Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Maritime Disaster, 9th December 1904
On this day exactly 117 years ago a terrible disaster took place at 5am near Needle’s Eye Rocks, Newbiggin in the darkness and fog of the early morning.
The gun alarm was fired in the early hours signalling to those nearby that an emergency was taking place at sea. The lifeboat and local fishing cobles offered support to steamship SS Anglia, of Grimstad, Norway. The ship and its crew had run on to the rocks near Needle’s Eye Rocks.
The Armstrong family with sailor John Dent were first to reach the scene, their coble known as, “Henry and Jane”, and had on board George Armstrong, owner (60), John Armstrong (36), Edward Armstrong (29), John Brown Armstrong (37), John “Sailor” Dent (60), James Armstrong Sen., (60), James Armstrong jnr., and John Armstrong (39).
Tragically, the Armstrong coble was struck by a heavy sea and capsized, pitching the whole crew overboard. The lifeboat tried to search, but the occupants had by then all disappeared except for John Armstrong (39), who was rescued in an unconscious condition by the Newbiggin lifeboat and its coxswain Watson Taylor Brown. John was the only member on the coble able to swim and had managed to support himself using a fishing net float.
The SS Anglia’s Captain and crew were all saved, indeed walked to safety at low tide. The ship itself was ruined from the damage it endured from the rocks.
Thousands of mourners attended the funeral on the 12th of December of the six men whose bodies had by then been recovered.
To mark disasters in the Northeast of England in the 19th century a type of glass ware was produced. We know this locally as, ‘disaster glass’. This small glass is taken from the collection at Woodhorn Museum and commemorates The Newbiggin Disaster of 1904. Disaster glass was often cheaply produced and sold on as way of raising funds for the families of disasters. Disaster glass from the Northeast typically commemorates seafaring and mining disasters.