Hell Hole Horror – wreck of the SS Kinsale

On Saturday evening, 23rd November 1872 the SS Kinsale grounded on the Wexford side of Waterford harbour at a spot known locally as the Hell Hole. It was an appropriate name for the events that were to follow and it resulted in one of the largest losses of life in the harbour. But it made headlines for an altogether different reason, a very untruthful one.

On Friday 22nd November 1872 the steamer SS Kinsale slipped her moorings in Cork and sailed out the River Lee on her return trip to her home port of Glasgow.  Already the weather was turning contrary and her regular 20 man crew realised it was going to be a rough passage early on, at least until the rounded the Tuskar, and more than one of them felt sorry for their 8 passengers, particularly the only lady, now huddled in a corner of the saloon.

SS Kinsale. Used with kind permission of Brian Cleare

The Kinsale was a ship of 383 tons, over 197 ft long and had been launched in 1865 in the Glasgow shipyard of Henderson, Coulborn & Co, Renfrew. She was registered in that city to the Glasgow, Cork & Waterford Steam Navigation Co. Her crew were regulars mostly from her home port and they knew the journey very well.  Although rigged with sails, she rarely used them, preferring instead her reliable and powerful engine lovingly maintained by her chief engineer, Edward Cooke.  Aboard she carried a general cargo including agricultural products such as butter, bacon, sacks of flour and casks of beer.

Once they rounded Roches Point at the eastern tip of Cork harbour the seas broke across her decks and struggled to clear the scuppers before the next wave crashed aboard.  As she continued along the southern Irish coast during that night the weather deteriorated further.  When off the Wexford coast the chief engineer came on deck and advised Captain Stephen Anderson that they needed to find shelter as his engines could not take much more punishment.[ 

Seaman Angus Nicholson reported on deck for his watch at about 3pm on Saturday 23rd and took the helm.  The Kinsale was handling badly and over the howling gale he struggled to hear the orders of Captain Anderson, who directed him to make for Waterford harbour to seek shelter. The navigation was well known to them as Waterford was on their regular three way route and the crew had only left Waterford on the 20th for Cork. Together on the open bridge they struggled to keep the salt spray from their eyes and to pick out the light of the Hook Lighthouse.  They were joined momentarily by the Chief Engineer who communicated hurriedly with the Captain, parts of which were clear to the seaman and did little to provide reassurance.  The engineer had a worried look on his face and although he had tried to nurse the engine as long as possible, it now needed urgent repairs.

By 4pm they had entered the harbour but the sailors could take little solace in his.  Known as the graveyard of a thousand ships, every man aboard knew there was still a way to go, and plenty of danger still.  Almost within line of Creaden Head, where the sight of Duncannon gave a hint of the welcoming safety of the upper reaches there was a sickening crash from below, as her propeller shaft finally succumbed to the tons of pressure forced on it by the sea.  The ship slowly dropped her forward momentum and wallowed in the heaving seas.  By then they were out of sight of Dunmore East and Duncannon was still a distance.

Captain Anderson must have been cursing his luck. He was not due to be aboard at all, his regular ship was in dry dock and he agreed to take command of the steamer on a temporary basis. Now he ordered his men to set the sails, and realising the dangers they rushed to their stations, but each time they tried to fix the canvas in place the sails were ripped away by the unrelenting gale.  It was blowing from the SSW and added to their troubles darkness was coming on.  Each sailor was soaked to the skin, freezing cold and acutely aware of their predicament as the seas and wind carried them relentlessly towards the Wexford shore.

A map of the lower harbour area

In desperation Captain Anderson ordered that the anchor be dropped and simultaneously he ordered the main mast to be cut away, in the hopes of easing the pressure on the anchor chain.  Alas they were still chopping when the chain parted, necessitating the second anchor to be readied.  At this point they were nearly upon the shore.  With the second anchor away and the mast about to drop the men had a moment of hope that there battle with the elements might have ended with victory.  Whether the anchor dragged or the chain parted will never be known, but the short respite was quickly ended as the stern of the Kinsale struck the rocks and the wind and waves quickly hastened her broadside and ashore.  Captain Anderson was seen clutching the rail surveying his doomed ship, resigned to his fate.

Although it was now each man and woman for himself, they were in a practically hopeless situation.  They were aground under a steep cliff on the Wexford shoreline known locally as the “Hell Hole” at Broom Hill.  Each surging sea shook the ship to her core and washed a mountainous sea over them and the cliff face.  To stay aboard wasn’t an option, but the shore held no cover.  In desperation many jumped more in helplessness than in hope, which others tried to negotiate ropes and fallen stays in the hope of reaching the rocks and a sheltered crevice.  Many were washed away in those early minutes.  Depending on where others made it ashore they faced a sheer cliff of rock or a wet and slippery vertical grassy climb, neither option was favourable, but it was better than the sea.  Perhaps they could hope that help was on its way.

Just a sample of the weekends fun in Wexford

Although the ship had been sighted earlier, her fate was not clear to many.  A duty coastguard stationed at the lookout at Dunmore East named Daniel Sullivan had spotted the ship earlier but as the ship was then making her way upriver he didn’t notice anything amiss.  As the Kinsale went further up she was lost in the storm and the gathering gloom.  Soldiers on duty at Duncannon Fort also spotted the ship but reported no concerns for the ship below them in the harbour.  But two local men at Harrylock on the Hook realised the danger the ship was in and one, John Ronan, left on horseback to alert the Coastguard at Fethard.

Other locals also ran to the scene in an attempt to give what assistance they could, but without the necessary equipment they could do little more that act as witnesses to the unfolding tragedy below them on the rocks.  In the dark and fearsome gale, getting soaked by waves and sea spray they reached out with their bare hands and offered what rope they could find in an attempt to assist the people below. 

SS Kinsale aground in the Hell Hole. Used with kind permission of Brian Cleare

The local parish priest described it as follows: “…the poor people of the locality; men, women, and children—risked their lives to save the ill-fated crew and passengers. The men were trying to fish them with whatever bits of rope they could find in the hurry of the moment, but they were found to be useless—too short and too rotten. Men and women leaned over the awful precipice, white with the foam, and drenched with the spray of the angry waves in hope of being able to save some of the sufferers at the manifest and imminent peril of their own lives….”

Realising that their fate was in their own hands, many of the shipwrecked men started to climb the cliff face, reaching out and finding in their desperation some foot hold or crevice in the rock to cling too. Ironically, for perhaps the first time that long day, the gale now played a positive role.  For the force of it, pressed their wearied bodies to the cliff.  In the dark it was impossible to know where each man was or at what point men lost their grip, their foothold or just the energy to keep going.

Three sailors managed to reach below the top of the cliff and found help in the hands of a local woman, Mary Lannon.  She managed to get two over the edge, before being joined by a married couple; Margaret and John O’Shea.  Margaret helped to get the third man over, while John ran for rope which he tried to throw over the cliff.  This was in vain, the force of wind drove it back, and so he unhitched a gate and tied it as a weight.  The rope however, was too short to reach the bottom.  The three sailors were brought to Byrnes farmhouse nearby and several errands were run to the local shop and neighbours houses to try make the men warm and comfortable with clothing and food.

Meanwhile the coastguard arrived on the scene, they had been slowed by a lack of a suitable carriage (it had been damaged previously, reported, but no repairs were forthcoming).  Their equipment was unloaded and efforts were made, but despite this only one other man made it to safety, Angus Nicholson, the man that had come on duty just as the ship turned to Waterford harbour in the hope of safety. He had a broken arm, and had managed to find shelter in a crevice. He reached the clifftop having been hauled up while he held on to a rope ladder.

The four men were reunited in Byrnes home where they were provided with every comfort. It was not until an officer of the Arthurstown Coastguard arrived to interview them that they learned that they were the sole survivors and that it was highly unlikely that any others had made it ashore – at least alive.

In subsequent days the loss of the SS Kinsale became an international sensation.  Despite the efforts of the ordinary people on the Hook that evening, the Freemans’ Journal although acknowledging a lone female, rounded on all the others in an accusation of being wreckers – that they did little to help, being too busy plundering the ship and that for days after were drunk on the spoils of beer casks that washed in on the tide. 

