The Columbus Calamity. Hook Head January 1852

On Tuesday 6th January 1852 the American sailing ship Columbus went ashore to the east of Hook Lighthouse and was wrecked. Despite the efforts of those onshore 14 were lost including three female passengers. It was arguably an avoidable tragedy but as is often the case in these circumstances, the fates seemed to conspire to see the noble ship meet her doom in the graveyard of 1000 shipwrecks.

The aftermath of this incident was felt far and wide but none more so than in the locality. However this story focuses on the event as seen through the eyes of Captain Robert McCerren, Master of the Columbus. Residing in the Imperial Hotel in Waterford for some weeks after, he handled the salvage of the vessel’s cargo of cotton bales and he also provided his own analysis of why the Columbus was lost, appearing before a number of sittings of the Harbour Commissioners and writing to the press.

McCerren was operating for the American company Black Star Line out of Liverpool. In 1848 he had been given command of their new ship Columbus, having previously served as Master on their vessel America. The Columbus was advertised at that time as offering the best in accommodation and care -particularly to those escaping the Irish famine. The company ran as many as 18 ships. The vessels were described as American Packet Ships and the phrase “Queens of the Western Ocean” was coined in recognition of their speed and sailing ability.

I could not find a photo of Columbus unfortunately. But this is another ship of the Black Star line Cornelia

The Waterford Mail of Wednesday 14 January 1852 reprinted a letter written by Captain McCerren into the circumstances of the loss.

Waterford, Jan 10th 1851
Messrs Washington Jackson & Sons, LIVERPOOL.
Gentlemen— lt is my painful duty to inform you of the loss of the ship Columbus under my command, 28 days from New Orleans, to your address ; in consequence of heavy gales from South, and thick weather, I was unable to get an observation after passing long. 13.50 W. and 49.20 N., on the 6th whilst running for Tusker.

At 5 p.m. I made the Hook lighthouse, and from being unable to see the land it had the appearance of Tusker. At half-past 5 saw the light and found that we were embayed. I then hauled to Southward, but could not weather Saltee’s light ship. I then wore and stood to westward and weathered the Hook light, thus having the harbour of Waterford fairly open, stood across the bay to Dunmore, discharging rockets every three minutes for a Pilot, and was seen by many persons from the pier of Dunmore, this being the proper pilot station.

Finding no pilot I was obliged to wear and stand off, and in endeavouring to weather the Hook light was forced by heavy rollers on the rocks ; during the time it was blowing a gale and heavy sea, driving on the iron bound coast I cut away the anchor before striking, to keep the ship’s head to sea. When the ship struck at 9. p.m. 1 was so near that I hailed the people shore, and was answered.

I despatched a boat in hopes of getting a line shore, but she was capsized, and the mate and two men saved and one drowned. In attempting to lower the life boat she was dashed to pieces against the ship. I then cut away the mast, and the ship held together until 5, a.m. when the bottom and top separated soon after broke amidships carrying away the stern frame, and with Edward Simmons, third mate, and two men, who were lost.

The Imperial Hotel, where the current Tower Hotel stands in Waterford. Photo via Simon Dowling from  “Beauty spots in the south east of Ireland ” 1901. Posted to the Waterford History Group Facebook page.

We then secured the ladies to a portion of the wreck. About this time ten persons were near me, the second mate assisting me in holding the ladies—the last piece fell over on us, and but four persons and myself were washed onto the rocks. Of the crew eight seamen, names unknown, Edmond Simmons, of New York, third mate, are lost, passengers, four in number, all lost—names are, Mrs. Falcon, Workington, Miss Clementina Burke, from the Island of Ascension, her way to Portsmouth, two steerage passengers, names unknown.

I feel it my duty to state, that, though no assistance was rendered from the shore, for want of means, to project a line or life boat, by which all could have been saved, as the ship held together for eight hours, every was made at the risk of life, by the people on shore, assisting all who reached the rocks, and immediately carried them to the houses, and bestowed every care and attention that could he given. I must mention, particularly, Mr. Harwood, of the coast guard, Doctor Hamilton, of H. M. Cutter, the Sparrow, Mr. Breen and Mr. Carroll, keeper of the light, and his assistant. More active benevolence could not have been exercised—the warmth of feeling and hospitality will ever he remembered by me.
Yours respectfully,
Robert McCerren
P.S. —To add to the distress of all on board the moon became totally eclipsed at the moment of breaking up.

