Captain Tom Donohue’s remarkable war afloat

David Carroll, author of Dauntless Courage, and a regular and ever-popular guest blogger with the page, brings us the story of Waterford sea Captain Tom Donohue who died on this day in 1949.

When Captain Tom Donohue, a fifty-nine-year-old native of Dungarvan, and the most renowned member of its maritime community, took command of the MV Kerlogue of Wexford in late 1943, he was no stranger to the shocking violence encountered at sea in World War ΙΙ and very much aware that neutrality was no safeguard for Irish seafarers.

Captain Tom Donohue. Courtesy of Waterford County Museum

The MV Kerlogue (335 tons) was built in Rotterdam in 1939, just prior to the outbreak of World War II for the Wexford Steamship Company. By late 1943, the neutral Kerlogue had been attacked by both sides as well as saving the crew of a Liverpool collier. As we shall read, she would go on to take part in one of most amazing and dramatic rescue operations of World War ΙΙ.

MV Kerlogue off Tuskar Rock, painted by maritime artist, Brian Cleare.

Back in 1941, Captain Donohue was in command of the Lady Belle of Dungarvan. Built in 1900, by J Fullerton & Co. at Paisley in Scotland, the Lady Belle was 140 ft in length, 24 ft beam, and had a cargo capacity of about 330 tons. She had been purchased by the Moloney Steamship Company of Dungarvan in 1925.

On March 26th, 1941, the Lady Belle was attacked from the air by the Luftwaffe while on a voyage from Dungarvan to Cardiff to collect a cargo of coal for her owners, A Moloney & Sons Ltd., Dungarvan. Ten miles SE of the Smalls, at the entrance to the Bristol Channel, she became the target of one of the many marauding German planes that pillaged the British coast. Although severely damaged, she made it to Milford Haven, under her own steam in a crippled condition. The crew was uninjured. She was sold soon after to Sheehan and Sullivan of Cork.

SS Lady Belle of Dungarvan.

The Lady Belle is still fondly remembered in the folklore and maritime heritage of Dungarvan. It also gives it name to a well-known pub, located in Grattan Square, Dungarvan.

On October 7th 1941, while sailing from Port Talbot in Wales to Rosslare, MV Kerlogue was damaged by a mine but survived. Earlier in that same year, on April 2nd, a British convoy was attacked by German bombers. Distress signals were seen by the Kerlogue, which altered course and went to aid of the disabled Wild Rose, a collier from Liverpool. The crew members were rescued and the Kerlogue managed to tow the Wild Rose and beach her on the strand at Rosslare.

In May 1943, Tom Donohue was serving on the SS Irish Oak, homeward bound from Tampa, Florida to Dublin with a cargo of 8,000 tons of phosphate fertiliser. At 08.19hrs on May 15th, when 700 miles west of Ireland, she was torpedoed and sunk without warning by
a then-unknown German submarine. Later it transpired that the identity of the submarine was U-608. Another submarine U-650 had encountered the Irish Oak on the previous day. The Irish Plane, the Irish Rose, and the Irish Ash responded to the SOS. The full crew of survivors was located by the Irish Plane, having spent eight hours in lifeboats and were landed at Cobh on May 19th.

May 1943 saw the greatest losses suffered by U-boats up to that time, with 41 being destroyed during the month- 25% of the operational U-boats. On May 24th, the German Naval Commander Karl Dönitz ordered a temporary halt to the U-boat campaign. Sadly, for the Irish Oak, this withdrawal had come too late.

Artistic impression of the sinking of the SS Irish Oak, May 15th,1943, 700 miles west of Ireland. Kenneth King Image courtesy of Cormac Lowth

Later that year, on October 23rd, 1943, 130 miles south of Ireland, on passage to Lisbon with a cargo of coal, MV Kerlogue was circled by a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Sunderland flying boat. Three hours later, she was attacked by two unidentified aircraft for over twenty minutes. Another RAAF Sunderland came on the scene and the Kerlogue signaled, requesting an escort and medical assistance. The Sunderland replied that help could not be given. The severely damaged Kerlogue limped back to Cobh, where it was found that the cargo of coal had saved her; without it, the shells would have penetrated the hull. The ammunition fragments were found to be of British origin. The identity of the attackers remained a secret until the thirty-year rule released Air Ministry documents into the Public Records Office at Kew, London.1 The aircraft were found to have been Mosquito fighters of No 307 Polish Night Fighter Squadron.

The Master of the Kerlogue on that voyage, Captain Desmond Fortune had both his legs fractured. The attack left Captain Fortune relying on crutches and suffering from wounds he received for the rest of his life. Second Officer Samuel Owens had shrapnel fragments in his chest and John Boyce of Rosslare and Jim Carty of Wexford were also injured.

The Kerlogue was repaired in Cork and on December 27th, 1943, with Captain Tom Donohue now in command, departed from Lisbon homeward bound to Dublin with a cargo of oranges.

All hopes that the Captain and crew had of having a trouble-free voyage were soon dashed. At first light on December 29th, the Irish vessel was in a position some 360 miles equidistant south of Fastnet and west of Brest, was repeatedly circled by a German aircraft signaling an SOS, and that help was required in a south-easterly direction. Kerlogue altered course and after two hours steaming came upon the most appalling aftermath of naval warfare from the previous day.

The German Narvik-class destroyer Z27 and two Elbing class torpedo boats, T25 and T26, had been sunk. More than seven hundred men, most of them dead, were in the water. The sea all around the Kerlogue was covered with men floating on rafts, on the wreckage, and in lifejackets.

These sailors had intended to escort Alsterufer, a German blockade runner, which was on a voyage from Kobe, Japan to occupied France with a cargo of rubber and other strategic war materials. The Admiralty in London had mounted ‘Operation Stonewall’ to intercept blockade runners and the cruisers HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise sailed from Plymouth to intercept her. An intense naval battle took place in the Bay of Biscay and in the action the two British cruisers, despite being outnumbered, sank the German ships with their 6-inch guns. Unknown to them, Alsterufer had been set on fire by a Liberator aircraft of 311 Squadron, RAF, and sunk on the previous day, December 27th.

Bay of Biscay where a fierce naval battle took place on December 28th, 1943.

