Carnage on the seas, January 1862

A stormy January in 1862 saw tremendous seas and howling gales that created havoc in the Irish seas and beyond.  As ships do, they sat it out where possible and then when it passed, they raised anchor and got underway.  The gales however had not gone, merely abated.  The local Waterford paper, the New & Star was so gripped by the problems that it caused for shipping that it devoted half a page to describing the impact, almost totally in relation to Waterford ships or incidents in the harbour or on our coast.  From what I have read at least six ships were lost in Waterford that month and many more were damaged.  This week I thought I would bring you part of the actual reportage from the News & Star, and their unnamed journalist, to give a sense of the time. 

“The details of the disastrous effects of the terrible weather of the past week arrive with intense impact upon this part of Ireland, as the fury of those gales made our lee shore the sorrowful and fatal alternative of many fine ships and many gallant, free-hearted, and generous mariners, whose lives have at length fallen victim to the untimely fate which the majority of chances are in favour of those who choose to plough the ocean in search of bread and independence—the former hardly earned, and the latter so seldom attained by the achievement of what is indispensable to that coveted prize, independence.

After the storm of Thursday and Friday last, Saturday opened up beautifully fine, and although the wind continued about SE giving a note of unsettled weather, the sea bore a comparatively tranquil aspect, looking, on our visit to Annestown, as if its mighty jaws had never engulfed a human life, or swallowed up or torn to fragments the most stupendous work of man’s ingenuity and ability in naval architecture, showing though everlasting and warning superiority of nature over man’s greatest creation. In the midst of the ruin that was there, and the painful rumour we had heard the previous day of the probable immense destruction of human life here, it was gladdening to tho heart to hear hopes expressed that the dreadful fears were unfounded, and subsequent intelligence dispelled the gloom which the horrors of the loss of an emigrant vessel’s crew and passengers had awakened in the hearts of those who had for a time laboured under the sad impression.

The great misfortune attendant on this storm was, that a large number of vessels bound to Irish harbors and the Atlantic Ocean, had been tempted, to leave their ports of departure in England and Wales by the fine weather prevailing at the other side, in the early part of last week, and thus, when the severity of the gale broke upon them, the Channel may be said to have been ‘chock full’ of shipping. Nothing can better show the severity of the gale than the fact of the Coningbeg light-ship having been dragged for several miles from her mooring, to which, during many storms, she has for many years before held firm. On the Ballast Board in Dublin hearing of this casualty, which was so likely to prove fatal to the shipping heaving in night, not knowing the changed position of the light, and which, in fact, was near proving disastrous to a passing steamer for this port, another light ship was at once sent off, and on Sunday was moored in the proper place to mark those dangerous rocks, about twelve miles S. E. of Hook Tower, and off the Saltee Islands. The buoy which marked the South end of Long Bank, and also that of Splaugh Rock, on the Wexford coast, were washed away by the fury of the seas. The new steamer Pladda, which left this port on the 21st inst for Glasgow, was caught in the height of the gale on the 22nd, and after being 62 hours at sea, was obliged to run for Kingstown harbour, where also the steamer Troubadour, for Wexford sought refuge.

SS Pladda via Andy Kelly Collection

Amongst the disasters to Waterford shipping reported, we regret to hear of total loss, near Miltown, County Cork, of the fine schooner Prudence, Thomas, master, on her voyage from Limerick to London, laden with oats, melancholy to add, the  Captain and three of the crew were drowned, three others being saved. The Prudence was owned in this city by Capt Thomas Angel, and was formerly well known as on of the fast liners between Waterford and London, which in those days of sailing commerce, used to attract general attention in the Thames for their beauty of model and their  adaptability for trade.  Captain Thomas was well known here as bold and skilful mariner, and he left a. wife and two children to mourn over a good and kind husband and father. The others drowned were belonging to this city, and have also left families….

…The Flying Dutchman, Clarke, master, which arrived here on Monday from Llanelly experienced a terrific passage, and was driven up St. George’s Channel as far as Holyhead. The Captain saw a large ship, apparently a barque, with loss of mainmast, and crew lashed to the pumps, scudding before the gale off Arklow banks, but could not render any assistance. The Newcastle schooner, Whelan, of this port, arrived here last week, lost main boom and bulwark and became leaky in the gale.

