All posts by Phil Morrell

 The Sinking of the Empress of Ireland – Barbara Beard – 6th September 2021


The Empress of Ireland, an ocean going 14,500-ton liner, was launched in 1906 to oper­ate the trans – Atlantic route between Liverpool and Quebec. She was a licensed mail ship and mainly car­ried immig­rants from Great Britain (includ­ing Ireland), Scandinavia and Russia look­ing for a better life in Canada. Her capa­city was 1,536 pas­sen­gers and fol­low­ing the Titanic dis­aster her life­boats were increased to accom­mod­ate 1,965.

The cap­tain of the ship, Henry Kendall had an inter­est­ing claim to fame. In 1910 he was com­mand­ing the ship SS Montrose, and recog­nised a cer­tain Dr Crippen, who was wanted for the murder of his wife, onboard. After alert­ing the author­it­ies, Crippen was arres­ted at Quebec. Crippen allegedly told Kendall “You will suffer for this treach­ery” and this became known as the Crippen curse.

On the 28th May 1914 the Empress set sail from Quebec at 16:30 local time with a com­pli­ment of 420 crew and just over one thou­sand pas­sen­gers. Eighty seven people were in first class, about one quarter full, with two hun­dred and fifty three in second class of which one hun­dred and sixty seven were mem­bers of the Canadian Salvation Army band.

Barbara Beard, our speaker, has a par­tic­u­lar interest in the Salvation Army as her father was a Salvation Army band­mas­ter for many years, and her grand­par­ents and great grand­par­ents were also prom­in­ent mem­bers. In third class or steer­age were seven hun­dred and sixty four pas­sen­gers – almost full capa­city. Many of these were return­ing immig­rants who had decided Canadian life wasn’t for them.

It was a warm even­ing as the ship slipped her moor­ings and made her way up the St Lawrence seaway. There was much excite­ment on board as pas­sen­gers found their way around the ship and many had opened portholes to let in fresh air.

At 1.38 am on the 29th May the SS Storstad, a fully loaded Norwegian col­lier, was sighted about eight miles away. Captain Kendall decided to pass this ship star­board to star­board not the usual method of nav­ig­a­tion. On board the Storstad the first mate decided to pass port to port in the absence of cap­tain Anderson who had retired to his cabin.

Fog now envel­oped the two ships. Captain Anderson sig­nalled to stop the engines and cap­tain Kendall ordered their engines to be reversed. Too late the Storstad hit the Empress of Ireland mid­ships caus­ing a huge hole on the star­board side. Sea water poured into the lower decks. Captain Kendall sig­nalled to the Storstad to start her engines to plug the gap but to no avail.

In six minutes, the power failed and all lights extin­guished. In ten minutes, the ship turned over onto its star­board side as water entered through the open portholes. Only five life­boats were able to be launched because of the ship’s list. Most of the pas­sen­gers and crew on the lower decks drowned very quickly. Captain Kendall was thrown from the bridge into the water but man­aged to reach a life­boat and sur­vived. In four­teen minutes, the ship had sunk.

The Storstad launched her life­boats and was able to save sev­eral pas­sen­gers. The pilot boat Eureka and mail ship Lady Evelyn also res­cued sur­viv­ors from the water and from the Storstad.

In all four hun­dred and sixty five were saved and one thou­sand and twelve per­ished. Many pas­sen­gers drowned asleep in their cabins. Of one hun­dred and thirty eight chil­dren on board only four sur­vived. Only seven mem­bers of the Salvation Army band were saved.

The enquiry into the dis­aster held in June 1914 found that the Storstad was to blame for the col­li­sion by alter­ing her course in the fog. This was rejec­ted by the Norwegians who blamed Kendall for not adher­ing to the rules of nav­ig­a­tion. No defin­it­ive con­clu­sion has ever been estab­lished.

The Canadian Pacific Steamships Company ordered a sal­vage oper­a­tion shortly after the dis­aster to recover mail bags and silver bars to the equi­val­ent value of one mil­lion dol­lars. Bodies were how­ever left on the wreck. This tragedy was then largely for­got­ten due to the start of World War 1, but the fam­il­ies of those who died or sur­vived have always wanted the sink­ing to be more widely known.

Barbara presen­ted a most inter­est­ing and inform­at­ive talk and we are very grate­ful to her for filling in at short notice.













Anna Badcock is the Cultural Heritage Manager at the Peak District National Park Authority.

The impact of fires on the her­it­age of the moors is often neg­lected and Anna high­lighted the effect of a spate of wild­fires during the summer of 2018 and spring of 2019 in par­tic­u­lar ones at Stalybridge and Big Moor on the edge of the Longshaw Estate.

