Guernsey Stamps announces that it has produced a special issue commemorating the tragic day, 120 years ago, when the SS Stella hit Les Casquets reef north of Alderney and sank (issue date: 13 February 2019).
On Maundy Thursday, 30thMarch 1899, 147 passengers and 43 crew boarded the luxury steamer, the SS Stella, at Southampton docks, bound for a special Easter voyage to Guernsey (46p stamp).
The 253-ft-long ship set sail from Southampton into the English Channel at full steam, with a good weather forecast, leaving the Needles astern (62p stamp).
The Casquets reef, seven miles northwest of Alderney and infamous as the site of many shipwrecks, was shrouded in a thick fog bank as the SS Stella approached. Captain Reeks had positioned a lookout on the bow of the ship to listen out for the Casquets’ foghorn (63p stamp).
Just before 4pm the fog signal from the Casquets lighthouse sounded and the reef came into view straight ahead. The SS Stella, still travelling at full speed, had no time to stop or change course.
Captain Reeks ordered the engines full speed astern and tried to steer away from the rocks but the ship scraped her port side against rocks before the bottom hit the reef, tearing out the bottom of her hull. As water started pouring in, Captain Reeks ordered everyone to the lifeboats, with ladies and children first.
The 85p stamp features reports that a small group of women knelt around a clergyman,Reverend Clutterbuck on the promenade deck to pray for their lives.
Ten days after the tragedy, news broke of the heroism of Mary Anne Rogers, senior stewardess on the SS Stella. Survivors reported that she had calmly and swiftly escorted the female passengers from the ladies’ saloon up onto the deck, helping them into lifebelts and then the lifeboats (76p stamp). Mary then gave up her own lifebelt to another lady, before helping her into one of the boats. She refused to get into the boat herself for fear of capsizing it.
Eye-witnesses recall Mary crying out “Goodbye, goodbye” and then lifting her arms upwards, offering up the prayer “Lord Have Me” before sinking with the ship. Her body was never recovered.
The final stamp (94p) shows the SS Stella sinking stern first with the lifeboats deployed. The ship sank in eight minutes and many failed to make it into the boats, although some died of exposure during the night as they waited to be rescued.
Bridget Yabsley, head of philatelic at Guernsey Post, said: – “Our commemorative stamps recall events leading up to the tragedy before the ship sinks, resulting in 86 passengers and 19 crew losing their lives. The ill-fated SS Stella had greater public interest than any other shipwreck of its time and is often referred to as ‘The Titanic of the Channel Islands.’”
The stamps are available to pre-order from 28 January 2019 at www.guernseystamps.com or by contacting Philatelic Customer Services on +44 (0) 1481 716486.