Desperately Seeking Thomas, by Valerie Cottle

In memory of Thomas aged 11years and 3 months and James 1 year and 10 months, sons of Thomas and Mary Cubbin, they were drowned in each other’s arms in the surf on the coast of Madagascar, on the 26th March1868, after enduring very great privation and sufferings 11 days in a small open boat, through the foundering of the ship Serica, after an awful hurricane in the Indian Sea.  “Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed.”
Thus reads the plaque in Braddan Old Church that aroused the author, Valerie Cottle, to research the background and details of what turned out to be a fascinating journey for her as well as readers of her outstanding book, Thomas Cubbin, Master Mariner and the Wreck of the Serica.
Valerie’s talk was absorbing, combining as it did, a remarkable tale and the research methods that gradually and patiently unfolded the facts. Clearly, despite her familiarity with this absorbing tale, she was still moved by the human story she had uncovered.
Apparently, Thomas Cubbin had written an account of the disaster but MNH couldn’t find their copy. Valerie then discovered a reprint on the Internet, three years ago and bought it. The title is something like, Wreck of the Senica, the Wonderful Adventures of a Manxman. This, of course, was a wonderful primary source.
Thomas and Mary with a rather motley crew sailed from Birkenhead in December 1867 together with two of their children, leaving the rest behind on the Island, we know not with whom. They were 12, 4 and 3 years old!
 The ship had been built in Canada and sailed with a cargo of timber, all for sale. Thomas owned this ship and was a qualified master. She hit one of the worst hurricanes in recorded history. Captain and crew took to a small boat to head for the nearest shore, Mauritius but wind and tide were against them and they sailed to Madagascar. The boat capsized in giant breakers with the loss of their children. However, they’d had another baby before returning to Rose Hill, Braddan!
One young man of the crew was of interest. He had sailed on Brunel’s Great Eastern laying the first trans-Atlantic cable. Some other members of the crew sounded less than ideal.
Merchant Navy records were accessed, as was the Public Records Office in Kew. Apparently, as well as providing several forms of identity, you have to read the regulations and then score 100% on a test before being admitted! Even then, Valerie found that 70% of the records she needed had been transferred to a specialist department in the University of Newfoundland. They came up trumps and pieces of the jigsaw fell into place.
This book makes a fine Christmas present but read it yourself, first!
The Christmas Party is 7.30pm, 11th December at Peel Golf Club. Excellent dinner plus entertainment. Tickets from Corrie Wooding, 843502. Ring now. All welcome!