Heritage Talk: ‘Every man for himself – the story of the Gipsy Queen’


‘Every man for himself – the story of the Gipsy Queen’ by David Kidd

The Old Low Light Heritage Centre is very pleased to welcome back David Kidd, who will talk about the tragic loss of a paddle tug from North Shields 150 years ago.

David who has a long-standing interest in sailing and maritime history, will give his talk, ‘Every man for himself – the story of the sinking of the Gipsy Queen’, at the heritage centre on Saturday 8 July at 11am. Admission is £4pp (members and children under 16 free) and seats can be reserved online by clicking the book now button.

His talk is inspired by a story his grandfather, who worked on the river, told him as a child about a ferry from North Shields that sank.

He explained: “When we were on the Shields Ferry, he always stood next to the life rafts and told me the story of a ferry from North Shields that sank in the river drowning a lot of people.”

David was always interested in local history but could not find any record of a ferry sinking in the river, so he dismissed it as an old man’s tall tale until he came across the tragic story of the Gipsy Queen, that sunk on Boxing Day 1873, after colliding with a sunken hopper barge with the loss of 18 lives.

However, the Gipsy Queen was not a ferry, she was a wooden paddle tug hired by the Tyne Commissioners to ferry men from North and South Shields to their jobs upriver on dredgers which were being used to deepen the navigation channel.

Although today the wreck is almost forgotten, the tragedy happened at a key time in the history of the river when such improvement works were taking place to make it suitable for large ships. So, as well as an account of the wreck, his talk is a tribute to the Commissioners’ men who created the river as it is today.

David said: “This year is the 150th anniversary of the wreck so I think it is a good time to retell the story and bring a forgotten piece of local history back into public memory.”

While there are no known pictures of the Gipsy Queen, the image used here (courtesy of South Tyneside Libraries) is of a wooden paddle tug, the Telegraph, built at North Shields like the Gipsy Queen.

Now retired, David was a teacher, spending the last ten years of his career living and working in Africa. He says he would have gone to sea like other members of his family if he had not passed his ‘O’ levels.

However, the sea has been a part of his life. His extensive sailing experience, after learning to sail on a Thames Barge, includes sailing round the coasts of Britain with the Sail Training Association on their topsail schooners Malcolm Miller and Winston Churchill before crossing the Pacific from Panama to Tahiti on the Ocean Youth Club ketch the James Cook.

He has also taken volunteering opportunities, including a passage down the east coast from North Shields to Hull with a blind crew.

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