The Wreck of the “Indian Chief”

’Twas on the 8th of January 1881,
That a terrific gale along the English Channel ran,
And spread death and disaster in its train,
Whereby the “Indian Chief” vessel was tossed on the raging main.

She was driven ashore on the Goodwin Sands,
And the good captain fearlessly issued hie commands,
“Come, my men, try and save the vessel, work with all your might,”
Although the poor sailors on board were in a fearful plight.

They were expecting every minute her hull would give way,
And they, poor souls, felt stricken with dismay,
And the captain and some of the crew clung to the main masts,
Where they were exposed to the wind’s cold blasts.

A fierce gale was blowing and the sea ran mountains high,
And the sailors on board heaved many a bitter sigh;
And in the teeth of the storm the lifeboat was rowed bravely
Towards the ship in distress, which was awful to see.

The ship was lifted high on the crest of a wave,
While the sailors tried hard their lives to save,
And implored God to save them from a watery grave,
And through fear some of them began to rave.

The waves were miles long in length;
And the sailors had lost nearly all their strength,
By striving hard their lives to save,
From being drowned in the briny wave.

A ration of rum and a biscuit was served out to each man,
And the weary night passed, and then appeared the morning dawn;
And when the lifeboat hove in sight a sailor did shout,
“Thank God, there’s she at last without any doubt.”

But, with weakness and the biting cold,
Several of the sailors let go their hold;
And, alas, fell into the yawning sea,
Poor souls! and were launched into eternity.

Oh, it was a most fearful plight,
For the poor sailors to be in the rigging all night;
While the storm fiend did laugh and roar,
And the big waves lashed the ship all o’er.

And as the lifeboat drew near,
The poor sailors raised a faint cheer;
And all the lifeboat men saw was a solitary mast,
And some sailors clinging to it, while the ship was sinking fast.

Charles Tait, the coxswain of the lifeboat, was a skilful boatman,
And the bravery he and his crew displayed was really grand;
For his men were hardy and a very heroic set,
And for bravery their equals it would be hard to get.

But, thank God, out of twenty-nine eleven were saved,
Owing to the way the lifeboat men behaved;
And when they landed with the eleven wreckers at Ramsgate,
The people’s joy was very great.

Wreck of the Indian Chief

Loss of 18 Lives

The ship Indian Chief, of Liverpool, 1257, Fraser master, bound from Middlesbro’ to Yokohama, with a general cargo, has been wrecked in the Long Sands, near the entrance to the Thames, during a gale from east north-oast, with the loss of the master, second mate, and 16 of crew. No less than four lifeboats put off from the shore to the succour of the shipwrecked crew, namely, boats at Ramsgate, Clacton, Harwich, and Aldboro’, but, unfortunately, in the darkness of the night, they could not discover the wreck. At daylight it was observed by the Ramsgate lifeboat, which had been cruising all night round the Kentish Knock and Long Sands. She at once slipped from the harbour steamer, which had been in tow, and had the satisfaction to save the mate, second mate, pilot, and nine of the seamen, who were in a most exhausted condition. Before, however, they could be landed, the second mate perished from the exposure he had undergone. It appeared that the master and sixteen of the crew had been washed away from the wreck during the night. The vessel went ashore at half-past two o’clock on Tuesday morning. Intelligence of the wreck reached Ramsgate at noon on that day, when the harbour steamer, with lifeboat in tow, at once proceeded oat to the Sands, which are between 20 and 30 miles away from that port.

Dundee Courier, 7th January 1881


The 1,238 ton barque Indian Chief was only four days into its journey from Middlesborough to Yokohama when a north easterly gale drove it onto Long Sand, off Clacton-on-Sea at the mouth of the Thames. The crew lit beacon fires and rockets to summon help, and then took shelter in the cabins from the intensifying storm.

In the hours that followed, the Indian Chief was mercilessly pounded by the waves. The crew attempted to abandon ship, but the small boats were instantly engulfed by the heavy seas as soon as they were launched. By the end of the afternoon the hull of the ship was almost completely under water and the crew could only save themselves by climbing into the rigging and lashing themselves to the spars. All night the ship was battered, until a huge wave bore down the main and mizzen masts and all who clung to them. Only the foremast remained standing, with eleven of the crew clinging to it for dear life.

Meanwhile, Bradford, the Ramsgate lifeboat had been towed out towards the wreck by the paddle steamer Vulcan. Unable to find the stricken ship in the dark, the lifeboatmen spent an uncomfortable night huddled together as the two boats were tossed about by the storm. With the coming of daylight, they spotted what was left of the Indian Chief and made for it across the raging ocean.

Making fast to the stricken ship with a hawser, the Bradford took on board the eleven survivors from the foremast and one from the mizzen mast (who died before the lifeboat reached home). The rest of the 29-man crew had been drowned. It took several more hours of hard sailing before the lifeboat reached dry land.

This rescue was one of the most heroic in the history of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). Charles Fish,the coxswain of the Bradford, was awarded a RNLI Gold Medal, whilst his eleven-man crew and the seven men aboard Vulcan were all awarded silver medals.

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Comments (5) »

  1. Big Nose
    In the year 2011, on the 21st day of October at 3:21 pm

    Did our man read about all these disasters in the Dundee Courier and then just change the order of the words in the report? That would explain everything. The Dundee Courier, a great read ya hoor ye.

  2. mr fred heyburn
    In the year 2014, on the 9th day of August at 9:25 am

    I have goldsmiths on the life boat are related in marriage and I have two prints of the life boat the Bradford on my wall which my dad had and they were past on to me my grandfather was a fisherman from Ramsgate and he and 8 crew were hit by a collision with passenger boat the trawler was called the wishful date 1921 his body was never found I all ways airport the life boat .

  3. Phili Crowe
    In the year 2015, on the 2nd day of April at 10:44 pm

    Hi, My great uncle was a crew member of the Ramsgate life boat Bradford. His name was Henry Fuller Belsey. They went out in a storm in February 1881 to the Indian Chief that foundered on the Goodwinds. There used to be a large painting of the rescue in the smac boys chapel in the harbour tea room. I remember it when I was a lad.
    All the crew were awarded the silver medal.

  4. D Davies
    In the year 2016, on the 22nd day of June at 6:46 pm

    I have come across an old notebook (1881 ) titled Clippings and Jottings of Poetry Sevindas Weifs k- my interpretation of a flowery signature- -and dated Feb 24th 1881 which includes a fascinating poem ” The Wreck of the Indian Chief ” beautifully handwritten 84 lines, unfortunately not signed. My limited research has been unsuccessful in tracing the author. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

  5. Ruth Fish
    In the year 2016, on the 22nd day of July at 10:31 pm

    Any chance people can forward me any info on this, pictures, memoirs etc. Charles Fish is my husbands family. Grandfather back generations back. I would love to give him and his family more than just the news clippings they have. Thank you.

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