A severe storm struck the coast of Wales in the closing days of 1900.

The 34ft self-righting lifeboat Elizabeth Lloyd launched at Aberystwyth at one o'clock on the morning of Friday 28 December to search for a fishing smack and crew of three blown out from New Quay. Capt Doughton, Honorary Secretary of the station, accompanied the crew. The lifeboat was unable to make progress against the rising gale and was driven back onto the shore. Fortunately the vessel to which they had launched was driven ashore near Aberaeron with its crew scrambling to safety.

The next lifeboat to launch was the George Moore from the station at Porthdinllaen. She went off at 10.15 that morning to the Liverpool flat Caliban which was signalling for assistance. The lifeboat anchored to windward of the flat and veered down on her cable to get alongside. The crew of two were taken off, but the lifeboat found that her anchor was foul of an obstruction and unable to raise it. The cable was slipped. In attempting to work off the lee shore under sail, the lifeboat missed stays and was run onto the beach. The RNLI forwarded a draft for £20 -19s to cover the costs of the service.

The lifeboat James Stevens No. 12 was launched at The Mumbles at 11 a.m. to three vessels which had hoisted distress signals while anchored in the roads. The lifeboat found that all three were dragging and rescued two men from the cutter R.W.T., of Plymouth; three from the cutter Lizzie, of Padstow; and two from the ketch Gorey Lass, of Jersey. Costs of the service were £15-8s.

Late in the morning a schooner anchored in St Tudwals roads was seen to be dragging her anchors and hoist a distress signal. At mid-day the lifeboat Oldham was launched into the NW storm which was gusting to hurricane force. As the lifeboat approached, the Llandddulas, of Liverpool, parted both cables and began to drive before the storm. The master, his wife, and the mate were taken off and landed at Abersoch. The schooner drove away and foundered. Cost of service £12-8-6d.

At 12.15 the Penarth lifeboat Joseph Denman went off to the barque Zeffiro, of Castellamare, which had been in collision with another vessel about one mile south-west of the English and Welsh Grounds lightship. The barque was badly damaged and in danger of grounding on the bank. The lifeboat rescued the crew of nine and the masters wife. Cost of service £38-16-6d.

The steam lifeboat Duke of Northumberland got under way at 12.55 and went to the Norwegian barquentine St Joseph which was dragging her anchors in the outer roads at Holyhead. The master of the vessel did not require assistance. The lifeboat then steamed to the Caernarfon schooner Ebenezer which was also dragging towards the shore. The master of the schooner said that he was about to show distress signals, so he and the crew of four were very happy to be taken off. Cost of service £5-10s. Presumably the steam lifeboat had a regular full time crew?

The Moelfre lifeboat Star of Hope launched at 2 p.m. on the 28th to the aid of the ship Pass of Balmaha which was flying signals of distress. The vessel had parted one cable and so the crew were taken off. The lifeboat was unable to beat back to its station, and landed the men two miles to the east. A head count then found that two men were missing. The lifeboat had a hard task in returning to the ship where it found the two men asleep in their bunks! They too were landed. So a good days work in landing 28 men. The cost of this service was £59-14s. [The Pass of Balmaha survived, and during the 14-18 war was seized by the Germans. She became the commerce raider Seeadler (Sea Eagle) and sank a dozen or so Allied ships until wrecked in the South Seas.]

There were another seven wrecks that day leading to many deaths.

The barque RAGNA, of Christiania (Oslo), was towed out of Cardiff on Christmas Eve with a cargo of coal bound for Bahia, Brazil. At first there was a breeze from SSE but the wind slowly veered to SW and increased. The tug left off Ilfracombe. The gale continued through the night and on Christmas Day increased to a near hurricane. Over the next few days the barque was driven up St Georges channel. Her sails were torn to ribbons and the decks swept of boats and gear. The master realised that the vessel was now in Cardigan Bay. They anchored but the storm was blowing at force 11 from the north west and the cables soon parted. The vessel struck the shore at Aberfelin near Trevine (Trefin) on the Pembrokeshire coast. St David's Life-Saving Apparatus company were alerted and set off as fast as they could on the eight mile journey. But immediate help was needed so the people of Trevine  -  mariners, women, and the curate, went into the sea and dragged the crew ashore though three men were drowned. Capt Zopfi was full of praise for the actions of the villagers in saving him and most of his crew: "They have treated us splendidly since we have been here". The men who were drowned were Louis Stamp of Lubeck, Germany; Carl Tobias Tonnesen of Vestre Moland, Norway; and Frantz Laurent of Finland. The stone which marks their grave at Llanrhian was erected by local subscription.




