PIONEER, of Dublin, wrecked Puffin Island

        25 January 1878    


The steamship Pioneer, owned by Palgrave & Murphy, was registered in Dublin and of 1,047 tons gross. She left Maryport on Tuesday 22 January 1878 bound for Antwerp with a cargo of pig iron.

That night the weather became boisterous and she began to ship heavy seas. At seven a.m. on Wednesday the tiller broke and she was then steered from an aft position until the wheel parted. The ship was then found to be leaking and early on Thursday some of the cargo was thrown overboard. By seven that morning she was close to the Skerries. As her fore hold took on a lot of water she became impossible to steer and a distress signal was made. The Liverpool tugs Knight Commander and Royal Saxon took her in tow to Moelfre Bay on the coast of Anglesey. Finding that the leak was still serious it was decided to take the ship to Beaumaris for repairs.

The wind was now blowing a gale from the north with heavy snow.

As the tugs entered the channel between Penmon and Puffin Island the tow to the Royal Saxon parted. A short time later the tow to the other tug also parted and the ship drifted onto the rocks off the north side of the island. The crew of the Pioneer took to the rigging.

John Ross, one of the firemen, used a lifebuoy and line to get ashore. The master, Henry J. Rodder, then hauled the line back and attempted to use it to get to the island but becoming exhausted he drowned. John Hamilton the 2nd mate of the Pioneer was also drowned.

Then three men appeared on the island cliffs. They were Robert and Owen Roberts, coxswain and second coxswain of Penmon lifeboat, and John Williams who had rowed out from the shore to a tug which landed them on Puffin island. They had taken two lines with them and used one to lower themselves to the shore and the other with a breeches buoy to bring the remaining members of the crew ashore after they had been able to grasp the line still attached to the ship.

Thomas Moss, the Pioneer's carpenter, was being drawn ashore when he came out of the buoy. Though got to the island he soon died.

The Penmon men were able to save the rest of the crew and all were then take ashore at Beaumaris.

For their action John Williams, Robert Roberts and Owen Roberts received awards from the Royal Humane Society, the RNLI and the Board of Trade.

The Pioneer parted midships and her fore section sank. What was left of the hull and cargo was put up for auction at the Bulkeley Arms Hotel, Beaumaris, on 22 July 1878.








  The FRANKFIELD wrecked Cemaes, Anglesey

7 December 1847

Eight men get ashore but twenty are drowned

Frankfield  ebay

 The Frankfield in Table Bay, Cape Town, by Samuel Walters.


The Frankfield was built in New Brunswick in 1840 and at first carried passengers from Britain to Canada. Her tonnage was 903 gross, 750 net. She was owned by Wilson & Co. of Liverpool.

On Thursday 2 December 1847 she left Liverpool in ballast bound for Callao, Peru to bring back a cargo of guano. She was towed out of the Mersey by a steam tug which left her at the Bell Buoy. The ship soon ran into a gale and made slow progress but on Sunday morning she rounded Holyhead. Then the sou'west gale  drove her back to the north of Anglesey.  On Monday evening the wind went to the north and blew a strong gale.

The ship was under close reefed topsails and reefed fore sails. The master, Capt John Robinson, thought that they could weather Holyhead and tried for it but at four a.m. on Tuesday sleet and rain accompanied the increasing gale which built up a tremendous sea. The ship neared the Skerries light which the master mistook for the Holyhead light. He had taken the light at Point Lynas for the Skerries. When near it he realised his mistake and ordered the crew to wear ship and hauled up the foresail and put the helm up. The fore top sail blew away from the yard, the main topsail sheet parted and fore topsail stay sail blew away.

The ship was now unmanageable and she went broadside onto the rocks to the east of Cemaes Bay inshore of the rocks known as the Middle Mouse (Ynys Badrig). The sea was breaking twenty feet onto the rocks. The master shouted "Run forward my lads, and try to save yourselves. Her bowsprit is on the rocks." Some ran forward while others stood in a cluster on the poop deck. She soon parted amidships and broke into a thousand pieces very quickly.

One of her spars fell, part on the deck and part on the rocks. Eight men got ashore along the spar.

Capt Robinson, who had broken his arm the night before, could not be persuaded to save himself and shouted "Never mind me. Save yourselves."

The men who got ashore were:  Henry Ross the 2nd mate; John Corney apprentice; James Macdowall sailmaker; and seamen William Dunn, John Fegan, John Hutchinson, James M'Cathlin and Alexander Laing.

The crew who were drowned were: Capt John Robinson; 1st mate Robert Arkley; steward John Campbell; bos'n Alexander Young; apprentices John Stuart and William Dann; seamen George Johnson, William Scotland, John M'Carmmon, William Roberts, - Griffiths, Edward Fox and eight others whose names were not known to the survivors.

