The Woodley Medal Presentation
The Story of the Medals.
Woodley’s Medals (Tayleur Fund medal, Baltic 1855 medal, New Zealand War 1860-65 medal and a Naval Long Service and Good Conduct medal) were retained by the family until the summer of 2004 when his granddaughter, Monica Daly, presented them to the Howth Coastguard Station. For details see Fingal Independent, Friday 6 August 2004.Biographical details: Before becoming the Chief Coastguard Officer at Howth, Woodley had served for some time in the Royal Navy, seeing action during the Baltic campaign of 1855 and later in the second New Zealand war when he served aboard HMS Pelorus as the Captain Mizzen Top (a petty officer rank). When Woodley later retired from the Coastguard service, c. 1893, the presentation then given to him was recorded as follows by the local newspaper: ‘On Sunday evening Mr Thomas Woodley, lately Chief Officer of Howth Coastguard Station, was the recipient of a Testimonial from the people of Howth, the occasion being marked by a supper in the St Lawrence Hotel, given by some residents. The Testimonial took the shape of a valuable gold watch, on which the following was engraved – ‘Presented by a number of his friends to Mr Thomas Woodley, Chief Officer, Coastguards, at Howth, on the occasion of his retiring from the service, 1893’. Mr Woodley, during his service in the Coastguards, was instrumental in saving many lives from drowning, for which he received several medals, as also for long service, good conduct etc. He spent the last 12 years in charge of Howth Station, and now retires on full pension, having won the esteem and good wishes of all who knew him’. Woodley died in 1917.
Woodley, Thomas. Boatman, HM Coastguard. Tayleur Fund Medal in silver. 1-2.2.1873. Dublin.
Award: For bravery on 1 and 2 February 1873 at the wreck of the schooner Sarah Ann at Balbriggan, six of the men who manned the lifeboat being drowned when it capsized during their rescue attempts
The Wreck of the Sarah Ann at Balbriggan, 1st & 2nd February 1873
A strong east-south-easterly wind had reached gale force, and with rapidly dropping temperatures, the eastern coastal areas of Ireland were subjected to a fierce winter storm. The sea was sweeping along the rocky shore and covering the beaches with foam and spray.
Shortly before 9 pm, in the town of Balbriggan, the coast guard on duty saw the red (port) light of a schooner about half a mile off land, with its topsail and mainsail set. She was rolling heavily and dead before the wind, and every minute saw her being carried nearer to the shore. The onlookers expected at any minute that the schooner would let go her anchors, but she did not, and therefore minute by minute she crept nearer to the shore and certain destruction. General opinion was that it was the intention of her master, to try and run the vessel ashore.
As time passed the night grew very dark and the ship was lost to sight. However, about an hour after she had been first sighted the watchers suddenly saw her loom out of the dark and strike 'stem on' with a heavy crash, about two cables' length from the rocky promontory in front of the coast guard station on which the Martello Tower stood.
Mr Edward D'Alton, the chief officer of the Balbriggan coast guard station immediately sent Lot Syme, one of his men, to Skerries for the lifeboat, and with the rest of his men hurried towards the schooner to try to see what help they could give. The seas were breaking with terrible force over the stranded vessel and already she was beginning to break up.
The local police, under the command of Sub-Inspector Ross, were also quickly to the scene of the wreck and they joined the coast guards in attempting to save the crew of the stricken vessel, who by now had climbed into the rigging to escape the seas sweeping the decks. The rocket apparatus was positioned by Mr D'Alton and he skilfully shot a line to the schooner which was caught by those on board. The line was fastened and a breeches buoy was attached.
As the buoy was about to be used to effect the first rescue disaster struck. The seas crashing into the schooner freed it from the rocks and in a moment it had spun round so that her stern was now to seaward. This was too much for the mainmast, and with its sail still set, it crashed over the side and fouled the line with the breeches buoy attached; the crew's hopes of early salvation were dashed.