FEARFUL WRECK ON THE IRISH COAST. GREAT LOSS OF LIFE. DISGRACEFUL SCENES OF PILLAGE AND INTOXICATION. GALLANT CONDUCT OF A GIRL.[

Headline from the Freeman’s Journal

A local curate Rev Doyle PP of Ramsgrange took up the pen in response and countered the claims.  But anyone thinking he was just rushing to the defence of his parishioners would have been silenced by the subsequent inquiry held under the commissioners of the Board of Trade.  Witness after witness deposed as to the exemplary conduct of the local population, and their self-sacrifice on the night of the tragedy.

Then as now however, the media had a powerful role to play.  And that initial headline in the Freeman’s Journal created a seed.  Slanderous and damning, it fostered an image of the wreckers, a damnable label oft used by the powerful to pigeonhole the coastal dwellers who looked to the sea for their bounty and thought in natural to collect what washed in, as a gift of fate.  The wreckers of the coast was used to describe many the coastal community in 19th Century Ireland including on the Wexford and Waterford coast.  But that, as they say, is another story.

Several people have suggested over a long period of time that some of my blog readers would like to support my research costs. I don’t know that it’s feasible but I put together a short survey, totally anonymous, which I’d love you to consider completing.  The system I’m researching is an online platform called Patreon, which allows patrons to make a monthly donation to an artist, writer, etc that they enjoy. A patrons donation can be discontinued at any point, the amount reduced or increased. The survey is to help me decide if its worth researching the option and can be accessed via the link below

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TKG9H79h

This piece this morning is based on contemporary new articles, online searches and written material including: Waterford Chronicle Wed 18th Dec 1872 pp 2-3
Power. John. A Maritime History of County Wexford. Vol 1 1859-1910. P 148-152 Cork Constitution – Wednesday 04 December 1872; page 3 Freeman’s Journal – Monday 25 November 1872; page 3 Wexford People – Saturday 07 December 1872; page 6 Dublin Weekly Nation – Saturday 28 December 1872; page 5 Cork Examiner – Wednesday November 27th 1872; page 3 Freemans Journal – Saturday December 16th 1872; page 3

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

Three terrible days, Jan 1862

Over a three-day period of January 22nd, 23rd and 24th 1862, a large number of shipwrecks and loss of life took place in Waterford Harbour and along the County Waterford coastline, making it probably one of the most catastrophic events in the maritime history of Waterford.

The ferocity of the weather was best demonstrated from a report that the Coningbeg light-ship dragging her anchor for a distance of four and a half miles, when it had held firm in other recent storms*.

The Daily Express of Monday January 27th 1862 reported that “at Dunmore, the sea rolled clear over the Pier Head, and rushed with great violence up a considerable part of the town.”

Meanwhile the Waterford Mail on the same day reported: “We have had a succession of storms such as we have not had to record for many years. “Old Ocean” has been in one of his rough moods, and has strewn our coast with shipwrecks. The gale of Wednesday was sufficient to alarm the heart of every one who had a single relative or connection with the water. A lull took place on Thursday, but it was followed, on Friday morning, by one of the most terrific hurricanes we remember, and the casualties have been terrible to record….”

SS Royal Charter lost at Angelsea 1859. Wikipedia (Public Domain)
A sense of the scene. SS Royal Charter lost at Angelsea 1859. source: Wikipedia (Public Domain)

What follows is a full account of the local losses over those three terrible days

1        ‘Active’

 “The storm of Wednesday caught the little schooner Active of Cork, supposed to have been laden with coals, off the coast of Annestown, and the captain evidently finding that he could not weather the gale, tried to beach the ship in Annestown bay, and in doing so a tremendous sea caught her, and dashed her to pieces against the rock. Five persons were seen on her deck, none of whom were saved, and it supposed that her crew consisted of nine persons – None of the bodies have been washed ashore. While the coastguards were engaged in watching the goods washed ashore from the Active, they were alarmed to hear of the loss of another, a large vessel, in the same locality.” (1)

2      ‘Indian Ocean’ was the large vessel, the story of which has an interesting twist.

