A fit Situation for His Majesty’s Packets: building the Harbour at Dunmore

Today’s guest blog comes from Roy Dooney who has previously delivered a facinating presentation to the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society on the building of Dunmore harbour. I’m indebted to Roy for typing up his presentation for sharing with the readership. I found it a fascinating piece and I’m sure you will too.

The title of this piece is taken from the Act of Parliament just over two hundred years ago, dated 3rd June 1818, described as “An Act for improving and completing the Harbour of Dunmore in the County of Waterford, and rendering it a fit Situation for His Majesty’s Packets.”

The King at the time was George the Third who reigned from 1760 until his death in January 1820.

The Act of Union came into force in 1801 to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. By 1821 the estimated population of Britain was about 14 million, and that of Ireland was about 7 million. So Ireland, with a rapidly growing population, was a major part of the United Kingdom.

Dunmore pier with railway line used in construction phase

In our modern era of constant cheap and direct communications, it is important to remember the huge primary importance of the postal service in past times to maintain links of trade, public administration, security and news between Britain and Ireland.

There had been an unsuccessful French naval invasion in 1796, followed by a rebellion in 1798.

There was another abortive rebellion led by Robert Emmet in 1803.

Britain was at war with France from 1793 until the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Information flows were central to keeping London well informed about what was happening in all parts of Ireland.

Getting the mail backwards and forwards through the shortest possible sea crossings was a priority for the Post Office.

The first postal route to Ireland from London was through Bristol and then Milford Haven in Wales.

In late 1813 the Post Office sought applications for the design and construction of a new packet station in the Suir Estuary, much closer to the open sea than the then packet station for Waterford at Bolton (Cheekpoint).

At that time the ships from Milford Haven had to sail upriver, often against contrary winds, tides and the river itself. A packet station “lower down” would allow the mails to be landed at an earlier place and be taken by road to Waterford. This would be faster and more reliable than the vagaries of sail.

One of the main reasons for using Milford Haven for mails was that since most of the mail originated in London, the route from there to South Wales was a better road, faster and safer than that through Chester, across North Wales and Holyhead.

Oilean na gClioch which features a fine pointed arched bridge (see left of photo). This was designed by Nimmo and is similar to others he designed at Poulaphouca in Wicklow and Shaughnessy’s Bridge in Connemara. Authors collection.

The historian and map maker Gerald of Wales c. 1188 described Milford Haven as “the most excellent  harbour in Britain for ships to enter” and it was the point of departure to Ireland of many Royal and military expeditions.

Among many others these include Strongbow with Henry the Second as early as 1171, Prince John in 1185 and then as King John in 1210, Richard the Second in 1397 and Cromwell in 1649.

Dunmore was settled at quite an early stage. There was a grant in 1203 from King John to Heverbrichtof Dunmore and a Manor of Dunmore referred to in 1287.

A fishery is referred to in 1303.

By 1774 there was a reference to “eighty sail of fishing ships now belong to this small port.”

The oldest house still standing in the village from c 1790-1800 is Virginia Cottage on the hill from the lower village going up to Killea.

The first plan for building the Harbour at Portcullin Cove was submitted in March 1814 by 31 year old Alexander Nimmo to the Post Office.

Work began on building the Harbour in September 1815.

At the end of June 1818 the Government announced that: “as the Packet Station has been changed from Passage to Dunmore and a Post Office having been established in Dunmore it will be necessary for those residing in that area to have letters addressed “Dunmore East” to avoid confusion with Dunmore, County Galway.”

On July 7th 1818 an official notice appeared which stated that “on and from 7th inst. The British mails will be despatched from Dunmore East to Milford.”

Steam packets Meteor and Royal Sovereign which operated on the Milford Waterford route circa 1824
Maritime Museum Greenwich, via Roger Antell

Dunmore was designated as one of five Royal Harbours in Ireland through which mail was conveyed. The others were Ardglass and Donaghadee in Northern Ireland, and Howth and Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) to the north and south of Dublin respectively.

Nimmo was a quite extraordinary man whose contribution to designing and building the harbour in Dunmore, as well as many other projects across Ireland was enormous.

He was one of a number of Scottish engineers who played a transformative role in modernising transport in Britain and Ireland.

He first came to Ireland to work on bog engineering in the West and went on to plan and develop at least 50 piers and harbours ranging from North Mayo to Greystones in Wicklow.

This bust of Alexander Nimmo is the only likeness of him recorded and was done by his friend John B Jones in 1845. It is in the Royal Dublin Society.

The Tidy Towns committee in Dunmore East unveiling a plaque in June 2018 at the Harbour   to remember Nimmo who died at the age of just 49 in 1832.

