“We passed closer to the “Eurydice” than I have ever been before, and I must confess, going at such speed at such a place made me feel a little nervous. I fear there is not much hope of her ever being raised.”
We now know that Maria’s first cousin Arthur Cockrell had been one of the victims of the disaster. Arthur was a Royal Marine based at Gosport, Hampshire. He was born in Warminster on 24th April 1843, the son of James Cockrell of Chitterne All Saints (1811-1857 brother of Maria’s father William) and Mary Ann King of Bishopstrow, Warminster. He would have been 28 years old when he went down with the HMS Eurydice off the Isle of Wight on 24th March 1878.
The phrase “than I have ever been before” also suggests that this wasn’t the first time Maria had been at that spot. Perhaps she had previously seen the wreck from the coast or from the Isle of Wight, but this time her employers had purposely sailed quite close to it for a better view. No wonder she took such an interest in the wreck and wrote with so much feeling to her family back in Chitterne.
At Whitsun in June 1878 Maria went home to see her family in Chitterne and Imber. In Chitterne in those days Whitsun was the big summer festival of the year and everyone would be on holiday from work for a day to celebrate with music, dancing and other amusements. No doubt Maria’s son Jimmy would have been playing in the Chitterne Brass Band.
A week later Maria is aboard the Hamilton family’s favourite Yacht Diana. She writes to Jimmy on the 16th June 1878 from aboard the yacht anchored in Portland Bay, Dorset:
Here we are in the midst of the Channel Fleet. They left Spithead on Friday last. We left Portsmouth Harbour about ½ past 12 on Saturday and anchored at ½ past 9 in the evening, a splendid run of 60 miles. It has been a lovely day here and we hope to leave tomorrow morning, if all is well for Guernsey, on our way to Jersey.
You would be much interested if you were here, as there are 9 ships of the line and four or five turret shipsand some Gun Boats and a training ship. I should think such a fleet of heavy armour was never seen in Portland before.
I suppose all your Whitsuntiding is over now and you are settling down to work in good earnest.
She writes to Jimmy again on the 20th June from the yacht anchored in St Malo Bay, France:
We left Guernsey last Monday and went to Jersey, but the heat! I never felt any thing like it, not even in Italy. We had a splendid sail across and lay in the Harbour close to the Pier, which was not at all pleasant, there being so many Steamboats constantly loading with the produce of Jersey, one going every day to Covent Garden in London.
I am so glad you have got your Pig and hope it will do well and that you will always be able to get one. I am glad you go to see poor George Feltham (died aged 22 years in June 1878), and what a comfort he is ready to go. May we all be ready when the time shall come.
Many villagers at the time kept a pig or two to provide them with bacon and pork. Jimmy was no exception. He was a member of the Pig Club from 1891 until 1928 when it folded. For more on this see my blog Chitterne Pig Club.
Maria describes Guernsey to her mother in a letter dated 21st June:
We left Portland last Monday and were rolling about all night in a dead calm and a heavy swell, but a little breeze sprung up and we arrived quite safe on Tuesday afternoon. This is the most lovely place I have seen out of Italy, a sort of half French half English place. They have a different coinage to ours, a penny is called 8 doubles and they call the Queen the Duchess of Guernsey. But such Fruit, Flowers and Vegetables! Geraniums grow like Nettles and Fuchsias every where and such Roses! Mrs Hamilton hired a Carriage and Pair and took the Captain and I a beautiful drive yesterday. I do like seeing new places. The sky and water are intensely blue, and there is plenty of Fish. The town itself (St Peter Port) reminds me of Dieppe in France.
Maria wrote again to her mother from Yacht Diana anchored at Portsmouth on 11th July 1878. Meantime the yacht had sailed the party to France as Maria explains:
I have enjoyed my trip to France very much. We went to Cherbourg from St Malo, had a splendid sail. At Cherbourg we were most hospitably entertained at the English Consulate. Very nice people, distant relations of the Lapgary (?) Hamiltons. On Monday we left Cherbourg about 20 minutes past ten and anchored in Portsmouth harbour at quarter past 6. The dear little “Diana” just flew over the waves, sometimes going 12 knots or 12 miles an hour. It was glorious, although the decks were one sheet of water, as going so swiftly made her throw the spray proudly over her. We passed closer to the “Eurydice” than I have ever been before, and I must confess, going at such speed at such a place made me feel a little nervous. I fear here is not much hope of her ever being raised.
HMS Eurydice was a 26-gun Royal Navy corvette, the victim of one of Britain’s worst peacetime naval disasters when she sank on 24th March 1878 off the Isle of Wight. The wreck was refloated later that same year but had been so badly damaged during her submersion that she was then subsequently broken up. So it appears that Maria saw the ship during the short time after it had been raised but before it was salvaged and broken up that same year. This enabled us to accurately date the year of these letters of Maria’s to 1878. As usual she hadn’t bothered to add a year.
Maria goes on:
I wish you could see how quaint and funny the people dress in the part of France where we have been. The maidens about 14 wear close fitting muslin caps and the married women thick muslin caps without Borders, the crowns about a foot high. I should think they must be starched and then dried in a shape. And short petticoats of course. No Bonnets either to Church or Market, and all wear wooden shoes, the toes pointed and curled up, but very clean looking. So you see, they are not like us, change the dress with every Breath of Fashion.
I hope you will be able to read this, but I am writing on deck and the wind seems very much inclined to toss it to the waves for a plaything.
I don’t know where we are bound to next, but I think towards Scotland, calling at most of the ports on our way. I expect we shall be here for some days.