Egeria – A True Story of Shipwreck

By Dorothy McMahan

With excerpts from On Shipboard by Anne Starrett Craig

Information gathered by Dorothy McMahan and Chuck McMahan

Olivia Murray, a page regular with a family connection to the Waterford coast, brought this guest blog to my attention. The story is one of those wonderful accounts that can be so easily lost, or remain as a footnote in history unless someone, very often a family member, has the resolve to go out and do the hard digging. Mind you in this case it’s generations of family. I am indebted to the kindness and generosity of Dorothy and Chuck McMahan for what you are about to read. It offers a unique glimpse into one human story and how it impacts a family, just one of thousands associated with wrecks that have happened along the Waterford coastline in days past.

This is a true story that needs to be preserved in the annals for the descendants of Captain Henry A. Starrett. Our knowledge of the factual information of the story has been expanding over almost 150 years and over four generations. As I retell it here I will add the various chapters in the chronological order in which they unfolded, beginning with the oral history as I heard it in my childhood and beyond.

The best way to begin is by quoting from my grandmother Anne Starrett Craig’s booklet of her memories of life On Shipboard with her parents, Captain Henry and Ellen “Nellie” Starrett. This is basically the oral history with which I grew up living in the same household
with her in Belfast. We children heard many other stories of her childhood but this is the one we most vividly remember.

…While the ship {was in port}…my mother and I usually managed a visit to the small New England town which we called “home”, because there my mother’s relatives lived, with their latch-string always out to us. One autumn it was decided that we should spend the winter there, my father making the trip to Liverpool without us. My first taste of school and of a New England winter was a pleasant adventure to me. But my father’s adventure was the most disastrous of his life as a sea captain. In late November there came to us from the owners of our bark, “Egeria”, a telegram; “Cable dispatch. Egeria totally lost. Captain Safe at Waterford. No particulars.”

The particulars, which came to us later, were these–Off the Irish coast in storm and fog the vessel had been driven ashore in spite of all that could be done. The anchors would not hold. The shore was sheer rock. The ship at the last was thrown by each oncoming breaker against a high detached boulder—some of the men had already been washed overboard. My father saw only one possibility of escape –to jump onto that rock as the ship was dashed against it. He watched his chance, and succeeded in keeping his footing on the rock. The little group of men set up a cheer an one by one they followed his lead. But even then they found themselves far from safe—on an isolated rock, with the tide rising toward them and the fog still dense. If only the fog would lift!

And it did lift, and the vigilant coast guards, ever on the look-out for ship-wrecked sailors, saw these men in distress. They shot them a line, and soon were able to bring them all safe to shore. Not long afterward the tide had completely covered the rock on which the men had stood. My father reached home just in season to join the large family gathering about the Christmas tree. And the next fall saw us sailing again, on a long voyage this time, bound around Cape Horn for San Francisco. We were all going, including my small brother.
On Shipboard
Anne Starrett Craig
Published by Courier-Gazette, For Farnsworth Museum, Rockland, ME 1961

It would be well to digress here and relate a few facts about those “relatives” Anne mentions. The “small New England town” is Belfast. The “relatives” were the Peirce family, a prominent Belfast family in those days. Nellie Starrett’s sister, Maria, was the wife of Hiram Peirce. Their house stood approximately where the present Belfast Area High School is now located. There were several other Peirce families in the neighborhood. I have always understood that the Christmas gathering in Anne’s memories took place in the large brick house on High Street opposite the end of John Street.

It was with Hiram and Maria that Anne and her mother were staying through this winter of 1871. Hiram was quite an entrepreneur with several business operations in the town. Possibly the most innovative was an electrical generating plant at the mouth of Goose River in East Belfast. Evidence of this is still visible from Searsport Avenue, and the property between the shore and the road is presently owned by Central Maine Power Co. Hiram also owned a mill on Goose River on Swan Lake Avenue. The present Mill Lane is a connecting road between Searsport Avenue and Swan Lake Avenue and would have been a link between the two businesses.

Shipyards at Belfast, Maine 1905. Accessed from Wikipedia public domain

Before we leave the Peirce family it is important for the family story to understand that the family name Peirce, spelled E before I is pronounced to rhyme with ‘nurse’ or ‘purse’. Far be it for me to commit the error of pronouncing it otherwise. However in the present time, it has been changed in many places to the more common Pierce. It seems to be erroneously so in Grove Cemetery Interment records. One landmark that holds true to the original is the Peirce School on Church Street, founded by the estate of one Lena Peirce and named for her.

