The Falkland Islands is a British territory located in the South Atlantic off the Coast of South America. Sparsely populated, the islands have been the centre of tensions and controversy due to being claimed by Argentina, who despite never having ruled the islands, provoked a war by invading them in 1983. Having defeated the invasion, this has made the islands a symbol of patriotic sentiment in Britain.
With centuries of Britain’s presence on the islands, it is natural due to its location it became a hub for shipping in the South Atlantic. Likewise, in this area, many notable ships were built on Sunderland which dominated the 19th and 20th centuries as the “Largest Shipbuilding town”. As such, off the harbour of the islands’ main town, Stanley, is beached a historic Sunderland manufactured vessel (Southwick to be precise) which was built in 1879, its name? The Lady Elizabeth.
An iron barque ship, the Lady Elizabeth was constructed by Robert Thompson Jr, a Southwick resident, who’s family business would become J.L Thompson & Sons. This Lady Elizabeth was in fact the second ship of that name, with the first having sunk off the coast of Western Australia in 1878. The following year, its replacement was built. Weighing 1,155 tons, it had three masts and was nearly 68 metres long. After being launched, that same year it was registered in the Port of London. It was later owned by the Isle of Man, before being purchased by Norwegian company “Skibasaktieselskabet”.
The ship would travel the world during its time in service. Including going around North and South America, Australia, Africa and Europe. Around 1906, the crew of the ship were struck with Malaria after visiting Peru, which resulted in several sailors losing their minds and jumping overboard. However, in 1912 it would make its final journey. Upon sailing from Mozambique in Southeast Africa on an overwhelming journey to Vancouver in West Canada, the ship was damaged by a severe storm which forced it to divert to the nearest port, which was Stanley in the Falkland Islands.
However on the way, the ship was further damaged by striking a rock which pierced a hole in the hull, leading it to start to sink. Although it made it to the Port it was rendered unseaworthy, which forced it to spend its final days as a Coal Hulk. After being sold for £1000, it remained moored in the area for 24 years until a storm seen its lines break and the ship drifted away. Beaching itself in Whalebone Cove near Stanley, the ship has remained there ever since.
87 years later, the grand Lady Elizabeth has become a hulk of rust and its condition is deteriorating. Scavengers and vandals have removed some of its wooden interior. Due to the extremely isolated location of the Falkland Islands, there are no local resources or means to repair the ship, which would also require significant funding. This is of course a sad way for a great Sunderland legacy to come to an end, but its also a reminder that Wearside’s influence has been felt throughout the world, and ships remain our greatest local pride.