The Blighted Barque- Earl of Beaconsfield

When the owners of the four-masted iron hulled sailing barque Earl of Beaconsfield (1883) saw their new ship enter the River Clyde, they must have hoped for a handsome return on their investment.  But although fate has a large role to play in anything to do with shipping, the owners could never have foreseen just how blighted, ill-fated if not damned this ship would be and that within the year she would be sunk after several major incidents at sea, and have never successfully made a single trip.

An example of a four masted barque rigged vessel of the era SV Herzogin Cecilie . By Allan C. Green 1878 – 1954 – State Library of Victoria. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10540452

The Earl of Beaconsfield was launched by Russell & Co, Port Glasgow on the 5th of December 1883 for the firm of A. McAllister & Co, West India Dock Rd, London.  The vessel was 269’ 1″ long by ×40’2″×24’3″ and had a tonnage of 1960 GRT and 1893 NRT.[i] 

Her maiden voyage started from Glasgow under Captain Kerr and a crew of 31 with freight of coal and general cargo.  Her trip would take her down the Irish Sea to the Tuskar Rock along the southern Irish coast where the deep-sea pilot Captain Warden would depart, and then southwards through the Atlantic to Cape Horn and subsequently up the American coast to San Francisco.[ii]  

Captain Warden departed the vessel as planned and the ship set her sails for the South Atlantic but the weather had other ideas and as the wind picked up and the seas rose, the crew of the Earl of Beaconsfield found themselves facing a serious test of their new ship.  Despite their best efforts, the crew was unable to make any appreciable headway and ultimately they found themselves bearing down on Ballyteigue Bay, Co Wexford on Tuesday evening 12th February.  Both anchors were dropped and as the winds continued unabated the ship’s cargo shifted causing a serious list to port which only added to the threat of the mountainous seas that crashed aboard.[iii]

Earl of Beaconsfield following salvage at Buttermilk Castle close to Cheekpoint. Poole. Andy Kelly Collection.

All through the night, the crew battled to stay alive.  As the storm persisted the ship became increasingly damaged.  The bow was stove in, spars snapped and rigging fell onto the deck.  Rockets were shot from the ship into the night sky. Although seen, there was nothing those on shore could do to help except to raise the alarm. A message was sent to the lifeboat station at Duncannon which dispatched the lifeboat overland to Fethard arriving early on Wednesday morning.[iv]

Duncannon lifeboat station. Authors collection.

Duncannon’s lifeboat was a self-righting rowboat called the Richard and Anne.  The station was founded in 1869 and served on station for 17 years until 1886. Duncannon was closed as two new stations were then operating at Dunmore East and Fethard on Sea.[v]

The GWRC steamer Waterford passed close by on Wednesday morning and attempted to get close to offer assistance, signals were exchanged but it was deemed too risky to get close.  Meanwhile, the Duncannon lifeboat was rowing towards the scene, but because of the gale could not render any immediate assistance.  They returned subsequently when the winds moderated and dropped the crew of 32 and a stowaway, to Fethard where they were cared for by locals and an agent for Lloyds.[vi] According to information supplied by Nick Leech author of The Lifeboat Service in Ireland, Station by Station the crew of the lifeboat didn’t get back to Duncannon until almost 9pm on the 14th, a 26 hr rescue. (Although this does not tally with the details I have, I’m also working to try piece together another rescue of the crew of the Stowell Brown. This may account for the discrepancy as this occurred at or around the same time). The crew of the Earl of Beaconsfield were subsequently transported to Waterford and then by the Clyde steamer Skerryvore directly to Glasgow.[vii]

An oil painting of the Lynmouth lifeboat Louisa, by artist Mark Myers.©RNLI. A contemporary craft of the Richard and Anne
A view of the scene from Fethard Dock recently. Authors collection.