Nimmo was a brilliant engineer but his correspondence in the National Archives with the Post Office and Dublin Castle show a repeated weakness when it came to accounting for monies spend and keeping the project on budget.

For its time, the construction was ambitious and complex.

Rock was quarried locally from the cliffs above the Harbour and a little further away above the Flat Rocks. It was then moved down to the pier on a railway. Stone had to be blasted and then cut by hand.

Limestone was also quarried in Dunkit and floated down the river on barges.

One of Nimmo’s achievements was to make a diving bell that worked. It was subsequently used in other projects in Ireland, particularly the Wellesley Bridge in Limerick which he designed.

Nimmo’s original plan had included a lighthouse and in July 1818, when the Harbour was about to enter service, the Secretary of the Post Office asked the Ballast Board in Dublin, who ran the lighthouse service, to let them set up a temporary light at the end of the pier.

George Halpin who designed the lighthouse was one of the great men in Irish lighthouse history responsible for many others around the country.

The design is of a fluted Doric column of which there is only one other in Ireland – the Haulbowline Lighthouse – in Carlingford Lough.

Dunmore East lighthouse circa 1900

Dunmore’s importance as a harbour for post and trade was under threat before it was finished.

Steam ships with greater strength and reliability were already in service. By 1817 the first steam ship on the Irish Sea travelled between the Clyde and the Mersey and a paddle steamer between Carrick on Suir and Waterford was in service.

The Post Office built its own steam ships for the mails and went into service from Holyhead in 1821, Dover in 1822 and Milford Haven to Dunmore in 1824.

As the steamers became more powerful they had no difficulty making the passage upriver to the extensive quays in Waterford and its concentration of merchants and mail coach connections.

Dunmore also grew as a resort, and by 1824 Ryland referred to it as “formerly a place of resort for fishermen, but now a fashionable and delightful watering place.”

Dunmore harbour changed from a packet station to a fishing port as the 19th century progressed. In more recent times it has undergone extensive re-modelling as excavations and infill have taken place.

As Nimmo’s biographer Noel Wilkins says of the Harbour today: “The visual prospect along the main quay (the original Packet Quay) towards the fluted lighthouse rising majestically at its head, has a certain boulevard-like quality that is decidedly unusual in fishery harbours, recalling the grandeur of its original purpose.”

My thanks again to Roy for this great addition to the blog and an insight into the making of Dunmore harbour. If anyone reading this has a blog that they would like to submit for consideration they can email me at tidesntales@gmail.com to discuss. The blog should relate to the areas maritime heritage be 1200 words approximately. I’m always delighted to get new material, and would love to hear from younger readers too, who might have ideas to share.

SS Valdura – a lucky escape

SS Valdura

On Tuesday 12th January 1926 the SS Valdura ran headlong onto the rocks east of Kilmore Quay at a spot appropriately known as The Forlorn.  She had sailed from Baltimore on December 29th and was bound for Liverpool. [1] Her holds were filled with maize (Indian Corn).  The Valdura (1910) was a steel screw steamer of 5,507 registered tonnage and owned by the Valdura Steamship Co. Ltd., of Glasgow.

SS Valdura aground at the Forlorn, Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford.
Photo via Brian Cleare

She grounded under the rocket station and the coast guard and lifeboat were quickly on the scene.  However, the ship was wedged on the rocks, with a falling tide, in a light enough breeze and the crew were considered to be at no immediate risk.  The lifeboat stood down.[2]

On Wednesday 13th the powerful tug Morsecock left Cobh in response to the distress signals sent by the ship.  The plan was that a refloating attempt would be made. [3]  However this was a failure and was reported on later in the week “Plans to refloat  her on high tide yesterday proved futile. Mr. T. Casement, inspector of the Life saving service, has superintended the putting of life saving lines on the vessel with a view to rescuing the crew should it become necessary. The crew of the Kilmore Quay station are standing by for this purpose” [4]

A sense of the location of both the wreck and her position ref the Saltee Islands.
Buttermilk is close by the home tab. via Google Maps
The Forlorn, or St Patricks Bridge. At high water the glacial deposit that once stretched to the Saltee Islands is below water. But the breaking seas are an ominous sight.