The wreck at Annestown – the Indian Ocean.  We have ascertained the following additional particulars of the loss of this fine Australian vessel, on Benvoy Strand, at Annestown, on the morning of Friday 24th inst as briefly noted in last news. The Indian Ocean, one of the Slack Hall line of Australian packets, commanded by Capt. Russell, with a crew of twenty five men and a valuable cargo, but no passengers, left Liverpool on the previous Monday for Sydney N. S. W.  On Monday and Tuesday fine weather was experienced, but on Wednesday arose the gale to which on Friday this noble vessel fell victim. In the course of Wednesday, when about twenty miles from the scene of the disaster the vessel lost her bowsprit and rudder, and consequently became perfectly unmanageable. In this helpless condition she drifted coming nearer and nearer the rock bound coast toward which the fury of the gale was directed. Very early on Thursday morning, the brig Europa, from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Liverpool, Captain Welsh, owner, in command, came up to the drifting vessel and tried, but in vain owing to the tremendous seas running at the time, to take her in tow.  The Europa remained alongside until the evening, when her Captain intimated to Captain Russell, of the Indian Ocean, that he could not remain by the ship any longer with safety, and that the latter, seeing there was no possibility of rescuing his ship and justly fearful that longer delay would be to the destruction of his crew, abandoned his own vessel, and went on board the brig, which took all hands into Liverpool in safety where they arrived on Saturday morning, receiving on the voyage every attention from Captain Welsh which their destitute condition required.

A three master of the era to give a sense of scale
Wilhelm Hester [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On Friday, at about three o’clock, an alarm was given to Mr John Short, coast guard officer in charge of the station at Annestown, that a large vessel was drifting rapidly into the bay, and would, in a short time be on the rocks. Immediately Mr. Short and his men repaired to Benvoy Strand, distant about half a mile from Annestown, and there saw the noble vessel advancing to her destruction iu the raging surf, the wind blowing S. W. fearfully at the time, on a shore that offers nothing but immediate obliteration. She for some time, struggled with her impending fate but suddenly with a fearful surge, she was cast on the rocks which are everywhere apparent on this iron-bound coast, two of her masts going by the board with a tremendous crash, the third having previously gone over.  For a short time she lay in this condition, her timbers groaning and parting, when about half-past three am she quickly gave way to the fury of the waves and the merciless rocks, and went to pieces, her wrecked hull and cargo being driven far in onto the beach by the tempest during the morning.  Throughout the scene the ultimate anxiety was felt as to the crew and passengers supposed to be on board, but as none were perceived it was surmised that the vessel had been abandoned, which fortunately proved to be the case. During the day, the beach became crowded with the villagers and inhabitants of the locality, all desirous to see the wreck, inspect whatever cargo might be driven ashore, and, if possible, learn the name of the vessel and the fate of her crew, then supposed to be drowned.  The paper alluded to last day, dated at Bombay, January 2nd, 1861, signed W. Nicholl and Co., and addressed to the commanding officer of the Indian Ocean, picked up on the strand, revealed the name of the ill-fated vessel by and bye portions of her cargo turned up. A large number of ale casks, completely new, were cast on shore, most of them stove in and emptied of their contents. Of that number, there were found twelve casks of ale unharmed, one of rum, and one of illuminating oil, in the same condition. The casks were stamped Burton Weir Brewery; brewed expressly for Australia; Marian, No. 1, 2,3.  The oil was stamped Gambriel, Brandon, and Co’s illuminating oil.  The rum being from R. W. Princeton, Liverpool.  There were also found eight bales of different coloured wrapping and printing paper, the brown of which was considerably damaged, the remainder in very good condition.  They were consigned to an establishment in Sydney.

Everywhere along the beach and among the rocks were seen the proofs of the destruction done to this nobel ship. At the further end of the strand, jammed  between some high rocks, a distance from the cliffs and in the water, were seen the stern of the vessel, keel uppermost, without her rudder. Her name Indian Ocean, appeared on the stern, painted in yellow letters on a green ground, and the name ‘Liverpool’ encircled the rudder.  Her hull had been sheathed with yellow metal, and was strongly fastened with iron knees and copper bolts. The timbers, masts, spars and gear, all piled in a heterogeneous mass on the strand, proclaimed her a new and powerful American built vessel well suited to her work, and a noble craft when afloat. From the moment of the disaster the coastguard under the direction of Mr. John G. Short, were on the spot taking care of the wreck, which, with the other property on shore, was taken in charge by Lloyd’s agent at this port, Mr, Josiah Williams, and his sub-agent at Waterford, Mr. Thomas Walsh, auctioneer, who has been most indefatigable in the discharge of a very onerous and disagreeable duty, rendered peculiarly so on this occasion by the number of juveniles of both sexes who crowded the beach on Friday and Saturday, and who plied hammers and pincers, where possible, to take off the metal and rip out nails. In this task Mr. Walsh was well aided by Mr. Short and his men. We also learned, whilst on the spot, that the ill-fated schooner Active, of Bristol, which struck in the same locality on the previous day, almost instantly went into fragments, and the five men on board, who were seen in the rigging crying for help, received no mercy on earth, but were in a moment swept into eternity, since which none of the bodies have been seen…”

The extract above is taken as written and using the language of the day from the Waterford News and Star 31.01.1862, page 3

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