The Blighted Barque- Earl of Beaconsfield

When the owners of the four-masted iron hulled sailing barque Earl of Beaconsfield (1883) saw their new ship enter the River Clyde, they must have hoped for a handsome return on their investment.  But although fate has a large role to play in anything to do with shipping, the owners could never have foreseen just how blighted, ill-fated if not damned this ship would be and that within the year she would be sunk after several major incidents at sea, and have never successfully made a single trip.

An example of a four masted barque rigged vessel of the era SV Herzogin Cecilie . By Allan C. Green 1878 – 1954 – State Library of Victoria. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10540452

The Earl of Beaconsfield was launched by Russell & Co, Port Glasgow on the 5th of December 1883 for the firm of A. McAllister & Co, West India Dock Rd, London.  The vessel was 269’ 1″ long by ×40’2″×24’3″ and had a tonnage of 1960 GRT and 1893 NRT.[i] 

Her maiden voyage started from Glasgow under Captain Kerr and a crew of 31 with freight of coal and general cargo.  Her trip would take her down the Irish Sea to the Tuskar Rock along the southern Irish coast where the deep-sea pilot Captain Warden would depart, and then southwards through the Atlantic to Cape Horn and subsequently up the American coast to San Francisco.[ii]  

Captain Warden departed the vessel as planned and the ship set her sails for the South Atlantic but the weather had other ideas and as the wind picked up and the seas rose, the crew of the Earl of Beaconsfield found themselves facing a serious test of their new ship.  Despite their best efforts, the crew was unable to make any appreciable headway and ultimately they found themselves bearing down on Ballyteigue Bay, Co Wexford on Tuesday evening 12th February.  Both anchors were dropped and as the winds continued unabated the ship’s cargo shifted causing a serious list to port which only added to the threat of the mountainous seas that crashed aboard.[iii]

Earl of Beaconsfield following salvage at Buttermilk Castle close to Cheekpoint. Poole. Andy Kelly Collection.

All through the night, the crew battled to stay alive.  As the storm persisted the ship became increasingly damaged.  The bow was stove in, spars snapped and rigging fell onto the deck.  Rockets were shot from the ship into the night sky. Although seen, there was nothing those on shore could do to help except to raise the alarm. A message was sent to the lifeboat station at Duncannon which dispatched the lifeboat overland to Fethard arriving early on Wednesday morning.[iv]

Duncannon lifeboat station. Authors collection.

Duncannon’s lifeboat was a self-righting rowboat called the Richard and Anne.  The station was founded in 1869 and served on station for 17 years until 1886. Duncannon was closed as two new stations were then operating at Dunmore East and Fethard on Sea.[v]

The GWRC steamer Waterford passed close by on Wednesday morning and attempted to get close to offer assistance, signals were exchanged but it was deemed too risky to get close.  Meanwhile, the Duncannon lifeboat was rowing towards the scene, but because of the gale could not render any immediate assistance.  They returned subsequently when the winds moderated and dropped the crew of 32 and a stowaway, to Fethard where they were cared for by locals and an agent for Lloyds.[vi] According to information supplied by Nick Leech author of The Lifeboat Service in Ireland, Station by Station the crew of the lifeboat didn’t get back to Duncannon until almost 9pm on the 14th, a 26 hr rescue. (Although this does not tally with the details I have, I’m also working to try piece together another rescue of the crew of the Stowell Brown. This may account for the discrepancy as this occurred at or around the same time). The crew of the Earl of Beaconsfield were subsequently transported to Waterford and then by the Clyde steamer Skerryvore directly to Glasgow.[vii]

An oil painting of the Lynmouth lifeboat Louisa, by artist Mark Myers.©RNLI. A contemporary craft of the Richard and Anne
A view of the scene from Fethard Dock recently. Authors collection.

Meanwhile, the Waterford Steam Navigation Co has dispatched the tug Dauntless (which a few years later would play such a courageous role in the failed attempt to save the crew of the Alfred D Snow) and the Duncannon steamer PS Tintern to salvage the wreck.  A telegram summoned the tugs Stormcock and Cruiser of the Liverpool Salvage Association too.  On arrival at the scene, the Waterford boats were met by a group of Kilmore fishermen who had rowed to the scene and carried out some work on the hatches to help maintain the ship.  An agreement was reached between the parties. The anchor cables were so taut from the strain they had endured that extra expertise had to be brought from the Neptune Ironworks in Waterford to release the anchors and then the long tow to Waterford commenced. [viii]   

