On a foggy morning in the Farne Islands, September 1915 the SS Britannia ran aground. She was on a trip from Newcastle to Leith and hit ‘the Callers’ early morning on the 25th of September.
Word was sent to Seahouses of the wreck and the lifeboat dispatched. It was hoped that the Britannia might refloat on the next tide, however, it soon became apparent that this would not be the case owing to the amount of water in her holds. The lifeboat took off Captain Halerow,19 crew and 2 passengers and she was abandoned.
It is not clear exactly what her cargo was at the time of the sinking, whatever it was she was quickly relieved of it by local fishermen who report they had found nothing but boots, all of which were ‘left’.
In 1971 Mansfield and District Underwater Swimming club as the club was then known to lead a series of expeditions to the Farne Islands and identified several wrecks including the Britannia and the Snowdonia. Diving in the early 70’s was clearly a different sport to the one we know today, older club members tell of eras of homemade kit and close shaves. At that time the club had a small RIB which was used to make the crossing to the Farnes, alarmingly the crossing from Seahouses was also made by an improvised, flat bottomed craft known as Jacks Kipperbox, which the club regularly used for diving on the islands.
Once the Britannia had been identified, club members of the time did extensive research into its history, design and sinking. She had been built in 1885 by S. & H. Morton and Company of Leith, she had a gross weight of 740 tons and length of 210.4 ft. The Britannia was not insured at the time of the sinking and so in 1971 was still owned by Currie Line of Leith. Britannia was purchased by the club from Currie Line not long after her identification.
The wreck remains one the clubs oldest, largest, most unusual and sadly under used items of equipment. Dives were regularly made on the Britannia throughout the 1970s and many items were lifted from the wreck, again evidence of a past era. Many of the artefacts from the ship can today be found in the clubhouse of Scarborough BSAC. They and the rest of Mansfield’s possessions were gifted to Hartlepool and Scarborough BSACs when the Mansfield 735 clubhouse closed in the 1980s. Plans, papers and reports on the Britannia remain in the club archive, the original expedition report ‘Project 1971’ can be found on the Expedition Reports section.
If any-one has recently dived the Britannia or would like to learn more about the wreck, please feel free to get in touch the branch archive has numerous papers pertaining to the wreck, which may prove interesting to any-one looking to dive her.