Polka

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Loss of the Polka, from an Almanac report in 1851

Substitute boat

On Monday morning, 16 September 1850, the Superb steamer was to have started from St Helier on an excursion trip to St Malo; but in consequence of her machinery requirinq repairs, the Polka, a small steamer usually engaged in manouvring vessels in and out of the harbour, was substituted and started at 11 o'clock with between 30 and 40 passengers.

The Polka had proceeded on her way until within about six or seven miles of the Minquiers rocks, when it was discovered to the great horror of all on board that she had sprung a leak, and was rapidly filling; and under all the circumstances of the case Capt Priauix, who was in command, deemed it prudent neither to put back to St Helier nor to go on to St Malo, but to run the vessel direct for the Minquiers, which were then about six miles ahead.

Every precaution was immediately taken to keep her afloat until the rocks were gained. The passengers and luggage were collected on the starboard bow, in order that the larboard side might be kept as much as possible out of the water, that being the locale of the leak.

The engines were worked as fast as possible, a small sail was set, and the crew, assisted by some of the passengers, betook themselves to the most vigorous exertions in bailing with buckets, there being no efficient pumps on board.

The consternation was great, there being but very small hopes that the rocks could be gained, and from the heavy swell which prevailed, and the little way she made, it was feared she would capsize.

Hope abandoned

When she was about two miles from the rocks an immense cloud of steam and ashes announced the fact that the water had reached the fires; all hope was now abandoned, and planks and other modes of keeping afloat were eagerly sought for, but, to the surprise of all, it was perceived that the paddles still kept slowly revolving (the engine working, as was afterwards ascertained, upon a vacuum).

The baling was now continued with renewed exertion, until the buckets, three in number, were literally knocked to pieces, and the vessel was ultimately brought up to within about a quarter of a mile of the largest rock.

The anchor was immediately dropped, and two small boats which the vessel possessed were instantly lowered. To the great credit of all, the utmost order prevailed, the females were sent off first, and not a man thought of leaving the vessel until they were all cleared, with the exception of one Frenchman, who endeavoured to get among the first boatload of women, but was instantly seized by the other passengers, and forced to wait.

By reason of the smallness of the boats, only four could be taken off at a time, and, as may be imagined, all eyes were strained eagerly watching their slow going and coming. At last, under the providence of God, all were saved, the last boat pushing off as the ill-fated vessel went down, the water covering her mast-head.

The shipwrecked Captain, crew, and passengers were on the Minquiers for fully 24 hours, living on two 41b loaves which they bad on board, and a few biscuits and water which they found in some huts on the rock.

They passed a dismal night. Happily, however, on Tuesday, at noon, the South Western steamer, Captain Jas Goodridge Sen, left Jersey for St Malo and at half-past two o'clock perceived their signals of distress. Mr Fleming, mate, and one of the crew having put off in a small boat on the look-out, she bore towards them, and rescued them from their perilous situation. The South Western then proceeded to St Malo, where she arrived in perfect safety, with the rescued passengers and crew of the ill-fated vessel.

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