The ship was towed to a safe anchorage at Buttermilk Castle. Having being unloaded and patched up, the Earl of Beaconsfield was subsequently brought back to the Clyde by the tug Stormcock, but this was not without incident.  For at 4 am on the 6th March both the tug and the barque each in turn collided with the schooner J M Stevens. The schooner subsequently sunk in the Firth of Clyde. The crew was saved having managed to scramble aboard the Earl of Beaconsfield.[ix]

Following repairs, the barque was again readied for San Francisco, and a report from the 12th May 1884 stated that “…She is commanded as formerly by Captain Kerr…and the entire crew, 33 in number, were engaged at Greenock….[she]… carries to the outport about 2,700 tons cargo, principally coal. She is despatched by Messrs T. Skinner Co., Glasgow“[x]

Having negotiated the southern ocean and rounded the Horn, the Earl of Beaconsfield caught fire in the pacific just weeks away from finally reaching San Francisco.  On the 13th of August, the cargo of coal combusted. The vessel was subsequently destroyed by fire in the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles west of Santiago, Chile.  The crew took to the lifeboat and were subsequently picked up by a passing vessel and landed at Valparaiso.  Amazingly, in recording the demise of the ship, a local paper recorded two other incidents with the ship and bad weather before she ever reached Wexford in February at all.  If ever there was a case of an unfortunate vessel, surely the Earl of Beaconsfield has earned the title.[xi]


I would like to thank David Carroll for his help with the details of the Duncannon lifeboat Richard & Anne for this story. David is busy finalising his history of the Dunmore East Lifeboat station, further details here.

My new book of maritime yarns and history is due to be published in the coming weeks. Published by the History Press it will be available from all good bookshops and online. If you would like to receive a signed copy by post please email me at tidesntales@gmail.com. I can also post as a present for Christmas or other occasions with a specific dedication. The cost incl P&P is €17 to anywhere in the world – I will send an e-invoice via Pay Pal which can be paid with an account or with any credit card.

Mino – “As rotten a ship as ever put to Sea”

Whites & Penrose slipways, Waterford. Andy Kelly Collection

On Saturday morning, 30th October 1875 the schooner Mino of Cheekpoint, Co Waterford was run ashore on the Wexford shore by her captain and crew.  Aground on the sandy shoreline the first wave to break over her stern carried the timbers away and this was quickly followed by her afterdeck.  As locals rushed to the scene, the crew who were huddled in the bow, were assisted ashore with the help of ropes and cared for in local homes.  The crew of the Mino were fortunate to have survived, but was this a case of bad weather, poor seamanship or something more sinister?

The strand at Ballyhealy – with thanks to Kev Somers. Erosion is a real problem in the area and we must assume that the Mino grounded further out from the present shoreline.
Ballyhealy on the map, located between Kilmore Quay and Carnsore Point

The Mino, was a 180 ton, two masted schooner, built in Prince Edward Island in 1858.   The schooner was advertised for sale in Liverpool in May of 1862 and was subsquently bought by Captain Thomas White of Cheekpoint, Co Waterford for £229.  In an advert of the time the Mino was described as “…a most remarkable vessel;  carries 140 tons, on 9 feet water; sails without ballast; takes the ground; is well  found in stores, and quite ready for immediate employment. This vessel is admirably adapted for the coasting trade, and sold in consequence of being too small for present owner’s use. Dimensions: Length 73 feet, breadth 20 feet , depth 9 feet ”[1]

White became the vessels master and used the ship in the coastal trade that she was so suited to, carrying cargo such as wheat and pit props from Waterford and returning with such staples as coal.  In 1872 it would appear that White stood down from his position and Captain Pat Brien of Wexford took command, followed by Captain Crotty, Captain Michael Barry of Cheekpoint and lastly, Whites brother in Law, Edward Kavanagh.[2]

Small promo here for Brian and Jacks new book. The launch will take place on Thursday Dec.12th at the Wexford Library at 7pm. The Book is a hardback cover 450+ pages with 300+ images,many in colour. A must for my Christmas stocking if anyone is looking for ideas!

