Mar 18, 2008
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Here's a more clearer photo from the book: "Pilot Cutters Under Sail: Pilots and Pilotage in Britain and Northern Europe" by Tom Cunliffe (Pilot Cutters Under Sail: Pilots and Pilotage in Britain and Northern Europe: Amazon.co.uk: Tom Cunliffe: 9781848321540: Books)
View attachment 3761

Great! There you can see what I have try to show, the sail is different in 1912 having "No 1" on top and "I W" below it.

That book is still on my to buy list for 3 years now. Maybe I should buy it soon!
 
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Harland Duzen

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Jan 14, 2017
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Hello everyone, this may be a bit random, but I thought I share a potential update regarding the identify of the Pilot Vessel:

For context, in late 2019, The auctioneers Henry Aldridge & Son, were selling photographs Olympic / Titanic related photographs belonging to George Bowyer. One of these was a copy of Francis Browne's photograph of the Pilot boat and on the side, Bowyer wrote it's name;

"Pilot Cutter [X] Vigilant was mined whilst on Duty at the Sunk Pilot Station... [writing unclear] ...ten crew + eight pilots were killed 1917."

The Vigilant was a Pilot Cutter built in 1879, in Wivenhoe, Essex that unfortunately is known for being sunk by a mine in 1915 with severe loss of life.1

6cc0445969371901a7c81f9649b8e7cd.jpg
ISLE OF WIGHT PILOT CUTTER No. 1.png


Now visually, this photograph looks largely identical to the one in Browne's Photograph (aside from the number on the hull and the Sail, both of which could have been changed) and coupled with Bowyer's remark would mean the two pilot boats are the one and the same.

However, a problem with the above, is that the Vigilant was built and recorded as typically working in the London / Dungeness / Dover area and (as far as I'm been able to find currently) there's very few sources that explain why she was in the Solent:

  • A blog post from THE PILOT (a Magazine / Journal for UK-based Harbour Pilots) written by a Harwich Pilot in response to identifying pilot boats from a previous issue states that around 1906, following the introduction of 2 steam-powered pilots boats, the existing pilot boats were moved around "...whilst Vigilant transferred temporarily to the Isle of Wight District." This is the only current source, albeit antidotal, that mentions the Vigilant being in the Isle of Wight area.

  • Tom Cunliffe's "Pilot Cutters Under Sail" mentions that, post 1891[?], "...the Vigilant remained in service as a tender to the [Dover] steamers and also a reserve operational pilot cutter." possibly explaining the above.2

So with everything written above, but generally the Bowyer photograph's statement, Is it safe to assume3 the mystery Pilot Boat is the Vigilant (1879)? Or is this inconclusive until a more concrete source proving she or another ketch was in service in the Solent in 1912?

I hope the above makes sense.

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1 Bowyer seems to mistake the date of her loss?

2 A statement in his book also mention that around 1907 the Isle of Wight Pilots were beginning to struggle with their boats being "worn out" possibly suggesting a reason for the Vigilant being transferred there between 1907 - 1912 to assist as they themselves brought in their own steam / motorised powered vessels. One interesting thing, is that Cunliffe states that "Unlike the Dungeness Cutters, they [Isle of Wight Pilot Cutters around 1907 that were motor-sailing craft] had no Topmast, the mainmast being a "pole" spar." while the Pilot boat in Browne's photograph (and the Vigilant) do have a Topmast.

3 I would remark that Dan Parkes Titanic website (devoted to 1st Officer Murdoch / debunking the Olympic-Titanic conspiracy) appears to have accepted the Vigilant as the Pilot Cutter seen in Browne's Photograph.
 
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