This month’s object of the month comes from a shipwreck from 129 years ago. This ceramic dish with a distinguishing floral pattern and stamped on reverse with ‘Ance Manufacture Imperial & Royale. Mouzin Lecae & Cie. Nimy’ with a shield and wreath. This item was retrieved from The SS Duke of Buccleuch in 1989 some 19 miles off the coast of Littlehampton along with a variety of other glassware and ceramics from established Belgian manufacturers, including a little-known glassmaker K. L. Dhur & Son from Belgium.
The dish is from the Belgian village of Nimy where, still today you can buy a mixture of porcelain, ceramic and earthen works, though prices aren’t cheap! The company Imperiale & Royale in partnership with Mouzin Lecat & co. manufactured many pottery items of this design from the 1850s until the turn of the century.
The cargo ship that was carrying this months' item was The SS Duke of Buccleuch which had been in 15 years service when it was shipwrecked on 7th March 1889. Built in 1874 the Buccleuch was an early version of a steamship which, in the new age of Imperial Rule and trade for the British Empire, was displacing the old wooden wind powered ships that had dominated British waters for almost 200 years. It weighed in at 3000 tons and was 115m in length. Carrying up to 600 tons of cermaics and glassware from Belgium and 2500 tons of machinery/railroad equipment from Middlesborough, this was a heavy hitting that you would not want to be stuck by in the middle of the ocean.
However, this is one of the great nautical mysteries! A wooden sailing ship headed for London from New York, known as The Vandalia, came into contact with The Buccleuch on the night in question. Now with a weight that dwarfed the great steamer the Vandalia was sure to have sunk due to the impact, however, The Buccleuch with all 47 of her crew sank. The boats were said to have collided and came away from each other with ease. The Buccleuch sailed away into the distance and then met her watery end. The damage sustained to the Vandalia was major to the port bow and deemed a complete wreck but did not sink.
The great mystery of The SS Duke of Buccleuach, the 47 crewmen lost to the English Channel almost 18 miles of the Littlehampton coast, suggests that both captains were at fault as they had both taken proper proceedings when approaching each other. Lights were not lit to signal either ship to move accordingly out of each others path. Thus the ships collided. The petroleum barrels kept the Vandalia afloat long enough for hands to abandon ship. The Buccleuch was struck on the starboard side and sank like a brick to settle on the seabed in a vertical position.
Surprisingly the treasures of the Buccleuch are still very much in tact and can be appreciated as a moment in time for object of the month.
Cameron Macdonald (Intern at Littlehampton Museum, July-August 2018)