Brier Holme

Brier Holme, 894 NRT, a clipper-barque, built by J.L. Thompson, Sunderland, in 1876 with the following dimensions: length 206.1 ft; breadth 33.6 ft; depth 19.0 ft. Delivered to Hine Bros in 1877 and registered with the managing owner, Wildrid Hine, Custom House Buildings, Maryport. Like several other ships belonging to this firm, she was engaged in the Tasmanian wool trade and soon became on of its best-known vessels. All the Holme Line ships were noted not only for their smart appearance and for being well run, but for their speed, usually taking only 80 days on the outward passage and round about 90 days on the homeward run.

On 21 July 1904 she sailed from London with a crew of 18 under the command of Captain John H. Rich, who at that time resided in Church Street, Maryport, having previously lived at 6 North Street. This vessel was judged to be an outstanding example of her type, for a model of the Brier Holme had won a prize at the Paris Exhibition. Her master was a captain of long experience and this was his last voyage before retirement. No-one anticipated the tragedy which was to come.

Bound for Tasmanian ports with a cargo of London mixed, the ship's passage had been slowed by adverse winds until she rounded the Cape of Good Hope, after which she made good progress. When, 107 days out of London, off Western Tasmania she ran into heavy weather with mountainous seas, the ship hove to, but just before midnight on 5 November 1904 the Brier Holme was driven onto the rocks at Elliott's Cave. As soon as the vessel struck, the dynamite, which formed part of her cargo, exploded, and it was thought that the captain and some of the crew were killed immediately. The rest climbed onto the rigging, because the lifeboats had been carried away, but when the ship broke up and the masts went, they were all drowned, except one, Oscar Larsen (who was Danish). He was thrown into the water and knocked about by the waves, eventually to be swept up on the beach where, though bleeding and almost exhausted, he managed to crawl away from the dangerous waters.

At daybreak on 6 November, Larsen was able to cast a weather eye around to discover if any other crew members had been saved, but he could find on-one. Weighing up his prospects of survival, the sailor deduced that the Brier Holme had been so near to its western coast he must now be on the Tasmanian mainland, so there was a good chance of his being rescued. When the seas abated he went to the wreck and found himself a plentiful supply of food from amongst the cargo. On several different occasions Larsen set off inland to try and reach the nearest habitation, but the terrain was so rough that he was forced to return to the shore. 

Meanwhile, when the Brier Holme became overdue at her first port of call, considerable anxiety was aroused. As the weeks turned into months and there was still no news of any kind, those experienced in such matters had to admit that it was futile to hope any longer. The Brier Holme was posted missing at Lloyds on 18 January 1905. After pressure had been brought to bear, the Tasmanian government dispatched two coastwise expeditions to search for survivors without success. It transpired later that these visits must have coincided with Larsen's excursions inland. In late January, reports came into Hobart of wreckage identified as belonging to the Brier Holme being found on the south west coast of the island.

Able Seaman Larsen had been a solitary castaway for over three months, by which time he had become extremely despondent. On 13 February to his joy he observed a small craft approaching the shore and waved to attract the sailors' attention. At first the seamen could hardly believe what was happening until the boat came in closer and the fishermen spoke to him and helped him on board their fishing boat Britannia, which was operating off Port Davy. Then he told them his story and they set sail for Hobart immediately, which was a distance of approximately 150 miles. On the way they were overhauled by a steamer and passed on the news of the rescue to her captain, who as soon as his ship docked in Hobart made it known publicly. As a result, large crowds were waiting to welcome the Britannia and her passenger, the sole survivor of the wrecked Brier Holme, whose story of her last hours and his fight for life was listened to with great attention. Larsen is pictured here with Edward Noye [on the right], the skipper of the Britannia. (Our thanks to Jonothan Davies of Hobart, Tasmania for some of this information.)

The news was telegraphed by the firm of William Crosby, shipping agents in Hobart, to Brier Holme's owners, Hine Bros at Maryport, and then became generally known. So those who had been waiting, keeping faint hopes for their loved ones' safety alive, became aware of the facts of the tragedy. There were many sad homes in the town.

The Brier Holme had traded out of London for almost 30 years and it was decided that her memory and that of her crew should 'live for ever'. To this end a memorial tablet was dedicated in St Paul's Church, Dock Street by the Rt Revd John Taylor Smith (formerly Bishop of Sierra Leone, and Chaplain-General to the Forces 1901-25) on 26 October 1906.

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