Wreck of the DUNMAIL

Liverpool Mercury, Aug 11th, 1873

A heavy gale

Loss of a Melbourne packet off the Bar

Gallant services of the Liverpool and New Brighton lifeboats.

A gale of unusual severity for this season of the year prevailed along this portion of the coast on Friday night and throughout Saturday, culminating in little short of a hurricane yesterday morning. The coasting vessels which arrived in the Mersey on Saturday afternoon experienced the full fury of the wind, which blew chiefly from W.N.W, and rendered some of the passages exceedingly tedious and uncomfortable, as the blanched countenance of many of the passengers too plainly proved. Towards morning the gale abated, and last evening there was quite a calm.

Wreck off the Mersey

We are sorry to announce the loss of a splendid new iron vessel called the DUNMAIL, which left the Mersey late on Saturday night bound for Melbourne, but we are glad to say all on board were, through the intrepidity of the crews of the Liverpool and New Brighton lifeboats, rescued from a watery grave. The DUNMAIL which was on her first voyage, was a splendid ship of 1285tons burthen, Commander Captain FISHER, and was on her outward voyage to Melbourne, chartered by Messers Ismay, Imrie and Co, with a general cargo, having on board 60 souls, including crew and passengers. The vessel left the river shortly before midnight in tow of the steamtug CRUISER, Capt MELVILLE, the wind blowing very freshly at the time from the N.W, but before the Bar was reached it had increased to a complete gale. Several of the passengers had gone down to their berths previous to the sailing of the vessel, and all were in bed at the time of the accident, but only a few of them were asleep, in consequence of the heavy sea which was running causing the vessel to roll very much.

About 3am yesterday, the vessel then being on the north side of the Queen's Channel, the passengers were alarmed by the ship striking heavily on the Bar and thumping with a violence which threatened to break her to pieces any moment. Some of the men and women rushed from their berths to the deck, and, by the light of the full moon, they discovered that the vessel had struck, and that the hawser by which she had been towed had parted, leaving the ship completely at the mercy of the waves. The sea, then commenced to make complete breaches over her, and a considerable amount of water entered the cabins of the passengers, so that they could not remain without being drenched. It was impossible for them to leave without the danger of being washed overboard, and they therefore preferred to remain below. Capt MELVILLE vainly endeavoured to reach the vessel to attach another tow rope, but finding it impossible to render any assistance either to relieve the vessel or rescue the crew and passengers, he steamed for Liverpool for the purpose of taking out the lifeboat. The Prince's Landing-stage was reached about 5am yesterday and a report of the state of matters having been made to Mr MORGAN the officer in charge of the stage, the tubular lifeboat No 1 was launched with all possible despatch and started in tow of the steamtug CRUISER, having on board 15 men in all, under the command of James MARTIN.

About 6am the news reached New Brighton and steps were taken to launch the lifeboat of that station, which at that time was lying high and dry in consequence of a low spring tide. With the aid of a few friends on shore, and assisted by the steamtug SPENDTHRIFT the boat was launched and proceeded towards the wreck, towed by the tug. Whilst these preparations were being made to save the lives of those on board the ship, the condition of the passengers was of a painful character. Not knowing why the steamtug so suddenly left them returning to port, some of the passengers foolishly entertained the supposition that they were left to their fate, and into the period which intervened between the CRUISER leaving and her return with the lifeboat, there was crowded almost enough misery to fill a lifetime. Almost at the same time the New Brighton lifeboat made her appearance, but some little delay was occasioned by the hawser with which she was in tow of the steamtug having parted just as she was getting into position.

At this time the weather was terrible, the gale had increased in intensity and the sea was making complete breaches over the vessel as she lay across the Bar, drenching the unfortunate passengers and crew, who were on deck clinging to anything which would prevent them from being washed overboard. The Liverpool lifeboat which was handled in the most masterly and gallant manner, and in every respect proved herself a valuable craft, was taken to the leeside of the vessel, and by almost superhuman efforts 9 female and 19 male passengers and 24 of the crew were taken into the boat, crowding it with no fewer than 67 persons, who were as quickly as possible transferred to the steamtug RETRIEVER, which had proceeded to the scene, having on board Capt Graham HILLS, R.N, marine surveyor. The New Brighton lifeboat took off the captain, mate, three seamen, two passengers, Mr James HULLEY, the pilot, and the cook, who was the last man to leave the ship and with these the boat immediately made for New Brighton, which was reached about 10am, when all were taken on shore and their wants attended to.