A local fisherman, James Carton, approached Mr D'Alton volunteering to man a boat to row out to the stricken schooner. Mr D'Alton refused the request as the only boat available had been condemned as unseaworthy and in his opinion would not survive the passage through the surf. By now it was 10 pm and Lot Syme had reached Skerries and found Mr John Mildren, the chief officer of the coast guard station. He gave him the message from Mr D'Alton which said:- "The vessel is ashore right off this station, too far for rocket to reach. I send you word by hand. Let lifeboat be down on her at once."
Mildren took the word "ashore" to mean that the ship was in difficulty, as the rocket could not reach her. He immediately ordered the duty coastguard man, James Woodley to leave his duties and assist in the launching of the lifeboat. (Woodley was also the second coxswain of the lifeboat). Meanwhile, Syme had gone round the building shouting, "Man the lifeboat!", so as the coastguard men appeared, Mildren ordered them to assemble in the watch room. The lifeboat coxswain, William Scantlebury, was also present, and Mildren explained that although the coastguard men were under his command he would not 'prevent' them from manning the lifeboat.
Scantlebury then left the boathouse and went into the town to rouse the lifeboat crew. Unfortunately, as each man was awakened none of them were eager to respond and somewhat disappointed he returned to the boat house. When he arrived he was pleased to find five men had come to the boat house, two of these being from the 'old' lifeboat crew. The men were, Richard Cochrane, Joseph Halpin, Patrick Reid, James Kelly and William Fitzpatrick.
The normal complement of the lifeboat was 13 so they waited another 30 minutes in the hope that more men would arrive. Unfortunately, none came, so it was decided to take the men who were present. So, four of the five coastguards from Skerries and the one from Balbriggan boarded the lifeboat together with the five Skerries volunteers and the lifeboat put to sea just after 11 pm to sail the 3½ nautical miles to Balbriggan with the storm worsening all the time. When they arrived the lifeboat's blue mast head light could be seen from shore showing that she was still outside the danger area where the hugh waves were breaking on the rocks. The lifeboat was the only hope for the stranded seamen of the schooner, so she ran down towards the schooner's position under sail, but, before getting into the broken water on the lee shore, took in her sails, and rowed through the rough seas and anchored.
Shortly afterwards the lifeboat was struck by a huge sea and in the confusion all four oars on one side were lost. There were spare oars on board and the men got them out and tried to keep the boat's head towards the sea as the strong tide was pushing them broadside on to the waves. The sub zero temperatures were beginning to chill the crew and one by one they each lost their grip on the oars which were torn from their grasp by the sea. They had used up the eight hand lights which they had brought with them and the only light they had in the boat was the compass light; they also had no usable rockets.
Somehow the lifeboat survived the heavy, broken surf for about an hour, but with the force of the tide setting her broadside to the waves, a heavy sea eventually capsized her. As a self-righter she soon came upright again and three men, Lot Syme, Robert Ellison and Thomas Woodley, managed to stay inside the boat. The other seven crew members were washed out of the boat and with one exception swept away to their deaths. Coxswain William Scantlebury had succeeded in clinging on to the rudder pintle, and he was soon hauled on board by the three men who had remained onboard.
Ten minutes later, just as they had slipped the cable, she capsized again and Lot Syme lost his grip and was washed out of the boat. He could not get back on board so his only option was to swim for the shore. Fortunately he was a strong swimmer so with the aid of his life belt, a boat hook and the good fortune of not being battered against the rocks, he was carried to the shore. Syme somehow managed to stagger up the beach to the lane where he collapsed. Fortunately, search parties were looking for any survivors and before he could succumb to exposure he was found by James Carton and taken to the coastguard station where he recovered. Meanwhile, down on the beach, the first of the bodies of the lifeboatmen were being washed ashore.
