Glencoe and other shipwrecks on Waterford’s coast- Dec 1840

On a dark tempestuous winter’s evening, the brig Glencoe was blown onto the rocks at Ballymacaw to the west of Dunmore East. As the winds howled and the seas crashed and washed over the ship her 13 man crew had little hope of survival but those on shore had seen this kind of incident before and plans were already underway to come to their aid.

The Glencoe was a brig of 275 ton from Sunderland, England. Under Captain J Keith she was en route from Glasgow to Calcutta with a mixed cargo including coal, bales of manufactured cotton, and beer. Having being caught out in a storm, her crew found themselves battling hopelessly against the natural elements.

Not the Glencoe, or even Ireland. A shipwreck scene accessed from https://nzhistory.govt.nz/page/wreck-general-grant

She eventually grounded on rocks at what one newspaper described as under Mc Dougals farm. Six men based at the local Coastguard station along accompanied by four local volunteers rushed to the scene and under the command of Coastguard Chief Officer Charles French proceeded to try get lines aboard to the stricken crew. After several hours all 13 were safely brought ashore.

The brig was smashed to pieces on the rocks and the papers reported that the cargo was lost. However later in December 40 bales of cotton described as “with all faults” was auctioned off at Fallows Warehouse, Peter St (in what I understand was Liverpool) I’m sure the locals were burning the coal for some time to come, and as for the ale, no mention is made of this at all. I can only hope it was widely enjoyed along the coastline.

The newspapers mentioned several other casualties that same week in Waterford. A young boy (possibly an observer to the wreck of the Glencoe was lost and drowned off the rocks. Meanwhile, at Tramore, an empty lifeboat from the James Jenny was discovered on the beach. An unnamed barque was wrecked at Stradbally while another ship the Leisk enroute from Malaga to Glasgow grounded at Bunmahon but her crew and cargo of oranges were reported safe and well. The ship was lightly damaged and there were hopes that she would be got off.

A subsequent newspaper article explained that the Leisk was high and dry on the east end of Bunmahon beach. The cargo was safely stored in Mr Robinson’s warehouse in Waterford city and the vessel was likely to be refloated on the next spring tides. The damage was minor, the hull was ok with some damage to the rigging, cabin, and forecastle. The optimism of an easy salvage was misplaced however as it was March before she was finally refloated and towed to Waterford.

The following sad account came to light of the drowning from the rocks

The Waterford Mail reported that the ship that was wrecked at Stradbally was a barque and that a crew of 13 were lost, although all bodies were reported to have washed ashore. It was speculated that the ship was bound for Dungarvan with a cargo of timber, but this was speculation. Meanwhile, in Dungarvan, the local schooner Spankaway under Captain O Neill with a cargo of ore from Bunmahon was blown ashore on Monday 7th in the storm after her anchor chains parted. Again there was little damage and she was expected to be refloated. Another incident was the schooner Shamrock of Youghal, which reported some minor damage due to the weather.

The cross gives a sense of the spot where the Glencoe went ashore

Following the successful rescue of the crew of the Glencoe Chief Officer French was awarded a Silver medal by the RNLI for his leadership. Despite searching I could find no mention of the names of any of the others who played such a crucial part. If you would like to know more of the work of the local RNLI and their rescues down the years, why not order a copy of David Carrolls wonderful new book at the following link

Some details of the Glencoe rescue are taken from Jeff Morris’ book The Story of the Dunmore East Lifeboat. The other information is taken from a look through the local papers of the era.

Alfred D Snow – Prelude to a disaster

Alfred D Snow Andy Kelly image

The story of the loss of the American sailing ship Alfred D Snow is well known in Waterford harbour.  Following a ferocious storm overnight the American sailing ship was seen at 9 am inside the Hook with much of her sail taken off and working upriver with an SSW Gale at her stern.  By 2 pm that day, nothing would remain of the ship or her 29 crew after she grounded on the Wexford side of the harbour, close to Broom Hill. But where had she come from and what had she already endured?

Alfred D Snow was a three masted fully rigged timber sailing ship, built in the Samuel Watts shipyard in Maine, USA. Sometimes her type was referred to as a ‘Down Easter’.  She was 232 feet long with a beam of 42 feet.