It was scarcely possible to conceive of living beings in a more deplorable condition than many of the passengers and crew. Several were without shoes or stockings, one man had on only a shirt and pair of drawers, and was dependant on the kindness of some one ashore who lent him other clothing. The women were so much exhausted, when landed, that it was deemed prudent to remove them to the receiving house at the Prince's Dock, where baths and other restoratives were provided for them, and, though much exhausted, most of them last evening were doing well. Their cases are exceedingly painful ones, four of the women came from America a short time since for the purpose of joining their relatives, and they have lost the hard savings of their whole lifetime, and have nothing but a scanty supply of clothing left them. To Mr and Mrs COYNE, who have charge of the receiving house, they publicly tender their thanks for the great kindness shown to them in their distress, Mr COYNE and his wife, having given up their own private apartments for their use, and in every way possible tried to alleviate their distress. The rescued, both crew and passengers, bear testimony to the noble conduct of the men in charge of the lifeboats, but for whose timely assistance all on board would have perished. As it was, several of the passengers had narrow escapes, and one or two were slightly injured. The remainder of the persons brought ashore were sent to the Sailor's Home, with the exception of a few who remained with the river police on the Prince's Landing-stage. The men and women were received on the Prince's Landing-stage by Mr MACDONALD the master of the stage, who, acting under the directions of Capt HILLS, did all that was possible in the circumstances for their comfort.

The vessel has since sunk close to the buoy known as Q1 black, and steps will be immediately taken to remove the wreck. Meanwhile the wreck will be marked with a buoy by day and a floating light by night.

Too much praise cannot be bestowed upon the crews of the lifeboats, the Liverpool one having succeeded in rescuing the greatest number of lives ever saved off this port at one time.


Belfast Newsletter, Aug 11th, 1873

Passengers on the DUNMAIL, nearly all Irish of the working class :-

Janet DONALDSON, Mrs W. PERKIUS, Ellen, Alice and Catherine ROGERS, Agnes JOYCE, Theresa DALY, Helen STIRLING, Mrs WALLACE, W. ROLLIN, Patrick KELLY, T. PARK, Laurence DILLON, Peter CARL, M. REED, J. G. DOYLE, T. WAND, C. GIBSON, A. BALLARD, S. MAND, Andrew WALSH, M. JOYCE and J. FLOYD.

Liverpool Mercury, Aug 14th, 1873

The wreck of the DUNMAIL

On Monday night and Tuesday, portions of this vessel and cargo came ashore between Ainsdale and Marshside. The material comprises of broken timber, portions of cabin doors, three chests of drawers, two boats and a cask of butter. The boats are slightly damaged.

To the editors of the Liverpool Mercury

Gentlemen - In the accounts which have been published of the loss of the ship DUNMAIL, it has been stated that the vessel belonged to the, "White Star Line" We shall feel obliged if you will correct this statement, as the DUNMAIL did not either belong to us or the company which we represent, nor was she in any way under our management


"White Star" Line, Liverpool Aug 13. 1873


Liverpool Mercury, Aug 19th, 1873

Loss of the DUNMAIL off the port, Board of Trade Inquiry

Wrecked under extraordinary circumstances off the bar on the morning of Sunday the 10th inst, commenced yesterday at the Liverpool police court, before Mr H. MANSFIELD, Dept stipendiary magistrate, and Captains OATES and WILSON, Mr L. V. HAMEL appeared for the Board of Trade, and Mr TYNDALL for the captain Mr James FISHER.

