Loss of the Governor Fenner, off Holyhead 1841

Morning Chronicle, London, Feb 24th 1841

Liverpool Feb 21st. One of the most fatal catastrophes ever recorded of sea collisions is reported here today. The Nottingham steamer from Dublin to Liverpool, and the Governor Fenner, ANDREWS, from hence to New York, ran foul of each other yesterday morning at 20 minutes past two, when off Holyhead. All souls lost of the Governor Fenner except the Captain and the mate.

The loss of the Emigrant ship, Governor Fenner, Captain ANDREWS.

Liverpool Monday, evening, the loss of the Governor Fenner has, as may be imagined, been the subject of conversation in every circle today. The captain of the unfortunate vessel is desirous of placing his conduct in the most favourable light, but, certain discrepancies are already apparent in the statements made by him yesterday, which goes to show that great carelessness existed with respect to the absence of lights on the ill-fated ship, to which negligence the tragic calamity owes its existence.

The captain asserted yesterday that lights were exhibited from the Governor Fenner, that the night was dark and the steersman on board the Nottingham could not perceive them, although he could see the lights of the Nottingham. Today he asserts that he sent a boy to the mizen rigging, a smart lad of 15, to exhibit lights, but the lad being no more, the statement rest on the captain's assertion. The mate, however asserts that there were no lights on board the ship. This he has deposed on oath. It ought also to be observed that the ship having no lights at her masts is positively asserted by the captain and the people on board the steamer. The second mate of the steamer hailed the ship, and their was no answer. He desired her to starboard the helm. A voice from the ship, supposed to be that of the captain, desired the steamer to starboard her helm, and at this instance the collision, by which 120 souls perished took place.

The captain of the Governor Fenner presented himself at the Exchange-room today, and there, in the presence of several influential merchants and ship-owners, he was severely taken to task, and strongly censured for negligence in the affair. But, admitting that there was no lights on board, which in all probability was the case, yet the fact that the captain was on deck at 2am exonerates him from anything like neglect of his duties. The far higher consideration of the ship being utterly unfit for such a service, as traversing the Atlantic is left out of the question. The Governor Fenner like all North American built ships, was at no period a strong vessel, being built of deal, she must, after being 14 years at sea, have been literally as rotten as a pear, otherwise she could not possibly have been split in two whilst running into a steamer older, as far as service goes, than herself.. Had the steamer gone down, struck in the centre as she was by a vessel under a large press of canvas, the result would not, however lamentable, have been at all surprising, but, it is the strongest proof of the vessel being unseaworthy, that the collision sent her to the bottom, with her cargo of human beings, while the steamer, against which the shock must have been proportionally greater, though injured, was able to keep up, and all on board were eventually saved.

It is hoped this lamentable catastrophe may produce two results, the appointment of a general surveyor, to examine and report upon the condition of all vessels professing to carry emigrants, and the establishment of a uniform system of lighting vessels, under heavy penalties before leaving port.

Captain CHURCH of the steamer Birmingham, hence to Dublin, fell in with the wreck on Sunday morning, about 16 miles off the Skerries, and apparently split in two parts. He found two men in the rigging, dead, though apparently, life had not been long extinct. The stern of the vessel had been washed away, and the cargo had gone. He found on board a trunk belonging to a gardener, containing several watches, certificates of character etc.

Further particulars

Liverpool Tuesday, list of passengers on the ill-fated vessel, with some further particulars :-

William TOMS, aged 40, Philip DUFFY, aged 28 and James TAYLOR, aged 30, farmers.

Benjamin WHITEHEAD, 27, Patrick GIBNEY, 19, John ASHWORTH, 29, James NEEDHAM, 33, Henry RYAL, 34, John SINCLAIR, 22, Patrick HALLEY, 36, David BOYD, 24, Bernard M'EVOY, 23, Thomas GARSIDE, 28, Emanuel HAGUE, 33, John FRANCE, 26, Robert MILLER, 32, James JOHNSON, 50, John CHISWELL, 21, Stephen KAVANAGH, 35, John M'ELROY, 26, Gordon M'ELROY, 22, Patrick DOYLE, 18, Patrick EGAN, 26, William CORGAN, 13, Henry WATTS, 27, QUAYLE, 32, John QUAYLE 20, Patrick M'VEIGH, 31, John M'EVOY, 24, George TWELLS, 32, John STOKES, 22, John REILLY, 28, Josh SCHOLFIELD, 35, Edward REDMOND, 30, Richard FULLER, 24, Andrew MERCER, 23, John KELLY, 21, Patrick M'NALLY, 26, Owen FINNALTY, 30, William FITZPATRICK, 30, Philip TULLY, 24, Dennis BRENNAN, 26, Michael MURPHY, 28, John MAHER, 23, Charles FEENY, 27, John RYAN, 28, James DOLAN, 22, Patrick BURKE, 30, George BURGESS, 35, Abram WILKINSON, 30, John M'INTYRE 30, John KELLY, 30, and Patt M'AVOY, labourers.

