Frederick Hedley Bryant’s Heroic Tale of Daring Do

When we are asked for local heroes those awarded the Victoria Cross immediately spring to mind but the exploits of Frederick Hedley Bryant of Lowestoft should never be overlooked.

THE HERO

Frederick Hedley Bryant, an officer in the Merchant Navy, was awarded the Lloyd’s Medal for Meritorious Conduct and was for a while a hero in his home town, although it would seem that his exploits have been forgotten a century later.

Headlines from The Lowestoft Journal, 1 Feb 1902

In 1901 Frederick Bryant was serving on the 5,219 ton steamship Crown Point on a journey from Philadelphia, USA to Britain with a crew of 37 hands and a cargo of cattle when they encountered on the morning of 14 May the Planet flying a distress signal some 200 miles to the west of Queenstown, Ireland.  The Planet, a German barque, was on a voyage from Mazatlan, Mexican with a cargo of dye-woods, and had been at sea almost 6 months.  The distress signal was requesting a tow so the Crown Point came to and following the Chief Officer Walter Lord’s assessment of the situation onboard the Planet Captain Wall decided to take the barque in tow. It was at this point that Frederick Bryant [accounts in the press vary as to whether he was the First or Second Officer] was sent over to the Planet to supervise the tow and all went well for about 2 hours, but in very choppy seas the hawser snapped.  It was decided that nothing more could be done and Frederick Bryant found himself abandoned on the ship having been instructed by his captain to make way for either Queenstown or Falmouth. Little did he know what he was letting himself in for…..the First Mate had died of scurvy about 8 days previous, the Captain had been unconscious since the previous day, the Second Mate was dying and the crew of 11 men all had scurvy. Their teeth were loose, their tongues swollen and they breathed with difficulty.

An article in The Cumberland Packet of 30 January 1902 described Frederick as ‘full of British pluck’ an understatement and a half!

He stated in the London Admiralty Court held in January 1902 before Justice Barnes and the Trinity Masters

“When the steamer disappeared the loneliness was terrible. I wanted someone to talk to. The whole thing seemed like a bad dream, but it soon became real enough and I had plenty to think about. The first thing to be done was to get the broken wire and chain on board, but the crew were too weak to heave it in so I slipped 45 fathoms of chain and made sail.”

His voyage home was busy as it is recorded that as well as navigating the vessel with no more than an hour and a half sleep at any one time and helping the crew with the sails he applied himself to nursing the sick with the scant supplies available [despite the labels being in German] and somehow, against all odds, Frederick made it. He even found the time to keep a log and extracts from his log were read at the Admiralty Court hearing

Extract from Frederick Bryant’s log for 14 May published in The Lowestoft Journal, 1 Feb 1902

On the following day, 15 May, he noted that the vessel was sailing at a rate of 3½ miles an hour, which he thought remarkable as the keel was covered in grass and barnacles that were six inches long. At the court hearing he stated that that barque was in a very poor condition as it had not been in dry dock for 2 years, the crew had no idea of sanitation and the stench below decks was unbearable.

Extract from Frederick Bryant’s log for 15 May published in The Lowestoft Journal, 1 Feb 1902

Extract from Frederick Bryant’s log for 17 May published in The Lowestoft Journal, 1 Feb 1902

He recalled at the hearing that the funeral made a vivid impression on him as it took place in a flat calm which lasted for 3 days. The captain was committed to the deep whilst the ship was enveloped in dense fog with the men grouped together at the stern while he read prayers. While the preparations were being made he recalled observing a shark’s fin skimming through the calm sea but stated in his log that he did not point this out to the crew as they were already depressed enough.

22 May
“Dog all right again – am writing this to occupy my mind – dog looking at me”

Against all the odds Frederick Bryant delivered the Planet and her surviving crew to Queenstown, Ireland on 28 May, 2 weeks after being ‘abandoned’ onboard and he noted at the hearing that the first thing he saw when making the land just off Kinsale was a Lowestoft fishing boat, home!

