Tides & Tales Mayday Mile 2024

May marks our annual fundraiser for the local RNLI station that we depend on for so much- Dunmore East RNLI. This is our 4th year to participate and this time round we plan to do at least a mile a day for the month of May – 31 miles. My wife Deena and I will travel about the locality and try build up the miles as we go. Below is our record of the month. Please drop back to see how we go.

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Mile a day for the month of May – Mayday Mile 2024

May marks our annual fundraiser for the local RNLI station that we depend on for so much- Dunmore East RNLI.

This is our 4th year to participate and this time round we plan to do at least a mile a day for the month of May. My wife Deena and I will travel about the locality and try build up the miles as we go.

It is a bit different to our previous efforts which saw a one-day or two-day event to bring in some funds but we will, of course, keep the focus on our maritime shoreline and heritage. We look forward to giving regular updates on not just our progress but on places to see, and history to share, Fingers crossed that some of our friends and fellow maritime enthusiasts join us as we go. We may even have a guest blog or two.

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Fate of the sailing barque Etta

On a wild windy winter night in December 1888, the Belfast Barque Etta, rounded Hook Head in search of shelter, the lifeboat was signaled, but the ship was driven onto the rocks of Creaden Bay before the lifeboat could reach the vessel. Miraculously all but one were rescued from the vessel, thanks, in no small part, to the knowledge and seamanship of the ship’s captain James Arthurs. This is the tale of the Etta, which grounded in a gale on Friday 21st December 1888 sometime between 11 and 12 midnight.

According to Lloyd’s Register of Shipping 1890[i] the Etta was built in Quebec in 1863.  She was registered under the company name of the Etta Ship Company, JS Wright, Belfast and was part owned by her master, Captain James Arthurs.  She arrived in St John NB via Montevideo on November 5th 1888[ii]and after loading timber, sailed for the port of Fleetwood on Nov 29th.[iii]  The ship encountered a succession of gales crossing the Atlantic and as they approached the Irish coast, a decision was made to run for shelter.

David Philip Jones, First mate of the barque Etta, later gave the following first person account of their situation. 

As it transpired, fate played a hand.  It was close to low water and rather than crash into a vertical cliff if the tide was in, the Etta grounded on the somewhat level, if jagged, rocks on the old red sandstone shore. 

Creaden Head and the bay, I can’t with any certainty say where it grounded but I would think somewhere from the ripened field of corn inwards is most likely. Author

The Dunmore East lifeboat had spotted the distress signals and the crew of the Henry Dodd, rowed with all their might to the rescue.  Although they could not get near the wreck in the conditions, they managed to rescue five of the sailors who had set off from the Etta in the ship’s boat, apparently before she struck.  The timing of their leaving or what their crew mates thought is not described. 

Meanwhile, locals ran along the cliffs, fields and roadways to lend what assistance they could.  RIC Sargent Thomas Sutcliff was guided down to the wreck scene by a local labourer named James Redmond.  They managed to get a line aboard the stranded vessel which was grinding and thumping into the jagged shoreline.  Although news reports differ it seems that there were likely 12 remaining crew, Captain James Arthurs and his wife.   

Sutcliff seems to have played a leading role in the proceedings, there is no mention of the Coastguard in the reports, even though they most certainly brought the rocket apparatus and equipment, that would eventually bring the crew and Mrs Arthurs ashore.  Redmond again proved his worth, when he plunged into the surf to assist the captain’s wife who seems to have become overcome in the chair.[v]

Some accounts state that despite the pleas of those ashore, Captain Arthurs refused to leave his vessel, perhaps determining that his ship would survive the merciless pounding on the shore.  Captain Arthurs from Islandmagee, on the east coast of County Antrim, was 2/3rds owner of the vessel and perhaps he gambled that if he stayed with the vessel he would not lose his profits on the trip to any salvage claim.  The news report claimed that the cargo was not insured.  It also stated that he was familiar with Waterford, so perhaps there was an element of calculated risk in where the ship came ashore? Alas, in full view of his rescuers, his crew and his wife, a breaking sea washed him off his feet and over the side never to be seen again.[vi]   

