It's an ill wind that blows no good

by Mary Mason
(Sue, Marianglas)

The following story is written by Mary Mason and uses Alexander McKee's book 'The Golden Wreck' as a source of reference


The wrecking of the Royal Charter, the fastest passenger liner of her day, only a few miles from her home port of Liverpool shocked the nation. With only 40 men saved out of more than 500 passengers and crew it was one of the worst peacetime disasters in maritime history.

The Royal Charter was a large clipper, a three masted square-rigged sailing ship with auxiliary steam power. She was built of iron; her overall length was 320 feet.

On August 26th, 1859, with a cargo of passengers and gold, the Royal Charter set sail from Melbourne, Australia to Liverpool, England, a journey which she has completed on the outward passage in a record sixty days.

One of the passengers came from the little village of Moelfre on the north coast of Anglesey. By coincidence he was to see his home again just once before he died.

At dusk on the evening of October 24th, after a comparatively calm voyage, she was caught in the beam of the Tuskar Rock Lighthouse, off the south coast of Ireland as she rounded up and headed towards Holyhead.

The weather was fine with hardly a ripple on the water and by dawn on the 25th the thin line of Bardsey Island appeared on the horizon to starboard.

The light wind was in the south-east. The day was grey and bleak. By mid-day the tip of Holyhead mountain was plain to see on the starboard bow. Although the sea was calm there was an ominous haze over the land and an unnatural look about the sky.

There was no weather forecast to tell what was coming. She plugged her way slowly northwards, her small engine beating, her long wake stretching astern and the rising wind drumming in the rigging.

With her masts almost bare of canvas and with the twin bladed screw thrashing the water she moved slowly up the coast of Anglesey about five miles offshore.

That afternoon she came abreast of Holyhead harbour, where behind its uncompleted breakwater, reared the monstrous shape of new great iron ship, The Great Eastern, the biggest ship ever launched.

In great excitement the passengers crowded on deck to glimpse the massive steamship designed by the engineer, I.K. Brunel. Had the master of the Royal Charter known what was in store, he could have put into the safe haven of Holyhead.

Unknown to them all, the worst storm of the century was about to hurl its fury down the Irish Sea from the north straight into the path of the homeward bound clipper.

Had she delayed her passage by only a day, all would have been safe and anxious relatives waiting for the ship to dock in Liverpool would have been able to greet their loved ones home at last from Britain's farthest flung colony.

But she was the crack ship of the Australia run and her captain, Capt. Taylor, was jealous of her reputation for fast passages on which her bookings depended. Besides which she had weathered many gales and she was an excellent sea boat.

The hurricane struck that night, a night in which many ships were to flounder and sink. Mountainous waves of foaming water built up to thwart the mountainous cold ocean to snuff out like candles all human life aboard her.

The masts were cut away. The anchors were let go but at about 2.30 a.m. the last chain broke, unequal to the terrible strain. The Royal Charter healed over, turned right round and drove towards the land.

By comparison with the raging thunderous roar of the waves a few moments before, everything went strangely quiet as the doomed vessel wallowed in the troughs.

At 3.30 a.m. she struck the rocks near Moelfre where, just around the point, there is a white shingle beach on which she would have been safe. It was low water.Dawn broke and those on the decks stared shorewards.

To their amazement they were barely 25 yards from the land. A great sea came against the broadside and divided the ship in two. People were carried down by the debris and the weight of their own clothing and drowned.

The villagers roused from sleep ran to the cliff top and made frantic efforts to catch the ropes being thrown to the shore, but with the huge waves crashing on the rocks it was impossible to get close enough.

A passenger and a witness, James Dean, later described the scene. He saw that most of the people in the water, floundering about in their heavy clothing, some with boots on, many unable to swim, made towards the heavier floating portions of wreckage, only to be crushed to a bloody death.

In the short span twixt ship and shore the water turned red. Seeing the terrible result of wearing too much clothing Dean took off most of his and was saved.

The women in their tight constricting stays and crinolines or the men with their wide floppy boots found themselves in fatally unsuitable clothing. But the weight of the clothing was nothing - because they were in water and buoyed up by it.

The moment of truth came when they were thrown onto the rocks and tried to stand up - they literally staggered under what felt like a ton weight of sodden greatcoats, trousers, coats, waistcoats and flannel underwear.

It was no coincidence that all who survived complained of being thrown ashore 'nearly naked'. It was the main factor in their survival. Another was the presence of the villagers. Not a woman or a child survived that terrible night.

But the title of this piece is "an ill wind blows no good". An ill wind it literally was. What good could possibly come from it? The tragedy of the loss of so many dear ones eagerly awaited in Liverpool and two years later the death of the rector of Llanallgo where the bodies had been taken.

Stephen Roose Hughes, worn out by the physical and emotional demands made on him, became ill and died in poverty for not only had he given his heart to the bereaved but the whole of his little fortune.

As a direct result of this disaster and the storm of October 25-26, 1859, an inquiry was held and the British Association recommended to the Board of Trade (later the UK Met Office) that they should make use of the new electric telegraph to warn of storms in British coastal waters.

In June 1860 the first official gale warnings were inaugurated.

"It's an ill wind …………….

Comments for It's an ill wind that blows no good

Click here to add your own comments

Jan 22, 2008
Good Story
by: John

Good story

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Your Anglesey Story.


footer for Anglesey page