Professional assistance was called in and the Liverpool and Glasgow Salvage Association were engaged and attempted a refloat on the next Spring Tides.  However this was not a success, and with strengthening winds some of her tanks were flooded with seawater to hold her down and a decision was taken to await the next spring tides. At least no damage was reported beyond the initial grounding. [5]

In an effort to lighten the vessel it was decided to remove part of her cargo and to sell this to try recouping some of the loss.  It would appear the locals were employed to effectively dump the cargo over the side and onto the beach which was then bought by locals, and perhaps not only locals at auction.  For example here’s an advertisement from the Wicklow People[6]:

Maize as it lies on beach is now for Sale at 5s per 16 size corn sack, buyers to bring own sacks and to fill same. Persons buying quickly can get corn clean and free from sand. Terms—Cash. Mr. Thomas Sutton, The Hotel, Kilmore Quay, will give purchasers an order for corn on above terms, or same can he had from WALSH AND Corish MMIA, Auctioneers, Wexford and Taghmon.

With the ship now lighter and tides being right another attempt was made on removing the ship off the rocks in early March and she was reported as having entered Waterford harbour on Saturday March 13th 1926 under tow of tug Ranger.[7] 

A similar fate befell The Earl of Beaconsfield in 1884. She grounded close to Kilmore, was salvaged and towed to Buttermilk for emergency repairs. Seen here at Buttermilk, across from Cheekpoint.
Photo courtesy of Tomás Sullivan

I’m not sure about the next part of the process, but we do know that she was grounded at Passage East on purpose so that her hull could be checked and temporary repairs made.  I presume this happened before she was put to anchor at Buttermilk Castle where the remainder of her cargo was removed.  This appears to have taken some time, and again I’m presuming it was either trans-shipped to other vessels or to lighters, and perhaps both.  The next mention of the ship was in late April when she was spotted passing east of the Lizard being towed by the tugs Poolza and Hudson presumably to a shipyard for repairs[8].

Interestingly the last advertisement I could find for the sale of her cargo dates to April:  Seventh Sale. To Be Sold by Auction.  On 12th April, at 11 o’clock, at Kilmore Quay, Co. Wexford, 350 lots of Damaged Maize, in lots, as usual.   Terms–Strict Cash at Sale. WALSH AND CORISH, Auctioneers. It would appear the auctions were so regular at that point that there was no need for extra details to be supplied.  Of course this may have been a double edged sword.  Much of the maize was carted to Wexford town where the kilns of Staffords on the Customs House Quay was used to dry the grain.  However the smell was atrocious and local residents made complaints, but the County Medical Officer passed the grain as fit to use![9]

Found the following link to a modern day salvage which might suggest the techniques used to re-float the Valdura haven’t changed much

What I found most astonishing about the fate of the Valdura however, is that the weather stayed settled for as long as it did, 60 days. Another interesting mystery was a very obvious question of what the ship was doing inside the Coningbeg lightship and the Saltee Islands, considerably off her route. The answer to that seems to have been kept by the master.

No doubt her owners were relieved to have the ship back in action and the first mention I could find of her in operation again was October when she was discharging ten thousand tons of American coal at the Cattedown Wharves, in Plymouth.[10]

The owners sold her the following year and she survived until October 1942, when on route from Newfoundland in ballast to Australia she was wrecked in St. Mary’s Bay near Cape English, Nova Scotia.

As regular readers know, the blog is supported by a wide range of people who help me with various queries. This mornings would not have been possible without the help of Brian Boyce and his crew mates at the Rosslare Harbour Maritime Heritage Centre and particularly Brian Cleare for the image used of the grounded Valdura. For another account on the incident see John Powers Maritime History of County Wexford Vol II 1911-1969. Johns book and a wealth of other maritime titles are available to buy at the Heritage Centre. Open every Saturday afternoon, or other times by appointment

[1] Western Morning News – Wednesday 27 January 1926 p2

[2] Evening Herald (Dublin) – Wednesday 13 January 1926 p 1

[3] Ibid

[4] Evening Herald (Dublin) – Friday 15 January 1926 p 1

[5] New Ross Standard – Friday 19 February 1926 p 10

[6] Wicklow People – Saturday 27 March 1926 p 1

[7] The Scotsman – Monday 15 March 1926 p 4

[8] Western Daily Press – Saturday 24 April 1926 p4

[9]Roche. R. Tales of the Wexford Coast.  1993. Duffry Press.  Enniscorthy.

[10] Western Morning News – Friday 15 October 1926 p 8

Nuke; an Iron Age Promontory Fort

Living beside a river, your neighbours often include those on the opposite bank.  As rivers tend to be natural boundaries, these neighbours can be in different counties or indeed provinces and so it was between my grandmother in the Russianside Cheekpoint, Co Waterford and her neighbours of Nuke in Co Wexford.  She sometimes knew more about them than she did about her fellow villagers, as they were in view out her window.  If she saw a light on in Mrs Murphys at night she would worry that someone was sick, or when Josie Whitty had the fire lit early of a winter’s morning, she would be all praise for her activity. 

