A heart-rending finale. The loss of 5 Dunmore East Coastguards.

On a blustery Thursday afternoon, January 27th 1869, five Coastguard men said goodbye to their wives and children before leaving their homes in Dunmore East and traveling to Waterford city.  The purpose was to collect a new lifeboat to be used at their station on the dangerous approach to the ports of Waterford and New Ross.  Two days later, on Saturday 29th those same families rushed down to the quay at Dunmore on the arrival of the pilot boat in a vain hope of news of their loved ones.  A local paper described the scene as a heart-rending finale to a terrible tragedy[i].  For the would-be rescuers had succumbed to the dangers posed by the harbour themselves.

The Coastguard presence in Ireland dated from 1822 with the amalgamation of several services into a single body under the control of the Board of Customs. Their role was principally to combat smuggling, but it also provided a life-saving element to seafarers from shipwrecks and attempted to protect the ships and the cargo too. For some interesting accounts of such rescues see David Carroll’s new book on the Dunmore East RNLI; Dauntless Courage[ii].

The Dunmore East Coastguard cottages at Dock Road. Although in Dunmore from the foundation of the service, the Buildings of Ireland website states that these cottages were built circa 1870. If accurate the Coastguards and their families were most likly renting in sorrounding houses. Photo courtesy of the Kennedy Family Collection.

I’m afraid I have no background information on the origins of the new lifeboat to be used, but I am sure it was as a consequence of the many rescues performed on the station since the foundation of the service in the village.  The new boat arrived in Waterford aboard the London steamer Vesta on the Saturday previous.[iii] (Elsewhere, Coastguards worked alongside rescue services such as the RNLI which was founded in 1824. Ironically enough a lifeboat station was founded later in 1869 at Duncannon, Co Wexford, very close to where the accident occured. The RNLI would eventually come to be based at Dunmore in 1884)

A description of the lifeboat was garnered from a number of newspaper accounts.  A sharp fore and aft craft, 25-28 feet long, very beamy, painted white, four oared and elsewhere mention of a tiller for steering.  The boat was built at Cowes, Isle of Wight.

The five crewmen who departed Dunmore East that day in 1869 were John Scott, Chief Boatman.  William Rogers, Carpenter.  John Baldwin, Commissioned boatman.  Edward Nash and Henry Stewart, Boatmen 

Although a later image, the Coastguard lifeboat was intended to be stored in the building to the left of the RNLI lifeboat house which was built in 1884 to house the Henry Dodd

After leaving Waterford Quay later that afternoon with their lifeboat in tow aboard the Duncannon paddle steamer Tintern, the crew decided to stay the night at Arthurstown, Co Wexford due to bad weather. The wind was blowing from the southeast and darkness was setting in. That night, heavy rain, wind, and spring tides caused flooding throughout the harbour. In Waterford City, it was considered the worst flooding in 30 years. The lifeboat was hauled out and the crew received a warm welcome from their colleagues at the local station.

Arthurstown, Co Wexford. Where the men stayed overnight, and where another Coastguard Station was located. Photo courtesy of Liam Ryan.

On the morning of Friday, January 29th, the weather was described as very unsettled with WSW winds. At 10am, the five men embarked in the open lifeboat for Dunmore on the ebb tide. The tides were strong, they were spring, and the rivers were swollen with fresh water. Matthew Shea, the officer in charge at Arthurstown, later testified that he had tried to stop the men from leaving, but John Scott overruled him.

A very short snippet showing the location at Arthurstown Quay and the estuary below. Its a calm morning in the video, far from the conditions the five Coastguard men set out in. At the end of the video Creaden Head, Co Waterford can be seen in the distance.

The next time the men were seen, it was when they were mistaken by the pilot launch Seagull as shipwrecked sailors.  The lifeboat was about a half-mile off Templetown on the Wexford shore, in a very dangerous spot.  (Another account states that they were closer to Creaden Head, but although that course would make sense, it is hard to tally with some accounts of the pilots of the attempted rescue).  The Seagull set a course for the vessel, while the crew of pilots readied a tow rope.

As the waters were shallow, and the pilot cutter had only sails for propulsion extreme caution was required in getting alongside.  The Seagull drew ten feet of water, and any misjudgment could cause her to strike the bottom.  Getting as close as they dared, they hailed the coastguard men, well known to them as they were all based in Dunmore.  The coastguard men, however, refused their offer of assistance and waved them away.  Evidence was later given that they banged the side of their boat in a show of confidence in the lifeboat’s ability. 

