Wicklow Coast Wrecks

The years following 1850 saw a large increase in shipping around these islands. The majority of these ships were sailing craft, and therefore dependent on wind and tide. Unfortunately with this expansion the number of accidents also increased, i.e. groundings, collisions, dismastings and wreck, with their accompanying loss of life. In the 26 years from 1854 to 1880 there were 51,841 reported accidents in harbour estuaries and at sea, resulting in the loss of 18,550 lives. At the same time the Rescue Services were at work and during this period the combined efforts of the R.N.L.I., Coastguard and Rocket Brigades of the Board of Trade resulted in the saving of 18,736 lives. The Wicklow coastal area did not escape, and had its full share of tragedies. The following article contains the stories of some of these wrecks commencing with the “Exchange” in April 1858.

The “Exchange”

The Exchange of New York left Liverpool in ballast on the 1st April, 1858, bound for Newport in the Bristol Channel, to load railway iron for Savannah, and was in tow of a Steam Tug. During this time larger ships were usually towed to the Tuskar Rock to start their voyage. The Master was an American Captain Jones, the crew of 12 consisted of Americans, Danes, Germans, Swedes and one Scot, one Irishman and one Chinese.

The ship had reached Bardsey Island when she was forced to return to Holyhead because of bad weather. They left that Port on Sunday 4th and had reached the Bishops on the Welsh coast, when a south east gale arose. The tow parted at 3.30 on Monday morning and the Tug left her.

It took the crew 2 hours to haul in the tow rope. By 7.30 p.m. they were off the Irish coast and could see the Arklow Light-Ship. The Pilot said he knew the coast well and because the ship was in ballast, decided to take it between the Arklow Bank and the coast and head for Kingstown. The wind was now blowing a strong gale and it was very dark and hazy. The Pilot thought he was well clear of the coast, but on nearing Wicklow Head the vessel ran across the tail of the Horse Shoe Bank. An attempt was made to turn the ship but the sea and wind were too heavy. She struck the rocks south of the Head, the main mast broke and killed the cook, a Chinese.

The second mate, James Kilmartin, an Irishman, tied a rope around his waist and climbed out the jib boom with the intention of jumping from it to the cliff, but the boom did not come close enough. He procured a longer rope, returned and had the crew lower him to a shelf of rock on the cliff face. He had no sooner obtained a footing than he saw a big sea approaching. He shouted to the crew to haul him up, but despite the best efforts of 5 or 6 men he was caught by the sea, thrown against the rocks and killed.

The ship was rolling and on the inward roll the Captain and three men jumped from the foretopmast stays onto the rocks below. One man was badly injured. Unfortunately, the ship settled preventing the remainder of the crew from using this route. However the 1st mate Mr. Lymes and two men took a studding sail boom into the fore-mast rigging and got one end on the rocks. With two men holding the other end on their shoulders, Mr. Lymes then used this pole to reach rocks and carry a rope ashore. By this means the remaining crew were saved.

The Captain sent two men to the Lighthouse for help. They returned with some of the Keepers, who took the survivors to their dwellings, and made them as comfortable as possible. Dr. Halpin was quickly on the scene and treated their injuries. The badly injured man was rushed to Wicklow Infirmary.

The Gale continued for two more days and left the Exchange a total loss. On April 10th a quantity of wreck timber and spars was put up for sale on the Murrough and South to Wicklow Head. The Hull, Anchors, Chains, Cables, etc. “as they may then lie” at Wicklow Head were offered for sale by Mr. John Walsh, Agent for Lloyd’s on April 12th. Two years later in February, 1861 Mr. Walsh was seriously injured, while attempting to save the crew of the Neptune at Kingstown. He received the R.N.L.I. Silver Medal for his efforts on that occasion.