“Supposed Loss of an Emigrant Ship and all on board, – At five o’clock on yesterday (Friday) morning a large emigrant ship was beat to pieces at Annestown. Her deck was crowded with crew and passengers. It is much to be apprehended every one of them perished. From a paper washed ashore the vessel is believed to be the ‘Indian Ocean’, which sailed from Liverpool for Sydney, New South Wales, last Monday.  She was laden with a valuable cargo, of general assortment, with which the coast is strewn. The paper is a printed form, signed for W.Nichol and Co., dated 2nd January 1861, at Bombay, directing the commanding officer of the ‘Indian Ocean’ to receive fifty bales of cotton, and give a bill of lading.” (2)

 “Wreck on the Coast of Ireland.- The large vessel lost off the coast of Ireland on Friday, is now fully ascertained, was the Indian Ocean of Liverpool. With the confirmation of the fact of her loss, comes the welcome intelligence that the captain and crew of twenty-five persons, supposed to have gone down with the wreck, were all saved by the timely arrival of the ‘Europa’, which took them off the vessel before she drifted ashore. The ‘Europa’ was on her voyage from St. John’s to Liverpool, and landed the whole of the rescued men at the latter port on Saturday. (3)

3       ‘Queen of Commerce’

“A little to the west of Dunmore lies a little bay called Ballymacaw, and into was driven a very fine vessel bound from Antwerp to Liverpool, where she was chartered as a passenger ship. The captain availed himself of the idea of which had been put out respecting wind kites. He tied a line to a hencoop, and flung it overboard; it was found to be too light and did not float ashore as could be wished, and was drawn on board, and the line attached to a lifebuoy, which was washed ashore and gladly secured by the coast-guard. A rope of sufficient strength was then sent ashore, and taken up from the beach to the cliff where it was made fast and thus the entire crew, 23 in number were rescued from the waves.” (4) 

The author David Carroll on rt, his wife Pauline and Michael Farrell chair Barony of Gaultier Historical Society on a recent trip to Brownstown
Brownstown head, in more settled weather.

4       ‘Nairne’

“The Nairne, Captain Ness, of Leith, and bound for Havannah with coals, was caught by the storm off Brownstown Head at the western shore of Tramore bay. The haze and rain prevented the captain or crew from thinking they were so near the coast; suddenly the mist cleared and they saw the ominous towers on Brownstown Head, just at the same moment a sea struck the vessel and washed the man at the wheel overboard, and almost instantaneously the vessel struck with such violence that the masts went by the board. Fortunately, they fell towards the land, and formed a bridge from the vessel to the cliff. The captain and crew immediately clambered up the perilous ascent, some of them almost without clothes, and just as the last man reached terra firma the ship was engulphed in the waves, and masts and spars were floating in the ocean.  The captain and crew were immediately taken charge of by Mr. Thomas Walsh, who acts as sub-agent for Mr. Barnes, the representative of the Shipwrecked Mariner’s Society, and they were provided with the necessaries which they required. Some of them have reached Waterford, but others have been unable to be removed from Brownstown. (5)

5       ‘Tiger’

The Tiger, of Bath, N.S., bound from Liverpool for Boston, with a general cargo, was on Wednesday, driven near Creden Head. Two of the sailors tried to get ashore with a line, but the boat swamped, and they were thrown into the foaming surge. The captain and those on board, tried to aid them, by flinging ropes, life bouys etc., to them, but they drifted away, and the men were both lost. The vessel held together until the weather moderated, when the rest of the crew- 23 in number-were brought by Mr. Boyse, sub-agent to Josiah Williams, Esq. Lloyd’s agent of this port. They reached this on Friday morning in the Tintern. The Tiger has since become a total wreck”.  (6)

Loss of the SS Central America National Maritime Museum London (Public Domain)
Loss of the SS Central America. source: National Maritime Museum London (Public Domain)
Although again not a local depiction I thought it gave an accurate if frightening sense of the scenes depicted by David

6      ‘Loss of a Schooner, and all hands’

“A very fine schooner was also seen running for this harbour. She made her way most gallantly until, when in the act of cutting a sea, she was struck with violence on her quarter; she was seen to stagger from the force of the blow, and before she could recover, another large wave struck her and capsized her. She went down with all hands. “ (7)

From my reading of the books written by Edward J. Bourke, this schooner was lost at Red Head, close to Dunmore.

