The Worthy Doctor of Filey

William Smithson CORTIS, firstborn son of Richard (Thursday’s post) and Jane SMITHSON, married Mary Jane GREEN in Wintringham in June 1843 when he was 23 years-old. Their first child, Jane Maria, was born in Filey about eighteen months later. I don’t know what accidents or designs brought him to this small and undistinguished town but he didn’t just look after the health of its people – he saw a bigger picture. He took a deep interest in the history of the area and, perhaps not surprisingly for the son of a master mariner, did all he could to better the lot of local fishermen and all who sailed the dangerous waters off the Yorkshire coast.

In Scarborough Town Hall in November 1857 he read a paper about the recent discovery of Roman artifacts on “Car-Naese” and in the same year began to campaign for the building of a Harbour of Refuge in Filey Bay. This appeared in the Scarborough Mercury on 22 October 1859: –

The Cortis Testimonial.


It will be in the recollection of most of our readers, that during the inquiry before the Royal Commission appointed to obtain evidence as to the best site for a National Harbour of Refuge, on the North East Coast of England, Dr. W. S. Cortis, of Filey, displayed considerable talent and persevering energy during a period of eighteen months, in searching out and obtaining information to lay before the Commissioners relative to the advantages possessed by Filey Bay for such a Harbour. Dr. Cortis had also during the sitting of the Parliamentary Committee on Harbours of Refuge in 1857-8, rendered much service by developing the merits of Filey Bay, and, in consequence, rendered himself deserving the esteem of a large circle of friends and those who are intimately concerned in the Shipping interest. To shew their gratitude for this persevering labour, on the part of a private individual, a public meeting was called at Foord’s Hotel, Filey, some time back, when a number of gentlemen were appointed to receive subscriptions for the purpose of presenting Dr. Cortis with a suitable Testimonial. The committee for carrying out this object, have so far succeeded as to be enabled to purchase a very handsome and richly chased silver breakfast service, consisting of kettle and stand, with lamp, a coffee-pot, tea-pot, sugar-basin, and cream ewer, all en suite, and which are to be presented by the inhabitants of Filey to the worthy Doctor, on Friday next, the 28th instant. The testimonial bears the following somewhat lengthy but appropriate inscription:-“Presented with-guineas, to W. S. Cortis, Esq., M.D., by the inhabitants of Filey and the neighbourhood, as a testimonial of their appreciation of the services which he rendered to the maritime interests of the coasts, and to the cause of humanity, in advancing the claims of Filey Bay as the site of a National Harbour of Refuge, by the able manner in which he searched out evidence and laid it before the parliamentary committee, by the clear and lucid way in which he developed its advantages before her Majesty’s commissioners, and by the talent, energy, and perseverance with which he conducted the whole case.

October, 1859.”

The blank left in the inscription will, we believe, be filled up with the amount of money intended to be given with the Testimonial-the sum, we understand, will be between 159 and 200 guineas. A large number of merchants, and shipowners, in Hull, have also testified their appreciation of Dr. Cortis’s labours in bringing to a successful issue a question of such vast importance; they have therefore purchased a large massive salver, twenty inches in diameter, to be presented at the same time, on which is a faithful and well executed engraving of the beautiful Bay of Filey, shewing the long projection of rocks, called the “Brig,” as well as the handsome buildings which characterise the improvements on the South Cliffs. Under the view is the following inscription:-“Presented to William S. Cortis, Esq., M.D., Filey, by his friends in Hull, as a token of their recognition of the services rendered by him to the commerce of the east coast of England, by his indefatigable advocacy of the formation of a National Harbour of Refuge in Filey Bay. October, 1859.”

The whole of these exquisite pieces of workmanship have been entrusted to the skill of Messrs. Jacobs and Lucas, silversmiths, of Hull, and are now being exhibited at Mr. Suggitt’s, grocer, Filey, previous to the presentation. We understand that a public dinner will be given after the presentation, at five o’clock.

The effort to make the harbour of refuge a reality continued for many years and ultimately failed, but reprint copies of William’s book, Losses of Ships and Lives on the North-East Coast of England, and How to Prevent Them can still be purchased online.