Moving forward, we leave the 1800s and jump into the electronic age of the 1990s. My five years of work with the Starrett papers at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport yielded new insight into many of the stories I had grown up with. My computer spot was in the stacks looking down over the library offices and if I stretched my neck I could catch a glimpse of Captain Starrett’s model of the Frank N. Thayer. Finding bits of information often had me laughing loudly enough to catch the attention of those below. Imagine my delight at finding ‘bird seed’ among the stores put on board for one long voyage. Grandma Craig’s telling of her canary came to life. The loan of a fire pump to a coal-carrying vessel on fire in the Pacific was well documented as the loan was repaid later in port. The news was that the vessel had survived the fire and made it to port.

The Model of the Frank N Theyer: Image courtesy of the Penobscot Marine Museum, PMM Image # 2008.1.

But the most rewarding of all came when I discovered papers regarding the wreck of the Egeria. Up until then, we had only known that it was near Waterford, on the Irish coast. Here was a copy of a letter from Captain Starrett to the owners dated Nov. 22, 1871, saying that he would be going back to Ballymacaw in the morning to arrange for the sale of the Egeria and cargo – a salvage operation. There was also an invoice for new clothing (a pretty complete wardrobe!) as well as other letters concerning drawings of the wreck. A flyer advertising a steamship offering passage from Cork to New York was a clue as to Captain Starrett’s return across the Atlantic.

Missing were the usual papers concerning the details of leaving a port and arriving at a new port. From these papers, it is possible to establish the dates of leaving and of entry. These would have been in the cabin on board so of course were lost with the sinking of the Egeria. No mention of what the cargo consisted of was present.

Sadly, also gone were Captain Starrett’s charts. These can be used to establish dates of departure and reach a destination. In those days charts were usually the property of the captain and represent a substantial outlay of funds.

So then we knew the destination of the voyage was Liverpool according to Anne’s writing, the date of the wreck, and the exact location. It might be presumed that they had not had time enough to reach Liverpool and be on a return voyage, given the usual time spent off-loading and loading new cargo, whatever that cargo might have been but not much more.

Enter once more the electronic era. My son Chuck and I searched and found a website maintained by a family who actually spent vacations in Ballymacaw in the very buildings of the Coastguard men who rescued the Egeria crew. We corresponded by e-mail, saw photos, and learned more about the area. They had access to the Coastguard records and we were able to match our knowledge with the dates and information in those records. It is a beautiful area but a truly forbidding coast – sheer rock as Anne says. All this was exciting and brought the story to life in a really wonderful way. But then the website was taken down and we were without answers once again.

Recently Chuck has once again made contact with the originator of the website through Facebook. He has learned more about Ballymacaw. Through her, he found the following news item from the Irish Times of Nov. 22, 1871.

An excerpt from the Irish Times of the tragic loss of five lives and the rescue of many more. Sourced from Olivia Murray.

At last! So many questions were answered. The cargo was flour which may be how the inlet came to be known colloquially as “Flour Hole.” She inward bound for Liverpool and departed from Boston in September, about two months crossing the North Atlantic. One has to wonder what happened to the eight other men who survived. Were they able to find other berths? And who notified the families of the men washed overboard? But for us, it puts to rest so many questions we had wondered about over the years.

The Flour Hole, Ballymacaw, Waterford. Photo Chuck McMahan
Olivia’s cousin Jimmy Nolan gave us an intimate guide to the Flour Hole. Photo Chuck McMahan
We imagine this is the rock that the crew lept to and were rescued from. Photo Chuck McMahan

To return to Anne’s booklet – she closes this story with the sentence “We were all going including my small brother.” The “small brother” obviously arrived during the winter or spring. The women in our family have been known to speculate that Nellie, having given birth in a ship’s cabin once, did not care to repeat the experience. Anne was born in Singapore harbor in April 1865. Her brother, Francis (Frank), was born in Belfast in May 1872, in a comfortable house with friends and family to offer help.