7     ‘The Sarah Anne’

“This fine schooner, the property of Capt. Curran, was lost on Wednesday in Dungarvan bay. She was laden with coals, and bound from Cardiff for Waterford. She was blown past our harbour and lost near Ballynacourty on 22nd inst. Her master, John McCarthy, her mate, Thomas Connery, and also Thos. Dowse, seaman, and Maurice Connery, boy, were natives of this city.” (8)

8       ‘Loss of an Austrian Ship, and all hands.’

“A fine vessel supposed to have been an Austrian, which was seen from Dunmore on Friday, inside Hook Tower, was struck by an awful surge, and went down, and not a soul has been saved.”  (9)

9       ‘The Sophia’

 “The vessel, belonging to Mr. Bellord, of this city, laden with coals, from Cardiff, was while running into this harbour, struck by a sea, near Creden Head, with such violence that her wheel was broken and she became almost unmanageable. The captain (Barry) succeeded in getting her inside Creden Head, and beached her in comparatively still water. The crew was brought off by the pilot cutter Gannet.” (10)

10     ‘The Angelica’

During the gale on Monday, the Angelica, of Genoa, Domina master, from New York, with grain, which had called into Queenstown for orders and taken a Cork pilot on board was, while on her voyage to Newcastle, driven into our harbour. (The wind blowing strong from the south west.) She was unable to bear up for Passage, and struck on Creden Bay bank, close to the Sophia. The Duncannon and City of Paris steamers tried yesterday evening to tow her off, but failed in their attempt, though the vessel was lightened by throwing some of the wheat overboard. The crew are all safe.”  (11)

The inclusion of the Angelica, brings the list of vessels lost to ten, which is what the main headline in the Waterford Mail stated.  Disaster, was not confined to the County Waterford coastline. Other parts of the country were also witness to tragic losses and Waterford ships were casualties of the severe weather elsewhere. Further reading of newspapers of the time record that the stern portion of the Martha of Wexford was washed ashore near Waterford with no news of her crew.

The Waterford Mail also reported on January 27th as follows:

 “It is our melancholy duty to report the total loss of this fine schooner on the south-west coast. Her master (Thomas) and three of her crew have also been lost. The Prudence (148 tons register) was built of oak at Bedford, and owned by Messrs. White Brothers of this city. She was laden with oats and bound from Limerick to London. We are sorry to hear that was uninsured.”

The paper also reported that the S.S. Diana of Waterford from London for Rotterdam was reported on shore at Brielle. (South Holland.) Amongst all the sad and poignant reports of vessels and crews being lost, it was pleasing to see recorded that the steamer Vesta arrived safely to Waterford:

SAFE ARRIVAL OF THE VESTA

“The arrival of the Vesta steamer from Liverpool created quite a sensation in this city on Saturday. She had sailed on Wednesday, and faced both terrific storms of Wednesday night and Friday morning. She had a terrific conflict with the elements; but owing to the good seamanship of Captain Coffey and the crew, she made her voyage with less loss than might have been anticipated. During her passage the storm was so great that the man at the helm was lashed to the wheel to prevent him being washed over-board and the mate was with him to steer the vessel………..” (12) 

Both S.S. Diana and S.S. Vesta were part of the large fleet of ships owned by the Malcomson family.  Both vessels had been built in Govan, Glasgow and not in their own Neptune iron shipyard in Waterford.  

