Dutch Steamer
Still Lying of Frenchmen’s Bay Rocks

A part of the crew, including the captain, of the Dutch steamer Sliedrecht, which was driven ashore at Frenchmen's Bay during the late gale, have returned to the vessel, and are living on board. No salvage work has yet been undertaken. It is stated that the vessel's bottom has been penetrated by a large rock, so that the holds fill when the tide rises. The rudder has also been badly damaged. Other members of the crew are at the Sailor's' Home, North Shields.

Source: Newcastle Journal 22 March 1915

Salving of the Sliedrecht

We are informed that the Dutch steamer Sliedrecht, of Rotterdam (3,056 tons gross), which , was driven ashore at Frenchmen's Bay on the Durham coast during a gale on March 18th, was successfully floated this afternoon, and brought Into the Tyne. The vessel is extensively damaged. The salvage was undertaken by Clellands Graving Dock and Slipway Company, Willington Quay, and the towage of the vessel by the Anchor Tug Company, of North Shields.

Source: Newcastle Journal 29 April 1915

Medals for British Naval Men
From the Queen of Holland.

Her Majesty the Queen of Holland, in recognition the of officers and privates in rescuing the entire crew of 26 men of the Netherlands s.s. Sliedrecht, wrecked near Shields on March 18, has granted a gold medal and certificate to Second Lieut. W, B. Nesbit ,and a silver medal and certificate to each of the gunners R. Gowans, A. Balmer, J. McCase and A. R. Robson for their participation in the work. Lord Joicey will make the presentations on Tuesday at the Newcastle Commercial Exchange.

Source: Newcastle Evening Chronicle 28 August 1915 1915

Gifts from Queen of Holland
Medals Presented in Newcastle
Artillerymen’s Gallantry
Speech by Lord Joicey
Commercial Relations with Holland
Departmental Red Tape
Business Men to Deal with Difficulties

There was an interesting ceremony on the floor of the Newcastle Commercial Exchange, Quayside, at noon yesterday, when Lord Joicey, president of the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce, in the presence of the Lord Mayor, (Ald. John Fitzgerald), the Sheriff (Dr Dawson) and a large assembly of business men, presented to Second Lieutenant W. B. Nisbet, R.G.A. Tynemouth, son of Mr E. T. Nisbet, of the Lambton and Hetton Collieries, a gold medal and certificate, and silver medals and certificates to Gunners Gowans, Bulmer, McCabe and A. R. Robson, the gifts of her Majesty the Queen of Holland, in recognition of their services in rescuing the entire crew of 26 men of the Netherlands steamer Sliedrecht, which was wrecked near Frenchman’s Bay on March 18 last.

Lord Joicey’s Address

Lord Joicey referred at the outset to what the men of the merchant marine of our own and other countries had done especially at this time when great European countries were engaged in such severe conflict. The men of the Sliedrecht were men of the type who did honour to the mercantile marine, and when they got into difficulties near the entrance to the Tyne, we had some gallant men to help them. That was a unique occasion, for, while great countries were engaged in killing each other, they were met together to do honour to those who had saved life. Moreover, it was Queen Wilhelmina’s birthday, and therefore it was a still greater pleasure to them that the presentation should be made on so excellent a day. The relationships between England and Holland were very close. They had had some difficulties as commercial men to solve, because it seemed that everybody suspected his neighbour. He believed these difficulties could be better dealt with by an organisation of business men than through the medium of the Foreign Office or the Board of Trade. There might be rather strained relations between the commercial men of Holland and England, but these, he thought, would not have existed but for the red tape of departmental authorities, and if these authorities would only delegate their authority to competent business men in that district as he had often said before, they would soon see difficulties and unpleasantnesses removed.

Business with Holland

They must not overlook the fact that they had done business with Holland for many years past and were likely to do business with that country for many years to come; and they should try to remove rather than create difficulties and ill-feeling. His Lordship was glad to see that Mr Runciman, the President of the Board of Trade, had said the other day that England was anxious to send as much coal as possible to Holland for her own consumption. His Lordship could not understand how the difficulties were so great in getting licences if that were true. He felt certain that all difficulties could be removed if the questions were properly dealt with. Departmental authorities always muddied when they meddled. Whatever might be the action of the Government of this country, he hoped the relationship between the commercial men of England and the commercial men of Holland would remain as good as ever they had been. They as business men were anxious to remove difficulties and restraints.

Good Feeling

The ceremony of that day showed the good feeling between Holland and this country; and while we felt we had no warmer friends than the Dutch, he wished the Dutch to feel they had no better friends than the English. He hoped Holland would always be able to maintain her independence, with Great Britain to assist her, and that Holland and England would always be the best of friends. (Loud applause).

Lord Joicey then called upon Mr R. Oliver Heslop, Consul to the Netherlands in Newcastle, to describe the services rendered by Lieutenant Nisbet and his men to the crew of the Sliedrecht.

