The ship staggered under a thunderous shock
that shook us asunder, as if she had struck and crashed on a rock; for the huge sea smote every soul from the decks of The Falcon but one; all of them, all but the man that was lash'd to the helm had gone."[11. 106-9"]

Tennyson - The Wreck

Monday, June 30, 2008

Tall ships in trouble

The wreck of the Royal Charter - the ship that never reached home.

HAVING safely travelled thousands of miles by sea from Australia, the passengers and crew of the steam clipper Royal Charter must have relaxed, knowing they would shortly land in Liverpool.

Many on board were former miners who had made considerable fortunes in the Australian gold rush and the ship was also carrying a cargo of gold.

After leaving Melbourne 60 days earlier (a fast journey in those days), her 371 passengers and 112 crew were more than ready to enjoy the next chapter in their lives. But it was not to be.

Having survived the Indian Ocean, Cape Horn, the long haul up the forbidding south Atlantic and with a call at Queenstown (now Cobh) behind her, terrible disaster struck almost within sight of home.

On October 25, 1859, as Royal Charter sailed along the north west tip of Anglesey, the barometer suddenly started dropping and severe weather was looming. It was claimed later by some passengers that the master, Captain Thomas Taylor, was advised to shelter in Holyhead, but decided to make for Liverpool, as the ship had ridden well through the stormy Southern Ocean.

Capt Taylor had failed to pick up the Liverpool pilot at Port Lynas, as the gales rose to Beaufort Force 10 and the sea was rising, whipped up by the wind.

Then Royal Charter was suddenly hit by an exceptional tempest: the wind rose to full hurricane force (Beaufort scale 12) and the wind suddenly changed direction, from east to north-east, then north-north-east, with nowhere for the ship to go but on to the rocky shore.

At 11pm Capt Taylor anchored the ship, but at 1.30am on October 26 the port anchor chain snapped, followed by the starboard chain an hour later. In spite of cutting the masts down to reduce the wind-drag, Royal Charter was driven inshore with her steam engine unable to make headway against the gale.

The ship initially grounded on a sandbank, but in the early morning the rising tide drove her onto the rocks at a point just north of Moelfre on the eastern coast of Anglesey.

She was battered against the rocks by huge waves, whipped up by winds roaring over at more than 100 mph.

Incredibly, just 10 yards of boiling angry water lay between ships and shore. A Maltese seaman, Joseph Rodgers, got a line ashore for a bosun’s chair with help from Moelfre villagers. But conditions were so rough that only about 16 passengers and 29 others survived.

Others were said to have drowned, weighed down by the belts of gold they were wearing around their bodies. No women or children survived. Some 459 lives were lost, the highest death toll of any shipwreck on the Welsh coast.

Most were not drowned, but were crushed or pounded to death when the ship broke up, or when the waves swept them off rocks.

This shipwreck was the worst of some 200 ships wrecked that night in what’s known as the Royal Charter Storm.

Much gold was rumoured to have washed up on the coasts near Moelfre, making some families literally rich overnight.

The gold bullion cargo was insured for £322,000, but the total value of the gold onboard must have been much higher.

Many of the bodies recovered from the sea were buried at Llanallgo churchyard nearby, where their graves and a memorial can still be seen. Another memorial is set on the Anglesey Coastal Path, on the cliff above the rocks where the ship struck.
Almost immediately, salvage teams went to work on the wreck. The ship’s carcass lies close to the shore in less than 20ft of water.

The remains can be seen in the form of iron bulkheads, plates and ribs which are revealed and then immersed again in the shifting sands.
Gold sovereigns, pistols, spectacles and other personal items have been found by divers and more serious salvage attempts searching for treasure have taken place in the last couple of years.

A Dickens of a disaster

The Liverpool Daily Post
June 29, 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lost in the North West

Inuit oral stories could solve mystery of Franklin expedition

Randy Boswell, Canwest News Service Published: Wednesday, June 25, 2008

More than 150 years after the disappearance of the Erebus and Terror -- the famously ill-fated ships of the lost Franklin Expedition -- fresh clues have emerged that could help solve Canadian history's most enduring mystery.

A Montreal writer set to publish a book on Inuit oral chronicles from the era of Arctic exploration says she's gathered a "hitherto unreported" account of a British ship wintering in 1850 in the Royal Geographical Society Islands -- a significant distance west of the search targets of several 19th- and 20th-century expeditions that have probed the southern Arctic Ocean for Canada's most sought-after shipwrecks.

Dorothy Harley Eber, author of the forthcoming Encounters on the Passage: Inuit Meet the Explorers, says the new details about Sir John Franklin's disastrous Arctic voyage in the late 1840s emerged from interviews she conducted with several Inuit elders at Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.

The Inuit account -- passed down from 19th-century ancestors who witnessed the British expedition's failed attempt to find the Northwest Passage -- describes "an exploring vessel" that anchored off the Royal Geographical Society Islands during the winter of 1850 because "they were iced-in and had no choice."

Evidence of the expedition's presence on the islands, according to Inuit oral history captured by Eber, can still be seen during the summer months in greasy deposits along the shore where "the ground is soiled by rendered seal oil blubber" used by stranded crewmen to fuel fires for cooking and warmth.

"When I recorded it, and first heard the information, I didn't have a map with me and I wasn't actually quite sure what I was hearing," Eber told Canwest News Service on Wednesday. "But I later had the material translated two or three times and I realized it was very important."

The Royal Geographical Society Islands lie between Victoria Island and King William Island where the Victoria Strait reaches the Queen Maud Gulf north of mainland Nunavut.

The location of the iced-in ship described by the Inuit is nearly 100 kilometres to the northwest of a stretch of water between O'Reilly and Kirkwall islands -- close to King William Island and the mainland Adelaide Peninsula -- that has emerged as the prime search area for Franklin shipwreck hunters.

University of Toronto Press, which is publishing Eber's book this fall, is billing the book as a must-read for Franklin aficionados, in which "new information opens up another fascinating chapter" on the tragic Arctic voyage.

Franklin himself died in June 1847, with the two ships at his command frozen in sea ice somewhere west of King William Island. The 105 surviving crew members battled bitter cold and ice-choked seas before succumbing to hunger and disease over the following few years.

A series of searches in the 1850s gripped the British nation and its Canadian colonies, and much of the Arctic archipelago was mapped and claimed for the British Empire as a result.

Various artifacts from the Franklin Expedition and the remains of several crewmen have been discovered over years, but the ships have eluded searchers -- including those on a major Canadian government-sponsored expedition in the 1990s.

The man who headed that search -- Robert Grenier, chief of marine archeology for Parks Canada -- said he discussed the new account of the Franklin ship earlier this week with Eber, calling the Montreal author's findings "very interesting."