But what if that decision had not been made in the autumn of 1871? If Nellie and Anne had been on board the Egeria, would they have been able to jump to the rock? Would Henry have jumped himself? Would the men have jumped if their Captain had not shown that it was possible? So many unanswered questions! However, if the answers to any of the above had been “no,” I would not be writing and you would not be reading this story.

What we do know is that Captain Starrett spent the early months of 1872 raising money to buy shares in another vessel. It was customary in those days for a captain to own at least a small part of the vessel. Without easy communication between ports on opposite sides of the oceans, it was an incentive for a captain to share in the profits or losses that the vessel might incur. He needed to make good business decisions on his own.

However, he was able to raise the funds and the voyage Anne speaks of was on the Frank N. Thayer. They were six months from leaving New York on September 9, 1872 (per the date on the ‘Crew List’) to arrival in San Francisco on March 3, 1873 (per ‘Inward Pilotage’ receipt).

The model that Captain Starrett built is of the Frank N. Thayer which is presently in the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport. The family oral history says that both Nellie and Anne helped to create parts of the rigging and the tiny American flag that used to fly from the masthead.

The late Elizabeth “Libby” Mills, sister of  (Right) Dorothy “Dot” McMahan.   The two grew up in the house in Belfast with their brother Edward..  Libby just finished a lifelong project of transcribing and publishing her Great-grandmother Nellie’s journal from Nellie’s first two years at sea, known as Nellie’s Diary.  Limited private publication.  More information on that project is here Photo Marti Stone
Dorothy (Dot) with the oldest and youngest of her seven grandchildren, Rebecca McMahan-Leyva, and Robin McMahan. Photo Marti Stone

Over the years I have tried to picture Henry’s homecoming and “the family gathering around the Christmas tree.” Was it a total surprise or did they have enough communication to know that he was on his way? Who got the first and biggest hug? There must have been both tears and laughter with the sheer relief that he was safely home. We know that there were to be twelve more years of voyages with his beloved family aboard before his retirement from the sea in 1884 to settle in Belfast in the house where my mother and then my siblings and I grew up and where we heard all these stories and more from our grandmother, Anne Starrett Craig.

Dorothy (Dot) McMahan Photo: Marti Stone

My thanks again to Dorothy and Chuck for allowing us this truly unique glimpse into their family archive and putting flesh on the bones as it were of a shipwreck and a coastal placename. Thanks also to Olivia Murray for the assistance. I am open to publishing guest blogs from time to time – once they help to promote and preserve the maritime and fishing history of the community.

Post Publication edit. This story was published on the 5th of September on the occasion of Dorothy’s 98th Birthday. Despite her ill health her son Chuck said she was thrilled to see the story published. Dorothy later passed away on the 25th of September. But her story of the Egeria lives on here now, as will her memory for all her loved ones. Thanks to Chuck and Dorothy for sharing this, and Rest in Peace Dorothy.

The Bannow Bay Ghost Ship

The Irish newspapers of Christmas 1831 were alight with speculation after a ship sailed onto the sand banks of Bannow, Co Wexford with no crew. Aboard was a full cargo, some blood-stained clothing, a box of silver dollars and a dog.  The ship was the La Bonne Julie of France and here’s what I could find of her story.     

The morning of Thursday 15th December 1831 dawned dry and bright on the SW Wexford coast after a storm that blew the previous day had passed off.  Off Baginbun the people of Bannow Bay observed a three-masted (barque from most accounts) sailing vessel, sails set and apparently on an eastern course.  But there was something in the direction of the vessel that caused concern and as the morning wore on, the people onshore became increasingly worried.  They waved clothing and raised their voices in warning, for it seemed the crew of the ship were unaware of their proximity to shore.

Bannow Bay, Co Wexford. From reading newspaper accounts it seems to me most likely it struck where the cursor in the photo is pointing or slightly to the east (right) of this

Speculation must have been rife.  Was the crew asleep, drunk or was it something more sinister?  As the day went on the ship came closer and yet no answer was given from the ship.  Eventually, she grounded on soft sand on a bar at a location that is not exactly specified. Bannow Bay is mentioned in one report, Bannow Island in another. The map above may give a sense of the location, but I’m open to correction.