The remaining three men had managed to stay inside her when she righted herself, but for the third time, the boat capsized. This time, Thomas Woodley was the unlucky man, and he too was swept out of the boat. Again, he could not get back on board so he desperately clung to the lifeline. Fortunately, before he lost his grip, Scantlebury or Ellison had the presence of mind to lash him to the side. They then slumped to the bottom of the boat too weak to do anything more to save themselves as they were swept towards that terrible shore. Fortunately, the lifeboat passed through a gap in the rocks and was driven up onto the Kings Lune beach, whereas on either side were reefs of rocks which would have smashed her to pieces if she had taken that course. All of them were in a terrible state suffering from cold and exhaustion but at least they were alive. The storm continued to rage throughout the night and Mr D'Alton and his men along with many local people tried all they could to attempt to save the crew of the schooner but to no avail.
When daylight came the storm had barely abated but the tide began to ebb and they were able to reach the schooner at last. Unfortunately none of the crew had survived. The master's body was found on the deck where he appeared to have been killed by the falling mainmast and there were no signs of the crew; presumably they had been washed overboard and drowned. The master's body was recovered and brought on shore where it was taken to the coastguard's boathouse. Later that stormy day, the body of Albert Anning was washed up as were the bodies of two of the men from Skerries, Joseph Halfpenny and Patrick Reid. It was a melancholy sight, indeed, to see the friends and relatives of those presumed drowned standing on the shore watching to see if the next wave would bring in the body of a loved one. Throughout the day Doctors Brown and M'Evoy, Mr Harry Hamilton, J.P. and the local clergymen were ever present rendering what assistance was in their power.
The Inquest began a few days later and examined in detail the events of that fateful night. There were a number of questions directed at the officers of the coast guard to determine the effectiveness of their life saving actions and evidence was taken from a number of persons involved in the rescue attempts. Of these, William Scantlebury, the surviving coxswain of the lifeboat, was able to give a full account of his efforts to raise a crew for the lifeboat and the subsequent terrible fate of the volunteers. During the evidence given by Scantlebury and Mr John Mildren, chief officer of the coast guard station at Skerries the question of alleged lack of enthusiasm to man the lifeboat by the normal Skerries lifeboat volunteers was raised.
Evidence was heard from one source that the Skerries men preferred to take the lifeboat overland to Balbriggan and to launch from there. The reason, according to Mildren was, "that the Skerries men wanted to make some money ..... by having the boat brought to Balbriggan by carriage and horse and back, and to leave the Balbriggan civilians to do the rough". This caused a sensation in the court room and the atmosphere worsened when Mildren went on to describe a previous occasion when, "I have seen apathy on the part of the Skerries people in trying to save life." As can be imagined this generated much bad feeling between the coastguard and the Skerries people. The formal verdict of the jury was that the crew of the Sarah Ann and the lifeboatmen had lost their lives as a result of the storm and the subsequent rescue efforts. They added that Mr D'Alton and the coastguards under his charge used every exertion in their power to rescue the lives of the crew of the schooner, but they regretted the want of an efficient boat at Balbriggan coastguard station, as, in all probability, had there been a seaworthy boat there, from the evidence given, the lives of the crew would have been saved. They expressed their admiration of the coastguards and civilians of lifeboat crew; and they wished to bear testimony to the readiness of the seafaring men of Skerries on all occasions to save life.
The need to raise money to assist the families of the dead and to assist the survivors was soon in motion and at a meeting at Balbriggan the efforts to this end were co-ordinated. As usual, many of the local gentry subscribed to the relief fund and the R.N.L.I. pledged an immediate £250 and the costs of the funerals. Lord Talbot de Malahide stated that, "the Committee of the Tayleur Fund were determined to come forward liberally on this occasion....". The evidence of Mildren at the Inquest had not been accepted by the jury, but this did little to dispel the bad feeling which had been generated. At the fund raising meeting Captain Moriarty, R.N., attempted to defuse the situation by explaining the duties of the coastguards. He stated that although they were all experienced seamen, their main duty was to protect the revenue and not, as unfortunately was generally perceived, the duty to save lives. He attributed the bad feeling between the coastguard and the Skerries men to be the result of the fact that the posts of first and second coxswain were held by Coastguardmen. He had given orders that the men were to relinquish these posts, and that coastguards were not to volunteer for the lifeboat unless specifically requested to by the Skerries people. This would be done so that the many volunteers available at Skerries could man the lifeboat. He hoped that, "a more friendly spirit would be generated".