Nuke itself is an odd location.  It’s tucked away in a small, but well sheltered bay and is really only visible from the opposite shore. The road down runs off a back road between Ballyhack and Campile, down a steep, narrow and winding lane that looks more like a persons driveway. It would be natural to think that the name is associated with a nook; defined as a crevice, hollow bay, recess, opening or a gap.  Indeed for many years I spelled the name as I had seen it in some history books and charts as Nook, however a few years back Deena and I were in Ballyhack looking for a gravestone and I noticed many of the locals spelled it Nuke. 

Du Noyer sketch of St Catherines. JK&SEIAS

Now blog regulars will know how much I value the local knowledge over written text, and as it turns out the locals have a sound footing in their choice of spelling.  For according to Hore the placename has nothing to do with its geographic situation, but it is named for St Inicke (also spelled Inioque & Iniogue) who probably had a cell on the tip of the small headland to the south of the bay in the early Christian era. The Bay of Nuke coincidentally was also recorded as St Inick’s Bay.[1]  I’ve read numerous different spellings of the name I must admit, and in recent times Nook is the most prevelant. And although St Inicke was a new one on me, I’ve also seen Nugg, Nugge, Neuke, Le Newge. 

The history of the site however goes further back than early Christian, for it is recorded as a fortified promontory fort by Thomas Johnson Westropp[2] He dated it to the Iron Age (from 500BC – 400AD depending on what you read). Westropp was a pioneer of identifying and recording such forts and between 1898 and 1922 he recorded 195 sites. 

Promontory forts are attributed various functions. Among the suggestions are that they may have been used as landing places for seagoing invaders and temporary refuges during inland attack. They have also been proposed as trading bases, ceremonial enclosures, observation posts, and livestock pounds. Obviously from my perspective any suggestion of landing spaces or trading bases between Irish Celts and their European cousins would be music to my ears. The sites were also associated with fishing, a vital source of food for the settlers.

A view from Nuke towards Cheekpoint and Great Island

Of the site Westropp states that: “The headland, though fenced to the north and west by cliffs, has only a steep grassy slope to the east.  At the foot of this are low, marshy fields, with a stream and a shore flooded at high tide, as we found it after our visit. One can see that it was a shallow creek, gradually filled by the backwash of the great rivers, and in a lesser degree by its stream, probably once much larger and stronger. This formed the “nook,” from which the present name is derived, and was a safe place for old flat-bottomed ships to lie…

The fosse and rampart run across the crown of the ridge, but no trace remains down the very steep slope; perhaps it was palisaded, or even had dry-stone walls, which could easily be removed, like so much of the rampart, for building material…

The works run in a bold curve across the saddle of the ridge and down the western slope to the cliff. The fort is largely made of the small shaly stones…The mound is 21 to 24 feet thick, and rises 12 to 15 feet over the fosse and 6 to 8 over the field. The fosse is much filled up to the east of the laneway, and a house in ruins stands in it. To the west it is cut for the most part into the shaly rock, and served as a quarry for the wall. It is at most 5 to 6 feet deep at the cutting and 15 feet wide. From it there is a fine view of the new railway bridge across the Barrow, and the broad confluence, the curve of the Suir, the rising grounds in Kilkenny and Waterford, and the distant mountains from the blue Comeraghs eastward. Dunbrody Abbey, though near, is hidden by the plateau…”

Nuke is perhaps best known however for the fortified church of St Catherine dating to the Norman era and the building of Dunbrody Abbey, which George Victor Du Noyer, the noted antiquarian, dated to the mid 14th Century[3].  Du Noyer was an artist and geologist who over the course of a half century, travelled the length and breadth of Ireland, sketching and recording as he went, including many local scenes of our area.  St Catherine’s had a fortified tower to protect the monks, but also had living quarters suggesting it was a space for the management of the river and commercial enterprises.  In my own mind I would think this suggests activities such as the weirs, fish curing and possibly tolls or other controls on vessels at anchor and those using the Port of St Mary Dunbrody.  St Catherine’s Bay stretched down river towards another fortification, Buttermilk Castle.

The Bay of Nuke or St Inick’s Bay when we visited last September. The promontory is on the left.

