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Adopt A Wreck Identification of the steamship Clansman/ Ex Ethel

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Above … Fractured shaft tunnel (Paul Hennessey 2022)



Team members … Paul Hennessey, Roger Smith, Mike Thomas, Ben Cannell, Leigh Reeves, Simon Phelan, Lucy Johnson.

In 2021 Anglian Divers adopted the wreck known as the Ethel through the Nautical Archaeology Society’s Adopt Wreck Scheme. During the winter of 2021 into 2022 the team researched the site known as that of the Ethel with a view to collating as much information on the site as possible prior to the start of the 2022 diving season. During the teams research it became apparent that the site in question was more than likely a miss identified wreck. The UKHO and Admiralty have the site listed as that of the Ethel, this being said neither offer any further reference as to the vessel other than a name and a position. In turn this site has been designated that of the Ethel due to the fact a bell was recovered from the site with the name Ethel upon it in the early 80’s. During the 2022 dive season Anglian Divers undertook several dives on the site and have concluded that this is in fact the wreck of the Workman Clark built Clansman, For a full detailed account of Anglian Divers findings please read below.

POSITION … 52 53’44,5″N / 00 31’41″E

Type … Cargo. Plumb bow, counter stern, engine midships, x1 deck, bridge deck 28 feet, forecastle 26 feet. Construction … Iron, tonnage … 300grt, dimensions … 45.6 x 6.6 x 3.2 mtrs, engine … 2 cylinder compound / Hp 19 / Lp 38 x 30 inch stroke, boiler … x1 single ended drum / Scotch type, power … 60hp, built … 1880, launched … 20th August 1880, lost… 22/10/1924, Cause of loss … Foundered, Port of registration … Lowestoft, builder … Workman Clark & Co Ltd, yard number 1 Belfast / official number 81960, Engine builder … J. Rowan & Sons Ltd, owner at time of loss … Great Yarmouth Shipping Co Ltd, voyage … Hull  – Great Yarmouth, cargo … General / unspecified.

Below… Counter stern framework (Paul Hennessey 2022)

History of ownership

Built in 1880 as the Obakh. Subsequent owners, 1881… A. Godin & Cie, Le Harve, 1883 … Thomas Banks, Swansea / name change to Ethel, 1885… David Macbrayne, Glasgow, 1910… David Macbrayne Ltd, Glasgow / name change to Clansman, 1916 … A.F. Blackater, Glasgow, 1918 … P.S. Cooper, Glasgow, 1920 … A.M. Gibson, Glasgow, 1921 … Middleton SS Co, Glasgow, 1922 … T. Small & Co Ltd, Lowestoft, 1924 … Great Yarmouth Shipping Co Ltd, Lowestoft.

Below … Starboard low level hull (PaulHennessey2022)

Identification of the Clansman

Originally detected in 1982. The original UKHO report for this site (early 1980’s) states that the bell with the name Ethel upon it was recovered by civilian divers from a wooden steam ship at the position listed at the head of this page. On contacting the diver who had recovered the bell along with his two dive buddies at the time, it transpired that the bell had in fact been recovered from a vessel of metal construction and not of wood as stated by the UKHO. During communications with the diver who had recovered the bell he conveyed he had researched the wreck himself back in the 80’s and had discovered that the name Ethel was a former name of the wreck in question, but sadly could no longer remember the name of the vessel when she went down. It was not uncommon when a vessel had a change of name that the name on the bell would not be updated. Sadly the other two divers who were on the dive at the time of the recovery of the bell and would have in turn more than likely been told of the wrecks true identity have since passed away. Furnished with this information, this in effect offered a giant head start in rediscovering the wrecks identity at the time of her loss. After researching known steam ship losses in the area with any association to the name Ethel only one vessel came to light, this being the Workman Clark of Belfast built Obokh / Ethel, later named and lost as the Clansman. A few miles south of the position at the head of this page the UKHO have a site listed as possibly being that of the Clansman. After researching the build specification of the Clansman it can now be confirmed this is not the wreck of the Clansman, this being due to the fact that the boiler detail does not match that of the Clansman, ie the boiler at this site is of a larger construction than that of the Clansman and is fitted with four corrugated furnaces, the Clansman’s boiler was only fitted with two furnaces. In turn the wreck at this position is now to be considered an unknown. Position 52 51 09,1N/001 3545,3E. With the UKHO possible identity of the Clansman now being disproved the team in turn focused its efforts  on comparing the on site data to that of the Workman Clark built Obokh / Ethel / Clansman.