Given the weather and the shallow draft, the Seagull had to move off.  However having only traveled a short distance, a wave struck the lifeboat and two of the crew were propelled into the sea.  The Seagull came around in a vain effort to reach the scene.  As she approached she was struck by several seas and half-filled.  At around the same time, the lifeboat overturned and the three others aboard were lost to the sea.  It was as much as the Seagull and her crew could do to get themselves back out of danger. Arriving at Passage East later, the Pilot Station communicated the news by telegraph.  On Saturday 30th John Scott’s body was found washed up on Duncannon strand by a young man named Furlong and was later interred at Killea, Dunmore East.

An image of the pilot cutter Seagull, via Richard Woodley.

The inquest into the discovery of Scott’s body was held in Duncannon on Monday 1st February.  The hearing was led by coroner Mr RB Ryan and a jury of which Captain Samuel D Bartlett was foreman. (Bartlett was captain of the PS Tintern, and owned a local hotel)  Scott’s body was identified by Matthew Shea, the acting Chief Officer at Arthurstown.  He described the morning of departure and how he had tried to prevent the crew from setting out but was overruled by Scott who pointed out that he was Chief boatman in charge with 18 years of experience and “knew his business”.  Shea also clarified that the men “…appeared to him to be perfectly sober and steady at the time” Patrick Rodgers of the Seagull gave evidence of the pilot’s interaction which although more cautious in its description, is close to much of the reportage of the newspapers of the event.  The jury found that Scott had used bad judgment in proceeding that morning to Dunmore East, and also for refusing the help of the pilots.  They also found that the men should have been provided with cork life vests before boarding the vessel.[iv]

It would be March before two other crew were washed ashore.  John Baldwin’s body would be found at Bunmahon, while the body of Henry Stewart was washed up at Ardmore.  From what I could glean from the account it suggests that Baldwin was brought back to Dunmore for burial while Stewart was interred at Ardmore.[v] 

Meanwhile the public was asked to make subscriptions to help the bereaved families and most of the leading business and civic leaders of the city and county lent their names to the campaign.  All had left behind families.  John Scott left a widow and daughter, William Rogers left a widow and three children, Edward Nash left a widow and two children, and Henry Stewart left a widow and one child. John Baldwin had left a widow and eight children.  His unnamed wife was said to be pregnant and soon expecting a ninth child.[vi] 

Post Publication Pete Goulding sent this snippet on. John Baldwin’s wife was named Mary Ann, and her unborn son was later named Fredrick William Baldwin.
Waterford Mail - Wednesday 10 February 1869; page 2
An article appealing for public subscriptions to assist the widows and children on the Coastguard men. Waterford Mail – Wednesday 10 February 1869; page 2

The men of the Coastguard service were very often veterans of the Royal Navy.  At this stage, the Coastguards (Which had come under the command of the Admiralty from 1856) were also acting as a naval reserve that sought to attract local fishermen and seafarers. This might account for some very familiar surnames amongst the dead. These men were surely used to the sea, to boats, and to dealing with weather extremes.  But the sea can never be taken for granted.  We can never know what was in their minds in choosing to set out that morning, but it was foolhardy indeed to reject the help of the pilot men of Seagull.  Whatever their motives, they lived only a short while to regret them, another five victims to the graveyard of a thousand ships and countless innocent souls.

I want to thank David Carroll, Brendan Dunne, Michael Kennedy, Walter Foley, and Liam Ryan for some observations and assistance with this story. All errors and omissions are my own.

I had to blend a number of accounts into one paragraph to try to make the story coherent and as such, I struggled to reference all the various details. The story comes from the references identified and also.  Wexford Constitution – Saturday 06 February 1869; page 2&3.  Waterford Mail – Friday 29 January 1869; page 2 & Waterford News – Friday 29 January 1869; page 2


[i] Waterford Mail – Monday 01 February 1869; page 2

[ii] Carroll D.  Dauntless Courage: Celebrating the history of the RNLI lifeboats, their crews and the maritime heritage of the Dunmore East Community.  2020. DVF Print & Graphics.  Waterford. Pp21-24

[iii] Waterford Standard.  Saturday 30 January 1869; page 2.  I searched numerous newspapers for this detail, and most mention the London Steamer whilst others mention that she arrived earlier that week, or many that she arrived on Thursday 28th.  It’s just an interesting snippet that I was keen to capture, but offer with caution.

