Misadventure on the SS Pembroke, 1899

The SS Pembroke was one of a proud fleet of ships of the Great Western Railway company which carried passengers, freight and mails between Waterford and the UK. While en route to Waterford in February of 1899 she encountered dense fog and ran aground on the Saltee Islands, sparking a major rescue and salvage operation.
SS Pembroke heading inbound to Waterford, Flying huntsman ahead.
AH Poole Collection NLI

http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000591122

The SS Pembroke was built by Laird Brothers of Birkenhead, in the year 1880. She was originally a paddle steamer, but in 1896 she was altered by the shipyard into a twin screw steamship as shown above. She was operated by the Great Western Railway Company and did regular sailings on the Waterford to Milford Haven route, latterly Fishguard, and as such would have been a regular sight to the people of the city and the harbour.
SS Pembroke departed Milford port on the 18th February 1899 with 28 passengers, a crew of 30, the mails, and a cargo of 28 tons. The ship was under the command of Captain John Driver. At 6.19am the ship was forced to reduce speed having encountered dense fog off the Wexford coast. At about 6.30am the Master spotted breakers ahead, and immediately ordered the engines to full astern. The response came to late and she struck land.
Aground on North Saltee- AH Poole Collection NLI

http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000591118

A passenger takes up the story; “…we were thrown out of our bunks onto the cabin floor. For a few seconds we heard a terrible sound underneath the vessel.  The rest of the passengers thought that the vessel had collided with another vessel and was sinking…When we got on deck, other passengers were huddled together in a group, half dressed. Among the passengers were some ladies, who seemed very calm, while male passengers were running about in terror. The captain ordered the boats to be launched and by 7 o clock all the passengers were landed on the island”(1)
The land they encountered was one of the Saltee Islands and there were two men staying on the island at the time (William Culleton and Anthony Morgan).  These men guided the ships boats in, and treated the passengers to tea and tried to make them comfortable. The second mate then set off in a ships boat for Kilmore Quay where he raised the alarm by telegram to Waterford. The entire fishing fleet set to sea and the tug “Flying Huntsman” part of the Waterford Steamship Co fleet which was then at Dunmore responded and eventually took on the passengers, cargo and the mail and brought all to Waterford that same day.(2)
Paddle tug, Flying Huntsman at Limerick,
courtesy of Frank Cheevers and NLI

A man named Ensor from Queenstown (Dun Laoghaire) was engaged as salvor and it was considered feasible to refloat the ship.  This was achieved five days later on the 23rd Feb and under the Pembroke’s own steam, but with several tugs on stand-by, she was brought into Waterford harbour and up to Cheekpoint.(3)

Aground again, but purposely
AH Poole Collection NLI

http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000591127

Inspection in progress – AH Poole Collection NLI

http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000591124

She was re-grounded at the Strand Road, above the main quay at Cheekpoint, and it seems that it was a major draw for city and country people alike.* The photo above shows clearly the benefit of re grounding the vessel as a full view could be got of the damage and temporary repairs could be carried out.

The Pembroke sailed down the harbour for Lairds of Liverpool for repair on Saturday 4th March. Again she sailed under her own steam and safely got across the Irish sea, but sprung a leak off Liverpool and had to call to Hollyhead for emergency repairs.(4)

The subsequent inquiry into the incident was held at the Guildhall in Westminister on March 29th 1899.  It found that the ships Master, John Driver, made insufficient allowance for the tide which appeared to be running abnormally strong on the morning of the grounding. They found that he did not reduce speed sufficiently and should have cast a lead when unsure of his position.  However after a previous unblemished career of 39 years, the tribunal made no ruling on his position saying that he was “entitled to the confidence of his employers”

The Pembroke returned to service the Irish Sea and continued up until 1916. In that year she was given over to general cargo runs.  She survived the war, having at least one near brush with a U Boat which she managed to outrun. She survived the war but following 45 years of loyal service she was sold for scrap in 1925.

*  If you follow the links under each photo it will bring you to the NLI website and you may then zoom in on each photo where you will get a good sense of the crowds at Cheekpoint.  There is also a great view of a paddle steam tug ahead of the Pembroke as she departs above Passage.

The original story was passed on to me by Tomás Sullivan Cheekpoint.