McCerren also wrote a letter to the Editor of the Waterford Mail:

Sir —Permit me, through the medium of your paper, the privilege returning thanks the Rev. Peter Dunn. of Templetown, for his untiring exertions, in his clerical capacity, in restoring lost property, preventing plunder from the wreck of the ill-fated vessel commanded by me.
With much pleasure I publicly mention an extraordinary act honesty the part of James Breen, of Herrylock, a poor boy, who picked up, unperceived, a small bag of American gold, which he returned to me in the presence of his pastor, the Rev. Mr. Dunn.
By the insertion of the above, you will do an act of justice, and oblige
Your obedient servant.
Robert McCerren,
Master of the late US. ship Columbus.
Commercial Hotel Buildings,
January 13, 1552.

The Mail added this paragraph to the Captains letter:

“The following is, we understand, a list of the persons lost the Columbus: 3 ladies, passengers, 2 Irish sailors; 2 Dutch sailors; 2 Scotch sailors; 3 American sailors; 1 English sailor, and two steerage passengers (male and female)”[AD This was an error in the report as far as I can find out, one of the lady passengers mentioned above, from Waterford, elsewhere named only as Mary was in steerage, as was her nephew who she had travelled to America to bring home] “one of whom was on his passage home from California to the neighbourhood of Waterford.”

Aftermath

There’s a lot in this story to digest. You can’t help wonder is this a case of what is described as getting your own version out into public before other accounts emerge. McCerrens original miscalculation with the lighthouses seems to have cost him his job, however. In 1853 he was on the Defiance [A rather appropriate name given his personality?!] where he was involved in an altercation with the Peruvian Navy while collecting a cargo of Guano from the Chincha Islands.

In subsequent weeks the events associated with the wreck were foremost in many people’s minds and the results were far-reaching. The conduct of the pilots was a matter of investigation by the Harbour Board with a war of words in local papers too. But the reality was that having sailed into harbour near low water on a spring tide, there was little the pilots could do for a sailing ship of this size, and this would be bourn out – despite the fact that the pilots were generally the whipping boys of both the Board and the press in that era. The matter of the confusion between Hook and Tuskar would also be considered but would take several more years to resolve. The reaction and the impact are something I will return to at a later stage to explore.

Arrival of the new Port Láirge

On the 18th of November, a significant piece of local maritime history was created when the new pilot launch Port Láirge was received by Port of Waterford at Dunmore East.

‘Port Láirge’ is a name well known in the maritime heritage in Waterford. The previous namesake Portlairge was the much-loved steam dredger that served on the Suir from her arrival on the 10th September 1907 until she broke down in late 1982.

The Portlairge, in her heyday, was so identifiable with Waterford that I chose it for my recent books cover from an original image by Jonathan Allen. Press on the photo if you would like a signed copy for a present this Christmas 🙂

The origin of the place name of course is contested. According to one of our foremost young historians Cian Manning, Port Láirge translates in English as ‘Port of a Thigh’ with one origin story attributing the name to the tragic fate of a young prince named Rot. He was attracted to sea by sirens, the winged mythical female creatures, perhaps seeking an intellectual conversation when he is then torn limb from limb with his thigh bone washing ashore at Port Láirge. I have also read that Láirge may have been a person, or indeed that looked down on from Mount Misery, the shape of the Suir at the city may suggest the shape of a thigh. Think I prefer Cian’s theory 🙂

Pictured at the Dunmore East pontoon taking receipt of the new Port of Waterford Pilot Boat,‘Port Láirge’, are from left: Captain Darren Doyle Port of Waterford, Joefy Murphy from Dunmore East, John Glody from Dunmore East, and Sean Whitty from Passage East. Photo: Mary Browne

Back to the boat. The €1m all-weather 15-meter interceptor was built by Safehaven Marine in Youghal Co Cork which was established in 1998 and employs 30 people. They have built over 110 vessels in that time including 48 pilot boats from all over the world. Their latest will be based at Dunmore East and will provide safer working conditions for pilotage personnel. The vessel is self-righting and capable of recovering if capsized by a large breaking wave. The vessel also offers a reduction in fuel emissions and is a more efficient pilot launch vessel for the Port of Waterford. More info on the design of Port Láirge here.

