LOSS  of  the  MAID of DELOS  off  MILFORD

23 DECEMBER 1922


Joan Sellick who lives near Newcastle, New South Wales, knew the family story that her grandfather had died in the wreck of a ship somewhere off the Welsh coast. She knew that his surname was Horsfall and thought that the ship went down in the 1920s off Swansea. As is usual with most family stories the facts become fainter with each passing generation.

Joan mentioned the story to her good friend Elizabeth Holmes, who lives in Swansea. Now Elizabeth is a watch-keeper at the National Coastwatch Institution lookout at Worms Head on the Gower Peninsula. Elizabeth mentioned the tale to fellow watch keepers and one of them, my very good friend Frank Rott, said "I know just the chap to ask". 

With just the name Horsfall I drew a blank but then Joan was able to give me the name of the ship. After that it was plain-sailing so to speak.

The steamship Maid of Delos of 2,214 gross tons had been built in 1889 by James Laing and Sons at Sunderland. She was originally named Olympos and owned in London. She was then sold to the Deutsche Levante Linie of Hamburg and renamed Delos. In 1921 she was purchased by the Byron Steamship Co. of London and her name changed to Maid of Delos.

On 30 November 1922 the ship sailed from the port of Braila on the Danube, Roumania, with a cargo of barley bound for Dublin. Was the grain destined for the Guiness brewery I wonder? She had a crew of 26.

Late on the evening of 22 December a severe south-west gale was blowing over much of the coast of Wales. Ships and land stations picked up a radio S.O.S. call from the ship in the early hours of the next day. She gave her position as 51.42N  5.22W which put her off the Pembrokeshire coast. She reported a heavy list and was hoping to make Milford. Ships were diverted to the area but nothing was found.

Then coastguards at Angle reported that wreckage including hatch covers, a cabin door, and a life-buoy from the Maid of Delos had come ashore at Linney Head which lies to the east of the entrance to Miford Haven. There was now little doubt that the ship had foundered. 

Within a few days seven bodies came ashore at various spots in Carmarthen Bay. Some were positively identified as being members of the crew of the ship. One was that of John Henry Morse, chief steward of the Maid of Delos. He was a native of Hull. Another body was found at Ferryside. It was that of John Horsfall, chief officer (1st mate) of the ship - a brother had travelled down from Lancashire to identify him.

John Horsfall was thirty three years old and left a wife Elizabeth and three young daughters - Ivy, Mabel and Grace. The girls were educated at a boarding school in Reading. Mabel met and married Edward Butler a master mariner in the Blue Funnel Line. Joan Sellick is their elder daughter.

John Horsfall's body was taken back to his home in Nelson, Lancashire and buried in the family vault at St. John's churchyard, Great Marsden on Saturday 6 January 1923. Rev. J. Morgan officiated. Four of John's friends James Leaver, Watson Bailey, Herbert Sutcliffe and James Almond, members of the Nelson Old Prize Band Club were the bearers.

As the ship had reported a severe list one has to assume that the cargo of barley had shifted. With the ship on a northerly course the storm would have been on her port beam and probably gave the ship a list to starboard from which she could not recover.









The schooner SARAH ELLEN, of Chester, was bound from Plymouth for Belfast with 170 tons of guano. Having sailed from Plymouth on 7 February 1877 she put into Falmouth on the 9th and was windbound there for a week during which time one of the crew left.

At midnight on Monday 19th she was 30 miles from Bardsey when she encountered a severe north-west gale and lost her fore topmast. With her sails in tatters Robert Lloyd, the master, then decided to put into Cardigan Bay and  late on Tuesday afternoon sighted Aberystwyth. Distress signals were hoisted as the schooner was now unmanageable. The anchors were let go and brought the vessel up a mile or two south-west of the harbour half a mile off shore.

When the schooner was seen from the shore the 10 oared lifeboat Lady Haberfield was quickly manned and launched into a confused sea. The oarsmen made a gallant effort to claw off shore but gave up after an hour having made no headway. Getting back to the beach another eight men got aboard so that there were now two men to most of the oars. After a determined effort the boat was able to get to windward and make sail. Coming up with the schooner they took off Robert Lloyd, his brother the mate, and a boy at about 7 o'clock. The lifeboat was now about 3 miles south-west of the harbour and, under sail, attempted to make sufficient progress into the wind to make a good entrance to the harbour. Finding this was taking too long - it was now nearly 11 p.m. - the coxswain got the drogue set to prevent the boat broaching to in the following seas and ran the lifeboat onto the beach south of the harbour.

As they got ashore John James, one of the men who had got aboard when the lifeboat returned the first time, collapsed and died of exhaustion and exposure.The R.N.L.I. made a grant of £100 to the fund which had been set up in Aberystwyth for the support of his widow and two young children. They also paid each of the regular crew £2-10s and the eight who volunteered £2.

The Sarah Ellen held to her anchors overnight and, when the gale moderated, was got into harbour by a tug.


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