“As rafts rose into view on the crests of the giant waves, we could see men on them and others clinging to their sides. At first, we did not know whether they were Allied or Axis until somebody noticed the long ribbons trailing downwards from behind a seaman’s cap which denoted that they were German Navy men.” 2

Captain Frank Forde in his excellent book, ‘The Long Watch: World War ΙΙ and the Irish Mercantile Marine’, graphically describes the action:

“For ten hours the rescue work continued, Kerlogue moving from group to group, dragging exhausted men, many ill-clad and suffering from exposure, on board. Cabins, storerooms, and alleyways were soon packed with shivering, soaked and sodden men; others were placed in the engine-room where it became so crowded that Chief Engineer Eric Giggins could not move around to tend his machinery, and so by signs – as none spoke English- he got the survivors to move the instruments he could not reach. Fourteen men were packed into the tiny wheelhouse, leaving the helmsman, Able Seaman Thomas Grannell of Wexford, barely room to steer. Captain Donohue had the most seriously injured placed in his cabin, and assisted by Third Officer, Garret Roche, began first-aid treatment. It was a hopeless task; there was no doctor on board, or amongst the Germans, and medical supplies were totally inadequate for the numerous injured. One man was burned from head to foot and though conscious when taken on board, died a few hours later. Another two died during the night. It began to grow dark about 4pm, but the rescue work continued by floodlight until 9pm when, with 168 survivors on board, Captain Donohue turned north for Ireland.”

Lieutenant-Commander Joachim Quedenfelt was the senior German Officer that was rescued. He was in command of the 1,300-ton torpedo destroyer T26. Out of a crew of 206, Kerlogue picked up 93 from this vessel. The German Officer described how after a night on a raft, he watched the next morning “the little ship bravely moving through enormous waves to pick up more and more of my comrades.” 3.

Lieutenant-Commander Quedenfelt requested that the ship sail to La Rochelle or Brest in France to land his men. Captain Donohue steadfastly refused, which was a very brave act when you consider the Germans outnumbered the Irish crew.

A roll call and inspection of the survivors after their first night aboard Kerlogue disclosed that three sailors had died. During the afternoon of December 30th, the Kerlogue stopped and the sailors were buried at sea. Subsequently, another wounded sailor died but it was decided to retain his body on board for burial in Ireland.

Under the terms of the navicert issued to Captain Donohue by the British Naval Authorities at the beginning of the voyage, he should have headed to Fishguard for examination and clearance before proceeding to Dublin. (The navicert was a permit given to neutral ships by the British Authorities that required them to call at a designated UK port for examination and clearance on both outward and homeward legs of their voyages from Ireland.) Because of the condition of the survivors and shortage of supplies, Captain Donohue headed for Cork, the nearest Irish port.

The Kerlogue maintained radio silence for fear of drawing attention to its destination. As luck would have it, the cargo of oranges proved to be valuable in sustaining the German sailors on the voyage and preventing dehydration. To avoid being spotted by Allied planes, the sailors were kept out of sight below decks during daylight hours, only coming on deck for fresh air at night.

At 22.00hrs on December 31st, when about 30 miles south of Fastnet, Kerlogue, broke radio silence and advised Valentia radio of their position and that they had 164 survivors on board, seven of them seriously wounded and one dead body. They requested medical aid on arrival. Valentia acknowledged the message and signed off with ’Well done, Kerlogue’. Fifteen minutes later, Land’s End Radio in Cornwall broadcast a message, which was repeated every fifteen minutes, instructing Kerlogue to proceed to Fishguard as required by the conditions of her navicert. This order was ignored by Captain Donohue, who acted in the tradition of Admiral Nelson’s ‘blind eye’ and switched off his radio receiver.

MV Kerlogue is met by the Irish Marine Service patrol vessel Muirchú and Motor Torpedo Boat, M1 at Roche’s Point at the entrance to Cork Harbour, January 1st, 1944. Painting by Brian Cleare and by kind permission of Mr Eoghan Allan of Cobh.

Captain Donohue described the homecoming as follows:
“At 10 am on Saturday, New Year’s Day 1944, we stopped off at Roche’s Point. Doctors boarded the vessel and sent some of the survivors ashore. I then proceeded into the harbour and docked at the deep-water quay in Cobh. I was boarded by the ship’s owners together with Naval, Military, and Red Cross people as well as some people of Cobh. The wounded men were removed ashore together with all other survivors. The crew and me went to the hotel for a good wash, food, and, needless to say, sleep. I had all the beds and bedding removed from the Kerlogue. Crew’s quarters cleaned, washed, and fumigated by shore people. We left Cobh on Sunday, January 2, shortly after 4 pm bound for Fishguard for examination.” 4.

The German sailors were taken to Collins Barracks, Cork, where one of the wounded, Petty Officer Helmut Weiss, died from burns. Along with Lieut. Braatz, who had died at sea, the two sailors were buried in Cobh but re-interred later in the German War Cemetery at Glencree, Co Wicklow. Once the other sailors were declared fit, they were transferred to the Curragh Internment Camp for the duration of the war.

When Kerlogue reached Fishguard, to obtain her clearance, Captain Donohue underwent what he described in the newspaper article by Tom Tobin, as ‘his most trying experience of all’. The senior British naval officer raged at Captain Donohue for not bringing the Germans to the Welsh port and threatened to withdraw the ship’s navicert. It was described as an ugly scene as the irate Dungarvan man, flushed with anger, reminded the shouting bully that his only concern was to save life. It was to the credit of the other Royal Navy officers listening, that they apologised for this ill-mannered outburst. 5

The Kerlogue eventually docked in Dublin on January 5th, 1944. A letter from Dr. Eduard Hempel, German Minister to Ireland, was delivered to Captain Donohue. In it, he expressed, ‘To you and your crew my profound gratitude as well as my high appreciation of the unhesitating valiant spirit which has prompted you to perform this exemplary deed, worthy of the great tradition of Irish gallantry and humanity. I hope to make your personal acquaintance soon.’ 6 Later, Dr. Hempel presented a solid silver cup to Captain Donohue with smaller replicas for each of the other members of the crew on behalf of the German Government.

Captain Tom Donohue died on December 2nd, 1949, and is buried on the grounds of Abbeyside Church near Dungarvan. John Young, the recently deceased Dungarvan maritime historian, previously remarked on how poignant it is that he was buried in a site that is only fifty yards from the sea.

In 1994, a Commemorative Service was held in Abbeyside Church to mark the 50th anniversary of the rescue. A wreath was laid on the grave of Captain Donohue and the ceremony was attended by members and relatives of his family, survivors, Naval and Diplomatic personnel, and Public Representatives.

Commemorative Service held in Abbeyside Church, May 29th, 1994. Photos: Waterford Co Museum
Kerlogue memorial on the Crescent, Wexford Quay. Image courtesy of Leo Coy

In 2015, a memorial was unveiled at Crescent Quay, Wexford to honour the ten men who risked their own lives in December 1943 to save the lives of others, responding to the age-long code of the sea- help a fellow seaman in distress.

David recently gave a public lecture on his book Dauntless Courage, which is now available to be viewed.