On Sea Trials. Courtesy of Safehaven Marine
Cockpit with all the mod cons. Courtesy of Safehaven Marine
Plenty of room and comfort for pilots. Courtesy of Safehaven Marine

On the Port of Waterford website Capt Darren Doyle, Harbourmaster, said, “We along with the maritime community here in Waterford are delighted with the new addition to the fleet of Port vessels. The work of the pilot crew is highly skilled and it requires a state-of-the-art vessel to ensure that this work can be carried out year-round in all weather conditions.”

As the ‘Port Láirge’ arrived off Dunmore East she shadowed the pilot launch she will replace ‘Tom Brennan‘. A pilot had just been boarded to the bulk carrier Minneapolis Miyo IMO 9875721 inbound to Port of Waterford from Taranto in Italy. Photo: Safehaven Marine

I think it’s important to mark the arrival of Port Láirge. For not alone is it an important event in the harbour, it’s also a vote of confidence in the ongoing running of the Port of Waterford and indeed to a lesser extent New Ross.

But in its own way, this event will one day be history too. From bitter personal experience, I know that such events will at some point in the future elude researchers. Time and again I endure the frustration of searching the internet and written sources to piece together the events of relevance to our maritime community.

David Carroll is currently helping me to try to track down the first pilot boats to work in the harbour via the National Archives. To date, we can say that following the establishment of the Harbour Board in 1816 the first such vessel that we could name was the pilot cutter Scott in 1824. We have managed to piece together many other vessels that served the pilots since. Post-publication fellow blogger Pete Goulding of Pete’s Irish Lighthouses fame contacted me with details of the pilot cutter Caroline in operation in January 1818.

Dunmore as it would have looked in the era of the Gannet and the arrival of the Betty Breen

And we know that although the majority of pilot vessels were bought second-hand and repurposed from fishing boats and pleasure craft, a small number were purpose-built for the pilot service. For example in  1856 the Gannet,  described as a pilot cutter 58ft x 16ft x 9ft and 40tons burden, was built and launched from Whites shipyard in Ferrybank, Waterford. It later came to a sticky end in December 1863 off Creaden Head. And in October 1951 the Betty Breen was launched from Tyrell’s boatyard in Arklow, operating from Dunmore East until 1993.

If you want a sense of what this new vessel can do, check out this video of her rough weather sea trials of punching through breakers in force 10 winds

So in marking the arrival of a new, Irish-made, purpose-built, vessel for the piloting service we are not just acknowledging a new boat. We are celebrating a long and proud tradition in seamanship, seafaring, and commercial activity that has enhanced and grown not just Waterford and New Ross, but the region itself. A major milestone, and for me anyway, a vote of confidence in the harbour for many more years to come.

Loss of the Gannet – an unholy row

On a dark December night off the coast of Dunmore East, the pilot boat Gannet spotted an incoming steamer and sailed on a line upriver to intercept.  The action would lead to the loss of the pilot boat and an unholy row in Waterford that would see the court of public opinion brought to the fore.  But that was still to come, our story starts on that winter night.

Pilot boat Gannet was built at Whites shipyard in 1856.  She was 40 ton 58ft cx16ftx 9 feet on what are now the city’s North Quays.  A predecessor, the Falcon, had been deemed unfit by the board.  The Gannet however had served faithfully alongside another vessel, the Seagull.

At 5.30 pm on December 3rd, 1863 the Gannet was on duty off the coast of Dunmore East, sailing around in anticipation of inbound ships requiring a pilot.  Captained by a Pilot Master, and when with a full compliment, 6 pilots aboard, she would respond to a raised flag in daylight or show a light in darkness from ships requiring pilotage. 

As the Gannet proceeded upriver towards Creaden Head, lights were exchanged with the ship, which later claimed in showed no signal for a pilot.  The ship was the SS Beta (built 1861; 747 gross tons, 220ftx30x17) of the Malcomson lines Waterford Steamship Company (WSCo).  The Beta was on a regular run between the port and London ( several reports state that she was calling to Waterford having sailed from Belfast for London).  The Captain had a Board of Trade Masters certificate for Waterford, exempting him from taking on a pilot, the regularity of sailing, and his experience having been determined that he was exempt.  In a later newspaper report that year Captain Upton was named as Master, but no Captain was named on the night of the incident in the reports I have found.

