The Sparkling Wave dilema

Generally, ships in distress receive a welcome in any port, but this was not so with the Liverpool barque Sparkling Wave. For the ship was carrying an explosive cargo, of such a quantity, the city fathers of Waterford could not permit her into their port for fear of the safety of the town.

Recently we covered a report from the News and Star of 1862, which chronicled a series of shipping disasters and misadventures along the coast of Waterford and Wexford. At least six ships were known to have perished but many more sustained damage, necessitating repairs.  One such vessel was the barque Sparkling Wave.

The Sparking Wave was a new ship which had been launched the previous September, was 130 feet long and 432 tons*.  Under Captain Frazer she had departed Liverpool for the port of Old Calabar, in present day Nigeria before running into the storm. She was owned by MP Thomas Horsfall of Liverpool, a family with a long time connection in shipping between their home port and Africa.  As she battled ferocious waves and mountainous seas her mainmast broke and her bowsprit snapped.  Close to the Hook, the Master nursed his stricken vessel to Creaden Head where he managed to shelter.(1)

When the weather moderated the ship requested entry to the port as a refit was necessary.  She was towed up as far Passage, where the Coast Guard (the newspaper states it was the Arthurstown Coast Guard) telegraphed the city with the alarming news that along with general cargo, the ship had no less than 800 quarter casks of gunpowder aboard.(2)
What could have occurred, Liverpool docks 1864
Accessed from
The ship was held in the lower harbour, and it was subsequently discussed at the quarterly meeting of the Corporation in the Council Chamber of City Hall.  The Mayor, William Johnson, assumed the chair of what was obviously a strained meeting.  On the one hand they could not ignore a vessel in distress, but the usual anchorages between Cheekpoint and Passage East were crowded with shipping at the time.  If she came into Waterford Port, it would not just be shipping that would be in peril, but the city itself. Consideration was given to removing the cargo, however, it was determined no magazine of suitable size was available in the city to store it. Eventually, it was decided that the ship would be towed to Fox’s Hole, below the city where repairs could be made. It must have been a tense debate, but I wonder did some consider the precautions too severe because the paper notes “The Council, generally, expressed their satisfaction that his worship had exercised so wise a discretion” (3)
Fox’s Hole from an 1830s chart of Waterford, seen on the Kilkenny side of the River Suir just above Little Island.
With thanks to Frank Ronan
The following week it’s reported that a new mast had arrived from Liverpool and was already fitted.  (As an aside, one wonders why they would not have had the repairs made in Waterford, given that the required skills and materials must have been readily available. Although it does highlight the promptness of the trade between the city and Liverpool at the time) The report concludes, perhaps with a hint of relief, that the barque will be soon underway.(4)  It may have been good news for Waterford, but a curious line in a previous news report, suggests it might not be good news for everyone; “A strong impression prevails that the cargo on board the Sparkling Wave will reach the rebels ‘of the Confederate States’.”  A story to be uncovered perhaps.

* Lloyds Registar
 (1) Waterford News and Star 31.01.1862, page 3
(2) Waterford News 9th Feb 1862 page 3
(3) ibid
(4) Waterford News 14th Feb 1862. Page 3

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