Valhalla - Serica 1893
FIGUREHEADS – SERICA
Sydney Smith, master of the steamship Serica, may have considered himself to be both a most fortunate and unfortunate sailor. On 16th November 1893, Smith and the Serica left the port of Cardiff for Port Said. The vessel was a 2,652 ton schooner-rigged, steel screw steamer, with a crew of twenty-five and a cargo of coal. A day out of port and the Serica found herself caught in a fierce storm off the Devon coast, near Hartland Point. The heavy seas and strong winds tore into the stricken steamer, plucking off hatch tarpaulins and swamping the main cabin. The Serica’s decks were swept clean, her boats became matchwood and part of her upper bridge was in pieces.
During the tempest, Captain Sydney Smith was washed overboard. His fate seemed sealed until he was flung back aboard by the same furious seas that had just claimed him. Neptune may have saved him but the game was not over. Once more a great wave hurled Smith off the Serica, and once more Smith was cast back on to the decks of his ship. Smith lost consciousness during his ordeal and was taken below decks. The mate was left in charge of the ship and, at one time, was so certain that the Serica was doomed that he made ready to run her ashore. However, the men of Sunderland, who had built the Serica in 1888, had done their jobs well. The devastated ship battled on.
On 19th November, the Serica made it to the Isles of Scilly. She was listing severely. Her pumps were no longer working and she was in a pitiful state. Such was the steamer’s battered appearance that some on St Mary’s were amazed that the Serica could even float. Yet five days later, a patched-up Serica bade farewell to St Mary’s and set out once more for Port Said. November 24th 1893 was a fine day in Scilly. After their terrible passage from Cardiff, the crew of the Serica were no doubt pleased to be steaming away from the islands in such fair conditions. As tt was low tide, Captain Smith took the precaution of taking a local pilot on board, even though visibility was good..
The Serica had just passed the south-western tip of St Mary’s when she hit the rock. She was less than a few hundred yards from Woolpack Point and it was here that she was run ashore. For fear of her boilers exploding, the ship was quickly abandoned. All of the twenty-five crew were unharmed, including Captain Smith. The pilot was exonerated from blame as the depth of the unnamed rock, which the Serica had struck, was incorrectly marked on the charts. November 24th 1893 became something of a christening for that fateful lump of granite. Since that day, it has been known as Serica Rock. The Serica also gave her name to the first pilot gig built in the twentieth century. The Serica of St Mary’s was built by Tom Chudleigh in 1967 and will be familiar to the followers of gig-racing on Scilly.
Charlotte Dorrien-Smith visited the wreck of the Serica in the Tresco longboat, Normandy. She was with the party that removed the Serica’s figurehead. Miss Dorrien-Smith returned home to Tresco with a precious piece of wreckage for her father, Thomas Algernon. The figurehead of the Serica has remained in Valhalla ever since. One can only hope that the rest of Captain Sydney Smith’s days were equally as uneventful. It was the remains of the Serica’s cargo that was to be disturbed in later years. In the winter of 1947-8, local fishermen went out to the waters around the Woolpack looking to net coal rather than fish. The Serica was an exemplary wreck: no casualties other than the ship and wreckage that continues to be useful over fifty years later. She also provided Valhalla with another handsome figurehead.