Michael M'CORMICK, 35, and Henry WOOD, Mrs RYAL, 30, and infant, Elizabeth RYAL, 6, Mrs HALLEY, 30, and infant, Mrs BOYD, 21, Mrs MILLER, 26, Ellian QUAYLE, 17, Jane QUAYLE, 16, Mary Ann QUAYLE, 15, Mary M'VEIGH, 20, Mrs REDMOND, 30, and infant, Joseph REDMOND, 4, Mrs M'NALLY, 22, Mary TINNAN, 26, spinster, Mrs FITZPATRICK, 28, and infant, James FITZPATRICK, 4, Jane FITZPATRICK 50, Mary TULLY, 20, Catherine GRUNDY, 24, and infant, Margaret FEENY, 21, Sarah RYAN, 16, and Mrs M'INTYRE, 26 52 male adults, 3 male children, 18 female adults, 1 female child and 4 infants -78 souls.

Several other passengers making, it is said 107 in all, were taken on board after the above list was handed in.

The greater number of passengers were Irish. The following are a few particulars of their condition and pursuits :-

Mr Henry WOOD, was from Lancaster, in which place he has a wife and some relatives in the iron trade. He was a fine young man and embarked merely with a view of visiting the United States, and returning with an early vessel to his native country. He had considerable property on board in clothes and money. He had taken a berth in steerage, but preferring better accommodation in the cabin, had a few hours before the disaster paid the captain an additional sum for the use of a state room, which was being prepared for him when the steamer came in sight. He was asleep when the collision took place.

A young man John SINCLAIR [not on the list] from London, nephew to Mr COOPER of Lord St, in this town was amongst those who perished. He had purposed going out on the Siddon's Line ship, but did not arrive till she was under weigh.

William THOMS, a house carpenter, was on board. His wife accompanied him to Liverpool, and saw him on board.

Amongst those on board was a respectable person named LYNCH.

The family of the QUAYLES, [four in number] were from the north of Ireland. The head of them had before been in America. William FITZPATRICK, an agricultural labourer, had his wife and another female, and two children [one of them an infant] with him.

Philip TULLY, who had with him his wife [both young people] and a child, had been previously 5yrs in Boston.

Mr JOHNSON, from the county of Hereford, a practical farmer, had also been in America, where, we learn, he was in possession of about 200 acres of land.

COLLINS, one of the crew, sailed a few weeks ago in the ship Robert Benn, which came into collision with a schooner in the channel. He escaped. He re-embarked in the Governor Fenner, and was lost in her contact with the Nottingham.

David BOYD, in the list [and his wife not in the list] besides Bernard M'AVOY, in the list were of the same party.

There were nine young men, mechanics, from Oldham, who took each a steerage passage. Owing to the respectability of their appearance, they were, after embarkation, admitted, without additional cost, into the second cabin.

There were also on board a family of the name of REYNOLDS of England, from a district near Oldham, consisting of the father, mother, and two children. The passenger named SCHOLFIELD was with them.

John KELLY [in the list] had with him his sister Sarah [not, it appears, in the list].

Catherine MORGAN and Evan MORGAN, who had embarked, left the vessel before she proceeded to sea.

We are politely favoured by Messers POWELL and TRAVASKISS, shipping-masters with the following list of the crew :-

William SHILSTONE, 2nd mate of Bristol, Calch FRAZIER, cook, William REID, John SMITH, John WEBB, Frederick SELKELD, John MUNROE [late 2nd mate of the Belvidere] William COLLINS, John SMITH, David PIDGEON, George Duncan CLARK, and John DAVIES, seamen.

Four men who intended going with the vessel left her at the pier-head, from what cause we have not learned.

