Rockabill & Tuskar; The last of the Clyde

To generations of locals, the Clyde boats were a by word for employment, trade, emigration and holidays and the final two that were often referred to at home were the Rockabill and the Tuskar.  Two very different ships, two different personalities but two ships that were part of the very fabric of a maritime port like Waterford.

The Clyde boats of my parents’ generation of course represented the last of the ships and a fine coasting tradition that spanned well over 100 years.  The Clyde Shipping company started out life, unsurprisingly I guess given the name, in Glasgow on the banks of the River Clyde in 1815. As the company prospered it entered the Irish market in 1856, initially to Cork but quickly to other ports such as Waterford.  It was a stalwart of the Irish goods trade, particularly in the South East, and Waterford as a result of its location was a pivotal hub. In 1912, the company further strengthened this link when it bought the rival Waterford Steamship Company.[i]

The old Clyde Shipping Co Offices
The old Clyde Shipping Co Offices, Waterford Quay

Down the years there have been many notable ships, none more so than the Coningbeg and Formby But two that are equally deserving of mention are the Rockabill and the Tuskar

The Rockabill(1931) was named like all the Clyde ships after a lighthouse (or lightships) around the coast of Ireland and the British Isles. She was built by D&W Henderson & Co on the Clyde.  Her maiden voyage took her from Liverpool to Waterford on the 5th February 1931.  She was primarily a cattle and cargo carrying ship but she had accommodation for 12 first class passengers on the starboard side of her upper deck and steerage passengers too.  Meals were provided but were not included in the cost, which was said to be very appealing to passengers, especially on rough crossings![ii]

Rockabill at Waterford. 29/10/1954 Shortall CQ.47. Andy Kelly Collection

She departed from Waterford quays between Reginalds and the Clock Tower and dropped cattle to the Wirral shore of the Mersey and later dropped her passengers to the West Waterloo Dock (east side)[iii]

Sailings continued during WWII until she was requisitioned for war duties in Liverpool on the 15th Sept 1943.   Sailings continued with relief ships on the route including the Skerries.  She finally returned to the route on the 4th May 1946 (at which point the Skerries was sold).[iv] 

After the war her routine was set at a fairly leisurely pace.  Her twenty hour (approx)  trip commenced on a Saturday from Liverpool arriving at Waterford on Sunday.  She left again on Tuesday arriving into Liverpool on Wednesday morning.  Sailing times were set to suite the tidal conditions. A cabin berth was £3 10s single or £6 return. Steerage was £2 single fare (Not many travelling in steerage would have the luxury of returning after all) Children between 1-14 were charged half fare.[v]

Some described the Rockabill as an unlucky ship and several accidents/incidents were recorded about her, perhaps because she lacked the power required in strong tidal conditions.  There’s a locally famous image of her across Redmond’s Bridge in Waterford on 15th December 1956 after she drifted into the bridge while turning.  Luckily both the bridge and the vessel  survived the incident as she floated away on the ebbing tide. Another incident occurred on 1st June 1942 – three miles east of Hook – when she ran aground but was fortunately towed to safety by the coaster Mayflower[vi]

The Rockabill against Redmond Bridge, Waterford. (L.M. 035 05) Andy Kelly Collection.

My aunt Margaret told me once that she first emigrated to Liverpool aboard the Rockabill in the 1950’s, extended members of the Doherty’s were fairly well established in the port at that stage, I imagine my father probably took the same route when he first went to sea on the Coast Line ships from that port too. As far as I can recall my grandfather actually sailed on her for a time too.

Rockabill last sailed into the port of Waterford in April 1962.  The Waterford News & Star of Friday 6th April[vii] recorded the event on the front page with a photo and headline ”Today a 31 year-old connection will be severed” and went on to outline her role in the port and the technical difficulties that hastened her demise.  Her final journey out the harbour brought her to Cork, and the breakers yard of Haulbowline industries Ltd.  It was an historic journey and worthy of recording.  She was the final steamer (coal burner) of the Clyde fleet and had proudly borne this mantel since 1953.  I’m guessing as such she was our last coastal trading steamer and so ended a chapter of our maritime history which started with the first steamers that operated such as the Mail Packet ships at Dunmore East (early 1820’s) or the Nora Creina in 1826.

