The Hull Triple-Trawler Tragedy – 50 Years On

Hull Triple-Trawler Tragedy

Tomorrow (11th January) will mark the 50th anniversary of the Hull Triple Trawler Tragedy. On this day in 1968 the first of three tragedies struck the fishing industry of Hull. Three vessels were lost in freezing conditions of the sea in just a three week period.

Of the 59 crew members to sail out of Hull only one returned. We will be following the tragic events and the great work of the Headscarf Revolutionaries, lead by Hull’s own Lillian Bilocca. Sweeping changes were made to help protect the lives of trawlermen throughout the country as a result of the hard work by the people of Hull.

During the terrible events of the Hull Triple-Trawler Tragedy victims as young as 15 lost their lives.

We hope that when you read this article you will learn something new about the tragedy. If you have more to share on the story please do comment on our Facebook page. Although there are many more details we have tried to keep this as a concise overview of the events during and after the tragedy.

Lillian Bilocca mural
Many of us pass this amazing mural of Lillian Bilocca each day.

Timeline

Below is a brief timeline of the events during the Triple Trawler Tragedy. Some dates are only approximations.

10th January:

  • St. Romanus sails from Hull with crew of 20.
  • Kingston Peridot sails from Hull with crew of 20.

11th January:

  • St. Romanus issues mayday call. Call not passed on by nearby ship.

20th January:

  • Ross Cleveland sails from Hull with crew of 20 (one was sent ashore for medical treatment, so 19 eventually on board).

26th January:

  • Kingston Peridot sinks off the Icelandic coast.
  • Alert raised for St. Romanus after unable to make contact.
  • Search begins for St. Romanus, but assumed lost.

30th January:

  • News received of Kingston Peridot sinking.

4th February:

  • Ross Cleveland sinks whilst trying to escape storm.

5th February:

  • Lillian Bilocca begins fight and helps form the Headscarf Revolutionaries (alongside Christine Jensen, Mary Denness and Yvonne Blenkinsop)

6th February:

  • Harry Eddon becomes sole survivor of all three sinkings after washing ashore in liferaft.

Three Lost Ships

St. Romanus H223

St. Romanus Hull
© trawlerphotos.co.uk

Kingston Peridot H591

Kingston Peridot Hull
© trawlerphotos.co.uk

Ross Cleveland H61

Ross Cleveland
©TrawlerPhotos.co.uk

The Crew

We have tried to compile a full list of those lost in the Triple Trawler Tragedy, we apologise if we missed any names.

St. Romanus Crew:

Cyril Ashton (39), Alan Court (17), Robert Dockerty (16), John Hutchinson (19), Ronald Jackson (20), Raymond Mearns (34), Alan Nicholas (36), Herbert Pye (52), David Redfern (20), John Roberts (19), George Rutter (44), Walter Snaddon (40), David Stott (20), Kenneth Snuffling (18), Terrance Walton (19), John Williams (20), Melvyn Williams (21), James Wheeldon (26), Brian Wilson (29).

Kingston Peridot Crew:

Adam Ali (19), Charles Blanchard (40), Eugene Carney (15), Henry Fowler (56), Stephen Giblin (21), Alfred Hartley (49), William Heelas (20), William Martin Larsen (39), Leonard Ledingham (42), George Matfin (23), Peter McGowan (20), Henry Ritches (53), Robert Rivett (25), George Rose (35), Peter Smith (31), Robert Smith (20), Kenneth Swaine (24), David Warley (16), Enoch Watson (?), Raymond Wilson (33).

Ross Cleveland Crew:

Michael Barnes (15), Kenneth Brandtman (?), Philip Gay (41), Douglas Hairsine (45), Alan Harper (24), Walter Hewitt (30), Keith Hookem (17), George Keal (63), George Ketley (?), Dennis Mayes (42), James McCracken (17), Michael Morris (21), Maurice Pettman (30), Barry Rogers (18), Frederick Sawdon (50), Maurice Swain (22), Trevor Thomson (18), Rowland Thomson (?).

On the fateful day in 1968 the final message from Philip Gay, skipper of the Ross Cleveland, was received:

I am going over. We are laying over. Help me. I am going over. Give my love and the crew’s love to the wives and families.

Lillian Bilocca and the Headscarf Revolutionaries

Lillian Bilocca worked as a filleter at an on-shore fish factory. Her husband, father, and son were all fishermen, working at sea during the time of the events.

Bilocca, distraught and angry, assembled a group to fight for change and justice. During the meeting they named themselves the “Hessle Road Women’s Committee”. However they are more commonly known now as the “Headscarf Revolutionaries”.

When Lillian Bilocca heard the radio news of the second sinking her daughter Virginia recalls her saying “Enough is Enough!”. [s]

Amassing hundreds of women, mainly wives and mothers of crew and dock staff, the meeting ended with the group marching to the offices of the trawler owners.

‘Big Lil’ as she became affectionately known by the locals made the list of demands:

  • Full crewing of ships
  • Radio operators onboard every ship
  • Improved weather forecasts
  • Better training for crews
  • More safety equipment
  • “Mother Ship” to accompany vessels, with medical facilities

After just 10 days of campaigning she managed to gain 10,000 signatures in what they called the “Fishermans Charter”. The very next day Big Lil lead the Headscarf Revolutionaries to London to present their demands to the government.

Lillian Bilocca said to a BBC Reporter:

If I don’t get satisfaction I’ll be at that Wilson’s house, private house, until I do get satisfaction in some shape or form.

Immediate Changes

Shortly after she received a meeting with Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who subsequently granted all of the demands of the Fishermans Charter.

Changes to the fishing industry were enforced the same day, and trawler owners were demanded to make the changed immediately.

Mary Denness, who sadly passed away in March last year, said:

We have achieved more in six weeks than the politicians and trade unions have in years.

Lillian “Big Lil” Bilocca achieved what she had set out to do; she changed conditions for fisherman all over the country. Her work eclipsed the news of the ongoing Vietnam War, even deservedly stealing the headlines nationally. Lillian has become an example of what can be done when people work together for a common goal, and is an inspiration to many.

On the 3rd of August 1988 Hull lost one of its most powerful and influential women to peritoneal cancer. Even after the more recent decline of the fishing industry her legacy has lived on.

Further Reading

If you’d like to learn more about the events in this article we highly suggest The Headscarf Revolutionaries: Lillian Bilocca and the Hull Triple-Trawler Disaster. This book goes into much more detail and gives more information about the events during and after the tragedy. We cannot recommend it highly enough.

Turning The Tide will also be at Hull Truck Theatre from the 6th to 10th of February to mark the 50th anniversary.

Special Thanks

Thank you to Eric Coles of the Hull Bullnose Heritage Group and to HullTrawler.net.

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Gavin

Admin and Editor of Hull.Today

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