Bibliography:
The Long Watch by Captain Frank Forde, Gill, and Macmillan, 1981
‘The Kerlogue Incident’ by Patrick Sweeney, Maritime Journal of Ireland, Spring 1994, No. 31
A Maritime and General History of Dungarvan 1690-1978 by John Young
‘Why oranges were scarce that 1943 Christmas’. Newspaper article by Tom Tobin. Kindly made available by Waterford County Museum.

References:

1 The Long Watch, page 118.

2 The Long Watch, pages 119 /120. Words spoken by Chief Officer, Denis Valencie

3 The Long Watch, page 121.

4 ‘Why oranges were scarce that 1943 Christmas’. By Tom Tobin

5 The Long Watch, page 123.

6 Ibid.

Many thanks to Brian Ellis, Honorary Librarian, National Maritime Museum, and Willie Fraher and staff of Waterford County Museum for their assistance with this article.

A model of MV Kerlogue and other interesting information is on display at the National Maritime Museum, Haigh Terrace, Dún Laoghaire.

A near tragedy off Hook – loss of the Mona II

I’m indebted to David Carroll for this On This Day contribution to the blog today August 19th 2021. In it, David, who has written several guest features, explores the near-tragedy that occurred this day in 1988. Thankfully the keen eyes of a child playing at Dunmore East led to a quick response and ensured that four lives were saved.

Cork Examiner, Saturday August 20th, 1988

While researching and writing ‘Dauntless Courage’ – the history of the Dunmore East RNLI lifeboats, I came upon the official service report from the Dunmore East lifeboat station and subsequent newspaper reports of the rescue of four sailors from a Galway Hooker that sank in Waterford Harbour on Friday, August 19th, 1988.

Knowing that the ‘Galway Hooker’ holds iconic status in Ireland’s maritime heritage, culture, and identity, I was keen to obtain additional information to make an interesting inclusion for the book. What was the name of the hooker? What type of hooker was it? Was it a restored hooker from Connemara or maybe one built in the revival of these iconic vessels that was taking place on the East Coast of Ireland? Due to time constraints, and with some reluctance, I had to omit the story from the book but vowed to return to it at a later stage to obtain the missing details.

The Galway Hooker was the traditional boat of Galway built of strong and hardy oak to withstand the rough seas of the Atlantic. The boats were easily recognised by their strong sharp bow and sides that curve outwards. They have one mainsail and two foresails all on a single mast. It is a gaff-rigged sailing boat meaning the sail is four-cornered, fore-and-aft rigged, controlled at its peak by a pole called the gaff. Traditionally painted black with eye-catching red sails these beautiful boats are something to behold.

There are four types of Galway Hooker: Bád Mór (35–44 ft.) and the Leath Bhád or “half-boat” (28 ft.) These two larger vessels were used to transport turf across Galway Bay.
Two smaller vessels are known as Gleoiteog and Púcán. Both are usually 24–28 ft. but are differently rigged. The gleoiteog has the same lines and rig as the larger hookers. These boats were used more commonly for transporting people and fishing.

The hooker that sank in Waterford Harbour in 1988 was a ‘gleoiteog’, one of the smaller hookers. From newspaper reports at the time, I knew that the owner of the vessel was Professor Ivan Cosby, a lecturer in International Affairs at a Japanese University but originally from Stradbally, Co. Laois.

For many people and especially music lovers, Stradbally is best known as the site that has hosted the award-winning ‘Electric Picnic’ arts and music festival held each year at the end of the summer since it began in 2004. Stradbally Hall has been the seat of the Cosby family since the reign of Edward VI.

My connection with Stradbally would be through my interest in cricket as the village is the home of Laois Cricket Club, where the members have laid out a new ground in a beautiful setting. To establish a ‘Stradbally link’, I contacted a great friend of the entire cricket community, Roland Bradley, the doyen of the Laois club and former President of Cricket Leinster. It just so happens that Tom Cosby, owner of Stradbally Hall, is also President of the cricket club and Roland very kindly put me in touch with him. This was the breakthrough that I was looking for! Tom, in turn, very kindly put me in touch with his Uncle Ivan, who now lives in retirement in the UK.

Stradbally Hall, photographed in July 2021 by the kind permission of Tom Cosby, has been the home of the Cosby family since 1556. Stradbally Hall has been rebuilt several times, most recently by Sir Charles Lanyon, c.1868.

When I spoke to him by telephone, Professor Cosby could still vividly recall in detail, the unfortunate events of August 19th, 1988. He was also able to tell me about the gleoiteog, called ‘Mona ΙΙ’ and its brief history. Professor Cosby, told me, that he bought the gleoiteog in 1985 from Dennis Aylmer of Dún Laoghaire.

Mona ΙΙ sailing in Dún Laoghaire harbour in 1981. Photo: Dennis Aylmer

Mona ΙΙ had been built by Charlie Featherstone in Dún Laoghaire in 1979 for Dennis Aylmer, who was a Tea Buying Director of Lyons Tea. He also had a long involvement in the revival and restoration of Galway Hookers, stretching back to 1965. The Morning Star was a bád mór – the largest type of Galway Hooker – built circa 1890, and Dennis was one of the first people to restore a boat of this type and size. He still recalls the extraordinary tale of how he located and obtained the Morning Star in 1965, and managed the extensive restoration works involved. This story is even more remarkable because Dennis lived and worked in Dublin at the time, the Morning Star was in Connemara, and he had no means of transport other than his bicycle!

Mona ΙΙ was not a full hooker but a 22-foot gleoiteog, built on the scaled-down lines of the full hooker Morning Star. Being about two tons in weight, she could be trailed by road and over the next few summers, Dennis would bring her over to the West and take on the local boats at the races in Connemara including the famous Kinvara Festival. Dennis told me: “The best I could do in the races was second. I could never beat the legendary master hooker skipper Pat Jennings of Galway. By the time we got to Athlone, the message would get through to the West that “the Dublin boat is coming!”, and this all added to the fun”.

In calmer waters – Dennis Aylmer at the helm of Mona ΙΙ with crew Jim Halpenny, sailing in Dublin Bay in 1981. Photo: Dennis Aylmer

Dennis Aylmer told me that he was very saddened when he heard of Mona ΙΙ being lost in Waterford Harbour in 1988 in deep water with all sails set and was never recovered. He had a lot of knowledge about the event. His recollection was that the gleoiteog was hit by a considerable gust which laid her over, and Professor Cosby was unable to react quickly enough to let fly the main. Perhaps he did do so, but it may not have been sufficient. Being an open boat, as soon as the water came over the beam the chances of recovery would have been minimal. Very wisely, Professor Cosby had a life-raft aboard, which floated clear, and they were able to get into it, otherwise, there could have been a serious tragedy.
Dennis also has a recollection that a little girl was playing in her garden in a house at Dunmore East, and was watching Mona II, and ran in to tell her parents about it. Having gone out again, she saw the boat had disappeared and said there was a little orange boat floating nearby (which was the life-raft). Her parents then came out into the garden and realised there could have been a problem and raised the alarm.