Some years ago Susan Davies, who lives in Anglesey, sent me the names of eleven men who are recorded in the parish register at Llanbadrig as having died in the Frankfield. They are: Robert Arkley, John Campbell, Joe Dischanes, William Duane, Edward Fox, Spencer Hill, William Roberts, John Robinson, James Scotland, John Stuart and William Woolcock.

A week or so after beginning this page I had an email from Fran Hollinrake, Custodian of St Magnus Cathedral at Kirkwall, in the Orkney Islands. She had been recording the inscriptions on the graves in the church yard at Warbeth, Stromness and took this photograph.



Frankfield grave of John Hay. - Copy 2 - Copy



Fran then searched the internet for a ship wrecked on Anglesey on 7 December 1847 and found this site. She very kindly contacted me and has allowed me to use the photo and add John Hay, the carpenter of the Frankfield, to this page.

On 7 December 2016 I had an email from Mike Thompson who lives in Cemaes Bay near Llanbadrig where the Frankfield was wrecked. He very kindly sent this photo of the memorial to the crew which is at Saint Patrick's church. Each year prayers are said there on 7 December to remember those who died. He also tells me that the wreck is recalled in a folk song called "Wrecked on the Mouse".







It appears that a few newspapers carried a claim that Robert Arkley, the chief mate, had been drunk in his bunk at the time of the wreck. This claim had the effect of stopping, for a time, the subscriptions which were being collected for the relief of his widow and child.

Four of the survivors put an advert in the Liverpool Mercury of Friday 17 December 1847 repudiating the story. Here it is. As this scan is difficult to read I have put the text below.


Scan 20160809



STATEMENT of WILLIAM DUNN and others. At 11 p.m. 6 December blowing a whole gale, made the Calf Light, wore ship, stood in for the Welsh coast, made Point Lynas Light about 2 a.m. 7 December and took it to be the Skerry light, for which we steered. When we were abreast of it Capt Robinson ordered ship to wear, gale having increased to a hurricane from the north. The mate at this time  4 a.m. was on the forecastle on duty perfectly sober and rendering all assistance a man could do under such awful circumstances, which are too distressing to describe, and impossible to detail.

More to follow.



WRECK of the S.S. PRESTON 210 tons




The south coast of Anglesey stretches from the entrance to the Menai Strait almost as far as South Stack near Holyhead. There have been numerous wrecks in this area which faces the prevailing south-west wind. In the days of sail it was not unusual for vessels to be carried into Caernarfon Bay in overcast weather conditions and end their days on the beaches or rocks. Many of these ships were making for Liverpool or ports further north. Others were outward bound but forced back by storm conditions.

Here we have the master's account of the wreck of the Liverpool steamship PRESTON. 

We sailed from Bordeaux on 26 March 1859 and called at St Nazaire to complete our cargo of wines, fruit and flour. Left St Nazaire for Liverpool at noon on the 30th.

At 6 p.m. 1st April passed the Longships bearing ESE, weather thick and hazy.

At noon on 2nd the Bishop Rock bore SE 7 miles, the wind strong from south, steering NbyE. At 8 p.m. I was informed by the engineer that we had no more than 4 hours of coal left so I ordered the fires to be banked, and proceeded under canvas.

The ship was very bad to steer and had to take in all the after canvas. Altered course to NNE.

At 4 a.m. on 3rd got steam up steering NEbyE.  6 a.m. hove the lead but did not get any soundings. 

Very thick weather. Fires banked and again proceeded under canvas. Immediately afterwards the lookout shouted "Land Ahead!" The helm was put hard aport to try to clear the end of a reef but the Preston had lost way and drifted broadside onto the rocks. The ship was full of water, the sea making clean breaches over her fore and aft. Launched the lifeboat and we pushed off. In a few minutes a boat from the shore hailed us and guided us through the reef to the beach where we landed safely. 

Within half an hour the mainmast and funnel came down and she broke in two.

The cargo washed out and was soon strewn for miles along the shore. The engines and boilers are now all that can be seen. 

The crew saved none of their belongings except what they stood in.

*    *    *

The Preston was wrecked on a reef of rocks off Rhosneigr. The master and crew, fifteen all told, were taken in by the men who had guided them ashore, but were soon on their way to Holyhead by rail where the Shipwrecked Mariners Society took over. After a couple of days they were provided with train tickets to get them home to Liverpool. 

