Carnage on the seas, January 1862

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

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

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

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

SS Pladda via Andy Kelly Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The twice sunk schooner Cintra

Those who have looked on the photos depicting the bustling trade on Waterford and New Ross quays in the 19th Century must wonder at the safety aspect of so many ships in close proximity.  Indeed the risks associated with this golden age of sea travel have made for many epic stories of heroism and tragedy.  A story that perhaps is not so dramatic, but none the less indicative, if not more common, is that of the Clyde Shipping’s SS Pladda and the schooner Cintra.  The Cintra however sank not just once, but twice in the Waterford harbour area.
SS Pladda Image courtesy of Andy Kelly
According to the then Cork Examiner(1) Arklow owned Cintra* was en route to New Ross on Friday 4th October 1901 with a cargo of coal from Cardiff. Her master that evening was Captain John D Kearons, and she was piloted by a Dunmore East man Philip Boucher (or Bouchier) It was 8pm on a foggy night** and under darkness she was heading towards the river Barrow.  The Railway bridge had yet to start construction, which would eventually give us a century of incidents, so one must think the pilot had little to concern him at that point apart from the fishing weirs.
Heading into Waterford at the same time was the SS Pladda en route from Glasgow on her normal weekly run under Captain McLeod. She was a ship of the Clyde Shipping company. Passing Cheekpoint there was an almighty crash and measures were taken to reduce way and come about, the engines were reversed and the ships boat was dropped.

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The schooner had been struck broadside (abaft of the main hold) and she healed over but righted again. Sinking fast the Captain ordered all hands to abandon ship and the four crew and the pilot took to the tender and made it safely away, but with no personal possessions. The Cintra was sunk in minutes and the crew headed under oar power towards the shore.
Schooner B I, to give a sense of the Cintra
Photo from William Doherty courtesy of Pat O’Gorman
Meanwhile the rescue crew from the Pladda arrived and seeing that that the Cintra crew were safe, hung a light from the mast of the schooner which was still to be seen over the surface.  Returning to their ship, they resumed the journey to the city.  No casualties were reported from either ship.  The Pladda would continue with the company until 1907 when she was resold and eventually she too got  a watery grave in 1942.
At a meeting of the Harbour Commissioners Quay Committee of the 9th October(2) the wreck was discussed as a hazard to navigation. Lying in seven fathom of water near the channel it was considered imperative to have it moved. However the owners of the Cintra, seven brothers and sisters from an Arklow family (presumably all the Kearon family had shares in the craft, and have a proud nautical tradition from information kindly sent by Arklow Maritime Museum) had written to say they could not afford to have the wreck removed and asked that the commissioners salvage what they could and that the owners get whatever was left over after costs were covered.
A further news report 3) stated that Messers Eason of Queenstown (Cobh) had quoted a fee of £340 to lift the wreck or £120 to blow her up leaving nothing 8ft above the river bed.  Both prices were agreed to be far in excess of what the Commissioners were willing to pay. The Harbour Master, Captain Parle, thought that explosives was the most cost effective manner of disposal and that his own staff could successfully carry this out.  It was decided that work would commence immediately.
Cheekpoint, where the incident occured, note no Barrow Bridge spanning the Barrow
Photo from NLI AH Poole Collection circa 1899

Presumably the work was a success as the the final mention of the incident, perhaps not surprisingly was court! The Board of Trade inquiry found both ships at fault in the case, and further civil actions followed including one on behalf of Philip Boucher, the pilot, who it would appear was badly hurt in jumping aboard the the schooners tender.

The strangest part to the whole story of course is that this was the second time the Cintra had sunk in the harbour!  In 1899 (Thursday morning 16th November to be exact) the schooner departed New Ross without a pilot under Captain Fitzpatrick. She was carrying 1000 barrels of Oats for a Mr Reville of the town.  At the Lucy Rock, about five miles from the port she grounded and keeled over on the ebbing tide.  The flood tide later that day totally sank her.  No mention is made of salvage, but she obviously lived to fight another day.  The age of sail was coming to a close, but it would be several decades yet before their beauty was lost to the harbour.
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Thanks to both James Doherty and Arklow Maritime Museum for extra information

Dear reader, if you have any further information, particularly a photo or image of the Cintra that I could include I would love to hear it via comments or by email to


Arklow owners
1851 by Gowan, Berwick
Lost at Cheek Point, Waterford estuary, 4 October 1901 en route
Swansea-New Ross.
George Kearon
Richard Kearon
78’ x 19.2’ x 10’
62 tons
Produced with thanks from Arklow Maritime Museum

**in two other newspaper accounts the weather is described as crisp and clear with stars shining in the sky, and a blustery dark night!

***sourced from two accounts, Wicklow People 18/11/1899 & Wicklow Newsletter and County Advertiser 25/11/1899

(1) Irish Examiner 7/10/1901 P.5
(2) Munster Express 26/10/1901 P.7
(3) Waterford Standard 13/11/1901 P3.