Her replacement was a few months in coming on duty and when she did she was for a very different function. The Tuskar (1962) was built by Chas. Connell & Co as a motor vessel of 1,115 tons, launched on the 18th April 1962.  She was designed to carry cargo and containers however and her maiden voyage to Waterford was not until the 26th June 1962 (the MV Sanda covered the route in this time).  She worked the route until the 10th December 1968 before being sold to a Yogoslav company and renamed the Brioni.  She would be broken up in 1988.[viii]

Tuskar crew at Waterford. Any help identifying the men appreciated. Martin Tracey 1st man on left, Tommy Connors second from left, Des Hutchinson 6th from left and Tommy Cleere 7th. Davy Fardey 3rd from right. Photo courtesy of Demma Hutchinson (son of Des)

I suppose the reason that she was known so well to me was that my father sailed on her, for a time in 1968 after the new job he had come home to on the building of Great Island Power station was complete.  But maybe it’s also because, as was often the habit with the Clyde, that there was more than one vessel to have the name.

Although there were five ships that shared the name, the first I have information on is Tuskar (1890) which acted more in a relief capacity on the Waterford route from what I have read and was lost on the West Coast of Ireland during WWI. Tuskar (1920) was specifically built to accommodate the trade on the Waterford run and first sailed the route on the 1st September 1920.  She worked alongside the Rockabill for a time but after import duties started to take a toll on the company’s business she was sold to Swedish owners in 1937.  She would later be seized by Nazi Germany and her ultimate fate was to be sunk off the Greek coast in 1944.[ix]

SS Tuskar (1920) leaving Waterford. Andy Kelly Collection

The arrival of the MV Tuskar into Waterford was covered in many of the national papers of the time and according to the Cork Examiner[x] she arrived into Waterford on Monday 25th June.  On Tuesday a reception was held aboard and she was shown off to an invited audience. (although Des Griffin of the Waterford Maritime History Facebook page told me recently that although he was only a child he was able to go aboard and explore the ship from stem to stern) The guests included the following dignitaries: “Councillor John Griffen,  Mayor; Mr. Sean Gillen, City Manager; Mr. F. Cassin. Chairman of the Harbour Board; Mr P. Breen, President, Chamber of Commerce, were received on board yesterday. The attendance also included Captain Chestnut, Mr. William Logan, and Mr. A. Cuthbert. Glasgow, managing director and director of the company respectively, and Mr. W. D Sterling, a local manager.”

The article went on the describe the ship as a ; “1,597-ton vessel… a 15 ton and three five-ton cranes…equipped for the container traffic with accommodation for 450 cattle and a refrigerated hold for 100 tons of frozen cargo. Her speed is 14 knots.”  She departed on Wednesday with a general freight cargo and what was to be her mainstay on the route 370 cattle and 40 horses.

Her career was short-lived and there is little of the drama or excitement that would be connected to her forbearers.  The one tragedy with which she is associated in the papers was the drowning of a 16 year old apprentice at the L&N of Broad Street as it then was.  James Hanrahan of Morrison’s Road was lost down the side of the Tuskar when she berthed at the Clyde wharf in June 1966.  James was apparently cycling along the quay with his fishing rod when the bike swerved and James was thrown over the handlebars.  James’ body was later recovered by the Portlairge in September.

MV Tuskar, photo courtesy of Frank Cheevers

In 1967 she was reported as carrying up to 1000 live pigs, the largest consignment to leave the port since WWII, accumulated due to a bacon strike[xi].  While in 1968 the Munster Express[xii] carried a photo of a powdered milk shipment being loaded aboard, paid for by the Cork Rotary Club and bound for Liverpool and hence India to assist as famine relief.

But in December of 1968 the newspapers both national and local carried the story of the sale of the ship.  A company spokesman explained in the Irish Independent[xiii] that the sale was partly due to government policy to slaughter and process animals in Ireland.  Perhaps not surprisingly the Munster Express[xiv] was more concerned about the impact on jobs the route closure heralded and more generally in the position of the Port of Waterford in the overall scheme of maritime affairs in Ireland.