Cunnah, the deputy Receiver of Wreck, and Brooks, chief officer of the Coastguard, at Holyhead, went to Rhosneigr as soon as the news reached them on the morning of the 3rd. There they assisted Lloyd's agent and the agent for the Liverpool Underwriters to save as much of the cargo as they could before nightfall.

*    *    *

At its next meeting in London the Royal National Lifeboat Institution awarded ten shillings to each of the five Rhosneigr fishermen who had guided the Preston's crew to safety.









The schooner GIPSY KING was registered at Glasgow. She sailed from Liverpool on Friday 15 October 1869 bound for her home port with a general cargo which included salt and petroleum oil. She had a crew of eight: Alex McPhee was her master, Roderick M'Cuish 2nd mate, Lauchlan Robertson was a seaman, and two of McPhee's brothers in law were also in the crew. I have not been able to find the names of every man in the crew.

The weather got steadily worse with the seas frequently breaking over the deck. On the afternoon of the next day they sighted the coast of the Isle of Man but at about 6.30 p.m. the wind went round to the north-east blowing a heavy gale with rain squalls. The vessel was found to be making water fast and the pumps became choked. At 2 a.m. on Sunday 17th the sails were blown out and  it was impossible to keep on course. The schooner was allowed to get before the wind and run south.

The weather was thick with rain and nothing was seen until the vessel struck on the reef called Garreg Allan just a cable's length from Ynys Dulas off Dulas Bay to the north of Moelfre on the coast of Anglesey. The weather was so bad that though so close to the island they could not see it. The mate was swept overboard as soon as she struck but the rest took to the rigging. Robertson was close to McPhee who told him that it was 3 a.m. The schooner began to break up. An hour later the mast fell and the crew then clung to the side of the hull. Seas swept the men away one by one. Robertson made his way to the stern which was out of the water and held on there. Seeing a piece of timber floating near, he dived in but it was swept away and he could not reach it. A little later his luck changed and he caught hold of another plank which swept him away from the wreck. Robertson felt himself becoming insensible and was afraid he would lose his grip, but a large nail in the plank caught in his tarpaulin trousers. He remained afloat on the plank for five hours until picked up by Moelfre lifeboat (This boat had the long name of London Sunday School and Charles Seare - a fund raised from small donations at Sunday schools in London paid for it.)

Lauchlan Robertson was the sole survivor of the Gipsy King. He was taken ashore and carefully attended by Moelfre folk. His left hand was badly hurt and it was feared that he would lose part of one or two fingers.

The Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society made a grant to Robertson to return home and to maintain him until he could work again. In addition they supported Mrs McPhee, widow of the master, who also lost her two brothers in the wreck. The society made a grant of £5 to Mrs M'Cuish, widow of the second mate. She had been left with two young children and her mother in law to care for.

Much of the cargo was lost but a number of casks and cans of petroleum were washed ashore in Red Wharf Bay. The customs recovered what they could, but then obtained search warrants and found more cans at a number of farms in the area. One had even been hidden behind the fire-place! The Board of Trade decided to prosecute. Eight men appeared before Anglesey magistrates sitting at Beaumaris. One was found not guilty of the theft of petroleum, but the others were fined one or two pounds each plus costs with the alternative of one or two months with hard labour.

*    *    *    *    *

When the northerly gale struck two schooners were in Caernarfon Bay. They both had two anchors down hoping to prevent them being driven ashore. During the night of Saturday/Sunday 16-17 October the GLEANER, of Caernarfon, which was bound from Duddon to Briton Ferry with iron ore, showed a distress signal. Porthdinllaen lifeboat Cotton Shepherd was launched but the vessel had parted and was driven ashore. The lifeboat rescued her exhausted crew of three. As this was happening the other schooner the NYMPH, of Nefyn, Barrow to Port Talbot also with iron ore, drove ashore at Bwlch Briden further up the coast. Three of the lifeboat crew, who were not aboard the Cotton Shepherd, launched a shore boat and rescued her crew of two.

                                   *    *    *    *    *                                          

Please note that this article, and every part of this site, is Copyright © 2015.  No part is to be reporoduced in any manner without the prior written permission of Robert Carl Smith.












Four masted barque PRIMROSE HILL



The memorial to the crew of the PRIMROSE HILL

at Maeshyfryd cemetery, Holyhead.



The barque PRIMROSE HILL, of Liverpool, was a large vessel being of 2,520 tons gross. Allowing for her crew space of about 187 tons she had a net registered tonnage of 2,332. She had an iron hull and was built in Liverpool in 1886. William Price was her managing owner.

The vessel loaded a general cargo for Victoria, British Columbia. Her master Capt Joseph Wilson began engaging a crew on 20 December 1900 and completed the process in four days. He was unable to find a second officer with a British certificate, so had to do with a boatswain, who he understood held a Norwegian ticket as master.