A crew of the local coastguard (I’m guessing her that it was Fethard as again it is not made clear) (Additional info post publication. Mick Byrne was of the opinion that it was most likely the “Bar O the Lough” coastguard unit at Cullenstown, they had a boathouse nearby) set out by boat to investigate the grounding, and boarding they were greeted with a mysterious scene.  The only living thing aboard was a brown coloured pointer dog.  The ship had a full cargo of fish and fish oil and it was speculated initially that it had sailed from Newfoundland, but the ship’s log later proved this to be incorrect.  The ship was the La Bonne Julie (most newspapers called her Le Belle Julie) of Bordeaux.  She had sailed from her home port some weeks previous en route to Dunkirk with a 13 man crew. 

I’m part of Team Dunmore East working to raise sponsorship for the local Lifeboat. Details of our efforts and how to support are in the link

Of her crew there was now no sign.  A box of dollars was discovered along with the ship’s log and papers.  Some bloodstained clothing was found in a sailors bunk.  But otherwise everything seemed as it should be aboard.  News of the mystery spread and speculation was widespread.  The fact that earlier reports stated the ship was in perfect order only added to the confusion.

The view from Baginbun looking east

However, later reports mentioned some damage to the vessel.  One report had the following to say “the main sheet had been carried away, and was lying over her side in the water. The iron stay or traveller had snapt [sic], it is supposed, and she got a dreadful lurch so that a sea-washed the entire crew overboard…”[i]  The conclusion about the crew was highly unlikely I would think.

The same report carried the news that the Coastguard had removed all clothing, bedding etc from the ship and had burned it on the beach, despite the “…  entreaties of the many poor who came from all parts to get what they could…”  The inference here was the tradition of locals taking what materials they found from shipwrecks as rightful salvage for their own use.  The authority’s concern however seems to have been a fear of Cholera which was then rife. 

A sense of how a barque is rigged, but I think this ship much bigger a vessel, the three masted barque Rona 1900. Accessed from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Three-masted_barque_RONA_under_sail_(8672996385).jpg

The report continues to describe how the cargo had been removed and put into bonded stores in Wexford.  The Coastguard were doing this on the basis of The Crown and the Lord of the Soil, a rule of salvage giving the legal owners of the ships manifest a claim to their goods.  If none came forward the salvors could claim, or the landlord of the land on which the ship had grounded.  Although it would appear that such matters were never that simple.

As I mentioned at the outset theories into the ship and its missing crew were vividly described in the newspaper reportage of the time.  Such Ghost Ships during the days of sail were a common enough occurrence, and in many circumstances a crew abandoned the ship, oftentimes in a hurry, leaving all their belongings behind.  The weather had been bad the day and night before the ship was discovered.  Perhaps her crew did abandon the ship and were in turn lost themselves?  I found no reports of bodies being washed up at the time or in the subsequent weeks, however. 

Cholera was also considered.  Having left Bordeaux where the illness was then widespread, did some of the crew bring it aboard.  Did they perish, one by one, to be buried at sea until no one remained?  But who would have thrown the last man to die overboard?  The illness was rapid and a feature was the weakened condition of the ill. 

An attack was also speculated.  Some wondered had the ship carried some treasure, like the locally fabled Earl of Sandwich when four of the crew turned pirate, murdered their shipmates, and left with a treasure.  It’s a story featured in my latest book. One report, which was widely reprinted in numerous newspapers, told of an incident at a pub in the Faythe in Wexford Town.  The “respectable and intelligent publican” noticed two foreign sailors entering his bar in the early hours and observed that one was armed with a bayonet, seemingly of French origin.  Challenging the sailors, they hurriedly withdrew.[ii]  If the sailors had turned on their crewmates, however, why would they have left the box of dollars behind?

A video that gives a great sense of the location

The wreck of the La Bonne Julie was later auctioned as a derelict, suggesting that she never moved from the sand bar in the shallow waters of Bannow Bay.  A report in the Waterford Mail stated that  “A survey has been held on the hull, which was found in such a bad state to be pronounced not seaworthy”[iii] This description is at variance to the following advert however.

Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent Tuesday 30th January 1832. Page 2. BNA.