The brigantine NEPTUNE, Aberdyfi to Littlehampton with a cargo of slates, entered Milford Haven for shelter from the storm but was driven against the pier at Newton Noyes and wrecked. Her crew survived.

The Norwegian steamer BORG arrived at Milford Haven on Saturday morning in tow of the trawler Roxina. The Borg was bound from Seville for Glasgow with iron ore when she was struck by the storm early on Friday. Capt Otterbek and both mates were washed overboard and lost. The vessel was badly damaged and shipping water. Skipper Colby of the Roxina saw her distress signals when near The Smalls. Some hands boarded her and she was taken in tow.

The ship PRIMROSE HILL was wrecked near the South Stack, Holyhead, drowning all but one of her crew. Read the full account here.

A number of sailing vessels had left Newport (Monmouthshire) with coal cargoes but were at anchor waiting for the storm to moderate.

The barque TORDENSKJOLD, of Tvedestrand, had left Newport for St Paul de Loanda (Angola) on the 24th but the contrary wind had forced her to remain in the Usk. Driven from her anchors she was wrecked on the Welsh Hook (part of the complex of sandbanks which form the Severn bar). Her crew of eleven got ashore on the evening of the 28th and found shelter at a farmhouse at Goldcliff. 

The barque HØVDING, of Kragerø, was bound for Maceio, Brazil. She was also driven onto the Welsh Hook where she was wrecked with the loss of all eleven members of her crew.

A third barque also drove onto the Welsh Hook and broke up drowning all eleven hands. She was the TENAX PROPOSITI  which had been bound for Paramaribo, Surinam.

Some days after this storm, wreckage began to come ashore near Fishguard and bodies were found floating off Strumble Head. Some of the wreckage was marked Sherborne. This British steamship had been sold to Norway and renamed FAGERHEIM. She was on passage from Glasgow for St Nazaire, and must have foundered in the Irish Sea drowning her crew of twenty three Norwegians.








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.



A TALE of the SEA

The ship IRELAND, of Liverpool

Crew and ship saved by the combined efforts of five vessels and Abersoch lifeboat.


The Liverpool ship IRELAND was bound home from Rangoon, Burma, with a cargo of cotton and rice when she was struck by a storm and lost her foremast, topsail yards and t'gallant yards. She also had eight feet of water in the holds, was unmanageable, and in danger of sinking.

She was found on 1 January 1872 ten miles off The Smalls (off the Pembrokeshire coast) by the S.S. CORMORANT, of Cork, which was bound for Bristol. Capt Croft of the Cormorant hove to and sent a boat off to her manned by his chief officer, J.H.Miller, and three men. They took off seven men. Then the brig ALTAIR, from Prince Edward Island bound for Cardiff, chanced on the scene and took off the remaining ten members of the crew. The IRELAND was left a derelict. The RNLI awarded the Thanks of the Institution to Capt Croft, £3 to J.H. Miller, and £2 to each of the three men who accompanied him.

The following day the S.S. BRITON bound from Wexford to Bristol fell in with the ship. Some of her crew also boarded the derelict. Failing to take her in tow they saved two chronometers and left the vessel to the wind and sea.

Then on 3 January the S.S. EGRET, of Cork, bound from Glasgow for Antwerp, found the ship twenty miles north east of The Smalls. The mate and six men boarded the derelict and found her sails in tatters except for the spanker which was set. A hawser was attached and the Egret took her in tow but the hawser parted. Another attempt was made but this too failed. The Egret's carpenter and a seaman volunteered to remain aboard, but the mate and four returned to the steamer. The Egret stood by overnight but at dawn there was no sign of the IRELAND so she proceeded on her voyage to Antwerp.

