West Bay Discovery Centre, West Bay, Bridport, DT6 4EN.

Serious Accident at Bridport Harbour in 1857

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Coastguards at Bridport Harbour (West Bay) in the 19th century

This week marks the 199th Anniversary of the formation of HM Coastguard. As Britain is a maritime nation, there has always been a need to give assistance to ships in distress, maintain a watch over shore and coastal waters for attack or invasion and prevent smuggling. The formation of the Coastguard Service in 1822 brought all these services together in a coordinated approach. In the 1920’s life-saving became its primary role along with coastal observation.

In 2020/21 the West Bay Coastguard Rescue Service attended 83 operational tasks. Just think how many number of operations have been undertaken here in West Bay over the past 199 years and how many lives have been saved it must amount to many, many thousands.

This story we recently uncovered isn’t about one of the rescues but about an unfortunate incident that occurred to one of the Coastguard team.

Back in 1857 John Newman a commissioned boatman on Her Majesty’s Frigate Meander was in the coastguard service at Bridport Harbour. He was on duty near Freshwater one November night and stooped to pick up a a stone, when his pistol fell from his breast pocket and exploded. The ball broke through the left collar-bone, passing horizontally through a portion of the lung and shoulder-blade, and lodged in his back. (Back in 1857 the newspapers gave all the gory details, leaving nothing to the imagination!) Being so badly wounded it is amazing that in the dark he was able to run for about a mile before he fell. He crawled the remainder of the way back to the Harbour where his cries were heard by the man on guard at the Watch House, who assisted him to the coastguard station. The Admiralty Surgeon, Mr Cory was called, who pronounced his case was at first hopeless and felt that he would be unable to save his life. However, John who was aged 30, managed to recover from his injuries although he was unable to ever resume his duties in the Coastguard.

HMS Meander on Coastguard Duty image from Mechanical Curator Collection


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