Valhalla - Award 1861
The Award from Liverpool did sail
Bound for New Orleans.
She struck upon the rock of Gweal
And went to smithereens.
At 1.00am on Tuesday 19th March 1861 an 846 ton sailing ship struck rocks, one and a half miles off Gweal. Bound for New Orleans from Liverpool, this was only the second voyage undertaken by the Award. It was to be her last. The seas were heavy and the severe winds (NNW force 8/9) drove the Award on to the north end of the small, barren island of Gweal.
By a stroke of luck the crashing waves pushed her bow-first on to land. The tempest brought down the foremast over her bow, forming a tangled gangplank across to Gweal. So dreadful were the seas that it was to be twelve hours before use could be made of this unusual bridge. After what must have been a terrifying and seemingly endless wait, one man scrambled ashore with a line, enabling the remaining twenty-three crew to quit their wrecked vessel for dry land.
The inhabitants of Bryher had first become aware of the Award’s predicament at around 4.00am that Tuesday morning. The terrible sea conditions meant that it was not until the afternoon that an attempt was made by the Bryher men to rescue the Award’s crew on Gweal. The breaking seas and roaring gale drove the Bryher men back. At low tide, early on Wednesday morning, another valiant effort was made to reach Gweal. This time it was successful but the seas were still so ferocious that the return journey could not be made until low water that afternoon. Three trips were required before all of the Award’s crew were landed on Bryher.
On 28th March the Award was refloated and broken up on Bryher. The Award did not carry a figurehead but had on her bow, instead, an ornately carved block, known as a billet-head or scroll head. This Augustus Smith claimed for his collection at Valhalla, along with a capstan and the ship’s trail boards. Trail boards decorate either side of a ship’s bow, often bearing the ship’s name. All of the lettering on the Award’s trail boards had been lost but their outline remained on the old paintwork. One board now serves as the sign for the Valhalla Museum, while the other can be found as the signboard for the New Inn at New Grimsby. There can be few pubs in the country whose signs have quite such a dramatic story.
Augustus Smith made good use of the Award’s timbers. At his home, Tresco Abbey, the roof of the new dining room, its panelling and that of the rooms Rosevear, Rosevean and Annet were all constructed from the remains of the Award. From her mainmast, Augustus had a teak sideboard made, also for his dining room. Augustus was not the only beneficiary. James Jenkins on Bryher was paid three shilling for providing the Coastguard with information about the wreck
In terms of pure cash, the prize that the Bryher men received for saving the crew and for salvage was the most glittering. A reward of one hundred pounds was paid to those involved, in gold US dollar coins. In 1870, thirty-two pounds of this money was invested in the construction of a new gig for Bryher. The celebrated Peters of St Mawes was commissioned for the job. She was named the Golden Eagle, after the emblem of the American bald eagle on the gold coins that had paid for her.
The Golden Eagle was to have an illustrious career. She was present at the wrecks of the Sussex in 1885, the Brinkburn in 1898, the Erik Rickmers and Parame in 1899 and the Minnehaha in 1910. Her qualities as a gig were such that when Peters was asked to build another gig for Bryher, the Czar, to rival the Golden Eagle, he fitted her with an extra thwart. The reasoning was that only a gig with an extra oarsman could compete with the Golden Eagle.
This noble gig is now on St Mary’s and you can see her race still, every Wednesday and Friday night. And where better to find yourself after a gig race than in the New Inn sinking a few celebratory/commiseratory ales…but before you enter the pub next, pause for a moment by the signboard, spare a thought for the men of the Award and the brave Bryher folk who rescued them, then go inside and raise your glass to them!