Loss of the Stowell Brown

On This Day in 1884 the fully rigged sailing ship Stowell Brown came to grief on the sand bar above Creaden Head, one of several ships caught out in a terrific February storm almost 140 years ago. A regular and popular guest contributor to our page, David Carroll has the story.

The Irish coastline suffered severe weather during February 1884. The Waterford Standard of February 13th, 1884 described the storm on the previous day as being one of the severest that hit the Waterford area for years. The newspaper reported that high tides were experienced, and flooding was widespread. Fields at Kilbarry in Waterford City were underwater. At Tramore, the weather was equally severe, with a considerable portion of the storm wall washing away.

The newspaper also reported that a large four-masted vessel, name unknown, had gone ashore off the Wexford coast and that the steamship SS Waterford, which had passed the stricken vessel was unable to render any assistance due to the severity of the weather. On arrival at Waterford, Captain Pearn of the steamship immediately informed Lloyd’s Agent of the sailing ship’s plight. We now know that this was the Earl of Beaconsfield [which we featured before].

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

The SS Lara, belonging to the Waterford Steamship Company, caused considerable anxiety in the city as she was very much overdue on her passage from Liverpool. The vessel departed from Liverpool on the previous Friday morning and did not reach Waterford until 2 o’clock on Monday, being towed into port by the tug Dauntless. Having been at sea for about nine hours, the ship lost the power of one of its boilers and became disabled.  The Waterford Standard newspaper brought news of the overdue voyage, reporting that a hurricane was blowing at the time and a very high sea ran all day on Saturday followed by a gale on Saturday night. The newspaper went on to extol the intrepidity of Captain Walsh and his crew, reported not to have left the deck during the three days that the perilous voyage lasted.

But that was not the end of the dramatic events at sea during that storm. On the same day that the Waterford Standard was being read throughout the city and environs came news of a further maritime mishap in Waterford Harbour.  The Creadan Head coastline and the nearby notorious Duncannon Bar, a scourge to sailing vessels for many years, was to claim yet another victim; the Stowell Brown.

Stowell Brown was a wooden sailing ship of 1370 tons and over 200 feet in length, built in St Martins, New Brunswick, Canada in 1873 and was registered at St John in New Brunswick. Her master was Captain Alfred Kimble Smith. The Stowell Brown was described as a full-rigged ship. It appears that the name of the ship was in recognition of Hugh Stowell Brown, born in the Isle of Man in 1823, a Baptist Minister, renowned preacher, and social reformer. He was known for his public lectures and work among the poor in the seafaring city of Liverpool.  He died in 1886. A statue in his memory, originally erected in Liverpool, shortly after his death, was restored and re-sited in 2015 at Hope Street in the city.

Baptist preacher Hugh Stowell Brown, Wikimedia Public Domain Image

In early 1884, the Stowell Brown sailed in ballast from Liverpool and loaded a large cargo of coal in Penarth, near Cardiff bound for Rio de Janeiro.  The Waterford Standard, on Saturday, February 16th, 1885, described her ill-fated voyage as follows:

WRECK OF THE STOWELL BROWN

With regard to this vessel which sank at the mouth of the harbour on Wednesday evening, inquiries have elicited that the ship left Cardiff for Rio de Janeiro on the 5th instant, with a crew of 23 hands all told under the command of Captain Smith. After leaving the port , very severe weather was experienced. The wind blowing a very stiff gale from southwest. The ship experienced the full effects of the weather and is reported to have made about two feet of water during the passage. The crew  had great difficulty in managing the ship, the hands being greatly occupied with working the pumps. Seas of a heavy character broke over the ship at intervals and added much to the perils of the crew, who were in occasional danger of being swept away. The weather continued so boisterous and the ship laboured so heavily that the captain at length decided to run for Queenstown Harbour (now Cobh), which he expected to be able to make. On Wednesday morning, however, the Saltees lightship [1]was sighted, and it was then determined to run inside the Hook for shelter. The mouth of the harbour was reached in safety, and the vessel was anchored for some time. It was at this time that the pilot cutter bore down and, it is stated, directed the captain of the Stowell Brown to follow in its wake.  The ship did follow and shortly afterwards ran aground on the Bar. The crew stood by the vessel which did not sink for some time after. Before this happened they were all taken off by a fishing boat. Most of them lost all effects. On arriving at Waterford, their wants were attended to by Mr Edward Jacob, local agent to the Shipwrecked Mariners Society.

The Waterford Standard of Wednesday, February 20th, 1884 carried the following advertisement:

Courtesy of Mr Brian Ellis, Hon. Librarian, National Maritime Museum

At this stage, the Earl of Beaconsfield had been towed to the safety of Buttermilk Point further up Waterford Harbour from where the Stowell Brown had been lost. The two wrecks had obviously created a great deal of local interest. The Waterford Standard, in the same issue,advised its reader about an excursion from Waterford to view the wrecks would take place:

Trip Round the Wrecks: – We observe that the Waterford Steamship Company’s steamer Ida will start for a trip around the wrecks, to Creadan Head and back, to-day at eleven o’clock. The fare charged is moderate, and a good number is sure to avail themselves of the opportunity of viewing the scenes of the recent shipping disasters in the harbour.

Perhaps the busiest person in Waterford at the time was Mr Edward Jacob,[2] Lloyd’s Agent, representative of the Shipwrecked Mariners Society.   An ironmonger by trade and a member of the Society of Friends, Mr. Jacob was from one of the many well-known entrepreneurial Quaker families living in Waterford. Altruistic deeds such as taking care of distressed seafarers would have been very much in keeping with the ethos of his religious beliefs. he same newspaper reported as follows:Shipwrecked Mariners-

The sailors belong to the “Earl of Beaconsfield” and the “Stowell Brown” to the number of fifty-eight, one woman, and one child, had their wants well attended to by Mr. Edward Jacob, hon. Secretary at Waterford to the Shipwrecked Mariners Society, who had them comfortably lodged at Mrs Ryan’s, the Quay, and Mrs Delaney’s, Bailey’s New Street, during their stay in Waterford. On Friday the first batch of them was forwarded to Liverpool and on Saturday another portion of them proceeded to Glasgow. On Friday, Saturday and up to last night, when the last of them left Waterford, parties of the men were sent to Cardiff and Swansea.

A newspaper report, dated February 26th, 1884, headlined ‘CASUALTIES AT SEA’, gave the following information:

London, Monday. – The Board of Trade have requested their solicitor to take steps for holding formal investigations into the circumstances connected with the stranding of the ship Stowell Brown, of St John’s N.B., near Creadan Head, Waterford harbour on the 13th inst.; the abandonment of the ship Earl of Beaconsfield, of Glasgow, off Fethard, County Wexford, on the 13th inst.; the loss of the steamer Emily of Sunderland, on Brigg’s Reef, County Down, on Feb 11.[3]

The Board of Trade Inquiry into the stranding and loss of the Stowell Brown opened on March 7th, 1884 at St George’s Hall, Liverpool with Mr Raffles, the stipendiary magistrate, assisted by two nautical assessors, named as Captains Ward and French.  Mr Paxton appeared to conduct the inquiry on behalf of the Board of Trade, and Mr Squarey (instructed by Messrs Forshaw and Hawkins) represented the master of the vessel, Captain Alfred K Smith. Mr Allingham, clerk to the Waterford Harbour Commissioners, watched the inquiry on behalf of that body.

The following reported evidence has been extracted from the Liverpool Journal of Commerce, dated March 8th, 1884:

She left Liverpool on the 8th of January and went to Cardiff, where she loaded a cargo of 2,094 tons of coal, and sailed on the 6th of February, bound for Rio de Janeiro, with a crew of 22 hands. Some days afterwards the weather became extremely stormy, and on the 10th, whilst wearing, a heavy sea broke on deck, smashing two of the boats and doing other damage. The captain then decided to run into Queenstown, but finding the wind heading him he changed course and ran for Waterford Harbour, thinking to shelter there until the storm abated, and to proceed to Queenstown afterwards. He anchored about three miles from the bar of the harbour, with two cables down, and, according to his own evidence, whilst so at anchor a pilot boat came up and warned him not to remain there, but to slip his cables and run into the harbour. Having doubt in his own mind as to whether there would be water sufficient to enable him to cross the bar, he asked the pilot boat particularly on this point, and received an answer that there was plenty of water, and that his vessel and all on board would be lost if he remained where he was. Upon that assurance, he slipped his cables and ran for the harbour, but before properly reaching the bar itself the vessel touched the ground in the “dip” of a heavy sea, and ten minutes afterward went hard aground, where she speedily became a wreck. No lives were lost.

The master was the only witness examined yesterday, and it was intimated that his evidence as to the statement alleged to have been made by the pilot boat would be contradicted by the pilots themselves.

The inquiry concluded on Monday, March 10th, 1884 and the following is extracted from the reported judgement delivered by Mr Raffles:

The Court considered that the master, having made up his mind to go into a port, committed an error of judgement in not attempting to get into Queenstown, being within so short a distance, the wind being fair and the night clear. The anchorage at the mouth of Waterford Harbour was too exposed to be safe or proper with a gale from the southward or westward, and, unless the last resorted, the master should not have attempted it. The Court considered that the master of the pilot cutter, under the circumstances, might have been quite justified in refusing to send a pilot on board the Stowell Brown as she lay at anchor. He led her up the harbour and sent a pilot on board as soon as he could. The evidence at this point was contradictory. The Court was inclined to think that the account of what had passed when the pilot cutter hailed the ship, as told by the master of the cutter and the pilot, confirmed to some extent by the cook and steward of the ship, was more correct than the account given by the master and mate of the ship. It might be that the master did not, in the opinion of the Court, take proper measures in navigating her up the harbour. The Court decidedly thought that he was not justified in refusing the assistance of the tug. On a careful review of the whole evidence, the court concluded that the ship had not struck when the pilot boarded the vessel and, if so, the master was certainly not justified in refusing his assistance. The Court considered that the errors of the master in the navigation of his ship up to the time when he slipped his cable at the entrance of Waterford Harbour were errors of judgement only, but they pronounced him in fault in not accepting the assistance of the pilot and tug in the navigation of his vessel up the harbour, his anchors and cables being gone. Even if the vessel had taken the ground, as the master stated, before the pilot came on board or the tug offered assistance, he was wrong in refusing their offers. The Court suspended his certificate for six calendar months and acquitted the master of the pilot cutter. The master of the Stowell Brown was offered but declined a mate’s certificate during the period of suspension.[4]

That was not quite the last matter to be reported on the Stowell Brown. At the monthly meeting of the Waterford Harbour Commissioners held on April 7th, 1884, it was noted that the pilot committee had received a bill of £240 from the firm of Messrs Jute, Coulson, and Co. for blowing up the Stowell Brown.  The amount was agreed to be paid, minus a 5% discount.[5]


[1]  This lightship was better known as ‘Coningbeg’.

[2]  Mr Jacob, (1843- 1924) who lived at ‘Ardview’, Tramore, was also Honorary Secretary of Tramore Lifeboat. He had a particular interest in the hazards of Tramore Bay, and this led him to make notes and gather news cuttings connected with local shipping. An article based on his records, entitled, ‘Records of Vessels Wrecked in Tramore Bay, 1816 – ’99’’, written by Maurice J Wigham, appeared in ‘Decies’ No 12, September 1979.

[3] Belfast News-Letter, February 26th, 1884.

[4]  Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, Tuesday, March 11, 1884.

[5]  Waterford Standard, Wednesday, April 9, 1884

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