For sale, a George V pollard oak triple decanter box presented to Lieutenant RE Treweeks Royal Navy of HMS Natal.
This luxurious decanter set is comprised of a pollard oak case with brass edging throughout and with a brass shield escutcheon and plaque to the lid engraved with the following, “Presented to Lieut. R.E. Treweeks. R.N. By the Captain and W.R. Officers. HMS Natal. 3rd Feb 1914”.
The maroon velvet three sectioned interior contains three cut glass decanters with long stemmed stoppers, all in unused condition, superior brass hinges and ivorine maker’s plate which has sadly been polished out over the years.
In itself, this quality decanter set is a joy to behold but its dedication hides a rather interesting historical story from the First World War period. Lieutenant Richard Edward Lewis Treweeks the recipient of this beautiful and generous gift was born in Pembroke in 1883 and following an early career in the merchant navy, also joined the Royal Navy Reserve as a Sub-Lieutenant in 1911. Promoted to full Lieutenant in April of 1913, he seems to have joined the Royal Navy in a full time position and was stationed on HMS Natal by September of 1913.
Treweeks must have already been making preparations for his marriage to his wife Dorothy at this stage and it is for this occasion that the ship’s officers presented the decanter set to him on the 3rd of February 1914. This generous gift a clear sign that although new to the ship’s crew, he must have been well liked already by his Captain and fellow officers already. Sadly, only twenty two months later, Treweeks and many of those officers were to lose their lives in the explosion and subsequent sinking of the HMS Natal at Cromarty Firth in Scotland.
The ship on which Treweeks was to meet his fateful end, was a modern, Warrior Class Armoured Cruiser for the period. Built by Vickers, Sons & Maxim at Barrow-in Furness, she was completed in 1907. Christened by the Duchess of Devonshire, HMS Natal’s name was chosen as she was largely funded by the inhabitants of The Colony of Natal.
After seeing service with both the fifth and later the second Cruiser Squadron, Natal was chosen to provide escort to The Royal Yacht whilst transporting King George V to attend the Delhi Durbar in India in 1911 – 12 and later had the less joyful duty of escorting the body of US Ambassador to Great Britain, Whitelaw Reid back to New York for burial. There are somewhat conflicting reports about this journey but it seems it was an extremely difficult crossing due to the prevailing weather conditions and repairs were required at their destination. Only six months later, Natal was also involved in a collision with a fishing vessel whilst sailing through foggy conditions.
Treweeks joined the HMS Natal three months after the above mentioned collision and saw continuous service on the vessel thereafter. The ship joined the Grand Fleet upon the outbreak of the First World War and was refitted at Cromarty in January of 1915. Stationed on patrol in The North Sea, the ship had seen little action before December when it joined the Second Cruiser Squadron at Scapa Flow and was soon sailing for Cromarty for a spell of rest over the Christmas period and to undertake some firing practice.
The Christmas period seems to have been dogged by bad weather but on 29th of December Captain Back of the Natal made preparations for inviting some notable local civilians aboard to spend the afternoon watching a film and invited those officers who had wives present in the area to join him. Some inter-ship football matches were also happening ashore which meant that a number of the crew were not going to be present on-board the next day.
At 1:30 the following day, the guests were welcomed aboard the ship and given the first-hand accounts of the day, there was nothing to suggest what was to come next. From these same accounts, written in the book, “They Call it Accident” we also hear of the final moments of Lieutenant Treweeks. The book reads,
“Discussing with Fildes, the forthcoming film entertainment in the wardroom Hooper wondered if it might be a good idea to invite some of the nursing sisters in the hospital ship Drina, lying nearby, to see the show.
Fildes agreed with this suggestion and said he would make a signal to Drina, while Hooper turned to Lieutenant Hale-White who had joined them and began jocularly to try to persuade the latter to help entertain the nurses when they arrived.
“I’ll give you a hand as soon as I come off watch”, promised Fildes, and added: “Who else can we rope in?”
They were standing near one of the cabins in the starboard side of the after shelter deck which was being utilised as an office for the censoring of the ship’s company letters. Inside the office they found Lieutenant Treweeks and tried to drag him out. Treweeks laughingly protested that he had in fact taken refuge in this hideout to escape from the guests who were already on board. Shortly afterwards he disappeared below, doubtless to seek the sanctuary of his own cabin. Thereby he signed his own death warrant.”
At around 3:30 in the afternoon, a series of explosions happened aboard the HMS Natal which tore apart the structure of the vessel and had sunk her within a matter of minutes. Some of those on deck and in the fore section of the ship were lucky enough to escape into the freezing sea but those officers and men in the aft section including Lieutenant Treweeks were immediately killed in the devastating explosion. Treweeks had been married for less than two years.
According to most sources, the cause of the explosion on HMS Natal was caused by faulty or old cordite stored for the ships gunnery but given the Navy’s very low key approach to the aftermath and investigation, many conspiracy stories remain to this day about the fate of the vessel. Two other Royal Navy vessels suffered similar fates during the First World War and A.Cecil Hampshire’s long out of print book seeks to provide some answers to these strange occurrences and a copy of this book is included within the sale of this decanter set. It also sets out a number of first-hand accounts of the disaster as it happened and makes for some interesting if not harrowing reading.
The accident is still remembered in Cromarty where the hulk of the HMS Natal still rests and respects were paid by the people of the area upon the occasion of the centenary of the disaster in 2015 with the Royal Navy Marine Band present. Many of the bodies of the lost were never recovered including Lieutenant Treweeks and therefore his name is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial. He also has a dedication plaque in the Church of St Mary The Blessed Virgin in his hometown of Pembroke in Wales.
This decanter set is a super piece of craftsmanship but it also hides a melancholy reminder of a young and newly married man taken in the prime of life whilst serving in the Great War. A very interesting history of a little known British Naval disaster.