Meanwhile, the Waterford Steam Navigation Co has dispatched the tug Dauntless (which a few years later would play such a courageous role in the failed attempt to save the crew of the Alfred D Snow) and the Duncannon steamer PS Tintern to salvage the wreck.  A telegram summoned the tugs Stormcock and Cruiser of the Liverpool Salvage Association too.  On arrival at the scene, the Waterford boats were met by a group of Kilmore fishermen who had rowed to the scene and carried out some work on the hatches to help maintain the ship.  An agreement was reached between the parties. The anchor cables were so taut from the strain they had endured that extra expertise had to be brought from the Neptune Ironworks in Waterford to release the anchors and then the long tow to Waterford commenced. [viii]   

The ship was towed to a safe anchorage at Buttermilk Castle. Having being unloaded and patched up, the Earl of Beaconsfield was subsequently brought back to the Clyde by the tug Stormcock, but this was not without incident.  For at 4 am on the 6th March both the tug and the barque each in turn collided with the schooner J M Stevens. The schooner subsequently sunk in the Firth of Clyde. The crew was saved having managed to scramble aboard the Earl of Beaconsfield.[ix]

Following repairs, the barque was again readied for San Francisco, and a report from the 12th May 1884 stated that “…She is commanded as formerly by Captain Kerr…and the entire crew, 33 in number, were engaged at Greenock….[she]… carries to the outport about 2,700 tons cargo, principally coal. She is despatched by Messrs T. Skinner Co., Glasgow“[x]

Having negotiated the southern ocean and rounded the Horn, the Earl of Beaconsfield caught fire in the pacific just weeks away from finally reaching San Francisco.  On the 13th of August, the cargo of coal combusted. The vessel was subsequently destroyed by fire in the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles west of Santiago, Chile.  The crew took to the lifeboat and were subsequently picked up by a passing vessel and landed at Valparaiso.  Amazingly, in recording the demise of the ship, a local paper recorded two other incidents with the ship and bad weather before she ever reached Wexford in February at all.  If ever there was a case of an unfortunate vessel, surely the Earl of Beaconsfield has earned the title.[xi]


I would like to thank David Carroll for his help with the details of the Duncannon lifeboat Richard & Anne for this story. David is busy finalising his history of the Dunmore East Lifeboat station, further details here.

My new book of maritime yarns and history is due to be published in the coming weeks. Published by the History Press it will be available from all good bookshops and online. If you would like to receive a signed copy by post please email me at tidesntales@gmail.com. I can also post as a present for Christmas or other occasions with a specific dedication. The cost incl P&P is €17 to anywhere in the world – I will send an e-invoice via Pay Pal which can be paid with an account or with any credit card.

Words the Sea Gave Us

I recently spotted a new book online called Words The Sea Gave Us, by Grace Tierney.  Now as a maritime blogger I had an instant, professional, interest in the topic.  But I have to admit, apart from being a book hoarder and with a weakness of not being able to pass up a good book, I didn’t really expect to learn a lot of new words or phrases from Grace.  I was, however, pleasantly surprised.

Grace has more than 370 words and phrases featured in the book and has neatly catagorised them into various chapters such as parts of a ship, sail names, crew titles, surfer slang, marine monsters, nautical navigation, flying the flag, and of course, scurvy pirates.  There’s also a really useful Index for fast finding a word.

As I read  I was instantly reminded of my childhood, reared as I was in a seafarers home.  Both my mother and father came from fishing and seafaring stock and my father, in particular, could never speak in a way other dads did.  The kitchen was the galley, the bed was a bunk and when we had to tidy up it was expected that everything would look “ship shape and Bristol fashion”.

As I had gone fishing from an early age other words and phrases were part of my everyday vocabulary; we had to go aft, turn to starboard, and not act the galoot!  If we were late we “slept our tide” and if we ran aground we risked being “marooned”.  All these phrases brought a smile to my face as I was reminded on each page, and often in each paragraph of familiar words and phrases.

