From the Totnes Times
23 March 1907
In a thick fog, at about two o'clock on Monday morning, the Royal Mail steamship Jebba, of the Elder-Dempster line, from West Africa, ran ashore at Ramilles Cove, Bolt Tail. The Jebba was bound from the West Coast of Africa for Liverpool. She called at Las Palmas on Monday and Ushant was sighted about noon on Sunday. Captain Mills had a very anxious voyage from the Grand Canary, and the Eddystone light was not seen. The Jebba was going slowly when she struck. Captain Mills, with Chief Officer Nye, were on the bridge at the time. As soon as the Jebba struck, the Captain realised that he was in Bigbury Bay, and at once had the steam whistle sounded, while signals of distress were fired to attract the attention of the Coastguards. One of the men of the Hope Cove Lifeboat crew was aroused by the noise, and, seeing the signals from his bedroom window, he immediately communicated with the coxswain.
The Hope Cove lifeboat was promptly launched, and several attempts were made to reach the Jebba but there was a strong sea running, and half a gale blowing from the southwest which rendered it impossible for the lifeboat to get alongside. Meanwhile the rocket apparatus had been hauled by four horses up a tremendous hill to the summit of the cliff and from this point, the apparatus and gear had to be taken a further 100 yards. There was no lack of helpers. The first rocket fired missed the ship but the second was successful, and communication was soon established with the shore.
The breeches buoy was rigged and the Chief Officer undertook to be the first hauled ashore to test the safety of the apparatus and to give confidence to the passengers. The journey to the top of the cliffs having been accomplished without mishap, the Chief Officer returned to the deck of the vessel and intimated that all was right. The first passenger to be placed in the breeches buoy was a little girl, who acted very pluckily as she faced the ordeal of being hauled through the darkness up the 300 feet to the top of the cliffs. then a lady passenger followed and afterwards, a stewardess.
Realising the necessity of taking off all the people as quickly as possible and whilst the vessel was fast, Chief Officer Spark called for volunteers to descend the cliff and endeavour to effect communication from the foot of the towering heights. There was a ready response to the call for this dangerous duty, and the first to descend were Chief Boatman Purslow of the Bold Head Coastguard Station, and a Hope Cove fisherman named Jack Argent. They were quickly followed by others, among the foremost being Coast Guardsman Robert Hayter, Isaac Jarvis and Thomas Thornton. Reaching the rock on a level with the vessel, the men succeeded in getting a heaving line aboard. Eventually, hawsers were run out from shore to the vessel and two boatswain's chairs were got to work. The work was accomplished with splendid skill and celerity, but even with the three means of communication in use, it took a long time to land the 155 people - 76 crew and 79 passengers - on to the top of the cliff.
The first to be hauled from the vessel were the children; these were followed by the women, who were succeeded by the male passengers, then the Crew boys and the native crew; next the English members of the crew, and finally the officers, Captain Mills being the last to leave the vessel. Before nine o'clock everybody had been hauled to safety and even the ship's cat and two chimpanzees were included among the rescued "passengers". There were a few sprains and bruises sustained in the course of the removal of the passengers ashore, but it is gratifying to record that at no time was there the slightest panic.
When the ship struck the rocks there was a tremendous crash, and all the crockery and glass in the saloon was smashed. At the same time the electric lights failed, and instantly all below deck was plunged in darkness. One of the first things the officers did, when it was found the vessel was shore, was to serve out the lifebelts to all the passengers and crew, and these were generally kept on until the time came for the people to get into the breeches buoy and cradle sling to be hauled to safety. Captain Mills, ably assisted by his officers, saw that everything worked with the utmost smoothness and precision, and they were successful in instilling into the mind of all on board courage and bravery.
Before the last man was hauled ashore the Jebba was three parts full of water, and so hurriedly had she to be abandoned that there was absolutely no chance of saving any of the baggage, jewels or effects. When all but the captain and a few of the crew had been brought shore, the shipwrecked party were conducted by the coastguardsmen and others to the top of the cliffs. At several houses, tea and coffee and other comforts were liberally provided and gratefully accepted. Vehicles of all kinds were utilised for the conveyance of passengers to Kingsbridge railway station where a special train was provided for their convenience, and to facilitate their return to their homes, the villagers were most hospitable to the shipwrecked company, and readily provided changes of dry and warm clothing.
As soon as daylight broke, a fleet of tugs from Plymouth joined the Hope Cove lifeboat, but neither could approach the Jebba owing to the seas. The tugs stood by for hours, but nothing could be done in the way of salvage work, and in the afternoon, the Great Western Railway's tender Sir Francis Drake returned to Plymouth, and Captain Buckingham reported he was convinced that the position of the Jebba was hopeless. In the afternoon, Captain Mills, with the Chief Mate, boarded the vessel and rescued the ship's papers.
Among the passengers on the Jebba were the Reverend Joseph Clark, an American Baptist missionary from the Congo, and three male and two lady colleagues. There were also military officers and Government officials from Northern Nigeria, Southern Nigeria and the Gold Coast. She had on board 600 casks of palm oil and 500 tons of palm kernals, several hundered packages of coffee and cocoa, and 6.000 packages of fruit from Grand Canary, besides other miscellaneous cargo. If there be no salvage, it is believed that the loss of ship and cargo will amount to over £100,000. The vessel is covered by insurance.
A special train, conveying 75 of the crew of the wrecked liner Jebba, together with a box containing the ship's papers, arrived at Liverpool on Tuesday morning. The ship's papers were intact and in perfect condition, the water not having reached them.