Rich Heritage Resource

The uplands con­tain a large vari­ety of rich her­it­age resources, which can be found on top, within and under the peat soil. Some examples of this are:

Foxholes or weapon pits cre­ated as a result of mil­it­ary train­ing in the twen­ti­eth cen­tury

Starburst shapes on rock faces caused by explod­ing mortar shells used in firing prac­tice (this par­tic­u­lar one is situ­ated near Higger Tor)

An Iron age hill­fort near Burbage Edge which also shows traces of bullet holes where the rocks were used for target prac­tice in the last cen­tury

Ventilation shafts used by rail­way tun­nels (as seen from Stony Ridge Road)

Millstones quar­ried in medi­eval and post-medieval times

Coalmining shafts which were dug by hand par­tic­u­larly in the Goyt Valley

Administrative bound­ar­ies between par­ishes or local author­it­ies marked by carvings and graf­fiti in the rocks or the estab­lish­ment of land­marks such as Stanage Pole

Ancient ways that form hollow ways – deeply worn route ways, includ­ing those caused by sledge runs used to trans­port peat from higher plat­eaus

Bronze age rock art, burial mounds, cairns, stone circles and ancient set­tle­ment sites

Stone tools and flint blades used by Mesolithic and Neolithic people moving through the area revealed by the erosion of peat soils on upland edges.

Wild Fire Incidents

In 2018 there were more than thirty fires in the National Park alone. They are gen­er­ally caused by acci­dents, care­less­ness, dis­pos­able bar­be­cues or in some cases being star­ted delib­er­ately.

Many of the her­it­age rich uplands are close to urban pop­u­la­tions and easily access­ible — this has an obvi­ous impact when con­sid­er­ing the incid­ence of wild fires

The main impacts of fire are a danger to life, dev­ast­at­ing effect on veget­a­tion and hab­itat, loss of air and water qual­ity and reduc­tion in carbon cap­ture.

In June 2018 the fire at Stalybridge caused over ten square kilo­metres of damage and left burnt and exposed peat over the land­scape. As a result, his­toric items were exposed such as bronze age cairns and even aero­plane wreck­age.

At Big Moor a large fire star­ted in summer 2018. This area con­tains a Bronze Age land­scape of great sig­ni­fic­ance and many of the fea­tures  were exposed as a result of the fire. Photos taken at the time show the fire’s impact.

In addi­tion, there were major fires that year at Merryton Low and on the Roaches in the south of the Peak District. The latter res­ul­ted in the loss of a five cen­ti­metre depth of peat and released eleven thou­sand tons of carbon diox­ide into the air.

Lessons to be learnt from Fire Incidents

  • Documentation and shar­ing of data to help pre­pare for future events
  • Importance of sta­bil­isa­tion of the dynamic land­scape par­tic­u­larly peat and veget­a­tion
  • Co ordin­a­tion of inter­ested parties includ­ing uni­ver­sit­ies
  • Establishment of volun­teer organ­isa­tions to carry out sur­veys of areas after fires
  • Highlighting the pos­it­ive bene­fits of moor­land res­tor­a­tion
  • Awareness of poten­tial damage caused by fire fight­ers and the map­ping of sched­uled monu­ments which need to be pro­tec­ted

In con­clu­sion Anna stressed that uplands are com­plex, fra­gile places and are not just wild and unin­hab­ited envir­on­ments. In addi­tion, the import­ance of recog­nising the mul­tiple interests in the land­scapes be they nat­ural, envir­on­mental, recre­ational or her­it­age so that the rel­ev­ant bodies can be better pre­pared for any future incid­ents.





Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is the highest moun­tain in Africa at 5,896 metres (or 19,341 feet in old money) and the tallest single freest­and­ing moun­tain in the world.

We wel­comed Anne Jones as our speaker who was the Head Teacher of the Infant and Junior School of Sheffield Girls High School for four­teen years until her retire­ment some four years ago. She became an ambas­sador for Sheffield Children’s Hospital, volun­teer­ing at the Charity Hub in the new outpatient’s depart­ment of the hos­pital.

Whilst at the Children’s Anne decided to take part in the hospital’s first over­seas fun­drais­ing chal­lenge to climb Kilimanjaro. What were the reas­ons for taking up the chal­lenge?

One to raise money for the ‘Build It Better’ cam­paign which aims to extend and ren­ov­ate the Oncology ward, to renew the Emergency depart­ment and to build a helipad on the hospital’s roof.

