Craster Harbour





Craster War

History Walk



Four Brothers Perish at Sea

Four brothers passed away, two by two from their home,
Away, over the billows of the sea to roam:

The Smailes family of Craster were hit by double tragedies in the mid 19th century when four brothers were drowned in two separate incidents at sea. Thomas and William Smailes were drowned off Craster on April 14th, 1864 and Robert Smailes and John Smailes on the 26th December 1871. They are remembered on the family gravestone in the churchyard of Holy Trinity in Embleton.

Gravestone Robert and John Smailes, drowned 1871

The gravestone is difficult to read, but the Embleton Local History Group transcribed the text as follows:

"In memory of William Smailes of Craster
who died 29th January 1864 aged 81 (?) years.
Also of Thomas aged 21 years and William aged 19 years
sons of the above who were both
drowned off Craster April 14th 1864.
'Weep not for us our pairent dear although we died so young
For though we died upon the sea The will of God was done.'
Also of Robert aged 33 years
and John aged 21 years
sons of the above who were both
drowned off Craster Dec 26th 1871.
Also of Isabella Smailes
wife of the above who died
Dec 27th 1885 aged 83 years......"

They were also remembered in a poem that appears to have been specially written about them. Unfortunately the author of the poem is unknown.

Poem commemorating the loss of the four Smailes brothers

Census Notes

1851 Census The confusion about William's age when he died can be resolved by the 1851 census, where William's age was recorded as 49 years, suggesting that he died aged 63. In 1851 his wife was 47 years old and they had five children at home on the day of the census, Elizabeth, Isabelle, Thomas, William and John.

1861 Census William gave his age as 60 and Isabella 59; at home they had Robert aged 22, Thomas 18, William 16 and John 11. The older boys were all fishermen and John was still at school.

1871 Census Records show Robert, aged 31, married to Eleanor 28, with two children Ralph 3 and Thomas 1. Their mother Isabella, widowed in 1864 when William died, gave her age as 64 and was working as a housekeeper. John was still at home, aged 21, a fisherman.

A document has survived recording an appeal for financial support for those lost in the drowning on December 26th 1871, which is now held in the County Record Office at Woodhorn. (Ref: ZCR 21 [4] and Ref: ZCR 21 [5])

The appeal states

"Subscriptions are respectfully requested in aid of the widows and children of the fishermen drowned at sea, off Craster on the 26th of December. The three men drowned were Robert Simpson, Robert Smailes and John Smailes; the two latter were brothers. The bodies have not been recovered.

Robert Simpson has left a widow and 8 children, the eldest a boy 13years old. The widow is near her confinement.
Robert Smailes has left a widow and two children, a third is expected very shortly.
John Smailes was unmarried; he resided with his mother, a widow, now nearly blind and was her sole support. This poor woman has now lost all her sons, 4 in ????, at sea.

All subscriptions received will be placed in Mr Craster's hands who will apply it for the benefit of those who have been so suddenly deprived of their breadwinners, in small weekly payments."

The appeal raised 187 pounds 9 shillings and 6 pence.

The original documents can be read here:

The Gravestone

The gravestone is located off the footpath from the gate to the main door of the church and can be seen on the left a few yards before the church door is reached (Position B63)

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