But I was also surprised at the origins of some words that were part of my everyday.  I may know what they mean to communicate, but not the root of it.  Perhaps my greatest shock was the phrase Sweet Fanny Adams – or indeed Sweet FA, or Sweet Feck All.  We use it now to communicate nothing.  If we hauled our nets and they were empty we caught Sweet FA.  But according to Grace the origins of the phrase go back to a heinous crime committed against an 8year old girl named Fanny Adams who was murdered and chopped to pieces in 1867.  Royal navy sailors who were fed on cans of chopped up meat used the unfortunate incident as slang to describe their dislike for the canned meat stews they were forced to eat!  I’m not sure I want to use that phrase again.

As for Grace herself, she lives in NW Ireland, loves the outdoors, and has been blogging about the history of unusual words since 2009.  She has published two books on the topic, How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary, and now Words The Sea Gave Us.  I would highly recommend it.

Here’s a link to find out where to get a copy.  https://wordfoolery.wordpress.com/my-books/

Attack on HMS Brave Borderer

A guest post by Conor Donegan

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Irish Revolutionary period (1912-1923), is the degree to which counties, and often areas within counties, varied from each other in terms of levels of IRA activity. Waterford is perhaps one of the best examples of this trend, with the west of the county seeing intense fighting on par with other Munster counties, while the city and its eastern hinterland was largely quiet, due in no small part to its strong affinity with Redmondism. Consequently, Waterford’s reputation as a republican stronghold is usually regarded as weak when compared to the likes of say Cork or Tipperary. In September 1965, that perception briefly changed when an audacious attack was launched on a British warship in Waterford Harbour by three members of the South Kilkenny IRA; an incident that occurred 55 years ago on this day.

Between the end of the Border Campaign in 1962 and the eruption of the Troubles in 1968/1969, the IRA appeared to disappear off the radar as the republican movement turned towards socialist politics and the infiltration of civic organisations. Anglo-Irish relations appeared to be improving. Taoiseach Seán Lemass and Northern Prime Minister Terence O’Neill exchanged visits, and the British returned the remains of Roger Casement to be interred in Glasnevin.

In March 1963 Waterford Corporation passed a resolution reflecting this thaw in relations, expressing the belief that ‘…never during the past 700 years had the relations between Britain and Ireland been on a more friendly basis, whether taken on a governmental or individual basis’.[1] The four-day courtesy visit of the Royal Navy minesweeper St David to Waterford in 1961, including a civic reception hosted by Mayor John Griffin, was just one of several such visits to the City during the 1960s.[2] Scenes unimaginable just 20 years previously were now taking place on a regular basis, welcomed by Waterford’s civic and business leaders, but drawing the ire of local republicans.

A group of people posing for a photo

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Captain Thomas McKenna, Director of the Irish Naval Service, being piped aboard HMS Rocket during her visit to Waterford in 1962, one of several such visits to the City during the early 1960s (Source: Cork Examiner, 27 January 1962)

Richard Behal of Kilmacow, Co. Kilkenny had been a member of the IRA since the 1950s and had previously been involved in disturbing the visit of Princess Margaret to Abbeyleix Castle in January 1965.[3] Behal deplored the ‘re-familiarisation of the British armed forces in Ireland’, and sought permission from IRA Chief of Staff Cathal Goulding to launch an attack on the next such visit of a British warship to Waterford.[4] Permission was received and an opportunity presented itself when the HMS Brave Borderer arrived in the City on the 6th of September, accompanied by the usual civic reception.[5]

Behal, and his comrades Walter Dunphy of Mooncoin and Edward Kelly of Mullinavat, planned to fire on the motor torpedo boat from the riverside when she was scheduled to leave Waterford on the 10th. The Brave Borderer was one of two Brave-class fast patrol boats commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1960, the other being her sister, Brave Swordsman; with a maximum speed of 50 knots they were among the fastest naval vessels in the world at the time.[6]

A small boat in a body of water

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HMS BRAVE BORDERER, FIRST OF THE BRAVE CLASS FAST PATROL BOATS ACCEPTED FOR SERVICE BY THE ROYAL NAVY. JANUARY 1960, DURING TRIALS IN THE SOLENT. SHE WAS BUILT BY MESSRS VOSPERS LTD, AND HAS A TOP SPEED OF OVER 50 KNOTS. (A 34261) HMS BRAVE BORDERER, a fast patrol boat, during trials in the Solent, January 1960. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205164370