William Smithson Cortis, no date, Sawyer, Bird & Foxlee, 87 Regent Street,
courtesy H F Morrice Collection

William is remembered on the stone marking the grave of his wife and their infant son Henry Liddell in St Oswald’s churchyard.

Also, WILLIAM S. CORTIS M.D., husband of the above, died at Manly N.S.W., 15 Sep. 1906, aged 86 years.

Mary Jane died in the summer of 1858 aged 36. Four years later William married Susanna HEWSON in Louth, Lincolnshire. In 1878 their names appear on the Victoria Inward Passenger List of the vessel Hankow, their final destination Sydney.

The Will of Dr Cortis can be found online and the codicil caught my eye.

It is dated 1901 and I need to go back to my notes to see if there are reasons for William Richard losing the silver. (He outlived his father by just over two years.)

Measure of Man 42 ·Evron Centre

I wonder what William Smithson would have made of SARS-CoV-2. I think he would have lined up with the good doctors.

A Letter to the Editor

In 1859, fifteen years after he had seen first wife Sarah laid to rest in Filey churchyard, Jeremiah Hudson sent a flurry of letters to The Scarborough Mercury on the subject of the Harbour of Refuge, proposed for this part of the coast. Filey folk were most enthusiastic about having the facility built at their village but Jeremiah was convinced it was the worst of sites. Scarborough was safer, but the people didn’t want it, thinking that the convicts who would build it might frighten the summer visitors away. Bridlington (Burlington) was a better location still but there didn’t seem to be too much support there for the idea either. The fight for the Harbour at Filey would go on for several decades before steam overwhelmed sail and sudden storms became less of a threat to the lives of all who sailed up and down the coast.

Jeremiah had a way with words and clearly enjoyed poking fun at Filonians, but three letters about the Harbour (to make sense of it) is a bit much for a blog post. So here is a short and vaguely topical letter about France, where the present day Little Napoleon is gassing and shooting his subjects. (It is all right to foment violent and “regime changing” rebellion in Libya and Syria but on home soil, this activity must be brutally suppressed.)

Jeremiah writes from 68 North Marine Road, his home with second wife Jane Broadrick and seven of their nine children (at the 1861 census).

14 May 1859


Sir, We are all hard up. The London “Times” is now feeding us on Stock-fish from the seat of war. How different this from the palmy days of that great organ. when we read in his paper from “Our own Correspondent,” at Alma, the English and French had had a brush with the Russians, then followed in detail in apple-pie order, the slain and wounded, &c.; or what the polite world calls a graphic account of the whole engagement. And now we read about the Po or the Ticino, or something else, and then we are left to ourselves the barren conjecture which of the twain is to strike the first knockdown blow – the French or the Austrians. I must confess this great organ is most unpolitely dealt with by the Emperor of the French.

Now, whoever reads the “Times” (I mean Englishmen not educated in Billingsgate) must allow that he has always been liberal in abusing the Emperor of the French, and not always very courteous to the French nation. But since the year came in, this great organ, the “Times” newspaper, has been most profuse in his invectives against the Emperor of the French and barely civil to the French nation: whether this organ of mischief in the above particulars, has any particular party to serve at the expense of the welfare of England, is best known to himself – but this I can tell him, – if the “Times” newspaper and all red-hot Quakers were shipped off to Russia for a year, England would be no loser by the change.

Let every Englishman of age and experience, who loves peace, ask himself how it is that there should be such a change between the two countries. A short time ago, we had France a powerful ally, with whom we could keep all the world in order, with us heart and soul; but now, France is neither with us nor against us – but as it were in the balance. How can this country expect anything else when the “Times” is for ever pouring forth his vials of wrath against the Emperor of the French? Surely his organ of abuse must see that the Emperor of the French treats him as he would the greatest quack doctor the sun ever shone upon – and that is beneath his notice. I wilt say no more, for I feel vexed.


The 17.4 million Britons who are currently vexed are being seriously let down by organs like The Times and their on-screen equivalents. Yesterday, I mentioned the mainstream’s reluctance to give representatives of UKIP a voice. We have Russia to thank for bringing some balance at this potentially dangerous moment in the Disunited Kingdom’s history. The Duran continues its insightful coverage of Brexit and, earlier this morning, shared a video of Nigel Farage’s speech yesterday to the bain of 17.4 million lives – the unelected bureaucrats in the European Parliament