Occasionally a blog falls literally into my lap. So it was with this account when a partial and very faded 19th-century sailing ship log was handed to me recently. But what would the tattered pages of the document reveal? An incredible amount as it happens including the ship, the owner, the crew, an astonishing account of a storm-tossed journey, and ultimately the story of the destruction of the Waterford ship on the Wexford shore
Walter and Evelyn Byrne presented me with the document on a recent visit to their pub in Ballyhack, where I was presenting the story of the paddle steamer era. The ship’s log was found in the attic of their pub, and although only a few tattered pages remained, the very faded writing allowed me to at least identify the ship and master. The puzzle was under what circumstances did the log end up in the attic of the pub, why was it placed there, and by who, and what exactly could I find about this old sailing vessel from the 19th Century. As it happens, a heck of a lot, thanks to the help of a number of friends.
The brig Glide was a Waterford-owned vessel. According to Lloyds register of shipping in 1863[i] the ship was built of timber in Halifax Novia Scotia in 1837. The ship was just over 80 feet long, 20 wide, and 12 deep and her stated tonnage was 154 Tons. The ship was only listed in Lloyds in 1863 and 1864. Then under the command of Captain T Black, the owner was listed as an L Freeman and her port of registry is Waterford.
Interpreting the remaining pages of the log is a bigger challenge. A ship’s log is a record kept by a ship’s captain in which the vessel’s daily progress is recorded, the wind, weather, currents encountered, and anything of interest that occurs aboard during a voyage.[ii] Unfortunately the partial log is a very challenging read and I can only decipher parts of it due to the handwriting, the damage, and that it is written in very abridged writing to capture wind, weather, seas, and any incidents. Admittedly I am also curtailed by a lack of experience with reading these, this is my first. Reading historical fiction or biographies can’t quite compare.
On one page the following crew names are recorded; William Walsh, Thomas Riley, Thomas Deveraux, ? Bird, Charles Bird, Pat Furlong, Peter Regan, and John Colfer. There is also a Patrick Furlong, perhaps the already-mentioned Pat? A couple of other names were illegible. (see the end for post-publication information that confirms that some of the crew were from the Slade area of Hook)
Journey to St Andrews
We can make out two full journeys of the vessel and a few partial details of others and the crew. The first entry deals with a trip from Cardiff to St Andrew’s (I think this is Saint-Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada) under Captain Thomas Black (Thomas was born in Waterford in 1807). The log commences on July 13th, 1866 when the weather is fair and the Light of Lundy has been sighted. The journey was uneventful finally arriving at their destination on Sept 1st. I can’t work out what the outgoing cargo was, but they had difficulties loading deals (timber boards) for the return trip, finally departing on Thurs 27th Sept. Again the trip home seems uneventful but on Mon October 29th, 1886 the Coningbeg lightship was spotted. This was rounded at noon and at 3.30 pm a pilot was picked up at Creaden Head, anchoring at Passage at 7 pm
After this some pages are missing and the handwriting and style of the recording change and the name John Commins appears. There’s mention of a trip to Cardiff and Waterford, but the next full account is a trip from Waterford to Boulogne, France. This trip was anything but routine or uneventful.
A stormy passage
The Glide was fully loaded (again no mention of the cargo) and was prepared for sailing on Friday, Dec 20th, 1867. On Sat 21st they departed downriver coming to an anchor at Passage East awaiting favourable winds. On Sunday 22nd they sailed, rounded the Hook, and ran into a strong SE wind. On Monday the weather was worsening, the Mine Head light was sighted, and they made the best of the wind to make it back to Passage East where they anchored at 5 pm that evening. Christmas was spent at anchor, but apart from the weather, the log records nothing of the holiday, any gifts, special meal, or religious observation. I hope they enjoyed it, cause the drama was only beginning.
On Sat Dec 28th they again sailed from Passage East but thereafter the log is empty of any entries until January 6th when they are sheltering off Falmouth and seem to be busy repairing their masts, rigging, and sails suggesting they have weathered a bad storm. They remain there until Sat 11th Jan 1868 before getting underway, sighting the Eddystone Light. On Sunday the 12th the Portland Light is sighted but the winds are increasing, the sail is taken in and there is mention of standing by the pumps if I am interpreting the writing correctly.
On Tuesday 14th a strong gale is continuing and their second anchor is let go giving 60 fathoms of slack. The crew is employed at “Sundrey jobs”. No mention is made of the first anchor. I can’t work out if that suggests the first one was lost in the events between the 28th Dec and the 6th Jan or that they were deploying the second one to assist the first. On Wednesday 15th Jan 1868 they haul up the anchor and continued to the Downs where they again dropped anchor and remained until Monday 20th (They tried to move on 18th but had to drop anchor again. The log ends with a simple entry on Monday, January 20th, 1868 – “Light winds from eastward at 4 am, got up one anchor and got the other short and at 8 am got underway. At noon pilot came onboard” Presumably they had arrived at Boulogne…almost a month after first departing Waterford.
