As HMS SPARROW (1909-1920)

Courtesy of Fleetwood Maritime Heritage Trust and The Bosun's Watch

Official No:  127570     Port and Year:  Fleetwood, 1909  (FD226) [But see notes below.]

                                                                   Fleetwood, 1946  (FD189)

Description: Steel side trawler; coal fired. Ketch rigged


Built: by Goole Shipbuilding & Repairing Co., Goole, in 1908.  (Yard no.127)

Tonnage:   266 grt  103 net (1924: 278 grt 108 net)

Length / breadth / depth (feet): 128.5 / 23.2 / 12.0

Engine: T 3-Cyl; 61 nhp; by Earle's Co., Hull



3 Dec 1908: J. Marr & Son, Fleetwood.


Dec 1908: The Admiralty.

Apr 1909: HMS SPARROW 



Jan 1920:  Colin L. Mason, Atlantic Buildings, Bute Docks, Cardiff.

Managing owner.



Apr 1924: Hochseefischerei "Nordstern" Aktien Gesellschaft, Wesermünde, Germany.


Landed at Milford: 10 Jul 1920 - 12 Oct 1921; 5 Feb - 30 Oct 1922; 17 Apr - 21 Nov 1923.

Skippers: Archie Blockwell (1923)

Notes: 22 Oct 1908: Launched by builders and named JOSEPHINE I.

3 Dec 1908: Registered at Fleetwood (FD226), prior to completion.

1909: Fitted out in the builder's yard as a minesweeper. Renamed HMS SPARROW (Ad.No.58). Based at Portland for minesweeping trials.

1914: Based at Portsmouth training fishery reserve crews.

1939: Broken up.

[Information supplied by the Fleetwood Maritime Trust and the Bosun's Watch website.]


Accidents and Incidents

From the West Wales Guardian of Friday 5th October 1923:


    The number of cases under the Merchant Shipping Act seems to be increasing, and two more culprits were arrested last week to be sent for fourteen days hard labour.  The prisoners were William Wheeler, Chief Engineer, and James Hill, Fireman, both of the steam trawler "Josephine", and they were charged with wilful disobedience of lawful commands.  The skipper said he was anxious to get out of dock on the day in question, and ordered Wheeler to turn the engines.  He refused, and with the fireman, jumped ashore.  They would not come back and the consequence was that the ship was very much delayed.  The magistrates, Messrs. Roach and Yeandle, sentenced the prisoners as stated.




The Times, Thursday, Dec 20, 1923; pg. 9; Issue 43529; col D
     A Trawler's Skipper Fined.


    At Milford Haven Sessions yesterday, after a hearing extending over two days, the Bench gave judgement in a prosecution instituted by the Board of Trade against the skipper and owners of the Milford Haven trawler Josephine for doing damage to the French fishing-boat Gaulois.  The English boat crossed in the wake of a fleet of French drifters, cutting adrift the nets of the Gaulois.  Three hundred and fifty pounds damages were claimed.  The Court awarded the French boat £250 damages, and fined the English skipper £15 for gross negligence.



Extracts from the West Wales Guardian of Friday 21st December 1923:



Damage to French Drifter's Fishing Gear

award of £250 and fine of £15


    A case of great interest to all engaged in the fishing industry occupied the attention of the Milford magistrates on Wednesday and Thursday, the 12th and 13th inst.  W. A. Blockwell, skipper of the steam trawler "Josephine", was charged by the Board of Trade (through their local chief Custom's [ sic ] officer, Mr. F. Lloyd) with certain breaches of the Sea Fisheries Act.  It was alleged that on May 5th, while five French drifters were fishing 95 miles W.S.W. of the Scilly Isles, the trawler of which the defendant was in charge destroyed part of the nets of the French drifter "Gaulois".



    The defendant, giving evidence, said he denied the evidence of the French skipper.  He passed between two ships, but did not pass between any others.

    Cross-examined: When he stopped his engines the nearest of the ships was four miles away.  On the ship which he took to be the "Gaulois" there was a round white light, which was used by drifters when they had their nets out.

    To the best of your knowledge is it entirely false that the skipper of the "Madeline" blew his whistle to warn you? —  Yes.

    He says he did it at 2.30? — That is wrong.

    What did you do between 2.30 and 4.30? ― I had a pot of tea and decided to shoot the net at 4.30, a little earlier than usual.

    Why did you decide that? ― I simply changed my mind and did it.

    The Clerk: Perhaps he saw that the other vessels were catching fish.

