The University of St Andrews has many traditions which are still upheld by our students today. This morning hundreds of students plunged into the sea at the East Sands as St Andrews mythology has it that this will bring them good luck in their forthcoming exams! Another well recognised tradition is the annual walk on the 30th April to East Sands in commemoration of former student John Honey. Here Lucy Portchmouth, Senior Visitor Services Facilitator at MUSA writes about his bravery.
On the 3rd January 1800, John Honey, a student of The University of St Andrews, rescued members of the crew of the Janet of Macduff which had run aground off the East Sands of St Andrews. In the absence of a lifeboat, he had fellow students tie a rope to his torso and swam out to the troubled vessel. He returned, bringing with him a second rope from the ship, in an effort to provide the crew with a life line along which they could swim their way to the shore. Sadly, the men were too weak and so Honey swam back and forth 5 times, bringing a man with him each time he returned. On his final trip, the ship’s mast broke and fell heavily upon his chest. Despite this, he made it the beach where he collapsed in exhaustion. Honey died at the age of 32 in Perthshire, whilst serving as a Church of Scotland minister: his death was attributed to unresolved health issues following the accident on board Janet.
Students of The University of St Andrews commemorate Honey’s courage in a variety of ways. On the 30th April every year, they process by candlelight, led by a piper, to East Sands where they lay a wreath at the site of the shipwreck. This tradition is called “The Gaudie” and is reflected in the weekly practice of Pier Walking – where students, adorned in their red gowns, process after Chapel toward the east and walk along the length of the historic pier. A window, visible from the organ loft in St Salvator’s Chapel, depicts James Honey wading into the water to begin his rescue mission – he is shown alongside other St Andrew’s martyrs, Patrick Hamilton and the fallen of World War One. Lastly, the Honey Cup (which is housed within the Collections Unit and can usually be seen in the Living and Learning Gallery at MUSA), is awarded on the occasion of a student providing exceptional service to the student community. It is not an annual award but rather one given only in the event of outstanding achievement.