Secondly Anne wanted to test her­self by embra­cing new oppor­tun­it­ies and taking risks. She had never done any­thing like this before.

Preparation involved fund rais­ing via appeals to the public, talks to the girls at the High School and Tapas even­ings. A total of over £4,000 was raised in this way. Anne also had to assemble the neces­sary equip­ment with a weight limit of 15 kilos for the week. Finally, she wanted to make sure she was phys­ic­ally pre­pared and this involved many hours of walks and climbs in the Peak District and on the north coast of Menorca, yoga ses­sions and trips to the gym.

In September 2019 the party of twenty four arrived at the foot of the moun­tain ready for the task ahead.

The group took the Machame Route which is the longest approach with a total ascent of 7,130 metres and a dis­tance of 62 kilo­metres but is the most effect­ive for avoid­ing alti­tude sick­ness. The climb took five and a half days going up and one and a half days coming down. At the foot of the moun­tain there is rain forest so shorts and T shirts were the order of the day. At night they had sharp frosts so that everything in the tents was frozen. They were accom­pan­ied by an English guide, a Tanzanian doctor, who mon­itored oxygen levels daily, and a team of Rafiki. All their bags, tents and cook­ing equip­ment were trans­por­ted from one camp to the next.

By day three the reduced oxygen levels were notice­able, all phys­ical exer­tions took longer and tem­per­at­ures had fallen con­sid­er­ably. In addi­tion, the ter­rain became more dif­fi­cult. However, Anne said that all the things she wor­ried about before her trip such as the toilet facil­it­ies, the shar­ing a tent, the not shower­ing paled into insig­ni­fic­ance once you were on the moun­tain.

The last camp was at 4,663 metres on rocky sur­faces and with low oxygen levels. They were only able to cover 4 kilo­metres that day. They pre­pared for the final ascent with more cloth­ing layers, extra snacks and water. They left camp at 10.30 at night. It was a tough quiet climb although Anne had Rod Stewart on her head­phones to help! Twenty three of the group made it to the summit although they could only stay there for half an hour because of the thin air.

The des­cent from the top took one and a half days and was very hard — it rained all the way down and the sur­faces were steep and slip­pery.

Anne reflec­ted on the factors that kept the team motiv­ated – food they con­sumed 10,000 cal­or­ies a day so it was essen­tial to have a high carb diet and lots of sweets. The sup­port of the Rafiki (port­ers and sup­port team) who were fant­astic and the unfor­get­table views. Finally, there was the reason for the chal­lenge – the hos­pital. In the end the group man­aged to raise over £125,000.

This was a fas­cin­at­ing present­a­tion which was thor­oughly enjoyed by our mem­bers.

Any dona­tions to the hos­pital would be grate­fully received:

(All photos cour­tesy of Anne Jones)


It is a little-known fact that a group of American oil work­ers “rough­necks” came over to Sherwood Forest during the Second World War on a top secret pro­ject to drill for oil to supply the British war effort.

Since the start of World War Two the supply of oil was vital to main­tain the armed forces. This had mainly been provided by fleets of tankers sail­ing from America but by 1942 German U boats were sink­ing 700,00 tonnes of ship­ping per month. At that time, it was repor­ted that there was only two months’ supply of oil left.

At an emer­gency meet­ing of the Oil Control Board in London Philip Southwell, man­aging dir­ector of the D’Arcy Oil Company, sug­ges­ted using a site around Duke’s Wood and Eakring in Sherwood Forest where the exist­ence of oil had already been estab­lished. The ques­tion was how this could be achieved given that man­power and equip­ment were in short supply. Also, the exist­ing equip­ment was old, heavy and dif­fi­cult to man­oeuvre between sites. The solu­tion was to approach America for help.

Southwell flew to the US in September 1942 and it was agreed by the American admin­is­tra­tion that the D’Arcy Company could employ a con­tractor to carry out the neces­sary work. The Noble Drilling Corporation based in Oklahoma took on the con­tract and agreed not to make any profit on the deal.



In February 1943 42 oil work­ers arrived in the UK under the strict­est secrecy. Why did they volun­teer for the task? It has been sug­ges­ted the fact that they could avoid mil­it­ary ser­vice had a lot to do with it! In March four American jack-knife rigs and other drilling equip­ment were shipped to the UK in sep­ar­ate ves­sels. Unfortunately, one rig was lost – the ship car­ry­ing it having been tor­pedoed by U boats.

