Document of the month, January: A dark and stormy night in the Mediterranean, January 1815

D/DLu 16/1

Among the anniversaries of 2015, the end of the Napoleonic Wars stands out.  The Battle of Waterloo in June 1815 ended almost a quarter of a century of warfare. On a smaller scale, it opened the delights of the Continent to a new generation of British travellers.

Clarissa Trant in 1829, by David Maclise Frontispiece to C.G. Luard (ed.), The journal of Clarissa Trant 1800-1832 (London 1924), which is available in the ERO Library.

Clarissa Trant in 1829, by David Maclise. Frontispiece to C.G. Luard (ed.), The journal of Clarissa Trant 1800-1832 (London 1924), which is available in the ERO Library.

Clarissa Trant, then aged 14, began this travel diary in January 1815, when Napoleon was still in temporary exile on the island of Elba. Her party embarked at Lisbon in a Danish galliot bound for Marseilles. By the 22nd the ship lay off Cape Palos, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, but that night a ‘dreadful gale’ blew up:

‘… It hailed, snowed, thundered & lightened – the sea washed at every moment into the cabin and a sudden motion of the vessel knocked the lamp with violence against the ceiling and left us in total darkness … We heard a very loud clap of thunder , and immediately after a scream from the sailors … the Captain … threw open the door of the cabin and exclaimed Oh Sir come on deck, the lightning has fallen on my vessel … – everyone on board thought the ship was on fire as the deck was full of smoke …’

Extract from Clarissa Trant's journal, January 1815 (D/DLu 16/1)

Extract from Clarissa Trant’s journal, January 1815 (D/DLu 16/1)

The cover of Clarissa Trant's travel journal (D/DLu 16/1)

The cover of Clarissa Trant’s travel journal (D/DLu 16/1)

In fact, the lightning had merely burned a hole in the mainsail and knocked some of the crew off their feet. The Trants sailed on – only to be approached on the 27th by what seemed to be a pirate ship from Algiers. Clarissa and her governess were hastily squeezed into a secret compartment meant for smuggling contraband. The ‘pirates’ turned out to be ‘a few dirty harmless fishermen’, and on the 29th the Trants safely reached Marseilles. As they entered the harbour, Clarissa ‘felt almost as if I was coming into a new world’. It was at Marseilles that she heard the news of Napoleon’s escape.

After further adventures, Clarissa eventually married the Revd John Bramston, vicar of Great Baddow, but she was not to reach old age, dying at Witham in 1844. Her diary descended through her daughter Clara to the Luard family before being deposited in the ERO in 1970.

Clarissa’s diary will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout January 2015.

The 1953 Floods in Essex

On the night of Saturday 31 January 1953 a severe storm coincided with a high spring tide in the North Sea, and the resulting tidal surge caused great devastation all along the east coast. In eastern England 307 people were killed, 120 of them from Essex.  The worst hit communities in the county were Canvey Island, where 58 died, and Jaywick, where 37 people were killed (5% of the population).  A major operation was mounted to rescue as many people from the flooded areas as possible. Along the east coast of the UK, 30,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

Damage was caused to over 1,600 km of coastline, as well as to thousands of homes.  It is estimated that the damage in monetary terms today would be over £5 billion.

It was of course not just England that was affected by the floods; 19 people died in Scotland, 28 in Belgium, and a staggering 1,836 in theNetherlands. Over 230 people also died on ferries, fishing boats and other vessels which were in the North Sea that night.

We have been going through some of the many documents in the ERO which tell some of the stories of the floods in Essex, a small sample of which will be on display in our ‘Document of the Month’ case in the Searchroom throughout February.

To the sea (D/Z 35/15)

To the sea – rescuers at work in Jaywick (D/Z 35/15) (Photo: Reuters)

Jaywick completely flooded

Fire Brigade log book reporting phone calls to say that Jaywick was completely flooded (D/Z 35/3/1)

Canvey Island underwater (ref??)

Canvey Island underwater (D/Z 35/15) (Photo: Southend Standard).

Albermarle St & Alexander Road, Harich (T/Z 241/1)

Photograph of the junction of Albermarle Street and Alexandra Road in Harwich. The flood in Harwich was described as a two metre high wall of rolling water. Eight people drowned trapped in their basements in Main Street (T/Z 241/1) (Photo: Harwich and Dovercourt Standard).

Harwich Junior School (T/Z 241/1)

The ground floor and playground of Harwich Junior School were flooded to a depth of 1½ metres (T/Z 241/1).

Harwich police station telephone log (D/Z 35/6/1)

This note in the Harwich police station telephone log tells us that at the army base on Bramble Island, near Harwich, the magazines had been breached by the flood waters. High explosives had floated away and the police and public were advised to be on the look out for them, and not to touch them (D/Z 35/6/1).

Peter Pan's Playground (D/Z 35/15)

Photograph of Peter Pan’s Playground, Southend (D/Z 35/15) (Photo: Southend Standard). At Southend the effects were not as severe as at Canvey. The Kursaal flooded, along with the Gasworks and Southchurch Park.

Letter from Mr E. Staunton (C/DC 11/Fd43)

Letter written month after the floods by Mr E. Staunton of Benham Road, Canvey to Essex County Council to pass on the ‘thanks and gratitude’ of himself and ‘friends in this area’ to the fireman who sounded the air raid siren ‘thus giving us a chance to dress and find out over the telephone what was the meaning of the warning’ (C/DC 11/Fd43).

 

A selection of these documents will be on display in the Searchroom throughout February. Others can be ordered to view in the Searchroom. Find out how to visit us.

To find out more about the floods, why not go to hear Patricia Rennoldson Smith talk about her new book The 1953 Essex Flood Disaster: The People’s Story as part of the Essex Book Festival.