From the official Service Report for the ‘shout’ recorded by Dr Brendan O’Farrell, Honorary Secretary of Dunmore East RNLI, it looks as if the girl may have been in the house next to his own one. The girl would now be an adult and one is left wondering if she can still recall the events of that day in August 1988, thirty-three years ago?

Dr O’Farrell in his report states that the lifeboat cleared the harbour mouth within four and a half minutes of the first maroon being launched. Coxswain John Walsh was away on pilot duty, so John Murphy, hearing the maroons dashed to the Waveney class relief lifeboat Arthur and Blanche Harris 44-006, to take the helm. Crewmembers onboard were Mechanic Seán Kearns, his son Hugh and Frances Glody. The lifeboat left her moorings at 12.05hrs in a fresh SW wind that was described as force 6-7 by the lighthouse keepers at Hook Head. Conditions were moderately choppy. High water had been at 10.15hrs. Speed was of the essence. One of the oars of the raft was lost in the capsize, so the survivors were not able to make much progress with one oar. This is not a situation that you would wish for when you are remarkably close to the rugged shoreline near Hook Head.

Photographed at Courtmacsherry, Waveney class RNLB Arthur and Blanche Harris 44-006, which was on relief duty in August 1988 at Dunmore East replacing RNLB St Patrick, which was away at the time for an overhaul. This lifeboat was stationed at Barry in Wales, Donaghadee and Courtmacsherry at various times. At other times, it was part of the relief fleet. Photo: Nicholas Leach

Writing in the Cork Examiner on the following day, Saturday, August 20th, 1988, journalist Richard Dowling (later of RTE) described how the skipper of the gleoiteog Professor Cosby, and three unnamed English companions scrambled aboard their life-raft as the hooker foundered in rough seas off Dunmore East. The gleoiteog had been taken down the River Barrow from Stradbally to Waterford Harbour and had sailed for about two miles across to Hook Head where they capsized.

The lifeboat reached the survivors at 12.25hrs and arrived back to Dunmore East at 12.40hrs. By 12.50hrs, the lifeboat had been re-fuelled and was back on station. The entire rescue operation had taken less than one hour.

Frances Glody, a crew member on RNLB Arthur and Blanche Harris on August 19th, 1988. Frances holds the proud distinction of being the very first RNLI female crew member of an all-weather lifeboat, anywhere in the British Isles. Photo: RNLI

Dr O’Farrell, Dunmore East RNLI Honorary Secretary was fulsome in his praise for the lifeboat crew. In his report, he noted: “Very quick efficient work on the part of crew and Acting Coxswain.” The newspaper reports also tell us that Professor Cosby praised the lifeboat crew for their efficient rescue. He described the whole incident as a “tremendous disappointment.” The records at the Dunmore East lifeboat station show that a very generous donation was made to the RNLI in recognition of the rescue.

It is always sad when a boat that has given so much pleasure to its owners and was also very much representative of Ireland’s maritime heritage is lost at sea. However, we continue to be truly grateful to the RNLI that no loss of life took place in August 1988 as is the case in countless other occasions around the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland.

All that remains of Mona ΙΙ – Tom Cosby displays two salvaged spars from the boat that are in safe keeping at Stradbally Hall. Photo: Brian Kenrick

I wish to thank Brendan Dunne and Dunmore East RNLI for allowing me to access their archives to view the service report from August 1988. Over a long period, a number of other persons showed great courtesy to me when I contacted them in connection with this story and I would like to acknowledge their kind assistance: Brian Ellis and Padraic Ó Brolchain of the Irish National Maritime Museum, Cormac Lowth, Dennis Aylmer, Dr Mick Brogan of Kinvara, Roland Bradley of Laois Cricket Club, Brian Kenrick, Tom Cosby, Ivan Cosby, Nicholas Leach (‘ Lifeboats Past and Present’), Michael Kennedy (Dunmore East shipwright).

As always I am most grateful to Andrew Doherty for inviting me to share my stories on ‘Waterford Harbour Tides and Tales’.

Readers, interested in Galway Hookers, should note that there are many fascinating videos available on the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association YouTube Channel

David Carroll is the author of Dauntless Courage, Celebrating the History of the RNLI Lifeboats, their crews and the Maritime Heritage of the Dunmore East Community. Dauntless Courage is David’s first book, but I hope it won’t be his last.  It deserves to be read by anyone with an interest in Dunmore East, anyone who enjoys maritime history, and anyone who supports the work of the RNLI. Only a few copies remain and are available from the project website

The Italian Salvage Job – Dunmore East 1935-37

A recent email from Donie Brazil with an image from Dunmore of a steamship caused a fair amount of research on my part.  Donie had an image from his aunt’s collection of a ship tied up at the East Pier in Dunmore, which could have easily been dismissed as a large fishing boat, but the date gave me a smile of delight.  For it was from 1936, a time when an Italian salvage company was busy in the village and it was more probably the Artiglio of the Società Ricuperi Marittim, founded in 1926 in Genoa Italy, and at the time one of the leading underwater salvage operations worldwide.

Artiglio and her crew was world-renowned at the time following the successful salvage of gold coin and bullion from the sunken SS Egypt, a P&O ocean liner that sank after a collision in 1922.  The Artiglio, or more accurately the Artiglio II, had successfully retrieved the treasure (after the original Artiglio had discovered the ship in 1930 but was blown up after being moved to deal with another salvage operation) but the work had taken from 1930 to 1935.  The wreck of the Egypt lay in 170metres of water after all!

Società Ricuperi Marittim, or  SO.RI.MA. (Society for Maritime Recovery) of Genoa was founded in 1926 by Commendatore Giovanni Quaglia.  The ships of the company were all named based on their propensity to snatch objects from the bottom of the sea and included: Artiglio, Rostro and Raffio were the first of the company, followed by Rampino, Rastrello, and Arpione. These were all bought second-hand and modified as needed which included winches, electromagnets, and support equipment for divers.