The men (aver­age age 24) were bil­leted in Kelham Hall,which at that time was a mon­as­tery, as it was felt an ideal place for forty two vir­u­lent young American gen­tle­men! Life was tough – they were sub­jec­ted to harsh ration­ing of food and fuel, they had no local sup­port or know­ledge and were largely ignored by the local res­id­ents. They worked twelve hour shifts, with four men per shift, every single day for a year. Tragically one worker was killed when he fell 55 feet from a drilling mast.

The result was that during the year they were here, they drilled 106 wells of which 94 pro­duced oil. By 1945 1.4 mil­lion bar­rels of oil had been pro­duced as after March 1944 D’Arcy con­tin­ued to pro­duce oil from the Eakring and Duke’s Wood sites. The oil extrac­ted was delivered by rail to a refinery at Grangemouth in Scotland.

How were the American crews able to pro­duce oil in greater quant­it­ies and at greater speed than their British coun­ter­parts? They had better logist­ics, they took more risks (not sur­pris­ingly no Health and Safety reg­u­la­tions) and they were able to reduce pro­duc­tion times through the repe­ti­tion of reg­u­lar tasks.

Two bronze statues were erec­ted in trib­ute to the Oil Patch Warriors, one in Duke’s Wood in 1991 and another in Ardmore Oklahoma in 2001. Unfortunately, the one in Duke’s Wood was van­dal­ised and has been replaced by another in Rufford Abbey Sculpture Park where it can be seen today.


Roger Vernon again provided a fas­cin­at­ing talk and we look for­ward to wel­com­ing him back for fur­ther enlight­en­ment on the oil industry.




Steve Brennan is a retired chest phys­i­cian who worked for many years at the Northern General Hospital and came this morn­ing to talk to us about the life of Gerolamo Cardano who lived in 16th cen­tury Italy and who has been described at vari­ous times as a phys­i­cian, chem­ist, astro­lo­ger, astro­nomer, philo­sopher, math­em­atician, bio­lo­gist and gam­bler. He cer­tainly had a busy life.

He was born ille­git­im­ate in Pavia in 1501. His father was a lawyer who also had con­sid­er­able expert­ise in math­em­at­ics and was an asso­ci­ate of Leonardo da Vinci. He ini­tially assisted his father in his legal prac­tice but left to read medi­cine at Pavia University much to his father’s dis­ap­proval.

When war broke out the uni­ver­sity was forced to close so Cardano moved to Padua University where he proved to be an excep­tional but out­spoken and unpop­u­lar stu­dent. He was gran­ted his doc­tor­ate in medi­cine at the third attempt in 1525 and applied for a pos­i­tion in the Milan College of Physicians but was turned down because he was ille­git­im­ate. He then moved to Sacco and set him­self up in a small prac­tice without any great suc­cess and had to rely on gambling to provide his income. In 1531 he mar­ried Lucia Bandarini and soon after moved to Milan and applied to the College of Physicians but was rejec­ted again. This was a des­per­ate period in his life he suffered from mal­aria, des­ti­tute and had to enter the poor­house.

Cardano even­tu­ally obtained a post as lec­turer in math­em­at­ics in Milan, was able to treat patients in his spare time and man­aged to estab­lish a good repu­ta­tion par­tic­u­larly amongst the nobil­ity. He applied once more for entry to the Milan College without suc­cess prob­ably due to his pub­lish­ing a book entitled “The Differing Opinions of Physicians” attack­ing the med­ical estab­lish­ment and high­light­ing no less than 76 errors com­monly made by doc­tors. However, the book was pop­u­lar with the public and fol­low­ing pres­sure from his admirers in 1539 he was accep­ted by the College. Over the next six years Cardano immersed him­self in the study of math­em­at­ics cul­min­at­ing in the pub­lish­ing of an opus which demon­strated the solu­tion of the cubic equa­tion.

Cardano’s fame spread due to the pop­ular­ity of his pub­lished works and his grow­ing repu­ta­tion as a top phys­i­cian. He received sev­eral offers from the crowned heads of Europe but turned them down apart from the Archbishop of St Andrews who suffered from debil­it­at­ing asthma. The best medics in Europe were unsuc­cess­ful in treat­ing him so Cardano, having been offered a huge sum of money, trav­elled to Scotland set­ting off in February 1552. His rem­ed­ies for asthma were suc­cess­ful and many are still rel­ev­ant today.

On return­ing to Italy he was appoin­ted pro­fessor of medi­cine at Pavia University and acquired a port­fo­lio of wealthy cli­ents and celebrity status. However, in 1557 his son Giovanni mar­ried Brandonia di Seroni who was described as worth­less and shame­less. The mar­riage was a dis­aster and Giovanni even­tu­ally poisoned his wife, was tried and executed in 1560 and Cardano was dev­ast­ated.

