1878: Mary Stoner witnesses naval disaster

'Loss of HMS Eurydice' by Lieutenant Francis Henry Boyer RN

Nurse Stoner for many years was Cuckfield's District Nurse, and lived in Cuckfield for her whole life. Her father was employed on the Cuckfield Park Estate for 49 years, and served four generations of the Sergison family.

When she was 23 she returned to her childhood home of Cuckfield Park to work as a housemaid for Major and Mrs Sergison. During this time Mary went with her employer on a working holiday to Sandown in the Isle of Wight. It was while there that she witnessed one of Britain's worst peacetime naval disasters - the loss of a 26-gun Royal Navy corvette HMS Eurydice. Here is the account she gave in her diaries:

One day he [Major Sergison] called us all, one by one, to look through his telescope at the Channel Fleet lying near the bay. We could also see a wrecked ship which went down in a snowstorm on March 24th 1878 on a Sunday afternoon.

Nurse Mary Stoner, from a painting

The sun had been shining when all at once clouds came up and the wind began to blow. The ship had 300 lads on board; they had been training for three months and they were on their way home to Portsmouth. It was HMS Eurydice.

All the portholes were open and as they entered the bay the wind was so strong she toppled over on her side and only one man was saved [see below, in fact two]. They were trying to get her up with hawsers, but they broke. The first body to be got up was buried at Sandown Parish Church. We saw it carried along on a gun-carriage with flags over the coffin.

Afterwards the Thunderer, a man of war, towed the Eurydice around the white cliff; we had a boat, rowed out and went aboard the Thunderer. A large reward was offered for the body of Marcus Hare, the captain of the ill-fated vessel. I think it was £200 but I think the body was never recovered. Saunders used to go out in a canoe in the hope of finding the body.

Books were printed with verses said to be valued and often repeated by the late Captain Marcus Hare. He was one who lived with his loins girded and his lampburning and was ready for his Master's sudden call. A few years after this I had a book given to me with the verses in. They are called 'Sorrow on the sea; it cannot be quiet' (Jeremiah XLIX v.23).

Here is some additional information from Wikipedia:

On 6 March 1878, HMS Eurydice began her return voyage from the Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda for Portsmouth. After a very fast passage across the Atlantic, on 24 March 1878, Eurydice was caught in a heavy snow storm off the Isle of Wight, capsized and sank. Only two of the ship's 319 crew and trainees survived; most of those who were not carried down with the ship died of exposure in the freezing waters.

Captain Hare, a devout Christian, after giving the order to every man to save himself, clasped his hands in prayer and went down with his ship. Another of the witnesses to the disaster was a young Winston Churchill, who was living at Ventnor with his family at the time. The wreck was refloated later that same year but had been so badly damaged during her submersion that she was then subsequently broken up.

Her ship's bell is preserved in St. Paul's Church, Gatten, Shanklin. There is a memorial in the churchyard at Christ Church, The Broadway, Sandown and another at Shanklin Cemetery in Lake where seven crew members are buried. The ship's anchor is set into a memorial at Clayhall Cemetery, Gosport. Two of her crew, David Bennett and Alfred Barnes, are buried in Rottingdean St Margaret's churchyard when bodies were washed ashore nearby. There are four in the grave, but only two of the men could be identified.

During this Isle of Wight break the Sergisons 'went abroad' leaving the butler, cook, French maid, footman and Mary Stoner alone for two months with Master Michael and Miss Bunty, aged respectively six and ten.


Nurse Stoner’s Diaries, The Danewood Press, 1996. P28

Notes: Nurse Mary Stoner (1855-1947) was Cuckfield’s first District nurse

Wikipedia account: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Eurydice_(1843)

HMS Eurydice a painting 'Loss of HMS Eurydice' by Lieutenant Francis Henry Boyer RN (1854-1926) who served in the Royal Navy during the 1870s and early 1880s. Wikimedia public domain image.

The Royal Navy’s worst disaster was the sinking of the mid 18th century British fleet’s flagship, the Victory. The vessel sank in the English Channel in early October 1744 some 50 miles south-east of Plymouth – and all 1,100 men on board perished. Full story https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/hms-victory-mystery-britain-s-worst-naval-disaster-finally-solved-271-years-later-10431814.html

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.