Jane Bowen from Beverley has achieved what so many people aspire to in getting her latest book on the history of the Pegasus Steamer published.
At the age of 74 she is proving that you are never too old to live out your dreams and that some stories are best not confined to the archives, but deserving of a history book all of their own.
Jane, a retired history teacher and headmistress, began her journey to becoming a published author when having moved to Northumberland, she happened upon a poster dated July 31st 1843 in the County Archives.
It read: “I hereby offer a reward of five pounds for the recovery of the body of Miss Sarah Briggs, a cabin passenger on board the Pegasus Steamer, lately wrecked.”
Jane explains: “I immediately thought, what could this be about? What is Pegasus?
“It was so intriguing I just had to find out more…”
This led Jane to uncover the subject of her new page-turning book: ‘From Triumph to Tragedy’, telling the story of the Pegasus, her people and the shipwreck in 1843.
Just this month Jane was able to celebrate the launch of her book which is now available from all good books stores and as an e-book on novum-publishing.co.uk. Jane held a party at Andrews Court, the McCarthy Stone Retirement Living development in Beverley where she now lives. Attended by many of her fellow retired homeowners, friends and staff, Jane has been surprised by the attention it has received.
“People have been stopping me in the hall and congratulating me, asking how they can get a copy”, says Jane.
Indeed one of the benefits since the book has come out Jane explains, is that “more people are learning about the Pegasus Steamer.”
She continues: “Not much is written or known about the events of that fateful night or of the building and background to the ship. In actual fact when I started to delve a bit deeper I probably could have written several books about it!
“You see the Pegasus was a large wooden paddle steamer seen as one of the most successful ships to sail on British waters when she was built in 1835, which was also the beginning of the industrial revolution. It ran as a weekly passenger and cargo service between the ports of Leith in Scotland and Hull. Goods included oil for the chemical industry, mail coaches, menageries, and racehorses. She was involved in daring sea rescues, smugglings, and had several accidents before her wrecking – the worst merchant shipping disaster of its time.
“It was also a mystery. The tragedy has gone almost unexplained for years. After many hours of research in the University of Glasgow and Northumberland Archives, I felt this was a story not only worth telling but also deserving of being told. And so I set about doing exactly that!”
The Pegasus’ last voyage left Leith on Wednesday 19th July 1843 at 5.40 pm. Aboard were 15 crew, 41 booked passengers and an unknown number of ‘walk-ons’. At 12.20 am the following morning it hit Goldstone Rock near Holy Island. At 5am Pegasus’ sister ship the Martello came across the scene of unimaginable devastation; a shipwrecked, bodies and little evidence of any survivors. Local fishermen also came out to assist with the rescue. There were only six survivors, four crew and two passengers.
The cause of the wreck stills remains unclear to this day. A calm and clear night and a much-rehearsed sailing route for the Pegasus, the question as to how it ended up on the rocks has never fully been answered due to the lack of survivors able to account for this.
Jane explains: “Among the dead were soldiers, children, a stone carver returning to work having just got married. A well-known theatre actor, William Elton who left behind seven orphaned children and a minister, Revd. J.M. Mackenzie on his way to a preaching engagement the following Sunday. These were in some ways the ‘faceless victims’ of the wrecking and I decided that I would use the book to tell as many of their individual stories as possible.”
A fascinating turn of events, four months after the accident, a message in a bottle washed up on the coast of Holland, written by one of the passengers on board at the time of the sinking. It read: “Pegasus steamer, to Fern Islands, the night of Wednesday, July 19th, 1843. In great distress; struck upon hidden rocks. Onboard fifty-five persons, vessel must go down, and no Grace Darling.”
“Such an enterprising person”, says Jane. “Sadly it arrived past the time it could be useful but nevertheless it gives a real insight into the emotional turmoil of those on board as they came to accept their sad fate.”
Jane’s first love has always been history. Reading history at the University of London before training as a teacher and then going on to teach in Bedford, Hertfordshire and the Isle of Man. After retiring, Jane became involved in several writing projects with the local history society of the village where she then lived, including writing a book on the Belford Workhouse aptly called: ‘A Poor Little House’. Her research also took on a new dimension when she was invited to contribute as an expert about the sinking of the Pegasus on the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ programme with Sarah Millican, whose ancestor was one of the divers who worked on the wreck.
Later, she downsized to a McCarthy Stone apartment in Beverley. This opened up a new chapter – new friends, new hobbies, an opportunity to de-clutter and the peace of mind that everything was taken care of. Two months later, the world changed and Jane and her fellow residents at Andrews Court found themselves in lockdown.
“It was a worrying time”, says Jane. “But it was made easier by going through it together. We could only wave from across the hall or the garden but it still felt like a community and that’s all you can ask for. Lockdown gave me a focus. It pushed me to finish the book and to think seriously about getting it published so I am thankful for that time.
“Now that things are back to normal I feel so lucky to have found somewhere I feel settled and that I could share my book launch with people I know are really rooting for me. It’s a lovely feeling to know I have their support.”
Looking to the future Jane hopes to write more historical books. Her zest for life as an author has only grown stronger since moving to Andrews Court, with another exciting project already underway.
“I don’t expect to be a best-seller or anything like that”, jokes Jane. “Far from it! But if I make a few sales and can buy an occasional treat, I’d be happy with that.”
One and two-bedroom apartments at the Andrews Court development are available for sale or rent. To find out more call 0800 310 0646 or visit: mccarthyandstone.co.uk.
Andrews Court is within easy reach of Beverley town centre. Each bright and spacious apartment comes with all the latest mod-cons – from high-end features and finishes to the latest in integrated security systems for ultimate peace of mind. Select apartments also enjoy their own balcony or private patio with views over the immaculately kept landscaped gardens.