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Royal Charter

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Launched at Sandycroft, near Chester, 1855

Wrecked in a storm off Anglesea / Anglesey in 1859

'THE WRECK OF THE ROYAL CHARTER. LOSS OF FOUR HUNDRED LIVES.
One of the most lamentable catastrophes resulting from the recent fearful gale is the loss of the auxiliary screw clipper Royal Charter, belonging to the Eagle line of Australian packets sailing from Liverpool to Melbourne, and managed in Liverpool by Messrs. Gibbs, Bright, and Co. The vessel, which was announced as off Queenstown at 2 p.m. on Monday, 58 days out from Melbourne, was caught in the gale on the night of Tuesdav, when she went ashore in a place called Moelfra Bay, near Puffin Island, on the coast of Anglesea. At Queenstown the Royal Charter landed about ten of her 340 passengers, and so far as is yet known upwards of 400 lives have been lost, only 29 persons -viz., 19 sailors and 10 passengers- being saved. The Royal Charter had also a general cargo of wool, and 79,000 ounces of gold.

The first intimation of the disaster reached Liverpool between 10 and 11 p.m. on Wednesday night, but though our correspondent called at the office of Messrs. Gibbs, Bright, and Co. at various hours up to 2 a.m. this (Thursday) morning, he was informed that she was hourly expected in the Mersey. The news (published in only one of the local daily papers - the Daily Post) created the utmost consternation ; the Underwriters' and Exchange Rooms were crowded by anxious inquirers, but owing to the breaking of the telegraph wires no authentic details were procurable till late in the day, when a list of the saved was made public. About six a.m. the steam tugs Reliance and Resolute, with Messrs. Gibbs, Bright, and Co.'s overlookers, were despatched to the scene of the wreck, while other persons left for Bangor by the first train. Subjoined are various details connected with this heartrending calamity, which reached Liverpool in the course of the dav. .......

'.....The Royal Charter was an iron vessel of 2,749 tons register, built and rigged as a clipper, and furnished with engines (auxiliary screws) of 300-horse power by Messrs. Penn, of Greenwich. Her length. was 320 feet, and her breadth of beam 41 feet 6 in. She was laid on the stocks at Sandycroft, near Cheater, by Mr. Cram, of that city, from designs by Mr. Grinrod, of Liverpool. Mr. Cram intended her for a sailing ship, but while on the stocks she was purchased by Messrs. Gibbs, Bright, and Co., and, under the inspection of Mr. Patterson, of Bristol, she was transformed into a screw steamer. An attempt was made to launch her on the 31st of July, 1855, but this failed, and she did not reach the water till the 30th of August. In appearance she was a very graceful vessel, and her passages were remarkably rapid; but differences of opinion existed as to her strength, end it is stated that during the last voyage from the Horn to Queenstown she was much strained. We understand that she cost upwards of 90,000l., and that at the time of her loss her market value was about 70,000l.; this is fully covered, we understand, by insurances on her 'effected in London to the amount of 80,000l......'[1]


'THE WRECK OF THE ROYAL CHARTER.
OFFICIAL REPORT TO THE BOARD OF TRADE

The Committee of Privy Council for Trade have received the following from Mr Mansfield, the magistrate of Liverpool, and Captain Harris, nautical assessor, who held the late inquiry at Liverpool relative to the wreck of the Royal Charter steamship :—

