Henri et Leontine 1891


October 19th 1891

Very early in the morning, two small French brigantines of 450 tons each, the Henri et Leontine and the Jeanne Benoni, sailed from Spithead for Nantes in a light northerly wind. The boats were owned by two brothers and by 18.13pm in the evening were about 4 miles from the shore off Atherfield when the wind veered to the south south-west and blew with great force. The Jeanne Benoni turned back, endeavouring to clear St Catherine’s Point and shelter again in Spithead. She was unsuccessful and ran aground at St Catherine’s. The Henri et Leontine weathered Atherfield Ledge, but then ran aground at the top of the water to the east of Brooke Chine. An attempt to launch the lifeboat was unsuccessful. A young Jack Seely, then 23 years old, swam out to the wreck with a line. He helped the captain, who, on impact, had been scalped by the bulwarks and together with Tom Hookey, the Brook blacksmith, rigged a breeches buoy to get the captain ashore. The rest of the crew were helped ashore as the tide receded. For his efforts Jack Seely received the French gold medal of honour. Below are, we believe, his handwritten notes on the rescue:

As I saw him lying in his bunk in a pool of blood, I thought for the moment I was looking at a decapitated man. Above his bunk was a medicine chest and in it I saw a bottle of Friar’s balsam. I poured the greater part of it on top of his head, in the hope that it would stop the bleeding. This it did in most miraculous fashion, for the oozing blood stopped completely. I then took his scalp, fitted it on to his head, tied my handkerchief from the back round his brow, and a piece of rope from the top under his chin. It was rather elementary surgery but the doctor who attended him afterwards said that it saved his life.

Fear and Be Slain (1931)