According to Kavanagh the Mino departed Waterford (20th September 1875) for Cardiff with pit props and then to Newport to take on a 125 tons of coal.[1]  The departure was delayed for sometime due to weather and eventually they sailed on the 16th October for their stated destination, Cheekpoint, Co Waterford.  They put into Milford Haven on the 23rd due to “stress of weather”.  When they again set sail on the 29th October they again ran into heavy weather off the Smalls.  The Mino started to take water and although two pumps were manned, the water gained on them and the ship became unmanageable.  At 5am on the morning of the 30th October Kavanagh ran the Mino ashore on Ballyhealy strand.  Thanks to local assistance, himself and his crew were saved.[2]

Later that morning the scene was visited by William Coughlan the Collector of Taxes and Reciever of Wrecks at Wexford.  Members of the coastguard were also present and the condition of the wreck was immediately obvious to them.  The Mino had practically fallen apart and it would seem that Coughlan was determined to get to the bottom of it.  A shipwright from the Board of Trade was summoned and from the 6th-7th of November Robert Bell surveyed the wreck. He confirmed what most onlookers could determine for themselves, that many of the Mino’s timbers were in a rotten state.[3]

An advert from the front page of the Wexford People – Saturday 27th November 1875

 The wreck was eventually auctioned off but I could find no reference to the cargo of coal which was destined originally for a Mr Davis of Waterford.  If the schooners owner, Captain White, was feeling the loss of his ship and income, things were only going to go from bad to worse. 

Just after Christmas 1875 Captain White was summoned to appear at a preliminary hearing at the Callaghane Petty Sessions to explain why he should not be prosecuted under a charge of sending men to sea in an unseaworthy ship. The shipowner faced stiff questioning before the presiding magistrates—Hon Dudley Fortescue, chairman ; Sir R J Paul, Bart: Capt Armstrong, Capt Coughlan, P Fitzgerald, Esq, and G I Goold, Esq, R.M [1] 

I’m not aware of any photo of the Callaghane courthouse, but as we can see from this old OSI map, the building was located beside the RIC barracks after the present pub on the main Dunmore East – Waterford road.

It was decided that White had questions to answer and in March 1876 he appeared before Judge Barry in the Waterford Azzies where over two days he was tried by a jury of his peers.  The evidence was overwhelmingly against the man.  Both the coastguard and Receiver of Wrecks were clear as to the condition of the craft, his ex captain, Michael Barry explained how a Board of Trade official in Wales had cautioned of the ships unseaworthiness and that he had communicated this to White, prior to leaving the ship.  The master of the Mino Edward Kavanagh deposed that he thought the ship was fine up to the storm in the Irish Sea, but his evidience was undermined when it was revealed that he was a brother in law to White. Two other crew, the mate Michael Power, and a sailor named John Milton, stated they were unaware of any issues as regards the craft. Their evidence was all the more strange because arguably the most convincing prosecution evidence shown in court was parts of the ships timbers.[2]

In his own defence White gave a good account of himself, stating that he had skippered the ship up to four years previously when ill health caused him to withdraw. He had regularly had the ship overhauled on the Penrose Graving Bank in Waterford and had spent large sums to maintain the ship.  However, he could only provide three receipts for small repairs totalling £12 for the years 1873/4.  And he could offer no witnesses to vouch for the claimed work, despite the fact that they were supposed to take place in the city.  The judge, perhaps in frustration, asked White if he had a bad memory to which White replied “A very bad one”!  Two local businessmen spoke up on Whites behalf; Shipping agent Downey and corn merchant Thomas Quigley![3] 

Whites & Penrose slipways, Waterford.  Andy Kelly Collection
Whites & Penrose slipways, Waterford (Part of what is now the city’s North Quays. Andy Kelly Collection. On balance I would think this is the most likely location of the graving bank mentioned .
The Graving Bank I am most familar with in the city was located where the present Bus Station is based. Basically this was a portion of the shoreline that dried out when the tide ebbed and allowed workmen to overhaul a ship. Photo courtesy of Damien McLellan.
A ship in the graving bank in Waterford, listing in and allowing access to the hull

The jury retired but quickly returned with a guilty verdict.  Judge Barry sentenced Captain White to two months in jail and was reported to have stated that the Mino was as rotten a ship as ever put to sea!.  The irony was that if Kavanagh had not managed to ground the ship and save his crew, White would probably have never been prosecuted.  The Mino would be just another statistic of wrecks on the Wexford shore.

