The Jersey-St.Malo paddle steamer 'Superb' outward bound from St.Helier, with Elizabeth Castle off her stern signed and dated 1850 (lower left) oil on canvas 40.7 x 66cm. (16 x 26in.) unframed
One of the earliest steamships operating in the waters around the Channel Islands, the Superb was built by John Reid & Co. at Port Glasgow in 1839. Carrying the auxiliary rig of a two-masted schooner, she was a relatively small vessel of 87 tons and measured only 136½ feet in length with a 17 foot beam. Although her early history is obscure, by 1850 she was owned by the Jersey Steam Packet Company of St. Helier (Mr. Thomas Rose, principal) which ran her on their scheduled Jersey to St. Malo [and Granville] mail and passenger service.
On 15th September 1850, the steam tug Polka was hurriedly pressed into service to make the daily run to St. Malo as Superb was undergoing repairs at St. Helier. When she was about halfway to her destination, Polka sprang a leak and began to sink whereupon her master, Captain Priaulx, calmly loaded everyone into the two lifeboats and landed them safely on the nearby Mâitre Ile. Picked up and taken into St. Malo the next day, the survivors counted themselves extremely fortunate and lavished both praise and a sizeable reward upon Captain Priaulx for his admirable seamanship. Losses such as that of the Polka were common occurrences in the nineteenth century however, and the business of the company carried on as normal with the rapid completion of Superbs repairs. On 17th September, only two days after the first sinking, Superb left St. Malo with sixty passengers and crew aboard, including Captain Priaulx and several of the other survivors from the Polka. As they approached the Minquiers Reef, Superbs mate (John Fleming) was persuaded by some of the passengers to show them where the Polka had gone down but unfortunately, as he took Superb through the so-called eastern passage, she struck a rock known as La Pointue du Blanc Roc which tore deep into her hull. In the ensuing panic to load the lifeboats, twenty people lost their lives, four of whom had barely recovered from their experiences on the sinking Polka two days previously. Ironically, Superb herself remained stranded on the rock and the survivors including, once again, Captain Priaulx, were plucked straight off the decks by the rescue ships sent out from St. Helier. As an interesting postscript, one small vestige of Superb lived on after her boilers were salvaged and subsequently installed into one of her successors, another paddle steamer, the Rose, which took her name from Thomas Rose, the owner of the company.