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David Purdon 1832-1871

David Purdon, the son of David Purdon snr. and Sarah Habbershaw, was born in Skipsea, ERY in 1832 and was baptised at Skipsea on 20th July 1832.1 He moved to Bridlington Quay and married his first wife Hannah in Hull around June 1857,2 their daughter Sarah Jane Purdon was born in Bridlington around September 1858.3 At the time of the 1861 Census David, Hannah and Sarah Jane were living in Chapel Street, Bridlington Quay, where David was a joiner employing two men.4 Hannah Purdon died aged 28 on 3rd July 1861 and is buried in the churchyard of the Priory Church, Bridlington.5

David married Harriet Wilson (born in Ellerker on 24th March 1842), the youngest daughter of George Wilson and Anne Daggett, at the Parish Church, Scarborough on 2nd September 1862.6 David and Harriett had two children:
  • Annie Purdon, born in Bridlington in 1864
  • Frederick G Purdon, born in Bridlington in 1866
David Purdon lost his life in a rescue attempt during the Great Gale in Bridlington on 10th February 1871. 'Shipwrecks of the Yorkshire Coast' has the following description of this disaster: 7
The most notorious and best remembered of all [the gales on the Yorkshire coast] was undoubtedly that of 10 February 1871 when a hundred ships were wrecked on the coast, including thirty in Bridlington Bay where an estimated seventy lives were lost. The winter of 1870-71 had been particularly bad, and a vast fleet of colliers had sheltered in the Tyne waiting for a break in the weather. Their chance came on 9 February when approximately 400 vessels made sail, many of them bound for Paris which was under German siege at this time. As the fleet reached Bridlington Bay the breeze died away and many of the vessels anchored offshore to await a favourable wind. However, it never came; a south-easterly gale accompanied by heavy sleet and snow sprang up early on the morning of 10 February. The local rocket apparatus, and Bridlington's two lifeboats, waited in readiness for the inevitable disasters.
At 10a.m. five vessels ran for the beach to avoid sinking at anchor, and all struck near the Spa, south of the harbour, where the crews were saved by the lifeboats. One of the lifeboats, the R.N.L.1. Robert Whit worth , was taken out of service at this point. It was a heavy and cumbersome boat, and the crew had to be lifted from their seats as they were so exhausted from their exertions. The smaller lifeboat Harbinger was more easily handled, and she continued to attempt her almost impossible task. The brig Delta was seen south of the town in dire trouble; four of her crew had drowned while attempting to launch their own boat, and the Harbinger sped to rescue the captain who could be seen in the rigging. As she neared the wreck, a huge wave engulfed both vessels. When the boiling surf fell away, it was seen that the Harbinger had capsized, her crew were scattered and the man in the rigging had disappeared. Six of the nine lifeboat crew were lost; the remainder righted the Harbinger and were able to save themselves. The Delta was a 226 ton brig, built at Sunderland in 1839 and owned by T. Forrest of Whitby. …
The following morning piles of debris littered the beach for several miles, and in some places the timber was piled eight or nine feet high. The death roll could not be accurately ascertained even at the time, but the most widely quoted figure was no less than seventy lives lost. Many of the victims were buried in a mass grave at Bridlington where a service has been held every year since that time. Even today, more than a hundred years later, Bridlington seafaring men remember stories of that awful storm, and the part their forbears played in the rescue. …
Samuel Plimsoll, who was at this time campaigning for safety regulations for the protection of seamen, used the 1871 disaster at Bridlington as evidence for the great need to control safety in ships.
A Guide to Bridlington Harbour says: 8
…At daybreak a number of ships were seen and from their appearance it was obvious that many of them could not remain afloat for long. Crowds gathered along the sea walls and the harbour waiting for the tragedy to unfold. Shortly after seven-o-clock the lifeboats and the rocket apparatus were made ready. There were two life-boats in Bridlington - the RNLI's "Robert Whitworth" and a much smaller boat "Harbinger" presented by a Count Bathyanny…
…By noon the crews of both life-boats were exhausted but much work remained to be done as many vessels were in difficulties. One crew member in the "Harbinger" was so weakened by the constant rowing back and forth to rescue more sailors that he had to be lifted out of the boat. His place was taken by David Purdon, the builder of the boat, which then proceeded to rescue the crew of a brig stranded on the south beach. It was then noticed that a brig - the "Delta" of Whitby - was in danger of breaking up south of the harbour. Four of her crew launched one of the ship's boats and attempted to reach the shore but unfortunately it was swamped by a terrific wave and all were drowned. However it was noticed that the Captain was still clinging to the doomed ship and the crew of the "Harbinger" made another attempt to rescue him. The little boat passed the south pier, one minute on the crest of a mighty wave and the next into the depth. At last they reached the stern of the vessel where the Captain was hanging on. Having steered the boat up close the Coxwain shouted to the man to watch out and immediately after the next wave had passed to jump onto the boat. Unfortunately the next wave was the last for some of them. Rising with terrific force it took the boat high up on the crest and then plunged it down foremost into the sea. Straight away it righted itself and three of the crew were hanging onto the ropes along the sides, eventually being saved when the boat was swept ashore by the heavy seas. Unfortunately six of the life-boat's crew plus the Captain of the brig were lost.
The incident was reported in the Bridlington Free Press, which reported that: 9
'…the crew of the lifeboats were so exhausted with their severe duties that it was impossible to obtain men, until Mr. David Purdon, a journeyman in his employ from Hornsey named James Clappison'… 'nobly volunteered and in getting out of the Harbour were drifted along by the wind in the direction they were making for, when a brig was suddenly stranded and they at once made for her, rescued the crew of five, conveyed them to shore… etc. Eventually the lifeboat capsized and only three of the crew survived. These did not include David Purdon…
Bulmer's 'History & Directory of East Yorkshire', 1892, page 129, states that:
The first lifeboat was purchased in 1306, by subscription; and in 1866 it was replaced by one named "John William and Francis," presented by R. Whitworth, Esq., of Manchester, and placed under the management of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. Shortly afterwards Count Batthyany presented one of a different design, and named "The Harbinger," to the Committee of the Sailors' and Working Men's Club. On the 10th of February, 1871, there occurred a storm of almost unprecedented fury, when more than 20 vessels were wrecked in the bay, and more than 50 lives lost almost within reach of the shore. Both boats did good service, notably "The Harbinger," and were the means of saving many lives that must otherwise have been lost. "The Harbinger" had at last the misfortune to capsize, and six out of the nine brave fellows that manned it were drowned. Many attributed the disaster to the build of the boat, and the Rev. Y. Lloyd Greame, of Sewerby House, with his usual sympathy and generosity, undertook to provide one that should be built in accordance with the ideas of the fishermen of the place. This boat is named "The Sea Gull," and is under the management of the Committee of the Sailors' and Working Men's Club. It is kept in a house in Cliff Street, built at the expense of the same Rev, gentleman. "The Harbinger," for which no boathouse was provided, is worn out with exposure to the weather.
The Great Gale is commemorated by the Sailor's Monument in the churchyard of the Priory Church, Bridlington:10

