In 1862 an Act of Parliament was passed authorising the London and South Western Railway Company to own and operate ships. Consequently the London and South Western Railway took complete control of the New South Western Steam Navigation Company, which it had backed financially for years. Thus commenced a new era in Channel Islands mail ship history.
The early records of the London and South Western Railway vessels are a little difficult chronologically, because very few ships were on a permanent station. In the summer the service was supplemented by extra vessels and one ship might arrive in Jersey, take the passengers and mail to Southampton and perhaps not return for months, having been placed on another station.
The first vessel built for the London and South Western Railway Company Channel Islands service was the ill-fated Normandy built in 1863 by J Ash and Company of London. Engined by J Steward of Blackwall, she was an iron paddle steamer of 600 tons, 210 feet long and with a 24-foot beam with a speed of 15½ knots. Normandy had 130 passenger berths and carried 200 tons of cargo. Her maiden voyage to Jersey was on 19 September 1863 and she continued to operate to the islands until she was lost in 1870.
The vessel is best known for two collisions with other vessels. She suffered serious damage on 21 April 1864 when she hit the liner Bavaria and six years later, on a voyage from Southampton to the Channel Islands on 17 March, 1870, she was involved in a collision south of the Needles with a Baltic trader of 900 tons, the ss Mary and sank 20 minutes later, with a loss of 33 lives, including 16 crew. Another 31 persons were saved. The Mary was towed to Southampton, and the survivors were brought to Jersey by the Havre. The mails were lost, but later a floating bag was picked up and the mail delivered.
The Court of Inquiry held the Normandy to blame for the collision.
History of shipwreck
Total loss of Normandy, 17 March 1870
By Mark Tully. Previously published on his Facebook group Maritime Jersey
The London And South western Railway passenger steamer Normandy left Southampton at 2345 on Wednesday 16 March 1870. At 0345 this morning, when 25 miles South of the Needles Rocks, she was in collision with the screw steamer Mary.
Captain Henry Beckford Harvey of Normandy died, remaining on the bridge as his vessel sank.
Normandy was traveling south to the islands, Mary, Captain Stranack, a 900 ton Grimsby vessel, was heading to London with a cargo of wheat from the Black Sea and Mediterranean.
Normandy travelled at full speed of about 12 knots as she entered a bank of fog. The officer in charge, chief mate J Ockleford, sent one of the lookout men to raise Captain Harvey out of his cabin.
Normandy's engines were not slowed until after the collision.
Mary traveled slowly at 2.5 knots, against the tide, and bringing the fog with her up the channel.
Mary put to starboard on seeing lights, her engines reversed, but before the back flow could be felt she struck Normandy three feet behind her starboard paddle wheel.
In a large swell the bow of Mary crashed down several times on the Normandy, smashing her paddle box and cutting her down to the water line. One of Normandy's lifeboats was smashed.
The bow of Mary was badly damaged and she began taking on water. However, her cargo of wheat was thrown overboard to save the vessel. With Normandy sinking fast one of her lifeboats rowed with passengers to Mary. They passed a lifeboat from Mary heading to Normandy. They shouted "hurry up she is sinking fast". But were then shocked as the second mate of Mary John Howe Andrews turned his lifeboat around, and headed back towards Mary for instruction from his captain.
Mr Andrews later regretted his action and wished in the confusion, he had rowed directly to Normandy.
Mary had rockets and burning blue lights but her masthead light was not in the correct position, having just been trimmed, but all other lights were correct. Normandy had large bright lights trimmed with paraffin oil.
Normandy has been found solely to blame. Chief mate Ockleford should have slowed the engines on entering the fog, and before sending for the captain. Under articles 14 and 15 of the navigation rules, it was Normandy's responsibility to get out of the way of Mary.
As news filtered through reports indicated a final loss of 34 dead.