The Ace Sisters

A Henry Alfred Chapman photograph of the two ladies,
Jessie Ace and Margaret Wright (nee Ace) in 1883,
from Peter Bryan.

During the early hours of a stormy winter morning, on 27th of January in 1883, long before Swansea Jack and fur coats for humans, two sisters from Mumbles performed an incredible act of bravery that carved their names in the annal’s of history.

Twatted by the rocks at Mumbles head, a 885-tonne German barque named ’Admiral Prinz Adalbert’ of Danzig found herself in proper trouble. The Mumbles Lifeboat, called the Wolverhampton, came to rescue the ship from the rough, icy waters, and successfully retrieved the German crew, but panic arose when they too had been captured in its grip.

Observing this whole ordeal was Margaret Wright (nee Ace) and Jessie Ace, the daring daughters of the Mumbles Lighthouse keeper, Abraham Ace, who in defiance of their fathers orders, waded into the surf to help, shouting ‘I will lose my life rather than watch these men drown.’ Back then, the lighthouse keeper, his deputy and their families lived on the lighthouse island, so the ladies were close at hand when the ship hit the fan.

With the assistance of ‘Gunner’ Edward Hutchings, a soldier from the lighthouse fort (I swear I haven’t taken these names from an American Western), the sisters tied their shawls together in order to create a makeshift rope. Launching what was tied into the tide, they rescued two men who had fallen overboard the Wolverhampton after successfully saving the German crew, John Thomas and William Rosser, and guided another to safety.

Unfortunately though, the disaster would claim the lives of two of the RNLI coxswain’s sons, his son-in-law and another unknown man. Another casualty was The Wolverhampton itself, and was replaced by a new lifeboat dubbed ’Wolverhampton II’ in honour of the fallen former floater, which remained in service until 1898.

Legacy

For their courage, the coxswain received a silver medal from the RNLI and £50, with Hutchings having his thanks on vellum. The tenacity shown by the two women was not officially recognised by the RNLI, but their efforts were appreciated by the Empress of Germany, who rewarded them with a Gold Broach each (which is currently in Australia with Jessie’s great, great grand-daughter).

It took 130 years, but Margaret and Jessie’s actions were finally honoured by Swansea City council, who unveiled a blue plaque towards end of February 2016 at a spot close to Mumbles Pier, overlooking the same weary waters. The women’s heroism also lives on in the popular poem by the influential ‘Daily Telegraph’ theatre critic ’Clement Scott,’ that was to be recited by generations of schoolchildren in the subsequent decades, named ’The women of Mumbles Head’. That sounds much better than fifty quid a blue plaque to be honest, but as Swansea Councillor Robert Francis-Davies put it, ‘they’re thoroughly deserving of a blue plaque, this will be the thirteenth blue plaque the council has unveiled in recent years”.

By Hari Powell.

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