An illustration of the Breeches Buoy in operation sourced from The County Record. [volume 1], October 21, 1897, University of South Carolina

The local police as well as many from the surrounding locality “…rendered valuable assistance in attending to the shipwrecked crew and Mrs Arthurs. They were all subsequently taken charge of by Mr Edward Jacob, local secretary of the Shipwrecked Mariners Society, and forwarded to their homes at the expense of that benevolent institution…”[vii]

The ship, however, survived.  The wind seems to have moderated on the flood tide, and the next morning the Etta was seen hard aground but upright.  Later the local tug Dauntless put a crew aboard which stripped down the masts and rigging and tried to hold the vessel together.[viii]

An effort to sell the wreck fell through, as most bidders felt the ship and cargo were doomed.  Several attempts were made to refloat the vessel, in a desperate scramble to salvage the ship and the cargo before the weather turned again.  Eventually, on Monday 31st December 1888, it was reported locally that the tug Dauntless and the PS Rosa managed to haul the wreck off the shoreline.  I’m presuming that the weather had stayed calm, and with spring tides and some patchwork and bailing, the vessel floated clear. [ix]

The Etta was brought to the relative safety above Creaden Head where she was anchored.  Soon afterwards, the vessel, lying on her beam end, was towed up to Cheekpoint by the Liverpool based tug Pathfinder. [x] It would appear she was grounded at the village, perhaps along the Strand Road.  Some of the cargo was removed and presumably, an assessment of the hull took place.

SS Pembroke February 1899 grounded at Cheekpoint following a similar incident where the vessel was inspected and made ready for towing to Liverpool. AH Poole photo

In early February two tugs were in position at Cheekpoint, but had tried unsuccessfully to get the Etta off the shore.  The owners of the Etta, J S Wright & Co, Corporation St., Belfast had decided that the vessel could be towed back to her home port following some repairs to the hull.[xi]  The floating nature of the cargo may have also played a role – earlier plans to remove the timber cargo and sell it in Waterford had been changed. Perhaps the cargo was employed as an aid to buoyancy?  I am only speculating here of course. 

Eventually, the ship was towed clear and was taken by the steam tug Rescuer out the harbour to bring her home.[xii]  But that wasn’t the final drama because the tug ran into stormy weather in the Irish Sea and later it was reported that the waterlogged Etta was labouring badly in Belfast Lough and the tug was having a difficult time getting to her home port.[xiii]  The Etta was made of strong timbers however, and in March the cargo that had taken so long to reach its destination was finally advertised for sale, although the advert did caution that the timber was a little darker, as the vessel that carried them had been ashore. An understatement for sure, given all that had transpired[xiv].

An image that might give some sense on the towing of the Etta to Liverpool, Steam Tug Rescue, Capt. Robert Lumley Cook, Towing the dismasted Brig. Rapid of Shoreham, into the South Entrance Sunderland Oct. 29th 1880 by artist John Hudson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The only victim of the Etta was her master, Captain James Arthurs.  There were hopes that when the vessel came clear of the rocks at Creaden his corpse might float clear too.  Indeed it was widely reported that his body was retrieved from near the wrecksite that same day.  A follow-up report however confirmed that no body had been retrieved and an appeal was made for people to keep an eye out.  Perhaps as an inducement, it was reported that the “hardy old sailor” had £200 in gold on his person when he was lost over the side.[xv]  I could find no record of his body ever being retrieved, however.

Not the Etta, but the barque Gunvor wrecked on the Cornish coast in 1912 in a very similar circumstance, image sourced from google – Photo: E. A. Bragg, photographer of Illogan.