Postscript:

But that is not the end to my story.  I grew up with stories of Captain White and his extended family who lived in Dobbyn’s House, Cheekpoint.  The family had a strong connection with the sea, and as is often the case, were no strangers to tragedy. For example I was told that a son of the family died at Cheekpoint quay following a fall from a mast of their ship.  I can’t say that this was Thomas Whites son, or that the fall was from the Mino.  I have yet to find any proof.  But I did find one very sad and curious event that might change the readers opinion of this account.  For four years previously, a twenty year old sailor on the Mino was drowned in the Barrow following a boating accident.  His name was John White and he was described as the Captain of the Mino’s son. [4]   In the court case White stated that he had stood down as Captain four years before. Was this event the cause of his retirement as master? Ultimately was this the reason for his ill health?  In the modern era such an event would be considered important as regards the Captains mental health, and would almost certainly be used in his defence as a contributory factor. 

The Anderson/White/Hill family plot in Faithlegg

Thanks for dropping by and reading. If you have any observations, questions or extra information I would be delighted to recieve them, in the comments section below or by email to tidesntales@gmail.com. I publish a new story on the maritime heritage of Waterford harbour on the last Friday of each month. I also post daily updates on Facebook and Twitter. Andrew Doherty

Passagemens daring rescue

On a dark November night in storm force winds and driving rain an Arklow schooner scurried up Waterford harbour in search of shelter.  Within sight of the Spit Light below Passage East the ship healed over stuck fast in the sand and her crew took to the rigging to flash lights in the hope of salvation.  Luckily for them, their signals were answered and four men departed Passage East in a fishing yawl.  But the odds were against them and nothing but expertise and luck would ensure a positive outcome.

Passage East, Co Waterford
Passage East, Co Waterford via Tommy Deegan Waterford History Group

The Arklow schooner France Jane was built in 1858 in Nova Scotia, Canada.  Her Arklow owners were Anne and Thomas J.Troy and she weighed 87 tonnes.[i]  She was on a run with corn from Belfast to Courtmacsherry under Captain Furlong.

Like many schooners at the time, the Frances Jane would take any opportunities for cargo that were available, competing as they were with the more dependable and regular steam ships.  Bulk cargos were a staple freight, or bagged or barrelled produce, anything that didn’t have a crucial delivery date. trips to smaller ports and out of the way locations were also a means of making freight. Earlier in the summer she had been tied up in Arklow with a cargo of coal which was advertised at knockdown prices in an attempt to clear her hold.[ii] In another sailing in September coal was again her cargo into her home port.

The run to Courtmacsherry was cut short by a strengthening gale of south east wind, by far the worst to meet off the Hook, and in an effort to make shelter the schooner made her way into the harbour.  As the rain came down and the winds strengthened she beat her way further in, until she ran aground on the Drumroe Bank.

1787 map of the harbour entitled “An actual survey of the harbour and river of Waterfor and of the bay of Tramore” by Robert Sayer (1724?-1794). Accessed from Bibliothèque nationale de France (Public Domain)
To access a higher resolution go to https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b53011020p/f1.item.r=tramore
A close up of Sayer’s chart showing the Drumroe Bank, outside of Passage Strand. Note the spit light has yet to be built and a light perch marks the bank instead.

Once stuck fast on the hard sands, her fate was sealed. With no other options, the crew took to the rigging to escape the surging seas breaking over her side and shone lamps in the hopes of a rescue.  Fortunately their lights were seen, and on Passage East quay four fishermen prepared their small open fishing boat to meet the challenge.

James Hearne, the skipper, had three other men with him, James Pepper, Richard Galvin and Michael Sheehy.  All the men are listed in the 1901 census as living in Passage East and all are married with family.  Hearne (age 36, fisherman) is married to Mary, a dressmaker.  They have four children, the two eldest William and Ellen were born in Liverpool.  Pepper (40, fisherman) is married to Statia and they have five children at the time.  Richard Galvin (37, sailor) is married to Ellen, they are living with his mother in law, Catherine Daley.  They have five children and a niece is also living with them.  Patrick Sheehan (40, sailor) is married to Kate, and they have two teenage children. 

Their small yawl was well used to facing the weather of the harbour and their experience would have told them that in the conditions, the closer they got to the stricken vessel the greater the danger they would face.  As they pushed away from the quay they laid out the sweeps (oars) and bent to their task.  Rowing hard against the wind and rain, the men, who had no time to gather oilsikins, were quickly soaked to their skin and the cold must have penetrated their jerseys despite the exertions.  At one stage an oar was lost, on another it snapped in two against the force of the seas.  But on they battled with the two oars and eventually came alongside the Frances Jane.

