'120 Years - The Sinking of the SS Stella'
My new set of stamps for Alderney, commemorating 120 years since the sinking of the SS Stella. The ship hit Les Casquets reef north of Alderney and sank on Maundy Thursday, 30th March 1899.
The SS Stella was travelling through thick banks of fog. The ship was owned by the London & South Western Railway, who were in rivalry with the Great Western Railway who ran their Channel Island ship from Weymouth. Both ships sailed at the same time and were due to arrive at the same time. So there was pressure on the Captains to keep to time. The SS Stella’s Captain Reeks had eased the engines in the first two banks of fog, but had then returned to full steam until the ship hit the notorious Casquets Rocks.
The SS Stella was only carrying enough lifeboat capacity for 148 persons (The ship had a passenger capacity of 712!) At the time there was a media storm, but unfortunately, this sinking failed to change any shipping laws. So that only a few years later The Titanic sank, again steaming to fast in adverse conditions with too few lifeboats for the number of passengers.
Ten days after the tragedy, news broke of the heroism of Mary Anne Rogers, the Senior Stewardess. Survivors reported that she had marshalled the female passengers up onto the deck, helped them into their lifebelts and into the lifeboats. Mary then gave up her own lifebelt to a lady without one and helped her into one of the boats. When urged to get in herself, she refused for fear of capsizing it.
The SS Stella sank, stern first in just eight minutes and many failed to make it into the lifeboats. Of the 190 on board, 86 passengers and 19 crew were drowned, including Mary Rogers.
The tragedy generated more press coverage and greater public interest than any other shipwreck of the period and it is often referred to as ‘The Titanic of the Channel Islands’.
My brief for the set of stamps was for six stamps, a Souvenir Sheet image, Presentation Pack image and a First Day Cover image.
Suggestions for the stamp design were as follows: 1. Boarding the SS Stella at Southampton docks. 2. View of the ship cruising at full steam in open waters. 3. View of the ship approaching the Casquets reef, maybe showing thick fog bank with lighthouse peeking out the top. (Maybe for the illustration on the souvenir sheet.) 4. Capt Reeks positions a lookout on the bow of the ship to listen for the Casquets foghorn. 5. A few minutes before 4.00 p.m. a loud blast was heard from directly above and suddenly through the fog the Casquets, on which the lighthouse was sighted, became visible directly ahead. 6. On board after the strike – in an air of curious calm Captain Reeks’ orders were speedily obeyed. 7. On board after the strike – Senior Stewardess Mary Anne Rogers had worked calmly and speedily to get women passengers up onto the deck, and fitted with lifebelts. Seeing a woman without a lifebelt, she removed her own and put it on her, then helped her into a boat. The occupants of the boat had called Mrs Rogers to join them, but she refused, saying that the boat was full. 8. On board after the strike – On the promenade deck, a small number of women knelt around a clergyman. Captain Reeks and his Chief Engineer stood on the bridge. 9. Stella sinking stern first with lifeboat deployed. The Stella, black smoke pouring from her funnel was tilted at a steep angle, her bows in the air.
My initial thumbnail sketches. Sketched up to make sure that I was thinking along the right lines.
Working out where all the elements fitted, to my satisfaction, for the ‘In the Bow’ Stamp.
‘Sketching Up’ and then producing a finished Pencil Drawing for the First of the Set of Stamps.
A rougher working drawing and the finished pencil drawing of Mary Anne Rogers giving up her lifejacket. As you can see my original design for the stamp cropped in closer to the action.