The inquests went on for weeks.

Only about half of those lost were ever recovered. On each of the bodies the verdict was the same: “Drowned at the wreck of the Rohilla”.

It was at the inquest on the Thursday after the wreck that the question “why” it had happened was officially asked. The Jury comprised: four sea captains, the Harbour Master, the Secretary of the Seamen’s Guild, two councillors and four other men. The majority were experienced mariners and had been selected for that reason.

Captain Neilson and his four senior officers gave evidence. They all gave it as their opinion that the ship struck a mine. Only coastguard Jefferies referred to the ship being on the wrong course and the possibility that it was Whitby Rock she struck. This suggestion was dismissed by the Captain. The seven mile error in the calculations was never satisfactorily explained. The Jury cleared the Captain of all blame, but their verdict reflected their own doubts about the mine. They recorded: “The Rohilla undoubtedly struck something a little time before she grounded on the rock of Saltwick.

What did cause the first impact will never be known. It might have been neither mine nor rock but something else. Among the wreckage of the Rohilla, washed up at Sandsend, they found some from a smaller wooden vessel. Then the nameboard “Laura” was washed ashore. She was listed in Lloyd’s Register as a brigantine sailing ship, of 159 tons, built at Newquay in 1861. She disappeared on the same nigh

t as the Rohilla was wrecked. She was on a voyage from London to Newcastle with a cargo of burnt ore. At about 4 a.m. that Friday morning the Laura was in the vicinity of Whitby. Her captain was named Shuter and there was a crew of six. They were never seen again.

John Thompson addressed the Coroner and Jury:

“We still have eleven of our members unaccounted for, and out of that number, eight or none were married and had families and it is their wish to endeavour to get the bodies home when they have been recovered. I have made some enquires, and I find that the Armiralty is willing to supply coffins, but nothing further. I think they should go a little further, and see that the bodies get to the towns they belong to. I ask you to use your influence.”

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Copyright © Ken Wilson 1981