Captain's narrative

"We left the river about noon on Friday with a S.S.W. wind. The crew consisted of 18, and the passengers to the best of my knowledge 107. We had a full cargo of manufactured dry goods, also some heavy articles. There were amongst the passengers a considerable number of children. On Saturday at 2am, the wind then blowing fresh, and the ship under double-reefed topsails, we saw a steamer on the larboard or weather bow. I instantly ordered the helm to be put hard a-port, to give her as wide a berth as possible. The steamer rapidly neared us, and crossed our bow, and before we could bear away, we struck her amidships a little abaft the starboard paddle-wheel. From the force of the collision it became evident that the ship, or the steamer, or probably both, would instantly sink. The whole was the work of a moment. I felt at once that the ship, the bows of which were stove in, was sinking beneath my feet. All the passengers were in their berths as well as the crew, with the exception of the watch then on deck. I called out to the men to save themselves if they could, and told them to come forward, our apparent only chance being to get on board the steamer, which did not then appear to be in a sinking state. Through some misapprehension, they ran aft instead of forward and cut off their chance of getting on board the steamer. My anxious wish was to save all on board, but the ship sank so rapidly that this object could not be accomplished. I remained forward and the mate was near me. The ship rapidly filled and sank, and I tried to jump on the steamer. I failed in my first attempt through momentary faintness. I made a second attempt and as the ship reached the water's edge succeeded in getting hold of a rope that was hanging over the quarter. The mate saved his life by jumping from the foreyard over on to the steamer's deck. In about one minute the ship sunk with all her passengers, and 16 of her crew, the whole amounting to 122 souls. The steamer's remaining boat on the larboard-quarter was lowered, to endeavour to save some of the people, but she unfortunately swamped alongside. The steamer's starboard paddle-box was smashed, and her machinery injured, so it would not work. The funnel was also carried away, and she did little more than lay-to till next day at 5pm when she was taken in tow by a Drogheda steamer that came up to her, and towed her into this port. During the interim the steamer did not make good above a mile or two from the spot where the accident occurred, and my opinion is, that had not the weather been moderate, all on board of her would also have perished."

The mate Mr MASTERS, account of the dreadful affair:-

"About 2.05 am on Saturday we saw the lights of a steam-boat. It was my watch on deck and I immediately called the captain. The steam-boat came up at about a point and a half on our weather-bow, we having at the time our larboard tacks on board. We thought she was coming on head to us. We had no light but that of the binnacle on the quarter-deck, and, I believe it is not necessary or prudent for sailing vessels clear of land to carry a light. We waited as much as 5 or 6 minutes to find out what way the steamer was really coming, and then the captain ordered the man at the wheel to put the helm hard a-port, so as to give her a clear berth. If the steam-boat had done the same we would have gone clear of each other a long way, perhaps a mile. The captain, as soon as he ordered the wheel to be put up, went forward to look out. I then looked over the larboard side, abaft the main rigging, and saw the whole bulk of the steamer. I said to the man at the helm, "She is on board of us." This was about 2.15am. The vessel came into contact, notwithstanding our ship paying off. When the crash took place, I heard the captain call out several times, "For God's sake save yourselves the ship is sinking." The jibboom of the ship struck the funnel of the steamer, and her bowsprit afterwards rested upon her. On the third surge she gave, I believe, down she went, bow foremost. The taffrail was the last thing we saw of her, she filled very quickly. She had on board a heavy cargo, including a quantity of iron and other heavy goods. The watch on the deck at the time consisted of 7 men, the captain and myself. All the others on board were asleep below. The captain also sang out to the man at the helm to leave the wheel, his name was MUNROE, formerly mate of the Belvidere, and came on board to work his passage to America, we intended to make him 2nd mate of the ship the next day. All the men at first went forward with me to the captain, who was standing between the night-heads, but afterwards went aft as the ship sank, to be, as I suppose, on the higher part of her hull. I stood some time and attempted to go aft, with the view of endeavouring to save my wife and others by lowering a boat. She, however sunk so fast that I was obliged to give up the idea in despair. I left the captain and went to the starboard side. I stood there a few seconds, till the water was two feet deep, as far aft as the mainmast, and was fast gathering till further aft, her head being then nearly under. I scarce know what after occurred, I got up somehow into the fore-rigging and thence on to the larboard foreyards, which then crossed the steamer. When the ship sunk so far that I was six feet from the steamer's deck, I let go, and dropped down amongst some sheep. I lay for some time, rather confused, and did not attempt to rise, as I though that I might become entangled in a rope which passed over my shoulders, and as I thought was part of the bowsprit running rigging of the ship. I then got up, the cry on board the steamer was that she was sinking, and I believe a passenger on board lowered the boat left on the davits on the larboard side, but she unhooked from the tackles when she touched the water, and, the painter not being fast, she drifted away from the vessel. All the lights they could muster on the steamer were lighted for some time. The engineers then went below, and found that though she was leaky they could keep her free, she had her fore and aft sails and foretopsail set at the time. I was on board three quarters of an hour before I found that the captain of the ship was on board. I had seen my wife, who was a little sea-sick, about twenty minutes before in her berth, and gave her a drink. The captain when I first saw him in the steamer was without his hat, and, on seeing him, he said, "Good God, is this you, is there any of the crew saved?" I said, "I don't know. I did not know what became of you after I missed you off the ship's bow." Her hull was under water before I got off. The foreyard from which I dropped was broken on the steamer as she was going down, and also I believe, the topsail yard, as our foretopmast studdingsail-boom, which was rigged out at the time [the wind having been for some time fair in the evening] was left on the steamer's deck. I afterwards looked out but could see nothing of the ship or her masts. The last time I observed the watch on deck, they were on the starboard side of the quarter-deck. One man sung out, "For God Almighty¹s sake save me!" I did not hear the others. I had a quantity of my wife's and my own clothing and other articles on board worth about £50. All were lost. [The wife of the informant was a daughter of Mr MORGAN, of Queen Anne St, Brunswick Dock] The captain had on board two valuable chronometer charts, and other property, and all was lost. We were at the time of the accident 17 or 18 miles, to the northward and westward of Holyhead. We were steering upon a wind at the time W. by N.,and the steamer about E.S.E. The 2nd mates name was William SHELSTON, and he was below at the time. The captain was as cool as possible at the time, and extremely anxious that as many as possible should be saved. If we had chanced to go aft instead of forward, we should also have been drowned. A few of the cattle in the steamer were thrown overboard, and also some sheep, at the time it was thought she would sink. When it was found that there was no immediate danger, the rest were kept on board. One of the black cattle was injured, and was afterwards slaughtered on board. I did not think the steamer got 10 miles from the place were the collision took place all next day, and she was taken in tow at 5pm by the Grana Uile, a fine vessel belonging to the Drogheda Steampacket Company. The foreyard of the steamer Nottingham was carried away, which, I think shows that the ship did not run directly into her."