Artiglio 1932. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Domini públic,

The first mention of the company I could find in Ireland was off the Cork coast in 1934, where the Arpione was salvaging copper from the SS Spectator off Galley Head.  It would appear the company was also looking for the Lusitania at the time.[i]  In September 1935 both the Artiglio and Rampino were reported as being exempted from pilot dues by Waterford port until such time as they were successful in finding and retrieving salvage from the wreck of the SS Lincolnshire off Hook Head.[ii]

SS Lincolnshire was reported at the time as a “freighter of 3,695 tons…commanded by Captain Harte, and had onboard crew of thirty-one and the Captain’s wife, when, in March 1917, she encountered a German submarine…she was torpedoed, and sank almost immediately, those on board just managing to take to the boats before she went. No lives were lost. They were shortly afterward picked up by a patrol vessel and brought to Dunmore, whence they were sent to their homes through the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Agency, of which Mr. W. E. Jacob is the local agent”[iii] 

Lincolnshire was one of two ships attacked and sunk that same day and by the same U-Boat U57 a sub which was one of those rarities, a sub that survived the war.  The other was the SS Crispin, 2483 tons, carrying freight, passengers and almost 700 horses for the war effort.  Those aboard the Crispin were not as fortunate, out of a complement of crew and passengers of 112, 8 died and of course, all the horses perished too.  SS Lincolnshire was the prize the Italians were seeking however, as she was carrying copper ingots, brass bar/rod/sheet, zinc and other metals, which had a huge value at the time.

In October it was reported that they had “…located the SS Antony, a cargo vessel of Liverpool origin, which was also sunk by a submarine. A large number of automobile spares were found in the holds, while four motor cars, almost intact, were also discovered, as well as a large quantity of bones…”[iv]  I couldn’t locate any details on the Antony up to the time of writing but I;m speculating the bones were of animals, and probably horses. Either way , it wasn’t the exact prize the Italians were after, but does highlight how littered the area is with wrecks.

Finally in November news broke that the “Copper Ship” had been found.  Although from the report it sounds like the discovery was made a few weeks earlier.  “…after many months of patient search, [Lincolnshire has] been at last located by the Italian salvage vessel, Arliglio (Capt. Bruno). The Lincolnshire, which was torpedoed by a German submarine, carried a valuable cargo of copper. The divers of the Artiglio who discovered her, estimate her cargo at eighteen hundred tons of copper and about 1,000 tons of zinc. She was found lying on a bed of mud on the ocean floor about 12 miles south-west of Dunmore Harbour. Already about 50 tons of copper has been salvaged and put aboard the Artiglio’s sister ship Rampino. The crews and divers are awaiting favourable weather to make a further trip to the Lincolnshire. It stated that when the Rampino has her full cargo she will proceed immediately to France. The Lincolnshire was found in thirty fathoms of water, and owing to obscurity, caused by the disturbed mud, the work of salvage was considerably impeded by poor visibility…”[v]

The work of the crew of these ships was incredibly dangerous and it must surely have taken nerves of steel to go down beneath the surface in what could only be described as iron coffins.  From what I have read I can only try describe the activities, and these are largely based on what happened with the salvage of the Egypt, so I may be inaccurate in this. Once a likely wreck was identified, a diver was suited up and hoisted up and over the side, to go down and identify the wreck.  The company used what was called atmospheric diving suits built by German firm Neufeldt and Kuhnke and later modified and enhanced this. They also used what was called a butoscopic turret as an observation chamber. Communcation with the surface was via wireless and once a wreck was identified, salvage could begin.  It would appear that if needed, the divers would set explosives to create a hole to allow access to the ships hold.  They would then direct operations observing the mechanical and magnetic grabs which were lowered from the surface ship.  As the grabs descended, the diver operated like a conductor, issuing instructions to the surface which had to be acted on by the men operating the winches far above. 

Testing of a P-7 Neufeldt and Kuhnk metal diving suit, in France (1926). (Photo by Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)
For more images of the dive technique and description see here
A sense of the work

As you might well imagine, when these lads came ashore they must have wanted to enjoy themselves, and I’m sure the pubs and hotels must have done well from them.  The Gossip of the Week column in the Standard of June 1936 describes the Italians as frequently in harbour where they have made many friends ashore.  The previous weekend an imposing figure of one of the company’s directors Count Boraiggi was seen in the village.  All was not plain sailing, however.  A large French steamer the SS Sussien 848 tons was in harbour and her crew had given the harbour a “distinctive polyglot tinge”.  The French are loading the salvage and returning to their home country where the material is being smelted down for use in the armaments industry.   A major controversy was averted in the harbour during the week, thanks to the harbour master Major Lloyd when apparently his use of French managed to resolve a major logjam.  At issue was the harbour blocked up when a new steel grab arrived by truck for the Artiglio which was at sea.  Major Lloyd swung into action as it were, got the French steamer to hoist the grab onto her deck and get the truck on her way, although “the language, all French, was searing”![vi]

A postcard of a large coaster at Dunmore. It may be the SS Sussien, but I am not positive. However it is the only steamer I could find reported in the papers at Dunmore between the 1935-37.
Photo via Michael O’Sullivan Waterford History Group Facebook page

 In August the Artiglio was ashore to enjoy the festivities associated with the annual Dunmore East regatta.  A wonderful days weather ensured a great turnout, and it was remarked that a large number of cars were in evidence, parked along the pier.  “The environs of the harbour were gaily bedecked with flags and bunting. The Italian salvage vessel, which has made its base at Dunmore East, was decorated with the ship’s flags, and the Captain and members of the crew were equally decorated with medals and ribbons.”[vii]

The Gods seem to have been looking kindly on the Italians it seems.  For later that August four of the crew had a lucky escape in a traffic accident.   Captain Ernesto Bruno, Cesari Albavera (chief engineer), Bonucelli Catena (diver), and Giovanni Titinini (wireless operator), were proceeding to Waterford in a taxi, driven Mr. Joe (Bunny) Murphy, when the accident occurred. The car had just passed the shop of Messrs. Harney, at the junction of the roads leading to upper and lower Dunmore, when the steering rod broke, leaving the driver without control. Swerving to the right along the upper Dunmore Road, the car dashed against the parapet, the wall gave way with the force of the impact and the car did a somersault before landing back on its wheels on the lower village road.  To the astonishment of onlookers, who presumed they must all be dead, all five walked freely from the wrecked car, although Captain Bruno sustained a broken nose and required some stitches! [viii]   A later report stated that the men were all improving, so perhaps they were not as unscathed as the first report suggests. [Following publication Kathleen O’Driscoll contacted me to state that her family had owned the Strand Hotel at the time. Her American relatives have a letter written by her mother from this time. In it she explained that both she and her two sisters were nursing the Artiglio’s Captain and Engineer who remained in the hotel for several weeks after the crash]