Mr HAMEL opened the case appearing before the court to inquire into the stranding of the DUNMAIL. She was an iron vessel, built in Whitehaven and was registered in Liverpool during the present year. She was ship rigged and clinch built, length 242ft, breadth 30ft 6ins, depth 22ft. Gross tonnage 1337, owned by James FISHER the late master, and Mr Joseph SPROAT both of Harrington, Cumberland. The vessel left the Canning Basin in charge of James Harrison KELLY, a licensed pilot of the port of Liverpool, on the day previous to the stranding, 11.30am on Saturday, the 9th inst, being towed by the steamtug CRUISER to the Sloyne, 3miles up the river where she anchored for the purpose of completing her cargo. This being done, those on board weighed anchor about 9pm on the 9th, the wind blowing strong from the north west, she finally proceeded on her voyage in tow of the same tug, with a crew of 32 hands including Capt James FISHER, who held a master's certificate of competency. She had a general cargo and was bound for Melbourne, carrying 29 passengers of whom the majority were women and children

Mr MANSFIELD, "Was she a passenger ship within the meaning of the act?-Mr TYNDALL, "She was not"

Mr HAMEL continued that the vessel appeared to have passed the Rock Lighthouse about 12.30, and reached the Formby Lightship about 2.30am on Sunday the 10th inst, about 3.15am she struck on the bar. As soon as the vessel struck the tug continued to steam away for some minutes, then getting broadside on to the tide, slipped the hawser, and as she passed the vessel those on board shouted they were going for the lifeboat. The tug returned to the vessel between 8and 9 the next morning, accompanied by the lifeboat from Liverpool. Some time later the lifeboat from New Brighton came up, and by that means the crew and passengers were taken of safely and landed

Mr MANSFIELD, "Where were they landed.?"

Mr HAMEL, "At New Brighton."

He continued to say, "It appears to me that the principal points to be considered in this inquiry are. First, whether it was prudent or an imprudent thing for the master of a vessel of great size to weigh anchor and commence his voyage at a late state of the tide, in the face of a strong head wind blowing from the north west, which was then increasing, and knowing at the time that he had to run a distance of 14miles, before he could cross a dangerous bar and get into the open sea, and secondly if imprudent how far that imprudence was increased by the fact of him knowing, that his vessel, heavy laden, and drawing nigh upon 20ft of water, must be towed 14miles before reaching the bar, knowing that at 9pm, the time at which he commenced weighing anchor, the tide was then half-flood, so that he would have about 3hrs tide against him, even if he could start at once. But the evidence will show, I think, that the anchor should not be got up and the vessel make a start before 10pm, knowing high water was at 12.15 that night, knowing that the depth of water at the bar would be at high water, 29ft, low water 9ft, and half ebb 19ft. Knowing with the wind then blowing, that he would have to encounter and allow for at least a 5 or 6ft sea by the time he got to the bar, and knowing, also, that he was responsible not only for his own life, but for the safety of the lives of his crew and 29 passengers of whom the majority were women or helpless children. It will be for the court to consider whether in calculating his chances he ought not to have allowed for the strong adverse wind, the state of the tide, and the size and draught of his ship and not put to sea at the time he did. The crew were nautical men and able to form their own opinions as regards safety in these matters, but, the passengers, all unaquainted with nautical matters, form a special feature in this inquiry, and seem to my mind to place a far heavier tax and responsibility on the right judgement of the master to whose care they had committed themselves.

Mr MANSFIELD, "As I understand your contention, you say that the master was guilty of negligence?"

Mr HAMEL, "It is rather for the court to say after hearing the evidence."

Mr MANSFIELD, "But that is your contention."

Mr HAMEL, said the present proceedings were in the nature of an inquiry, not a prosecution.

Mr MANSFIELD said, the first thing the court had to decide was whether the master had done anything to deserve the forfeiture of his certificate, they expected that the gentlemen who had charge of the inquiry were prepared to say what they proposed to prove upon that point. The next point the court had to deal with was how the vessel was lost, because it was desirable for the Board of Trade to be informed of what was the cause, whether it was owing to pilotage or lighting system, so that the attention of the board might be called to matters affecting public navigation. When the captain was brought there for the forfeiture of his certificate, he thought the court should be informed of the allegation against him. If Mr HAMEL was right the course would be to bring a mass of facts before the court, and leave them to be prosecutors as well as judges.