The “Nestorian”

The Nestorian was a 790 ton Clipper ship registered in Liverpool and carrying a crew of ,24 commanded by Captain Cowan. She left Liverpool on Tuesday the 23rd November, 1858 bound for Baltimore with a cargo of 1,000 tons of salt. All went well until Wednesday evening when it blew up a heavy gale from the south south east. This forced her back towards the Irish coast, and the Captain ordered that soundings be taken every two hours and a close watch kept on the log line. At 2.30 a.m. they saw the Tuskar Light about 10 mile distant. Shortly afterwards they struck what they thought was the Blackwater Bank, a heavy sea came over her stern and washed away the binnacle, filled the cabin with water, tore away the taffrail and washed the man from the helm. She floated off in half an hour and continued up the channel.

The carpenter sounded the pumps and found 3 ft. of water in the hold. The crew worked for an hour but the water had risen to 7 ft. in that short time. The Captain ordered half the crew to launch the ships boats. Two got away. The time was now about 5 a.m. and the ship was close to Jacks Hole Bank in 15 fathoms of water. A bower anchor and 60 fathoms of chain were dropped. This brought her up. The Wicklow Newsletter of December 4th 1858 reported that the pinnace was damaged in an attempt to launch it, prompting the Captain to tell the crew, “men, try again to get the pinnace out, and if you can’t, pump for your lives”. After several attempts it was launched and left astern. The remainder of the crew pumped until 11 a.m. when it was found that the water was now 10 ft. deep in the hold, and she was settling fast. They decided to leave in the pinnace and were met at Brides Head by Dr. Halpins Lifeboat “Relief”. They were towed into Wicklow at 3 o’clock. One of the other boats had arrived earlier in the day. A Belfast man named McKeown drowned while attempting to land the second lifeboat on the Ball Strand (Magheramore).

The Nestorian went down at her anchor midway between the Arklow Bank and the shore and four miles from Wicklow Head. It was reported on 3rd December that the Barque “Gipsey Queen” was in collision with the wreck.

“The Great Gale of 1861”

The storm of Saturday 9th February, 1861 was described in the “Wicklow Newsletter” as tremendous and of hurricane strength. It raged from early morning until well into the night. The wind was north east to east to north east. These conditions resulted in the loss of 5 vessels and 9 lives. All were lost between Killoughter and the Glen Strand on one of the worst days in sailing history in this area.

A Schooner owned by Mr. Troy of Wicklow was the only vessel to safely enter the port that day. They had left Whitehaven at about 9 o’clock on Friday morning and when passing over the tail of the Kish Bank at about 5 a.m. shipped a large sea, which left the deck covered in water and foam. The crew feared she was sinking. The Captain ordered the bottom of the small boat to be stove in and the bulwarks to be broken to allow the water to run off. On sounding the pumps they were found to be dry. Although the crew were very tired from their efforts they carried on and arrived safely in Wicklow at 8 a.m.

“The Robert Seymour”

The Robert Seymour of Baldoyle was put ashore on the beach at about 9 a.m. She had a cargo of coal on board. Several attempts were made to get a rope ashore but without success, until Acting Constable Mc­Namara waded chest deep into the surf and caught the rope, which was then used to rescue the crew.

The “Rowland Hill”

The Rowland Hill of Whitehaven a 64 ton brig with a cargo of coal was put ashore at about 10 a.m. south of Travel-A-Hawk on the small strand which to this day bears her name. She had a crew of 4, Captain McCollister, a mate named Kane and two seamen, Pat McCabe, — Lucas. As the brig approached land 3 men could be seen in the foremast and 1 in the main rigging. When she struck some of the rigging burst. People standing on the rocks below were entangled and one man Daniel Harte was actually dragged on board the stricken ship. He immediately freed himself and grabbing a rope thrown from shore, was pulled unhurt back onto the rocks. Those aboard were less fortunate, Pat McCabe was washed over the rail, where he held on for a few seconds, but the next wave washed himself and Captain McCollister away. The remaining men were now on the mainmast, one on the shore side and the other on the starboard side. As the ship lurched inwards in a heavy sea one man jumped from the mast and was caught by men on the cliff edge. The remaining crewman lashed himself in the rigging. A rope thrown to him by Mr. Richard Flanagan was caught and he tied it around his waist, but could not leave his position. Captain Thomas Golden suggested that a ladder could, with the aid of ropes, be used to rescue him. After some delay one was brought, and under the direction of Mr. Flanagan and Captain Golden it was pushed out horizontally over the rocks. The man in the rigging lowered himself down onto the ladder and was pulled safely ashore. Three of the crew were from Whitehaven, the other Pat McCabe was from Bray. His body was later recovered and identified by his sister.