From later newspaper accounts, the Gannet hove-to above Creaden Head and three pilots got into the small boat that was used to board the pilots.  As they did so, they noticed the Beta change direction to pass astern to the pilot boat, and at this point, the Gannet came about to again intercept.  With no time to change course, the Beta rammed the hull of the pilot boat. [I]

Pilot cutter Seagull – with thanks to Richard Woodley, the cutter was a contemporary of the Gannet and may have looked somewhat similar

The cutter was struck on the port side, abaft the mast, and sank immediately.  The Pilot master with three pilots – Glody, Diggins, and Delaney managed to get aboard the steamer.  Their three colleagues, Butler, Power, and Ryan, were towed in the small punt to Passage East. [ii]

At the next meeting of the Board a discussion into the loss of the Pilot Cutter and whether to lease another.  There was a lot of upset as the master of the Beta had been quoted as telling the Pilot cutter captain that “He knew damn well he didn’t need a pilot”.  Members wondered if maybe ships should be required to signal a specific light that a pilot was not required!  A unanimous decision was taken to write to the Board of Trade to request an inquiry.[iii]

Creaden Head on a glorious Summers day, the area of river above it is where the incident happened

At the last Harbour Board meeting in December, a letter was read from the Committee of Privy Council for Trade in a response to a request from the commissioners asking for an inquiry into the case of the collision.  The response was not what the Board had hoped for, but they were of the opinion that since this was a case of a collision it was not of a character in which they usually interfered and therefore they declined to get involved.   However, after a discussion, it was decided that as the “Merchant Shipping Act stated that when a steamer met a sailing vessel it should keep out of her way and in this case the Beta did not, that the Board would request that the Board of Trade revisit their decision” [iv]

Given the earlier description of what had occurred…it’s difficult to understand how the Harbour Board came up with that decision.  But ask they did and refused again they were; receiving what was described as “a very definite and negative response from the Board of Trade”.  Somewhere amidst all this toing and froing one William Malcomson (WSCo & member of the Harbour Board) let it be known that he was happy to enter into arbitration to try to resolve the matter to the satisfaction of both parties. This was agreed to after a prolonged and rather fractious debate that went on long into the night.[v]

William Malcomson after Bill Irish

However, at some point in the following weeks, it seems that the Harbour Board took a decision to revisit this decision and made a request that the arbitration be overseen by Queens Advocate from Dublin.  This was interpreted by some as kicking the arbitration into a legal sphere.  And it provoked an unholy row.

A WSCo advert from June 1863 (and below) Waterford Mail – Wednesday 17 June 1863; page 1
It would seem that the ships normally came in to Waterford on the Thursday from Belfast, and sailed again on the Friday for London

Part of the problem seems connected to a letter written by the Steamship Company to the Harbour Board, that was overlooked at the monthly Board meeting.  However, the letter found its way into the papers, and not just in Waterford.  The response was explosive.  The court of public opinion cared little for the navigation laws of shipping.  The Malcomson family was then a huge employer in Waterford, and with an internationally good name in business and shipping circles.  A very long and detailed analysis of the matter was contained in the Waterford Mail, which excoriated the Board, pointed out Malcomson’s support for Waterford, the Board, and notable charitable good works, and questioned the very purpose of the Board.  The actions of the board were considered petty and unjust.  Malcomson’s position was that this was an expensive way to do business.  His position was that both sides should enter the arbitration in good faith and see if an agreement could be reached.  If there were points that were disputed, then these could be judged by the Advocate.  A much cheaper solution he believed.[vi]

The Harbour Commissioners offices were located in this building on Gladstone St at the time

At the Board meeting of March, Alderman Denny took the floor of what I can only assume was a very unsettled assembly.  He addressed the controversy and acknowledged the public disquiet in the city and how the matter had been handled.  He went on to extol the virtues of William Malcomson and the Waterford Steamship Company and also to discuss the current action believing it would have been better: “to have asked for reasonable compensation for the loss of the Gannet. The original cost of that boat was £1,150, and she was 7 years at sea, exposed to very trying and severe weather all seasons so that it is not too much to say that she lost 5% of her original value (PA obviously though not mentioned in the report) thus leaving her value at £757 or thereabouts.  If we make up our minds that the crew the Gannet was in no way to blame in the matter, then we are entitled to about £750, and more in fairness. If, on the other hand, it can be shown that the Gannet was wrong and that the fault did not lie with the Beta, are not entitled to a single farthing.”[vii]

Councillor Walsh rebutted this pointing out that it was right and proper that the Harbour Board take legal proceedings against Malcomson and WSCo.  At issue he felt was the livelihoods and property of the 7 pilots who were aboard the Gannet that night, and who were out of work since.[viii]

