WRECK of the GIPSY KING
ABLE SEAMAN SAVED BY A NAIL
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.
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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.
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