The vessel left the Mersey on 24 December 1900 with pilot Henry Roberts, and in the tow of the steam tug William Jolliffe.

The pilot left the ship at the BAR lightship. As the wind had got up from the south the ship and tug anchored in Moelfre roads off the north coast of Anglesey on the morning of the 25th. She remained there until a light wind from south-east allowed them to proceed on the morning of 27th. The barque passed Holyhead under tow in the early afternoon with a moderate breeze from SSW. The wind freshened during the afternoon and backed to SE. Bardsey was sighted at 6.30 p.m. At 9 the island bore E by S 11 miles distant. At about 10 p.m. a sudden squall hit the ship and took her aback and parted the tow. The tug came alongside and the tug skipper said that it would be impossible to re-connect. He advised Capt Wilson to make sail and steer a westerly course to get away.

At 1.30 a.m. on the 28th the tug lost sight of the vessel during a rain squall. Failing to find her the tug skipper thought that she had made sail and got away to the west. As a result the tug steamed for Holyhead arriving there at 8 a.m.

The hawser had parted near the tug so that almost the whole length hung from the bows of the ship and dragged behind it. This must have materially hampered the vessel. It was not got aboard the Primrose Hill until 8 in the morning. By midday the wind was blowing a whole gale from north west.

The vessel was sighted by the look out at South Stack Signal Station at 1 p.m. when she was just one mile to the north west. The tug Hannah Jolliffee got under way but failed to get past the breakwater at Holyhead due to the extreme sea conditions.

At 1.50 p.m. the master of the ferry Hibernia, on passage from Dublin to Holyhead, sighted the ship one mile to the north west of South Stack. The wind was from the NNW and blowing at force 11. The Hibernia steamed to the weather side of the ship which was now flying signals of distress. But she was unable to assist as she would have been in grave danger herself due to the shore being close. The Holyhead steam lifeboat was also unable to get out of the harbour. The Coastguard Life-Saving apparatus company (rocket crew) turned out ready to assist.

The Primrose Hill anchored at 2.15 but the starboard cable parted in five minutes and the ship began to drive towards the shore. She struck the rocks just to the north of Penrhos point at 2.45 - such was the violence of the sea that she was completely broken up by 3 p.m. The L.S.A. company arrived as the vessel broke up and were powerless to assist.

The only survivor was able seaman Johan Petersen who had been at the wheel. When the ship struck he was hanging onto the rails of the poop. When the vessel broke up he went down but then a huge sea lifted him and threw him onto the rocks from which he was rescued by a farmer's son. (Who was that I wonder?) 

The crew of the barque:

Capt. Joseph Wilson aged 49 lived at Altrincham, Cheshire - he had been master of the Primrose Hill for twelve years.

H. Hughes aged 56 mate of Exeter; Kristian Ness 25 bo'sn Norway; John Lloyd 21 junior officer; Joseph Harwood 59 carpenter; G.A. Camperlee 37 steward from USA;C.L.Johansen 34 cook Sweden.

A.B. (Able Seaman):Edward Barnes 22;Furis Rosenthal 21 Russia;A.Pirkola 21 Finland;A. Muller 20 Germany;Firel Andersen 38 Finland;John Burns 40;Laurito Nilsen 31 Norway;Julius Carlsen 31 Finland;Saras Bungui 26 Phillipines;Estanislas Legaspi 21 USA;E.Cohn 19 Germany;H.Bowers 20.

O.S. (Ordinary Seaman):Alfred Partington 23;W.F.Burdett 21 of Manchester.

Apprentices:W.T.Freeze 17 Tipperary;Herbert Huggins 15 Exeter;Frank S. Wood 18 Sutton;Douglas Brown 15 Manchester;Stanley O. Cakebread 17; Cyril Edwards 17 Southsea;Endre R.J.Berg 17 son of Capt Berg of Exeter;John C.Crewe 16 Ramsey Isle of Man;John G.C.Richards 15 Lowestoft; Henry Kelson 19 Brighton;A.D. Harding 21 Exeter;C.F. Ashdown 18 London.

The survivor was A.B. Johan Petersen aged 37 from Sweden.

A Board of Trade Inquiry was held into the loss of the ship. The court considered that the crew was not adequate for the vessel's safe navigation, but there was no evidence to satisfy them that the loss was due to such inadequacy. They were strongly of the opinion that William Price the managing owner would have been better advised if he had insisted on having a more adequate crew, especially in view of the fact that no fewer than twelve apprentices had been shipped of whom six had never been to sea before. They also noted that none of the men signed as able seamen had proved their claim to that rating - that was an all too frequent occurrence.