The sale of Tuskar was only another step in the sad decline of a once vital employer in the city of Waterford and her environs and although the company offices would remain open for another few years the writing was on the wall.  Today all that remains are the iconic offices on Customs House Quay, the sculpture to honour the crews of the Coningbeg and Formby and the fading memories of those that were lucky enough to see them sail into port. 

I’d like to thank Demma Hutchinson and Mark Fenton who helped me with this piece, both their dads also sailed on the Tuskar.  If anyone has any memories to share of crew or as passengers  I would be delighted to receive them for addition to this piece.


Sources used includes:

McElwee. R.  The Last Voyage of the Waterford Steamers.

[McRonald. M.  The Irish Boats. Vol II Liverpool to Cork and Waterford.  2006. Tempus. Stroud. Gloucestershire. Pp130-137

Brownstown’s Napoleonic signaling tower

Introduction

You will probably be aware of the twin pillars of Brownstown Head to the east of Tramore completed in 1823. There is also a lookout post dating from the time of the emergency. But in 1811 a Mr Pope sent a letter to Trinity House, the custodians of nautical affairs in Ireland. Pope was the Waterford agent of the London Assurance Company and he was troubled by the possibility that a signalling tower on Brownstown Head could be a cause of peril to seafarers. So what was this tower? Why the concern? And what exactly happened as a consequence of his letter?

Napoleonic era defences

During the Napoleonic wars Ireland was a crucial area of engagement between the warring factions. The extensive Irish coastline was well known to the French through generations of fishermen accessing the waters, and many Irishmen willing to fight on their side as a reaction to British rule in Ireland. French forces had attempted invasions through Ireland in 1796 and 1798 and as a consequence a series of coastal defences were set up around the coast.

Martello towers are perhaps the best known example of these. “Martello towers were predominantly erected around the coast at strategic positions where they might be necessary for defence. Concentrations of towers were built on the Dublin coast (27) from Balbriggan to Bray, along the Wexford-Waterford coast (3), and at various locations around Cork Harbour (5), Bere Island (4) and Galway Bay (3). Several towers were erected on the north coast, along the shores of Lough Swilly and at the entrance to Lough Foyle. Inland, two Martello towers were erected at the middle reaches of the River Shannon”

These towers had variations in the design, layout and the facilities associated with them. They comprised of storage, accommodation and a lookout and gun platform. Many had extra gun batteries close by for extra defence. A single gun tower needed a compliment including one sergeant and twelve men

Martello Tower at Baginbun, Co Wexford. Author.

Signal Towers

In areas less likely to direct invasion a series of almost 80 signaling towers were erected from Dublin to Malin Head. Work on these started in 1804 and was completed by 1806. The main building was a small but sturdy square tower used as a defensible residence and lookout point. Aligned with this was a signal mast, from which a team of lookouts could share intelligence with ships at sea or indeed with the shore allowing for speedy communication.

Of course the principal function was signalling which required a signaling mast. This consisted of a timber pole about 50 feet high from which ropes and halyards hung, allowing a series of pennants and balls which could be raised and lowered speedily as a communication tool. Depending on the terrain, the signal towers could be spread out between 7-14 miles and allowed for rapid communication at a time when transport by foot, horse or wind power was relatively slow. However, they were limited by visibility.


an interesting perspective on the use of signaling

The signal towers were crewed with ex royal navy sailors who would have been familiar with the signals from their time at sea. Their knowledge, naval training aligned with a spyglass and code book would have enabled rapid communication of intelligence on all matters related with the French. The system was based on the work of Irish born Rear Admiral Home Riggs Popham and his list of telegraph signals first published in 1799, becoming the basis of British naval and mercantile communication throughout the 19th century.

Tramore Bay

But back to Tramore and the concerns of Mr Pope. Mr R (R for Richard I think) Pope was described as the Waterford agent for the London Assurance Company, representing their interests in matters concerning trade and losses to same. He may have been a member, indeed I would say he likely was, of the merchant family of this name in the city of Waterford.