    What did you do between 2.30 and 4 a.m.? ― I stopped the engines, but I didn't drift because there wasn't much wind.

    Do you suggest that at a distance of four miles you could not distinguish the lights on the Frenchmen because of the blaze of lights on deck? ― Yes

    Then you came back with the "Gaulois", and apparently they made it clear that they had lost some of their nets? ― He made it clear that he would sink me, if I didn't go back.  That is all he made clear.  (Laughter).

    Didn't he hold up a piece of warp and say "Plenty money" (Laughter). ― I couldn't understand what he said except "coming right through, if you don't come back."  I pointed to the number to show that he was talking to a British trawler, but I went with him, more or less to keep the peace.

    is is not a fact that you should not have gone anywhere near these drifters within three miles? ― Yes, but if the lights did not satisfy me. [ sic ]  I can't keep away from every vessel.

    You know that trawl fishing is prohibited where mackerel or herring fishing is going on? ― Yes, if I know they are drifters I mustn't go near, but the drifters did not show proper lights.

    How long have you been a skipper? ― Fourteen or fifteen months.

    Is it a new experience to run into drifters? ― I never have run into them at all.

    If it was not you who ran into the nets, can you suggest how the damage was done? ― A steamship might have passed.

    Did you see any that morning? ― No. Schools of porpoises are likely to break mackerel nets, and you always find porpoises where there are mackerel.

    Do you seriously put that forward? ― Yes.

    Would they break the steel hawser, and the whole length of the net that fell to the bottom on this occasion? ― Quite possible.

    You regarded it as very important, when you went back with the "Gaulois"? ― Yes.

    Did you tell your owners about it? ― No, it was not necessary.  If I had done any damage I would have entered it in the log book.  We don't enter things we don't admit doing.

    You know this is a very serious thing.  You came back 10 miles with the Frenchman and that lost a good deal of time as well as burned a good deal of coal? ― Yes.

    Do you say he threatened to run you down? ― Yes.  That is a common occurrence for Frenchmen, but the rule of the road at sea is not only made for Frenchmen.

    But, of course, you thought it best to leave sleeping dogs lie? ― It wasn't necessary to enter it in the log book or say anything.



    Thomas Cole, mate of the "Josephine", said that at the time the trawl was shot he was on deck, and the nearest boat was the "Gaulois", which was three or four miles away.  The "Josephine" passed between two ships which he could see were drifters, and which were three miles apart.  These ships had the usual one light and the deck lights.  The "Josehine" was going south-easterly, and nothing occurred to show that they had done any damage.

    Cross examined:  He went to bed at 1.45 and got up at 3.45 in order to shoot the trawl.  They were then in the middle of the lights of ships to port and starboard bows.

    How did you know what course you were making? ― By looking at the compass, I suppose.  We had an idea we were steering S.E.

    Was it possible to cut the "Gaulois" nets from the position you were taking? ― No.

    Your skipper was angry wasn't he? ― Yes.

    Who did he blame? ― He didn't blame anyone.

    Didn't he go to the stern of the ship and go for someone? ― Not that I know of.



    William J. Rostrum, boatswain of the "Josephine", said that on the morning in question he went on deck at one o'clock, and stopped there until they had shot the trawl at about 3.45.  He did not remain on deck any longer.  (Laughter).

    Cross-examined: Who was on deck with you? ― The third hand was on the bridge with me.

    What course were you taking? ― From the Westward to the Melville Knoll.




    Mr. Robert Cole (chairman) gave the Bench's decision on Wednesday, the 19th inst., as follows:― "We have duly considered the facts in this case, and the points of law raised by counsel for the defence, and find that when the "Josephine" sighted the French fishing fleet they were exhibiting the proper regulation lights showing their nets were out, and that she did not take all reasonable precaution to avoid running into them, and while aquitting her of causing the damage complained of with the deliberate intention of doing so, we are forced to the conclusion that it was caused by the gross negligence of her skipper or those in charge of the ship at the time.  We are of opinion that the place where the occurrence happened comes within the purview of the Sea Fisheries Act, 1883, and is a portion of the seas surrounding the British Isles.  With regard to the point raised of guilty knowledge we hold ... that it is not necessary to prove this, and as we have found defendant guilty of neglect we are obliged to fine him £15, and we award the owners of the "Gaulois" the sum of £250 as reasonable damages."


[ Note:  The current equivalents of the fine and damages are approximately £555 and £9,240 respectively. ]





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