Amongst the graves at St James’ Cemetery, overlooked by Liverpool Cathedral, is a victim of the sinking of the SS Ellan Vannin, which went down during a storm in 1909.
Fifteen year old Ernest Allen was returning to Liverpool from the Isle of Man with his mother. They had been spending a week at their holiday cottage and were looking forward to getting back to their home in Slater Street where they lived with Ernest’s father who was a plumber.
The SS Ellan Vannin sailed from Douglas for Liverpool at 0115 on 3rd December 1909. She was carrying fifteen passengers, 21 crew and sixty tons of cargo and mail. The weather was stormy but the captain did not expect this to disrupt the crossing.
The SS Ellan Vannin was the smallest ship of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Co. She sailed from Douglas for Liverpool at 0115 on 3rd December 1909 carrying 15 passengers, 21 crew and 60 tons of cargo and mail
The weather was stormy but the captain, James Teare, did not anticipate any problems. However there was a deterioration and as she got to the Mersey Bar winds reached eighty miles an hour and waves were 25 feet by 0630 hours. The crew struggled to steer her in the pitch black conditions and driving sleet and she broke up. Temperatures were just two degrees and all on board were drowned, nobody stood a chance.
Divers only recovered three bodies from the wreck, which was under only forty feet of water. Two of those were still in their beds and a crew member was in the boiler room. It was estimated that the ship, first built in 1860 as the paddle steamer Mona’s Isle, sank in less than thirty seconds.
Not all of the bodies that were washed away were recovered but those that were had their burials and headstones paid for out of the disaster fund. Ernest’s memorial contains reference to his mother Mary, whose body remained lost at sea.
An enquiry cleared Captain Teare of any blame and concluded that extreme weather was the cause of the disaster. Traditionally the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company reuse names for vessels but have never done so with Ellan Vannin. A song written and recorded by Liverpool folk group The Spinners commemorates the disaster.