The only mention I could find of Captain Arthurs in the local papers of Antrim gave the following, scant detail.  “…The members of Islandmagee Masonic Lodge, No. 162, heard with sincere regret of the sad loss at sea of their worthy brother, Captain James Arthurs, who for many years was a faithful and honoured member of their lodge, and at their first meeting since his death desire to express their sympathy with his bereaved widow and sorrowing friends, and pray that the Great Architect of the Universe may comfort and sustain them under their sad bereavement.”[i] 

As is so often the case, the fate of the Etta and her crew gets lost in the mist of time. One aspect of the story however is the role that Captain Arthurs played. He decided to run for shelter, he, it seems, knew Waterford harbour well. Did he also know the lay of the land at Creaden Bay and that he was sailing to the ship’s doom, but that there was a fighting chance of survival? Had he weighed up the odds, and thought there’s a fighting chance given the wind, tide, and the geography of the shoreline in the specific part of the Bay he grounded. It seems to me that he did, but perhaps that is the romantic in me looking for a nice hook to the story. If any reader could add anything to the man’s career which might corroborate or dismiss such a conclusion I would be delighted to have it.

Below is a new initiative to try pinpoint each wreck using google maps which I will update as new blogs are completed and which I hope will cover the entire coast of Waterford in years to come


For a different account and in particular, the award for bravery given to Sargent Sutcliff see David Carroll’s book on the Dunmore East RNLI – Dauntless Courage.


[i] https://archive.org/details/HECROS1890/page/n87/mode/1up   Accessed 22/12/2023

How Two Brave Brownstown Fishermen Changed the Course of Lifesaving in Tramore Bay

To conclude our Mayday Mile coverage on the blog this year David Carroll shares a fascinating insight into the ultimate sacrifice of two fishermen and how it provoked the community to campaign for a lifeboat station. Remember the Mayday mile runs until the end of the month, and there are numerous events happening countrywide to sustain the voluntary efforts of the RNLI. Our own Dunmore East team can still be supported too. Over to David Carroll now.

Tramore Bay lies about eight miles west of the entrance to Waterford Harbour and the famous Hook Head Lighthouse and is embraced by two headlands, Brownstown, 110 feet high, to the east and Great Newtown, 150 feet high, to the west. The Bay is about eight square miles and is divided by a spit of sand three miles long running west to east, hence the name Trá Mhór, Great Strand. The south side of the strand is washed by the open sea whilst the side forms a lagoon connected at the east end to the sea by a narrow deep channel known as Rinneshark Harbour.

On one side of Tramore Bay is Brownstown Head, with two towers and on the other is Great Newtown Head, which has three towers, one of which has on top the famous Metal Man statue. Tramore Bay has, for centuries, held an infamous reputation as a graveyard of ships.1

Tramore Bay.    Courtesy of: http://tramoreshippwrecks.blogspot.com/ The chart by Doyle dating from 1737 uses the spelling ‘Rineshark’ for Rinneshark, an area that has several variations in the spelling, including ‘Rhineshark’ (1858).

From the sea, it was difficult to distinguish Tramore Bay from the entrance to Waterford Harbour, which vessels in distress would normally try to reach for shelter. The towers on Brownstown and Great Newtown Head were placed there in 1822-’23 in order to prevent this confusion. The towers were easily obscured in darkness and bad weather. Once a square-rigged ship got into difficulty in Tramore Bay, it was difficult to get on a tack that would clear one of the headlands. Facing south-south-west, the bay gave insufficient shelter from the prevailing winds to make anchoring effective. Only the Rinneshark channel at the north-east corner of the bay provided potential shelter but this was influenced by severe tides and complicated by many sand bars.

