Since the sailing vessel, the Hera, sank in 1914, she has undergone a lot of changes.
Over the last eight years we have dived it many times, talked to people from around the area including retired divers and collected as much information about the wreck as possible. Culminating in the 100 year anniversary commemoration services at St Symphonian’s Church at Veryan, Cornwall.
Our main goal was to find out why it ended up in two separate parts, lying parallel, with the bow and stern alongside each other about 12m apart.
The Hera was a four masted steel barque. It was rigged with royal sails above double top and single topgallant sails. Weighing in at 1,994 tons and measuring 276x41x23 ft, it was a large vessel.
Built in 1886 by J.C. Tecklenborg, yard no. 58, it was originally named the ‘Richard Wagner’. A German document written in 1982 states that it was built completely on spec, it was the first iron ship the yard had built and their first tall ship. It took three years to sell and in the meantime was used by Franz Tecklenborg’s company, the yard owner’s brother’s company. It made several trips, bringing grain back from San Francisco.
It was sold to Rhederi Aktien Gesellschaft of Hamburg in 1889. On January 30th 1914, The Hera was ninety one days out of Pisagua, Chile. En route to Falmouth with a cargo of nitrate worth 30,000 British pounds, a very valuable cargo at the time.
The winds were strong from the south west, Captain Lorenz was unsure of their position. He sailed slowly, looking for either the Lizard or St Anthony’s light. As dusk fell and the conditions worsened, there was still no sign of any light. Just before midnight, land was sighted, Captain Lorenz ordered the ship be put about. In the stormy conditions that night, the ship was slow to respond. She hit the Whelps, on the south side of Gull Rock, in the south westerly gale just before midnight on January 30th January 1914. Taking on water, she then drifted around Gull Rock and eventually sank in the early hours of February 1st. When it sank in 15m of water, only her masts and rigging remained above water, the crew were clinging to the wet rigging and ropes for their lives.
Eight men clung to the rigging in total, but, as the tide rose three were gradually covered by the icy water. With one whistle between them, they passed it along and blew in turn, until the Falmouth lifeboat, guided by the whistle rescued the five survivors.
The lifeboat ‘Bob Newton’ was set the task of recovering the survivors. The Bob Newton was towed from Falmouth by the tug ‘Perran’, to about a mile offshore (possibly Carne Beach). It then made it’s way between Nare Head and Gull Rock to speak to the coastguard on the shoreline.
The lifeboat’s coxswain, Samuel Hingston, described the rescue:
“On the way we encountered huge seas. When about a mile offshore we slipped the Perran and and went in between the Gull Rock and Nare Head and spoke to the coastguards, who were on the rocks. From what we could ascertain from them there was a vessel near the shore, but on the outside of us. All at once I heard a whistle blowing. We immediately got our anchor up and went away in the direction of the sound. Then we saw a speck on our lee bow and later we made out five men hanging on a spar. We experienced considerable difficulty in rescuing the men because of the heavy seas. We were afraid of crushing them against the spar. Our bowman, William Leuty, badly crushed his finger in the rescue.”
The RNLI described the rescue of the five men in gale force conditions as “a commendable rescue.”
The survivors were discovered clinging to the jigger-mast which had broken, and which was held fast by the backstays and which protruded above the water. When rescued the men were half dead with cold, exposure and exhaustion having been clinging to the mast for between five and six hours and buffeted by tide and seas. Three others of the crew, who had clutched at the mast for safety, were forced to leave go their hold of it and perished, whilst the first mate, who was lashed to the mast, succumbed before help arrived.
Only five of the twenty four crew survived, fifteen of the deceased were buried in the churchyard at St Symphonian’s Church, Veryan. The grave interred the first twelve bodies that were recovered and is thought to be the longest grave in the country, as they were buried head to toe. Three more bodies were found and buried alongside their crew mates. The captains body was returned to Germany but three bodies were never found. Over six hundred people were reported to have attended the funeral by the vicar, Canon Kempe, who was accompanied by other clergy and Chaplain J.C. Badger (Falmouth).
One of the survivors, Joseph Cauchi, lived to the age of 84, passing away in 1979 at his home in Malta. His story can be found here – http://www.submerged.co.uk/joseph-cauchi-a-survivor-from-the-hera.php
The Hera was sold at auction to the Harris Brothers of Falmouth for £205. Much of her gear was salvaged.
It was reported in ‘The Echo’ of July 1914: ‘a Trinity House ship was noticed near Gull Rock…..an explosion was heard….afterwards huge spars and logs of wood were brought ashore. It is assumed that ….the ‘Hera’ has be blown up on account of her danger to navigation more especially to the fishing and crabbing boats’.
This would explain why she now lies in two major parallel sections, with the stern and bow almost alongside with the ships masts between them.
In 1959 a group of divers explored the Hera, they were taken to the wreck by the fishing boat of Les Johns and William Arthur Blamey. Among items recovered were some of the ship’s portholes.
In 1970, a group of divers from RAF St Mawgan sub aqua club began to investigate the wreck. Photographs were taken and the divers brought up a number of artefacts including links of chain, pulley blocks and lumps of steam coal stamped ‘Cardiff’.
It is also reported that another local club, whilst trying to access the coal bricks, blew the plating off of the bow. Whether this caused the bow to point upwards is unknown, nowadays this is the shallowest part of the wreck.On January 21st, 2006 I dived the Hera for the first time. With little prior knowledge of the wreck, I wrote this after my first dive on her:
I obviously really enjoyed it. I can now spot the obvious errors, that, a first glimpse could easily have been made.
I soon went back and wrote this:
“It had been about four months since I last dived the Hera and I was happy about diving it again so soon. This time I decided to take my video camera as well as the digital still camera. It’s fun jumping in with two cameras. The last time I dived the Hera I swam through part of the wreck near the bow. This time I wanted to see if it made good viewing. I also wanted to get some better close up shots of the jewel and plumose anemones that cover the ‘A’ frame. We entered the water at slack on low tide. Shaun had dropped the shot right on the ‘A’ frame, the most distinctive part of the wreck standing about 5m proud of the 15m deep sea floor. I started off with a few shots of the anemones on the ‘A’ frame then set off with my video camera to do the swim through the wreck. There are some huge Pollack around the ‘A’ frame and large Ballan Wrasse are found all over the wreck, including one unfortunate individual that looked like it had got too close to a boat propeller. I made my way to the swimthrough and entered the larger opening. Inside there were a few Starfish and lots of small Pollack, Bib and Whiting, as well as the odd Dead Man’s Finger. There is nothing exciting inside and the exit is a little tight. I swam around outside looking at the sea bed with its smattering of tube worms before I decided on a return trip through the wreck. At any point within the swimthrough you do get to see patches of light through holes or under the edge where the wreck meets the sea bed. Just after I exited the wreck I came across two other divers, so I showed them the entrance to the swimthrough, then swam back around in the opposite direction. All over the wreck there is a lot of fish life; Ballan or Cuckoo Wrasse, Pollack and Whiting. As I reached the ‘A’ frame again I got the still camera out and started to get some photos of the abundant anemones that cover it; Jewel Anemones in red, orange, yellow and green as well as orange, white and green Plumose Anemones. A photographers heaven. As I neared the end of my dive I saw a Tompot Blenny watching me, so I got a shot of him too. After 75 minutes of a very enjoyable and successful dive I surfaced with a big smile.”
I still hadn’t realised that the ‘A’ frame was indeed the remains of the bow. No one else on board knew either. I dived the Hera almost every month when the weather allowed but didn’t always write about it.
My next written piece was on 29th July 2007.
That was the first time I had found the stern section of the wreck, I could feel my fascination increasing. This was my fourth dive of the year on the Hera.
My next written account was several months later on a Friday evening dive.
There were dives where I took the camera and never wrote about it, and, there were times I just dived it for fun. It was around this time that I had decided to find out as much as possible about the Hera. I wanted to collate as much information about the Hera as possible, these pages are the result.
Although the Hera struck the Whelps on January 30th, it didn’t sink instantly, so technically it sank on February 1st 1914.
With the centenary approaching we were wondering what we could do to commemorate the sinking of the Hera. Here were two of our projects:
On Saturday November 30th, we took out nine divers and 1,200 lobsters, on our RHIB Stingray, to the Hera wreck.
During the week, we had received a phone call from the National Lobster Hatchery, asking if we were diving at the weekend. We had already arranged to dive the Hera followed by the Stanwood wreck on the Saturday, and, we already had a few booked on the boat. After describing the sea bed substrate around the Hera, to Ben at the Hatchery, he said it sounded ideal. The sea bed around the Hera is a mixture of Maerl (dead and alive), coarse sand and shells, giving the juvenile lobsters plenty of places to bury and hide. Most of the divers were locals and some had even previously released the baby lobsters on our boat before. Two divers had come down from Portsmouth and loved the idea of helping with the release. Eight divers each took down one tray, containing roughly one hundred and fifty 25mm long lobsters. Several had cameras, one diver just took their camera to film some of the releases.
We had also planned to dive the Hera on February 1st, 100 years to the day of it’s sinking. Whilst talking about it and making preparations, I was contacted by Father Doug Robbins. Father Robbins was after any photos or footage we had of the Hera, it was for a commemorative weekend over the 1st and 2nd of February. After several emails and many photos and links to videos on You-Tube had been sent, I asked if they wanted a plaque or wreath laying on the Hera on our dive. We agreed on a plaque, which we collected from Father Robbins at the church.
The weather on February 1st wasn’t suitable to go to sea, so we had to delay our trip. With the winter storms of 2013/2014, it was 7 weeks before the conditions were suitable to dive the Hera.
On 1 February 1914, the sailing barque ‘Hera’ foundered and sank near Nare Head. To commemorate the event, divers attached a plaque to the wreck, in memoriam to the 19 souls who lost their lives. It had originally been arranged to be placed on the wreck on 1 February of this year, the 100th Anniversary of the sinking. Mark Milburn, of Atlantic Scuba, who arranged the event with Father Doug Robins of Veryan Parish, said that the weather had been so unfavourable that they had been forced to bide their time.
Mr Milburn said: “We had arranged to dive the wreck on the 100th anniversary of the sinking, when many dive
boats were to be on site to pay their respects. The weather has been so bad, we have had to wait six weeks to get on site.””With the recent storms it is easy to see why a sailing ship would have come to grief all those years ago.”
We will continue to update our site if we find any more information or if there is any changes to the wreck.
The winter storms of 2017/2018 have caused some damage to the Hera. One of the capstans has fallen over and around 30cm of sand has been removed. There is quite a lot of fresh rust, where plates have become exposed or moved.