“The Eliza”

As the last crewman from the “Rowland Hill” was taken safely ashore another brig the Eliza of Maryport, bound for Dublin was seen heading for the rocks just north of the Glen Strand. The Eliza had been blown into the bay and the Captain hoped he could clear Wicklow Head and run for Waterford. Finding he could not, he attempted to turn her but making no headway was washed onto the rocks. She hit bow first and quickly started to break up. A seaman James Jackson while attempting to get a ladder from a boat on deck was swept overboard. J.L. commenting on Mr. Jackson’s death in the Wicklow Newsletter wrote “Brave old tar, there you go at last! Your old skull will in another moment, be dashed against the hard rocks, after all your sailing, such is the fate of your class”. The Captain James Saunders and the mate George Corwin were also washed overboard.

William Douglas was the only survivor. With the aid of ropes thrown from the cliff, he started to climb the mainmast which had collapsed against the rocks. As he climbed, a huge wave swept away the mast leaving him dangling in the ropes. Quickly hauled to an overhanging ledge, a ladder was lowered and the seaman was brought to safety. He was taken to the home of Captain George Doolittle, Harbour Master to recuperate. With the exception of Scotsman Douglas the entire crew hailed from Maryport.

The “New Draper”

At half past one the 200 ton brig New Draper of Whitehaven, Captained by William Stewart and bound for Dublin with a cargo of coal, was put ashore near the site of Watsons Boat Yard. She had a crew of 8. When she grounded, they tried to float a buoy ashore with a rope attached. An attempt was also made to float one out from the Pier, which was abandoned after 2 hours. It was then proposed to man the Lifeboat under Coxswain Brockman. Captain Balfour of the Coastguard was the first to volunteer to take an oar and a crew of fishermen and Coastguards was formed. They carried out the service under extremely difficult conditions and were successful in rescuing the crew.

The “William Campbell”

The “William Campbell” of Ardrossan, Captained by James Anderson, a brigantine with a cargo of coal, came ashore about a mile south of KiIloughter Station at 4 p.m. She had a crew of 6. Shortly after she struck the Captain’s father while making his way aft was washed overboard. The Captain subsequently met the same fate, but Mr. Richard Flanagan (who was also at the Rowland Hill and the Eliza) raced into the surf and dragged him ashore. A boy named-Duncan and a man – Abraham were also swept over board. Abraham struggled for sometime in the surf, and despite the best efforts of Captain Robert Halpin, Mr. Flanagan and two men named Doyle and Waters he was drowned. This still left two men aboard – Duncan, brother of the boy, and Haughton. They had lashed themselves to the windlass. As night fell the flood tide was making the sea rage over the wreck. For want of proper rescue equipment the two remaining crewmen were lost. The crew were all of Scottish origin with the exception of Abraham who was Dutch.

The valiant efforts at the wrecks of William and John Wall, James Conway and Andrew Kerwin all Wicklow seamen came in for loud praise (for their hard work and valuable service). The Parish Priest Archdeacon John Grant went to the scene and gave a general absolution to all at sea that day. Five bodies were recovered and buried on Tuesday the 12th February in the Church of Ireland graveyard on Church Hill.