"My Lords, —In accordance with the instructions which I received from the Board of Trade, I have, with the assistance of Captain Harris, nautical assessor, held an inquiry into the circumstances attending the loss of the auxiliary steam clipper ship Royal Charter. The ship was originally ordered to built by Messrs Moore of this town. The builder was Mr Cram, of Chester, and the keel was laid at Sandy Croft, on the river Dee. Before any considerable progress had been made in her construction, the firm of Messrs Gibbs, Bright. & Co., who are managers for and now represent the Australian Steam Navigation Company — the registered owners of the Royal Charter — took her off the hands of Messrs Moore. At or about this time Mr Cram failed, and the further progress of the shipbuilding was conducted by Messrs Gibbs, Bright & Co. on their own account. Some changes were made to fit the vessel for the purpose which was ultimately attained an addition was made to her length at either end, and the original specification was departed from in other respects. It is not material to dwell on this part of her history at any great length, as, at the time of her transfer to Messrs Gibbs, Bright, & Co., her keel only was laid and a portion of the frame set up. Nearly all the material had been provided by Mr Cram, and was on the premises; this, after examination by the builders employed by Messrs Gibbs, Bright, & Co., was used in the construction of the vessel. A portion of this iron, recovered with great difficulty and expense from the wreck, has been produced before and tested by the Liverpool Corporation machine. It is decidedly above the average strength of iron plating used for shipbuilding, and the average strength assigned by Mr Fairbairn for good Staffordshire plate. When the ship was completed it was necessary to launch her diagonally, owing to the shallowness of the water at Sandy Croft. During this operation she stuck fast on her ways, and great efforts were necessary to get her afloat. It does not, however, appear that she received any injury at this time. In proceeding down the Dee she took the ground off Flint, and here her keel and the adjoining portions amidship received serious injury, so as to necessitate extensive repairs in the graving dock at Liverpool. There is some discrepancy in the evidence, but it is probable that on this occasion she was strengthened by the addition of two bilge keelsons, having been constructed with a keelson, and two sister keelsons. Of her rigging it is sufficient to say that her masts and spars seem to have been amply sufficient and, though very large, not out of proportion to the size of the vessel. Her tackle seems to have been generally good, and her heavy sails were No. 1 & No. 2 canvass — the quality of stormsails in ordinary ships. The ground tackle seems likewise to have been free from objection. She carried two bower anchors and a sheet anchor of requisite size, and all of Trotman's model. She was provided with 300 fathoms of chain cable of full ? inches in diameter, tested by the maker, Mr Woods, of Chester, to 72 tons. From the performance of this cable, immediately previous to the loss of the ship, it is reasonable to suppose that the material and workmanship were good. Her engines, which worked a two fan screw, were of nominal 200 horse-power, and were able to propel the vessel in dead water at the rate of about 8 knots an hour. Upon proceeding upon her first voyage she was very heavily ballasted, as her builders apprehended she would be crank, owing to her narrow beam. In the Bay of Biscay, however, she encountered very rough weather, and put back to Plymouth. Here she was examined by the Emigration Officers and Surveyors, who recommended some trifling repairs to obviate her making water, as was supposed through her deck. These, however, had nothing to do with the seaworthiness of the ship. In accordance, also, with their recommendation, she was lightened of 400 tons of ballast, the result of which was that her sailing properties improved, and she was enabled to stay and wear with facility. I am assured by the witnesses who have subsequently made voyages in her that she was far from being defective in this respect, regard being had to the greater time necessarily requisite to bring a long vessel round. Upon her returning from her first voyage it was observed by the surveyor of the Liverpool Underwriters' Association that some of the paint had cracked at the joining of the butts outside amidships, and that in those places there were streaks of rust. This, he stated, was invariably the case with long iron vessels on their return from a voyage. It does not, however, appear that wooden ships, after encountering heavy weather, are free from analogous indication of a strain in their butts. Some suspicion, however, seems to have acted upon the minds of the owners, and, with a view to giving her additional longitudinal strengthening, a massive stringer, the greater part of the length of the ship, was introduced either side between decks. After this, nothing further of any importance regards the strengthening of the ship seems to have been done.

It may be proper, at this point, to state that, from the evidence, I have arrived at the conclusion that the Royal Charter was, at the least, fully equal in strength to the average of ships of her class built at the same date (1855). Whether this be sufficient is a question which in reality does not arise in the present inquiry. Even if it did, I should hesitate to generalise from isolated instance, every imperfect evidence and where so much left to conjecture. A much wider induction is necessarily applied to the subject by underwriters in the ordinary course of their business; and to those of the public who may be ignorant of the fact, it may of interest to learn that, "caesteris paribus," there is no difference in premium paid for insuring wooden or iron vessels of the class.

Upon her last voyage the Royal Charter, after an unusually quick passage from Melbourne, arrived off Queenstown on the 24th October. She proceeded up Channel, and passed the Light about 4 p.m., on the 25th. About 4 or 6 p.m. she was abreast of Holyhead. Up that time the weather had been fine, with a light breeze ahead. It is very likely that the captain of the Royal Charter was thus deterred from this course by the apprehension that the falling rigging and spars might foul her screw, thus repeating the catastrophe undergone by the Prince in 1854, off Balaklava. But it should be remembered that the Prince was supplied with a three-bladed fan, while the Royal Charter had a two-bladed one only which could be hoisted up in a short time and with little labour. (The circumstances of the wreck already reported has been detailed.). The coastguard were nearly on the spot though stationed 10 miles off. The two pilot boats, according to the regulations of the port, were in their proper cruising ground off Point Lynas. One of them saw a blue light, probably from the Royal Charter, and kept a smart look out accordingly, but immediately afterwards the darkness was so great and the rain so thick to make it impossible to see from one end of the pilot boat to the other. The wind also became so high to put out her lights repeatedly; and even had she neared the Royal Charter there was such a sea running as to make it impossible to put a pilot on board. The officers and crew to the last were indifferent to the preservation of their own lives, and solely intent on their duty. Taking into account the unexampled fury of the gale, which entirely neutralised the powerful action of the screw propeller, that the ship was no longer under command — a circumstance which Captain Taylor could not have anticipated; and considering also the apprehension he may have entertained, while at anchor, that the masts would foul the screw if they were cut away, and possibly that the action of the screw to cease the cables could not be safely intermitted — I not think that this a case in which I could report that the ship was lost by the default of the master.

J. S. Mansfield, Stipendiary Magistrate, Liverpool. Liverpool, November 28, 1859.

I concur in the above report.


H. Harris, Nautical Assessor.

It is incorrect that the divers have recovered £150,000 of the sunken treasure; the total amount of gold in bars, dust, and sovereigns, &c , saved up to the present time does not exceed £14,000. During the last two days a gale of wind from the N.E., has put a stop to the operations of the divers, and the steamer and lumper have been compelled to run into Beaumaris for shelter.'[2]


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. London Daily News - Friday 28 October 1859
  2. Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, Saturday 10 December 1859