Well thats 2019 off to a great guest blogging start! I am indebted to David Carroll for this excellent report, giving as it does not just an historical record but a clear sense of the danger and difficulties posed to 19th Century sailors. It brings the value of the modern meteorological service into sharp focus. Perhaps those who would like to criticise forecasters for weather warnings and trying to keep people safe should dwell a moment or two on events such as these and how fortunate we now are

If you would like to submit a guest blog I would be delighted to receive it. Its an opportunity for anyone to contribute to telling the story of the area on the last Friday of the month. It needs to be something in relation to the maritime history of the three sister rivers, harbour or our coastline, about 1200 words, word doc format and submitted to tidesntales@gmail.com

In next months guest blog Roy Dooney brings us the story of the building of Dunmore Harbour. And its a beauty.

If you want further information/a different perspective on the events of the day, I published a story previously sourced from the News & Star

References:

(1)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(2)          Dublin Evening Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(3)          Derbyshire Courier, February 1, 1862

(4)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(5)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(6)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(7)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(8)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(9)          Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(10)       Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

(11)       Waterford Mirror and Tramore Visiter, January 30, 1862

(12)       Waterford Mail, Monday January 27, 1862

See also ‘Shipwreck of the Irish Coast’ Vol. 3 by Edward J. Bourke

*According to John Power “A maritime history of Co Wexford” Vol I, (2011) p 66 what saved the Coningbeg lightship (Seagull) was the hard work of her master and crew, who deployed a standby anchor which fortunately held. A news report I read ststed she was back on her station by the Sunday.

The Last Voyage of the schooner Saint Austell

The last Friday of each month I try to source a contribution from a guest writer.  This month, David Carroll gives another slice of his early life growing up in Dunmore East concerning the shipwrecked Saint Austell.  It’s a wonderfully researched account of a different age. I always enjoy reading his personal memories of the village and in this piece, a fascinating trip to the Hook via a crumbling New Ross bridge. The account of the Saint Austell, and particularly its skipper itself is quite bizarre. I’m sure you will love it. 
Recently, Michael Farrell, Chairperson of the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society, kindly presented me with a copy of the ‘The Story of the Dunmore East Lifeboats’. He knew it would be of great interest to me, having lived at the harbour in Dunmore from 1947 until leaving for Dublin in 1969. A description of one rescue from 1952 particularly interested me:
“When the schooner “Saint Austell” of Howth, caught fire, 4 miles east of Hook Lighthouse, early on the morning of April 14 1952, her crew of two were forced to jump overboard. The “Annie Blanche Smith” slipped her moorings at 7-45a.m. and a fishing boat, also put to sea from Slade. Her crew rescued the two men, who by that time had been in the water for about an hour and they were both suffering from shock and exposure. The lifeboat-men passed a bottle of rum across for the rescued men and they escorted the fishing boat back to Slade, before returning to her Station at 10-15a.m.”
I was fascinated by this account as I could still recall seeing the shipwreck of a schooner about three miles from Hook Head, when I was about eight years old circa 1955. Was it the same ship? Not too many schooners remained to be shipwrecked, even in the 1950s. I contacted Andrew Doherty from Waterford Harbour Tide ‘n’ Tales, as I knew he would be an excellent source of information and he immediately sent me an extract from John Power’s ‘A Maritime History of County Wexford’ and I was now certain that this was the same vessel and with my appetite whetted for information, further investigation was required.
Incidentally, that road trip to the Hook around 1955 was an eventful one. Living in Dunmore East, we were only about three miles from Hook Head across the entrance to Waterford Harbour but to reach it by land involved a journey of over fifty miles each way. We looked across each day to the Hook to see what fishing boats or yachts were out to sea heading towards Dunmore and ships heading up the harbour to the ports of Waterford or New Ross
At night, we would watch the Hook light flashing away keeping all shipping safe. The tower looked massive compared to our small lighthouse in Dunmore. My father had long promised to visit the Hook by car and eventually the big day arrived. I can remember our car well. It was a black Morris Minor and the registration number was WI 2656. There was no car-ferry at Passage at that time so a car had to travel to New Ross to cross the river Barrow and then drive down the other side of the estuary by Duncannon to reach the Hook. The bridge in those days at New Ross was not for the faint–hearted. Barrels were placed all along the bridge to slow cars down to a snail’s pace as they zigzagged across the very unsafe looking structure. By the time President Kennedy arrived in 1963, a new modern bridge had been erected.
A lady crossing New Ross bridge, note 5mph speed limit
Courtesy of Myles Courtney. New Ross Street Focus 