The “Giorgina and the Guerrera”

Two Italian vessels went ashore on Wednesday morning the 28th January, 1885. They were the 612 ton Barque “Giorgiana” of Genova and the 406 ton Brigantine “Guerrera” of Catania both were in ballast and going from Dublin to Cardiff. The Guerrera went ashore about 5.30 a.m. 200 yards south of Newcastle Railway Station. The wind was blowing a southerly gale but veered later to the west and there was a bad sea running at Five-Mile-Point. The Giorgiana went ashore at 6 a.m. off the old Railway Station at Killoughter.

The vessels were in the bay during the night. One local seaman observing them said that “they appeared to be looking for somewhere to go ashore”. The Guerrera was in charge of the Pilot who was on the Dan Antioco when she went aground on Mizen Head in 1883. The Giorgiana was in charge of a Wicklow Pilot named Newsome. Both men were well acquainted with the coast.

When the Guerrera went ashore she was starboard side to the beach and even though an anchor had been dropped, each wave drove her further up the beach. She very quickly started to break up. The Coastguard from Five-Mile-Point under Chief Officer Pyne were quickly on the scene, with the rocket apparatus. They got a line aboard with their first shot and had the crew of nine, under Captain Carmelo Campagmaro safely on the beach within a short time.

They then went to the assistance of the Giorgiana at Killoughter and soon had 3 of the crew ashore. When they were joined by Wicklow Coastguard with Chief Officer Bickle in command, they brought the remaining crew ashore. The Captain refused to abandon ship but later relented and was saved. The Giorgiana was a well built vessel and being in a more sheltered position did not immediately begin to break up. However within 24 hours the incoming tide flooded her hold.

The Pilot on the Guerrera said that he had been led astray by the Railway lights at Five-Mile-Point. This was not the first time they had been blamed for such an occurrence. In 1864 after a wreck at Killoughter in which two lives were lost the County Coroner recommended that they be shaded from the sea, but this was not done. The crews of the two ships camped on the Murrough in makeshift tents of sails and wreck timber, until Thursday morning when they left for Dublin by train.

The majority of the wrecks in this article were caused by bad weather. A ship in good repair, well manned and navigated, should be able to sail with safety in a force 8 to 9 gale. However, not all ships were in this condition and when these vessels encountered severe weather close to shore, they had in many cases to be run aground, in an attempt to save the lives of the crew. Complaints were made over a period of years about the lack of suitable rescue equipment for shore wrecks in the Wicklow area. By 1885 there was Rocket Apparatus at Newcastle and Wicklow, this equipment, line carrying rockets and breeches buoy being specifi­cally adapted for shore rescue. Today the area is served by the Coast Life Saving Service, The Royal National Lifeboat Institute Wicklow Lifeboat, and the Air Sea Rescue Helicopters of the Air Corp.


R.N.L.I. Journals,

Commissioners of Irish Lights,

Journal of Irish Railway Record Society,

Wicklow Newsletters,

Wreck and Rescue on the East Coast: John DeCourcy Ireland.

Thanks to Br. John Kavanagh, C. Byrne (Sen), C. Byrne (Jnr.), C. Doyle, J. Finlay, W. Malone for advice on sources.


It is with unfeigned pleasure we announce the arrival of the ship “Mary Anne” of Dublin, her Commander being Mr. Richard Halpin, a native of this town, some of her crew also belonging to this port. The Mary Anne sailed from Merimachi, bound for Dublin, and early last month put into Kilrush, being short of provisions; she left Kilrush on November 3rd, for Dublin, from which date, up to last Tuesday, when she arrived at Greenock, the most anxious fears were entertained of her safety, for nearly a month she encountered heavy gales and most adverse winds, she was driven upwards of 500 miles in the North Atlantic. The ship became so leaky the crew were worn out at the pumps, the provisions again ran short, and had not Providence changed the wind, and therefore enabled her steady, persevering, and experienced Commander to shape his course for the nearest land, sad indeed would have been their fate. We are sure we will be joined by every fellow townsman, rich and poor, when we say “Welcome Home.”

Wicklow News-Letter Dec. 1858

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