Tramore Bay. To this day, it can still be seen that the bay was once a graveyard for many sailing ships.  Courtesy of Jamie Malone

Mr Edward Jacob (1843 – 1924) of Tramore was Lloyd’s Agent in Waterford and also the local representative for the Shipwrecked Mariners Society.  He was also the Honorary Secretary for many years of Tramore RNLI. These involvements led him to have a particular interest in the hazards of the bay and to take notes and gather newspaper cuttings as well as plotting the location of shipwrecks on charts.  Starting in 1816, Mr Jacob’s records span eighty-four years of which no less than eighty-three shipwrecks occurred with the loss of four hundred and forty lives were lost.  The worst casualty was that of the Sea Horse. 2

Edward Jacob (1843 – 1924).
Courtesy of Jonathan P Wigham

The Sea Horse was a troop ship that sailed from Ramsgate in Kent bound for Cork with soldiers of the 59th Regiment and their families, who were returning from the Napoleonic Wars. In an attempt to reach the safety of Waterford Harbour, the ship found it impossible to round Brownstown Head and regrettably broke apart in Tramore Bay. To this present day, the tragedy of the Sea Horse is synonymous with Tramore and still resonates with the people of Tramore.  Records show that of the 393 people on board, 363 perished and only 30 of the strongest survived. 3

The records of the shipwrecks, starting with the Sea Horse in 1816 up until 1858 were published in the Waterford Mail on February 4th, 1858. This list had been compiled by Mr JW Maher and had been first sent to the Mayor of Waterford in response to the latest wreck in Tramore Bay and also as part of a campaign to have a dedicated lifeboat station at Tramore.  Up until that point, rescue attempts to save the lives of shipwrecked sailors fell to local fishermen and boatmen from HM Coastguard to venture out, usually in very difficult conditions.

The wreck that Mr Maher referred to was the French brig, La Capricieuse, with a cargo of coal, on a voyage from Llanelly to St Malo, with a crew of seven, which got into difficulty in Tramore Bay on January 25th, 1858.

A local newspaper described it thus:

WRECK AND LOSS OF LIFE AT TRAMORE

On Monday morning last a wreck, which was unfortunately attended with loss of life, occurred in Tramore Bay.- It appears from all that can be gathered on the subject, that a French vessel, La Capricieuse, laden with coals from Llanelly to St Malo, with a crew of seven men, had been some time previous to the catastrophe, beating outside the bay of Tramore, the sea running mountains high at the time. Shortly afterwards the vessel waterlogged, drove into the bay, and struck on Rhineshark point,remaining there in a most perilous condition. The coast guards put out in their boat to the relief of the vessel, but could not approach her; when a yawl, with four brave fishermen, put out and succeeded in reaching the vessel, the crew of which they took on board; but on her return, a heavy sea struck the yawl and upset it. At this time the coastguard boat, which had lain on its oars, came to the rescue, and taking six men on board brought them safely to the shore. She then returned and found three men holding on by the keel of the upturned boat, whom she took on board; but three who remained behind after the coastguard boat had first went to land, viz., John Fitzgerald and Thomas Crotty, fishermen and Pierre Dubois, one of the crew, had met a watery grave. Had there been a lifeboat here it is believed that all hands would have been saved. The vessel is now dry at low water. We are glad to learn a subscription list is now in course of signature for the relief of the families of the brave fishermen, who to save the lives of others, sacrificed their own.

The Waterford News of January 29th, 1858

Note:  In the Board of Trade record of Gallantry Medal Awards, there are six fishermen named as being in the yawl and not four as per the newspaper report. The crew members, who survived the capsizing of the yawl were: Michael Downey,  Edward Kelly, John Kelly, and John Dunn. They received Bronze Gallantry Medals in addition to a gratuity of £2 each. Robert Aicheson, Chief Boatman of HM Coastguard was also awarded a Bronze Gallantry Medal.

The loss of the two fishermen, who had gallantly sacrificed their own lives to save others, sent shockwaves through the local community. There was an immediate response. On the following day, January 30th, 1858, the Waterford Mail published the details of a petition sent to John E Feehan, Mayor of Waterford requesting a Public Meeting to make provision for the families of the drowned fishermen and to take steps to procure a lifeboat that would be stationed in Tramore. The notice read as follows:

To the Right Worshipful the Mayor of Waterford

We, the undersigned Residents of Waterford, and its neighbourhood, request you will convene a Public Meeting to take steps towards making some provision for the families of John Fitzgerald and Thomas Crotty, who were drowned in their attempts to rescue the Crew of the French Brig, La  Capricieuse in Tramore Bay, on Monday, the 25th Inst., ; and also, to take such steps  as may be necessary for procuring a Life Boat, to be stationed at Tramore, to prevent, as far as possible, such casualties in future.

