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.

HMS Juno and Stormcock at Waterford 1902

A recent maritime related photo from my cousin James Doherty led me on a rambling search for the ship and her purpose.  We identified her early on as the Stormcock, we knew it was in Waterford , but with precious little other detail as to the purpose of the visit or a date.

tug Stormcock at Waterford 1902 (I think!)

Normally I start searches such as these with a shout out to an intrepid band of online maritime enthusiasts or local history nuts who I can’t even begin to name now that the list is getting so long. But I’m so often embarrassed by the lengths such online friends go to, when I consider the time they put into such queries. So I decided to try go it alone this time with an odd interaction with James.

Google presented a myriad of entries for a Stormcock including several Liverpool based tugs, but nothing presented as clarifying what we had, except a few photos of a similar profiled ship.  The photo we had however, didn’t suggest tug.  The vessel looks too clean and the officers on deck suggested Royal Navy.  There are also a lot of very well dressed men hovering nearby, and aboard, including one lady.  It seems to be a social occasion, an important event rather than a visit by a workboat. 

a close up of a life buoy that yielded a name

The papers were a bit more helpful and the first mention of a tug of this name in Waterford went back to March 1889. What was described as one of the largest and finest sailing vessels that ever entered the port of Waterford had stranded on the Ford (the river where it separates Little Island from Kilkenny).  The ship was the St Charles, of Maine, United States of America. From the description she sounds like she may have been one of the famous Down Easter types, of which the Alfred D Snow would be most familiar to us here in Waterford. Her master was Captain Purington, and she carried a crew of 21.  When she grounded she was being towed by the tug Stormcock of Queenstown, Cork.

The St Charles had left San Francisco on the 16th October 1888 with a cargo of 11,600 quarters of wheat.  Having arrived to Queenstown her cargo was purchased by Messrs White Brothers and Co of Waterford, the brokers being Messrs Matthew Farrell and Son, the Quay, and the United States Consul, Mr William Farrell (a member that firm).  Brendan Grogan has guest blogged on two of the family that would later go on to be highly regarded Harbour Masters. The ship was quickly got off but found to be taking water.[1]  Her cargo was discharged and she later left, towed by the Stormcock for Liverpool.

The chances that this is the occasion which led to the photo being taken is not very plausible however, its doubtful the quality of Waterford would have been aboard for such a working trip.  

A later report however seems much more plausible and I now think this is most likey. The occasion was a Vice regal tour of the coast by the then Lord Lieutenant and the Countess of Dudley.  Along with other dignitaries they had toured the south coast aboard HMS Juno (1895) examining coastal defences, sights of interest and visiting and/or attending social engagements at Glengarriff, Cork City and finally dropping anchor at Dunmore East on Wednesday 29th October 1902.

HMS Juno, Wikipedia public domain

The plan for the day was that what was described as a Royal Navy Tender Stormcock would convey the party up the harbour to the city.   In the city they were to meet the town dignitaries.  The report goes on to say that “…Alderman W G Goff, Jr, Glenville… will place his two motor cars at the disposal of their Excellencies. After lunch with Alderman Goff they will take a drive in the neighbourhood. They will then return the Juno and sleep on board, the Juno meanwhile proceeding Kingstown, which will be reached on Thursday morning. Their Excellencies will then return by special train from Kingstown to Dublin.”[2]

I have to admit that this event tallies very nicely with the image I am looking at. 

The Stormcock as I said is a difficult enough ship to place as there are so many of that name.  The tugs named with cock in the title seem to all relate to the Liverpool Screw Towing and Lighterage Co and associated firms, and appear to have a strong link with the local shipyard of Cammell Laird. (I read online that the company gave a three for the price of two deal on their tug boats at some stage!)

Some of the dignitaries waiting on the quay or aboard. Presumably Mr Davis Goff is the man with the hat, scarf and gloves in the centre.

The most likely vessel I have found is the Stormcock (1877) which was launched by Lairds on 5th December 1877.  In 1882 she was chartered by the Admiralty for naval operations in Egypt, who later purchased the vessel outright.  I presume she was moved around as required and if my guess is right she became a feature in Cork harbour at some point after this. 

Stormcock circa 1885 via Clyde Maritime

The Stormcock played a significant part in the rescue of survivors from the Lusitania, although controversially in one account.  She was one of the first ships to arrive in Queenstown with survivors either onboard or being towed in a line of life boats with another tug Warrior.  However earlier she had intercepted two trawlers who had collected survivors and were on their way into nearby Kinsale.  Commander Shee of the Stormcock ordered the trawlers to stop and transfer the survivors aboard.  This irked the trawlermen no end as they were only a short trip away from Kinsale and the journey upriver to Queenstown would take much longer.  It also annoyed many of the survivors, possibly fearful of further U Boat attacks on a naval vessel.[3]

For anyone local, the annual Daffodil Day Coffee morning takes place this coming Sunday

Funnily enough we have met the ship only recently.  In 1922 she was sold to Samuel Palmer of Cork and was renamed the Morsecock, a ship which featured in the salvage of the SS Valdura off the rocks on Crossfarnoge Point aka the Forlorn at Kilmore Quay.

My thanks to my cousin James Doherty for his assistance with this piece. All errors and conclusions are my own however. James runs the very popular twitter page called Irish Smuggling.


[1] Waterford Standard – Saturday 02 March 1889; page 3

[2] Waterford Standard – Wednesday 29 October 1902; page 3

[3] Nolan.L & Nolan. J.E. Secret Victory. Ireland and the War at Sea 1914-1918.  2009. Mercier Press. Cork