A similar yawl as described in the piece, taken at Ballyhack, Co Wexford.
NLI, Lawrence Collection. Robert French Photo

Hearne jumped aboard the stricken schooner and helped each of the sailors into the the outstretched hands of his crewmates in the yawl. No details are given of the compelxities of this, but I’m sure they would have come in uder her leeward side (if the tidal conditional allowed) and in the shelter provided make the transfer. Again nothing is made of the men going below to gather any valuables etc, mind you it was probably little enough they would have had. I also have no information on the names of Captain Furlongs crew that night. Eventually a sail was hoisted to bring them home, the sails filling with the now helpful wind, and soon they were at Passage East quay where the sailors and the fishermen alike were cared for with the attention that only a fishing and sailing village would know instinctively.[iii]

After the storm comes the calm its said, and indeed such was the case in the days that followed.  The schooner was seen wrecked and forlorn, but it was hoped that if the weather  stayed calm she might be got off.  Her cargo of wheat was salvaged and was later advertised for sale.   “Mr. Patrick Bolger, auctioneer, New Ross, announces a very important sale of 260 barrels of fine Australian wheat, the salvaged cargo of the schooner Frances Jane, which recently came to grief in the harbour”[iv]

The schooner was not so fortunate however, as the weather worsened and she became a total loss. I don’t know the ultimate fate of the crew thereafter, but I’m sure after a good nights sleep, they were probably looking for a new berth to make their living from and would have shipped out at the earliest opportunity. 

The rescue was widely reported and the skill and bravery displayed that night was eventually recognised.  On Friday 30th January 1903 at the Waterford City Petty Sessions a publich ceremony was conducted at which the four men were recognised by the Royal National Lifeboat Institute . Mr Wardell, secretary of the Tramore Lifeboat Committee, and Mr Edward Jacob, Lloyd’s agent in Waterford, introduced the men and their feat before asking that the magistrates present them with the certificates.  Jacob explained that it was “…only common justice to the men that the attention of the Institution should have been called to their heroic action. The Institution considered the deed they had done was an act of the greatest bravery, and when the great risk that the men had run of losing their own lives was pointed out to them they could scarcely credit it. They even wrote for further particulars, and when finally satisfied they very handsomely rewarded men an act of downright actual courage and bravery, and would long be remembered”

All four received a velum certificate from the RNLI and £2 each.  James Hearne and Richard Galvin were there to receive the award in person.  Kate Sheehan and Statia Pepper attended instead of their husbands. The article gives no explanation for this, but most likely they were both at sea?)[v] Hearne received an extra acknowledgement for the damage caused to his vessel of 55 shillings. (the damage included the sweeps, gunwales and sails)

An advert from the front page of the New Ross Standard – Friday 05 December 1902. Accessed from British Newspapers Archive.

The wreck was an annoyance to fishermen and boatmen, but not to the normal traffic of the ports.  An article in the Passage notes of February 1903 rails against this injustice rightly pointing out that the wreck is an impediment to salmon fishermen and a risk to local boatmen, making a specific reference by description to the hobbler trade, though not be name.  The author articulates the view that because the wreck does not impinge on “…the grand electric lit steamers…” or the “…gondoliers…of the wealthy…” that it has been ignored by the Harbour Commissioners.[ii] But I’m sure that after a few weeks the fishermen and sailors adapted, it is afterall in their nature. Marks would have been taken and soon by day or night the position was identifiable by sighting hills, trees, spires and other buildings along both shores of the harbour. Indeed the children of Passage helped too, as there was one account I came across that mentions them hacking and sawing away on the wrecks timbers.

It was not until the summer of 1951 that the wreck was finally removed warranting a few lines in the Munster Express:  “The Remains of the wreck of the Frances Jane, mentioned in this column last week, was removed from the Spit Bank by orders of the Harbour Commissioners during the week…”[iii] Sad to think the names of the men involved didn’t get a mention, especially when you consider their bravery that night in the rescue of the crew of the Frances Jane.  At that stage all those men would have been dead of course and would be recalled only by family and by the village elders who rarley let such memories die. A brave deed worthy of remembering.

There is several gaps in the story which I tried over the last month to piece together. I have some extra information on Captain Thomas Troy of Arklow which I could not include due to time. Unfortunately I have no further details on the Passage East men named, or the velum scrolls they recieved. I also can find no specific information on the crew of the Frances Jane or an image of the vessel. If anyone would like to offer any further information you could comment on the blog or correspond via tidesntales@gmail.com


I’m indebted to Brian at www.arklowmaritimeheritage.ie for the information I have inculded on the schooner Frances Jane. Thanks also to Fintan Walsh who had first shared an account of the men and which got me interested in the story.