(1),(2) & (3)John Power – A Maritime History of County Wexford Vol 1(2011) pp 377- 381
(4). Waterford Standard. Wednesday March 8th 1899

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The construction of Dunmore Pier

In 1824 Rev Richard Hopkins Ryland published The history, topography and antiquities of the County and City of Waterford.  The Dungarvan native and amateur historian had set out to challenge “the incorrect ideas and false representations of flying travellers and tourists”1.  As part of his research he visited the port of Dunmore as it was being transformed under the watchful eye of the great engineer Alexander Nimmo. What follows is his description of the construction.

Steam paddle packets Meteor and Royal Sovereign which operated
on the Dunmore service in the 1820s
Maritime Museum, Greenwich via Roger Antell 

“Nearly at the entrance of the harbour is the village of Dunmore, formerly a place of resort for fishermen, but now a delightful and fashionable watering place…Dunmore has latterly been much enlarged; it is now a post town and a station for the packets which carry the mails between England the south of Ireland. {I’ve written previously about the earlier Waterford service} By an act passed in the 58th year of Geo III cap.72 the limits of the harbour of Dunmore are defined to be ‘from Shannoon Point otherwise called Black Nobb, to Ardnamult Point’ This act also regulates the duties to be charged on vessels arriving at, or sailing from, the harbour: it also authorises the appointment of a harbour master…

The pier of Dunmore is situated on the southern shore of the bay of Waterford, where the haven joins the Atlantic Ocean.  The harbour for the packets is formed under Dunmore head by the projection of a mole, which is carried a considerable distance to the sea.  The object being to reduce the fury of the waves, which, when impelled by the south and west winds, dash against the coast with inconceivable violence, a mole, supported by an immense breakwater, was commenced from a little within the head of Dunmore.  By vast exertions, and by procuring rocks of great size, the mole was extended 800 feet into the sea, which, at the place where the breakwater is formed, is from four, five to six fathoms deep.  The mole is raised on an inclined surface between forty and fifty feet above low water mark, roofed or paved with great masses of stone, embedded in a species of mortar which becomes hard under water; the inclination is such to allow the fury of of the waves to expend itself before reaching the parapet, which surmounts the whole, at an elevation of seventy feet perpendicular above the foundation.  The pier and quay for the shipping are erected inside the mole, and present a most beautiful specimen of masonry.  This pier, or quay, is 600 feet in length: the depth of low water at the entrance is twenty five feet, and at the innermost part eighteen feet.  The greatest part of this noble quay under low water has been built by means of a diving bell, of which useful machines there are two here, on very improved principals.

Under the superintendence of skillful engineers, the workmen (untaught peasants) soon learned to move rocks with admirable dexterity: few of these were less than five or six tons weight, and some exceed ten tons.  Those immense mountain masses, torn from the solid rock, were transported with apparent ease, on inclined planes and iron railways, to the place where they were squared with the greatest exactness: they were then disposed in their places, accurately fitted and joined together without the clumsy iron bolts and bands, which are at the same time laborious and expensive…


Steam packets sail every day between Waterford and Milford and afford a cheap and expeditious conveyance: the passage is usually effected in about 9 hours.  The time occupied in conveying the mail between London and Waterford rarely exceeds eight and forty hours*.  On the arrival of the packet at Dunmore, in the evening, a well appointed mail coach is to convey the passengers to Waterford; and from thence coaches proceed to Dublin and Cork, where they arrive the following morning.

*The Cinderella, the first vessel of this description on this part of the coast, performed the passage in a little better than seven hours. She left Milford at half past nine in the morning of the 16th April, and arrived at Dunmore a quarter before five the same evening. The usual hour of arrival is between seven and eight; but it is expected that when the arrangements are completed, the packets will arrive three or four hours earlier. The packets do not leave Dunmore now until twelve o’clock at night.          [Rylands endnote]

The results of the building work described can still be appreciated today, and it’s certain that the Reverend had first hand accounts with both his eyes and ears and from the engineers employed in the construction.  It was a pity he gave no mention to the construction of the lighthouse, which leads me to think he visited Dunmore a few years before the book was published.  The mails continued to arrive and depart at Dunmore until 1835.  But with the coming of steam power and the ability to bend the winds and tides to the will of the ships, the packet moved to Waterford city.

1 short biographical account via Fewer.T.N. Waterford People. A biographical Dictionary.  2004.  Ballylough Books. Waterford

The extract above was sourced from Ryland.R.H. The history, topography and antiquities of the County and City of Waterford. 1982. Welbrook Press. Kilkenny pp239-243.  Thanks to Damien McLellan for the loan of his copy.

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
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and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales