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Coastguards Daughter

by Alberta Hobbs

First published in the Old Cornwall Journal Volume 5, No.9

 

My father was in the Coast-Guard Service in the latter part of the 19th century, and his first station was at Polruan, where I was born. From there we moved to Looe and remained there for fouonlyr years. My father was then promoted to Station Officer and appointed to Rickham which is situated between Salcombe and Prawle Point in Devon. It was arranged for the family and furniture to travel by sea, the usual procedure at that time. I was then ten years of age, the eldest of six, and my youngest sister a month old, when we had orders to move at short notice. H.M.S. Redwing, a gunboat, arrived to take us. She already had two families aboard for Ireland, but owing to the time this journey would take, and the state of my mothers health, it was arranged for the Redwing to land the two families in Ireland and return for us.

When the redwing arrived again in Looe, it was blowing a gale with a heavy swell, and as the only means of communication was by boat, it made the journey very difficult. It was thought at first that conditions were too bad for us to go, then it was decided we should, so the Coast-Guard launched their boat, a five oared gig, to take mother and the children to the ship. Our furniture was loaded into one of the ship's large boats at the pier. The journey to the ship was most terrifying, and one I shall never forget. Watched by a large crowd on the pier we embarked. The boats were tossed about like corks, and at times we could not see each other. However, except for getting wet, the boat having shipped a lot of water, we arrived alongside the Redwing without mishap, and with the help of the sailors, all were got safely on board. It was a great relief to feel the solid deck of the larger ship under one's feet and it seemed hardly to move in comparison with the small boats.

We left Looe at 12.30pm, and arrived at Salcombe at 10.30pm. When we arrived at Salcombe we dreaded the thought of another boat trip, but this time the sea was quite smooth, and we landed in a small cove which was used by the Coast-Guards for communication with Salcombe Coast-Guards on the other side of the river.

We were met by a Coast-Guard and a farm wagon, carrying  lanterns, to take us to Rickham 11/4 miles away. The night was dark and the road bad. We had to walk most of the way, as the wagon was so loaded, with furniture and several old wooden washing trays full of my mothers beloved plants from her garden, that were scarcely any room for passengers! The road led through two fields and then down a long way to the Station. The wind was howling through telephone wires all the way, and as we had never even seen telephone wires before, it sounded very weird to us. The Station was very isolated, on the top of a cliff, with a clear view of the Channel. The nearest village was Portlemouth, 11/2 miles away, and it contained a church, a small school and one shop, also a small thatched chapel with a few wooden forms to sit on. We were not far from a large farm with four cottages  for workers. There was also a large house near the farm occupied by a retired Colonel and his sister. The Station consisted of a row of houses and a watch-house, all on one flat, with lovely well kept gardens in front. Imagine our surprise in the morning to see all this! Rickham is now converted into a hotel and known as Garra-Rock . We lived there for two years and then were due for another move, this time to Porthleven in Mount's Bay.

The journey was made in a Revenue cutter H.M.S. Delight, a small sailing ship used for the prevention of smuggling and other coastal work, such as moving Coast Guards and their families. We went aboard at 3 o'clock one Saturday afternoon in Salcombe harbour. The Delight carried a crew of about thirty sailors, and at that time was under the command of the Mate, the Captain being ashore sick. We were given permission to use the Captain's quarters for the Journey. I was surprised when waking on  the Sunday morning to find we were at sea. I had not even heard the anchor weighed! It was a fins morning, hardly any wind and sea smooth. Sunday afternoon I spent on deck watching the sailors making and mending their clothes. The rest of t he family were seasick and remained in the cabin, not wanting any food. I was not seasick and did not miss any meals. Neither had I on the Redwing, where a good meal was provided. It was rather misty the rest of the day, so the fog-horn was kept going most of the time.  This consisted of a huge pair of bellows worked by sailors. We were becalmed for long spells and drifted back several miles. After a pleasant and uneventful voyage we arrived at Porthleven.

We lived at Porthleven for two years, then we moved to St Ives where father eventually took his pension. During thr timr we were at St Ives, we were surprised when a Coast-Guard joined the Station who was one of the crew of the Delight. He was our next door neighbour. From there he moved to Tolpend, and when he retired to Selsea, he called his bungalow by that name. We still correspond regularly.

One amazing incident that stands out in my memory was of the strange adventure of our cat Topsy, who lived with us at our first Station at Polruan. When making the move to Looe, as usual everything was moved by boat, including the furniture and Topsy. My father made the move alone, as my mother had decided to go and stay with relatives at Saltash, taking us children with her, until the house was ready. When my father came to fetch us he told us sadly Topsy had disappeared! She apparently didn't like Looe, at least not without my mother and family. We all felt very sad about this as we were all cat lovers. However, some time after we had settled at Looe we had word from Polruan that poor Topsy had arrived back at her old home and was haunting the doorstep! My father made a special trip to Polruan when he was off duty, to bring Topsy back to the bosom of the family. She settled down quite comfortably after that and lived to the ripe old age of 13 years! We never could understand the mystery of how the cat got back to Polruan after having been taken away by boat.

When my father retired, we came to live in Carbis Bay Valley in 1900 where I still live, with me sister as my next door neighbour. My mother died in 1936, and my father in 1939, both being over eighty years of age.

 

 
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