Harneys corner from the account
Where Joe Murphy’s taxi took off I imagine

The work of the salvors was weather dependant and it would appear that they could be called away for other jobs, or return home for leave ( I found one report from April of 1937 stating that two ships were returning to complete the salvage after the winter storms). The work continued on the Lincolnshire until July 1937.  The Waterford Standard of Saturday 10th July describes their departure.  “The Italian salvage vessel, Artiglio, left Dunmore East on Thursday night, having completed the work of salvaging the wreck of the SS Lincolnshire. Crowds gathered on the pier to give the crew a truly Irish send-off. There is no doubt that the Italians made themselves very popular with the villagers, and from an economic point of view, too, their departure will be a loss, for nearly all the traders derived some benefit… There was much hand-shaking and leave taking before the hawsers were cast off and the Artiglio steamed out into the murky night, she sounded her siren in farewell and flashed morse signals to the waving crowd on the shore bidding them good-bye.”[ix]

The crew of the Artiglio, brave and hardworking souls. A David Scott photo originally via https://www.nauticareport.it/dettnews/report/lartiglio_e_loro_dellegypt-6-6328/
I would recommend this link for more information, I think its the best I have read on the subject
Artiglio was at Monaco in 1938

War had created much of the wealth that the SO.RI.MA had salvaged, and it’s ironic to think that the metals salvaged went to creating more weapons for another war to come.   But for the men of the Artiglio the work was their job, a difficult, hazardous and dangerous job for which it seems they were not very well rewarded.  They did however brighten the scene at Dunmore East for the time that they stayed and their work was truly innovative.  My thanks to David Carroll for assistance with this mornings piece and to Donie Brazil who asked the question that got me started.


[i] Aberdeen Press and Journal.  Tuesday 1st May 1934

[ii] Waterford Standard – Saturday 14 September 1935; page 7

[iii] Waterford Standard – Saturday 14 September 1935; page 8

[iv] New Ross Standard – Friday 04 October 1935; page 5

[v] Waterford Standard – Saturday 02 November 1935; page 6

[vi] Waterford Standard – Saturday 20 June 1936, page 3

[vii] Waterford Standard – Saturday 22 August 1936; page 6

[viii] New Ross Standard – Friday 04 September 1936, page 11

[ix] Waterford Standard – Saturday 10 July 1937; page 3

Captain Albert Bestic remembered – surviving Lusitania

I would like to thank David Carroll for this guest post on Captain Albert Bestic who served aboard the RMS Lusitania which was torpedoed on this day, May 7th 1915. Third Officer Bestic was one of those that survived. Over now to David for his account.

Growing up in Dunmore East during the 1950s and 60s, I was constantly regaled by my father, a Master Mariner, of stories of shipwrecks, great exploits and heroic deeds by seafarers and explorers.   Names that were always to the forefront and that were given tremendous respect were Sir Robert Falcon Scott, and Irish Antarctic explorers Sir Ernest Shackleton and Tom Crean, a member of three expeditions to Antarctica.  It is sad to think and an indictment of the lack of respect shown to Ireland’s maritime heritage that it is only in recent years that the latter two and other Irish explorers have received the proper recognition and celebration that they deserve in their native land.

Another name that kept cropping up during my childhood was Captain Albert Bestic, who was Junior Third Officer on RMS Lusitania, torpedoed off the Old Head of Kinsale on May 7th, 1915.  My father had served with Irish Lights for a short period before World War Two and would have known Captain Bestic on a personal basis.  I can still remember the excitement that followed when my father received a copy of Captain Bestic’s book, Kicking Canvas’, an autographical account of his maiden voyage as an apprentice aboard a sailing ship called the Denbigh Castle in 1908.  The Denbigh Castle sailed from Cardiff and its destination was Peru. The ship had a treacherous crossing and endured many storms. The ship was feared lost until it finally sailed into Freemantle, Australia and then proceeded to its destination of Peru, a voyage that had taken over a year to complete. This traumatic voyage did not deter Bestic and he continued to work his way up the nautical career ladder to become a professional deck officer in the Mercantile Marine.

Albert Arthur Bestic was born on August 26th, 1890 and grew up in South Dublin. Bestic is not a name of Irish origin, his family descended originally from Huguenots in the Normandy region of France. He was the second child of Arthur and Sarah Stephenson. He had an older sister Olive who was born in 1888. He was educated at the Portsmouth Grammar School and St. Andrew’s College in Dublin.

Captain Bestic as a young Officer.

As a boy on holidays in Scotland, he had seen the Lusitania in the Clyde.  “If I could sail on a ship like that,” he had thought, “I’d go to sea.”  He added: “To me she was my dream ship. I saw her first when in her regal beauty she sped along the surface of the Clyde upon her trials. My boyish heart went out to her in admiration.”

Later, while in the service of the Denbigh Castle, he once again saw the large liner sweep by.  As he looked up at the liner, he saw, “a photographic impression of four big funnels, tiers of decks, fluttering handkerchiefs, the name ‘Lusitania’, in gold letters, and a roaring bow wave.” When the ship “streaked by”, it created a large wave that sent all the men into the lee scuppers. The sailors began cursing at her, but not Bestic. He vowed one day that he would stand upon the bridge of that ship! 1

In early 1915, Albert married Annie Queenie Elizabeth Kent, originally from Belfast but by then living in England. He sailed to the United States as an officer aboard the Leyland liner, SS Californian,  that is best known for its inaction during the sinking of the RMS Titanic  in 1912 despite being the closest ship in the area. To Bestic’s great surprise, he was informed that his next assignment would be as the junior third officer of the Lusitania– his dream ship!  With many officers, joining the Royal Navy for the war effort, Cunard’s recruitment policy had altered.

The RMS Lusitania had been launched on June 7th, 1906 at the shipyard of John Brown & Co, Clydebank, Glasgow.  The ship, and her sister ship RMS Mauretania had been built because of negotiations between the British Government and the Cunard Line with a view to being capable of taking back the prestigious ‘Blue Riband’ for the fastest Atlantic crossing. She was the first British passenger ship to be built with four funnels, with a gross tonnage of 32,500 tons and an overall length of 785 feet, and with seven decks for the use of passengers.

RMS Lusitania on the Clyde

On September 7th, 1907, after the completion of her trials, she sailed from Liverpool on her maiden voyage to Queenstown (now Cobh) and New York, watched by a crowd of 200,000 spectators. On her second voyage, in more favourable weather conditions, she did achieve the distinction of taking the ‘Blue Riband’, a record that would stand for the next twenty-two years.2

Crowds gather in New York to welcome Lusitania on her maiden voyage.