[iv] Wexford Independent – Saturday 06 February 1869; page 2

[v] The Standard and Waterford Conservative Gazette – Saturday Morning, 20 March 1869

[vi] Waterford News – Friday 19 February 1869; page 6

Review of Decies 2021 – Celebrating a rich maritime tradition in Waterford

Decies is the Journal of the Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society and is published in November each year.  This years edition, #76, is packed with the usual high quality content but for those with a maritime history interest, it’s a particularly rich edition.

The Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society organises a series of lectures from September to May and a series of outings to places of historical interest during the summer months. The Annual Subscription is €25. This fee entitles the member to admission to the lectures and outings as a copy of the annual journal.

Front cover of this years Decies, a streetscape by artist Ken Smith
Contents page of this years Journal

To be honest, because Waterford was such an important sea port and has been so heavily influenced by the sea, it could be argued that almost every article is either directly, or indirectly associated with a maritime connection.  Pat Deegan’s synopsis of the Russian Canons in the Peoples Park for example highlights the international connections between the city and the realm in the 19th Century, the man who secured the canon, John A Blake, went on to play a significant role in British parliament including the fishery portfolio.  Denny meats owed its very existence to the export and provisioning trade based in the city and is very comprehensively captured by John M Hearne.

Others of course are very directly associated with the maritime sphere.  The wonderful energy and vitality of Christina Knight O’Connor explores the Viking age around Dungarvan through an examination of placenames, while Ivan Fitzgerald gives a very comprehensive and readable account of the siting of the Metal Man at Tramore and the pillars on Newtown Head and Brownstown.  My good friend and History Press stablemate, Cian Manning gives us a review of Mary Breen’s fine work: Waterford Port and Harbour 1815-42 giving a fascinating insight into the founding or the Harbour Commissioners and the early years of development.

UC 44 at Dunmore East 1917

But I suppose my favourite article must be Conor Donegan’s 1917: U Boats on the Waterford Coast.  It’s not just that Conor is a young man, still studying and finding his way in the world.  And not just that he is a fellow harbour native, from Dunmore East.  And not that he has guest blogged for us before.  All this of course and more.  For his account runs for almost 20 pages and gives a detailed and fascinating insight into the life and times of the harbour in an era of immense conflict and terror. He showcases the intrigue and barbarity of that particular year, locates Waterford as a central factor in the story, and does a great service to his native county in doing so. 

Waterford and our maritime heritage deserve a wider understanding and appreciation and this year’s Decies certainly does that task some service.  Peigí Devlin and her team of young and enthusiastic shipmates deserve great praise.  Well done to all involved.

Copies are available for €20 online through the Book Centre in Waterford.

Back issues of Decies are available online

My appearance on RTE Seascapes

On Friday 16th April I appeared on Seascapes, the RTÉ Radio 1 maritime programme with Fergal Keane. Fergal very kindly interviewed me about my book Waterford Harbour Tides and Tales. We covered the background to my blogging and writing, discussed the importance of Waterford as a port, and finished with the story of the Portlairge. If you would like to listen back the link is below.

https://www.rte.ie/radio/radioplayer/html5/#/radio1/11298779

Back as normal on the last Friday of the month.

Vaccine rollout welcomed in the Russianside

I’m delighted to be able to announce that all the residents of the Russianside, Cheekpoint, Co Waterford will receive the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 later this morning. Due to diplomatic considerations, a media blackout was insisted upon until now by both the Russian embassy and the Irish Dept of Foreign Affairs.

As most blog regulars will know, the small community of Russiansiders, here in the village of Cheekpoint, Co Waterford owe the origins of the placename to a shipwreck of many years past. The Russian sailors were taken in by the community, and those that died were buried on the local strand.

The event was largely forgotten after the Russian revolution, but in recent years with a change in political leadership and the effort locally to revive an awareness in the story, stronger links have been forged between the country and the small rural community.

In recent weeks the Russian embassy contacted local resident Kate Cunningham, a leading member of Busy Fingers, the Knitting and Crochet circle. As a gesture of solidarity between the Russian State and the community, Kate was asked to liaise with her neighbours, and in strict confidence test the waters as to the willingness to accept the offer.

Although some concerns were expressed about this being a publicity stunt, the offer was overwhelmingly accepted due to the ongoing shortages of other products. Specific guidelines have had to be accepted, including the media silence. However, it is with great expectation that we look forward to the vaccine rollout this morning. A large media gathering is expected and strict access to the Russianside will have to be observed. I look forward to posting pictures later today.

Update: The Gardai have already set up a checkpoint at the village cross roads