The cargo and value of the ship and what was sold all wound up in the Admiralty court. And over many weeks and months in the following year various hearings took place to decide on the vexatious matter of salvage rights and who was entitled to it.  I can’t pretend to have followed it. There seems to have been some doubt into the legal owners of the ship in the court and these “alleged owners” were not willing to pay salvage over to the Coastguard men who had boarded the ship that day in Bannow.  Two are mentioned in the reports I saw, Nobel and Doyle*.  At issue was that the “alleged owners” felt that the Coastguard were paid for their work and as such this should preclude them from any claim.  This was hotly contested.   There was also mention of a merchant named George Beale who felt entitled to a share. In this situation, it was again argued that no payment be made.  At court it was stated that “…owners must be satisfied of the name of every man engaged, the time employed, and the price per day paid…”[iv]  There were some further pieces in the papers, but I could not find a conclusion.

I could find no further information as yet about the La Bonne Julie and as such I will have to leave it as just another one of those perplexing mysteries of the sea.  My own opinion is that her crew abandoned ship and that their decision was the wrong one.  It’s ironic that the crew in their haste left what was supposed to be man’s best friend behind. Ultimately the one living creature that stayed aboard had better luck.  The pointer dog was taken in by the local landlord, Boyce.  Hopefully he had a long and happy life thereafter.

Next Months blog brings me to Dunmore East, and a story of the Italian salvage operators from the 1930s.

The new book cover which includes the blending of two images, the building of Dunmore East pier and the city dredger, Portlairge from an original image by Jonathan Allen.

[i] Newry Telegraph – Tuesday 27 December 1831; page 4

[ii] Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent – Saturday 31 December 1831; page 4

[iii] Waterford Mail – Wednesday 28 December 1831; page 4

[iv] Dublin Observer – Sunday 04 March 1832; page 3

*Olivia Murrey left me a note on facebook to sat that Edward Nobel was Chief Officer at the Bar of Lough coastguard unti from 1829-1835. However there was no Doyle on the station or any adjacent station

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

Ardmore’s Fr O’Shea to the Rescue

A guest blog by David Carroll

In 2024, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution will be celebrating two hundred years of saving lives of sea.  The Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was founded in London on March 4th, 1824 by Sir William Hillary. On October 5th, 1854, the name was changed to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution – the RNLI – as it is still known today and still adhering rigidly to the same noble principles since 1824.

In 1924, there were eight men alive who had received Gold Medals in the first century of the Institution for gallantry and conspicuous service in saving life from shipwreck. Of the eight, five of them were English, two Irish and one Welsh. The eight were invited to attend the Centenary Dinner and other celebrations in London, as the guests of the Institution. Seven of the eight were able to attend. The one person unable to attend, due to ill health, was Reverend Father John O’Shea, who was at time was a curate serving in the parish of Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary. Father O’Shea was from Lismore, County Waterford. He was educated at Mount Melleray Abbey, on the slopes of the Knockmealdown Mountains, near Cappoquin. His census returns in 1911 showed that he had been born in Australia.

On St. Patrick’s Day, Friday, March 17th, 1911, the wind freshened from the South East and soon it was blowing a full gale. Teaser, a schooner, registered in Montrose, Scotland of 79 tons register, owned by a Mr. John Hewitt of Connah’s Quay, Flintshire, North Wales, left Swansea on Tuesday, March 14th, 1911. She was bound for Killorglin in Dingle Bay with a cargo of coal and called in at Milford Haven which she left on Thursday, 16th, March. The Teaser had been built at Perth in Scotland in 1864.  She carried a crew of three: Master Thomas Hughes, from Connah’s Quay, a mate called Fox and an ordinary seaman Walsh.

Photo of Fr O’Shea courtesy of https://www.ardmorewaterford.com/heroes-of-the-teaser/

On Saturday morning, March 18th, Teaser got into difficulties and was unable to shorten sail and was soon driven ashore on the Black Rocks at Curragh (to the east of the village of Ardmore, Co Waterford).

The Gold Medal of the RNLI, which is a much-coveted distinction, only bestowed for deeds of exceptional valour, was awarded to the Reverend Father John M O’Shea, curate at Ardmore, who, with others, made a noble attempt to save the crew of the ill-fated Teaser. Attempts were promptly made to summon the nearest lifeboat, stationed at Helvick but owing to the storm the telephonic communication failed, and by the time the boat reached the scene all that was possible had been done by a gallant band of men at Ardmore.