After much acrimony, a proposal was put forward from Mr Jacob saying that legal proceedings should be halted and that a request for a settlement of £600 be put to the WSCo.  This was seconded and eventually agreed to.  In what must have seemed like a very melodramatic twist, at this point, Mr. Jacob held up a letter from the WSCo stating that they would be happy to settle the matter for £600.  Game set and match to Mr. Malcomson it would appear.[ix] 

Members of the Harbour Board were insistent that an inquiry was required into the actions of the Pilot Master that night in the harbour.  Questions were raised about his fitness to operate, and the judgment of all the pilots on the night.  However, there were also pragmatic concerns.  What if the Board found that the pilots were in error?  Would the £600 be forfeit, would they come out the worse.  It seems that a subcommittee was formed to look into the matter, but I could find no report in the papers of the time as to any findings.[x]  I’d imagine that the vast majority of people had already heard too much about the incident.

But what of the Gannet?  Whatever the acrimony within the offices of the Harbour Board, the matter still existed of a sunken vessel and one less pilot boat to meet the needs of the port.   A wreck buoy was stationed directly over the vessel and a notice contained in papers as early as the day after the event. Subsequently, the wreck was raised, as it was an impediment to shipping.  My guess is that the damage was so bad, the pilot boat was dragged closer to the Wexford shore and dropped to the bottom.  Walter Foley told me previously that the salmon driftnet fishermen had a foul mark off Broomhill called the Pilot Boat.  It’s the only one that I am aware of that fits the bill.

The following notice appeared in local papers

Interestingly, the Gannet was not replaced.  Newspaper accounts later that year point to a drop in shipping and a struggle to meet the wages of pilots due to the resulting loss in revenue to the port.   Although other boats were employed at Passage, and an occasional replacement at Dunmore, the Seagull carried out the duties on her own at Dunmore East until she was replaced at some point in the early 1930s by the Elsie J.


Pilot Boats of Waterford Port

A recent announcement that the Port of Waterford had commissioned a new pilot boat to be called the Portlairge II prompted a flurry of communication to me asking for details and some of the history of the pilots.  So this months blog is a journey from 1816 to the present looking at some of the piloting in the harbour and in particular those vessels that held the title of pilot boat

Waterford Harbour Commissioners were established in 1816, which included pilotage as a central function.  Captain Thomas Hunt was appointed Pilot Master by Trinity House and Benjamin Conn was appointed his deputy.  On the 1 November 1816 Conn brought 19 men who had been appointed as the first pilots to the offices in town to receive their instructions.  Not long after another 11 men were appointed.[i] 

One of the earliest images I have of a pilot boat operating at Dunmore East, I think this is the Seagull. The longest serving craft on the station that I am aware of. (But it may also be the Elsie J or another vessel entirely) Image courtesy of Richard Woodley.

My understanding of the pilots function really only comes from a modern perspective and so I won’t pretend to know for sure.  But the pilots were charged with replacing the Hobblers who had operated in the harbour, possibly for several centuries.[ii]  Ships entering port would signal by flag in daylight or by lantern at night.  Dunmore was the outer pilot station with Passage as an inner station.  A third boat is mentioned in the early years, but I don’t know if this was in the city, Cheekpoint or a relief boat.  In the early years many ships only required pilotage to Passage where they anchored and were emptied by lighters.  Others proceeded up to the city, or to Cheekpoint where a New Ross pilot took charge.  Pilots were obviously required for the outward journeys too.

The first mention I could find of a pilot boat was 1824 when the Scott answered a distress signal  from the steam packet Ivanhoe.  The pilot boat was joined by the revenue cruiser Hound, both of which were based at Dunmore where, it would seem, the Ivanhoe was bound with mails.[iii] Elsewhere in 1824 I found mention of a pilot boat called Caroline. There was also a sad account of a young Passage lad named Hearne who was lost off another pilot boat Sarah.[iv] (Post-publication – I also found a reference to the loss of pilot James Power in 1822. In March that year, James was bringing the brig, Martha, into port when it overturned off Broomhill, Wexford. Only one of a ten-man crew survived. source: Shipwrecks off the Waterford Coast)

A modern scene in rough weather gives a sense of the difficulties faced by pilots and pilot masters in day of sail, as well as days of power driven vessels. An Arklow boat coming in the harbour with Loftus Hall in the background on the Hook Peninsula. Photo courtesy of Brendan Grogan

In 1826 both the Scott and the Caroline are mentioned in the one report. They have spoken with Roger Stewart and brig Wellington, Eliza and Ann and the brig Agenoria and have reported back on the port of departure, port of destination, master, cargo and the number of days at sea.[v] Although such a procedure might seem silly to us now, in those days of sail with little by way of communication, such details were vital elements of passing along intelligence to sailors families, the ship owners and the merchants with an interest in the cargo. Such intelligence was passed along to ships agents, nautical publications such as Lloyds List etc.