Lusitania completed her last peacetime voyage from New York, arriving in Liverpool on the day Great Britain declared war on Germany, August 4th, 1914. Lusitania was not requisitioned by the Admiralty but continued to sail for Cunard once a month to New York. Between December 16th and March 13th, 1915 four more successful round voyages were made, although these were not without incident.3

The waters around the British Isles were dangerous places for Allied shipping, and in April 1915, the German Embassy in the United States published warnings in the New York newspapers that passengers, travelling on Allied ships, travelled at their own risk.  At the time, the Lusitania was taking passengers on board at Pier 54, New York, for the homeward voyage, departing on Saturday May 1st, 1915, with 1,266 passengers, including many wealthy and notable Americans, and 696 crew aboard, including Junior Third Officer Bestic, making his first voyage on the ship.

`A contemporary advert

On Friday, May 7th, 1915 at 11.00hrs, Lusitania broke through the fog into hazy sunshine on its voyage from New York to Liverpool. To port was an indistinct smudge, which was the Irish coastline. But there was no sign of any other ships. Captain William Turner, Master of the Lusitaniahad expected to see HMS Juno, which would have acted as an escort. There was no sign of Juno.

At 11.55hrs, Captain Turner was informed of U-boat activity off the southern Irish coast. At 13.40hrs, Captain Turner saw a landmark as familiar to him; a long promontory with a lighthouse on top of it, which was painted with black and white horizontal bands- the Old Head of Kinsale. To avoid reported U-Boat activity in the area, Captain Turner was instructed by Vice Admiral Coke of the British Admiralty to change course and head for Queenstown.

Captain Turner

However, at 13.20 hrs, the German U-Boat U-20 under the command of Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger spotted the smoke from a steamer with four funnels astern approximately 12-14 miles away. Once the U-boat closed into its target, it fired a single torpedo.

At 14.10hrs, the torpedo struck the ship with a sound which Turner later recalled was “like a heavy door being slammed shut.” Almost instantaneously there came a second, much larger explosion, which physically rocked the ship. A tall column of water and debris shot skyward, wrecking lifeboat No. 5 as it came back down. On the bridge of the Lusitania, Captain Turner could see instantly that his ship was doomed. He gave the orders to abandon ship. He then went out onto the port bridge wing and looked back along the boat deck. The first thing he saw was that all the port side lifeboats had swung inboard, which meant that all those on the starboard side had swung outboard. The starboard ones could be launched, though with a little difficulty, but the port side boats would be virtually impossible to launch. 4

At 14.11hrs the Lusitania has started to send distress signals from the Marconi room. “SOS, SOS, SOS, COME AT ONCE. BIG LIST. 10 MILES SOUTH OLD KINSALE. MFA”. The last three letters were the ships call sign.

An extract from Lusitania website describes vividly the drama and mayhem that unfolded:

“At the port No 2 boat station, Junior Third Officer Bestic was in charge. Standing on the after davit, he was trying to keep order and explain that due to the heavy list, the boat could not be lowered. Suddenly, he heard a hammer striking the link-pin to the snubbing chain. Before the word “NO!” left his lips, the chain was freed and the five-ton lifeboat laden with over 50 passengers swung inward and crushed those standing on the boat deck against the superstructure.  Unable to take the strain, the men at the davits let go of the falls and boat 2, plus the collapsible boat stowed behind it, slid down the deck towing a grisly collection of injured passengers and jammed under the bridge wing, right beneath the spot where Captain Turner was. Bestic, determined to stop the same situation arising at the next boat station, jumped along to No. 4 boat, just as somebody knocked out its link pin. He darted out of the way as No. 4 boat slid down the deck maiming and killing countless more people, before crashing into the wreckage of the first two boats. Driven by panic, passengers swarmed into boats, 6,8, 10 and 12. One after another they careered down the deck to join 2 and 4. The sea was now swirling over the bridge floor. Then the stern of Lusitania began to settle back, and a surge of water flooded the bridge, sweeping Captain Turner out of the door and off the ship. As the Lusitania sank beneath the waves, that same surge of water swept Junior Third Officer Bestic out through the first-class entrance hall into the sea. The Lusitania was gone, and with her had gone 1,201 people.  It was now 14.28 GMT, on Friday May 7th, 1915.”

Another extract from website continues with the story of Bestic’s ordeal:

“He was still at his post on the port side of the ship when he saw the last wave charge up the deck.  Without a lifebelt, he jumped over the side and tried to swim clear of the ship but was still “dragged down with the ship.”  He tumbled in the water and noticed the water getting lighter as he was pushed upwards.  He swam upwards for what felt like minutes, and when he burst to the surface, he realized that he was inside an overturned lifeboat.  He made his way under the gunwale and felt a hand as Seaman Thomas Quinn pulled him by the collar to the top side of the boat.  When Bestic surfaced, he only saw wreckage and people struggling in the water where the great ship had been.  He could hardly bear the sound of hundreds of men, women, and children crying out in the water, “the despair, anguish and terror of hundreds of souls passing into eternity.”

Fearing that the capsized boat that he was on would soon be overwhelmed, he struck out on his own, swimming towards land miles away.  A current carried him off by himself but could still hear the cries of children in the water.  The cries soon stopped.  He lost his sense of time and place, imagining that he was a young boy seeing Lusitania sail by again.  Then Bestic found his own collapsible and hauled half of himself over the gunwale into the boat, the other half of him still in the water.  He soon realized that this boat was taking in water.  Bestic struggled to keep afloat by plugging his collapsible boat with any flotsam that was around him.

Bestic soon sighted a young, dark-haired man swimming in the water and called out to him.  After the young man got himself on the boat, he quipped, “I suppose it’s no use asking you for a cigarette.” “I’m sorry,” Bestic apologised, “Mine have gone rather soggy.”

The two men rowed and bailed water from their boat to keep warm and came across the body of a young girl.  They then came across a woman in a lifejacket, seemingly in shock.  Her heavy, soaked garments required that both men pull her out of the water and into their boat.  She asked them, “Where is my baby?” “I’m sorry,” Bestic answered, “we haven’t seen any babies.” To their horror, the distraught woman threw herself overboard.  The young man grabbed the woman and lied, “Your baby is safe.  I saw it taken into another boat.”

The woman allowed herself to be helped into the boat again.  Bestic chided himself for not thinking of the lie.  The small, waterlogged boat picked up a dozen or more survivors before they could not take on anymore.  Hours passed and Bestic feared that it would be dark before help came for them.  He found a watertight tin of biscuits and passed them out to everyone in his boat, “Chew these biscuits.  You’ll find that working your jaws keeps you warm.”  He had learned this from experience when he had sailed around Cape Horn.  The lifeboat was quiet as all on board busied themselves with chewing instead of making conversation.