Im delighted to say that I’m appearing in the Theatre Royal tomorrow morning to do a reading of a story I wrote called Steamboat. Its for a live recording of the Sunday Miscellany show which will be broadcast on RTE Radio 1 later this year. For more information or to book you can check out the following link
https://www.theatreroyal.ie/events/sunday-miscellany

Brownstown’s Napoleonic signaling tower

Introduction

You will probably be aware of the twin pillars of Brownstown Head to the east of Tramore completed in 1823. There is also a lookout post dating from the time of the emergency. But in 1811 a Mr Pope sent a letter to Trinity House, the custodians of nautical affairs in Ireland. Pope was the Waterford agent of the London Assurance Company and he was troubled by the possibility that a signalling tower on Brownstown Head could be a cause of peril to seafarers. So what was this tower? Why the concern? And what exactly happened as a consequence of his letter?

Napoleonic era defences

During the Napoleonic wars Ireland was a crucial area of engagement between the warring factions. The extensive Irish coastline was well known to the French through generations of fishermen accessing the waters, and many Irishmen willing to fight on their side as a reaction to British rule in Ireland. French forces had attempted invasions through Ireland in 1796 and 1798 and as a consequence a series of coastal defences were set up around the coast.

Martello towers are perhaps the best known example of these. “Martello towers were predominantly erected around the coast at strategic positions where they might be necessary for defence. Concentrations of towers were built on the Dublin coast (27) from Balbriggan to Bray, along the Wexford-Waterford coast (3), and at various locations around Cork Harbour (5), Bere Island (4) and Galway Bay (3). Several towers were erected on the north coast, along the shores of Lough Swilly and at the entrance to Lough Foyle. Inland, two Martello towers were erected at the middle reaches of the River Shannon”

These towers had variations in the design, layout and the facilities associated with them. They comprised of storage, accommodation and a lookout and gun platform. Many had extra gun batteries close by for extra defence. A single gun tower needed a compliment including one sergeant and twelve men

Martello Tower at Baginbun, Co Wexford. Author.

Signal Towers

In areas less likely to direct invasion a series of almost 80 signaling towers were erected from Dublin to Malin Head. Work on these started in 1804 and was completed by 1806. The main building was a small but sturdy square tower used as a defensible residence and lookout point. Aligned with this was a signal mast, from which a team of lookouts could share intelligence with ships at sea or indeed with the shore allowing for speedy communication.

Of course the principal function was signalling which required a signaling mast. This consisted of a timber pole about 50 feet high from which ropes and halyards hung, allowing a series of pennants and balls which could be raised and lowered speedily as a communication tool. Depending on the terrain, the signal towers could be spread out between 7-14 miles and allowed for rapid communication at a time when transport by foot, horse or wind power was relatively slow. However, they were limited by visibility.


an interesting perspective on the use of signaling

The signal towers were crewed with ex royal navy sailors who would have been familiar with the signals from their time at sea. Their knowledge, naval training aligned with a spyglass and code book would have enabled rapid communication of intelligence on all matters related with the French. The system was based on the work of Irish born Rear Admiral Home Riggs Popham and his list of telegraph signals first published in 1799, becoming the basis of British naval and mercantile communication throughout the 19th century.

Tramore Bay

But back to Tramore and the concerns of Mr Pope. Mr R (R for Richard I think) Pope was described as the Waterford agent for the London Assurance Company, representing their interests in matters concerning trade and losses to same. He may have been a member, indeed I would say he likely was, of the merchant family of this name in the city of Waterford.

Cabot Tower on Signal Hill, St Johns, Newfoundland. Photo courtesy of Ryan Doherty

Pope outlines his concern that a disused signal tower risked confusion to seafarers in bad weather with the Hook tower. He cites two recent examples in his letter (dated 14th March 1811) to the secretary of Trinity House. The first is the sloop Commerce of Plymouth. The ship was described as a complete loss, apart for a portion of her cargo of bacon. Another was the schooner Grinder of London. She was carrying wool and bound for Lisbon when the weather drove her ashore. Pope was apprehensive about the vessel, although the cargo was saved. In both cases I don’t know did the author omit any details of the fate of the crew, or did Pope? Perhaps it highlights a preoccupation with the interest of the ship-owner and merchants over the needs of the crew and their families.