                                                                   Waterford, 27th January 1858.

Waterford Mail. January 30th, 1858

The letter was signed by a large number of prominent citizens and merchants and Lord Mayor Feehan arranged for a public meeting to be held on February 1st in the Town Hall at 12 o’clock. The same newspaper also contained details, posted by Thomas Walsh, Auctioneer,  of the sale of the wreck of the La Capricieuse and her cargo of coal, to be held on February 2nd.

Waterford Mail, February 4th,1858.

In the Waterford Mail, dated February 4th, 1858, a Mr Dillon had a letter published in which he notes that an efficient committee had been formed at the public meeting, which had elected him as treasurer, in his absence. Mr Dillon also noted that he and Mr JW Strangman had already been collecting subscriptions for the aid of the two bereaved families. This amounted to £95 -19- 0 and when added to monies received by the editor of the Waterford Mail and the Mayor, the total amount came to £117-9-6. It is also recorded that the RNLI donated £20 to the fund set up to bring relief to the families of the two bereaved fishermen. Philip Dunphy, a local history enthusiast states that the final amount far exceeded the above figure.

A month later, in the edition of March 4th, the Waterford Mail published copies of correspondence between the Mayor Feehan of Waterford and the French Ambassador and other diplomats in London, seeking compensation for the bereaved families.  The French responses seemed to be rather pedantic. 

The committee set up to collect money to assist the families of the two drowned fishermen were successful in their appeal to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in London for a lifeboat to be stationed at Tramore.  There was an immediate response from the Institution and an inspector arrived shortly afterwards and selected a site for a lifeboat house, which was built and Tramore received its first RNLI lifeboat in January 1859, thirty feet in length,  which was unnamed.  Mr JW Maher, the compiler of the early list of wrecks in Tramore Bay, became the first honorary secretary of the lifeboat and Richard O. Johns became coxswain. Coxswain Johns would be the recipient of three RNLI Silver Medals during his time with the Tramore lifeboats. 4  

Coxswain Richard O. Johns.
Courtesy of Jonathan P Wigham

Over the next eight years, Mr Jacob records the lifeboat being launched on fourteen occasions to give aid to vessels and saving about one hundred and twenty lives. With the advent of steam, the number of shipwrecks began to decrease towards the end of the 19th century.  With the planned arrival of a new motor lifeboat ‘C & S’ (ON 690) to Dunmore East in 1925, the Tramore lifeboat was withdrawn in 1924. Tramore had to wait for forty years until 1964, when an inshore lifeboat station was established and has given outstanding service since that time.

One wonders, if any of the one hundred and twenty or so fortunate mariners that were rescued by the Tramore lifeboats, spare a thought as to how the lifeboat service that rescued them came to be established.   It was the gallantry of the two fishermen, John Fitzgerald and Thomas Crotty that caught the imagination of the people of Waterford and the surrounding area and galvanised them to successfully petition the RNLI to establish a lifeboat in Tramore Bay.

Dunmore East’s Trent class RNLB Elizabeth and Ronald (ON 1215), rounding Brownstown Head, following an exercise in Tramore Bay during 2014. This is close to the spot where John Fitzgerald and Thomas Crotty lost their lives in 1858. Photo courtesy of Neville Murphy

I first became aware of the names of John Fitzgerald and Thomas Crotty in February 2020. Along with Brendan Dunne, a volunteer crewmember from  Dunmore East RNLI, we visited the RNLI Heritage Department at Poole in Dorset to carry out research for the book Dauntless Courage.

David Carroll at the RNLI Memorial in Poole, February 2020. Courtesy of Brendan Dunne

Outside the entrance to the RNLI College, there is a memorial that honours the courage of all those lost at sea while endeavouring to save the lives of others around the United Kingdom and Irish coasts.  The names of John Fitzgerald and Thomas Crotty are inscribed on this memorial. The memorial unveiled in 2009, serves as a source of inspiration for current and future generations of lifeboat volunteers and supporters. It is a reminder that people who carry out selfless acts of heroism to help others will always be remembered.