The Cumberland Packet recorded the London Admiralty Court hearing as follows:

“The learned counsel who appeared for Bryant on the question of salvage stated that the extracts he read gave a fair picture of what his client had to go through. There was great difficulty, owing to the variableness of the wind and the fog, but he had managed to keep a course  and the vessel reached Queenstown in safety on the 28th of May.  Well might Mr Justice Barnes say that Bryant’s unexaggerated story as told in his own words reminded one of some of the old tales of the sea which one read of when navigation was more difficult and voyages were longer.  The learned Judge did not indulge in hyperbole when he declared that Bryant’s work was worthy of the highest encomiums, and that his abilities and strong sense of humour undoubtedly saved the ship’s company from despair. The parties had agreed that the total salvage award should be £852 15s, and His Lordship awarded Bryant £642 15s, expressing a hope that the award would give him “a fine start in life.” 

THE MAN

Kirkley church, c1890 (1300/69/4)

Frederick Hedley/Hadley Bryant was baptised at Kirkley parish church on 1 May 1870 the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Bryant and the family are recorded on the 1871 census at 6 Kirkley Cottages, Kirkley:

Thomas Bryant – Head – Married – 39 – Plasterer – Born London, Middlesex
Elizabeth Bryant – Wife – Married – 38 – Staymaker – Born Woolwich, Kent
Francis Bryant – Son – 12 – Scholar – Born Lowestoft
Mary Bryant – Daughter – 10 – Scholar – Born Southend, Essex
Arthur Bryant – Son – 7 – Scholar – Born Kirkley
Thomas Bryant – Son – 5 – Scholar – Born Kirkley
Harry Bryant – Son – 3 – Scholar – Born Kirkley
Frederic Bryant – Son – 1 – Born Kirkley
[+1 servant]

Although the parents are absent the children are recorded on the 1881 census living at 6 London Road, Kirkley:

Mary E Bryant – Daughter – Unmarried – 20 – Staymaker – born Southend Essex
Arthur J Bryant – Son – Unmarried – 17 – Pupil teacher -Born Kirkley
Thomas H Bryant – Son – 16 – Scholar [this is crossed through] – Born Kirkley
Frederick H Bryant – Son – 11 – Scholar – Born Kirkley
Annie E Bryant – Daughter – 7 – Scholar – Born Kirkley
Ernest W Bryant – Son –  4 – Scholar – Born Kirkley
[+ 1 servant]

Extract from a Plan of the Town of Lowestoft with Kirkley drawn by W Oldham Chambers, 1878 showing London Road South, aka London Road, Kirkley (194/F1/4)

but it is there were the trail runs cold as there is no trace of Frederick on post 1881 census.  As he would be 21 in 1891 it is probable that he had already joined the Merchant Navy as by 1901 he is recorded as an officer onboard the Crown Point and has clearly worked his way up through the ranks.

There are however three probable traces of Frederick following the hearing of 1902 and they are:

Marriage in 1907
October-December
Frederick Hedley Bryant
Florence M Nicholas
Peterborough Registration District, Northamptonshire
Volume 3B
Page 556A

If this is our hero of 1901 there is just one possible match for a child born to this couple in 1915 – Joyce M Bryant

Serving in the Royal Naval Reserve in World War One
Royal Naval Reserve: Officers’ Service Records
Frederick Hedley Bryant DSC
Wife Mrs Bryant 118 Huntley Grove, Peterborough, Northamptonshire
Service record:
21 November 1917 – Sunhill
26 September 1917 – temporary sub lieutenant
16 November 1917 – awarded DSC [Distinguished Service Cross]  This award is listed in The Edinburgh Gazette of 20 November 1917 under:  ‘Honours to the Mercantile Marine’ Captain Frederic Hadley Bryant’
21 November 1917 – temporary lieutenant
8 February 1918 – commission cancelled to returned to tug Helen Peele
24 September 1918 – Sunhill
9 November 1918 – St Dogmael
20 November 1918 – St Issey
31 January 1920 – temporary commission terminated

Could this possibly be the hero of 1901 being awarded a second bravery award in 1917?

Death 1926-1930
Consular Deaths Index
Frederick H Bryant
Age 56
Curacao, West Indies
Volume 21
Page 367

Or did our hero of 1901 use his £642 15s for ‘a fine start in life’ in the West Indies?

We might never know if these post 1902 entries are for the same man but Frederick Hadley Bryant’s act of bravery and outstanding seamanship in saving both the Planet and its crew deserves to be honoured and remembered