A guard to ensure the speed limit on New Ross bridge
Courtesy of Myles Courtney. New Ross Street Focus 

My father, from his navy days, knew William Hamilton, one of the keepers at the Hook and he brought us to the top of the tower and were able to look back across at Dunmore, which was a great thrill. On our way home, we stopped a few miles from Slade to look for a wreck of a schooner that my father wanted to see. I now know that this was Sandeel Bay. The wreck was a bit disappointing; it was just a ‘black blob’ on the rocks. I had a much more romantic vision of wrecked sailing ships, probably from reading books where the masts were still standing and the seas crashed in over the bow! I am afraid that what little remained of the poor Saint Austell was anything but romantic. A sad end for a sailing ship that had traded for almost 80 years.

This is an image, that as a young boy, I thought all shipwrecked sailing ships looked like! 
Image courtesy ‘Clive Carter Collection at Cornish Studies Library’  www.cornishmemory.com 
By looking back on copies of the Irish Press, Irish Independent and Evening Herald from April 1952, I was able to piece together the final voyage of the Saint Austell, which is quite an interesting one:
The schooner Saint Austell was launched at Portreath in Cornwall in 1873. She one time carried coal between Wales and Devon but in later years from England to Ireland. In early 1952, the Saint Austell was damaged when she hit the quay wall at Drogheda, where she had arrived with a cargo of coal from Garston. The owners decided to dispose of her. Some members of Drogheda Harbour Commissioners, as reported in the Drogheda Independent of April 12 1952, contradicted this account of events for fear of it having a negative effect on the reputation of the port! 
Saint Austell courtesy ‘Clive Carter Collection at Cornish Studies Library’ cornishmemory.com
The purchaser was Mr. Kevin Lawler, a 29-year old marine engineer, originally from Athy, Co. Kildare but living at Kincora Road in Clontarf, Dublin. Lawler intended to make a single-handed crossing of the Atlantic to America in the schooner. He said that this was to answer a challenge made two years previously that he “had not got the courage to do it”.
After repairs and fitting out at Grand Canal Quay in Dublin and after a few postponements, the vessel finally left Howth on Holy Saturday, April 12 1952. An earlier attempt at a departure was not an auspicious one as the schooner was held in sand and had to wait the rising tide to be re-floated. The Saint Austell was to sail when winds were favourable (foresail, main and mizzen, easily hauled up by one man using a pulley block system) and sparing usage of an auxiliary diesel engine. Speaking to The Irish Press, Lawler said “I will go south about, on the Azores and Bahamas run. The best run at any time, of course, is the Canaries, West Africa and Brazil route, but,” he asked, “what would I be doing in Brazil?”
A number of friends accompanied Lawler as far as the Kish lightship and when other were saying farewell, Thomas McDonagh, described as a 40-year old labourer from Baldoyle, Co. Dublin hid as a stowaway in the hold. At 8p.m., McDonagh came on deck. 
At 1a.m. on Sunday the engine stopped. At 4pm. on Sunday, the Irish Lights vessel at Coningbeg saw the Saint Austell, apparently with broken-down engines, drifting inside the Coningbeg Rock. It remained in this dangerous area until midnight. Earlier in the day the Saint Austell, with the Tricolour fluttering from her masthead, had exchanged signals with a Dutch vessel. 
John Power’s A Maritime History of County Wexford states, “When off the Wexford Coast, she was observed from the lookout at Rosslare Harbour to be going around in circles for some time inside the dangerous Hantoon Bank off Wexford Harbour”.
After the engine had stopped, Lawler worked on it all day and all night but without any success. He again tried on Monday morning but the engine went on fire. The flames spread rapidly.  William Hamilton, principal keeper at Hook lighthouse was on duty and shortly after dawn saw a glare out to sea. He telephoned Dunmore East lifeboat station giving the location of the Saint Austell. Fearing that the lifeboat would not arrive in time, Mr. Hamilton later decided to get help from the nearby fishing village of Slade, where he roused Thomas Williams, Thomas Barry and Martin Fortune. The four men left at once for the blazing ship in Mr. Barry’s motor vessel Sunflower.