Curiously, his letter seems to omit another event of the 5th February. Again in Tramore, an unidentified brig (I found an excellent blog that named her as the Fox) was driven into Tramore Bay, where she became stranded. Her crew of eight took to ships boat but within 30 yards of the shore, the boat overturned and the crew lost. Spectators on the shore were powerless to help. The report speculates that she was bound from Spain as her cargo was of corkwood and oranges. When the tide receded revenue officers set to discharging the cargo, under the protection of a detachment the Roscommon Militia.

Pope was adamant that the risk of confusion was a factor in the wrecks occurring at Tramore and he pressed for action, stating that the signal tower had been unused for military purposes for over a year. Action was prompted eventually and apparently the signal tower was removed late that same year.

Despite this, the incidents continued however. For example in December 1811 alone I could find two. In the first a brig named the Albion was driven ashore about 200 yards below the men’s bathing place on the beach. The crew were saved and there were hopes that the ship might be got off. Her unidentified but “valuable cargo” was placed under the custody of the revenue and yeomanry. The report concludes with a very complimentary affectation of the Tramore citizenry; “We feel peculiar pleasure in being able to add, that the characteristic humanity and honesty of the inhabitants of Tramore were conspicuous this occasion, as there appeared not the least disposition to plunder, or even embezzlement…”

And later that same December, the Albion, which had not yet got off caused another near tragedy. In this case it was a ship called the Benjamin, en-route from the coast of Africa to Liverpool, with red-wood, palm-oil, ivory, etc. She ran into the bay, mistaking it for the harbour and in hazy weather conditions mistook the mast of the grounded Albion, which was occasionally seen, as riding at anchor. Evasive measures were hurriedly taken, part of the cargo was jettisoned and they managed to get about and drop anchor. Her captain, Captain Barker, rowed ashore. A Mr. Walsh, of the local hotel ensured a signal to facilitate a safe landing. Following discussion with locals the next day two local boats and crews were procured and the Benjamin was got off leaving only her anchor behind.

The Brownstown pillars with LOP 17. Author.

Conclusion

Unfortunately the precarious nature of sailing and navigational errors continued and there is a long list of casualties in Tramore Bay to prove it. Following the Sea Horse tragedy a plan was developed to erect five towers, what I had previously mentioned as a countdown system (and although not conclusive, perhaps this article might support that in a way). As said the LOP was erected between 1939-1940 and the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society have plans to refurbish this building in the near future.

I’m indebted to a paper on the History of the Tramore Beacons sent on to me by David Carroll last year for prompting the idea for this article and the details on the letter by Pope.

Other sources include those linked directly in the piece, several contemporary newspaper accounts and an article called MARTELLO AND SIGNAL TOWERS by Muiris O’Sullivan and Liam Downey in Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 26, No. 2, Special 100th Issue (Summer 2012), pp. 46-49 Published by: Wordwell Ltd.

I found the following fascinating blog site in relation to Tramore just prior to publishing. Hopefully others might enjoy it too.
http://tramoreshippwrecks.blogspot.com/

Vanquishing Cromwells flagship, the Great Lewis

On January 23rd 1645 one of the most surprising victories of any Irish action against the English was realised, when an Irish force managed to sink the flagship of the English parliamentary navy at Duncannon Co. Wexford.  The ship was the Great Lewis and she lies to this day beneath the sands of Waterford Harbour.

Back story

The background to this story lies in what is regularly called the Confederate Wars or in some cases the 11 years war 1641-1652.  Although there were many aspects to this upheaval which would ultimately lead to a civil war in England and end in crushing defeat for the Irish under Cromwell, a key motivation of the catholic uprising sought to win concessions from the English king, Charles I, as a reward for supporting him against the English parliament.   

The Great Lewis and her three comrades via local marine artist Brian Cleare. With permission of the artist.

“In May 1642, on the initiative of the Catholic church, Irish Catholics formed what could be called an Irish government at Kilkenny (the Confederate Catholic Association of Ireland) led by a supreme council elected by a landowners and Catholic clergy.  It took an oath to uphold the King’s rights, the Catholic religion and the ‘fundamental laws of Ireland’. Regular armies were formed under Irish Catholic officers who had served in continental Europe.”[1] 

Duncannon comes center stage

In 1643 Charles I signed an uneasy truce with the Confederates in an effort to concentrate his efforts against Parliament.  As is so often the case with civil wars alligencies chopped and changed and the troops stationed at Duncannon fort under Lord Lawrence Esmonde, initially loyal to the crown, decided to switch to the Parliament’s side.  As the fort was of such strategic importance, the confederates dispatched troops from Waterford to attack it under General Thomas Preston, while from England, Parliament dispatched four ships to support it with additional troops and supplies. 