The most fascinating aspect of the church for me however is this; “On the exterior of the wall, to the left of this doorway near the springing of its arch, and at the height of about six feet from the ground, there is a small tricusped niche, which, from its peculiar position, would lead one to suppose that it was intended to receive a lantern to act as a beacon to vessels passing over the neighbouring portion of the Waterford estuary.”[4]

The small tricusped niche to the left of the doorway. An early navigational light in the harbour? Du Noyer JK&SEIAS

My own memories of Nuke are more to do with the Whitty family and the salmon driftnets set out in the bay as John (“Be God the man” his favourite phrase as I recall it and always associated with any story of him) and his family sat in the evening summer sun watching the corks as they lay out on the grassy bank of the headland, poised to jump into the punts to go immediately if they spotted a fish touching the nets. But in recent years we have tried to ensure our own children know it well too, visiting in the punt, or paddling across in the kayaks, and explaining the history of the site.

It’s to be hoped that the work of Noel McDonagh at Creaden Head  on the Waterford side of the harbour further down towards Dunmore East will create a greater interest in the older period of history in the harbour area, the ancient traders of the past and vital artery that the rivers were. It might foster a bit more interest in the rest of the harbour and rivers too. But it is a warming thought indeed for me to think that amongst those who used the early promontory fort were fishermen and that they possibly sat out in the evening sun watching their nets, or fish baskets, in much the same way that I remember the Whitty’s doing.

[1] Hore.P.H.  History of the Town & County of Wexford. Dunbrody Abbey, The Great Island, Ballyhack etc. 1901 London.  Page 251 (I’m again indebted to John Flynn for the loan of his copy)

[2] Five large earthworks in the Barony of Shelburne, Co Wexford.  Westropp T.J. 1918 JRSAI vol XLVIII Part 1

[3] Ibid

[4] Notes on some peculiarities in ancient and medieval Irish ecclesiastical architecture.  By Noyer G.V. The Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, NewSeries, Vol. 5, No. 1 (1864), pp. 27-40 [1] Ibid pp 32-33

The unchristianlike crew

Following the death of their captain, the men of the barquentine Herbina were described as an “unchristianlike” crew.  The judgement was passed at an inquiry while the ship lay at anchor off Passage East in February 1892. But was it fair, or even accurate?  I will leave that to you to decide.

Over Christmas the brother in law, Bernard Cunningham, asked had I ever noticed the foreign captain’s grave in Crook, and wondered if I knew the reason he was buried there.  Funnily enough I had photographed it previously, as you do!, but had never followed up on the research. 

The grave belonged to Petro Valeiste (Velcich on his grave marker) , sea captain and part owner of the Herbina, a three masted barquentine of the port of Trieste (then part of the Austro- Hungarian empire).  The ship was sailing from Liverpool to Buenos Aires with a cargo of coal.  She departed from Liverpool on Thursday 18th February but ran into a storm on the afternoon of the following day and while the crew struggled to manage the sails, and a hired pilot kept the ship on course, the captain slumped to the deck and died. 

The Herbina was one of 11 ships that entered Waterford harbour following the storm and the Munster Express gave a vivid description of the scene with ships in a sinking state, the pilot boat and pilots run ragged in providing their services and the Dunmore East lifeboat on duty in case of emergency.[1]

When the Herbina was finally safe at anchor the local police barracks at Passage received news (presumably from a pilot) that the captain of the vessel was dead, and Dr Jackman from Dunmore East was summoned and went onboard.  Dr Jackman, however was not prepared for the strange sight that greeted him. For the captain lay where he fell and not a crew man would come near the body, and he had to place a shroud over the body and lift it into a coffin without a hand being lifted to help by the crew.  As the body was lowered down into a waiting hobbler craft, again the crew would not help.  News of the crew’s behaviour must have quickly spread.

Barquentine Mercator by Yasmina. Accessed from Wikipedia (public domain)

A follow up inquest was held in Passage East on Tuesday 23rd February.  It was overseen by Mr E Power, Coroner, and the following made up the sworn jury; Capt Kelly (foreman),P  Hanlon, J Kennedy, W Power, J Kavanagh, M Hanlon, Thomas Ryan, J Donnelly, James Rogers, P Cashin, M Kavanagh & John Barrett.

The first evidence was supplied by the Channel Pilot* Philip Barrio who explained that on Tuesday 16th February he was engaged by the dead captain to assist in the navigation down the Irish Sea.  However as the weather was stormy, they delayed departure until Thursday 18th.  By the late Friday afternoon of the next day the weather again turned against them.  The captain consulted with the pilot on his decision to take a reef in the top sail, but to this the pilot objected suggesting he needed to reduce his sail considerably more.  Two men were already aloft and the captain decided to order all his remaining crew aloft.  Even as they climbed the rigging some of the sail was torn away by the wind.