Site Survey

On conducting an initial survey of the site on the 28th July 2022 the site was shown to have dimensions and machinery consistent with that of the Clansman. In addition an item of broken crockery was recovered from the site showing itself to have been produced during the first quarter of the 1900’s, this in turn being consistent with that of the Clansman’s era and loss. Further surveys of the site combined with measurements taken of the single boiler plus the engine cylinders proved to be conducive with that of the Clansman’s build and specification. Conclusion … It can now be concluded that from data taken from the wreck site and the recovery of the bell in the 80’s that the site listed at the head of this page is now to be confirmed as the Clansman / ex Ethel built in 1880 as the Obakh by Workman Clark of Belfast, lost October 1924.

Below … Anchor (Paul Hennessey 2022)

Below… (Paul Hennessey Reported to the ROW 2022) Backstamp on a piece of broken crockery recovered from the wreck. The backstamp reads Bridgewood made in England. This design was stamped on Bridgewood pieces during the first quarter of the 1900’s, this in turn tying in with the loss date of the Clansman in 1924.

Circumstances of loss (Courtesy of Eryl Williams, Henry Blogg museum, Cromer)

Whilst on route from Hull to Yarmouth with a general cargo, the Clansman found herself in a ENE gale off the Norfolk coast. Due to heavy sea conditions the deck cargo of the Clansman shifted and in doing so compromised the efficiency of the vessels scuppers. This in turn drastically reducing the flow of water off the Clansman’s deck. In addition the heavy seas washed off the Clansman’s hatch covers. Combining the effect of these two factors the Clansman found herself taking on water via the now open hatches and various other openings in the vessel and eventually went under. All of the Clansman’s crew were able to take to the ships lifeboat and await rescue.

Rescue (Courtesy of Eryl Williams, Henry Blogg museum, Cromer)

On the 22nd October 1924 at 10.07 during a ENE gale the Cromer lifeboat H.F. Bailey was launched after receiving a telephone message from overstrand stating that a small boat filled with men had been spotted and that their situation was described as critical. Within a few minutes of being launched the engine of the H.F.Bailey suddenly stopped. After 2-3 failed attempts at starting the engine and getting her to take the clutch the decision was made to prepare to make way under sail. Just as they were about to set off the mechanic managed to get the engine started and take the clutch. With this the sails were furled and the lifeboat proceeded under the power of her engine towards overstrand where they spotted a small boat and its men. After negotiating the heavy seas the H.F. Bailey managed to get along side the small boat (Clansman’s lifeboat) and take off the nine men at 11am. Due to the gale force conditions making it impossible to return to Cromer, the H.F. Bailey proceeded to Yarmouth where she arrived at 3pm. Captain Spurling of the Clansman informed Coxswain Blogg that their vessel had sank at 5.30am. In all the nine crew members of the Clansman had been adrift in the ships lifeboat for over six hours prior to their rescue by the H.F. Bailey. The nine men were reported to be very cold and exhausted after the terrible time spent in their small boat in such heavy seas.

H.F. Bailey crew members

H. Blogg (Coxswain), J. Davies, G. Balls, H.W. Davies, W.M. Allen, R. Davies, R. Cox, L. Harrison, R. Blogg, J.J. Davies, Wal Allen.

H.F. Bailey (ON 694). Was a Watson class lifeboat built at a cost of £7,569 by J.S. White of Cowes, Isle of White. She was 45 feet in length, single screwed, her engines delivered 80hp.

