on the




The Earl of Aberdeen was built in 1886. She had an iron hull and was four masted with a registered tonnage of 2,124. A number of newspaper reports describe her as a four-masted barque but in fact she was ship rigged. That is she had square sails on all four masts - the fore, main, mizzen and jigger.

She left Barry, Glamorgan, South Wales at 7.30 a.m. on 14 May 1892 in tow of the Liverpool tug Blazer and had a Bristol Channel pilot aboard. The ship had loaded 3,099 tons of coal and was bound for Montevideo. She was under the command of Capt William Patrick who had a crew of 27 officers and men including five young apprentices.

The tug towed the ship down channel and when to the north west of Lundy island she was cast off at about 8.30 p.m. with plenty of sea room in which to tack out of the channel. The pilot left at the same time to return to Barry. At 10.30 the watches were chosen - the starboard watch remaining on deck and the port going below. At midnight the watches changed.

Seaman Joseph Sebastian, a native of Guadaloupe in the French West Indies, was at the wheel and told to steer North West and keep her as near to the wind as he could. The ship was on the port tack. Exactly what happened in the next few hours is unclear as the master and mate disagreed but the Board of Trade inquiry held into the loss was inclined to accept the mate's version. He said that he was told by the master to hold the course and was not to put the ship on the starboard tack without the master being on deck. The mate said that he called the master, who was in his cabin, three times to report the ship's position but that the master did not come on deck. The light on The Smalls was seen at about 1 a.m. on 15 May and the ship then entered the red sector of that light - she was standing into danger and it seems that the mate must have realised. The master still did not come on deck. The mate surprisingly did not take action to put the ship about.

At 2.30 a.m. the Earl of Aberdeen struck the Hats and Barrels reef which lies between the island of Grassholm and The Smalls light. These four hazards run east to west off the island of Skomer. They were well known and clearly marked on the Admiralty charts of the time just as they are today.

The ship filled at once so that the deck was level with the sea. Most of the men took to the rigging to escape the seas which swept the deck. John Burgess, the carpenter, remained on deck cutting the lashings of the two lifeboats (two smaller boats hung in davits). He was able to get into one boat and was joined by Joseph Sebastian who jumped from the jigger rigging as the boat drifted past. The boat was swept away from the wreck. After three hours they were spotted and picked up by the steam collier Scott Harley, of Cork,  which landed them at Newport (Mon.) that evening.

The first ship to arrive was the S.S. Mary Hough, of Liverpool, she launched a small boat but with just a few hands aboard it was unable to pull against the current and was unable to get alongside the wreck though it did stand by for most of the day.

The steam gun-boat HMS Foxhound arrived next shortly before 5 a.m. Her commander ordered out the cutter with ten oarsmen and Gunner Gill at the helm. They pulled to the stern of the wreck and threw lines to the men in the mizzen and jigger rigging who jumped into the sea and were pulled aboard and taken back to the Foxhound. The cutter was then rowed towards the fore part of the wreck but failed to get near due to the heavy confused seas which swept the deck. The naval men attempted to persuade the men in the rigging to jump into the sea or make their way astern. None of them did.

The ship broke up and the masts fell drowning those in the fore rigging.


The Foxhound stood by from 5 a.m. until 6 p.m. but was unable to save anyone else. She returned to Milford Haven where she landed the master, first mate, and nine men:

William Patrick, master, of George Street, New Quay, Cardiganshire

Enoch Davies, first mate, of Llanon, Cardiganshire

John Gordon, steward, of Elgin, Scotland

John O'Neale, able seaman of St John, New Brunswick

Joseph Martin, A.B. 28 Temple Street, Newport Mon.

John Toner, A.B. 6 Elizabeth St. Birkenhead

John Smith, A.B. 17 Paisley Road, Glasgow

William Irvine, A.B.  of Rotterdam

J. Jacobson, A.B. of Lerwick, Shetland

B. Svenson A.B. of Kalmar, Sweden

Carl Oller, O.S. (ordinary seaman) of Rothenburg, Germany


The S.S. Scott Harley landed at Newport Mon.:

John Burgess, the carpenter, of 150 St Helens Avenue, Swansea

Joseph Sebastian, A.B. of Guadaloupe, French West Indies


The men drowned were:

Robert Evans, second mate, of Llysgwyrfai, Wainfawr, Caernarvonshire

William Watts, boatswain, Felixstowe, Suffolk

William A. Swinhoe, sailmaker, 19 Richardson Street, Swansea

James S.  Anderson, cook, 107 Albert Street, Glasgow

Edward Cremer, apprentice, London

Alexander Milne, apprentice, Barry

William Owen Evans, apprentice, London

William Bellwood, apprentice, London

Stanley Woodford, apprentice, London

A. W. Kluger, A.B., of Schlusing

J. Gurney, A.B., 62 Alfred Street, East Hartlepool

Thomas Upton, A.B. of New Quay

Frank Winslow, A.B., of 42 Henry Street, Liverpool

Carl Andersen, A.B., Oscarsand


At the Board of Trade Inquiry the master and mate's evidence did not agree though the court was inclined to take the mate's evidence as more accurate. The result was that both were found to be at fault. The master's certificate was suspended for nine months and the mate's for three. That seems a light judgement. Were they ever employed again one wonders.