As the crew worked diligently aloft, the pilot took the wheel.  However at some point he noticed the captain grab his chest and stagger away towards his cabin.   He explained that he was too occupied to take much notice of the man, but at one point noticed him slumped and thought he may be asleep.  On being challenged by his apparent lack of concern for the captain, the pilot explained that he had seemed to be in the best of health and it had not occurred to him that he was unwell.  He was also much absorbed in ensuring the safety of the ship and her crew, as the weather was so bad.

An obviously perplexed jury put question after question to the pilot.  Had the captain been in dispute with the crew?  Were angry words spoke?  Had he been ill?  Had he drink taken?  To all the pilot stated in the negative. A doubtful jurist also expressed surprise that the pilot was given the wheel. Rogers went so far as to say he was not satisfied with what he was hearing, but was overruled by the coroner.

First mate Gorgurevich Natals was then called to give evidence and he explained how on fulfilling his earlier instructions he descended to the deck to get further orders.  He came aft and noticed the captain slumped over.  He perceived that he was not breathing but felt warmth over his heart and called to the cook to bring some alcohol.  This was rubbed into the chest of the dead man, but did not revive him.  The jury, through questions ascertained that it was his first trip under the captain, that he was too preoccupied in the rigging to have seen what was happening on the deck and that he had heard the captain say he had been unwell prior to his joining the ship but he was in the best of health since the mate had signed on.

It was Dr Jackmans evidence of the behaviours of the crew towards their skipper which elicited the most surprise at the inquiry, actions, or more accurately lack of actions, which led the coroner to observe “This was certainly very inhuman conduct on the part of the crew” and later “scandalous conduct..l never heard of anything worse…disgraceful in the extreme”.  Mr Kennedy probably captured the mood of the jury when he described the actions as “Most unchristianlike”

Whatever transpired on the Herbina on that fateful voyage many members of the jury remained unconvinced that they were hearing the full truth, but the coroner seemed satisfied and ruled that on the evidence given that the captain had died from natural causes, heart failure.   

Later on in the day the remains were interred in the graveyard in Crook.  No further details are given.  Perhaps his crew went to pay their respects, maybe flowers were laid, maybe nothing at all apart from a priest and the gravediggers.  I have found no other mention of the ship or the crew.  Presumably she sailed once a replacement captain was found.  Given how superstitious sailors could be, we might consider him a brave man indeed to sail with the men labelled as the “unchristianlike” crew.

The majority of details are taken from a report in the Waterford Mirror and Tramore Visitor. – Thursday Feb 25th 1892 Page 3

[1] Munster Express Sat Feb 27th 1892 Page 7

*I had hoped to find a link to describe the work of a channel pilot, but couldn’t find a specific description, if anyone could direct me to same I’d appreciate it.

Three terrible days, Jan 1862

Over a three-day period of January 22nd, 23rd and 24th 1862, a large number of shipwrecks and loss of life took place in Waterford Harbour and along the County Waterford coastline, making it probably one of the most catastrophic events in the maritime history of Waterford.

The ferocity of the weather was best demonstrated from a report that the Coningbeg light-ship dragging her anchor for a distance of four and a half miles, when it had held firm in other recent storms*.

The Daily Express of Monday January 27th 1862 reported that “at Dunmore, the sea rolled clear over the Pier Head, and rushed with great violence up a considerable part of the town.”

Meanwhile the Waterford Mail on the same day reported: “We have had a succession of storms such as we have not had to record for many years. “Old Ocean” has been in one of his rough moods, and has strewn our coast with shipwrecks. The gale of Wednesday was sufficient to alarm the heart of every one who had a single relative or connection with the water. A lull took place on Thursday, but it was followed, on Friday morning, by one of the most terrific hurricanes we remember, and the casualties have been terrible to record….”

SS Royal Charter lost at Angelsea 1859. Wikipedia (Public Domain)
A sense of the scene. SS Royal Charter lost at Angelsea 1859. source: Wikipedia (Public Domain)

What follows is a full account of the local losses over those three terrible days

1        ‘Active’

 “The storm of Wednesday caught the little schooner Active of Cork, supposed to have been laden with coals, off the coast of Annestown, and the captain evidently finding that he could not weather the gale, tried to beach the ship in Annestown bay, and in doing so a tremendous sea caught her, and dashed her to pieces against the rock. Five persons were seen on her deck, none of whom were saved, and it supposed that her crew consisted of nine persons – None of the bodies have been washed ashore. While the coastguards were engaged in watching the goods washed ashore from the Active, they were alarmed to hear of the loss of another, a large vessel, in the same locality.” (1)

2      ‘Indian Ocean’ was the large vessel, the story of which has an interesting twist.