As soon as the local Coastguard observed the vessel, the rocket apparatus was dispatched to the nearest spot. The coastguards, with skill, succeeded in throwing rocket lines over the wrecked vessel. The crew were, however, so exhausted by exposure and so numbed with cold that they could not make use of the lines.

Seeing that the unfortunate men were unable to help themselves, Petty Officer Richard Barry, and Alexander Neal, of the Coastguard, regardless of the danger which they ran, plunged into the icy sea, and attempted to swim to the vessel, but the heavy seas were too much for them, and they were beaten back to the shore.

The Teaser on her beam end after the tragedy. Photo courtesy of Andy Kelly.

It was then that Father O’Shea, seeing that their efforts were unavailing, remembered that there was a fisherman’s open boat nearly a mile away. He gathered a willing band of volunteers, who with him went for the boat, and by dint of great exertions, they got it to the scene of the wreck.  

Father O’Shea put on a lifebelt and called to the crowd for a crew. The men of Ardmore answered the call without hesitation, knowing that to get into an open boat in such appalling weather would have daunted the bravest man.  But these gallant men had answered many a call and this was to be no exception. Coastguards Barry and Neal, Constable Daniel Lawton of the Royal Irish Constabulary, William Harris, keeper of the Ardmore Hotel, Patrick Power, a farmer, John O’Brien, a boatman and Cornelius O’Brien, another local farmer, formed a crew.

With the crew of seven men and Father O’Shea in command, the little boat put to sea. These brave men were at very great risk – the risk on one hand of the heavy sea running and the rocks, and on the other of being dashed against the ship – but they succeeded in boarding the Teaser. Two of the crew were, however, beyond all aid, and the other man succumbed soon afterwards despite everything possible being done for him, both on board the wreck and later ashore. Father O’Shea administered the last rites to them. Whilst the men were on board the vessel, Coastguard Neal collapsed from exhaustion, and artificial respiration had to be used to restore him.

Unfortunately, the gallant and heroic efforts of the men of Ardmore failed as the crew of the Teaser died before they could get them ashore. Doctor Foley and many willing hands onshore did all that was humanly possible for the crew but without avail.

The Lifeboat, journal of the RNLI, Volume XX1, No. 241, August 1st, 1911 reported as follows:

“The efforts made on this occasion were characterised by exceptional courage, and the Committee of the Institution were satisfied that the gallant and continued attempts at rescue were due to the noble example and initiative displayed by Father O’Shea. They therefore decided to award him the Gold Medal of the Institution and a copy of the Vote of Thanks on vellum. They also granted the following awards— To Richard Barry, Petty Officer Coastguard, and to Alexander Neal, Leading Boatman Coastguard, who attempted to swim off to the vessel, and afterwards boarded her at great risk, the Silver Medal and £5 each and a copy of the Vote of Thanks on vellum. To Mr. William Harris, who boarded the vessel at great risk, a binocular glass, and a copy of the Vote of Thanks on vellum. To Constable Law, R.I.C. who also boarded the wreck at great risk, £5 and a copy of the Vote of Thanks on vellum. To Pat Power, Con O’Brien, and John O’Brien, who went out in the boat but did not board the wreck, £7- 10s. each.

When the decision of the Committee of Management was made known, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Aberdeen, very kindly consented to present the various rewards.

Arrangements were made for the men to travel to Dublin, and at Ballsbridge, where an exhibition was in progress, his Excellency, accompanied by Lady Aberdeen, made the presentation in the presence of many hundreds of people. His Excellency, who was cordially received, said they had met there that day to render honour where honour was most assuredly due. To celebrate a deed of valour and heroism was something worthy, and beneficial not only to those to whom homage was offered, but also to those who took part in such proceedings. The story of the event which had brought them there had already been narrated, but they could not too often be reminded of the splendid achievement and the noble efforts which they were there to commemorate and to acclaim. That deed furnished a noble example. But they must remember that such deeds meant more than courage and determination now. They meant that there was the quality and the attitude of the brain, and the good principles of life which were tested in time of emergency. These men were not found wanting but covered themselves with glory and distinction. Those brave rescuers had already been honoured by the King, but they who were assembled there that day were behind none in the heartiness with which they saluted them and asked them to accept the tokens offered by the RNLI as a lasting memento of the feelings of appreciation and grateful thanks for the example and the encouragement given to all those present, who would be stimulated by the admirable conduct of these men. (Applause.)