The end of the Glide
So what happened to the Brig Glide after the French trip? Well, I’m not sure, as there was only one record of her in local papers, sailing in ballast for Cardiff in Nov 1870. ( I found the following after publication which lists the journeys for the first few months of 1871 which included Waterford, Welsh ports, Boulogne and Gursnesy. Also a crew list in this link.) However, I can tell you for sure about her last journey…which ended in disaster on the SW Wexford coast – a familiar refrain here on the blog. The Waterford Chronicle of Wednesday 25th Feb 1874 recorded that the ship had left Cardiff laden with coal the previous week and on Friday 20th had run into fog just after sunset. The fog was so dense nothing could be seen within a cable length of the vessel. At some point the vessel grounded close to Kilmore Quay and broke up on rocks, the crew getting away safely. Another article states the location as Ballygrangans Bay to the east of Kilmore.
John Power records that the Glide had 141 tons of coal aboard and had left Cardiff on the 15th Feb but put into Milford to shelter from a storm. She sailed again on the morning of the 20th, meeting the fog off the Wexford shoreline later that night. Having grounded, the stern post was damaged and the ship made water, rising to about three feet in the hold. The master tried to set more sail to run the ship ashore, but she remained fast and they eventually lowered the ship’s boat and rowed ashore. The piece which was drawn from a local newspaper report concludes that the master was at fault for not casting the lead, to determine the closeness to shore, a practice which would save many a ship in the area![iii]
As May approaches so does the annual May Day Mile fundraiser for the Dunmore East RNLI. This year my brother Robert and I plan to row from Carrick On Suir to Cheekpoint in a two-day adventure in the punt. We reckon it’s about 25 miles and if you would like to support us, you can donate to this worthy cause here. Watch out for lots of updates, photos, videos,and blogs to capture the month here on T&T
The owner of the vessel was Loughlin Freeman. He was a merchant and businessman who as early as 1845 had written to the Freemans Journal and described his operations as being extensive including shipping and carrying river freight along both the Suir as far as Clonmel and the Barrow to Dublin. At the time of the loss of the Glide, several reports mentioned that he was based in Barronstrand Street in Waterford and was also a Town Councillor. In other accounts, he was described as “an honest and upright liberal in the customs house ward”. In his obituary (1887) he was described as one of the longest-serving TC’s – over 32 years and had also served on the Harbour Board.
However, Slaters Commercial Directory of 1870 has his business address as Keyzer St, Waterford where he is listed under several entries including an agent for Ale and Porter, a ginger beer and soda manufacturer and a corn merchant. No mention of shipping interests, timber imports or indeed coal. More about h
Now for Freeman to lose one ship in 1874 must have been tragic, but worse was to come. For in August a sister vessel, the brigantine Alcedo, left Waterford for Cardiff, where she was impounded by inspectors as she was found to be rotten.
The reason was a politician named Samuel Plimsoll who first entered the House of Commons as a Liberal in 1868. In 1873 he published Our Seamen, which attacked old and decrepit vessels or “coffin ships,” unseaworthy and overloaded vessels, which were often heavily insured, in which owners risked their crews’ lives. Plimsoll initiated an investigation by a royal commission in 1873, and in 1876 the Merchant Shipping Act gave stringent powers of inspection to the Board of Trade and fixed the loading line (Plimsoll mark) for ships.
Unfortunately for Freeman, the Alcedo became a cause celebre and what followed was a series of court cases, newspaper reports, and even statements in the UK parliament where Plimsoll had helped to ensure that the matter of seafarers and their well-being was a topic of concern. And although the wheels of justice turned slowly, turn they did. In Waterford, in 1875 one of Freeman’s sons was escorted from the court after an outburst while his father was sentenced to prison for two months and fined £300. Paradoxically, Freeman failed to live up to his name.
The story of the Alcedo is an interesting one and probably deserves its own blog, perhaps in the future.
And why was there a partial ships log in an attic in Byrnes of Ballyhack? My first thought was that it was left behind by some foreign ship’s master following a shipwreck or death. Then I wondered if it had been part of the wreck sale, found in an item purchased from the ship at the time, however unlikely that the captain would have left it behind. But when I shared the information with Walter Byrne, particularly the name of the ship’s master, John Commins, Walter was able to tell me that the family took over the pub in 1929 and that one of the previous owners was the Commins family.
Thanks to Maria Doyle nee White I now know that John, listed as a Master Mariner, died at his home in Ballyhack on January 26th 1894 aged 73. He died after an illness of five days of pneumonia. His death was witnessed by his son John. Most likely John Commins left the log behind as part of his personal possessions. That’s our working theory – perhaps someone can let us know more.
I’m indebted to Walter and Evelyn Byrne for the loan of the partial ships log for this piece and to the assistance of Cian Manning, marine artist Brian Cleare, Liam Ryan, Maria Doyle and Andy Kelly.
This story, and the research of it has brought me past the 200th ship I have found that was built or registered in Waterford. I also have a separate list of ships sunk in the harbour or coast of Waterford as well as Waterford ships lost elsewhere…the list now stands at 652.
Post Publication Gillian Finn supplied me with the following details and images on the Historical Wexford facebook page – Two of the crew Charles & brother Christopher Bird were from “Slade” Charles in particular sailed around globe. I work a Hook Peninsula Tree on Ancestry tracking all past inhabitants, I came across a crew record for the Glide.
I enclose it here, lists all the men who sailed on that voyage.
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[ii] James A Dunnage. Shipping Terms and Phrases.(1925) Pitman Press, London. See p52
[iii] John Power. A Maritime History of County Wexford. (2011) Olinda Publications. Kilmore Quay. See p169-70