Then on 5 January a dismasted ship was seen between Pencilan (Trwyn Cilan) on Llyn and the western end of St Patrick's Causeway. Abersoch lifeboat Mabel Louisa was launched and found the  IRELAND  with the carpenter and seaman of the Egret safely aboard. The S.S. REBECCA took the ship in tow and took her to a safe anchorage at St Tudwal's. The two men from the Egret were landed and made their way to Liverpool. Rev. Owen Lloyd Williams, who was the Honorary Secretary of both the Abersoch station and that at Porthdinllaen on the other side of the Llyn peninsula, went out on this call.






The brig  AGNES LEE, of North Shields, arrived at Cork in December 1848 with a cargo of wheat from Alexandria. The master John Clarence discharged the crew as he awaited orders for the port of discharge of the cargo. His wife Elizabeth travelled to Cork to join her husband with their infant son. Receiving orders to proceed to Liverpool, a new crew was signed on and the vessel left Cork on Tuesday 9 January 1849.

Within a few hours a heavy westerly gale struck the Irish Sea and the brig began to leak. All hands were called to the pumps but the water gained on their efforts. The gale continued through Wednesday and on Thursday Capt Clarence decided to make for Cardigan. 

The brig was seen approaching the mouth of the Teifi in the early afternoon but as it was low water she struck the bar and was engulphed in heavy breaking seas. Very soon a large group of fishermen and mariners arrived on the scene. The sea was so bad that attempting to launch a boat was out of the question. Then a boat was seen to leave the stranded vessel and make its way to the beach. The boat was swamped and all were thrown into the sea. Retired master mariner George Bowen, of St Dogmaels, organised a human chain and entered the sea to haul three men ashore.

The Clarences' infant son, born when his father was at sea, was washed ashore alive but died in a very short time.

One member of the crew was left aboard the wreck and took to the rigging. On Friday morning he could still be seen and, as the sea was quieter, a boat was able to launch to bring him ashore.

The survivors were:  John Charles Fortune, of Cork, the mate, and seamen Timothy Horliton, Thomas Clement, and Michael Pierce. Pierce being the man who spent the night on the mast.

Those who drowned were: Capt John Clarence, his wife Elizabeth and their infant son. Seamen Michael Tobin, Charles Thomas, Henry King, and Francis Petersen. The cook John Ancross and the young apprentices named Richard and James.









The FIGARO, a barque of 550 tons was registered in Genoa. With a cargo of linseed, she was on passage from Taganrog (on the sea of Azov, Russia) bound for Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland.

On Sunday 9 October 1870 the vessel was approaching her destination. A light was seen which the master believed was Ballycotton Island. Perhaps he was mistaken. 

On Thursday 13 October the wind was first blowing from the south and south east. Then it veered to west and began to blow a heavy gale. The wind continued to increase and to veer to north-west.The vessel was now well into Cardigan Bay and at ten o'clock on Thursday morning she struck the causeway about three miles from the shore. 

The crew abandoned in the boats and, realising that there was every chance of being capsized by the high surf on the shore, they stripped off their clothes ready to swim for it. Both boats were capsized throwing the whole crew of thirteen into the sea. Eleven men got ashore but two were drowned.

Morgan Jones and William Green found the two bodies on Dyffryn beach.

The inquest was held at Llanddwywe (near Dyffryn Ardudwy, north of Barmouth). Giovanni Monticelli, mate of the Figaro, identified the bodies as those of Luigi Bozzi aged 43 the barque's master and his 13 year old son Antonio. As neither Monticelli nor any of the crew were English speakers, Josiah Remfrey acted as interpreter. (Remfrey, a native of Youlgreave, Derbyshire, was a civil engineer and lived in Dolgellau.)

The people of the Dyffryn area treated the survivors with great kindness.

I wonder whether the master and his son were buried in the area.

I have visited most of the churchyards from Harlech south to the Newport (Monmouthshire) area and found many "wreck graves". I shall have to visit the Dyffryn area again one day.




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