His Excellency then presented the awards, and her Excellency pinned the medals on the breasts of the recipients. The Rev. Father O’Shea, having expressed deep gratitude on behalf of himself and his companions, paid a high tribute to the men who had assisted him. Lieutenant W. G. Rigg, R.N., as representative of the Institution, cordially thanked Lord and Lady Aberdeen for their kindness, and the ceremony terminated.”

The medal presentation ceremony took place on Monday, May 29th, 1911 at the ‘Uí Breasail’ Exhibition, which was held in Ballsbridge, Dublin from May 24th to June 7th. It was attended during that time by 170,000 people. The Exhibition, with a sub-title of “The Great Health, Industrial and Agricultural Show’ was strongly supported by Lady Aberdeen. The title ‘Uí Breasail’ was taken from a poem by Gerald Griffin of the same name, meaning the ‘Isle of the Blest’. The poem speaks of a wonderful mythical island seen by St Brendan on one of his voyages.

Earlier on May 2nd, 1911, Father O’Shea and the party of Ardmore men were decorated by King George V at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace when he presented them with the Silver Medal for gallantry awarded by the Board of Trade.

The Carnegie Hero Fund Trust awarded its highest award – a Gold Watch to Father O’Shea.

On December 12th,1912, less than two years later, the steel barque Maréchal de Noailles of Nantes in France, departed from Glasgow for New Caledonia, a French Penal Island in the South Pacific, with a cargo of coal, coke, limestone, and railway materials.  It was an eventful start to the voyage, with delays and bad weather, and on January 15th, 1913, the vessel was close to Ballycotton, Co Cork, when the wind strengthened. The Master, Captain Huet, fired distress signals; eventually the ship was blown ashore three hundred yards west of Mine Head in County Waterford, not far from Ardmore.  Father O’Shea was very much to the fore in the safe rescue of the entire crew by means of Breeches Buoy from the shore. The following month, a letter of appreciation, written by Captain Huet from Morlaix in France was received in Ardmore by Father O’Shea.

At the ceremony held at Buckingham Palace on June 30th, 1924, King George V awarded the honour of the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.)  on each of the seven men present and the absent Father O’Shea.

The King expressed his great regret that Father O’Shea was prevented by illness from being present and handed his medal to Sir Godfrey Baring, a member of the management committee of the RNLI for thirty-three years.

The citation said:

” For his example and initiative in leading very gallant attempts, by means of a small boat, to save the lives of the crew of the schooner Teaser, which was lost, with her crew of three in Ardmore Bay on the 18th, March 1911, during a whole S.E. gale with a very heavy sea.”

From Carrick-on-Suir, Father O’Shea was appointed Parish Priest of Ballyporeen, County Tipperary.  The George Cross was instituted by King George VI on September 24th, 1940 and on October 31st, 1941, Father O’Shea was requested to surrender his Empire Gallantry Medal and attend a function at Buckingham Palace on November 25th, 1941 to receive the George Cross in its place. Due to failing health, Father O’Shea could not attend.

Father O’Shea passed away on September 11th, 1942 in Clogheen, Co Tipperary, aged seventy-one.  In accordance with his will, he was laid to rest at the back of the Cross of Calvary in Ballyporeen Churchyard.  His George Cross, RNLI Gold Medal and Board of Trade Medals were left to the Cistercian Monks at Mount Melleray Abbey in County Waterford.

References:

Wilson, John      THE WRECK OF THE TEASER– A GOLD MEDAL RESCUE.                         The Life Saving Awards Research Society, Journal No. 30, June 1997.

Walsh, Donal    AN ACCOUNT OF THE LOSS OF THE ‘TEASER’ IN 1911 and THE ‘MARÉCHAL DE NOAILLES’ IN 1912 OFF THE WATERFORD COAST.                                                Decies XX1, Old Waterford Society, September 1982.

