On this day 1827, on the island of Nordeney, Master Mariner Richard CORTIS penned a letter to his sister Jane. He had just endured a terrifying experience and wanted to share his story. Jane, by accident or design, was instrumental in ensuring it went viral, in an early 19th century sort of way – the letter was reproduced in local newspapers throughout the land.
Nordenay, East Friesland, Nov. 4. – My dear Jane, – It is a most painful duty to inform you of the loss of the Minna on this island, and at the same time I have infinite pleasure to say we have all been miraculously preserved from a watery grave, and are now comfortably lodged, and most kindly treated, in a manner I shall hereafter mention. I shall now give you the particulars of our misfortune, at the same time reminding you how much you are indebted to the ALMIGHTY; be not then cast down, but rather rejoice, and be thankful that we are all safe, and in good health. After remaining in the Humber on Sunday [28th October], with a heavy gale from the N.E., on Monday we proceeded with a N.N.W. wind. When out I did not like the appearance and endeavoured to put back, but could not get in for the tide; we then went forward, and had fine weather until Wednesday the 31st, when the gale commenced with fury. We were at that time in a good offing from the land, and had the wind remained we should have had a long drift; the gale, or rather hurricane, increased with a tremendous high sea; we lay to all night, not a sail would stand but our try sail, and two o’clock in the morning of Nov. 1, our decks, with the bulwark, were clean swept away; the boats, however, were safe. I soon found we were coming near the shore, and prayed for day-light, yet dreaded the consequence; at day-light we found the land close on our lee, the wind and sea dead on, not the slightest hope could be indulged, the sight was truly awful, and a few minutes would determine our fate. A brig which left the Humber with us was close-to, with her anchors gone; we let go ours, but to no effect, for they both broke. We then ran right on the shore (every man clinging to something)’ fortunately it was high water, and a very high tide. We struck about seven a.m. the sea for a few minutes over us, but we held fast. I found the waves had lifted the vessel so high upon the sand, that if she did not upset or break to pieces we might be saved. We prepared our boat, and after cutting the lashings, a sea launched her with little assistance; we then all got in and committed ourselves to Him who suffereth not a sparrow to fall to the ground without his permission; in a moment we were in smooth water, ourselves as wet as if taken out of the sea, our boat half full – that we soon bailed out with our hats. We then had about five miles to go to the nearest house on the main land, as we did not see one on the island; this was unfortunate, as people are placed there on purpose to protect wrecks and give every assistance. We got on shore about half-past nine, and went to a very large farm-house, but to our sorrow it was kept by a hind and a housekeeper – shall I call her a woman, or rather a monster in human shape! Though we were wet to the skin and perishing with cold, they stood like brutes gazing on us, never offering us any dry clothes, and it was with difficulty we could get a fire; over a very slow one we had to sit all naked to dry first our shirts and then the remainder; as for my flannels they dried on my back; all the time experiencing black looks and growls from the housekeeper; then came dinner, bad enough, which I will not now describe. My people had to sleep in the barn; myself and passenger were indulged with a bed, and the next morning we rose with only some slight colds. During the day, to our great satisfaction, we were visited by Lloyd’s agent, who informed us that if we had gone on the island our reception would have been the reverse; to our comfort we arrived there the next day, and found the crew of the brig Sylph, of Leith, in ballast from Hull to Hambro’, safe. There we found another wreck, a galliot called the Vrow Maria, Capt. Jan Caspers Uil, with timber from Norway to Groningen; the captain and crew, his three sons (the youngest not more than eight years of age), presented a scene too shocking to describe: they were all killed in the cabin by the vessel turning bottom up. This morning the whole of the inhabitants, with ourselves, have attended the funeral, and a more solemn one I never witnessed; the minister prayed beautifully, and, assisted by the schoolmaster and a great number of little boys, a hymn was sung over the grave with great order. My mind was awfully roused, when I reflected it might have been our own lot; may the impression long remain, and have a happy effect!
I must now give an account of the Minna; she is so high on the strand, that the tide at high water scarcely reaches her; today the whole of her cargo will be safe on shore, the better half in tolerable condition; we shall then save all her stores for the benefit of the underwriters. Two more vessels are stranded to the east of us, and one to the west, making six vessels within about 20 miles; and I greatly fear all from the Texel to the Island of Heligoland must be lost, as we were ourselves in the latitude of the island when the gale came on; and, after we were on shore, it continued with equal fury the following night; indeed I never knew it to blow harder. We have saved since the gale all our clothes, and such is the honesty of the people and attention to wrecks, that not the smallest articles were touched. Would to God it was so everywhere! In gratitude to the people on this island, too much praise cannot be given. – Thirty-two sovereigns and some small money were found in the Dutch vessel, and in my drawer there were nearly two pounds in silver, and all faithfully delivered to the Governor! This circumstance, as well as their kind attention at the funeral, reflects the greatest credit upon them, and deserves the widest circulation.
Under this visitation we must look up to the Almighty with gratitude, and trust that something will turn out on land. Oh! To describe my feelings at the time of trial, I dare not attempt. My wife and children were, if possible, dearer than life itself; give me with them a cottage rather than the sea. Give my kind regards to all friends; to you my dear Jane, and the children, my feelings will not permit me to say more than every affection, love &c – From your
The Lloyds underwriters must have obliged. Richard forsook the cottage in the country and invested in the SS London. Less than six months after Minna was lost Richard was advertising a passenger and freight service between Hull and Hamburg. It would take him almost a year to set up the venture.
Five guineas for the best cabin equates to about £400 today – more than enough to ferry a car and four occupants from Hull to Rotterdam.
In June 1834 the Hull papers reported the death of Jane Cortis née SMITHSON.
On Saturday last [7th June], highly respected, aged 43, Jane, wife of Mr. Richard Cortis of the Minerva Hotel, leaving a husband and ten children, two of whom are only six weeks old, to mourn her loss.
In 1861 the Census caught Richard in Filey, in the household of one of his sons, William Smithson CORTIS, the town’s doctor. The property was the first to be built in John Street and today the ground floor is for the most part occupied by the St Catherine’s Hospice shop. Would William approve?
Richard’s family is well represented on the FamilySearch Tree, though I see there is an impostor wife who has yet to be dealt with! (Anne Barnby HILL, K2J9-17B.)