When rescued, McDonagh was only semi-conscious. Lawler did not appear to be any worse for his experience. The men had been in the water for over an hour and had clung to a floating ladder. As they were being hauled aboard the Sunflower, the Dunmore East lifeboat drew alongside. There was a loud explosion on the Saint Austell as the boats drew away. There was no lifesaving equipment aboard the stricken vessel apart from a rubber dinghy, which could not be launched, having been burnt out. Some minutes after the rescue craft arrived on the scene, the foremast of the Saint Austell, which was carrying a large amount of diesel oil (1,000 gallons or 1,500 gallons – depending on which newspaper you read), collapsed.
Lawler and McDonagh were brought to the home of Mrs. Richard Barry, Slade, the local representative of the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Association. Here, Dr. O’Dwyer of Duncannon attended them. Later, it was learned that the two men were removed to Wexford Hospital for observation. 
Mr. Arthur Wescott-Pitt, Honorary Secretary of the Dunmore East lifeboat gave an interview to an Evening Herald reporter and said “Lawler told me that it all happened in a flash”. The boat, which was still blazing several hours later was then located just off the coast about three miles east of the Hook Tower where it was driven ashore.
Misfortune at sea seems to have followed Kevin Lawler. The Irish Press reported as a footnote to their account of the Saint Austell rescue that on August 1st of the previous year, Lawler and five companions were sailing towards the Welsh coast in the steam trawler Lady Fry when it sprang a leak off Holyhead and sank. They were rescued by another trawler. 
I endeavoured to research press cuttings in Irish newspapers about this incident but was unable to find any further information.  A headline in the Irish Press on Wednesday April 16 1952, two days after the dramatic rescue said, “Shipwrecked voyager says I’ll try again – I’ll get another boat somehow” says 29-year-old Kevin Lawler, the Athy marine engineer whose attempt to sail the Atlantic in the motor ketch, Saint. Austell, ended when the vessel caught fire off the Wexford coast. The report goes on to say, “The Saint. Austell was not insured and Lawler estimates that his loss is well over £2,000”.
On May 26 1952, in ‘Along the Waterfront’ a marine miscellany in the Irish Press, writer Mac Lir reports that Kevin Lawler had a new steam trawler Mint. He signed Thomas McDonagh on as the cook. Whether Mint ever attempted to sail the Atlantic, I shall leave to others to research!
Thank you David for another slice of a fascinating early life in Dunmore East and the harbour.  You can read David’s earlier account of growing up in the fishing village and the characters he met here.  If you have a piece you would like to submit for consideration to the guest blog, all I ask is that it relates to Waterford harbour or our rivers, increases the knowledge and appreciation of our rich maritime heritage and is approximately 1200 words long. Please contact me via russianside@gmail.com or indeed if you know of someone who is interested in this topic can you let me know and I will happily follow them up.


Since then Frank Norris posted the following text and photo to the Waterford Maritime History Facebook page today 20th Feb 2018 and with his permission it is gratefully reposted

Schooner “St. Austell” dep. Dublin area April 1952 skipper  Kevin Lawler for single-handed voyage to America.  According to a press clipping I had,  when he attempted to start the engine off Hook Head a starter cartridge blew out of the engine and set a barrel of oil afire.  A stowaway then emerged from below decks.  Both men abandoned and were picked up by the Dunmore East lifeboat.   The wreck drifted onto rocks in Slade area and Bobby Shortall, a projectionist at the Coliseum in the days of Miss.Kerr, and possibly Tony O’Grady who later became a Chief Officer with Irish Shipping and Brian O’Connor   and I decided to go and see it.  We cycled to Passage East and crossed over on Patsy Barrons ferry, a half-deck fishing boat, to Ballyhack.   I think it costed 4pence and if the ferry was on the other side of the river you hoisted a flag to call it. Then onto Slade area and after trudging across some fields we found the wreck.   Burnt-out almost down to the waterline with the engine visible.   I wonder if the engine is still there?