Workman Clark & Co Ltd (Belfast) Builders of the Clansman.

George Smith Clark was born in Paisley in November 1861. After his education at Merchistan Castle school in Edinburgh he went on to become an apprentice at Harland and Wolff. In 1877, at the age of only sixteen Clark opened his own shipyard along with financial backing from his Uncle George Smith. In 1880, Clark at the age of 19 joined forces with the 24 year old Francis Workman, a former apprentice at Harland and Wolff to set up their company Workman Clark & Co. In the early days of the company they out sourced the manufacture of their engines to Rowan & Sons of Belfast and various other engine builders of the time. As of 1891 the company there after made their own engines. In addition to building their own engines the company pioneered the development of the Charles Parson turbine. During WW1 Workman Clark built 35 vessels for the admiralty , along with many merchant ships in order to replace those lost to German U Boats. In the post war years the demand for new vessels remained high. In 1920 the company had orders for 37 vessels. In 1921 orders started to drop off  and in 1927 the company went in to temporary liquidation. In 1928 the company was revived as Workman Clark (1928) Ltd. In 1934 Workman Clark (1928) Ltd launched their last ship, this being the 8000 ton tanker Acuus. George Clark died at his home in Fort William Park on the 23rd March 1935 and was buried on the 26th March at the Belfast City Cemetery.

Below … Sign recovered from the engine room (Simon Phelan) Reported to the ROW 2022)

J. Rowan & Sons, builders of the Clansman’s engine and boiler. 

York Street Foundry Belfast. Builders of various industrial machinery including cranes, threshing machines, boilers and stationary steam engines.


Below … Remains of the bow (Paul Hennessey 2022)

The Clansman today (2022)

At a depth of only 24mtrs and a length of 45mtrs there is plenty of time to take in all that this magnificent wreck has to offer. Unlike many of the other wrecks in the area the Clansman has not been subject to the destructive effects of dispersal and in turn has collapsed in a natural way over time with many of her prime features still intact. Starting at the stern the first thing you will notice is the overhang of the intact counter stern, beneath the overhang is a four bladed prop, though only two of the blades are now still intact. Moving forward towards midships where the small 2 cylinder compound engine and single ended Scotch type boiler are located you will find the shaft tunnel that runs along the base of the aft hold. Half way along the tunnel there is a hole. Looking inside it can be seen that the tunnel is now sanded up inside and in turn the shaft cannot be seen. The aft hold is sanded in to about a foot or so below the top of the shaft tunnel. As with the rest of  the Clansman, all the deck has long collapsed, however in the bottom of the aft hold can still be seen what appears to be a the aft hatch coaming that has dropped in to the hold area when as the hull broke up. From the stern to the engine can be found various pieces of collapsed wreckage along with a winch and sets of double bollards. As with the rest of the site the majority of the hull walls and ribs have collapsed outwards and can be found on the seabed both port and starboard along with the remains of sections of deck, this standing upright with a height of 2 feet in places. The engine room area, ie engine and boiler are upright and intact and make for a very interesting area of the site complete with associated pipework and small pieces of machinery. To both port and starboard of the boiler can be found large pieces of bunker coal for the boiler, this being piled between the boiler and lower remaining hull. Moving forward from the boiler and heading towards the bow (Plumb bow), you will once again find various pieces of broken wreckage along with the forward winch and double sets of bollards. The bow stands no more than 10-12 feet tall, here can be found two admiralty type anchors. For the most part very little remains of the bow, however it is still very recognisable and makes for an interesting part of the dive. Of note … Whilst surveying the site, what appeared to be 2 rolls of Linoleum, ie Lino flooring were seen. In addition to this there are a great deal of what seem to be white rubber disks, these being some 10 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. At the time of the Clansman’s loss she is listed as carrying a general cargo, no doubt the items mentioned were part of her cargo when she was lost.


Below … Two site maps (Paul Hennessey and Simon Phelan 2022)

Below … Youtube footage (Paul Hennessey 2022)


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