Among the Jebba's passengers was a recently married bride and bridegroom, the former of whom was roused from her bed and was rescued clad only in her night clothes and dressing gown. A fresh supply of clothing was secured for the lady in Kingsbridge, and attired in her newly-acquired garments, she was one of the onlookers at the wreck on Tuesday.
Sergeant-Major Cook of the West India regiment, (home on furlough), who arrived at Paddington on Tuesday morning, said: " Our great trouble was to get the women to trust themselves to the life line. We had to push them up into the rigging where the line was fastened, otherwise we should never have got them off the ship at all. The thing that sticks most in my memory is the bravery of those two fishermen (Argent and Jarvis) who clambered down the straight face of the cliff. There were bold 'uns! One of them, I heard, was a teetotaler, a lad of nineteen. I wish I knew their names. When they got to the bottom of the cliff, they tied a big stone to their line, and it fell with a thud on the deck. The last woman to go over the line was a stewardess. When I got to the shore I found an upright rope fastened round a rock, and stretching to the top of the cliff, and I joined the others. Everybody lost everything they had in the way of luggage.
George Mann, the bugler boy on the Jebba, in describing the scene which followed after the liner struck, said they had to wait for hours before there was any sign of a rescue. The saloon was flooded with water, but one of the missionaries went to the piano and played pantomime tunes with his feet in the water.
The Commander of the Jebba, Mr. J. J. C. Mills, RNR, belongs to Plymouth, though resident in Liverpool, and his father, Mr. J. Mills, RN, resides in Beatrice Avenue, Plymouth. Captain Mills began his seafaring career in HMS Conway in 1878 and in 1892 received an appointment with the Elder Dempster Company. In 1897 he was given his first command, his vessel being the Bonny. He afterwards commanded in succession the Volta, Accra, Benguela, Fantee, Bathurst, Biafra, Oron and the Jebba. Captain Mills is held in high esteem and on his last homeward trip to Plymouth, was the recipient of a presentation from the passengers of the Jebba. One of the articles brought ashore on Monday was a telescope presented to him in 1898 by passengers of the Bonny.
As soon as it was light enough on Tuesday, the work of salvaging the passenger's luggage was resumed under the superintendence of Captain Mills, RNR, who, as the Commander of the ill-fated vessel, has remained on the scene of the wreck. The ship's papers, cash (notes), specie (coins) and mail bags were mostly recovered the previous evening. Among the things recovered was the Way Bill for the mails and this revealed the fact that all the mail bags had been accounted for. These were landed on Monday afternoon, and were taken charge of by the Kingsbridge postmaster in time to catch the night mail, so that by this time the letters have been distributed all over the country. Only two of the mail bags were found to be wet. The cases of parcel post, which would have gone on to Liverpool, are still in the hold. The search for passenger's luggage was extremely difficult, as all the State Rooms (passenger cabins) were full of water. But a portion was brought to the foot of the cliffs by means of boatswain's chair and the lines between the ship and the shore, which were utilised to rescue passengers. It was a very motley description, varying from portmanteaux of all sorts to a huge ivory tusk, the property of one of the lady missionaries with the party returning from labours on the Congo.
During the process of salving the mails, a few of the bags slipped from the slings into the sea between the ship and the shore. The Second Offcer (Mr. Harold Nye) promptly went into the water to save them, and succeeded, but the strain and exposure were too much for him. He had previously been hard at it sending the bags on deck, and now he collapsed and was seized with cramp. He was immediately carried by willing hands into Hope, and put to bed in the house of Mr. A. Pearse, now living at Hope, but previously at Salcombe. On rallying, he asked Mr. Pearse who the woman was that he saw in the room. Being informed it was Mrs. Pearse, he asked that she should come up to him, for, said he, "She was my Sunday School Teacher". His father, Mr. J. C. Nye was a Prospective Commanding Officer (PCO) of HM Customs at Salcombe, and is now, having taken up his pension, residing at Poole, Dorset.
Captain Evans, representing the owners and Captain Batchelor, on behalf of the Liverpool Salvage Association and the underwriters of the ship and cargo, visited the scene of the disaster and carefully noted the position of the unfortunate liner. They afterwards went to Salcombe to secure the services of a diver to make an examination and ascertain the extent of the damage sustained by the vessel.
The Liverpool Salvage Association received the following telegram from their officer on Wednesday morning: "Jebba. Strong westerly wind; heavy swell last night. Stoke hole bulkhead set up, vessel working heavily and apparently settling down on rocks and bulging outside plating; no work possible on ship or cargo until weather moderates."
It was still impossible for any boat to lie alongside the vessel on Wednesday. The only means of communication with the ship was the line belonging to the rocket apparatus. As long as the daylight lasted, the work of salvaging the baggage of passengers was continued. One of the salvage men dived into the hold of the vessel, which contained 18 feet of water, for a box which he managed to secure.
Captain Evans, the Marine Superintenent of the Elder Dempster Company, regards the position of the Jebba as decidedly critical, but believes that a good deal of the cargo will be salved.
The scene of the wreck is not far from where the Russian Blesk came ashore, and where divers recently were successful in recovering some interesting relics from the old battleship Ramilles, wrecked about 100 years ago. Previous mishaps near the same spot include the running ashore of the Dublin steamer Lady Hudson Kinahan, a year or so ago. In that case, however, the vessel got over very easily and was not damaged. More recently the Brixham trawler Thex grounded on the Bolt Tail but suffered little hurt.