The Coble ‘Mary’

The York Herald reported the tragedy on 19 December 1896.

Three Fishermen Drowned at Filey

During a strong E.N.E. breeze which prevailed at Filey on Monday, a local fishing coble, the Mary, owned by Mr. William Johnstone, was swamped to the south of the buoy at the end of the Brigg whilst returning from the fishing grounds off Speeton Cliffs, and the three occupants of the boat were drowned in the full view of a large number of fishermen and others assembled upon the cliff tops. The names of the unfortunate men are Robert Skelton (skipper), aged 37, who leaves a widow and two children; Thomas Johnson (25), who also leaves a widow and two children; and George Jenkinson, 18, single. The sunken coble put off from the town about half-past ten in the morning in company with four others. At the time indications were  not wanting of the heavy swell which afterwards arose. Notwithstanding, the five boats, of which the Mary was the smallest, being only 17 feet long, reached the fishing grounds in safety, and laid and worked their lines. At half-past eleven the wind had freshened considerably, and the sea running higher it was deemed advisable to return home. Preparations were made for this purpose, and all went well until they were about a mile from the shore, when the Mary, running before the swell, was chased and over-run. She sank immediately, and everything went out of sight. It could not be seen whether the men in her were entangled with the cordage or whether they floated for some little time, the other boats being some considerable distance away. The accident had been witnessed from the shore, and the lifeboat was instantly launched and proceeded to the spot, but with the exception of the men’s sou’-westers nothing could be seen of either coble or its occupants. The three men were all natives of Filey. They were very well known on the coast and amongst the fleets of the Southern boats which visit the locality in the summer, having previously assisted in life-saving from several wrecks. Johnson’s father was drowned 20 years ago within a short distance of the spot where he himself was engulphed.

The three lost fishermen are represented on the FamilySearch Tree but their families await assembly from the system-produced fragments. They are more clearly represented on Filey Genealogy & Connections.


George Thomas JOHNSON


Two of the three pedigrees carry information taken from the January 1897 Parish Magazine detailing the disbursements from money raised by a local appeal to assist the bereaved and straitened families.

…Total sum collected £320.00 Mrs Skelton whose youngest boy is 8yrs old will have 8 shillings a week for 6 yrs.  Mrs Johnson whose youngest girl is only 1 yr old will have 4 shillings a week for 12 yrs.  At the end of these periods, the children may then be able to work for themselves.  These payments will exhaust £240 or £120 each.  Mark Jenkinson, father of the drowned lad, will have 5 shillings a week for 4 yrs and Mrs Johnson senior mother of one of the drowned  men will have 2shillings 6pence a week for 5 yrs.  These payments will take rather over £50 & £30 respectively, and the slight deficiency will be met by the interest on money.


On a previous examination of the value of “old money”, I decided that considering “labour earnings” gave the most appropriate figure for a fishing community like Filey. So, £320 in today’s money (2017) is £131,600. This seems a huge amount to raise from  such a small town  so you should bear in mind that the RPI “basket of goods” figure is £33,200 (source Measuring Worth.)

Mrs. Skelton’s  8 shillings a week can be visualized as either £41.65 or £164.50 – or anywhere in between. Six years of the lower figure would have amounted to a little under £13,000.

I don’t have much of a head for figures but I find these price/value comparisons fascinating. I noticed in yet another Titanic video, watched today, that third class passengers paid £7 9s each to sail to their deaths; £677 to £2,708.


In 1972, Sitmar Line charged me £225 for the five-week voyage to New Zealand, “all-inclusive”, aboard TSS Fairstar. That’s between £2,725 and £4,365. How times and prices change but maybe value not so much.


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