The Great Storm of 1821


Peter Christie

The magnificent gift to Bideford Town Council by Peter Quenet of two pieces of commemorative silver set me off on a search of the archives to discover something of the history behind them. In this article I will concentrate on the large salver.

It is profusely engraved and owes its existence to a terrible disaster that befell the fishing community of Clovelly on the 4th October 1821. Unfortunately for us there was no North Devon newspaper at this date (the Journal was 3 years in the future) though we can turn to the Exeter Flying Post for a contemporary report which reads,

'Melancholy Catastrophe. About sixty boats, employed in the herring fishery at Clovelly, were, on Thursday evening, by the suddenness of a gale of wind, obliged to relinquish their nets in the hopes of gaining the shore in safety, but unfortunately more than forty were driven among the rocks. The cries of the drowning, thirty five in number, most of whom have left large families, produced an effect too heart rending to be adequately expressed. The distress occasioned to the families of the unhappy sufferers, who looked forward to the fishing for their entire support, but now, alas, bereft of the means of subsistence, is most affecting. The Rev. Mr. Putt and Rev. Mr. Luxmoore, then staying at Clovelly, were particularly instrumental in saving the lives of many who but for their humane exertions must have inevitably perished; and at their departure generously left £5 to be distributed among those families who are now become utterly destitute.'

Four days later a similar account appeared in the Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury which more accurately stated that 31 fishermen had drowned. No contemporary list of the dead seems to have survived but I have searched the burial registers of Clovelly and the adjoining parishes and found the following names.

7 OctThomas Beer 45 & Ezekiel Jones 45 - 'A Stranger'
8 OctWilliam Colwill 39
9 OctJonathan Jewell 36 & William Coke 56 - 'A Stranger'
11 OctThomas White 45 & William Fulford 31
13 OctJohn Waters 37
15 OctJames Branton 32
18 OctThomas Burman 23, John Mill 26 & Joseph Macallan 26 - 'A Stranger'
19 OctHenry Madge 32
7 OctThomas Glover of Alwington 39 - 'Drowned' & James Veal of Peppercombe 34 - 'Drowned'
13 OctThomas Collacott of Horns Cross 35 - 'Drowned'
16 Oct'A man (name unknown) found Drowned - Found near Peppercombe Between 30-40
20 OctWilliam Elliott of Gillscot 29 - 'drown'd in the dreadful storm of the 4th of October'
16 Oct'The Body of a Man name unknown found drowned on Abbotsham beach'
Where the twelve remaining bodies ended up is unknown.

The same article in the Sherborne paper also noted that 'Meetings have been held, both at Bideford and Barnstaple, for the purpose of considering the best mode of relieving the sufferers, and subscriptions have commenced at both places.' That this was necessary is clear when we read 'We cannot doubt that assistance will be promptly extended, when it is understood that nineteen widows and sixty one children, have to look forward to the cheerless hours of winter without any means of support.' In addition the boats and nets lost in the storm were valued at around £1200.

Sadly I have found no evidence for how much was collected in North Devon apart from some £60 known to have come from Ilfracombe but we do have a series of lists printed in the Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury detailing the sums collected by the Mayor of Exeter following a public meeting in the Guildhall on October 18th. Within weeks nearly £700 came in from all over the county of Devon. Thus, for example, Axminster sent £15, £6 odd came from Colyton and £34 from Teignmouth. These were bolstered by hundreds of individual contributions. All this was 'transmitted to the Bideford Committee' and eventually reached the then huge sum of some £2994 - worth approximately £100,000 in modern currency.

All of this was banked in the Devon and Exeter Savings Bank where by careful investment and presumably extra donations it rose to some £4174 - or nearly £135,000. The actual administration of the fund was carried out by Charles Carter a Bideford solicitor.

Carter had been born in Hartland in 1771 and after serving his apprenticeship in a Barnstaple solicitor's office settled in Bideford in 1795. Over the next 67 years he became a vital pert of town life serving on the council for many years and becoming Mayor twice. He managed the distress fund from 1821 until May 1843 when it was wound up. At this latter date the outstanding balance of £796 was distributed among the 'remaining widows and orphans'.

Around this time his admirers seem to have clubbed together to mark his long period of charitable work for the Clovelly fishing population by purchasing the silver salver now in the possession of Bideford Town Council. This was a very handsome gift obviously given with affection and respect. That Carter was a deserving recipient can be assumed from a wonderful phrase in his obituary printed in the North Devon Journal in July 1862. The anonymous writer noted 'He had a heart that melted at pity's call, and in him the poor always found a kind and sympathising friend' - what better memorial could a person wish for?



From the Parish Register for All Hallows Church in Woolfardisworthy (West) - (information provided by Andrew Walker)
Register no.First name(s)SurnameAbodeBurial dateAgeNotes
82WilliamBUTLERNortham07 Oct 182140Found drowned at Bucks by Coroners Warrant with three Others
83AndrewPASSMORENortham07 Oct 182127Found drowned at Bucks by Coroners Warrant with three Others
84WilliamHARRISNortham07 Oct 182119Found drowned at Bucks by Coroners Warrant with three Others
85NameUNKNOWNCornwall07 Oct 182118A Fisherman as by Coroners Warrant, Supposed from Cornwall, found drowned at Bucks, aged about 18
86WilliamHEATHERWest Loo Cornwall10 Oct 182121Found drowned with one other, as by Coroners Warranit
87NameUNKNOWN 10 Oct 1821 Found drowned with one other, Supposed from Cornwall, as by Coroners Warrant