In lasting memory
a great Company of Seamen
who perished in the fearful Gale
which swept over
Bridlington Bay
on February 10th 1871
The waves of the Sea are mighty and rage horribly but
the Lord who dwelleth on high
is mightier.

The Arrow of Sunderland
Caroline of Yarmouth
Delta of Whitby
John of Whitstable
Lavinia of Seaham
Margaret of Ipswich
Produce of Folkestone
Teresita of Harwich
William Maitland of Whitby
and an unknown English Schooner were wrecked on the 10th February 1871 with the loss of life in Bridlington Bay.
Thirteen other vessels were lost in the Bay in the same Gale.

Forty Three Bodies
of those who on that day
lost their lives, lie buried in this
Church Yard.

In remembrance of
Robert Pickering
John Clappison
Richard Atkin
James Watson
David Purdon
William Cobb
Who lost their lives in the
Harbinger Lifeboat
whilst nobly endeavouring to
save those whose bodies rest

The Sailor's Memorial
The Sailor's Memorial
St Mary's Priory Church, Bridlington

The Sailor's Memorial
The 1871 Census 11 recorded Harriett Purdon, described as a 'Dealer in Fancy Goods', her step-daughter Sarah, and her children Annie and Frederick living at 15 King Street, Bridlington Quay. Her sister, Mary Ann Parnell, was staying with her at the time. Harriett died on 9th April 1871 and was buried with her husband. Their Memorial Inscription reads:
In memory of DAVID PURDON of Bridlington Quay who nobly sacrificed his life in attempting to save the crew of the brig Delta of Whitby February 10th 1871 Aged 38 years. Also Harriet, relict of the above named who died on April 9 1871 aged 29 years.
Their two small children, Annie and Frederick Purdon, were brought up by their aunt Charlotte and her husband Josephus Scholefield.12,13

  1. IGI, extracted BT for Skipsea, ERY
  2. GRO Marriage Indexes (1857 Jun Hull 9d 264)
  3. GRO Birth Indexes (1858 Sep Bridlington 9d 240)
  4. 1861 Census for Bridlington (RG 9/3613 folio 15V)
  5. MI in the churchyard of the Priory Church, Bridlington
  6. Marriage certificate
  7. 'Shipwrecks of the Yorkshire Coast' by Arthur Godfrey and Peter Lassey, The Dalesman, 1974, pages 103-105
  8. Guide to Bridlington Harbour, publisher unknown
  9. Bridlington Free Press February 18th 1871
  10. Sailor's Monument, The Priory Church, Bridlington
  11. 1871 Census for Bridlington (RG 10/4812 folio 25R)
  12. 1881 Census for Bridlington (RG 11/4799 folio 23)
  13. Information from family correspondence
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Author : Chris Newall
Page created on : 1st July 2000
Last modified : 26th July 2003