Eastbourne Riots and Conversion:
The Salvation Army was but 25 years old in 1890 and the years 1890-92
were among the days of great persecution for the Salvation Army. It was
during that time that righteous indignation was aroused in the hearts
of many people because of the treatment of Salvationists in various towns
by mob violence. In Eastbourne, these riots commenced on Whitsunday, May
17, 1891. The Salvation Army Band marched in the streets playing their
music, thereby breaking a local by-law, which prohibited music in the
streets of Eastbourne on Sunday. The victory was gained for the Army in
the early part of 1892. The Eastbourne Corporation lost the by-law and
had to pay all expenses. The appeal took effect from September 1st 1892.
The freedom gained for the Army in Eastbourne also applied through Britain.
During the periods of the riots there were many wild scenes and many people
were injured; fortunately no one was killed. Many Salvationists served
terms of imprisonment in Lewes Prison, including several women. Thomas
Boniface, his brother Harry and fellow fisherman Jessie Huggett joined
the Salvation Army during this time. They became know as 'the three musketeers'.
When mackerel fishing with Harry and Jess, Tom often put his boat into
Folkstone Harbour to sell his catch of fish. Going ashore one day, they
saw a group of Christian Missioners being pelted with fish-heads and all
kinds of refuse. Without a thought of the consequences the three fishermen
just "sailed in" (to use Tom's phrase) as protectors of the
prosecuted, and knocked out a few of the assailants.
As opposition to The Army's open air evangelism in Eastbourne became notorious,
these three warm hearted fishermen again 'went into battle' with their
fiery enthusiasm and it was at this juncture that they became converted.
Forming themselves into a bodyguard, they became caught up in the riots
in a very practical sense, marching either side of the officers in the
front of the band, and processions of Salvation Armyists. The three musketeers,
holding the door of the Citadel against the rioting mobs, listened to
the message of the Salvation Army.
Tom's long suffering wife, was not in accord with his new activities at
first, nor with his conversion, failing to understand quite what had happened,
although he was no longer spending money on tobacco or alcohol. On one
occasion, Elizabeth was horrified when Tom returned home from the riots
one night minus half his beard. The other half had been left in the fist
of a Salvation Army persecutor. Tom's fiery little wife offered to pull
out the other half of the beard.
Tom always wore full uniform when on duty in the Corps continuing to wear
his red 'Salvation Army' jersey under his oilskins when fishing, pleasure-boating
or helping to man the lifeboat. For twenty-two years Tom was the Second
Coxswain of the Eastbourne Lifeboat. His friend and relative, Jess Huggett
was the First Coxswain. Tom and Jess were great friends and these two
men, with their valiant crews participated in many exciting trips and
rescue operations, braving the elements and the vagaries of the English
Shipwreck and Heroic Rescue:
On November 25, 1883 the crew of the Eastbourne Lifeboat made the most
spectacular launch in the history of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
They actually hauled it on wheels for five miles over Beachy Head to Birling
Gap in appalling conditions and rescued the crew of eleven from a wreck
off Belle Tout Lighthouse. It was a test of physical endurance, lasting
nine hours that can never be repeated in these days of motorized lifeboats.
The launch made headlines in the national press and the sixteen lifeboatmen
were feted and praised as heroes for weeks in East Sussex and were presented
with four pounds sterling each, plus a silver medal. This is the story:
For days the cargo ship 'New Brunswick' had battled a gale en route from
Canada to Sunderland, England. On Sunday morning, November 25, 1883, with
her sails torn to shreds and her mast-spars gone, the Captain put up the
distress signal and dropped anchor for fear of being driven onto the rocks
off Belle Tout Lighthouse. The closest lifeboat was in Newhaven, but it
could not get out of harbour in that gale without its usual tug, but the
tug was out of steam. So it had to be the Eastbourne lifeboat, but how?
By sea it was five miles and over Beachy Head it was five miles. It was
decided to bring the boat there on land. The crew and some volunteers
began pulling the boat on its carriage through the rain-swept streets.
It was the first time the lifeboat had been seen in the streets of Eastbourne
since it arrived brand new in 1880. Down at the Anchor Hotel, landlord
Mr. Newman sent seven sturdy horses to help and they were hitched to the
carriage. With the horses and men, many of them gentlemen, pushing and
pulling, the lifeboat arrived at Meads, where Mr. Mockett supplied three
more horses for the stiff haul up Beachy Head Road. In pouring rain it
took two hours to reach the Gap, and there it looked helpless. Not only
was the Gap too narrow for the carriage, it was too narrow for the lifeboat,
and worse still, owing to erosion, there was a 10 foot drop to the beach.
By now several gentlemen and farm hands had joined the party. Nearby was
a big stack of timber and these were brought to form a ramp down to the
beach. It was now 12:30 and the crew of the wreck were desperately clinging
to the rigging about a mile out with tremendous waves breaking over them
as the anchors held.
Tom is standing at the far left in this photo of the lifeboat crew!
great difficulty the lifeboat was taken down to the beach, but now it
had no carriage and no horses to launch it in the normal way, so timber
skids had to be used, and men with life lines waded up to their waists
in water to get it into the sea. At 1:15 it was away... the midship oars
were double banked, two men to an oar for extra power, and they headed
out to sea and were soon lost to sight in the rain and spray. A tremendous
sea was rolling in. The suspense was interminable.
It took an hour to reach the New Brunswick a mile away and they decided
to anchor astern of her as near they could, and to throw a lifeline. The
second time it was caught and made fast. Just then there was a cloudburst
which half filled the lifeboat, but being fitted with special valves much
of it ran out. One by one the exhausted seamen hauled themselves to the
lifeboat and were hauled aboard, one with crushed ribs, and the last to
leave was the Captain with his ship's flag in his teeth.
At about 2:15 p.m. they began the return journey home with the heavily
laden boat. Such was the seamanship of the coxswain that he steered the
course to land at almost the launching point. The rescued men were taken
to the coast-guard station, where Dr. Colgate tended the injured man.
Then came the task of getting the lifeboat up onto the beach without horses.
The boat was 34ft long by 9ft wide and all joined in pulling her up. The
men were fed before any more work was to be done. Their last meal had
Getting the lifeboat up the ramp and the Gap was a daunting task, made
possible only by the coastguards using their block and pulley tackle and
the horses. At 5:30 p.m. they began their five-mile journey back to Eastbourne
in the November gloom. It was without incident. It was still raining,
but the wind had dropped. They made their way through the gas lit streets
of Eastbourne, and at 7:30 the lifeboat was back in its house. The Lifeboat
committeeman, Mr. G.P.Hughes said to the coxswain "Get your men into
dry clothes and the lot of you go to the Anchor Hotel for supper. I will
pay the bill".
Story of Old Tom Part 1 ... Part 2 ... Part
4 ... Part 5
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