Ibex, the ship that sank twice
In 1890 the Great Western Railway could not afford to be outdone by the fast new vessels of the London and South Western Railway, especially the Lydia, so they had the Ibex built in 1891 by Cammel Laird of Birkenhead.
Ibex was a steel, twin screw steamer, schooner rigged, of 1,160 gross tons, 265 feet long, and 32 feet beam. She carried 600 passengers and had sleeping accommodation for 210. Ibex first came to Jersey on 5 September 1891 and it was not long before she broke the speed record set by the Lydia.
Race for harbour
Ibex had an eventful life. On Good Friday 1897 she was racing London and South Western's Frederica towards St Helier Harbour when she struck the Normontaise rock off La Corbière and tore a hole 10 feet by two in her hull and losing most of her propellor blades. Her 230 passengers were landed in Portelet Bay and the next day Ibex was towed to St Aubin's Fort, and to St Helier the day after by the Reindeer. At a later enquiry her captain was suspended for six months.
After the two railway companies reached agreement to share the Channel Island routes in 1899, Ibex operated as a relief vessel during the summer, resuming full duties in the winter.
On 5 January 1900 Ibex again struck a rock off Platte Fougere, Guernsey, and sank with a loss of two lives. She was refloated months later, repaired and placed back on service and her captain was again suspended for six months. On 18 April 1914 Ibex collided with a disabled schooner off Portland and on 19 September she collided with, and sank, the Great Western Railway cargo steamer Aletta, 20 miles off Weymouth. All the crew were saved.
She was the only member of the Weymouth fleet to serve the Channel Islands during the Great War. This proved to be another eventful period in her life. A torpedo narrowly missed her on one occasion and she sank an enemy submarine. After the war she operated between Weymouth and Le Havre and on the Dover-Calais service for a short time.
Ibex was given a very special send-off when she sailed direct from Jersey to Weymouth for the last time after Easter 1925 and was broken up later that year.
This more detailed history of the Ibex was written for Jerripedia by Doug Ford
On Tuesday 14 April 1925, Ibex left St Helier bound for Weymouth for the last time. For many Channel Islanders she had become a bit of a celebrity, having flown the Great Western Railway Company flag on the Channel Islands service for nearly 35 years. In the dark days of the Great War she had single-handedly maintained the links between Guernsey, Jersey and the mainland and she had had an eventful career which included two sinkings.
Built by Laird Brothers (later to merge with the Glasgow company Johnson Cammel and Co to become Cammel Laird) at Birkenhead, Ibex cost £57,000; she was 256 feet long, 32 feet in the beam and had a gross tonnage of 1,160, almost double that of her predecessors, and mainly accounted for by the superior accommodation for a potential 600 passengers, and her larger triple-expansion engines, that could drive her at over 19 knots.
On Wednesday 9 September 1891 Ibex, a larger and improved version of Lynx, made her first crossing. She quickly settled in to become one of the most popular boats on the service.
Channel Islanders took a keen interest in the comings and goings of the railway steamers and throughout the 1890s competition became ever more intense.
Competition between the two Railway companies (Great Western and London and South Western) was not simply a matter of company prestige and receipts, it was also a matter of passenger satisfaction, for St Helier Harbour, cramped at the best of times, could dry out completely at certain low tides. This had not really affected things in the days of sail, but with large railway steamers trying to cross to a timetable, it was a different matter; always better to arrive ahead of your rivals and at a state of the tide suitable for coming alongside, so that your passengers were not inconvenienced.
Although the LSW and the GW strongly denied that ‘racing’ between their vessels ever took place, there had already been a number of skirmishes, often involving Ibex, before, on Good Friday morning, 4 April 1897, matters came to a head.
Easter congestion on both rail routes to the ports had caused delays to the steamer sailings from the mainland. When Ibex left Guernsey at about 7.30 am for Jersey, she was followed – ten minutes later - by Frederica. Arrival at St Helier had to be before 9.45 am, as after that the water in the harbour would be too low. As only one vessel could manoeuvre to her berth inside the harbour at a time, it was essential to ‘get in first’. The second vessel to arrive faced a wait of five or six hours for the tide to turn, and the prospect of disembarking her passengers by rowing boat.
By the time Ibex was approaching Corbiere, Frederica was only 200 yards behind and held the station nearer to the shore. Both vessels took a course between the Noirmontoise rocks and the shore, although it was more usual to play safe and pass outside the Noirmontoise.
