Shipwrecked Mariner’s Society: Support for seafarers

Mr Charles Gee Jones and Mr John Rye, founders of the Shipwrecked Mariners' Society

Mr Charles Gee Jones and Mr John Rye, founders of the Shipwrecked Mariners' Society

LIFE at sea can be hard and dangerous. Those who dedicate their lives to fishing and seafaring often go unnoticed in society.

But one charity, the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society, based in Chichester, is celebrating 175 years supporting those in the fishing community.

The charity was set up in 1838, by Charles Gee Jones, a former pilot, and medical man John Rye, after a storm killed 21 men and destroyed nine fishing vessels in the Bristol channel.

Commodore Malcolm Williams is chief executive of the national society, whose patron is Princess Anne. “Some charities are better than most businesses – and many survive longer,” he said. “It’s not a bad achievement.

“The founders wanted to offer assistance to dependants of fishermen and mariners –wives, children and even parents who would be relying on the income too, because they weren’t the bread-winners. The losses were enormous in those days.

“The society has honorary agents – a rather old-fashioned term for volunteers – in each port who could report incidents.”

The charity still uses its network of volunteers, stationed around the coast to make it easier for those in fishing communities to get in contact. Agencies are based all over Britain, one at Chichester Harbour

Commodore Williams said although the name of the organisation was perhaps less relevant in today’s society, it was more of a ‘metaphor’ for the work 
it does.

But the purpose of the charity has remained the same – providing financial help to merchant seafarers, fishermen and their dependants who are in need.

The charity pays an immediate grant to the widow of a serving seafarer who dies, whether the death occurs at sea or ashore. Regular grants are paid to retired or permanently-disabled seafarers and widows.

“Shipwrecks continue to occur – they are usually single-manned shipping vessels,” said Mr Williams. “But clearly the number of shipwrecks, as you imagine them, is less.

“We support those in retirement and even those below retirement age. There are some things which people desperately need, like a fridge or an iron which they might not be able to afford.

“We had a young lad of 20 who was working on a trawler. He got his hand stuck in the winch and lost it while trying to free it with his other hand.”

The charity supported the family after the accident – as his mother had to give up her job.

“Last year we supported 2,300 people,” said Mr Williams. “In 2013 we handled more than 500 applications for assistance and nearly 300 case reviews.”

The Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society works alongside other organisations including SSAFA – an organisation which helps 
families in the armed forces and the RNLI – to decide the best support for people in need.

It receives funding from a variety of sources. Mr Williams said the legacies people leave were ‘extremely generous’.

“We also have investments and donations,” he said. “We are more dependent on the sea than we ever have been, so it is important.”

Collecting box mines are dotted around the coastline and the organisation runs a successful Christmas card campaign. 
In 2012, more than £57,000 was raised from the charity cards and donations.

Commodore Williams has been working with the charity for the past ten years.

“We get some very nice thank you letters from people,” he said.

“I think we make a difference.”

To find out more about the 
The Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society, 
visit or call 01243 789329 .




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