His repu­ta­tion rap­idly declined and he moved to Bologna as pro­fessor of medi­cine where due to his arrog­ance he was deeply unpop­u­lar.

In 1570 he was jailed for heresy, a result of the inquisition’s activ­it­ies. Archbishop Hamilton inter­ceded on his behalf and he was released in 1571. He decided to move to Rome where he was well received par­tic­u­larly by the Pope who gran­ted him a pen­sion.  He died in September 1576 and was buried in Milan. Remarkably Cardano was cred­ited with inven­tions such as the smoke­less chim­ney, the mul­tiple Archimedes screw, the gimbal com­pass sta­bil­iser and an early ver­sion of the uni­ver­sal joint. This was a fas­cin­at­ing present­a­tion about a bril­liant but dif­fi­cult man told with great style and good humour.










This morning’s talk was presen­ted by George Clark a retired anaes­thet­ist and covered the Anglo Zulu con­flict of 1879. The war has been described as an ill-conceived, incom­pet­ently executed and fruit­less cam­paign. 20,000 British troops faced 40,000 Zulus, more than 10,000 Zulus were killed and 2,000 British troops died. Not the British Empire’s finest hour.

The Zulu nation was foun­ded in about 1816 and the first king was called Shaka who instig­ated the buf­falo horns form­a­tion when attack­ing the enemy which proved to be very effect­ive par­tic­u­larly when com­bined with shorter spears and larger shields.


By 1872 Cetshwayo kaMpande had become king of the Zulus and in 1873 the king­dom was described as the most polit­ic­ally soph­ist­ic­ated, admin­is­trat­ively integ­rated and mil­it­ar­ily power­ful black state in sub-Saharan Africa. The pop­u­la­tion numbered 250,000 and the army 40,000.

The British Government had neg­li­gible interest in South African ter­rit­or­ies until the dis­cov­ery of dia­monds there in the 1860’s and it became British policy to try to estab­lish a con­fed­er­a­tion of South Africa to include the Boer states and to annexe the Zulu king­dom.

In 1877 Sir Bartle Frere was appoin­ted High Commissioner for Southern Africa to achieve this aim. He decided to instig­ate a con­flict with the Zulus by exag­ger­at­ing recent border incid­ents and issued an ulti­matum to King Cetshwayo which included the dis­band­ing of the Zulu army. When Bartle Frere received no response to his demands a British force under the com­mand of Lord Chelmsford invaded Zululand in January 1879 with about 17,000 troops des­pite the fact the British Government had not author­ised any such action.

The ini­tial inva­sion in three columns was largely unop­posed and Chelmsford set up camp with the cent­ral column at Isandlwana but failed to estab­lish proper defens­ive pos­i­tions. Chelmsford decided to split his forces to sup­port a recon­noitring party and left the camp in the charge of Colonel Pulleine. The British force was out­man­oeuvred by the nearly 20,000 strong Zulu army and of the 1,700 troops in camp over 1,300 were killed with about 1,000 Zulus per­ish­ing. Messages sent to Chelmsford implor­ing him to send rein­force­ments were ignored. Of the other British forces, the right flank column advanced as far as Eshowe but was cut off and the left flank retreated on hear­ing of the dis­aster at Isandlwana.

Dugan, William Henry; Siege of Rorke’s Drift; The Royal Welsh Regimental Museum Trust;

Meanwhile a small force under Lieutenants Bromhead and Chard (about 100 sol­diers) was gar­risoned at Rorke’s Drift when they came under attack from a force of approx­im­ately 3,000 Zulu. This was the sub­ject of the famous film “Zulu”. Over the next six hours the gar­rison was sub­jec­ted to wave after wave of Zulu attacks which were repelled by gun­fire and bay­on­ets. The enemy tired and without food, even­tu­ally aban­doned their attack after mid­night. Over 600 Zulus were killed com­pared to 15 British dead and 12 wounded. 11 VC’s were awar­ded.

The British Government decided to com­plete the inva­sion of Zululand and sent rein­force­ments over the next two months to help Chelmsford achieve this. He had suc­cesses at Khambula and in the relief of Eshowe. He then moun­ted a second inva­sion with 9,000 infantry and 1,000 cav­alry and cannon. At the battle of Ulundi, Cetshwayo’s army of 20,000 was decis­ively defeated.

Chelmsford was never given a com­mand again and the British Government decided they no longer wanted Zululand annex­ing or form­ing part of a con­fed­er­a­tion. Instead the land was divided into thir­teen chief­doms.

This was a fas­cin­at­ing and detailed talk thor­oughly enjoyed by all.