Since then, I have endeavoured to find out more about these two brave fishermen. I have been unable to find any information on where John Fitzgerald and Thomas Crotty were buried, that is if their bodies were recovered. It is more likely that they were never found. No reports of their bodies being washed ashore could be found in an exhaustive search through newspapers by Philip Dunphy.   I am open to correction, but no plaque or memorial appears to exist in Ireland to remember these brave men. With the two hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the RNLI taking place in 2024, maybe it would be a fitting time for favourable consideration to be given to adding their names to those on the memorial in Dunmore East Harbour that commemorates all those lost at sea?  It is appreciated that such a request would be subject to certain protocols and procedures before it could be considered.

Lost at Sea Memorial, Dunmore East Harbour. Courtesy of Neville Murphy

Certain comfort can be taken that these two men are remembered at  RNLI Headquarters in Poole. Above the list of names on the Poole memorial to those who sacrificed their own lives to save others, the simple motto of Sir William Hillary is inscribed.  Sir William founded the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck in 1824. The name changed to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in 1854.  The words say:

‘WITH COURAGE NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE

Update: 22/5/2024. The names of John Fitzgerald and Thomas Crotty were added to The Lost At Sea Memorial in Dunmore East this week. The story was featured in the News And Star.

https://www.waterford-news.ie/news/two-heroic-names-added-to-lost-at-sea-memorial-wall_arid-17050.html

_______________________________________________________

Sources:

Records of Vessels Wrecked in Tramore Bay, 1816- ‘99’ by Maurice J Wigham,        Decies No 12., September 1979. http://snap.waterfordcoco.ie/collections/ejournals/100733/1007333.pdf

http://tramoreshippwrecks.blogspot.com/

Waterford News, January 29th, 1858

Waterford Mail, January 30th, February 4th, and March 4th, 1858.

‘Lifeboat Gallantry’ by Barry Cox (Spink  &Son Ltd and RNLI 1988).

References:

  1.  Dauntless Courage , page 16.
  • Information extrapolated from ‘Records of Vessels Wrecked in Tramore Bay, 1816- ’99.’
  • For more information on the wreck of the Sea Horse, please see Decies No. 71, 2015 –‘The Sea Horse 1782-1816’  by Ivan Fitzgerald.  

               4.  ‘Lifeboat Gallantry’, pages 129,145, and 148.

Acknowledgements:

Thank you to Jonathan Wigham, Jamie Malone, Neville Murphy, and Brendan Dunne for their courtesy in allowing their photographs to be used.

Thanks also to Philip Dunphy of Carballymore for his local insight and assistance and also to Ivan Fitzgerald, formerly of Tramore, for information and documentation to enable me to compile the article.  Ivan has carried out extensive research on the Sea Horse tragedy, and has determined the accurate numbers of soldiers, family members, officers, and crew on board the vessel.

Historical Footnotes:

Tragedy was to strike the Fitzgerald family again, almost ninety years later. On May 1st, 1947, John Fitzgerald, aged 29 years, who had served in the Coast Watching Service at LOP 17, Brownstown Head, during World War ΙΙ, was drowned along with his father, Michael, while lobster fishing.  These men were descendants of John Fitzgerald, lost in 1858.  Please see ‘Dauntless Courage’, page 143.

Readers may find the following ‘blog’ of interest?   Phillip Dunphy can confirm that the ‘John Dunne’ referred to in the article to be the same ‘’John Dunn’ who was part of the crew of the yawl that went to the rescue of the La Capricieuse in 1858.

https://irishamericancivilwar.com/2019/10/05/an-elderly-fisherman-in-dunmore-east-remembers-his-part-in-the-american-civil-war/

Medal awarded to John Dunn – From Philip Dunphy’s Collection.