Cabot Tower on Signal Hill, St Johns, Newfoundland. Photo courtesy of Ryan Doherty

Pope outlines his concern that a disused signal tower risked confusion to seafarers in bad weather with the Hook tower. He cites two recent examples in his letter (dated 14th March 1811) to the secretary of Trinity House. The first is the sloop Commerce of Plymouth. The ship was described as a complete loss, apart for a portion of her cargo of bacon. Another was the schooner Grinder of London. She was carrying wool and bound for Lisbon when the weather drove her ashore. Pope was apprehensive about the vessel, although the cargo was saved. In both cases I don’t know did the author omit any details of the fate of the crew, or did Pope? Perhaps it highlights a preoccupation with the interest of the ship-owner and merchants over the needs of the crew and their families.

Curiously, his letter seems to omit another event of the 5th February. Again in Tramore, an unidentified brig (I found an excellent blog that named her as the Fox) was driven into Tramore Bay, where she became stranded. Her crew of eight took to ships boat but within 30 yards of the shore, the boat overturned and the crew lost. Spectators on the shore were powerless to help. The report speculates that she was bound from Spain as her cargo was of corkwood and oranges. When the tide receded revenue officers set to discharging the cargo, under the protection of a detachment the Roscommon Militia.

Pope was adamant that the risk of confusion was a factor in the wrecks occurring at Tramore and he pressed for action, stating that the signal tower had been unused for military purposes for over a year. Action was prompted eventually and apparently the signal tower was removed late that same year.

Despite this, the incidents continued however. For example in December 1811 alone I could find two. In the first a brig named the Albion was driven ashore about 200 yards below the men’s bathing place on the beach. The crew were saved and there were hopes that the ship might be got off. Her unidentified but “valuable cargo” was placed under the custody of the revenue and yeomanry. The report concludes with a very complimentary affectation of the Tramore citizenry; “We feel peculiar pleasure in being able to add, that the characteristic humanity and honesty of the inhabitants of Tramore were conspicuous this occasion, as there appeared not the least disposition to plunder, or even embezzlement…”

And later that same December, the Albion, which had not yet got off caused another near tragedy. In this case it was a ship called the Benjamin, en-route from the coast of Africa to Liverpool, with red-wood, palm-oil, ivory, etc. She ran into the bay, mistaking it for the harbour and in hazy weather conditions mistook the mast of the grounded Albion, which was occasionally seen, as riding at anchor. Evasive measures were hurriedly taken, part of the cargo was jettisoned and they managed to get about and drop anchor. Her captain, Captain Barker, rowed ashore. A Mr. Walsh, of the local hotel ensured a signal to facilitate a safe landing. Following discussion with locals the next day two local boats and crews were procured and the Benjamin was got off leaving only her anchor behind.

The Brownstown pillars with LOP 17. Author.

Conclusion

Unfortunately the precarious nature of sailing and navigational errors continued and there is a long list of casualties in Tramore Bay to prove it. Following the Sea Horse tragedy a plan was developed to erect five towers, what I had previously mentioned as a countdown system (and although not conclusive, perhaps this article might support that in a way). As said the LOP was erected between 1939-1940 and the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society have plans to refurbish this building in the near future.

I’m indebted to a paper on the History of the Tramore Beacons sent on to me by David Carroll last year for prompting the idea for this article and the details on the letter by Pope.

Other sources include those linked directly in the piece, several contemporary newspaper accounts and an article called MARTELLO AND SIGNAL TOWERS by Muiris O’Sullivan and Liam Downey in Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 26, No. 2, Special 100th Issue (Summer 2012), pp. 46-49 Published by: Wordwell Ltd.

I found the following fascinating blog site in relation to Tramore just prior to publishing. Hopefully others might enjoy it too.
http://tramoreshippwrecks.blogspot.com/

Recalling the loss of UC 44

It was just about midnight on a calm moonlit night in Waterford Harbour. Aboard the WWI mine laying submarine UC-44, her skipper, Kurt Tebbenjoahnnes, satisfied himself as to their position and gave the orders to start deploying her load.  The UC class of sub were a relatively new design and although they could deploy mines from the surface, secrecy was paramount.  As the night was so clear and they were initially so close to land (at Creaden Head, Co Waterford) Tebbenjoahnnes gave the command to submerge. These mines were stored in chutes in the forward section of the submarine. Each mine was dropped individually and the position carefully recorded.  As the mine dropped out, the sub floated astern on the tide.  As it hit the bottom, a soluble plug held the mine in position, allowing plenty of time for the sub to clear.  Saltwater reacted to the plug, which eventually dissolved and released the mine which floated up to a predetermined height on a wire.

