Remembering the Rhone
One of the most tragic hurricanes to ever befall the British Virgin Islands happened 151 years ago.
The year was 1867.
My great-great-grandfather was 9 years old.
His name was Henry Osmond Creque.
Six of his siblings along with his parents were huddled together for safety in a cramped, two-roomed cottage.
It was located across the street from the Methodist Church in the Anegada Settlement.
Henry’s father, John Bedford Creque, or “the old man” as he was locally known, could tell that the weather was changing and something ominous was brewing, but could not foresee the destruction to come.
Tuesday, October 29, 1867, would prove to be a day they would never forget.
As the wind intensified, a strong feeling of doom overtook them.
Could it be that a late brewing hurricane had come to visit?
Just thirty miles southwest, the RMS Rhone, a Royal Mail Steam Packetship, was refueling at a temporary coaling station in Great Harbour, while rendezvousing with friends from the RMS Conway.
She was lying at Peter Island ready to sail for Europe with over two hundred passengers aboard.
As the barometer began to drop and the dark clouds blanketed the sky, Captain Woolley secured the Rhone in the bay.
He lay in wait for what he thought was just a “Northern brewing”.
After taking a good beating by the unexpected hurricane-strength winds, he decided to make a run for it during the quiet eye of the storm.
He boarded some of the passengers from the RMS Conway onto his “unsinkable” Rhone and headed out to sea where he thought he would be safe.
The Conway made for the safe harbor of Road Town.
Unfortunately, the swirling hurricane returned from the opposite direction with double its fury and intensity.
And lo!, the Rhone was caught!
Dropping her heavy, iron anchor, hoping it would hold, was of no use.
It lodged around an unforgiving coral head and broke away.
Today, some say that it can still be found on the harbor floor.
The shifting winds continued battering the Rhone’s 310-foot metal frame until she hit Black Rock Point, just off of Salt Island.
This is where her shattered hull rests today.
A Tragic Loss
All passengers, including the beloved, Captain Woolley, were lost, save for twenty-three crewmen.
It would be a story my ancestors spoke of for many generations.
On November 12, 1867, Sir Arthur Rumbold, Governor-in-Chief of the island, wrote to His Excellency in Antigua with the sad details of the loss of life and property.
“Anegada, he said, has escaped with little or no damage and forms an exception to this tale of woe.”
I sometimes wonder what would have happened had Anegada been in the eye of the storm?
Surely, my great-great grandfather would not have survived…. nor any of his plethora of descendants.
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