The portraits at the bottom of this page are the Captain of the Northfleet and his wife, who are both mentioned in the song. I don’t yet know the significance of Mr Braud (or ‘Brand’ – see comments) pictured at the top
I’ve been interested in the story of the loss of the emigrant ship Northfleet off Dungeness ever since I first heard Sussex fisherman Johnny Doughty sing his song The Wreck of the Northfleet way back in the early 1980s. Here’s the song as I learned it from him.
It was an event that lodged in the minds of the people of Kent, partly because of its horror so close to shore, partly because of the mystery surrounding the identify of the ‘big and foreign vessel that crashed into her timbered sides’ and partly because of the stories survivors had to tell about the Captain shooting a man who tried to save himself ahead of the women and children, and about how the Master’s lovely young wife chose to go down with her husband.
Or are those stories made up by some hack in order to sell the printed ballad on the streets?
This account tells the story:
‘On the 22nd January 1873, the emigrant ship Northfleet, while riding at anchor in Dungeness Roads, was run down by a large steamer which proceeded on her way. Panic broke out on board, the night was pitch black and only two boats got away in the fight to get aboard. Mary [a fishing lugger] was anchored off Dungeness and her master, George Pout, saw the distress rockets, hove up and bore away, narrowly missing one of the lifeboats, deep laden with 34 people and sinking, no one had thought of putting in the plug. After taking all on board the lugger went on, but found nothing. Northfleet had sunk with the loss of 327 lives. Later the Spanish [ship] Murillo was identified as the guilty steamship.’
For more on the Northfleet story including a much fuller account and the song, click here and page back through the previous posts.