The Nottingham steamer on the evening she reached port was brought into the Clarence Dock, and was so much shattered on the starboard side that hundreds of persons congregated on the quays to see her, all absorbed in the melancholy event which had caused the destruction. Her paddle-box had almost entirely been carried away, and part of the "skeleton" on the wheel, the cast ironwork of the "spokes" being broken to pieces, and the beaten iron rings of the wheel crushed up, almost close to the vessels side. She presented, indeed, the appearance of a wreck, in which it is extraordinary that no person on board was killed or thrust overboard and drowned. Much of the upper timber was reduced to mere match-wood by the collision. A boat on the starboard quarter was cut in two, and one part of her only remained on deck. The after paddle-beam, a balk of hard wood, about 20 inches square [and which was a main support of the box and wheel] is broken close to the ship's side, and turned in a diagonal direction aft, held by the toughness of the fibres from falling off, and even yet of sufficient strength to support the weight of several persons upon it. The strong iron stay or pillar, supporting it in a downward direction to the side, some feet below, is also driven sternward from its position. We are glad to say that the vessels hull appears to have sustained little or no material damage, proof of the excellence of the materials and workmanship. It is the general opinion of practical men, that had the ship, heavily laden as she was, and sailing about 3 to 4 knots an hour, struck her a yard or two further aft, she to would have disappeared, and, no one would have been left to record the fate of either vessel. As it was, several circumstances in the point of contact contributed to save her. In the first place the jib-boom of the ship struck her funnel, which afterwards fell, though strongly stayed by chains from a joint about 12 feet from the deck. The bobstays and bowsprit rigging probably next came into contact with the gunnel and paddle-box, which were carried away, and finally, the stern of the ship probably afterwards first touched her side with a weakened velocity at a part where a sort of platform runs aft from the outward corner of the paddle-box. All these opposing, but, in a great degree, elastic materials coming in contact, formed a sort of fender, preservatives of the steamer, though fatal to the ship. The breaking of the paddle-beam and the general shock broke and deranged portions of the machinery, which put aside the further application of steam, but the vessel was not left in danger of foundering, unless indeed, in the event of a severe gale of wind and a heavy seas, which she happily had not to encounter.


© 2011 all rights reserved to date