Mr HAMEL, "This is an inquiry. I produce the witnesses and give evidence against the master as well as in his favour, so that the truth may be arrived at. If you ask me whether the master was guilty, in this case, of negligence, I should say, upon the evidence most strongly, that he was guilty of neglect in proceeding to sea that night".

Mr MANSFIELD, "Prima facis, there is neglect assumed when a vessel is lost. You say you impute neglect"

Mr HAMEL, "I say, from looking over the papers that I think the captain was guilty of an error of judgement in going out at that time."

Joseph ARCHER, chief mate of the DUNMAIL, was called, and gave evidence, in the course of which he said the pilot was on the poop all the time and was attending to his duties, so far as he could see. After the vessel struck, and the first hawser parted, those on board called to the captain of the tug to come back and take a second hawser but this was not done.

By Mr MANSFIELD, I was not present at any conversations between the captain and the pilot or the captain of the CRUISER before starting.

By Mr TYNDALL, It was a fine clear night when we struck. When we weighed anchor it was not such extraordinary weather as to prevent us going to sea. The pilot was on board all day, and the anchor weighed at his orders. The vessel was under his care and all his orders were carried out by the crew from the time of starting up to the time we struck the bar.

If you had been the master of that ship would you have put to sea the same night as your master did? Yes I would.

Mr MANSFIELD, "In your opinion it was a reasonable and safe thing to do?

"Yes at the time we left the Sloyne."

"Are you aware that there was a desire to make a quick passage, and that the DUNMAIL was racing against another vessel ?

"Nothing was said to me about that. The crew and every person on board were perfectly sober."

"The passengers would have had great difficulty escaping without the lifeboat?

"Yes, 9pm was not too late to go out in that state of tide"

"What in your opinion was the cause of the accident?"

"My opinion is that the cause of the accident was that we were too late for the tide at the bar for one thing, and I don't think the steamtug did justice to us. She did not seem to tow us very fast. I think she might have gone faster. I could not give any idea whether the tug had a full pressure of steam. The captain of the tug made no communication to the pilot after the ship struck."

William EDKIN, the third mate of the DUNMAIL, said, that in his opinion the cause of the accident was that there was not enough water on the bar for the vessel. In answer to Mr TYNDALL he said, that if he had been master of the vessel he should have started at 9.30pm on the night in question. He should have considered it prudent to have done so.

Others of the crew having given evidence the inquiry was adjourned until to-day [Tuesday].

Liverpool Mercury, Aug 21st, 1873

Loss of the DUNMAIL

The conduct of the lifeboat crews

Resumed inquiry yesterday, in the police buildings, Dale St, before Mr MANSFIED, assisted by Captains OATES and WILSON as assessors.

Mr J. H. HULLEY pilot of the vessel was recalled, and from answers to questions in the court said, he never left the vessel from the time he first went on board. He made some remarks to the captain about the state of the weather, it was rather a strong breeze but was moderating, and he could take the ship to sea, to his recollection he never said anything about if being safe or unsafe.

Mr MANSFIELD, "Are you quite certain you did not say anything about it being hazardous?"

"I am quite certain"

Mr MANSFIED, "Did you say anything at all about it being dangerous to go to sea?"

"Perhaps I have been speaking to one or two of the parties and spoken freely, and it would have been better if I had kept my mouth shut. I said I would not take the ship to sea without it moderated. When the captain came on board I said, "There is no risk, no danger, let the ship go to sea and I will take her."

Witness said nothing to the captain afterwards and he had the charge of the ship from that moment, when he weighed anchor he thought there was no danger. As they went down the river he said nothing to the captain about the chance of getting over the bar, and the captain said nothing to him.

Mr MANSFIED, "Did he at any time before the vessel struck make any inquiry as to how you were getting on, whether things were going well or not ?"