A sketch sketch of the mines deployed

Beneath the mine was a hydrostatic valve that was set to a specific depth which controlled the position of the mine.  Whatever way the tide was running, it maintained the mine beneath the surface making detection much more difficult.  There the mines waited for an unsuspecting ship to pass over and strike the protruding horns which triggered an explosion.

While this operation was ongoing Tebbenjoahnnes remained in the conning tower, checking the boats position and plotting his course for Queenstown (Cobh) in Cork harbour.  Suddenly he heard and felt a loud explosion and his boat lurched downwards and struck the seabed.

Tebbenjoahnnes found himself on the bottom of Waterford harbour in the conning tower and was speedily joined by two other submariners; chief engine room officer Fahnster and a young apprentice named Richter.  Any attempts to raise the submarine were in vain and with no communication with the rest of the crew and waters rising around them they were faced with only one choice, to try for the surface which was 90 feet above. All three emerged from below almost as one, but eventually they drifted apart. Miraculously Tebbenjoahnnes was pulled aboard a local fishing boat later that morning by Dunmore East fishermen. Tebbenjoahnnes was cared for in the home of Mrs Chester and was seen to by Mr Austin Farrell. Later that morning he was turned over to the authorities and began his journey to London and life as a POW.

Removing the remaining mines following salvage. Courtesy of Paul O’Farrell

The rescue of Tebbenjoahnnes would trigger a series of events over the next few days and weeks that would see the death of a crew man aboard the minesweeper Haldon and the dramatic salvage of the submarine that would have a major part to play in the allies winning WWI.

All that was to come however. On that morning of the 5th August, Tebbenjohannes had breakfast before commencing his new life as a POW under escort to London for interrogation.

A story of the salvage and the implications of WWI is subject of a new book by Tony Babb. It makes for an interesting read


Please join me for Heritage week at Cheekpoint from Saturday 24th to Sunday 25th where the focus will be on the three sister rivers and Water Heritage Day

Death sails into Passage East

Introduction

In June of 1832 a ship anchored off Passage East, apparently to await favourable sailing conditions.  However within hours her passengers would be fleeing ashore and the army was called out to exert control.  For the passengers were escaping a deadly sickness that had the country gripped in panic and fear – Cholera.

Cholera 1831-3 outbreak

The Cholera outbreak of 1832 in Ireland was a medical disaster which was compounded by the political and economic situation in the country.  The pandemic had been a long time coming originating in India in 1817 and spreading west, and creating a sense of fear and foreboding as it did so.  The first officially recognised case in Great Britain was in Sunderland in October 1831, and was first reported in the island of Ireland at Belfast on 18th March 1832, arriving in Dublin a week later.[1] 

Thereafter it spread rapidly reaching  Cork by 12 April, Tralee by 28 April, Galway by 12 May, Limerick two days later and Waterford on the 20th May.  By August it was established in Wexford and Derry at opposite ends of the country.[2]  The fact that these are all ports will not be lost on my readers.

Causes of Cholera

The actual cause of Cholera is a bacterium called Vibrio cholera.  When humans ingest cholera bacteria (contaminated water, raw vegetables, shellfish etc), they may not become sick themselves, but they still pass the bacteria in their stool. When human faeces contaminate food and water supplies, both can serve as ideal breeding grounds for the cholera bacteria.  The social, political and economic conditions in Ireland at the time meant that it was a fertile breeding ground for the spread of the sickness.

Passage East during the past week.