Captain Le Feuvre, commanding Ibex, sounded the steam whistle and made to turn to port to make sure he cleared the submerged rocks. He became aware of the Frederica steaming up close on his stern, so he immediately countermanded his order, turned to starboard and hit the Noirmontoise. Ibex continued on her course towards St Helier, hoping to land her passengers. Just off Portelet Bay the Chief Engineer informed the captain that the vessel was losing power and taking in water, so he decided to beach in Portelet. All the passengers, the baggage and the mails were landed in safely by boats. The Frederica stood by and sent two boats to assist. The relieved passengers were later conveyed to St Helier by the Jersey Railway.
Ibex refloated on the afternoon tide and an attempt was made to tow her to St Helier. Unfortunately the tow broke and the tide carried the hapless Ibex out past Corbiere, where she anchored overnight. On Easter Saturday she was towed to and beached in St Aubin’s Bay, where her holes were patched with timber and cement. Further repairs to make her fit for sea were made in St Helier and, in due course, she was towed to Barrow-in-Furness, where repairs were completed at a cost of £2,202. Three months later, in July 1897, she was back in service.
There was, of course, an enquiry and if nothing else this revealed the depth of feeling that existed between the Great Western and London and South Western companies over the Channel Island traffic at this time.
Both captains vehemently denied they were doing anything other than steaming hard to ‘beat the tide’ at St Helier. The lawyer representing the South Western stated that there was no racing, as it was well known that the Frederica was the faster boat and she was catching up to the Ibex at her ordinary full speed, and would have certainly been first into St Helier. Captain Le Feuvre's defence was that as the Frederica was behind him, he had a right to determine his own course. He chose to go inside the Noirmontoise in order to save two or three minutes, as he wanted to avoid missing the tide and having to land the passengers in small boats.
The enquiry found Captain Le Feuvre had not navigated his vessel in a proper manner and he had his master’s certificate suspended for six months.
On this occasion Le Feuvre’s first officer John Baudains, a Jerseyman. He was to become captain of the Ibex and was to figure largely in the vessel’s next, and more serious, wreck off Guernsey on the morning of Friday, 5 January 1900. The vessel struck a glancing blow on the Platte Fougere, a rock three miles north of the island, at 6.15. The caused much damage to the starboard side, but the 34 passengers were not really aware of how serious the strike had been until they were summoned on deck and lifebelts rapidly served around and the vessel was abandoned as she gradually sank until only the tops of the funnels were out of the water.
It was during the last few moments as the Ibex sank below the water that an elderly seaman, named Randall, a Jerseyman, was seen clinging to the flagstaff over the vessel’s stern. Despite his fellow crewmen calling on him to jump, Randall was possibly too dazed or else incapacitated through fright to do so and so he went down with the vessel.
Three of the Ibex lifeboats reached St Sampson’s Harbour by 7.30, and the fourth arrived at St Peter Port at much the same time. The steamer lay in an upright position to the ENE of the Flat Rock and at low water her funnels and masts were distinctly visible from St Peter Port. The Great Western Railway Company was determined to salvage her.
When she was refloated, a body was found in one of the cabins. It proved to be George Elias de Ste Croix, a naval rating who had drowned in his sleep
In the ensuing enquiry it was decided that the wreck was purely the fault of Captain Baudains, and his master’s ticket was suspended for six months.
Ibex was salvaged, a process which took over six months, thanks to the work of a specialist German company. On Saturday 21 July thousands of curious onlookers watched as Ibex was raised and towed into St Peter Port Harbour. The hull was pumped dry and Ibex was towed to St Sampson’s, where more substantial repairs were made. On 9 September the German tugs See Adler and Albatros towed her to Laird’s yard at Birkenhead. It was estimated the salvage operation had cost in the region of £15,000 and the refit was to cost a further £32,000.
She came back into service in March 1901.
When the Great War broke out all the railway steamers, save for Ibex, were taken into war service and she was left to to maintain a wartime service to the Islands. This she did on a thrice weekly basis – often at night to avoid the submarine menace – and if she were called away for troopship service across the Channel, there was then no service at all to Guernsey and Jersey. She gained a 12-pounder gun and a garish ‘dazzle’ paint scheme and was twice attacked by U-boats.
On the night of 18 April 1918 she had her revenge, when she surprised a U-boat on the surface, her gun crew opened fire, seemingly scored a hit and the submarine disappeared from view. The Admiralty considered this a sinking and a prize of £500 was awarded for distribution among the officers and men of Ibex.
It took until 1920 for things to get back to normal on the Weymouth to the Channel Islands route.
1925 saw the changing of the guard on the Channel Islands service as new steamers replaced old and Ibex made her last run to Guernsey and Jersey over Easter 1925. She was sold out of service for £4,750 and in November she was broken up at Sharpness in Gloucestershire.
Capt Le Feuvre
Captain John Le Feuvre had a chequered career. Fourteen years after the Ibex went aground under his command, the steamer Roebuck suffered a similar fate a short distance along Jersey's south coast.