Story of the Rescue

Mr Heslop said that on March 18 last the Netherlands s.s. Sliedrecht, bound from Amsterdam to the Tyne, was approaching the coast, about noon, when heavy squalls with snow were encountered. In the struggle with the gale, the engines became disabled, and the vessel, rendered thus helpless drifted until, at 3 p.m., she struck the rocks at Frenchman’s Point broadside on. The officers and the men of the garrison stationed at the place immediately turned out to render help. This proved to be a matter of danger and difficulty, for the Sliedrecht lay on a ledge of the rocks at the front of a perpendicular precipice 90 feet in height, and the hurricane continued with unabated force. So violent was this that even to look seaward was rendered most difficult. As the tide was flowing, there was every appearance, from the manner in which the vessel was working, that it would breakup before the crew could be got off. Telephonic messages were sent to the nearest coastguard stations for their rocket apparatus. Meanwhile, four men volunteered to descend, and were lowered down to the shore, 90 feet below, where they climbed over the rocks in the water to endeavour to establish a connection with the shore. The names of these men were: Gunners R. Gowans, A. Balmer, J. McCabe, and A.R. Robson, all serving with the Tynemouth Royal Garrison Artillery. These were all more or less injured in their struggles among the breakers, and in the case of one of the men, artificial respiration had to be resorted to before consciousness returned.

A regulation of the Netherlands Mercantile Marine requires that rockets and lines shall be carried on all steamers, and the crew of the Sliedrecht; now gathered on the forecastle head were preparing to fire a rocket and line. Fortunately, Second Lieutenant Nisbet, a member of the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade, had undergone training in life saving from shipwreck, and the direction of the rescue work devolved upon him. The first rocket carried a line from the ship to the shore successfully, but a thick hawser attached by the crew to the light rocket line parted when the hawser was only half way across. A second rocket was fired from the ship but the line parted during flight. A third one reached the shore, and to its line the crew attached a lighter rope, and to it in turn a heavier hawser was attached and successfully drawn ashore. But the vessel appeared to have now spent her stock of rockets, and the single rope connection established with the shore remained practically useless in the absence of a second or whip line to work communication. Lieutenant Nisbet then devised an expedient. Taking a good length of the demolished rail, he attached a rope to it and lowered it over the cliff. As expected the backwash carried it seaward and the crew grappled it with a hook on a line. By this means a second connection with the wrecked vessel and the shore was established. The crew put a large shackle over the hawser, and, from it, suspended a boatswain’s chair as substitute for a breeches buoy, and this was worked backward and forward by the ship line. There being no place to which the shore end of the hawser could be made fast, about fifty men were detailed to hold on to it by main force, whilst about thirty men were required to work the whip.

The first man was greeted with a great cheer by the soldiers as he was brought safely across and landed scatheless on the cliff. The passage was one of some difficulty, for at the end of the hawser lay over the edge of a jagged piece of cliff, and the whip had to be hauled very gently, and the suspended passenger had to be assisted over the edge of the cliff with the utmost care.

By 4.30, or in less than two hours, the whole of the crew, followed by the master, 26 in all, had been safely landed. Second Lieutenant Nisbet took Captain Teensma to the officers’ mess, and the men took the crew to their huts, where tea, dry clothing etc. were served out.

The whole operation had been successfully achieved before the arrival of the life-saving equipment and by the men of the garrison only, acting under the able direction of their officer.

Lord Joicey then presented the medals and certificates.

The medals were oval in shape and were surmounted by the Royal arms of the Netherlands. Each medal had the name of the recipient engraved upon it and there were also the words “From the Queen”. On the reverse side of the medal humanity was personified by a female figure carrying a child, with a boy standing on one side and a girl on the other. Inscribed were the words “For Help to Humanity.” A piece of orange and red ribbon was attached to each medal.

Gunner Balmer is training at Sheerness, and in his absence, his medal was received by his mother, who was very heartily applauded, along with the other recipients.

After the presentation had been made, Lord Joicey on behalf of the Lord Mayor, the Sheriff, himself, as President of the Chamber of Commerce, and the commercial men and citizens generally of Newcastle, forwarded a telegram to the Queen of Holland, thanking her Majesty for her kind recognition of the services of Lieutenant Nisbet, and offering her cordial congratulations on her birthday.

Lieutenant Nisbet in returning thanks on behalf of himself and his men, said the greatly appreciated the kindness of the Queen of Holland. The medals would be treasured as mementoes of an exciting and highly satisfactory afternoon. He thanked Lord Joicey for his kind words, and to the gentlemen of the Exchange they were greatly obliged for the reception they had given them, and apologised for the interruption they had made in their work. (Laughter and applause.)

Source: Newcastle Evening Chronicle 31 August 1915