Avalanche and Forest
Yes. That's correct!
On the 11th September, 1877, the Avalanche and the Forest
were heading down the Channel in the same direction. In thick fog
and heavy seas visibility was poor and neither was aware of the
During the night the weather deteriorated and a Force 8 gale blew
up. When they were off Portland a lookout on the Forest
spotted a ship's light, but no action was taken. The Avalanche and the Forest were on a collision
By the law of the sea the Avalanche should have given way
to the Forest. No one knows why it didn't - perhaps the fog
and driving rain prevented the Avalanche from seeing the Forest's
lights. The Forest struck the Avalanche several times
with tremendous force. Within minutes the iron passenger ship sank
with the loss of everyone on board except three crew who were on
deck and who scrambled aboard the Forest.
The crew of the Forest tried to save their own lives. They
launched three lifeboats, but by daybreak only one was still afloat.
It was spotted two miles off shore, in danger of being swamped by
The Portland fishermen launched a "lerret" - a boat which was
specially built for coping with the strong currents and steep
shingle banks of the Chesil Beach - but the boat was too small to
take on board the twelve exhausted crewmen. Despite the danger
another lerret was launched from the Chesil Beach. In mountainous
seas the twelve crewmen were transferred and brought safely ashore,
the only survivors of the 120 people who originally set out on board
the Forest and Avalanche.
St Andrew's Church was built in 1878 as a memorial to all those
who died in the accident. The church is known as "Avalanche Church".
In 1981 a stained glass window commemorating the tragedy was
created and installed by Jon Callan, an artist from Portland. The
window is a modern design. It shows the souls lost in the tragedy as
flashes of bright colours rising to Heaven from the deep blue seas.
The wreck of the Avalanche still lies on the sea bed, at a
depth of 52 metres, its front twisted and a gaping hole revealing
the violence of the impact. The bodies of the victims trapped inside
were never recovered, and the ship should be respected as their
grave. Chart reference: 50 26.56N; 02 50.65W
To see objects from The Avalanche click here
To find out more about life on board emigrant ships click here