“Supposed Loss of an Emigrant Ship and all on board, – At five o’clock on yesterday (Friday) morning a large emigrant ship was beat to pieces at Annestown. Her deck was crowded with crew and passengers. It is much to be apprehended every one of them perished. From a paper washed ashore the vessel is believed to be the ‘Indian Ocean’, which sailed from Liverpool for Sydney, New South Wales, last Monday.  She was laden with a valuable cargo, of general assortment, with which the coast is strewn. The paper is a printed form, signed for W.Nichol and Co., dated 2nd January 1861, at Bombay, directing the commanding officer of the ‘Indian Ocean’ to receive fifty bales of cotton, and give a bill of lading.” (2)

 “Wreck on the Coast of Ireland.- The large vessel lost off the coast of Ireland on Friday, is now fully ascertained, was the Indian Ocean of Liverpool. With the confirmation of the fact of her loss, comes the welcome intelligence that the captain and crew of twenty-five persons, supposed to have gone down with the wreck, were all saved by the timely arrival of the ‘Europa’, which took them off the vessel before she drifted ashore. The ‘Europa’ was on her voyage from St. John’s to Liverpool, and landed the whole of the rescued men at the latter port on Saturday. (3)

3       ‘Queen of Commerce’

“A little to the west of Dunmore lies a little bay called Ballymacaw, and into was driven a very fine vessel bound from Antwerp to Liverpool, where she was chartered as a passenger ship. The captain availed himself of the idea of which had been put out respecting wind kites. He tied a line to a hencoop, and flung it overboard; it was found to be too light and did not float ashore as could be wished, and was drawn on board, and the line attached to a lifebuoy, which was washed ashore and gladly secured by the coast-guard. A rope of sufficient strength was then sent ashore, and taken up from the beach to the cliff where it was made fast and thus the entire crew, 23 in number were rescued from the waves.” (4) 

The author David Carroll on rt, his wife Pauline and Michael Farrell chair Barony of Gaultier Historical Society on a recent trip to Brownstown
Brownstown head, in more settled weather.

4       ‘Nairne’

“The Nairne, Captain Ness, of Leith, and bound for Havannah with coals, was caught by the storm off Brownstown Head at the western shore of Tramore bay. The haze and rain prevented the captain or crew from thinking they were so near the coast; suddenly the mist cleared and they saw the ominous towers on Brownstown Head, just at the same moment a sea struck the vessel and washed the man at the wheel overboard, and almost instantaneously the vessel struck with such violence that the masts went by the board. Fortunately, they fell towards the land, and formed a bridge from the vessel to the cliff. The captain and crew immediately clambered up the perilous ascent, some of them almost without clothes, and just as the last man reached terra firma the ship was engulphed in the waves, and masts and spars were floating in the ocean.  The captain and crew were immediately taken charge of by Mr. Thomas Walsh, who acts as sub-agent for Mr. Barnes, the representative of the Shipwrecked Mariner’s Society, and they were provided with the necessaries which they required. Some of them have reached Waterford, but others have been unable to be removed from Brownstown. (5)

5       ‘Tiger’

The Tiger, of Bath, N.S., bound from Liverpool for Boston, with a general cargo, was on Wednesday, driven near Creden Head. Two of the sailors tried to get ashore with a line, but the boat swamped, and they were thrown into the foaming surge. The captain and those on board, tried to aid them, by flinging ropes, life bouys etc., to them, but they drifted away, and the men were both lost. The vessel held together until the weather moderated, when the rest of the crew- 23 in number-were brought by Mr. Boyse, sub-agent to Josiah Williams, Esq. Lloyd’s agent of this port. They reached this on Friday morning in the Tintern. The Tiger has since become a total wreck”.  (6)

Loss of the SS Central America National Maritime Museum London (Public Domain)
Loss of the SS Central America. source: National Maritime Museum London (Public Domain)
Although again not a local depiction I thought it gave an accurate if frightening sense of the scenes depicted by David

6      ‘Loss of a Schooner, and all hands’

“A very fine schooner was also seen running for this harbour. She made her way most gallantly until, when in the act of cutting a sea, she was struck with violence on her quarter; she was seen to stagger from the force of the blow, and before she could recover, another large wave struck her and capsized her. She went down with all hands. “ (7)

From my reading of the books written by Edward J. Bourke, this schooner was lost at Red Head, close to Dunmore.