In a June 2018 interview, Behal stated that the aim of the attack was never to cause harm or worse to British sailors, but rather to make a protest against the increasing presence of the Royal Navy in Waterford, and what Behal and his comrades suspected was a prelude to Ireland’s accession to NATO.[7] The upcoming golden jubilee of the Easter Rising was also a motivating factor. Armed with an anti-tank gun retrieved from an arms dump in the Midlands, the three men set up position at Gyles Quay on the Kilkenny side of the river facing Little Island, early on the morning of the 10th of September.[8] A number of Garda foot patrols passed the men’s position along the railway line separating them from the Suir, indicating some anticipation of an attack on the part of the authorities.[9]

Present day photo showing the approximate location at Gyles Quay on the Kilkenny side of the river where the IRA were postioned
The black x shows the approximate location at Gyles Quay where the attack occurred (Ordnance Survey No. 76)

The quietness of the vessel’s jet propulsion engines caught the men by surprise, and Behal aimed for a position halfway between the deck and the waterline and about a third of the way back from her bow. He managed to fire two shots which pierced the hull, before the Brave Borderer accelerated to full speed in an attempt to escape the gunfire, without firing back.[10] Before she managed to round the bend in the river, Behal’s third shot hit one of her engines which caused the boat to veer erratically from side to side, and disappear down the Harbour in a cloud of smoke; such was the commotion caused by this third shot that Ned Kelly fully believed they had sunk her![11] The Brave Borderer eventually passed the Hook and made it to Torquay the following day; her refit lasted four months and cost several million pounds.[12] No casualties were reported.

Interview with Richard Behal, by Irish Republican Marxist History, 25 June 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGvDZviA0wY

Behal, Kelly and Dunphy were captured by Gardaí on the mudbanks close to the Barrow Bridge, and were remanded in custody in Waterford charged with ‘possessing firearms with intent to endanger life’.[13] Throughout the trial, demonstrations were regularly held at the courthouse in support of the men, and anti-British feelings ran high in the city. The Mayor at the time, and later TD, Patrick ‘Fad’ Browne was obliged to defend himself in front of a hostile crowd which had assembled at his house on Luke Wadding Street and thrown stones at his business a few doors down.[14]

The three men were each sentenced to nine months imprisonment, though Behal would make a daring escape from Limerick Prison in February 1966.[15] After another brief stint in prison in the 1970s, Behal served on the Ard Comhairle of Sinn Féin, addressed the General Assembly of the United States Human Rights Commission on behalf of the 1981 Hunger Strikers, and stood as a candidate in the 1984 European Parliament elections.[16] He currently lives in Killarney, Co. Kerry. Walter Dunphy still resides in his native South Kilkenny. Ned Kelly sadly passed away in 2011.

This fascinating incident, undoubtedly the last naval engagement in the Suir’s long and turbulent history, occurred 55 years ago on this day.

A close up of a newspaper

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Front page of the Munster Express on 1 October 1965 showing the demonstration outside Mayor Fad Browne’s house, in support of Behal, Dunphy and Kelly

Endnotes

  1. Ferriter, Diarmuid, The Transformation of Ireland 1900 – 2000, (Profile Books Ltd, London, 2005)
  2. Irish Independent, 10 August 1961
  3. Bell, J. Bowyer, The Secret Army: The IRA, (Transaction Publishers, New Jersey, 1997)
  4. Limerick Leader, 24 April 2010
  5. Cork Examiner, 7 September 1965
  6. www.iwm.org.uk
  7. Interview with Richard Behal, by Irish Republican Marxist History, 25 June 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGvDZviA0wY
  8. Ibid
  9. Ibid
  10. Ibid
  11. Ibid
  12. Evening Echo, 10 September 1965
  13. Ibid
  14. Munster Express, 1 October 1965
  15. Irish Times, 21 March 2016
  16. Nenagh Guardian, 26 May 1984