‘Introducing How a Group of Ardmore Men Became Guaranteed Heroes Overnight.’ – Ardmore Grange Heritage Group              https://www.ardmorewaterford.com/heroes-of-the-teaser/

http://www.vconline.org.uk/john-m-oshea-egm/4589402913

The Lifeboat – Journal of RNLI, Volume XX1, No 241 August 1911

The Lifeboat – Journal of RNLI, Volume XXV, No 282 November 1924

1911 Census    http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/

https://collections.mun.ca/digital/collection/mha_mercant/search

Details of the Teaser may be found in this archive. The owner is listed as John Hewitt and not Ferguson as recorded in other accounts of the shipwreck.

My thanks to David for this fascinating account of Fr O’Shea and indeed the people of Ardmore in the efforts to assist on both occasions. For a fantastic photo collection of the event take a look at the Ardmore Grange post:

Glencoe and other shipwrecks on Waterford’s coast- Dec 1840

On a dark tempestuous winter’s evening, the brig Glencoe was blown onto the rocks at Ballymacaw to the west of Dunmore East. As the winds howled and the seas crashed and washed over the ship her 13 man crew had little hope of survival but those on shore had seen this kind of incident before and plans were already underway to come to their aid.

The Glencoe was a brig of 275 ton from Sunderland, England. Under Captain J Keith she was en route from Glasgow to Calcutta with a mixed cargo including coal, bales of manufactured cotton, and beer. Having being caught out in a storm, her crew found themselves battling hopelessly against the natural elements.

Not the Glencoe, or even Ireland. A shipwreck scene accessed from https://nzhistory.govt.nz/page/wreck-general-grant

She eventually grounded on rocks at what one newspaper described as “…under Mc Dougals farm”. Six men based at the local Coastguard station (was this Dunmore East or the older station at Rhinne Shark one wonders) accompanied by four local volunteers rushed to the scene and under the command of Coastguard Chief Officer Charles French proceeded to get lines aboard to the stricken crew. After several hours all 13 were safely brought ashore.

The brig was smashed to pieces on the rocks and the papers reported that the cargo was lost. However later in December 40 bales of cotton described as “with all faults” was auctioned off at Fallows Warehouse, Peter St (in what I understand was Liverpool) I’m sure the locals were burning the coal for some time to come, and as for the ale, no mention is made of this at all. I can only hope it was widely enjoyed along the coastline.

The newspapers mentioned several other casualties that same week in Waterford. A young boy named Walsh, an observer of the wreck of the Glencoe was lost and drowned off the rocks. Meanwhile, at Tramore, an empty lifeboat from the James Jenny was discovered on the beach. An unnamed barque was wrecked at Stradbally while another ship the Leisk enroute from Malaga to Glasgow grounded at Bunmahon but her crew and cargo of oranges were reported safe and well. The ship was lightly damaged and there were hopes that she would be got off.

The following sad account came to light of the drowning from the rocks

A subsequent newspaper article explained that the Leisk was high and dry on the east end of Bunmahon beach. The cargo was safely stored in Mr Robinson’s warehouse in Waterford city and the vessel was likely to be refloated on the next spring tides. The damage was minor, the hull was ok with some damage to the rigging, cabin, and forecastle. The optimism of an easy salvage was misplaced however as it was March before she was finally refloated and towed to Waterford.

The Waterford Mail reported that the ship that was wrecked at Stradbally was a barque and that a crew of 13 were lost, although all bodies were reported to have washed ashore. It was speculated that the ship was bound for Dungarvan with a cargo of timber, but this was speculation. Meanwhile, in Dungarvan, the local schooner Spankaway under Captain O Neill with a cargo of ore from Bunmahon was blown ashore on Monday 7th in the storm after her anchor chains parted. Again there was little damage and she was expected to be refloated. Another incident was the schooner Shamrock of Youghal, which reported some minor damage due to the weather.

Following the successful rescue of the crew of the Glencoe Chief Officer French was awarded a Silver medal by the RNLI for his leadership. Despite searching I could find no mention of the names of any of the others who played such a crucial part. If you would like to know more of the work of the local RNLI and their rescues down the years, why not order a copy of David Carrolls wonderful new book at the following link

https://dunmorelifeboatbook.com/product/dauntless-courage/

Some details of the Glencoe rescue are taken from Jeff Morris’ book The Story of the Dunmore East Lifeboat. The other information is taken from a look through the local papers of the era.

https://dunmorelifeboatbook.com/
https://dunmorelifeboatbook.com/