7     ‘The Sarah Anne’

“This fine schooner, the property of Capt. Curran, was lost on Wednesday in Dungarvan bay. She was laden with coals, and bound from Cardiff for Waterford. She was blown past our harbour and lost near Ballynacourty on 22nd inst. Her master, John McCarthy, her mate, Thomas Connery, and also Thos. Dowse, seaman, and Maurice Connery, boy, were natives of this city.” (8)

8       ‘Loss of an Austrian Ship, and all hands.’

“A fine vessel supposed to have been an Austrian, which was seen from Dunmore on Friday, inside Hook Tower, was struck by an awful surge, and went down, and not a soul has been saved.”  (9)

9       ‘The Sophia’

 “The vessel, belonging to Mr. Bellord, of this city, laden with coals, from Cardiff, was while running into this harbour, struck by a sea, near Creden Head, with such violence that her wheel was broken and she became almost unmanageable. The captain (Barry) succeeded in getting her inside Creden Head, and beached her in comparatively still water. The crew was brought off by the pilot cutter Gannet.” (10)

10     ‘The Angelica’

During the gale on Monday, the Angelica, of Genoa, Domina master, from New York, with grain, which had called into Queenstown for orders and taken a Cork pilot on board was, while on her voyage to Newcastle, driven into our harbour. (The wind blowing strong from the south west.) She was unable to bear up for Passage, and struck on Creden Bay bank, close to the Sophia. The Duncannon and City of Paris steamers tried yesterday evening to tow her off, but failed in their attempt, though the vessel was lightened by throwing some of the wheat overboard. The crew are all safe.”  (11)

The inclusion of the Angelica, brings the list of vessels lost to ten, which is what the main headline in the Waterford Mail stated.  Disaster, was not confined to the County Waterford coastline. Other parts of the country were also witness to tragic losses and Waterford ships were casualties of the severe weather elsewhere. Further reading of newspapers of the time record that the stern portion of the Martha of Wexford was washed ashore near Waterford with no news of her crew.

The Waterford Mail also reported on January 27th as follows:

 “It is our melancholy duty to report the total loss of this fine schooner on the south-west coast. Her master (Thomas) and three of her crew have also been lost. The Prudence (148 tons register) was built of oak at Bedford, and owned by Messrs. White Brothers of this city. She was laden with oats and bound from Limerick to London. We are sorry to hear that was uninsured.”

The paper also reported that the S.S. Diana of Waterford from London for Rotterdam was reported on shore at Brielle. (South Holland.) Amongst all the sad and poignant reports of vessels and crews being lost, it was pleasing to see recorded that the steamer Vesta arrived safely to Waterford:


“The arrival of the Vesta steamer from Liverpool created quite a sensation in this city on Saturday. She had sailed on Wednesday, and faced both terrific storms of Wednesday night and Friday morning. She had a terrific conflict with the elements; but owing to the good seamanship of Captain Coffey and the crew, she made her voyage with less loss than might have been anticipated. During her passage the storm was so great that the man at the helm was lashed to the wheel to prevent him being washed over-board and the mate was with him to steer the vessel………..” (12) 

Both S.S. Diana and S.S. Vesta were part of the large fleet of ships owned by the Malcomson family.  Both vessels had been built in Govan, Glasgow and not in their own Neptune iron shipyard in Waterford.  

Well thats 2019 off to a great guest blogging start! I am indebted to David Carroll for this excellent report, giving as it does not just an historical record but a clear sense of the danger and difficulties posed to 19th Century sailors. It brings the value of the modern meteorological service into sharp focus. Perhaps those who would like to criticise forecasters for weather warnings and trying to keep people safe should dwell a moment or two on events such as these and how fortunate we now are

If you would like to submit a guest blog I would be delighted to receive it. Its an opportunity for anyone to contribute to telling the story of the area on the last Friday of the month. It needs to be something in relation to the maritime history of the three sister rivers, harbour or our coastline, about 1200 words, word doc format and submitted to tidesntales@gmail.com

In next months guest blog Roy Dooney brings us the story of the building of Dunmore Harbour. And its a beauty.

If you want further information/a different perspective on the events of the day, I published a story previously sourced from the News & Star


(1)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(2)          Dublin Evening Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(3)          Derbyshire Courier, February 1, 1862

(4)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(5)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(6)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(7)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(8)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(9)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(10)       Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(11)       Waterford Mirror and Tramore Visiter, January 30, 1862

(12)       Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

See also ‘Shipwreck of the Irish Coast’ Vol. 3 by Edward J. Bourke

*According to John Power “A maritime history of Co Wexford” Vol I, (2011) p 66 what saved the Coningbeg lightship (Seagull) was the hard work of her master and crew, who deployed a standby anchor which fortunately held. A news report I read ststed she was back on her station by the Sunday.