World’s End Sands Victim

by Bernard L.H. Shaw

reproduced from Sea Breezes

Visitors to the Severnside hamlet of Priding have no doubt gazed in wonder at the figurehead which stands in a secluded cottage garden. Few have knowledge of its origin or of the tragedy that befell the proud ship whose bows it once adorned. For well over half a century it has stood uncared for, slowly decaying, its princely regalia and haughty features still displaying the woodcarvers art of long ago - a veritable prince indeed. To this day the story, with many variations, is still told around the farmhouse fires. Happily still with us is 83 year old Mr. J. Brinkworth of Frampton-on-Severn, who helped to salve and subsequently break up the vessel Prince Victor, a fully-rigged ship of 1,217 tons, built at New Brunswick in 1870. She had formerly owned by R.G. Moran of Liverpool, but when wrecked was under the Norwegian flag. My informant is a brother of the late A.E. Brinkworth, whom readers of “Sea Breezes” (Vol.15, No.149) old series, will recall was master of the Lloyd Royal Belge steamer Elzasier, when in 1920 she picked up the disabled barque Kilmallie and towed her to Lisbon. I am indebted to Mr. J. Brinkworth for the loan of the photograph from which the accompanying illustration was reproduced and also for the account told here in his own words.

“On April 7th, 1887, the Norwegian full-rigged ship Prince Victor arrived at King Road, near Avonmouth with a cargo of about 2,000 tons of paraffin - in barrels - from New York. On that voyage the master, Capt. Hans Cornelinsen, was accompanied by his wife Nathalie and eight-year-old son Olaf. The next day was Good Friday and at an early hour the vessel with the pilot aboard, got under way. Ahead was a tug and another alongside, the Victoria. All went well until the Chapel Rock was reached when the pilot, guided by the beacon, realised the dreadful truth - there was not sufficient depth of water for the vessel to clear the sands she would have to cross. The master was warned as to the danger in which his vessel stood and was advised to call his wife, then still asleep. Only those who know the treacherous River Severn with its mill-race tides can appreciate the plight in which the Prince Victor stood. But even then, had the tug ahead beeen more powerful and have kept the vessel in the main channel she could have anchored safely in Slime Road.

“However it was not to be; within a few moments the Prince Victor struck the dreaded World’s End sands, was turned broadside, and immediately fell on her beam ends on to the tug Victoria, crushing her into the sands. To this day no trace of the Victoria has ever been seen but by a miracle all her crew escaped. They scrambled on to the port side of the Prince Victor which was then awash, and with members of the vessel’s crew, were recued by the remaining tug. Not so fortunate was the captain’s wife and son, the former being drowned in the saloon and the latter in the ship’s galley, where his body was found, his face impaled on a large iron fork used by the cook. The subsequent tides dragged the vessel half-a-mile further up the channel where myself and 14 others managed to secure her to a large oak tree near the water’s edge at Woolaston.

“It will be appreciated that at low water she was high and dry. We soon hacked through the rigging and allowed the masts and spars to go crashing overboard. Some six barges assisted in lightening the vessel of several thousand barrels of oil, in preparation for getting her to Sharpness. Meanwhile the officers and crew had erected a tent ashore in which they lived. The state of mind of the master, who through his own ignorance of the river, had lost his wife and son in one fell swoop can well be imagined. In those far away days fatal accidents seemed fewer than in modern times, and a gloom was cast over Severnside. The nearby villagers of Woolaston where the castaways camped showed great kindness by doing all in their power to help them. A tombstone in Woolaston still marks the grave of the wife and son. Capt. Cornelinson, to show his gratitude, gave away his last article of value, namely his gold watch chain, which is still a treasured heirloom of a Woolaston farmer.

“On the next high tides the vessel, her damaged side having been caulked, was towed to Sharpness where it is though she might sink. She therefore stayed out in the basin where it was proved she could with safety be brought into the dock. There, she was lightened of her remaining cargo. Soon afterwards she was condemned, she was offered for sale by auction and was bought by Mr. James Owner of Sharpness, for the reputed sum of £250. There, she was slowly broken up, her timbers going for firewood, and to the farmers to build sheds. I well remember the massive copper bolts holding the keel to the keelson, some 8ft in length, and even then the ’spivs’ were about trying to induce me to ‘knock off’ some of these for them.

“ The event was not without its happier side. The mate, aged about 30, whilst staying at Woolaston, met a young lady with whom he fell in love. Some years later he returned to Sharpness as master of the Prince Regent and this time married the lady of his choice. While in Sharpness I worked on the rigging of the Prince Regent, also helping to paint her topsides, doing so by standing on the ice which at the time was 18in. thick in the dock. When she sailed for Cardiff, where she was to load coal for a South American port, I was one of the runners who took her from Sharpness. To mark the occasion of the master’s wedding the ship was dressed from deck to truck with every flag on board. On reaching Cardiff we bade him and his bride farewell, and were presented with £5 to be equally divided amongst us, in addition to our pay.”

Now all that is left of the Prince Victor is the lonely figurehead which the writer hopes to posses and remove to a kindlier home. No longer then, on darkening evenings, will children with fast beating hearts, hurry past the prince who lurks in the shadows!

Bernard L.H.Shaw