She sailed into San Francisco bay on what was described as a gloriously sunny day almost 6 months before, on the 20th of July 1887.  She was one of 26 deep sea ships; both sail and steam in the Bay that late afternoon and as the sun set she found herself anchoring beside another ship from her home state of Main the Joseph B Thomas under the command of Captain William Learmond.  As was customary in such situations, the officers and crew made the most of the opportunity to visit each other’s craft and share yarns and news of home.

Alfred D Snow
Alfred D Snow. Image courtesy of Andy Kelly

The skipper of the Alfred D Snow was Captain William Willey and he was described by a contemporary as “handsome with his jet black hair, mustaches, and side whiskers”, and was held in high regard by his crew and the business people he dealt with. 

She was 143 days out of New York having sailed around the Cape Horn.  Tragedy had followed them on the trip, however, not uncommon in the days of sail, as first a 26-year-old Swede named Charles Lindgren fell from the rigging on March 28th and was killed instantly when his head struck the rail.  On April 8th the main topsail staysail block gave way and struck a German sailor, 30-year-old Charles. Brown.  He died two days later of his injuries.  Both men were buried at sea, as was customary at the time.

In the hold of the Alfred D Snow was a mixed manifest including 1000 tons of steel rails and once removed an outbound cargo was secured.  A local businessman William Dresbach, known as the wheat king of California, chartered her to carry a cargo of wheat (3150 tons, valued at $95,000) and 36,000 feet of dunnage lumber.  She loaded her cargo in Oakland and on the 31st of August she sailed out through the Golden Gate Strait into the pacific and turned south for the Horn.  Her trip according to most accounts was described as uneventful, however as we already know, her arrival into Waterford harbour would be anything but.[1]

Approaching the Irish coast a southeast gale started to blow. The crew battled bravely but in vain and as the storm grew in force they were forced to seek shelter in Waterford Harbour. She rounded the Hook on the morning of the 4th of January 1888.  Her sails were reduced, leaving her without much helm, the ship tried to either work its way up the harbour or under the Hook peninsula, in an effort to find shelter.

On land the people were helpless to give direct assistance; despite the turnout of the local coastguard on the Wexford side, the ship and her crew could not be reached from the shore. The Dunmore East lifeboat, Henry Dodd was called but didn’t respond until much later in the day with a makeshift crew, which was a matter of controversy at the time. The paddle tug Dauntless did try to respond. A telegram reached Captain Cotter who immediately departed from sheltering at Passage East.  However, it was a trip in vain; maneuverability was hampered after a paddle wheel was damaged in the fury of the seas. 

An oil painting of the Lynmouth lifeboat Louisa, by artist Mark Myers.©RNLI
A contemporary craft to the Dunmore lifeboat of the time. Henry Dodd was stationed at Dunmore from June 1884.

The crew of the Dauntless could clearly see the ship was grounded.  From a distance, they witnessed the ship heeling onto her side, the waves crashing aboard, and the desperate efforts of the crew to launch a ship’s boat.  They lowered this into the sea with some difficulty and eventually got away with some of the crew.  The onlookers were helpless however as it was swamped and all aboard were drowned. Their remaining crewmates took to the rigging of the ship, hoping for salvation. As the gale continued to roar and the seas continued to pound, the ship started to break up and the exhausted crew was washed away, swallowed up in the surf[2].

Although the memory of the tragedy lives on, I can never help but ponder how unkind fate was to these sailors.  Having endured the roaring forties, the Cape, her surging greybeards, and the might of the wintery Atlantic had she made the Tuskar Rock that night she would surely have survived as she entered the relative shelter of the Irish Sea.  We will never know for sure of course. Several other questions are posed too of course, for example, can we be certain the 29-man crew survived the trip to reach the Irish coast? These will have to wait for another time.

I would like to thank David Carroll, Brendan Dunne, Joe Falvey Mark Holoan and Captain Willeys gt gt granddaughter Betsey White for assistance with this piece


[1] The details of the preceding paragraphs, except the introduction, was taken from an article titled The Wreck of the Alfred D Snow. By Michael D White in the March 2018 edition of Sea Classics.  Vol. 51, Iss. 3 Pp 10-14

[2] Power. John. A Maritime History of County Wexford. Vol I 1859-1910. 2011. Olinda Publications. Kilmore Quay