Fear spreads countrywide

If you doubt the awareness of the illness amongst the general population or the ability of news to travel in a rural country consider the following:  “The earliest recorded appearance of a popular panic centering on this threatened appearance of cholera came on the night of Saturday 9th June 1832, in the northern part of County Cork….(it) began with the news that the Virgin Mary had appeared on the altar of the chapel at Charleville, and had left there certain ashes which she warned were the only protection against cholera. She ordered that small packages of the ashes should be taken to neighbouring houses, where they should be placed under the rafters. The owner of each house was then to take four parcels of ash out of his chimney and proceed to four other houses that had not already been visited, giving the inhabitants of each the same directions as he had received himself”[4]  Within six days a 19th century version of Chinese whispers had spread almost nationwide with much variation to the original message.  It arrived at 2am on Tuesday 12th June in New Ross  “…carried by ‘enormous bodies of men who came last night from the county of Kilkenny by the bridges of Ross [and] Mountgarret, and the boats along the river which they had in requisition”[5]

The storefront of Howlett & Co of New Ross who had organised the Lord Wellington with thanks to Myles Courtney

A later advert for Howlett & Co in Bassetts commercial directory 1885. Courtesy of Myles Courtney

Passage East situation

Perhaps by now you will have a sense of the dread attached to Cholera.  So when the barque Lord Wellington hove to and dropped anchor off Passage East on Friday 15th June and the cry of Cholera went up there presumably was widespread concern.
The barque under Captain Culleton had departed New Ross for Howlett & Co earlier that week with a disputed number of passengers.[6]  The news was probably brought ashore initially by fishermen or boatmen, or perhaps the international signal, the yellow jack, was raised on the sailing ships mast.  By evening any doubts were cast aside when several passengers came ashore at Passage East weighed down with their belongings and saying they were in fear of their lives and would not re-board.  Many of these set off to return to their homes but some were already ill and slumped to the ground, while another man (John Holahan) succumbed on the road out of the village and was later found lying in a ditch covered in straw.  A local clergyman Rev Paliser was credited with organising the care of the ill and had a temporary fever hospital was set up in the village, Holahan being carried to it from off the roadside.[7]

The Yellow Jack – signalling illness aboard HMS Hazard 1841. Accessed from National Maritime Museum London

Rev JB Palliser had already been proactive however, having written in his position as chairman of a local group proposing the establishment of a local board of health to deal with the impending Cholera pandemic to Sir William Gosset, Under Secretary of State in Ireland at Dublin Castle in May.  The local initiative was not rewarded however.[8]

Dr Gore (a rather unfortunate name for a medic surely) of the Dunmore East dispensary seems to have taken control of the care of the victims housed in the temporary Passage East hospital.  His first patient was described as having been sick when leaving the ship, a 42 year old Wicklow woman, Eliza Murphy, who collapsed after arriving on Passage Quay.  She was not expected to recover (I understand from another newspaper source that she died Monday morning).  The first confirmed death was of John Holahan, the man found earlier in the ditch, who died on Sunday 17th.  A relative of his, Mary Maton, died soon after.[9]

By Sunday an emergency meeting was convened in the village by the Waterford Board of Health.  It issued a warrant for the interment of the deceased, and forbad all unnecessary communication with the temporary hospital.  Alderman Henry Alcock, Mayor of Waterford, and Captain Shapeland Carew Morris ordered a reinforcement of police from nearby Callaghane Bridge, in order to prevent all such communication.  It’s not made clear exactly why…was it fear for the safety of the victims, or fear of contagion?[10]

But what was happening aboard the Lord Wellington?

Meanwhile aboard the Lord Wellington one can only suppose that her Master Captain Culleton (elsewhere Culloton) was busy trying to care for his charges with the limited means at his disposal[11].  Dr Long from Arthurstown had been aboard on Friday evening to administer some care to a cabin passenger named George Cook of Carlow.  However when he boarded on Saturday morning with Dr Mackesy of the Waterford Board of Health they found Cook laid out dead on the deck with a steerage passenger named Martin Byrne from Wicklow.  In a follow up report Mackesy provided the following list of the ill:

  • “James Walsh, aged 25 years, a very fine young man, from Clough, in the County Kilkenny, in the last stage of blue spasmodic cholera—dying.—-{since dead.)
  • William Thompson, a negro, cook of the, ship, native the West Indies—extremely ill—not likely to recover; had been unwell twenty hours.
  • Mary Larkin, of the county Carlow, aged six years, has had hooping cough for the last three weeks.—ls dying of spasmodic cholera.—(Since dead.)
  • Margaret Larkin, aged 15 months, has also had hooping cough. Has been ill of cholera twenty-six hours. —Is better, and is likely to recover.
  • John Kennedy, aged twenty years, from Castlecomer —ill seventeen hours—is better, and is likely to recover.”[12]

On Sunday a deputation from the Waterford Board of Health boarded the vessel. The medical group included Dr. Connolly, Dr. Sheehan, Dr. Gore, and Mr. Reynett, of Waterford apothecary.  That same day the Mayor had dispatched Joseph Watson, one of his city constables, to Passage, to urge the departure of the vessel.  Her orders were to report to the quarantine grounds off Milford Haven where she would have to remain until all illness had passed. She sailed later Sunday afternoon. The outgoing pilot reported that two more deaths had occurred while he was on board.[13]

Aftermath at Passage East

Although the departure of the ship must have brought some slight relief cholera didn’t disappear with her departure.  The local papers that week reported that  “A memorial has been forwarded to Government for the formation of a local Board of Health at Passage. The appointment is expected down on Tuesday”[14] It was obviously founded because by September the secretary of the Board of Health for Passage East William N Clarke wrote to Sir William Gosset, [Under Secretary for Ireland], explaining that one of the Board members, John Spencer, had died from cholera and seeking approval for their nomination of John Cavanagh as a replacement.  In a follow up letter dated April of 1833 Clarke again wrote to Gosset, requesting permission to use the balance of the cholera fund to provide distress for the poor now suffering from typhus fever.[15]  On another side note its worth mentioning that as a consequence of the fears of contagion, shellfish was feared and sales of cockles were almost nil. This must have had a knock on effect too on the village for some time.

I could find no mention of the burials, but I’m sure this would have been done locally. To have transported the bodies back to their home places would be too much of a threat to public health. Eventually a quarantine hospital was set up at Passage East, but it would appear that it was some years following the 1832 outbreak. An exact date still escapes me. 

Back on board the Lord Wellington

Once the pilot left the Lord Wellington Captain Culleton had a relatively short trip to Milford Haven[16], one of three “foul bill quarantine stations” designated as anchorages for ships requiring quarantine at this time and where a hospital ship awaited the sick and dying[17].  The procedure was that the ship would fly a yellow jack to signify illness aboard, and anchor away from other ships.  A doctor would assess the situation. The sick were removed, or if everyone aboard was sick they would remain.  Until the medics decided the ship was free to travel, she would remain at anchor.  The Lord Wellington eventually sailed from Milford Haven on the 29th June for Quebec.[18]

A hospital ship at Standgate Creek (Medway). Public domain, accessed from National Maritime Museum London

According to Lloyds registrar the Lord Wellington had been built at Quebec in 1811 and was an average sized ship of the time 271 tons. I can determine nothing further about her passage except to say that 167[19] passengers were disembarked at Quebec on 13th August.  Undoubtedly she had arrived some days previously and had reported to the Grosse Isle Quarantine Station to be checked and passed as fit to proceed into port.  As yet I haven’t discovered how many actually left Milford for the journey across the Atlantic.[20] One newspaper account reported 300 aboard originally and also reported that up to 100 fled the ship while at Passage East.  The numbers were disputed by Howlett & Co in subsequent reports.  But if true, it suggests 200 aboard when leaving the harbour and that 33 deaths had occurred. I’d suspect the figure was higher.

