The wreck of the  TURKESTAN  near HARLECH


In the days of sail the lead was essential particularly when approaching the coast and the master was unsure of his position. If the lead was used regularly, decreasing soundings would indicate that the vessel was approaching the coast. On consulting the chart an idea of the ship's position may also be found. Many strandings and wrecks were caused by masters not using the lead sufficiently often. The stranding of the full-rigged ship TURKESTAN was due to this oversight.

The iron-hulled vessel was built in 1874 and was of 1,417 tons. Under the command of Capt James Brown she sailed from New York with a general cargo which included  cotton, tallow, oilcake, hides, wheat, flour and oatmeal. She was bound for Liverpool.

On the morning of Thursday 17 February 1876 the Turkestan was in the Irish Sea. At about 8 a.m. soundings were taken and showed a depth of about 54 to 56 fathoms. The wind was from the south-west and a course of E 3/4 N was steered with most of the sails set. The lead was not used after that. At 11 p.m. that evening the wind backed to SE by E and the course was changed to E 1/2 N. The weather was very thick so that neither lights nor land could be seen.

The ship ran aground shortly before midnight on Thursday 17 February 1876 roughly midway between Portmadoc and Harlech. It was a particularly dark night and the officers had no idea that the ship was close to land. At dawn the ship was seen from the shore and the tugs James Conley and Wave of Life were despatched from Portmadoc, but were unable to go alongside as the sea was so rough. John Williams, skipper of the James Conley, then steamed to Criccieth. The lifeboat John Ashbury, under the command of Coxswain Robert Williams, launched and was towed to the wreck. She took off 22 members of the crew of the Turkestan and transferred them to the Wave of Life which landed them at Portmadoc. The John Ashbury was badly damaged in going alongside the Turkestan - two stanchions were broken off, an oar broken and three others lost. Capt Brown, his officers, the carpenter, steward and sailmaker remained aboard the ship hoping that she could be refloated. However on every subsequent tide the ship was driven further up the beach and eventually turned broadside. She was not refloated.

The Turkestan's cargo was salvaged and put up for sale at Harlech and Liverpool. Eventually the Liverpool Salvage Association offered the wreck for sale by tender as she lay on Harlech sands. Who bought her I have yet to discover.

A Board of Trade Inquiry was held into the loss. Capt Brown was found to be in default in not having used the lead to ascertain his position in thick weather. As his conduct had been good up to that point the Board suspended his certificate for just three months.