Normal day at the office! Photo courtesy of Brendan Grogan

According to the accounts of the commissioners in 1830 the income from pilotage amounted to Inbound – £1, 775 13 10 and Outbound – 1,577 3 10.  Various costs are mentioned in terms of pilotage incl timber, cordage and sails etc for several pilot boats, cost of two six oared yawls for the pilot establishment £53 18 3, the rent of the ballast office and watch houses at Passage and Dunmore, subsidence of pilots and assistants on board the pilot boats and the salaries of Pilot Master, Deputy Pilot Master and Acting Deputy Pilot Master.  There was also the wages of 39 pilots, 10 assistants and of extra pilots occasionally employed.  Just as an interesting aside for the die hards of harbour history, there was also a substantial sum mentioned in excess of  £4k for the widening of the of the channels of the upper and lower Ford to 210 feet wide, 7 feet deep at low water on ordinary spring tides.[vi]

In Late November 1830 the pilot boat Enterprise of Dunmore went to try assist the schooner Unity of New Ross, Andrew Power, master.  She was laden with coal for her home port and got into difficulties to the west of Dunmore, the Enterprise tried to come alongside and failing this encouraged the crew to make more sail in an effort to get her off the shore, but she grounded at Black Nobb and although four of the crew were lost, one was rescued from the shore.[vii]

A more modern approach to boat outhaul and maintanence, the Maritana ex Catherine Downey being hauled out at Waterford. Photo courtesy of Tomas Sullivan, includes the late Lenny Neill

At the August meeting of the Harbour Commissioners in 1842 a wide ranging discussion took place into the pilots and in particular the current pilot boats on station.  Three vessels were named:

  • Dart – a small, good weather boat, but of limited use in storms. 
  • Enterprise is described as a vessel “…whose decks were so split by the sun, that the men were continually wet when between decks, by the spray.”
  • Scott – suggested that she be temporarily repaired and sent down to replace the Enterprise

The Dart was described as an experiment, which had paid dividends to the port in that she cost less to buy, had increased the number of vessels boarded by pilots to a tune of 25% and this offset any perceived loss due to inability to travel in bad weather.  It was claimed that because she was a novelty there was a prejudice against her.  This prompted a rather barbed comment that “The committee did not rely on the airy statements of casual visitors to bathing places…” for information on their craft.  After a long discussion the decision of the committee was that the Scott and the Enterprise be repaired and the Dart be discontinued, on the understanding that she was a danger to the men who served in her.  As you will see from the advert below, such decisions took time to be realised however.

Waterford Mail – Saturday 07 January 1843; page 3

The early 1850s were a difficult time for one pilot boat in particular.  The Falcon was designed by a Dublin naval architect named Marshall.  Interestingly, when asked if the pilot master (Alcock) had been consulted on the design, this was very quickly brushed aside in a very dismissive way.  It seems the pilots experience was nothing to a man of learning from Dublin.  The plans were agreed and handed over to Mr Albert White, of Whites Shipyard, Ferrybank…and that as they say was only the start of an unholy fiasco. 

According to the late Bill Irish the smack Falcon was built in 1852.  She was 51ft long x 14ft beam  x 9ft draft and was 37tons.[viii]   However a war of words and letters would later break out, the completed Falcon was considered by her proposers as a fine vessel, but the pilots and their employers were less than satisfied in the vessels seaworthiness.  Ultimately it all ended up in court, and as far as I can determine the Falcon never saw service for the Commissioners.  As part of the settlement some of the expense of the project was to be recouped and invested in a new boat from Whites, the Gannet (1856) described as a pilot cutter 58ft x 16ft x 9ft and 40tons burden.[ix]

In 1859 I found the first mention of a vessel that went on to have a sterling career with the pilot service, Seagull.[x] (New information – Seagull (1851) was bought from the yard of G & J Inman on Lymington in the UK for £900 and first sailed from Dunmore as a pilot cutter on the 3rd January 1855)

