Pioneer (Fishing Lugger)

From Historical Hastings

The Pioneer was a fishing lugger owned and operated by the Adams Brothers fishing firm that was built in 1947[1]. The vessel was captained by H. D. Muggridge, with J. A. Helsdown and J. F Williams in the crew.

Collision with French Trawler

During July 1948, the vessel was trawling in Rye Bay when it collided with a French steam trawler (the Vierge de Lourdes of Bolougne), holing the bow. The Pioneer was captained at the time by J. Helsdown, her usual captain being unwell. Alledgedly, the French vessel was steaming with her nets down and suddenly altered course to be on a collision course with the Pioneer. Had the Pioneer's captain been slower in releasing her nets, permitting a course alteration it was believed the damage would have been amidships, possibly causing her to sink.[1]

This was believed to be a continuation of harassment by French vessels that had been ongoing for some months. Whilst an official complaint was made, nothing is known of the outcome.[1]


Alert raised

In dense fog on the night of 31 March 1949, a coastguard by the name of Joseph Paine was summoned to the cliffs at to search for the source of voices heard from the sea below. Arriving at the spot, a voice was heard shouting "help, help". With the assistance of two other coastguards with him, two iron stakes were driven into the ground and he lowered himself over the cliff edge. Approximately 100M down the cliff, he shouted 'Who's There?' to which he received the answer 'Muggridge'. On asking 'are you OK' he received the answer 'OK'. Conversation continued for over an hour, with Paine proceeding further down the cliff. Although he could hear the men, he could not see where they were. Near the foot of the cliff, he could not hear the men, only waves breaking so he climbed back up the cliff until he was again in communication with the men. Upon calling out 'What boat?' he received the answer 'Pioneer'. Upon asking the man if he could swim, the reply came back 'No'. [2]

Paine shouted that the lifeboat was on its way and sent a message to be radioed to the lifeboat crew giving the position as best he could. Upon asking if the powerful searchlights used in the search could be seen, he received the answer 'No'. Going back to the foot of the cliff, it was discovered that the sea was in a flood tide and the fog so dense, visibility was below 6 feet. The lifeboat could be heard somewhere in the vicinity at this point. As the tide ebbed, he returned to the cliff-top, then with another coastguard lowered themselves back to the cliff bottom. Once there, they found the Pett Lifesaving Apparatus company. This was at approximately 1AM. A rocket was fired in the last heard direction of the voices but raised no response and the lifeboat failed to locate either the men or their vessel. The location was near 'Hook Ledge', where undercurrents cut around the submerged rocks and cliff face.[2]


The following morning, the boat was visible on the reef under 'Hooks Point' about 200 yards out. The boat was boarded and the body of Harry Muggridge, the skipper was found by the mizzen mast. At approximately 6:15pm the same evening, a fisherman on a boat found the body of James Helsdown in the sea about 1/2 mile away from low water. The body of James Williams was found on the reef near to the wreckage.[2]

Relief fund

Other fishermen in the town organised the setting up of a relief fund to provide for the families of the deceased which was endorsed by the Mayor.

Funeral for victims

Virtually the whole of the Old Town appeared to be in mourning for the three men with funerals held on the 6th of April. That of Mr James Frederick Williams was at St Mary Star of the Sea and that for Mr Harry Daniel Muggridge and Mr James Arthur Helsdown was held in All Saints Church in the afternoon. Both services packed the churches to the point that in All Saints Church people were standing six deep at the end of the church. All three men were buried in Hastings Cemetery. The RNLI, Coastguard and many local worthies attended the funerals, together with the owners of the vessel, Jack, Bill and Joe Adams representing the family firm of Adams Bros.[3]


The vessel was salvaged on Saturday the 2nd of April by refloating on 40 gallon oil drums and towed to the Old Town, then beached on The Stade. Although the damage to the boat was severe, it was deemed repairable, however it was decided not to carry this out, only salvaging the engine and gear; fishermen being superstitious and likely to regard the boat as ill-fated.[2]

A new lugger named Endeavour was launched some 18 months later in September 1950 to replace the Pioneer.[4]


References & Notes

  1. a b c Hastings and St Leonards Observer - Saturday 10 July 1948 p1
  2. a b c d Hastings and St Leonards Observer - Saturday 09 April 1949 p1
  3. Hastings and St Leonards Observer - Saturday 09 April 1949 p2
  4. Hastings and St Leonards Observer - Saturday 16 September 1950 p2