The flagship of this group of ships was a requisitioned merchantman, the Great Lewis.  She was under the command of Captain Richard Swanley. The others were made up of the Madeline, (I’ve read elsewhere Mary and also Magdalen) Mayflower and Elizabeth. The command of the flotilla fell to a Captain Bell.[2]

The Irish had an advantage of height over the four ships that were at anchor below them in Duncannon bay.  During the night of the 22nd of January 1645 they moved their artillery to forward positions. As dawn broke on the 23rd they commenced firing upon the four ships, who realised they were in peril and prepared to make their escape.  But fate was on the side of the Irish, or was it exceptionally good timing? For as the tidal and wind conditions were unfavourable, the ships found themselves at the mercy of the elements and the Irish cannon fire. The sailors did what they could to withdraw their ships out of range, the Great Lewis being severely damaged in the process. 

A sketch of the siege from Hore. Via Wexford Co Library. With thanks to Michael Dempsey.

With her masts damaged and her deck on fire the ship drifted slowly away from the onshore barrage, later to sink on the 26th, supposedly with the loss of 200 men (a figure I find difficult to understand in the circumstances).  The other three ships escaped back to England once emergency repairs had been made.

Duncannon, looking from upriver

Discovery

In 1999 when dredging works were being carried out by the Port of Waterford on this natural sand bar, timbers were uncovered which prompted archaeological monitoring.  Subsequent underwater investigations discovered a 17th century wreck with canon sticking out of the sand.[3] 

Amazingly, the report (written by Dr Connie Kelleher) goes on to explain that “The wooden structure survives almost intact below the seabed, and the line of cannons, with their breech ends exposed, provide an insight into the potential nature and extent of this protected site.”  (See diagram below)

Perhaps predictably, given the little excavation work that has been carried out to date, it also expresses a word of caution “Though the historical evidence is plausible, further investigation is needed to determine the nature, extent and, if possible, the true identity of this wreck.”  I guess in the graveyard of a thousand ships, its well to be cautious until a proper assessment can be made.  The current level of investigation has only literally scratched the surface of the seabed.

A sketch of the wreck lying off Duncannon, note the tiny fraction exposed.
Archaeology Ireland, Heritage Guide No. 26: The Duncannon Wreck —a seventeenth-century ship in Waterford Harbour (May 2004) Copy supplied by Brian Sharpe

Nevertheless its importance nationally and internationally, even if not the Great Lewis, is undeniable.  

Kelleher continues; “ The historical and archaeological value of this site cannot be over-estimated. Although it would be excellent to positively identify the wreck, the fact that these are the substantial remains of a seventeenth-century ship is what is of real significance… it is the first shipwreck from that time to be discovered and then investigated in Irish waters. The possibility that it could have been directly involved in a period of our history that has left such an immense mark adds even more importance to the wreck, as does the realisation that we could, in fact, be looking at a war grave.”

Conclusion

The sinking of the Great Lewis was the turning point in the siege and a huge moral boost for the Irish, although the beleaguered garrison did not finally surrender until the 18th of March 1845.  (Some supplies and extra troops had been landed before the onshore barrage began)

Both events were significant achievements for the confederate forces, and you can’t help but wonder when Cromwell finally reached Waterford harbour did he have a particular malice towards the area when he thought of the humiliation of the loss of his navy’s flagship and the taking of the fort.

A previous guest blog by James Doherty gives a terrific insight to the era and specifically the activities pertaining to Duncannon Fort.

Next weeks blog looks forward to the Waterford Civic Trust event to acknowledge the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the unveiling of a blue plaque to a survivor of the tragedy, Philip O’Keeffe. The blog will focus on his story, but also at least three others from the county, and three others from the harbour area.


[1] http://www.theirishstory.com/2014/01/10/the-eleven-years-war-a-brief-overview/#.XKCAQ_lKgvg

[2] The Great Lewis and the siege of Duncannon 1645.  Kevin Downes.  Decies #60 pp155-6

[3] Archaeology Ireland, Heritage Guide No. 26: The Duncannon Wreck —a seventeenth-century ship in Waterford Harbour (May 2004)

For more information on the wrecks around Duncannon including the speculation on the Great Lewis see Connie Kelleher’s article Pirates, slaves and shipwrecks pp181-199 in Medieval Wexford, Essays in memory of Billy Colfer. Eds Doyle. IW & Browne B. 2016. Four Courts Press. Dublin