In 1862 there was a couple of interesting agenda items at the monthly meeting of the harbour commissioners.  Mr William Hogan at Passage brought a complaint about the colocation of a telegraph office in the pilot house at Passage and the inconvenience this might cause to his office.  This was not seen as a major issue by the commissioners however.  I can only suppose that this dates the origins of a telegraph connection from the village?  Meanwhile Board member TC Spencer expressed concern about the costs associated with the running of the pilots, which he stated were running at a loss of £800 PA.  In another interesting aside, a letter was read from a Mr B Dawson, Cork “…with respect of storm signals being erected on the quay for the benefit of shipping, stating the suggestion was made from purely philanthropic motives and that the expense would be only about £14”[xi] I’ve long theorised about some flag based communication or other means within the harbour, I look forward to finding out more about this detail.

1862 also saw the Gannet and crew involved in a mercy mission when on the 22nd January they managed to rescue the crew of the stricken Waterford brig, Sophia, [inbound from Cardiff with coal] after she ran ashore at Creaden Head. (Source Shipwrecks off the Waterford Coast)

In 1863 the pilot boat Gannett was sunk after a collision with the steamer Beta close to the bar above Creaden Head.  The matter was considered to be the fault of the master and crew of the pilot boat and there was an appeal for her replacement as it was felt that with only one boat at Dunmore, piloting would suffer.[xii] 

In 1868 a salvage claim was before the court of admiralty which describes an incident between the brig Cherubin and mentions two pilot boats.  One is The Joseph, described as a decked craft of 27 tons which was used for pilotage although it seems she was merely a relief boat. It appears the regular boat was under repairs, while the Seagull is described as not available as she was up the haven at Passage.

The Seagull had a sometimes a bit part and sometimes a major role in the years after including the loss of five coastguard men at Broomhill in 1869  and the inquiry into the wreck of the Alfred D Snow (1888) but due to space constraints, I will jump to 1913.  At a meeting of the pilot committee of the Harbour Board in 1913 pilots Glody and Kirby of Dunmore East station were called as representatives of the pilots (then numbering a skipper [Pilot Master?] and nine pilots).  A number of issues were raised including pay, conditions and work. The pilots objected to having to man the trawler Uncle Sam even for a few weeks in summer as a substitute while the Seagull was at Waterford being repaired.   The trawler was not sufficiently comfortable, but they had nothing to say against the Seagull, except that they would prefer a motor or steam boat.[xiii] The concern for comfort arose as the pilots lived aboard the vessels for days and sometimes longer as they awaited ships. A tough life, with little comforts, a dry bunk and decent food was surely not much to ask.

An interesting photo via Paul Duffin from Feb 1957, the Dunmore East Lifeboat Annie Blanche Smith brought in to assist his grandfather Jack Donnelly off an outbound Puerto Rican ship MV Menchy in very high seas. For readers with a copy of David Carrolls Dauntless Courage see p 152 for another photo

In April 1933 I found a mention of a pilot cutter named the Elsie J.  She was on station in 1932, as the details given are about running expenses including repairs during that year amounting to £182 1s 11d.  The costs have increased due to the repairs that were carried out.[xiv]  As of now, I can’t determine when she commenced on station however.  In October 1937, an unidentified pilot cutter (possibly the Elsie J) had a lucky escape after a sudden change in wind direction caused the boat to drag the anchor and she was driven towards Councillors Strand.  The pilots aboard had no choice but to man the small punt and escape towards the shore.  Fortunately they landed safely after an “exciting tussle with the huge waves”.  Equally as fortunate, the anchor stuck fast just off the shore, and the cutter was spared[xv].

The Lily Doreen at Dunmore in the emergency era. Photo by Theo Harris

In June 1942 an unnamed pilot cutter “…recently acquired arrived in Waterford from Limerick…  The vessel is in the command of Capt Stubbs, a Waterford native”[xvi]  I am speculating this is the Lily Doreen because when she was sold in 1951 it was mentioned that she was bought second hand from Limerick.  In June 1947 it was reported that the Lily Doreen had been struck by the Milford Haven steam trawler East Coast and that Tyrells of Arklow had estimated the damage to cost £450 to repair.[xvii]  For further information on the Lily Doreen check this blog out. Thanks to David Carroll for the link.