Grosse Isle had been set up by an act dated February 25th 1832 as a direct response to the threat posed to lower Canada by Asiatic cholera.  Thirty miles below Quebec it was considered far enough away from the town to protect it, but close enough to be provisioned.  On this tiny island a number of wooden cabins were built with beds as an isolation hospital where the sick were monitored and disease such as cholera contained.  Ships could not proceed until they had been passed fit.  In 1832 alone 51,700 emigrants arrived at Quebec, and any sickness had to be contained on the island.  Tents were erected to cope with the numbers and the death toll was high.  Of course as bad as 1832 was, it was not until the wave of the Irish famine broke across it in 1847 that the real horror would unfold.[21]  But that is another story entirely.[22]

Grosse Isle in the 19th C accessed from
https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/qc/grosseile/decouvrir-discover/natcul1/b

The impact of Cholera in Ireland

The Cholera had a deep and profound effect on the locality and it was 1833 before the pandemic had finally cleared the country.  I put together the following cases and deaths based on the Cholera Board Observations (Chief secretary’s office, official papers, 1832)

County                              cases                     deaths

Kilkenny                           550                         363

Wexford                           862                         373

Waterford                        879                         482        

However the statistics are subject to debate.  For example “…the 1841 census recorded that 46,175 died from cholera in the period 1832-4. The manuscript returns show that for the year 1832 the number of cases was 51,153 of whom 18,955 died…The difficulty in getting an overall picture arises from the omissions rather than any false returns. Many rural areas, which were affected by the disease, had no boards of health and so made no returns… Some who fled from the cholera infested towns must also have died unrecorded. The reported 46,175 cholera deaths is, if anything, a conservative estimate.”[23]

Myles Courtney of Visit New Ross informed me this week that 11 people were buried in St Marys Cemetry in the town.  For the effects on the county of Waterford and Dungarvan in particular see Patrick C Powers A History of Waterford City & County.

Concluding remarks

The cruel irony of this story is that it is still playing out today.  Cholera is rife in war torn Yemen at present. And migrants fleeing similar scenarios as faced the 19th Century Irish, risk everything to try cross the Mediterranean or the Mexican border in the hope of escaping the grueling poverty, hunger and oppression they experience in their home places.  I’m not so sure that this months blog is heritage as much as it is a perspective on one of the burning issues of our time.  And who’s to say that it won’t get worse.  If you thought it appropriate to criticise or condemn modern migration it might be worth remembering our own, and particularly the conditions that drove them to flee.


I’m indebted to Myles Courtney at Visit New Ross, Brian Cleare, and Kieran Cronin Centre for Newfoundland & Labrador Studies at WIT for assistance with this article

For more on the emigration story visit the Dunbrody Famine Ship experience in New Ross, Co Wexford

Sources drawn on are either hyperlinked in the piece or from:

The ‘Blessed Turf’: Cholera and Popular Panic in Ireland, June 1832.  S. J. Connolly. Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 23, No. 91 (May, 1983), pp. 214-232.  Cambridge University Press

[Fever and Public Health in Pre-Famine Ireland.  Timothy P. O’Neill.  The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 103 (1973), pp. 1-34.  Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland

Grosse Isle Quarantine Station.  JD Page.  Canadian Public Health Journal. Vol 22, No 9.  September 1931 pp454-458.  Canadian Public Health Association.

Power.P.C. History of Waterford City & County. 1990. Mercier Press. Cork

Waterford Chronical 7th July 1832. 

Ballyshannon Herald – Friday 29 June 1832

Waterford Mail – Wednesday 20 June 1832

Lloyds List.  3 July 1832

For a fascinating and detailed account of famine era migration and the conditions at Gross Isle see Jim Rees book Surplus People, From Wicklow to Canada.  2014.  Collins Press, Cork

For an insight into the living conditions for the city’s poor, which was a breeding ground for the disease, see Niall Byrne, The Waterford leper hospital of St Stephen & Waterford Co and City infirmary. . 2011. Linden publishing. Dublin. Pp27-28 in particular

Join me at Cheekpoint over Aug 24th&25th to celebrate National Heritage Week

Buttermilk Castle, Co Wexford

While out walking in the early morning sunlight last week, I spotted something that I haven’t seen as clear and obvious ever before. The remains of what was once the Norman era tower house that is Buttermilk Castle. I’ve written about it before

But here’s the photo I’m referring to from last Friday morning as seen from the Russianside, Cheekpoint. Taken at about 5.45am. I’ve added the arrow as it might not be so obvious to everyone.

And here’s some other photos taken from the site itself when rowing around the river which is about all an ex fisherman can do anymore around here!

looking at it from the river, facing west
looking at it towards the east

Hope you enjoyed this little visual tour. Next time I might try shoot some video.