The following were the members of the lifeboat crew:-
Tayleur Fund medals were presented to nine recipients in the Dublin Chamber of Commerce on 25th February 1873. Four were given to the survivors of the Skerries lifeboat, Robert Ellison, William Scantlebury, Lot Syme and Thomas Woodley; the other five were awarded to the rescuers of the crew of the Ada of Liverpool (See next Tayleur Fund rescue).
As the Skerries lifeboat survivors were all Coastguardmen, their actions had been reported to the Admiralty. Sadly, the Admiralty correspondence has long since been weeded, but there are references in the Admiralty Digest (ADM 12.923 - 85a) to the award of Tayleur Fund medals
"Medals & Gratuities - Treasurer of Tayleur Fund transmits a medal and £10 each for 4 Coastguard men at Balbriggan for gallantry in the lifeboat at that place on 2nd Feb. (1873). Approved with thanks"
The Admiralty approval confirms that the four coastguard survivors of the Skerries lifeboat each received a Tayleur Fund medal but, in the absence of a copy of the Admiralty letter (since weeded), did they have permission to wear them? In fact, the letter has 'survived', as it was printed in the Drogheda Argus of Saturday 22nd February 1875:
'Letter from the Lords of the Admiralty - The following letter in reference to the proposed presentation of medals to the survivors of the Skerries lifeboat accident, has been received by Mr Frederick Stokes, Treasurer of the Tayleur Fund, in reply to his application for the requisite permission.
Admiralty 15 February 1872.
With reference to your letter of the 12th inst. requesting that four men of the coastguard at Balbriggan may be allowed to accept each a medal and gratuity of £10, which have been granted them by the Tayleur Fund for their gallant conduct on the 2nd inst. in the lifeboat at that place. I am commanded by my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to request you to convey their thanks to the members of the Committee of the Tayleur Fund for the recognition of the services of these men of the coastguard, and to acquaint you that they have great satisfaction in allowing the men to receive the reward and wear the medals.
To Treasurer of the Tayleur Fund,
What was the Tayleur Fund Medal ?
An Irish bravery award: the Tayleur Fund Medal
The Tayleur, built in 1853, was the largest sailing ship ever built in Britain at the time of her launch, being 1,977 tons. She sailed from Liverpool for Melbourne on her maiden voyage on Thursday 19 January 1854, carrying 581 passengers and 71 crew. Encountering rough weather as soon as she emerged into the Irish Sea, the Tayleur’s navigational instruments proved faulty and in appalling visibility she was wrecked on Saturday 21 January on rocks at Lambay Island, having first attempted to anchor and weather the storm. Panic spread through the people on board, some of whom managed to scramble on the Island. Of the passengers and crew, some 380 were drowned, many of these being women and children.
News of the tragedy quickly spread and charitable donations poured in to assist the survivors, many of whom were left destitute as a consequence of the wreck. Some of this charity was channelled through a Dublin committee chaired by Lord Talbot de Malahide (the then owner of Lambay Island), the surplus money from which was used to establish a ‘fund available at once for such shipwrecked strangers as may become future claimants on the generosity of the citizens of Dublin’. It was from this distinctively Irish fund that the Tayleur Fund Medal was inaugurated. Some 44 medals are currently thought to have been awarded by the Fund, of which three were in gold, the remaining 41 being silver awards. The medals themselves are rather large for wearing, being approximately 45mm in diameter and hand usually on a navy blue ribbon from an ornate scroll suspension. The front of the medal shows a representation of the wreck of the Tayleur, surrounded by the inscription ‘TAYLEUR FUND FOR THE SUCCOUR OF SHIPWRECKED STRANGERS’, while the otherwise plain reverse carries the name and brief details of the individual recipients.
Source; Many thanks to Dr. Roger Willoughby Phd. a noted collector of Coastguard Medals, drawing on as yet unpublished material on 'Irish Lifesaving Heroes 1825-2000'. See Also : An Irish bravery award: the Tayleur Fund Medal