Four hours after Lusitania sank, their collapsible was picked up by the trawler Bluebell.  If help had come any later, the skies really would have been dark. In the messroom of the Bluebell, Bestic saw Captain Turner alive, sitting by himself.  Bestic went up to him and said, “I’m very glad to see you alive, sir.” “Why should you be?”  Turner asked.  “You’re not that fond of me.” “Fondness doesn’t enter into it, sir.  I’m glad to see you alive because I respect you as my Captain and I admire you as a seaman.”

Amongst the 1,191 who lost their lives were 786 passengers and 405 crew, and the trawlers Bluebell and the Wanderer from Peel, Isle of Man rescued most of the 771 survivors. In all, only 289 bodies were recovered, 65 of which are never identified. The bodies of many of the victims were buried at either Queenstown, where 148 bodies were interred in the Old Church Cemetery, or the Church of St. Multose in Kinsale. The bodies of the remaining 885 victims were never recovered.5

Courtmacsharry RNLI received news of the disaster and the lifeboat Ketzia Gwilt under the command of Coxswain Timothy Keohane (Father of Antarctic explorer Patrick Keohane) was launched and set out to row the 12.6 nautical miles to the casualty, as in calm conditions the sails were of no use.

An extract from Courtmacsharry RNLI Return of Service log states: “We had no wind, so had to pull the whole distance- on the way to wreck, we met a ship’s boat cramped with people who informed us the Lusitania had gone down. We did everything in our power to reach the place, but it took us at least three and half hours of hard pulling to get there- then only in time to pick up dead bodies.”

The Courmacsharry Lifeboat then proceeded in picking up as many bodies as they could and transferred them to the ships on scene tasked with transferring bodies back to Queenstown. The final entry from the log stated: “It was a harrowing site to witness- the sea was strewn with dead bodies floating about, some with lifebelts on, others holding on pieces of rafts- all dead. I deeply regret it was not in our power to have been in time to save some”. 6

Included amongst the lost passengers was Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in the world. Yet he showed himself willing to sacrifice his own life for the sake of others. He was travelling with his valet to Britain to conduct a meeting of the International Horse Breeders’ Association. He refused to save himself. He gave his lifejacket away and used the critical moments as the ship was sinking to put children into the lifeboats. He showed, according to a report in the New York Times, “gallantry which no words of mine can describe”. His body was never found.

Another famous person that drowned was Sir Hugh Lane, the Irish art dealer and nephew of writer Augusta, Lady Gregory of Coole Park. He is best known for establishing Dublin’s Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, but his famous collection, the ‘Lane Bequest’ has proved to be a controversial issue with ownership being disputed for almost a century between Britain and Ireland until an amicable arrangement was agreed.

There were harrowing scenes in Queenstown as survivors and bodies were brought ashore. The casualties of the Lusitania included 128 Americans, leading to outrage in the United States. President Wilson later dismissed the warning printed in the paper on the day of the ship’s departure, stating that no amount of warning could excuse the carrying out of such an inhumane act. However, it would not be until April 1917, before he went to a joint session of Congress to request a declaration of war against Germany.

In May 1915, a wave of anti-alien rioting spread throughout many English cities, particularly in Liverpool where the local Echo newspaper reported in May 2015: “Almost 600 people with Liverpool and Merseyside connections alone were on board the RMS Lusitania when it was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Ireland 100 years ago this week. At least 145 local crew members are recorded as losing their lives.”

As news of the attack on the Lusitania spread around the world, emotions and opinions became polarised. Britain and Germany each advocated for the justness of their side. The sinking became a powerful propaganda tool in the build-up to America joining the war and closer to home, many propaganda posters appeared that advocated for more men to join the war effort.

A year after the sinking of the Lusitania, Albert Bestic’s wife gave birth to their first child, Desmond. At that time, he was serving in the Royal Navy aboard minesweepers. His second son, George was born in Scotland in 1919 and his third son, Alan was born in England in 1922. Alan became a well-known journalist, initially with the Irish Times, and later as a prolific writer.  One of his sons Richard, a name that many readers may recall, was an outstanding international correspondent with Sky News, broadcasting from around the world.

In 1922, Captain Bestic joined the Irish Lights Service. On December 19th, 1940, he was master of the lightship tender SS Isolda, which was bombed and sunk by the Luftwaffe off the Wexford coast. Sadly, six crew members, all from Dun Laoghaire were lost on that occasion. Relating this part of Captain Bestic’s maritime career must wait until another time.

Albert Arthur “Bisset” Bestic died in Bray, Co Wicklow on December 20th, 1962, aged seventy-two years. He is buried at St Michan’s Church in Dublin. The nickname “Bisset” had been given to him by Captain William Turner.

All images are courtesy of Maritime Historian Cormac Lowth, whose assistance with the article is very much appreciated.

References:

  1. https://www.garemaritime.com/lest-forget-albert-arthur-bestic/
  • Ibid.
  • Information kindly provided by Cormac Lowth.

Recommended Further Reading:

The Lusitana: Unravelling the Mysteries by Patrick O’Sullivan

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

On a blustery Thursday afternoon, January 28th 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 of the journey was to collect a new lifeboat to be used on 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 the coastguard men.  A local paper described the scene as a heart-rending finale to a terrible tragedy[i].  For rather than providing a new element of rescue for stricken sailors, the five men had become part of the statistics themselves in a harbour area rightly described as a graveyard of a thousand ships.

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)

The coastguard station (Circa 1820) at Dunmore East
and boathouse where the lifeboat would have been based?

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.

Need an image of a similar craft if anyone could assist?

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 

They left Waterford Quay later that afternoon with their lifeboat in tow aboard the Duncannon paddle steamer Tintern but at Arthurstown, Co Wexford the men decided to stay the night due to the weather.  The wind was then blowing from the SE and darkness was setting in.  Because of a combination of heavy rain, wind and spring tides, flooding occurred throughout the harbour that night, and in Waterford city, it was said to be the worst seen in 30 years. The lifeboat was hauled out and no doubt the crew got a warm welcome from their colleagues on the local station.

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

On Friday morning, 29th January the weather was described as very unsettled with the wind WSW.  At 10am the five men set off aboard the open lifeboat for Dunmore.  The tides must have been bulling, it was half ebb, the tides were spring, and the rivers were swollen with fresh.  The officer in charge at Arthurstown, Matthew Shea later gave evidence that he had tried to stop the men leaving but was overruled by John Scott.

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 experience and “knew his business”.  Shea also clarified that the men “…appeared to him to be perfectly sober and steady at the time” Patrick Rogers 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 were 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, 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 Baldwins 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 Royal Navy service.  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 of countless innocent souls.

Delighted to say that I will be talking on the theme of local maritime heritage at the Ports, Past & Present
FISHGUARD PORT FEST 2021. 14 May 2021. 10 a.m – 1 p.m. Tickets free through Eventbrite

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