"I don't think he did, not to the best of my recollection, all I can recollect is that the captain came on deck and said, "Are you alright" that was after we passed the Formby Lightship. I said, "All right, we are going well" as far as I can recollect"

Mr MANDFIELD, "You always led him to believe you were all right"

"I did until the last minute"

Mr MANSFIELD, "You told us yesterday there would have been quite enough water in moderate weather to have got over the bar. How did you make out that calculation?"

"I know what water there is on the bar, it was only the day before I surveyed it and found 2ft more water than I did in the calculation in the tide tables. I calculated that a strong westerly wind would put up the tide by not less than 3ft.

Captain OATES, "Would that difference of water warrant you in supposing that there would be the same the next night?"

"I should think more so because there would be more wind"

Capt WILSON, "By your calculation you make 23 or 24ft of water?"

"I calculate 23 or 24ft"

Captain OATES, "When you just got under weigh what time did you anticipate being on the bar?"

"From 2 to half past"

Captain WILSON "And under those circumstances you advised the captain it was safe to proceed?"

"No advising about it at all, it was all left to me, and I had every confidence in myself until I passed the Rock Light. I calculated when I got to the mouth of the river there would be less wind. There was not near the wind when we passed the Rock Light, that there was in the river."

By Capt WILSON, The captain was quite sober and so was the witness. By Mr MANSFIELD, Witness had gone over the bar in worse weather with a heavy ship in almost her own draught of water.

The court then retired to consider judgement and were absent about 2hrs.

On returning Mr MANSFEILD said, in this case we have had to inquire into the loss of the large and valuable ship DUNMAIL, which left this port on the 9th inst, and was wrecked on the bar within a few hours after she left her anchorage. We have considered with great care the evidence laid before us, we cannot assent to the principle insisted upon by Mr TYNDALL that responsibility of the master of a ship ceases the moment the pilot comes on board his vessel. We think he is bound to exercise a vigilant supervision, though the advice of the pilot is of great value, the master is not bound to follow it implicitly, if it appears in his judgement to involve the danger of the ship. It certainly rests with the master whether he shall put to sea at all, and to say under threatening circumstances he will proceed or turn back. In this case the DUNMAIL had on board an experienced pilot, to whose errors in calculating the tides, the loss of the ship is primarily to be attributed, it is also questionable whether of the night of the 9th, it was prudent to proceed at all to sea, or to continue the voyage after the Rock Light had been passed. The disaster, was not due to the bad weather, but to the want of water on the bar, with which the pilot might be presumed to be familiar. We are not satisfied that the master exercised as active a supervision of the pilot and the navigation of the vessel from the time of her leaving the Sloyne as he might and ought to have done. We think that when the Rock Light had been passed the master ought to have perceived from the time that had been occupied in coming from the Sloyne, how doubtful was the chance of passing the bar in safety, and should at least have confirmed with the pilot as to the expediency of proceeding on the voyage. He does not appear to have received at any time anything more than a general assertion with which he was satisfied that all was right, whilst the circumstances were such as might to have aroused his vigilance and led him to ascertain beyond doubt from the pilot whether in the then state of the weather and the tide it was safe to proceed. We find therefore that the master has been guilty of neglect, and his certificate will be suspended for 3mths from this date

With respect to the steps that were taken to save the lives of the passengers and crew, the Liverpool and New Brighton lifeboats were launched, manned and taken to the scene with the utmost promptitude, and the crew and passengers landed safely. I do think, we all think, it must be a matter of just satisfaction to the people of this neighbourhood, who have contributed to the foundation of these institutions to see how invaluable they prove in the hour of danger for the preservation of life, the people of these two counties must be justly proud that there are to be found men ready to risk their lives, and have courage to undertake, and the skill and coolness to carry out such perilous and arduous enterprises. We are confident these men have earned the esteem and approbation of all the people of this neighbourhood. To them it will be a great and enduring distinction to have borne a part in this noble achievement.

Mr TYNDALL on behalf of the captain submitted that the court had not power to suspend his certificate. because it had not been proved that before the inquiry he was served with a true report from the Board of Trade of the matters on which the inquiry was founded.

The objection was, however, overruled by the court.

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