My neighbour Brigid Power often told me the story of how she would walk up with her mother and siblings to Coolbunnia from the village to watch for her father Capt Andrew Doherty who was pilot master on the Lily Doreen and i would imagine he also served on the Elsie J. When they were at Passage East at night he would signal them with a lantern on the dusk and it was his way of reassuring his family that all was well. To the best of my knowledge the Lily Doreen was replaced in 1951.  She was advertised for sale in December.[xviii] 

Her replacement was still at Dunmore East when I was fishing there in the 1980’s the Betty Breen named after the daughter of then chairman of the Board, Martin S Breen, and Betty also performed the naming of the vessel in October 1951 at Tyrells boatyard in Arklow.  The Betty Breen made her maiden voyage to Waterford shortly afterwards and it was said that her arrival was witnessed by a large crowd.[xix]

The Betty Breen being overhauled. Photo via Brendan Grogan

The Betty Breen had a busy time of it at Dunmore.  Although she played a role in numerous rescues and other events, one of the more interesting I found was the case of the Liverpool pilot which she took from the ship Chriapo, en route from Liverpool to the West Indies for bananas.  Having sailed out the Mersey into a NW gale, he could not be retrieved and so headed for Dunmore and the Betty Breen, and then to Waterford and via train to Rosslare and home.[xx]  At least this pilot had a less eventful trip, than his colleague Philip Barrio at Passage East in 1892. The Betty Breen was advertised for sale in the summer of 1993, her service days were over.[xxi]

A number of vessels have served the pilots since including the Catherine Downey, later Maritana, the Tom Brennan (Jan 1994) the Dun Mhor (2016).  I have no doubt that I have missed a few others as the searching via newspapers has its limitations.  If any reader can add more details I would appreciate it. Undoubtedly the Portlairge II will see many years of loyal service to the harbour. Hopefully it won’t be as eventful as some of her predecessors but either way I look forward to seeing the vessel in operation this coming September.

Portlairge II currently under construction in Youghal, expected to hit the harbour in Sept 2021. Phot courtesy of Capt. Darren Doyle
Dun Mhor at Passage East pontoon 2021. Authors collection
Tom Brennan heading out of Dunmore east to board a pilot. 2021 Authors Collection
Tom Brennan at Belview for maintenance – Friday Oct 29th 2021
Relife lifeboat Storm Dancer at Dunmore East November 2021
19th November 2021 – Pictured at the Dunmore East pontoon taking receipt of the new Port of Waterford Pilot Boat,‘Port Láirge’, are from left: Captain Darren Doyle Port of Waterford, Joefy Murphy from Dunmore East, John Glody from Dunmore East and Sean Whitty from Passage East. Photo: Mary Browne. Accessed from Port of Waterford Facebook page

My thanks to Tomas Sullivan for helping with getting this started, to Darren Doyle at the Port of Waterford, to Brendan Grogan and Paul Duffin for photos.  Needless to say, all errors and omissions are my own.


[i] Mary Breen.  Waterford Port and harbour 1815-1842.  2019.  Four Courts Press. Dublin. p 33

[ii] Andrew Doherty,  Waterford Harbour Tides & Tales.  2020.  The History Press.  Cheltenham. (see chapter 9 Sails Ahoy Hobblers. pp 62-65) 

[iii] Waterford Mail – Saturday 06 November 1824. Page 3

[iv] Waterford Mail – Wednesday 27 October 1824, page 2

[v] Waterford Mail, Saturday 12th August 1826, page 4

[vi] Waterford Mail – Wednesday 17 February 1830; page 1

[vii] Waterford Mail – Saturday 04 December 1830; page 4

[viii] Bill Irish.  Shipbuilding in Waterford 1820-1882.  (2001)  Wordwell Books. Wicklow.  P.240

[ix] Ibid

[x] Waterford Mail – Saturday 13 August 1859; page 3

[xi] Waterford Mail – Wednesday 19 February 1862; page 2

[xii] Waterford Chronicle – Friday 15 January 1864; page 3

[xiii] Munster Express, Saturday, August 23, 1913; Page: 6

[xiv] Waterford Standard – Saturday 08 April 1933; page 7

[xv] Waterford Standard – Saturday 30 October 1937; page 3

[xvi] Munster Express, Friday, June 12, 1942; Page: 3

[xvii] Waterford Standard – Saturday 14 June 1947; page 6

[xviii] Irish Examiner, Thursday, December 06, 1951; Page: 7

[xix] Waterford News and Star, Friday, October 12, 1951; Page: 3

[xx] Irish Examiner, Saturday, January 03, 1959; Page: 7

[xxi] Munster Express, Friday, July 09, 1993; Page: 9